Howard Baker abruptly resigned last week as overseer of an overhaul of Washington, D.C.’s troubled 911 system. His offense was making a racist remark in the majority-black capital. What did Baker say? The Washington City Paper says that in a meeting with two subordinates, Baker blamed “jungle bunnies” for periodic overloads in 911 calls.
“I brought embarrassment to the administration and tarnished the reputation of the District government,” Baker said. “I’m ashamed I betrayed the trust that’s invested in me.”
The City Paper noted that Baker has an impressive list of accomplishments in public-safety communications. In Philadelphia, he served as first deputy chief information officer, focusing on information technology in the city’s criminal-justice cluster. He previously was New York City’s deputy police commissioner and chief information officer for the New York City Police Department. He managed the design, development, and operation of the city’s 911 dispatching system, telephone systems, and citywide radio systems.
The incident recalled a 1999 episode in which D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams accepted the resignation of an agency director who used the word “niggardly.” The word’s dictionary definition is “like or characteristic of a niggard; stingy; miserly.” Yet when David Howard used it a staff meeting, some interpreted it as a racial epithet and complained to the mayor. The incident became an embarrassment for the erudite Williams, who eventually rehired Howard.