For a legislator, it's one thing to see your bill defeated. It's another to see it turned inside out to do exactly what you didn't want.
That happened to D.C. Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) this week on a controversial bill he sponsored that would have allowed landlords to install so-called submeters in their buildings so that tenants could be charged individually for their utilities.
Instead of getting the industry-backed measure approved, the Committee on Public Services rewrote the bill to outlaw the practice -- much to the delight of tenant activists in a city where 66 percent of the residents have landlords.
Crawford had written what he called the "Electrical Submetering Act of 1987." When it came out of committee -- chaired by Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1) -- it was retitled the submetering "Prohibition Act of 1987." Smith's constituency has one of the highest concentrations of renters in the city, and he has made housing a central issue.
Crawford, who owns a property management firm, said he would not likely continue his fight for the bill. Crawford, who said he did not attend the public hearing on the issue, said the bill would have promoted conservation by tenants who now pay utilities as part of their monthly rents.
Committee members and tenant groups contended that submetering would be difficult to regulate and would embroil tenants and landlords in fights over efficiency of heating and cooling equipment. Landlords who are responsible for utilities are more likely to make energy efficient repairs, one council staff member said.
The committee could have let Crawford's bill die without action, but decided to act because the Public Service Commission had indicated it also had the authority to allow the practice. "It was a sleeper," one council staff member said of the bill. "Tenant groups freaked out."Local Commitment
It sounds like a banking term, but actually it's a new organization that hopes to influence the local political climate in Washington.
"We have joined together because we urgently believe that this city needs a new force," says the invitation for tonight's beer and barbecue party at the Capitol Hill home of Don Dinan, chairman of the Ward 6 Democrats. "We are not going to be namby-pamby. We don't think politics is a dirty word. We want to use politics to make Washington, D.C., a better place for all."
The group is the brainchild of several politics aficionados, including Mark L. Plotkin, who ran second in a race for the Ward 3 council seat last year and has been talking up the idea of a citywide group that would address issues rather than personal politics.
"Everybody is welcome," said Plotkin. "The whole idea is to transcend personalities and have an impact. What is a shared feeling is not 'who did you support' but 'what do you think should be done.' "
The group will have a tough go of breaking through the mindset of the city's home rule politics, in which most people gravitate toward interest groups -- labor or business for example -- and play out their politics in the shadow of a high-profile mayor and a 13-member elected D.C. Council that jealously guards its political turf. Plotkin also faces suspicions that Local Commitment is really just a political front for his own ambitions. Others among the 29 founding members include Theodis 'Ted' Gay, a former Democratic Party chairman, and Sam Smith, a longtime civic and statehood activist. Council Oversight I
Today at 2 p.m. in the Council chambers, Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), chairman of the Government Operations Committee, will tackle the city's new procurement regulations -- certainly a hot topic given all the news about the ongoing federal probe into the city's system of contracting. The regulations stem from the 1985 Procurement Practices Act that became law in February 1986. The crucial regulations were supposed to have been finished last September. The city hired David A. Splitt, a former city official and former director of the Office of Documents, to speed work on the regulations and portions of them are due before the hearing. Council Oversight II
Tomorrow at 10 a.m., Smith's Public Services Committee takes up a bill by Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3) that would revise the city's human rights law to outlaw sex discrimination at private clubs. The measure would affect the prestigious, men-only Cosmos and Metropolitan clubs. Nathanson contends that such clubs with their liberal guest policies act more like public restaurants than private enclaves.
Numerous groups have lined up to support the bill, including the Women's Equity Action League, D.C. NOW, ACLU, Capitol Hill Women's Political Caucus and Americans for Democratic Action. Smith's committee also has received word that the Cosmos Club would send a spokesman, Peter D. Ehrenhaft. Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here
Former council chairman Arrington Dixon is setting up shop as the head of the new Taxi Commission, which officially came into being yesterday. The Dixon team includes some folks from his old days as chairman, including Vivien Cunningham, who moves over, at least temporarily, from her job at the lottery board. Bruce French, a former legislative counsel under Dixon, is helping out with legal work. Sarah Lenzi, who was executive assistant to former council member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), is working for Dixon now, as is David Watson, a former legislative and press spokesman for council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6). Lenzi is on temporary assignment from the city administrator's office.