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Native Intelligence
D.C.'s had worse than Ramsey
(Published July 14, 2003)


I have mixed feelings about the political drama surrounding Police Chief Charles Ramsey during the past few weeks.

Part of me was pleased that, after a deal was cut behind closed doors, the city council approved Ramsey's pay raise but tied his benefits package to future successes in reducing crime through better management and deployment of officers.

Another part of me was angry at the council for that insipid grandstanding and pontificating during the July 8 meeting, especially when they already agreed to approve the raise.

I am not a big fan of Chief Ramsey. But I have lived through more inept and incompetent chiefs in my time in this city to view Ramsey's performance as not so horrific when compared to some previous individuals who have held the same job.

In almost all cases, "relative" is the operative word.

To those who think Ramsey's violation of First Amendment rights of political demonstrators is unconscionable, I suggest residents recall the head-banging violations during the numerous marches on Washington in the late 1960s and early '70s. Ramsey's clubbing and moving tactics pale in comparison. I am not defending Ramsey's behavior; I am just suggesting that we have had worse chiefs - and the council knows it.

If the council really wanted to dump him rather than give him a slap on the wrist, there would have been a search for a replacement. Not only was there no search, council members were told that removal of Ramsey would increase instability in an already overburdened police department.

Council members used the pay raise issue to flog Ramsey and to sell their constituents on the notion that they really care about crime. They huffed and puffed and put on a pretty good show, though I found the show wanting. The council complained that Ramsey was hired as an expert on community policing. Every police chief since the early '70s professes to be an expert on community policing.

Deep down, we all know that if Ramsey had tons of money and a slew of officers, neighborhood crime would not go away.


LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT? I am not alone these days in thinking that Mayor Anthony Williams has exhibited signs of boredom in the early months of his second term. I think he is in serious denial, unable to admit he has failed to offer D.C. residents the leadership needed to be a successful mayor.

On top of his education snafus, the mayor's so-called "economic development" is a disaster. The millions of cost overruns by the Sports and Entertainment Commission - on projects supported by the mayor - could have been put to better use than promoting a failed Mike Tyson fight, a disastrous Grand Prix race and a bomb of an Olympics bid.

If the mayor possessed even an ounce of the "vision thing," the city would not have needed to scramble to find summer jobs for D.C. youths. The Williams administration did a less than admirable job energizing the private sector. There are kids who need to earn money who were turned away from the program this month. And Williams says he's "focused" on doing a good job?

Mayor Williams has made the District's economy even more vulnerable to economic downturns than many of us thought possible. Early in his first mayoral term, I was hopeful we would see development of a more diverse economy than one dependent solely on tourism. Major economic change is a daunting task, but that is exactly what the District needed in the post-Marion Barry era to make us into a real metropolis, rather than a pit stop to somewhere else.

This city has become gaudy, all in the name of tourism. Mayor Williams has been bent on turning the District into the "Las Vegas of the East," with thousands of chain restaurants dotting downtown. A sea of Fuddruckers, Planet Hollywoods, Subways, Blimpies and Quizonnes dotting the landscape, sandwiched between museums and monuments? The mayor's concession to diversity seems to be the "Chinese" Hooters and Starbucks on Seventh Street. Williams doesn't seem upset about the "Vegas" environment he has helped to create.

It may not be a stretch to conclude that Williams wants out of the mayor's job. How can this guy think that attending a global conference in Rome two years in a row will help the District? I think that Williams really wants his Republican buddy, President Bush, to appoint him as an ambassador to anywhere. It would be a real plus for the president to appoint the African-American mayor of the nation's capital to some post just before the 2004 election.

Since the mayor seems to like Rome so much, my choice for Williams' new post would be ambassador to the Vatican. The mayor's newfound advocacy for using public money to support Catholic education would definitely be a big hit in Rome.


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Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator