Mayor-Elect Sharon Pratt Dixon, confronting her first legislative battle even before taking office, stepped up her efforts yesterday to defeat a bill that would require her new administration to seek D.C. Council approval for major contracts and leases.
Dixon contended that the legislation, to be considered by the council on Tuesday, amounts to a usurpation of her authority and would hinder her efforts to reform the D.C. government.
"I just think it would be so counterproductive," Dixon said at a news conference yesterday.
"Why create this impediment to the executive branch when you have new leadership, when people have also given this new leadership a mandate to achieve major reform?" Dixon asked in a separate interview. "Why would you want to hamstring me?"
Dixon has begun lobbying council members in what is shaping up as a test of wills between her and Council Chairman-Elect John A. Wilson, who favors the new legislation as part of his efforts to augment council power and authority. The council recently adopted similar emergency legislation to prevent outgoing Mayor Marion Barry from granting major contracts or leases to political supporters in the final days of his administration.
Dixon, who favored the emergency legislation, told one council member that enactment of the permanent legislation would be a "personal affront" to her.
Dixon's pressure has placed some council members in a difficult position: On the one hand, they profess a desire to help the new administration get off to a fresh start. On the other, they are leery of crossing Wilson shortly before he directs the handing out of important committee assignments.
Wilson said yesterday that he expects the vote to be close on Tuesday, but he is not backing away from his support for the contracts legislation, which would require the mayor to submit for council approval any lease or contract worth more than $1 million.
Under the legislation, the council would have 14 days to review contracts and 60 days to review leases. If it took no action within those periods, the proposed contracts or leases would go into effect.
On Thursday, Barry announced he was sending down his first batch of contracts for review, including a multimillion-dollar leasing deal for developer and associate R. Donahue Peebles; a $9.2 million nursing-home contract for a firm headed by his political ally, Roy Littlejohn; and two contracts totaling $17 million for Tri-Continental Industries, which until recently was headed by James Hillman, a political contributor to Barry.
At her news conference yesterday, Dixon called Barry's new contracts "ill-advised" and urged the council to reject any deal of "substantial proportions."
Although several council members agreed with Wilson that the permanent legislation was a good idea, there does seem to be support for Dixon's position as well. Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), who also spoke with Dixon, said his colleagues' efforts to limit contract spending are "going too far."
"I have my reservations about the council reviewing each and every contract over $1 million. That's just another bureaucratic layer," he said. The new legislation might not "allow the mayor-elect the flexibility she needs to run the government," Crawford said.
Both Dixon and Wilson sought to play down the significance of the vote Tuesday. Dixon said it would be wrong to view the vote as a test of her influence with the council. "I'm not in there yet," she said. "When I'm in office, that will be a more legitimate test of my clout."
"It is not a test of wills at all," Wilson added. "You win some, you lose some . . . . I assume some people will vote with me now and then be against me two weeks later."
In other developments, Dixon announced that she supports a 2 percent pay raise for city workers that was recently rejected by the council. She also announced appointments of roughly 400 community leaders and others to her transition committees, and announced the appointment of a committee, headed by lawyer Robert D. McLean, to review the recent Rivlin Commission recommendations and other possibilities for making the D.C. government more efficient.
Dixon also said she has held discussions with City Administrator Carol B. Thompson about staying on for several months in a senior position to help with the transition.
Meanwhile, Barry, in a meeting with Cabinet members and other top city officials, ordered his senior staff to submit their resignations within the next several weeks, effective Jan. 2, the date of Dixon's inauguration.
Some of those senior staff members have civil service rights to stay in the government, and Barry said he would help them locate jobs in the bureaucracy before he leaves office, according to some who were present.
Staff writer Nathan McCall contributed to this report.