There were two big announcements Monday.
Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski announced in her hometown of Baltimore that she won’t run for re-election in 2016. True to form, however, she did promise to “spend my time raising hell” until this term ends.
The Mikulski decision doesn’t just roil state Democratic Party politics in Maryland. Even in the minority, Mikulski is a powerhouse in the seniority-run Senate, where she is in her fifth term. The whole Washington region will lose some clout on Capitol Hill.
Here in the District, Monday’s news marked a beginning, not an end.
Mayor Muriel Bowser formally announced that she was nominating former Seattle Fire Chief Gregory Dean to fill the same post in the District. So much for Dean’s original plan to play golf, which was his announced goal when he retired in December after a 44-year career that included the last 10 as chief.
“You retired,” one reporter asked at the news conference held downtown in the fire station at 6th and F streets NW. “Why take this?” Dean smiled and said he had planned to take six months off before deciding what he might do next, but Bowser called within two months.
“For me, that was a long two months’” Dean said. “I found out I like being busy. … I’m excited to be here.” He joked that his golf game would have to take a back seat. (It will.) He said he’s such a voracious reader that he has to wait for books to be published because he reads so many so fast.
Those books may get dusty, too.
Dean, who starts May 1, will lead a frazzled fire department that has calmed down under interim Chief Eugene Jones, who wanted the permanent job, but still faces major administrative hurdles. (Bowser praised Jones but also announced that he is now on routine leave until his exit papers can be drawn up.)
What lies ahead for Dean?
“We cannot dismiss the critical needs in the area of staffing, resources and training,” Local 36 President Ed Smith says in a statement welcoming Dean. “Our department has been severely neglected by mismanagement [that has left it] in a critical state.”
The rank and file seemed in a perpetual war with former chief Kenneth Ellerbe, who clashed with firefighters over big things as well as small, like uniforms, insignia and paint on firehouse doors.
Dean said he is aware of the most publicized problems — from coordination with the Metro system to the horrific death a year ago of 77-year-old Medric Cecil Mills Jr. He died in his daughter’s arms after personnel at a fire station across the street inexplicably failed to heed her desperate pleas for help.
“I need to come in and work with the men and women of this department,” Dean said, declining to directly address the Rhode Island Avenue NE incident.
Dean seemed poised, confident and open about tackling the fire department issues. Will firefighters be in a station house for 24 straight hours and be off 72? The vast majority of calls are health-related, not traditional fires. How should hiring and training address that?
One potential negative? Time. Dean won’t start for two months, and he said Monday that he expects to spend the next six months learning the department before making any big changes.
That’s plenty of time for this embattled department to find its way back into the news cycle with more troubles.
Mayor Bowser received the fire union endorsement in the general election last year. She promised a comprehensive search for a new fire chief. She’s apparently done that. “We have to make sure we have a forward-looking department,” Bowser said Monday.
That’s a good beginning.
■ Pot politics. Personal possession of marijuana became legal in the District last week. All manner of hell didn’t break out, and Mayor Bowser wasn’t arrested after outraged members of Congress urged federal authorities to bring charges against her.
There’s still a chance conservative Republicans on the Hill could attach a no-pot rider to most any bill and stop pot in its tracks. But so far, “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.” But pay attention to the law — there’s no public smoking allowed, and it’s still illegal even to possess pot on any federal properties.
Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.