Half­way through term, Racine yet to make mark as D.C. AG.

Must earn clout for may­oral bid

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY RYAN M. MCDER­MOTT

Half­way through his first term, Karl Racine has set out to make his mark as the Dis­trict’s first elected at­tor­ney gen­eral, but crit­ics charge that he has done lit­tle to de­fine the of­fice — or him­self — since step­ping into the spot­light.

Now mulling a run for D.C. mayor, Mr. Racine has touted his two years of fight­ing for ju­ve­nile jus­tice re­form, af­ford­able hous­ing and con­sumer rights.

“There is much we can do to make the Dis­trict a more just and eq­ui­table place,” Mr. Racine said in an in­ter­view. “I want res­i­dents to have faith in their pub­lic of­fi­cials, to know that we’re here to fight for them.”

But that hasn’t im­pressed every­one. “I like Karl Racine. He’s a good guy. But he hasn’t done any­thing sig­nif­i­cant,” said Chuck Thies, a long­time po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant who most re­cently has worked for D.C. Coun­cil mem­ber Vin­cent C. Gray, Ward 7 Demo­crat.

The con­sen­sus among city gov­ern­ment watch­ers is that Mr. Racine has aimed to do good by the city but his ef­forts haven’t nec­es­sar­ily in­creased his name recog­ni­tion or amounted to po­lit­i­cal vic­to­ries.

Dorothy Brizill, a gov­ern­ment watch­dog who has been tan­gled with City Hall of­fi­cials since the 1980s, said Mr. Racine has not de­fined a role for his of­fice, which is im­por­tant for an in­au­gu­ral leader.

“It’s not that I’m su­per­crit­i­cal; I just haven’t drank the Kool-Aid when it comes to Karl Racine,” Ms. Brizill said. “I’ve fol­lowed him from the day he an­nounced his can­di­dacy. I don’t think he ever re­ally de­vel­oped a clear idea of what he would do if he got the po­si­tion.”

Mr. Racine, 54, made his­tory in 2015 when he took of­fice as the city’s first elected at­tor­ney gen­eral. Since 1905, the city had em­ployed a cor­po­ra­tion coun­sel or chief le­gal of­fi­cer who was ap­pointed by the mayor. City vot­ers in 2010 ap­proved amend­ing the D.C. Char­ter to es­tab­lish an elected at­tor­ney gen­eral and enu­mer­ate its pow­ers be­yond those of the mayor’s coun­sel.

Un­like other at­tor­neys gen­eral, the Dis­trict’s AG mostly tends to ju­ve­nile jus­tice, civil lit­i­ga­tion and con­sumer pro­tec­tion cases. The U.S. at­tor­ney for the Dis­trict of Columbia han­dles adult crim­i­nal cases.

Mr. Thies and Ms. Brizill said Mr. Racine has fo­cused too much on na­tional is­sues such as class-ac­tion law­suits with other states and fight­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion travel ban.

“He’s not re­ally grown into the po­si­tion as our first at­tor­ney gen­eral,” Mr. Thies said. “In­stead, he’s be­ing cau­tious and join­ing other at­tor­neys gen­eral against Trump. In­stead, he should go sue some­one, be­come an ad­vo­cate for the peo­ple.”

Said Mr. Racine: “It’s im­por­tant for an AG to stand by his col­leagues across the coun­try.”

Meg Maguire, vice chair­woman of the Com­mit­tee of 100 on the Fed­eral City, said Mr. Racine has taken up the cause of res­i­dents in sev­eral big cases, in­clud­ing two against San­ford Cap­i­tal — a land­lord that has racked up 200 warn­ings for hous­ing code vi­o­la­tions at apart­ment com­plexes for low-in­come res­i­dents.

“This is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant in terms of pre­serv­ing af­ford­able hous­ing in the city,” Ms. Maguire said. “You have rogue bad-ac­tor land­lords like San­ford Cap­i­tal tak­ing voucher money from the city and cre­at­ing in­tol­er­a­ble liv­ing con­di­tions for peo­ple who have no other choice.”

Rob Marus, Mr. Racine’s spokesman, said the at­tor­ney gen­eral “has de­fined the of­fice’s client as not only the D.C. gov­ern­ment but also the broader pub­lic. Ev­ery­thing has flowed out of that dual com­mit­ment.”

In his midterm re­port, Mr. Racine has claimed sev­eral vic­to­ries:

● More than 12,000 crim­i­nal and ju­ve­nile con­vic­tions.

● 750 place­ments for chil­dren in the fos­ter care sys­tem.

● Mil­lions of dol­lars in restitution paid to D.C. res­i­dents through con­sumer pro­tec­tion cases.

He also has trumped ju­ve­nile jus­tice re­form and af­ford­able hous­ing as top pri­or­i­ties and has twice sued San­ford Cap­i­tal for forc­ing renters to live in de­plorable con­di­tions in four Congress Heights apart­ment build­ings.

In an ef­fort to in­crease af­ford­able hous­ing op­tions, the at­tor­ney gen­eral said he per­suaded the Dis­trict’s De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment to start us­ing its au­thor­ity to ac­quire blighted prop­er­ties for re­newal. In the past two fis­cal years, the Dis­trict has ini­ti­ated or closed 14 land ac­qui­si­tion cases.

Mr. Racine has called for re­form­ing the way courts deal with mi­nors. That in­cludes ban­ning the prac­tice of shack­ling ju­ve­niles in court pro­ceed­ings, which he said “un­nec­es­sar­ily hu­mil­i­ates and stig­ma­tizes youth and can un­der­mine the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive pur­pose of ju­ve­nile court.”

He also has in­creased the rate at which we the city pro­vides in­ter­ven­tion to lowlevel, non­vi­o­lent ju­ve­nile of­fend­ers.

“You can’t be blindly soft or tough on crime,” Mr. Racine said. “You have to be smart on crime. Make dis­tinc­tions as to the kids who ben­e­fit from a dif­fer­ent kind of in­volve­ment than the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem.”

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