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Posted at 10:26 AM ET, 04/14/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: April 14, 2011

TODAY IS APRIL 14, 2011 — DAY 99 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY — Meet the “D.C. 41,” arrested during a protestRabbi sues D.C. election board over Passover conflict

With everyone else’s problems these days, it’s easy to forget about UDC President Allen Sessoms and the allegations leveled in late February that he took many expensive, luxurious poorly documented trips. Well, we now have facts: I got my hands on the unreleased internal audit ordered by UDC’s board, which reveals that Sessoms took many expensive, luxurious poorly documented trips. Moreover, the university’s board, over the course of 2 1/2 years, hasn’t provided the oversight it is supposed to under Sessoms’s employment contract. When the current board chair asked Sessoms to develop a required expense budget, an aide told him that “it is impossible to know where he is going in the next 11 months.” The problems aren’t just with expensive tickets, bad documentation and lax accountability — the audit also found commingling of personal and business expenses, for which Sessoms repaid UDC $3,777. Other tidbits: Sessoms’ contract was quietly extended last year; he has not received a raise on his $295,000 salary but was paid a $25,000 bonus. And get this: “Sessoms was also provided a driver, as other UDC presidents have enjoyed, at a rate of $39 an hour — costing the university $51,380 for four months combined in 2008 and 2009 before the contract was ended.” WTTG-TV’s Tisha Thompson, who broke the story, covered yesterday’s budget hearing, where the audit wasn’t much discussed.

AFTER THE JUMP — Shepherd Park rabbi sues over election timing — Where did Kwame Brown’s 2010 campaign money go? — Gray defends his police budget — Restaurants want curbs on food trucks — Online poker by September

*** MAIN COURSE ***

RABBI SUES — Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Shepherd Park’s Ohev Shalom synagogue has sued the Board of Elections and Ethics in federal court over the fact that the April 26 special election falls on the last day of Passover. Herzfeld would like the date changed or the hours extended. From the suit: “In response to Herzfeld’s concerns, the board voted last week to offer additional early voting at its downtown headquarters April 17 from 12:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Affected voters are also free to apply for an absentee ballot. But those concessions, according to Herzfeld’s suit, still ‘requir[e] more of observant Jewish voters ... than of other voters.’ Thus, he argues, the election remains unconstitutional. ‘Rabbi Herzfeld,’ his lawsuit reads, ‘wants the opportunity to vote in-person on Election Day.’ Elections officials say that their hands are tied.” A hearing is set for Friday.

A CLOSER LOOK AT KWAME’S CASH — In his Loose Lips column this week, Alan Suderman asks whether Kwame Brown’s 2010 campaign suffered from the same financial reporting maladies as his 2008 campaign: “LL didn’t have to look too hard to find plenty of circumstantial evidence that at the very least suggests some of the $735,000 Brown raised in his successful bid for the chairman’s seat last year may have found its way to his family members’ pockets. ... Just like the last two times out, [Che and Marshall Brown] were a frequent presence on Kwame’s campaign. Che was the ultimate utility man, doing ‘whatever he was asked to do,’ according to a source close to the campaign. ‘When you say tireless and all that, I mean he was unbelievable,’ the source says of Che, who would pick up checks from donors, help organize fundraisers, and even stuffed goodie bags for volunteers the night before the election for the get-out-the-vote effort. ... Marshall was also close to the campaign, and was seen frequently riding around with field organizer and friend Harold Gist,” whose company was paid more than $190,000. Gist tells Suderman he didn’t pay Che Brown’s company, but he was spare on details. Upshot: “Wesley Williams, a spokesman for OCF, says while there’s no official investigation into Brown’s 2010 campaign, his office would be taking a ‘keener’ eye on his recent filings after its audit of the 2008 campaign.” As Suderman points it, it’s not illegal to hire family members, but you gotta report it.

ALSO — “[T]here are still more entities that the Brown family might need to be concerned about. The first is the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which has no record that [Che Brown’s] Partners in Learning, which has an office downtown, is licensed to do business in the District. That’s a possible $2,000 fine! The second, much scarier organization is the Internal Revenue Service. The report noted that Che Brown couldn’t come up with adequate bank records to show how his company spent the $240,000.”

GRAY’S THIN BLUE LINE — The Post’s Allison Klein writes about Gray’s proposed police budget and his pushback against claims that he will allow the number of sworn officers to drop below the magic number of 3,800. Says Deputy Mayor Paul Quander: “What the mayor has done with a lean budget is make some tough choices. ... It is not our desire to have the number dip below 3,800, but that may be a reality.” The top cop is singing a slightly different tune: “At a hearing last month, [Chief Cathy Lanier] said: ‘Once we go below 3,800, we’re going to have trouble.’ Quander said the mayor has asked Lanier to take another look at deployment and identify sworn officers who are doing administrative work who could instead be out on the streets. In an e-mail Wednesday, Lanier said the budget would require her to be ‘creative about prioritizing. ... While we will have fewer sworn members, we are committed to providing the same high level of service to the city — such as maintaining our level of uniformed patrols and solid investigation teams to close cases.” Facts: “Staffing is as low as it has been since 2006. In 2009, there were more than 4,000 officers. If funded, the department has an authorized strength of 4,200 sworn members. ... The last class of recruits was in February, when 44 cadets graduated. Today there are none.”

FOOD TRUCKS’ TURF WAR — The food truck wars hit the Wilson Building on Wednesday, at a Jack Evans-hosted hearing on a bill that would charge sales tax on street vendor offerings for the first time. But Examiner’s Freeman Klopott reports that the debate was less about the sales tax — which many of the vendors might support — and more about the fact that bricks-and-mortar restaurants want to restrict where the food trucks can sell. “Food trucks operate under city laws created primarily for ice cream trucks, which can only stop if they’re hailed and then must leave when the line dissolves. [Food truck advocate Kristi Whitfield] says a change in the taxes should come with a regulation change that allows food trucks to stay parked ‘regardless of whether or not there is a line.’ [Restaurant lobbyist Andrew Kline] said that is something restaurants are willing to consider, and told the council he’d like to see the ice cream truck regulation changed for the food trucks, too.” Evans told the two sides to work out a deal “within weeks, not months.”

ONLINE POKER BY SEPTEMBER? — Legislation allowing online poker in the District might have passed congressional review, but it has not escaped the attention of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee. A spokesman for Issa tells both The Post and the Washington Times that Congress is keeping an eye on it. That said, the D.C. Lottery is full steam ahead on a plan to open as many as 30 poker “hot spots” in the city by September — mostly in downtown hotels. Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi says it could bring in $13 million by September 2014. Mayor Gray’s office tells The Post in a statement: “We know that many of our residents are currently engaged in online gaming, but are doing so with off-shore companies. ... Our goal is simply to regulate the business in the District and to ensure that the District receives its fair share of the financial benefits produced by online gaming.” Prime advocate Michael Brown tells the Times he expects trials to roll out “in a few weeks.” Added Brown: “Congress can put a rider on anything. We can’t lose sleep over that.”

ABORTION RIDER IS DONE DEAL — Final votes on the federal budget deal are expected Thursday. And try as Eleanor Holmes Norton might, even stalwart abortion rights supporters aren’t willing to oppose it because of the D.C. rider, The Hill reports: “Female Democratic senators threatening to oppose a 2011 spending bill if it scales back women’s healthcare services are not including abortion restrictions in the District of Columbia in their threat. The lawmakers are, instead, making clear that their support for the proposed continuing resolution hinges largely on the fate of two GOP amendments — one to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and the other to repeal the new healthcare reform law — slated for an upper-chamber vote on Thursday.”

THE TROUBLES HE’S SEEN — Gray answered a few questions about his arrest in a Post live chat: “I did not make the decision to be arrested until I was at the rally. I did not discuss this with Council members. In fact, when I sat down in the street, I asked one Council member, “Are you planning to be arrested?” While the event organizers may have discussed this with other people, I was not involved in such discussions. I know nothing about my security detail being informed ahead of time about anything by anyone. Since I did not know myself I would take this to the point of an arrest, how could they know? ... I was asked by the U.S. Capitol Police just before I was handcuffed if I intended to be arrested and I proudly answered, ‘Yes.’” Meanwhile, TBD polls asks which politico had a better excuse for not getting arrested: Norton or Vincent Orange? Winner: “Both excuses were weak sauce.”

MORE RHEE — Yet another Michelle Rhee HuffPo piece: “There’s a lot of talk right now about whether D.C. students achieved real gains on District and federal tests during the three-and-a-half years I was chancellor. I know they did. ... I know some of my decisions were unpopular and generated what some might call bad press. I should have done a better job communicating the rationale behind some of these decisions, but making real change requires decisive action. Let’s examine my decision to close 23 schools where enrollment numbers were low, as was academic performance levels. In the end, the kids got to go to better schools that were still in their neighborhoods. The schools that stayed open retained high-quality teachers, were renovated and got additional resources. ... Leaving DCPS last fall was difficult, but I know District schools are in great hands with Kaya Henderson. I am excited about taking the experience I gained as chancellor and trying to help education leaders and policymakers around the country.”

*** SMALL PLATES ***

At-large candidates don’t know where the Metro goes (Loose Lips)

Michael Brown’s new gig “will focus on telecommunications, tax, foreign affairs and municipal issues” (Citybizlist)

Michael Brown on Congress: “What’s next, we have to call them ‘massuh’?” (WMAL-AM)

”Forward Faster” features Fenty friends (WBJ)

All about the “unsettled” at-large race (DCist)

My college paper says vote for Bryan Weaver (G’town Voice)

Budget deal quietly settles voucher controversy (Examiner)

Connecting gentrification with self-determination (Housing Complex)

Advocates to Metro: Parking fee hikes, not service cuts, please (GGW)

More from the Black Cat debate (Loose Lips, Borderstan)

Is UDC giving Wilson kids the shaft when it comes to athletic facilities? (City Paper)

Federal judge says DCPS can’t unilaterally cap special-ed attorney fees (Legal Times)

Gray to real-estate industry: Viva high-density residential (Examiner)

We’re big on green buildings (Post)

Kwame Brown on NewsTalk (TBD)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray meets with Metro Labor Council executive board, 10:30 a.m.; protests vouchers, 1 p.m. at Ross Elementary, 1730 R St. NW; visits National Cathedral School, 2 p.m.; attends Woodridge South Central Community Association meeting, 6 p.m. at New Canaan Baptist Church, 2826 Bladensburg Rd. NE; D.C. Council budget hearings on Department of Parks and Recreation, 10 a.m. in JAWB 500; Department of Health Care Finance, 10 a.m. in JAWB 412; Judicial Nomination Commission, Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure, Sentencing and Criminal Code Revision Commission, Access to Justice Commission, Corrections Information Council, Criminal Justice Coordinating Council and Justice Grants Administration, 10 a.m. in JAWB 123

By  |  10:26 AM ET, 04/14/2011

 
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