DeMorning DeBonis: April 13, 2011

TODAY IS APRIL 13, 2011 — DAY 98 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY — White House on D.C. deal: ‘Tough choices were made’

Kudos to my former employer, Washington City Paper, which put on an unusually rollicking debate for the five leading at-large D.C. Council candidates last night. It helped that the event was held in a nightclub, complete with fully stocked bar. There were many good questions, a few good answers and a lot of great interaction with the voters and between the candidates. The big news of the night trickled through the crowd late in the evening: The Post editorial board gave Republican Patrick Mara its nod: “The District government, which made so much progress over the past dozen years, seems in danger of slipping backward. It has been shaken by scandals ranging from self-interested use of public dollars to nepotism in hiring to questionable financial dealings of office holders. The need for a strong, independent voice to help the city regain its footing has rarely been more urgent. ... We enthusiastically endorse Patrick Mara. We think it would be healthy to temper the one-party domination of D.C. government, but that’s only the beginning of an argument. Mr. Mara is a socially progressive, fiscally conservative Republican who would bring diversity of thought and approach to the 13-member body. He has the strength to stand up for his beliefs but the pragmatism to form coalitions. ... Most refreshingly, Mr. Mara doesn’t change his positions to please the interests of the audience he’s addressing. He owes no favors to the entrenched Democratic establishment and, as such, would be a much-needed breath of fresh air on a council ossified by old ways and tired allegiances.”

AFTER THE JUMP — Post lets non-endorsed candidates down easy — Gray tries to stoke D.C. autonomy outrage in front of abortion clinic — Gray leads NYT editorial — online poker clears Congress

*** MAIN COURSE ***

LETDOWNS — “[Vincent Orange], who has lost recent races for mayor and council chair, brings the most experience, with strong fiscal credentials, but his candidacy, embraced by organized labor, is more about looking backward than forward. [Sekou Biddle] is earnest and thoughtful, with an impressive record in school reform, but he too easily adjusts his positions; he has wavered on tax hikes, school vouchers and whether he is independent from or allied with [Kwame Brown]. [Bryan Weaver] is well informed, but his approach to government is unbendingly liberal, with increased taxes seemingly his only solution. [Joshua Lopez], who would be the first Hispanic on the council if elected, is running an energetic, forthright campaign. There’s no doubt that he, too, would be an independent voice on the council, but he would benefit from more experience.”

PICK A WINNER — In her Examiner column, Jonetta Rose Barras gives a strange dual endorsement: “Mara and Orange deserve citizens’ consideration in the special election scheduled for April 26. Mara and Orange railed against waste, fraud and abuse in the government. They argued for better protections for small businesses; for an aggressive jobs creation program; more strategic economic development, and continued education reform. ... Both men would bring fresh ideas, a strong voice and independent thinking, which could help restore the public’s confidence in the government. Either would serve the city well, I thought. ... Then I paused. I wondered whether Orange’s leadership role in the local Democratic Party would mean he might play footsie with members, most of whom also are Democrats. Would he compromise a little too much? That’s the question.”

ALSO — Weaver gets the nod from the D.C. College Democrats.

STOKING THE OUTRAGE — Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Council members tried to squeeze a second day of national press out of their Monday evening arrests while protesting a federal budget deal that restricts District government funding of abortions. Gray led a news conference outside the downtown office and clinic of Planned Parenthood Metropolitan Washington, and made overt attempts to link the city’s autonomy struggles with efforts to win abortion rights and even broader movements. The AP’s Jessica Gresko writes that Gray, as a next step, said “that residents should work through religious groups and neighborhood and civic associations to push back against consequences for Washington in the federal budget Congress is expected to pass later this week. ... Gray said he didn’t have any guarantees that activism by citizens would work, but he added that change comes about when people get frustrated enough to take action, making analogies to the civil rights movement, the movement to give women the right to vote and recent events in Egypt and Libya.” But Examiner’s Freeman Klopott wonders if Gray muddied his message by holding his news conference in front of an abortion clinic: “By unlinking D.C. rights and abortion, Gray had the opportunity to try to build national consensus for the District’s financial freedom. But by putting the two so closely together, Gray might have put the D.C. rights message at the center of a national debate about abortion and federal funding for Planned Parenthood.”

ALSO — Kwame Brown talks about his arrest with WBJ’s Michael Neibauer: “It was interesting because a couple of [the arresting officers actually live in the District. ... I knew one of the guys and his family and he had a smile on his face the whole time because he really understood what we were doing and appreciated it even though he still had to lock everyone up.” Tommy Wells tells Klopott that he called Deputy Mayor Paul Quander while in custody “to push Capitol Police to skip the digital [fingerprint] scanning processing so they could all go home.” Ben Pershing looks at Norton’s curious explanation for why she was not among the arrestees. Orange made an odd attempt at explaining his non-arrest via tweet. DCist wonders where the seven non-arrested council members were. TBD puts together an essential list of ways the District could mess with key federal lawmakers if they could. For John Boehner: “A whole bunch of José Andrés restaurants! Not only will Boehner complain about portion size, Andrés is an outspoken critic of smoking.” The American Prospect’s Adam Serwer wonders why the GOP didn’t take aim at the District’s same-sex marriage law. HuffPo’s Arthur Delaney interviews the DC for Obama founder, who is angry about the deal. WUSA-TV surveys the Ben’s Chili Bowl crowd. More second-day coverage from WTTG-TV, WUSA-TV, WAMU-FM, WTOP, Politico

THE CYNIC — Slate’s Dave Weigel writes: “There is no nice way to write this, so here goes: Obama picked the right guts to punch. The selling out of D.C. was classic, and predictable, realpolitik. Start with D.C.’s negotiating position. It’s an awfully weak one. Since 1973, D.C. has had home rule, a certain amount of control over its budget and institutions — as long as it doesn’t do anything Congress doesn’t want it to do. ... Obama can trade away D.C.’s laws for the same reason that Republicans don’t want to give the city a vote in Congress: The city votes for Democrats at more or less the rate Egyptians used to ‘vote’ for Hosni Mubarak. (The vote count is more accurate in D.C.) ... If we’re willing to be cynical for a moment, Obama has even more room to move because a D.C. sellout is good for the city’s political class. The stars of the Monday rally and arrests were Gray and City Council Chairman Kwame Brown, both of whom took office in January and started long, slow public meltdowns. ... On Monday, Brown and Gray got to stand in front of cameras and hollering protesters, present their wrists to the police, and get slapped with plastic handcuffs.”

THE DEAN — Tom Sherwood writes in his Notebook: “So after the first flush of significant activism in several years, people have to ask, what’s next? ... [T]he sad fact is that the city’s episodic bursts of enthusiasm for demonstrating are just that — episodic. Daily life, scandal, pressures of governing and everything else have a way of whittling down interest in sustained protest. And as we’ve often said, the local people with real power to change the city’s plight — connected business folks and heavy-hitting national organizations — already get what they want from Congress. They don’t need voting rights.”

GRAY LADY — On today’s New York Times editorial page: “Mayor Vincent Gray of Washington was so angry that the budget deal prohibited his city from spending its own money on abortion that he blocked traffic outside the Capitol, getting arrested in the process. His rage was a sharp departure from the general self-congratulation of Democratic leaders and President Obama’s failure to tell the truth about the budget deal for this year: It ushers in a denuded era of loss to vital government services, mostly at the expense of the most vulnerable. If Mr. Obama and the Democrats believe in the promise of his campaign — that government must do what individuals cannot for themselves — they need to summon some new fighting strength.”

AND COURTLAND’S BACK! — Courtland Milloy writes in today’s Post: “Admit it, D.C. You really don’t want voting rights in Congress. And it must not be all that bad having social conservatives on Capitol Hill helping to manage your money — as well as your morals. Otherwise, city leaders would be doing more than making empty symbolic gestures in the name of justice and equality. ... As part of their choreographed photo-op ‘arrest,’ 41 protesters were charged with blocking a street. The offense carries a $50 fine, comparable to a parking violation. Viva la revolucion! ... [D]on’t be fooled: City officials aren’t upset because low-income residents will be deprived of critical health services. They just want their hands on the money. If that was not the case, then Monday’s protest would have included a lot more of the people in whose name the fight was being waged: low-income residents. ... Will D.C. leaders ever be able to instill that sense of urgency about Congressional interference? Going forward, Gray is calling on churches and civic groups to join in the struggle. That’s not a strategy; it’s political naivete. Not even the most liberal black congregations will have their ministers standing in the pulpit on Sunday mornings advocating self-determination to fund abortions, needles for heroin addicts and legalized marijuana.”

THE PRICE OF EMPOWERMENT — The Washington Times’ Jeffrey Anderson explores whether Rochelle Webb’s dismissal was connected to Project Empowerment, a DOES-funded program aimed to getting jobs for ex-offenders. “Webb, who lost her job April 1 in the firestorm over Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s political hires, told The Washington Times on Monday that two days before she was fired, she advised a deputy mayor that Project Empowerment ... was $5 million over budget because it had been funded inappropriately through the use of workers’ compensation funds. ... In addressing her concerns about what she says was Project Empowerment’s looming budget dilemma, Ms. Webb got caught up trying to navigate policy conflicts among city leaders while evaluating the role of a popular program director in light of input from a mayoral adviser who was critical of the program. The council hearing exposed a policy disagreement between some of Ms. Webb’s detractors and Mr. Gray over whether to outsource Project Empowerment to private contractors. Ms. Webb testified that it was the mayor’s vision to outsource the program, but Council Member Jim Graham said he supported the way Mr. Jones was running it. Ms. Webb testified that Mr. Gray told her not to worry about such policy differences.” OK, then. Anderson also touts a Project Empowerment success story.

*** SMALL PLATES ***

Well, this is quite a cartoon (Examiner)

Online gambling provision passes congressional review (WAMU-FM, Examiner)

Fire union: Out-of-service ladder trucks slowed response to fire that hurt five firefighters (WaTimes)

What federal budget cuts will do to D.C. courts (Legal Times)

Nonresidents enroll children in DCPS “with impunity” (D.C. Schools Insider)

Fiscal Policy Institute responds to Post editorial on Gray budget (DCFPI)

Biddle mailer is obliquely critical of Vincent Orange (Loose Lips)

More proof that 1000-series Metro cars are less than structurally sound (Examiner)

Three found not guilty, one found guilty of lesser charges in 2008 Trinidad murder (Post)

$2.6 billion CSO abatement project, explained in cartoon form (DC Water via YouTube)

D.C. explains why it shouldn’t have to pay to dig body out of landfill (WUSA-TV)

Was it a good idea for Capital Bikeshare to do a LivingSocial deal? (GGW)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Kwame Brown on NewsTalk With Bruce DePuyt, 10 a.m. on TBD — Gray holds news conference, 10 a.m. in JAWB press room; attends “State of Qatar” dinner, 7 p.m. at the Four Seasons — council budget hearings on the University of the District of Columbia, 10 a.m. in JAWB 500; Department of Public Works, D.C. Water and Washington Aqueduct, 10 a.m. in JAWB 412; and Office of Disability Rights, Office of Campaign Finance, Board of Election and Ethics, Department of Environment and Office of Risk Management, 10 a.m. in JAWB 123

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.

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