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Control squabble hits Dems

Mayorís legal aide criticized for methods

(Published May 3,1999)


Staff Writer

The head of the cityís Democratic political organization says she was summoned to Mayor Anthony A. Williamsí offices May 25, where the mayorís chief legal counsel told her that Williamsí supporters intend to take over vacancies in the partyís ward organizations.

Paula Nickens, chairwoman of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, said mayoral aide Max Brown asked her to come to the meeting, held while the mayor was attending an out-of-town convention.

"The setting was inappropriate," said B. Three Feathers Kazemi, a Democratic activist who accompanied Nickens to the meeting. "He is not there to discuss political issues in his role as legal counsel. Who gave him the authority to do that on government time?"

Brown said the mayor did not ask him to meet with Nickens. The mayor could not be reached for comment at press time.

Brown said there was nothing improper about holding the political conversation with Nickens in government offices or with wanting to get as many Williams supporters as possible into elected positions within the political party.

"I think the mayor wants to have his supporters in these slots," Brown said. "Thatís politics. Itís ludicrous to think that weíre going to support people who werenít supportive of the mayor."

Elections for Democratic State Committee and ward committee seats are coming up in wards 4, 5, 6 and 8.

Nickens acknowledged that previous mayors tried to get their supporters into the ward organizations but that they consulted the elected city council members and asked for recommendations on qualified people.

"Not even Marion Barry came in to use his staff to try to control the party," Nickens said.

She chided Brown, who has admitted his style can be "abrasive," for going around the traditional channels of authority, including the city council representatives, several of whom opposed the mayor in last fallís Democratic primary.

"Normally you go through the council person, whether they ran against him or not," Nickens said. "We had a big primary fight, but thatís finished. The mayor is going to have to get over that."

Brown said party unity does not preclude the mayor from trying to win seats away from those who once opposed him and who might do so again in the future.

Williams supporters have already succeeded in gaining control of the Democratic Party organization in Ward 7, the birthplace of the "draft Tony Williams" movement. A pro-Williams slate pulled off a near perfect coup in October, capturing most of the seats on the executive committee of the Ward 7 Democratic organization. But the institution seems to have suffered since.

Chairman Matthew Shannon resigned twice -- the second time after Nickens persuaded him to stay -- and the committee has met only twice since October, said Greg Rhett, a member of the state committee.

After the Williams slate was installed, the January meeting "didnít go well," Rhett said. "Insulting comments" were made at the February meeting, the March meeting failed to make quorum and no meetings were held in April and May.

"In October, the Williams people brought their people in and ramrodded the vote through from the floor," Rhett said. "The Ward 7 Democrats have declined since that point. Some people have withdrawn in disgust, while the leadership has done nothing but insult people and cause a lot of confusion." Even some Williams supporters have become alienated from the party, he said.

Lorraine Whitlock, a charter member of the Ward 7 Democrats, said the current state of confusion and resentment stems from mistakes on both sides. Those new to the ward organization were unsure of their roles, she said, while some longtime members also handled things inappropriately and feelings were hurt.

Others say the problem is not that the current members of the executive committee are former Williams campaigners, but that they are considered outsiders. Many who had long been active in Ward 7 Democratic Party activities never met them and had little confidence in their qualifications.

"They are not qualified, Iíve never seen them," said Kazemi, a Ward 7 resident. "I didnít even know those people."

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator