Friday, October 15, 2010

City Workers Used On Campaigns

Below is an e-mail disseminated to neighborhood e-mail distribution lists by Joe Martin, a former Ward Service Coordinator for Mayor Adrian Fenty (and an excellent one, I might add).  Until recently, Joe continued to work in the Fenty Administration.  He serves as Chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C in Petworth and is currently running for reelection.  Joe alleges widespread violations of the Hatch Act, which significantly restricts involvement of federal (and city) civil servants in political campaigns.

How large of a problem is this -- are these types of violations just a fact or life in the political world?  Federal workers -- would this happen in your agencies?

From: Joseph Martin
Subject: City Workers Being Used On Campaigns
Date: Thursday, October 14, 2010, 10:42 AM

I hope after the election the Hatch Act can be thoroughly revisited, vetted by the public and that we can find a better way to do things here in the District of Columbia.

The Federal Hatch Act covers DC government workers (in addition to federal workers).

While employees of the Executive Office of the Mayor were instructed by the Mayor's Ethics Attorney on how to follow the letter of the law, my interpretation of those sessions was that there was somewhat of a wink-wink, nod-nod element that I did not like at all. A variation of...

Never write when you can speak, never speak when you can nod, never nod when you can wink.

I know for fact that there were cases where staffers were called at 1:00 pm while sitting at their city-government desks and told that they needed to put in for leave immediately "do visibility" for "Emerald City" -- code for the Fenty Re-Election Campaign.

Tracy Sandler, executive director of Serve DC, said at one weekly staff meeting early in the summer, "I am waiting for everyone's leave slips." My interpretation of that might be different from others. This request was repeated in other weekly meetings.

Fun Fact: By her own admission at a staff meeting in early July, she acknowledged to me after I asked that she still is in places the voice of Barbie. Some of my coworkers referred to Tracy as "Barbie." I asked why.

"Do you want to hear my favorite line!" She exclaimed in front of all of us at that early, July staff meeting:

"Sometimes a girl's just got to wear a tiara!" 

Calls came in to Serve DC staffers, registered Republicans in three cases, at their desks during the work day asking them to work on the campaign. "We are not even Democrats and they want us to work on the Democratic primary."

Days before the Ward 4 straw poll, Sarah Latterner of EOM calling from her office in the Wilson Building and emailed me via government email demanding that I come up with a list of what the Mayor accomplished in Ward 4.

"You know what it's for," don't you?," she asked on the phone that morning.

"Your diary?," I replied.

"How soon can you get it to me? We need it now. We don't have any institutional knowledge left downtown. We're relying on you to help."

Weeks before that, Sinclair Skinner passed word through someone to me, "We need Joe's help in Ward 2."

I heard via private text messages that questions lingered about whether or not I was a "team player" (Team Fenty). I posted about this item weeks ago when I got a text message from ANC 4D Commissioner Bill Quirk asking me if it was true that I had been seen talking to Vincent Gray at a block party two blocks from my house. I know an Office of Aging employee who told me that she, too, received a text asserting that she was seen talking to Vincent Gray on Connecticut Avenue.

Before the Ward 4 straw poll the calls to me were intense, Terry Lynch of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations called me on my personal cell while I am sitting at my desk: "Are you forgetting what Mayor Fenty has done for this city!! You need to call me, Joe."

There were a few days where I put my two-year-old iPhone on "airplane mode" at my desk to block all calls so that I could attempt to focus on work at Serve DC in the Reeves Center.

As things looked grim heading towards the primary, I asked one Serve DC coworker how her weekend went.

"I didn't have a weekend. I volunteered for Emerald City, knocking on doors of registered Republicans in the Palisades asking them to switch their party affiliation so that they could vote for the Mayor in the primary."

Around the same time when I took a quick, weekday lunch at Busboys and Poets, Councilmember Jim Graham asked me as I was leaving, "Why aren't you out on the streets helping your boss?" I was with a city agency worker, a close friend, and his son. My reply to Mr. Graham, "You do know that I have work to do for my day job across the street in the Reeves Center, don't you?," as I nodded across the street towards the Reeves Center.

I told my city-agency friend who also disappeared from his job to work for Emerald City that I was more forgiving of people like him working on the campaign, taking last minute leave. "You have small children to feed. I know that. So does Team Fenty."

A friend who used to work in the Wilson Building for another City Councilmember remarked at lunch the day after I received Bill Quirk's text message, "The whole Wilson Building is a Hatch Act violation."

This needs to stop.

It seems incredibly disingenuous for those who effectively are signing your paychecks to ask you to "volunteer" on their campaigns.

According to one friend who had business friends who received the emails, Sarah Lasner, former deputy chief of staff who served as a key figure on Team Fenty, sent an email to business people telling them to take the week off before the September primary to "volunteer" on the campaign. She added something to the effect of redefining the word "volunteer" for them.

I often wondered what the result would be if there was some secret way of asking all incumbents' staffs whether or not they would be working or "volunteering" on a given campaign if they did not feel as if their jobs depended on it.

If your boss who signs your paycheck asks you to "volunteer" on her/his campaign, how does that make you feel? Where are the ethics in that?

If I seemed very stressed out this summer to a lot of my friends and neighbors, this is a hint of why.

I would like to see this system stopped. Am I a fool to think it's possible?

My oldest brother in Rhode Island snorts when I talk about this. "What were you expecting? This is city government.

It happens everywhere." I would joke back, "I still don't think it's asking too much to expect someday that the DC government will work with the efficiency and professionalism of FedEx or UPS, the entire government." If my brother had been texting instead of talking to me on the phone, I probably would have looked at my screen to read: LOL!!! LMAO!

My brother refuses to text.

"If I need to communicate with someone, I pick up the phone and call them."

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