Marion Barry, now embarked on his second term as D.C. mayor, has already rewarded some his campaign stalwarts with city jobs. I won't name them. My purpose is not to expose the payoffs or point out the incompetency of some new feeders at the public trough, or to call for an end to political patronage. I am suggesting that we just might need more patronage, not less.
We don't need to go crazy with the idea of rewarding the politically faithful, of course. I recall a time when (in Indiana, for instance) if the state government went from Democratic to Republican, Statehouse employees right down to janitors and charwomen, lost their jobs. That's probably too much. But is it unreasonable for a new mayor to have some political plums to toss around?
The District has no patronage worthy of the name. "Aside from department heads, 100 other excepted slots (mostly deputy department heads and such) and another 25 positions on the mayor's immediate personal staff, we really don't have political patronage," says City Administrator Elijah Rogers.
The absence of patronage is both good and bad, according to Rogers, a professional city manager who will leave his post in May. "Because Washington historically has been a city without elected officials, it has been free of the super-cool, big-city political machinations. It has been a clean city in that respect. But in a strong-mayor form of government (like Washington's) it is inherent that you have a chief executive who is an active politician. Thus it would make sense to have the flexibility to make a significant number of appointments without going through the civil service system."
The way things are now, he said, the patronage appointments get made as though they were regular civil service positions, which means that a new mayor is stuck with a lot of people, or else has to find excuses for replacing some of them. Rogers would rather do it as straight-up patronage. He acknowledged that that would require some modification of the Hatch Act, which outlaws political activity on the part of civil servants, since it would be silly to appoint people on the basis of their political activity and then make them pretend to be apolitical. The easiest way of handling that problem would be to amend the Hatch Act to exempt the patronage positions. "I'm talking maybe 300 jobs, total," he said.
Rogers, now serving temporarily as one of three deputy mayors, was not offering a proposal but only responding to a question from me. But he clearly likes the idea. "When I first came here, I used to tell people under me that I was the only person the mayor could fire outright," he recalled. "In those days, even department heads were part of the civil service system and could only be removed for cause. That didn't make sense, and we've since changed it. Even in the council- manager form of government, the department heads serve at the pleasure of the city manager. One way you get people to be responsive is to be able to reward the good ones and to get rid of people who won't follow the manager's lead."
It's something to think about. And now, with Barry having filled all of the major slots for his second term in office, might be as good a time as any to start thinking about it.