City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers, who is leaving his post in May, probably did as much as anyone since home rule to change the face and style of the District of Columbia government.
Mayor Marion Barry, who wooed Rogers here from Berkeley, Calif., in December, 1978, set the tone and direction for his new administration. But it was Rogers, the wiry, cocky, immaculately dressed former social worker, who executed the game plan and dealt with most of the crises that beset the administration.
Rogers does things with panache. He wears finely tailored three-piece suits and silk shirts monogrammed with his middle name, Baby. He recently traded in his Alfa Romeo for a new Porsche. He wheels and deals from his spacious, wood-paneled office on the fifth floor of the District Building like the chairman of a major corporation. And he loves to spar and joke with reporters, especially after hours when he can let down his guard a bit and sip a beer or two.
But Rogers' exuberant, fast-talking, often jovial manner masks a seriousness and drive.
"It's hard, but it's fair. There's no question about that," Rogers often says jokingly, describing his administrative approach.
Scores of D.C. city officials and bureaucrats who crossed his path during the past four years, however, are far less charitable in assessing Rogers' style. For it's no secret that Rogers at times has been arrogant, brutally undiplomatic and abusive in dealing with subordinates whose world view or pace differed from his own.
"He has a very demanding style," said one high-ranking city official who works closely with Rogers. "He has a very fast mind. Sometimes I've underestimated his ability to catch detail and cut through the fog."
Even the mayor says that Rogers can be overbearing. "He'll scream at you on the telephone to get something done," Barry said of his feisty city administrator, who broke into public administration in 1970 as an aide to the city manager of Bowie, Md.
Rogers, a graduate of South Carolina State College and Howard University, came to Washington from Berkeley with a reputation as a hard charger who chewed out employes who were late for work. In short, he was just the person to act on Barry's 1978 campaign pledge to build a fire under the city's bureaucracy, which the mayor said had grown lethargic and bloated.
But Barry and Rogers soon ran up against far more urgent problems than sluggish workers. A mushrooming budget crisis--including the discovery of a massive accumulated deficit--consumed Barry's administration for months.
The crisis forced the administration to take the politically unpopular steps of laying off city workers and reducing services. During that period, many of Barry's major initiatives floundered--especially his housing and jobs programs.
But out of those difficult days, Rogers gradually imposed order and discipline on city agencies that were long accustomed to operating and spending as they pleased.
Rogers rode out the worst of the financial storm and helped put in place a financial management system that, more often than not, worked. For the first time, the city's books were independently audited. Also, the District completed two successive fiscal years with a surplus in its general fund.
Rogers takes credit for major reorganizations of the departments of Human Services and Employment Services and for a new licensing and regulatory agency that officially begins operating this week.
But equally important, Rogers helped instill a renewed sense of professionalism among the city's long-maligned bureaucrats.
With his hand on the day-to-day operations of city government, Rogers' standing with the mayor gradually came to rival that of Deputy Mayor Ivanhoe Donaldson, who for years has been Barry's most trusted friend and political adviser.
Although both Rogers and Donaldson played down the occasional reports of friction between them, Barry noted recently that "They have different styles and often counter views."
"Donaldson often gets to a point that's not practical," Barry said. At that point, the mayor said, Rogers "will say, 'Donaldson, you can't do that.' "
Rogers, 43, is leaving his $67,200-a-year post for a better paying job as assistant managing partner of the Washington office of Alexander Grant & Co., an international accounting firm.
Barry has revamped the city's table of organization and reassigned personnel in anticipation of Rogers' departure. Under a reorganization plan that Rogers helped devise, three deputy mayors now share the administrative responsibilities Rogers alone held.
So far there are no signs of strain or serious problems as the new administration goes through a shakedown period. Rogers, who holds the dual titles of city administrator and deputy mayor for operations, appears to have struck a balance of power with Donaldson, the deputy mayor for economic development, Alphonse Hill, deputy mayor for finance, and Gladys W. Mack, director of policy and program evaluation.
But how well that arrangement works after Rogers departs is another question. Rogers took pride in trying (if not always successfully) to keep the daily administration of city agencies separate from mayoral politics. Whatever limited success he had in that effort stemmed largely from his unusual personal relationship with Barry.
It's doubtful that Rogers' successor will be able to duplicate that special relationship. Whoever replaces Rogers--and the betting is that it will be Transportation Director Thomas Downs--will have to move swiftly and with force to maintain the balance of power that Rogers has fashioned. That will be a tall order, considering the strong-willed and ambitious people who make up the mayor's inner circle.