Former attorney general John N. Mitchell, in an interview with a Wall Street investors' newspaper, likened the District government to the "Amos 'n' Andy Taxi Cab Co." and said city officials need to become "sufficiently educated so that they can conduct the District's affairs as a proper business enterprise."
Mitchell, an influential bond lawyer before joining the Nixon administration and eventually resigning and later serving time in prison in the Watergate scandal, said he opposed the city's authority to issue bonds because of what he called the D.C. government's ineptitude.
His comments, published Monday in Credit Markets, a bond-industry trade paper, were labeled yesterday as "racist" by City Council Chairman David A. Clarke, who added, "I am rather proud of the District of Columbia's handling of its financial affairs. It stands head and shoulders above the Nixon administration."
Alphonse G. Hill, deputy mayor for finance, said, "Mr. Mitchell has been away for some time, and unfortunately he is out of step with what is happening in the District. It is incumbent on him to update his thinking before he provides the press with his asinine comments. Consequently, an apology to the mayor and the citizens of the District of Columbia is imperative."
Mitchell said, through a spokesman, that he would not comment.
Mitchell, who now works for Global Research International, a Washington consulting firm, was described by Credit Markets as "dean of bond counsel" and offered his views on financial issues in a lengthy question-and-answer session that included photographs of him smiling and smoking his pipe. The interview concluded with a discussion prompted by the District's first sale of short-term bonds last month.
"I never have been in favor of the nation's capital issuing its own bonds. I certainly wouldn't be until they stop running the government like the Amos 'n' Andy Taxi Cab Co.," Mitchell said, referring to the black characters in the long-running radio show of the 1930s and 1940s, and television comedy of the 1950s.
Asked to elaborate, Mitchell responded, "I think that speaks for itself. Let's all hope for the sake of the national city that the people who administer the affairs of the District of Columbia become sufficiently educated so that they can conduct the District's affairs as a proper business enterprise. Then the security of the bonds will be protected and the obligations of the District will be met on time."
Mitchell, who served 14 months in jail after his 1975 conviction for perjury, conspiracy and obstruction of justice, also said he and Nixon parted company on home rule for D.C., which Nixon favored. "I didn't believe the national capital should be administered outside of the national government," Mitchell said.
Hill, who just visited New York with Mayor Marion Barry to discuss the city's bond-rating with municipal-rating agencies, said Mitchell's comments on city finances are outdated because of the city's recently strong financial performance.
"In four years, we have made a $124 million reduction off a $388 million deficit . . . . Revenues are up. We balanced our budget. We have audited financial reports, and we report to the council and Congress," Hill said. "The financial world knows . . . these comments of Mr. Mitchell are outmoded, outdated and inaccurate."
The District entered the private market this year after the city and Congress removed legal roadblocks that had forced the city to borrow from the U.S. government at a higher rate than that charged for tax-free municipal bonds. D.C. received the highest credit rating for the short-term $150 million issue last month and paid 6.74 in interest.
Barry had no comment yesterday. City Council member John Wilson (D-Ward 2) said of Mitchell, "I really feel sorry for him. It says something about his basic character." Council member John Ray (D-at large) said, "There have always been people who are anti-home rule and Mr. Mitchell was one of them. I've always considered Mr. Mitchell a racist as well."