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Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nation's capital

by the editor of The Common Denominator

SNOW FALLOUT: As usual, most complaints about slow snow removal from residential streets ceased as the 16-inch Presidents' Day weekend snowfall melted away with the onset of warmer temperatures. But the Williams administration continues to take flak as a consequence of its failure to acknowledge its poor performance at the height of Code Orange national security concerns in the nation's capital.

The criticism reached as far as London, the home of the Bush administration's staunchest ally in the international debate over military action in Iraq. In a "Letter to America," Financial Times columnist Jurek Martin in the March 1 weekend edition blasted Mayor Tony Williams for making "extraordinarily self-congratulatory" public announcements about the progress of snow removal efforts when "accomplishment did not seem to match up."

Wrote Martin, about what headline writers dubbed a "smug…acceptance of mediocrity": "Maybe it is psychological. Having been told so often you are doing 'a good job,' it becomes impossible to recognise (sic) you are not."

Notably, Mayor Williams was at the forefront of several press conferences during the city's official snow emergency. The mayor staged several photo ops for the news media and repeatedlypledged in front of television cameras that all city streets would get at least a first pass with snow removal equipment by his administration's self-imposed deadline. But when the city missed its deadline, the mayor left Department of Public Works spokeswoman Mary Myers alone in the spotlight to contend with reporters' questions.

Ironically, among events canceled by the Williams administration at the end of February - because of hazardous road conditions from poorly executed snow-clearing and salting operations - were two public meetings at which the city's Emergency Management Agency was to inform city residents about emergency preparedness plans and procedures.

The mayor's pique at his administration's inadequate performance may at least partially explain mayoral spokesman Tony Bullock's recent fit of temper in responding to nationally televised criticism of the snow removal efforts by commentator John McLaughlin on both "The McLaughlin Group" and "John McLaughlin's One on One."

McLaughlin, who lives in Northwest Washington, suggested that the city's poor performance might make a suspension of home rule in favor of federal control necessary to properly deal with a state of emergency in the nation's capital. McLaughlin's street was among those left unplowed for several days.

Bullock last week acknowledged on WAMU's "D.C. Politics Hour" show that he referred to "One on One" producer Matthew Faraci as "McLaughlin's chief twit" in a subsequent conversation about the broadcasts with Washington Post columnist Lloyd Grove. Bullock said he owes Faraci an apology.

But Bullock continues to dispute Faraci's contention that Bullock referred to civic watchdog Dorothy Brizill, the executive director of DC Watch who was a guest on McLaughlin's "One on One" show, as a "f---ing wacko" before the show was taped. Faraci says Bullock used the epithet while arguing that Brizill, whose complaint to the Board of Elections and Ethics last fall resulted in the mayor being kept off the Democratic primary ballot, was an inappropriate guest on the show. Bullock has offered no public apology to Brizill.

While the mayor's public persona has been mild-mannered, Faraci told listeners March 7 on "D.C. Politics Hour" that he believes the mayoral spokesman's unrestrained personal attacks against Brizill and him show the "other side of this mayor."

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator