- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2004

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams is defending his frequent trips away from the city — even as he prepares to lead a local trade mission to three cities in the Far East.

Since January, Mr. Williams has been to Paris twice and taken trips to Rome, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Houston on city business or in his role as an officer with the National League of Cities.

“I’ve gone out there and hustled to build relationships and bring business to the city,” Mr. Williams, a Democrat, said last week. And now he’s hustling off to Bangkok and Beijing with five members of the D.C. Council and eight city staffers for a 10-day trip starting Thursday.

In addition to maintaining “sister-city relationships,” Mr. Williams cited recent courtesy visits by mayors and trade delegations from each of the cities as part of the rationale for making the trip.

The mayor contends his efforts have helped bring billions of dollars in new investment to the District in the five years he has been in office. He cited the arrival of retailers such as Best Buy and the H & M clothing store chain, new housing development and increased trade-show activity as benefits resulting from his travels.

The D.C. government is paying $5,646 in airfare for each of the 14 officials and staff participating in the Asian trip. The travel expenses of the mayor’s wife, Diane Simmons Williams, are being provided by the nonprofit Washington First Corp., established by the mayor to cover her expenses when she accompanies him on city business.

All other expenses — including food, lodging and ground transportation — are being paid for by the local governments in the host cities, officials said.

The trip commemorates the 1984 trip by then-Mayor Marion Barry and other city officials to Beijing, which established cultural ties between the two capitals.

“That relationship led to the construction of the arch in Chinatown,” which remains a familiar local landmark, said council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, who is leading the council’s delegation.

Thirteen business leaders are taking the trip at their own expense, including William Hanbury, president of the Washington Convention and Tourism Corp. Though 4 million people from China visit the United States each year, very few are among the 20 million to 23 million people who visit the D.C. region.

“There’s an extraordinary amount of new net disposable income, and we want to tap into that,” Mr. Hanbury said.

• They finally say no

The D.C. Council last week for the first time rejected one of Mayor Anthony A. Williams’ appointees.

By a 12-1 vote, the council blocked the reappointment of James J. Jacobs as director of the D.C. Office of Risk Management, the agency that decides workers’ compensation claims by city employees.

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson, Ward 3 Democrat, cast the sole vote in favor of the appointment.

Mr. Jacobs has been vilified by city government workers and targeted for removal by the D.C. Employment Justice Center, a nonprofit advocacy group for the District’s low-income workers.

The movement to dislodge Mr. Jacobs was aided by a recent court ruling that found the city’s disability-compensation program under Mr. Jacobs had been wrongly terminating, suspending and reducing workers’ compensation benefits of injured city employees.

Federal District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ordered that every person terminated from the program since June 1998 be reinstated immediately and that no further terminations occur until the program establishes and publishes appropriate rules and regulations to guide its decisions.

The council’s first-ever vote against a mayoral appointment was lauded by disgruntled city employees, such as Shirley Massey, a secretary at the University of the District of Columbia, who was cut off from benefits several times after she was injured in a fall on the job.

“This is a great victory for us,” Miss Massey said. “We’ve gone through a lot of adversity, and this has been a long time coming.”

Still, the mayor defended his appointee.

“In general, what I believe is James Jacobs was put in there as a risk manager … to trim and better manage disability roles,” Mr. Williams said. “I believe that is what James Jacobs is about.”

• Democrats ahead

A new poll says Sen. John Kerry and Sen. Barbara Mikulski hold substantial leads over their Republican opponents in Maryland, despite some gains by President Bush and state Sen. E.J. Pipkin.

The poll by Gonzales Research and Marketing Strategies showed Mr. Kerry leading Mr. Bush 52 percent to 42 percent among 980 registered voters in the traditionally Democratic state who said they plan to vote on Nov. 2.

That tally was a slight improvement for Mr. Bush, who had the support of 40 percent of voters in an August Gonzales poll and trailed Mr. Kerry by 13 points.

In the Senate race, Miss Mikulski was running far ahead of Mr. Pipkin, 58 percent to 34 percent.

The poll was taken Oct. 1 through 5 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

It showed Marylanders deeply divided along party lines, with 82 percent of Republicans approving of the president’s job performance and 75 percent of Democrats disapproving. A slight majority of independents, 54 percent, also disapproved of the way Mr. Bush is running the country.

Mr. Bush had a big lead over Mr. Kerry in rural areas and a 10-point lead in the Baltimore suburbs, but that lead was more than offset by the Democrat’s strong showing in Baltimore and the Washington suburbs.

Mr. Pipkin, meanwhile, has invested heavily in television and radio advertising and is running a little better than the last Gonzales poll in June, when Miss Mikulski was leading 61 percent to 30 percent.

• Bias probe

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating whether the fire and police departments in Chesapeake, Va., have discriminated against black employees and job seekers.

City officials acknowledged the federal inquiry Wednesday, making Chesapeake the second Hampton Roads city under investigation after accusations of discrimination. Virginia Beach officials acknowledged that they were under investigation in August.

In both cities, the percentage of employees in the police and fire departments who are black is much lower than the percentage of blacks in each city’s population as a whole.

Though Chesapeake officials would not comment in detail about the federal investigation, they released a copy of the two-page letter sent to them by Assistant U.S. Attorney General R. Alexander Acosta.

“The Department of Justice has information that the city of Chesapeake may be engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against blacks on the basis of their race with respect to employment opportunities in its police and fire departments,” Mr. Acosta wrote.

Census records show that 28.5 percent of Chesapeake’s 210,000 residents are black. The city’s police department’s 461 sworn officers include 38 blacks, or 8 percent of the force, according to the city’s Human Resources Department.

The fire department’s 391 firefighters include 36 blacks — 9 percent of the department. Overall, the city’s work force is 65 percent white and 35 percent minority, including blacks, Asians, Hispanics and American Indians.

• He’s got to go

A state legislator from Baltimore is calling for the resignation of the Maryland General Assembly’s legislative staff, saying that the department discriminates against blacks.

Delegate Tony E. Fulton, in a letter sent last week to the leaders of the House and Senate, criticized the Department of Legislative Services and its director, Karl Aro, for failing to recruit and retain blacks on its fiscal services staff.

The department is responsible for drafting and analyzing bills before the legislature and monitoring actions by the state Board of Public Works.

“African-American staff members generally have short tenures, and are deprived of incentives, including promotion and management-level positions,” Mr. Fulton wrote in a letter to House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.. “I call for the resignation of Karl Aro, executive director of the Department of Legislative Services, and respectfully ask that he be replaced with an advocate for equal opportunity in the workplace.”

Mr. Miller said he and the speaker are aware of the concerns Mr. Fulton and other black lawmakers raised and have been urging Mr. Aro to ensure that increasing the diversity of the legislative staff is considered when hires are made.

“The 188 members of the Maryland General Assembly need to have confidence in these department heads,” Mr. Miller said. “We would like their hires to reflect as much as possible Maryland’s population in terms of its diversity. Over the years, the speaker and myself … made our views known that minority participation needs to be increased without firing persons, but as positions come available.”

S.A. Miller contributed to this column, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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