Better flopped than chopped?

During his campaign, Adrian Fenty promised that if he were elected mayor he would release a secret memo from former Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti to former Mayor Anthony Williams. The letter, written in 2004, concerns whether or not a gay couple married in Massachusetts can file taxes jointly in the District. Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson told HillScape two weeks ago that the letter would be released last week. It was not.

During his campaign, Adrian Fenty promised that if he were elected mayor he would release a secret memo from former Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti to former Mayor Anthony Williams. The letter, written in 2004, concerns whether or not a gay couple married in Massachusetts can file taxes jointly in the District. Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson told HillScape two weeks ago that the letter would be released last week. It was not.

“I think the mayor decided against releasing it for the time being,” says attorney general spokeswoman Traci Hughes.

The mayor’s office had no comment.

In 2005, Spagnoletti advised a gay couple that they could indeed file their D.C. tax returns jointly, prompting Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to ride his high horse to the grandstand.

“I have been and continue to be a strong believer and protector of traditional marriage,” Brownback told The Washington Post. “This issue has now been moving across the country for several years, and I guess we will deal with something now in D.C.”

“Deal with” meaning, essentially, that we will twist the city’s arm (by not passing its budget, perhaps) until city officials insist that they will not let gays destroy traditional marriage with their jointly filed gay tax returns. Spagnoletti quickly reversed course and said the District reserved the right not to allow joint-filing. Williams kept Spagnoletti’s earlier memo under his hat to prevent another episode.

“Far too much has been made of that letter,” says Richard Rosendall, vice president for political affairs at the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA). “It’s just an opinion.”

At least for HillScape, the mystery of what the letter says is simply too titillating. Why does Mayor Fenty promise to release it and then change his mind?

But Rosendall makes a good point: Even if the memo says a married couple from Massachusetts can file jointly in the District, it’s just one former official’s legal opinion. That’s not nearly as provocative as, say, the D.C. Council enacting a full-fledged gay-marriage law, which would surely bring the House down.

Consider, for example, that on Jan. 6 Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.) introduced a bill to prohibit the District from legalizing same-sex marriage — her second (futile) attempt in two years. The marriage-defenders are a step ahead of the District.

As for Fenty, Rosendall thinks flip-flopping on the Spagnoletti letter is no more of an offense than another broken promise: that he would consult the GLAA before making appointments to the D.C. Office of Human Rights and to the Metropolitan Police Department. But Rosendall stresses he is pleased the new administration hasn’t similarly burned the gay community with a too-hasty fire chief appointment.


 
Hill residents demand a reversal

Fenty’s got himself in a little hot water with his first nomination to the D.C. Zoning Commission: Geoffrey Griffis, current chairman of the Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA).

The BZA’s task is to grant exceptions to city zoning regulations. The Zoning Commission writes the regulations, and soon will have to rewrite them in accordance with the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The rap on Griffis is that he’s been too pro-developer in his interpretations of zoning laws. And there are allegations of impropriety: He was caught in bed with a board member from the National Child Research Center while it was up for leave from a zoning rule.

D.C. Councilmembers Phil Mendelson and Tommy Wells have expressed, respectively, disapproval and skepticism of the appointment. The nomination is particularly irksome to Hill residents who were totally ticked at the BZA’s recent decision to allow the non-profit AppleTree Institute to open a public charter pre-school on a residential street near Lincoln Park. The issue is a hot button for NIMBY rage.

“I’ve been active in these things for 40 years, and I’ve seen many nominations go forward,” says Dick Wolf, president of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. “This is the first time in my memory that you’ve had across the city a swell of opposition to a nominee.”

Griffis did not return a call for comment. He defended himself in a recent City Paper story by pointing out that the Court of Appeals tends to uphold his board’s decisions.

Wolf says the Griffis nomination represents a continuation of the previous administration’s overly pro-developer policies. The Williams administration let the schools and housing affordability slide while encouraging developers to build condos, so the yuppie population has ballooned but families have fled, as per a recent study by the Urban Institute.

“Land use is politics,” Wolf says, explaining the “swell of opposition” to Griffis. In D.C., questions of lot occupancy are the equivalent of the suburban-sprawl issues so key in the last suburban elections, Wolf says. Griffis likely faces an ugly confirmation hearing.


 
The Home Rule defense

Opponents of Adrian Fenty’s plan for a mayoral takeover of the public schools are crying “home rule!” They want a referendum vote for D.C. residents instead of Fenty’s plan to amend the Home Rule Charter through the D.C. Council and act of Congress. On Jan. 21, The Washington Post reported that, according to expert opinion, a referendum would only be symbolic. HillScape sought the opinions of several home-rule experts.  

“The mayor wants to take over the schools and the press comes runnin’ to ME!” said D.C.’s congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton at a voting-rights seminar in a Capitol Hill church basement. Everybody laughed. Stupid press!

But Norton’s office obliged this reporter with a statement first pointing out that Norton, who has already indicated support for a takeover approved by the Council, would support a referendum result if Congress tried to act against residents’ wishes.

Michael Fauntroy, former congressional researcher and current George Mason University policy professor, also attended the seminar. He had this to say when an audience member (not myself) asked about the takeover: “When you reopen the Home Rule Act you may not limit changes to just education.” Fauntroy’s apparent concern over a “dangerous precedent” echoes that of school takeover opponents.

The Post reported that Fenty said his two years of door-to-door campaigning amounted to a referendum, even though he never mentioned a school takeover until after the election. Quite shady. So is Fenty the populist being a hypocrite by taking this more expeditious route? Maybe it’s time to say bye-bye to the cuddly media darling that got himself elected, and say hello to Mr. Hardball.

James Caviness, host of “The Most Politically Incorrect Show in the Universe” on D.C. public access television, took up the issue on his Jan. 23 broadcast: “If [Fenty’s] going to do this, he better be ready to tell a lot of people where to go and how to get there.” By where to go, Caviness means, of course, to Hell. 


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