When he kicked off his campaign last weekend for the Ward 8 D.C. Council seat, former mayor Marion Barry had none of the big names from past electoral battles on hand. But he did have one influential man in his corner: radio talk show host Joe Madison.
Madison, a.k.a. "The Black Eagle," is a longtime activist and former executive director of the Detroit NAACP who hosts a popular early-morning show on WOL. Madison touched off rumors about Barry's impending candidacy on June 1 when he alerted local media that the former mayor intended to throw his hat into the ring the next day during an appearance on Madison's show.
As it turned out, Barry did not take the plunge on the air. No matter. Evidently impressed by Barry's message of summer jobs and free college tuition, Madison signed on as a highly visible supporter for the former mayor's comeback campaign.
Last Saturday, Madison delivered a stemwinder of a speech before a crowd of nearly 100 at Barry's headquarters on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Mellon Street SE. As Barry sat on a folding chair sipping at a bottle of cold water, Madison pumped up the crowd with lavish praise for Barry and a harsh critique of the performance of the current City Hall regime.
Madison also announced that he was pledging $500 to Barry's campaign, and he held up a check for $250, which he called the first installment. He then challenged the crowd to match his gift, eventually passing around a cardboard box to collect the resulting flurry of singles, twenties and 100-dollar bills.
Right up front, Madison said no one should mistake him for a journalist who has a professional obligation to remain neutral and objective.
"I have tremendous respect for journalists. I am not a journalist. I'm in the media, but I'm not a journalist. I'm an advocate and activist who has a talk show," said Madison, who is also a resident of Ward 8.
Meanwhile, for those still wondering whether Barry is really serious about this campaign: He sent someone to pick up his nominating petitions from the Board of Elections and Ethics on Monday.
To make the ballot as a Democratic challenger to incumbent Ward 8 council member Sandy Allen, Barry must collect the signatures of 250 registered Ward 8 voters by July 7.
Catania Alleges Cronyism
Council member David A. Catania (R-At Large) is calling on his colleagues to reject a contractor chosen by Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) to build a new home for the city's troubled 911 emergency communications center.
The mayor's office wants to award the contract, worth nearly $43 million, to a joint venture formed by Tompkins Builders Inc. and Jair Lynch, a Shepherd Park native and Olympic gymnast who won a silver medal in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Lately, Lynch has added the title "developer" to his resume, winning a number of city contracts worth as much as $14.5 million. This month, Jair Lynch/Tompkins Joint Venture won the coveted contract for the so-called Unified Communications Center, a new civilian agency charged with taking over the 911 call center from city law enforcement.
From the start, competitors have complained that Lynch and his partners have received special treatment from the city. The joint venture was not the low bidder, for example, but won the contract anyway thanks to a complex formula that gives favored status to businesses certified as "local, small and disadvantaged."
Catania is charging the administration with cronyism and calling on council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) to hold hearings in the Government Operations Committee.
"This just seems to me more business as usual. You got a pal? Make him rich," Catania said. "The lengths to which this government will go to preference its friends is just nauseating."
Williams spokesman Tony Bullock said Lynch is "nobody's crony."
"It's Catania's fantasy that there was some effort to steer this bid," Bullock said. "Our only goal is to get the project built at the best price. And if Mr. Catania wants to insert himself in the process and claim it was corrupt, he has an obligation to prove that allegation."
Probe Up in Air
Last week, the D.C. elections board called for an investigation of the circumstances surrounding a special supplement to the D.C. Register that was paid for, printed and mailed by a private party -- i.e., backers of a plan to bring slot machine gambling to the nation's capital -- in apparent violation of city law.
But as of Monday, interim Inspector General Austin Andersen said nobody had asked him to look into anything.
"We've been in contact with them for various things, but they haven't made a request," Andersen said of the elections board. "Maybe it's just been delayed. But in the past, when they've had something, they got it to us right away."
The special supplement was one of two printed for the benefit of slots backers, who are in a race against the clock to collect about 17,500 signatures before July 6. They paid about $2,000 for the first supplement -- an incident that Secretary of the District Sherryl Hobbs Newman called a "breach of procedure" that likely violates a city law authorizing only Newman's office to publish the legal bulletin.
The second supplement was printed at the request of Orange, whose ward would be home to the $510 million slots development proposed by D.C. businessman Pedro Alfonso and his attorney, former council member John Ray.
Though the elections board expressed concern about the first supplement, it nonetheless allowed the slots proposal to advance to the next step in the cumbersome initiative process.
So what happened to the investigation?
The request is in the mail, said elections board general counsel Kenneth J. McGhie.
"It went out today," he said Monday.