An article in yesterday's District Weekly incorrectly identified the occupation of Julio "Jay" Haddock Ortiz, the new chairman of the Commission on Latino Community Development in the District. He is president of Capital Hotels, which owns and operates the St. James Suites and Governor's House Hotel. (Published 10/08/1999)
Members of the D.C. Council were looking forward to grilling D.C. School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman about continued problems in the school system's special education department. But nothing went quite as planned at a recent council hearing on the subject.
Things began normally enough, with a few residents telling council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), who chairs a special committee on special education, and a few other council members about their bad experiences with the program.
But before Ackerman and her new head of special education, Anne Gay, could be called, the hearing was halted so that the council chamber could be used for something else: a ceremony announcing that Sept. 24 was Don King Day in the District, sponsored by council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and featuring the wild-haired boxing promoter in all of his glory.
Sounding as much like a preacher as a promoter, King gave his signature spiel about how great America is--"you take the country with the bitter and the sweet"--and hailed the anti-slavery hero John Brown as he spoke about the importance of racial harmony. That led him to talk about Evans, calling him "controversial," in part because he was willing to embrace King, Mr. Controversy himself. King reminded the audience that Jesus Christ was controversial.
"Any leader worth his salt is controversial," he said.
After more than an hour of this, the hearing resumed, but there wasn't much time for witnesses because another event was scheduled. So Chavous called the school system's delegation to the dais for a discussion. But there was no Ackerman. She didn't show up--and it wasn't the first time she had been expected at a council hearing and had not appeared.
Officially, the message from Ackerman's office was that the superintendent believed that Gay and other officials involved in special education should be the primary people testifying at the hearing. People close to Ackerman say that she also is getting miffed that she and her administrators are called out to so many council hearings, forcing them to spend many hours in preparation time that she believes could be better spent working on ways to improve the school system.
Her absence infuriated Chavous and fellow council members David Catania (R-At Large), and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large). First, Chavous made excuses for Ackerman, but toward the end of the hearing, after somebody spoke about a nightmare with bus service of special education, Chavous blurted out, "That's why Mrs. Ackerman needs to be here, to hear what is going on."
Schwartz, too, took Ackerman to task: "It's most important to hear from the superintendent of schools."
Well, maybe next time. But maybe not.
Hurrah for Rejection
Why would a District council member care about Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening's rejecting a highway proposal outside the city?
Council member Catania says he wants to send Glendening "a thank-you note" for the governor's decision to kill the proposed $1 billion highway that would have linked Interstate 270 in Montgomery County with Interstate 95 in Prince George's County.
"It's the best news the District's had in a long time," Catania said during a recent hearing on the confirmation of new D.C. Planning Director Andrew Altman.
Catania's reasoning is that the District suffers every time money is spent adding to the highways outside the city. In this case, he said, the proposed highway could have led to more jobs and housing and faster travel in Montgomery and Prince George's that could have lured more people out of the District.
"Any time federal money is spent improving the infrastructure of the suburbs, it makes it easier for businesses and people to leave the city," Catania said. "It's turning urban policy on its head. The District must remain the nucleus of the area. We don't want to make it easier to leave."
They've just been sworn in, but already members of the Commission on Latino Community Development have their most important task to tackle: finding a candidate to recommend for executive director of the Mayor's Office on Latino Affairs.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) swore in nine new members of the 15-member commission recently, saying the best way to generate more investment and more jobs in the District's Latino community is by mobilizing "the talent and resources of the business sector, universities, faith communities, foundations and government."
"There is a high expectation from our Latino community, and my administration is committed to the highest standard to develop a better understanding of the changing dynamics of the needs of the Latino community," Williams said.
The commission's primary responsibility is to interview candidates for director of the Office on Latino Affairs and to recommend three finalists to the mayor. Frank Yurrita, on leave from the Whitman-Walker Clinic, has been interim director since March 15. Finding a permanent replacement previously was stymied by the large number of vacancies on the commission.
The commission also will help advise the Latino Affairs Office, which was created in 1976 and helps fund myriad social service programs targeting Hispanics. The panel will advise the mayor on the views and needs of the District's Latino community, now estimated to be 37,500 people, or 7.2 percent of the city's population.
All commission members are D.C. residents and are volunteers.
The commission will meet Oct. 14 to discuss how to proceed with the search for a new executive director, said commission Chairman Julio "Jay" Haddock Ortiz, vice president of the Potomac Hotel Group. Williams named him chairman.
"Obviously, we're going to get busy very quickly," he said.
The new chairman said the commission would work with the mayor to "bring the Latino community into the mainstream of D.C."
New appointees to the commission whose terms will expire in July are Candace Kattar, co-founder and executive director of IDENTITY Inc., and Patricia Campos, assistant director of the Labor Council for Latino American Advancement.
Besides the chairman, other appointees whose terms expire in July 2001 are Cris Covelli, executive director of the ARRIBA (Association for Research and Rehabilitation of Impaired Bicultural Americans) Center for Independent Living; Adrian V. Dominguez, former executive assistant at the Japanese American Citizens League; Cristobal S. Berry-Caban, president of the Atlantic Resources Corporation in Reston; and Diego Uriburu, coordinator of the Latino Mental Health Program at the Whitman-Walker Clinic.
Commission appointees whose terms expire in July 2002 are Rafael Humberto Alarcon, a school bus aide for D.C. public schools, and Pablo Perez, a lawyer for Discovery Communications Inc., of Bethesda.
Staff writer Sylvia Moreno contributed to this report.