When Mayor Marion Barry appointed Ivanhoe Donaldson, his top political adviser and campaign manager, as deputy mayor for economic development last December, some of Barry's aides quietly fretted that it signaled the start of a new and far more political style of governing the District.
Those fears, it turns out, appear to have been well founded.
Barry not only has demanded unquestioned allegiance from city workers (he got that message across by threatening to fire one or two city employes who gabbed to the press about the city's budget problems), but he also now insists that independent boards and commissions bend to his will in granting important contracts.
The most striking example is Barry's recent effort to batter members of the D.C. lottery board into submission with threats of firing and legal action, to force them to rescind a contract to operate a $100 million-a-year daily numbers game and reopen bidding.
Donaldson, known for being heavy-handed with subordinates, went one step further by berating the lottery board's own general counsel, Jeanette Michael, for her role in defending the board's choice of Lottery Technology Enterprises to get the contract.
Other city officials, including Corporation Counsel Judith Rogers, Deputy Mayor for Finance Alphonse G. Hill and outgoing City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers, have played significant roles in this drama. But Donaldson clearly has been the central figure.
The mayor has issued blanket denials that politics or personal loyalties have influenced this whole complicated case.
But Barry has not attempted to fully explain the orchestrated sequence of events that has troubled other city leaders, including City Council chairman David A. Clarke and several other council members.
And was it merely a coincidence that one of the two firms that lost the original contract award, Columbia Gaming, is represented by attorney Robert B. Washington Jr., a close political ally of Barry's and a longtime friend of Donaldson's?
The dispute has highlighted continuing questions about the propriety of Donaldson's serving as the city's economic development czar at the same time he is planning to return to the private sector this year.
Donaldson, a former executive of the Cummins Engine Foundation and a former restaurateur, has brushed off questions about his past and present business dealings and his plans for the future. The city's weak conflict-of-interest disclosure law provides no clue to the actual business dealings of city officials.
Donaldson argues that such inquiries are an invasion of his privacy. Yet he, in effect, has two agendas--the public's and his own--and he offers little explanation as to how he reconciles the two.
Even officials willing to give Donaldson the benefit of the doubt are unhappy with his tactics. At the least, they say, the lottery dispute is a telling example of the Barry administration's arrogant use of power.
Barry insisted the lottery board rescind the contract it had awarded to Lottery Technology and reopen the bidding process. He said he was afraid a court challenge might somehow jeopardize the legality of the city's minority-preference contracting law--a legal view so far endorsed only by the mayor's corporation counsel and challenged by City Council members Clarke and John Ray, both lawyers.
What is definitely jeopardized is the city's revenue flow. Each day of delay in starting the daily numbers game beyond July 18 is calculated to cost the city $100,000 in lost revenue.
This fiscal year alone, the city may lose $7 million--the equivalent of the budgets of 20 city agencies, according to Clarke. It's also the same amount of money that would be raised with a 4 percent income tax surcharge or a property tax increase of 9 cents per $100 assessed value.
That's a steep price to pay for the administration's questionable meddling.