At one end of the 10-foot table, wearing a gray suit and blue striped shirt, was D.C. Council member Frank Smith Jr. (D-Ward 1). At the other end, in a red dress with a high buttoned collar, was Cora Wilds, chairman of the D.C. Boxing and Wrestling Commission.
Smith got in the first punch at yesterday's hearing of the council's Public Services Committee.
"It's commendable that you promote safety" in the ring, he said, after listening to a recital of Wilds' wide travels over the last six years. "But where in the D.C. Code is there authority for you to . . . spend the commission's money . . . traveling around the world to establish standards for boxing safety? The commission is supposed to promote boxing in D.C."
Wilds, who is also a professor of political science at the University of the District of Columbia, rejoined that her trips, which have included visits to Venice, Bangkok and Aruba, were necessary "for the improvement of the sport in the city."
"Boxing is an international sport," she continued. "Any commissioner who doesn't travel is probably promoting her brother in the back yard."
The sparring over Wilds' trips, for which the District has spent $23,567 in seven years, took place in a hot crowded hearing room in the District Building. There were television camera crews recording the event -- a level of media interest that rarely attends boxing matches held in the District, which last was host to a championship fight in 1959.
Smith, who heads the committee, said the travels "came to our attention" as a result of a television report by Mark Feldstein, an investigative reporter for WUSA-TV (Channel 9) who had strongly questioned the propriety of the trips. The Washington Post reported in 1983 that critics had raised questions about Wilds' travel.
Wilds said her travels to 25 national and international meetings of boxing groups had placed the District "in the vanguard of the international boxing movement for better education and training of officials, standardized medical testing, standardized protective equipment, and new rules and regulations which have minimized the risk of the sport . . . . "
She said she is head of the legislative committee of the U.S. Boxing Association, head of the international boxing passport committee of the World Boxing Council and the first woman on its executive council, and a founding member of the U.S. Association of Boxing Commissioners. Yesterday, Wilds submitted letters praising her work from state boxing officials in Michigan, New York and Nevada.
Smith seemed unimpressed.
Wilds acknowledged that she flew first-class twice instead of traveling by coach as D.C. regulations require. But she said the expensive tickets to Bangkok and Venice were necessary because of a severe back problem, which was certified in letters from her doctor, Arthur Kobrine, a professor of neurosurgery at George Washington University.
Smith said he thought first-class travel could never be authorized on city business, but Diane Herndon, a city government lawyer, said a waiver from that rule could be granted for a physical disability.