Reporters covering the District Building quickly learn that City Council staff members shy away from giving quotes for news stories. On the rare occasions when their comments are used, most of them insist upon being called by the same names: aide, source or observer.
While staff members readily provide reporters with copies of legislation and explain the background for proposals, they seldom agree to state a council member's position on a bill and never -- well, almost never -- allow their names to be associated with anything that even hints of an analysis of legislation.
But in a recent magazine article, one council staff member was stripped of his anonymity, creating an exchange of memoranda between the City Council chairman and the aide and such a mass of behind-the-scenes whispers that the resulting drama should be called, "Much Ado About Nothing."
The drama begins with an article in the October issue of Regardie's magazine on the City Council's award of the District's cable television franchise. Ron Cocome, a legislative aide to City Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) was quoted as saying: "It's almost unbelievable that the council would vote to approve this sort of system. It shows they're either corrupt or stupid."
While Cocome was not the only aide quoted by name, only the Cocome comment shocked staff members and, according to Schwartz, created "a lot of flak" that indicated that "some people really had their noses out of joint."
City Council Chairman David A. Clarke sent Schwartz a "confidential" memo -- with copies to the other 11 council members -- saying that Cocome's comment was a negative reflection on the council.
Schwartz said that because it was not her comment she had no intention of responding to Clarke, and she suggested that Cocome respond. He did.
"I am disappointed that given your own long experience, you did not ask me about the quote attributed to me . . . ," Cocome wrote in a memo to Clarke -- with copies to all council members, of course. "Had you done so, I would have had the opportunity to relay to you that the quote was inaccurate, out of context and was a part of an 'off the record' discussion which took place last summer before the cable television issue was finalized and before any vote of the council was taken."
Cocome also apologized if his discussion with the writer had caused "the council any distress."
That resulted in a second Clarke memorandum to Schwartz.
"He said staff members don't have a right to write council members," Schwartz said.
While Cocome had no comments for the record on the issue, Schwartz said that Clarke's memoranda created an unnecessary furor. As far as she is concerned, she said, Cocome was "harassed from on high, he apologizes and he was still harassed . . . . I would hope the chairman would have better things to do with his time."
For the record, Regardie's editor Brian Kelly said the magazine stands by its story.
"We feel the quotes are accurate," said Kelly, "and we understand why he would want to retract them."
Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), apparently exercising squatter's rights, has taken over office space on the second floor of the District Building for her committee. Mayor Marion Barry controls the space and reportedly was a bit agitated by Winter's move.
Until now, all offices of council members and their committees have been on the first floor. When former City Council member Jerry Moore Jr. left the council last December, Winter replaced Moore as chairman of the public works committee.
Winter lobbied heavily to swap her office for the larger one vacated by Moore so she would have room for her new committee staff. But William R. Spaulding (D-Ward 5) got the office, leaving Winter searching for additional space.
Since last year, the council has been requesting space from Barry, and the "mayor has yet to respond," said City Council secretary Russell Smith. Meanwhile, about a week ago, Winter found an empty office on the second floor and arranged for her committee to move in.
"He the mayor didn't really okay it," said Winter. "I found the space and I told him I was moving there. It was empty. What could he do? His feathers were ruffled for a moment when he found out I had already made arrangements to move."
Observers note that Winter's move took place about the time that she backed the mayor's veto of the interstate banking legislation. Merely a coincidence, said Winter, who insisted that the move is temporary until she finds another home for the committee.