DeMorning DeBonis: April 15, 2011

TODAY IS APRIL 15, 2011 — DAY 100 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY — UDC board chair responds to Sessoms audit

Happy Emancipation Day, folks. A public service announcement: Due to electrical work at the John A. Wilson Building, D.C. Council members and staff will be e-mail-less until 1 p.m. Talk about emancipated. The body’s leader, Chairman Kwame Brown, sat down with Washington Business Journal reporters and editors to discuss his “rough couple of months” that have “rattled the business community.” Michael Neibauer writes up Brown’s comments: “I’ve had some frank discussions [with the business community] about where we are going, what my leadership style will be. We’ve had several conversations with how to move forward and how to stop these distractions and to focus on the business of the council. Most of them know me personally. They know my character. They say, ‘Hey, Kwame, there’s just so much going on at one time that it makes it seem like it’s everything.’ There’s nothing I can do about that but to commit, as I did with them, that the distractions will end and we’ll continue to move forward. ... If you look at the [council] itself, the institution has not missed a beat.”

AFTER THE JUMP — some clarity on the DCPS budget — are school vouchers an infringement of home rule? — can District autonomy ever become a real civil rights movement? — D.C. orders early end to abortion funding — medical marijuana rules published

*** MAIN COURSE ***

INSIDE THE DCPS BUDGET — Bill Turque digs into the D.C. Public Schools budget and finds a bit of a Robin Hood situation: Gray is shifting money “to help close gaps between magnet high schools, such as School Without Walls, and the traditional ‘comprehensive’ high schools, such as Woodrow Wilson and Dunbar.” That has Walls parents on the warpath, natch, while Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson calls it “a significant step forward toward equity.” More details: “The reductions would force some schools to make a transition ‘from the Cadillac to the Camry,’ as Lisa Ruda, Henderson’s chief of staff, put it. In the case of School Without Walls, she said, the funding decrease would amount to losing two teachers, an instructional coach and a slot for an information technology staff member. Higher labor costs would eat up about $23 million of the $67 million increase, school officials said.The city’s contract with the Washington Teachers’ Union calls for a 5 percent pay increase; that will push the average annual salary and benefits from $84,286 to $90,681. That means a school paying for 28 teachers this year will be able to afford 26 for the same money in 2012. Henderson has also raised the average high school class size from 20 to 22, further limiting the number of teachers.”

RHETORICAL BATTLE OVER VOUCHERS — Mayor Vincent Gray held a news conference Thursday to decry the restoration of the federal school voucher program as an assault on home rule. The Post editorial board pushes back hard on that “canard.” They write: “That would be news to the nearly 9,000 D.C. families who, hoping to rescue their children from failing schools, applied for scholarships. It would be news to the six members of the D.C. Council, including its chairman, who signed a letter supporting congressional reauthorization of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. And it might surprise friends of the District, such as Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), who has championed the city’s fight for budget autonomy, voting rights and statehood. ... Mr. Gray is right that Congress has no business telling city officials how to spend local taxpayer dollars. [Eleanor Holmes Norton] is right that the District needs true representation in Congress. But their professed anger at a program that directs more federal dollars to education in the city, gives poor children more choices and is desperately sought by District families only undermines their campaign for home rule.”

HOW ABORTION TRIUMPHED OVER HOME RULE — For the not-a-column. I noted that two morally motivated protest movements met in the Oval Office last week, and the antiabortion cause handily beat out District home rule. So why has D.C. autonomy been so a feckless as a civil rights movement? I consulted Randall Terry, the firebrand antiabortion activist, who knows a thing or two about bringing attention to a cause: “In the cause of D.C. ‘self-determination,’ Terry diagnoses problems in creating the ‘crisis of conscience’ necessary to hasten change. ‘You have to have incendiary images. You have to have gripping rhetoric. You have to have sustained actions. And,’ he said, ‘you have to have martyrs, whether they’re living or dead.’ Gripping rhetoric we have — hard to get elected in this town without delivering a stem-winder or seven on the District’s plight. But incendiary images? A mayor in handcuffs threatens to conjure up unintended reactions. Sustained action? More than 17 years passed between mayoral protest arrests. And martyrs, the kind sympathetic to the average American? It’s not women who will have to pay for their own abortions. It’s not the poor kids who through federally funded vouchers get a chance to go to a better school. It’s not the sick folks who won’t get medical marijuana or the drug addicts who won’t get clean needles. While city leaders have treated District autonomy and voting rights as a moral struggle on par with the movements for civil rights, women’s suffrage or abolition, it has been difficult for the average American to relate to the city’s sacrifices.”

D.C. STOPS ABORTION FUNDING — Now for a reality check: The District stopped paying for abortions via Medicaid and HealthCare Alliance managed-care plans a day earlier than anticipated. DCist and TBD’s Amanda Hess both reported that the D.C. Abortion Fund issued a late Wednesday alert that the city would not pay for 28 abortions scheduled for Thursday at District Planned Parenthood clinics. The fund, which helps low-income women pay for abortions, raised $3,000 overnight. Donors included Jim Graham, who pledged $250. A massachusetts group kicked in $2,460. Also WAMU-FM.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA RULES — Emancipation Day means the Register came out a day early, which means that proposed medical marijuana rules are now out. Freeman Klopott runs things down in the Examiner: “The mayor can’t move forward with the plans until either the D.C. Council gives its approval or 90 days have passed since Gray’s proposal. Once one of those has happened, Gray can assemble the five-member panel that will review and approve the applications for the 10 growing centers and five dispensaries the rules call for. The D.C. Department of Health will then run the medical marijuana system. ... Mayor Adrian Fenty published regulations last fall that put the city’s alcohol board in charge of the medical pot program. The D.C. Council held off on approving the rules so that Gray, and not Fenty, would appoint the members of the panel, council sources have told The Washington Examiner. In January, Gray said he was reviewing the rules Fenty proposed and would likely put the department of health in charge rather than the alcohol board.”

EVERGREEN — Harry Jaffe, with Variations on a Theme, opus 473: D.C. needs more cops! “Has anyone noticed that dead bodies are piling up in the D.C. morgue, and not by natural causes? It’s the homicide season in the nation’s capital, once again. So why is Mayor Vincent Gray squeezing the police budget and dropping the number of cops to an historic low? ... In 1970, President Nixon called for 5,200 police officers. The number has gradually fallen. Marion Barry starved the force as mayor for 16 years. Adrian Fenty cut the budget, too. A few years ago, the city council mandated a force of 4,200 officers. Councilman Jack Evans introduced a bill to maintain the number at 4,000. He has scant support. Here’s the problem: Crime could kill the city’s current well-being. Murders spike; tourists flee. Robberies and burglaries continue to make neighborhoods feel sketchy; homebuyers decline to move here. Muggings in Georgetown or Adams Morgan or Capitol Hill will snuff out the restaurant and club business. Yet Mayor Gray’s budget starves the cops.”

ANNALS OF CONTEXT — Michael Brown recently said this of Congress in a WMAL-AM interview: “What’s next, we have to call them ‘massuh’?” He told Elahe Izadi of WAMU-FM’s DCentric blog that it was “a little taken out of context.” He explains: “I definitely said it, and I’ve said it before. But in context, some of the folks on the Hill treat us like a plantation here in the District of Columbia. ... And when you use the term plantation it means, in context, it means folks want us to call them massuhs. But it’s in context of the plantation discussion as to how we’re treated on the Hill.” In other words, it was taken out of the context that everyone assumed it was in.

INSTANT RUNOFF — Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert has a problem. He thinks that Sekou Biddle, Patrick Mara and Bryan Weaver all would make fine at-large D.C. Council members (though he thinks Weaver is best). He does not think that probable front-runner Vincent Orange would be so fine. Thus “this election is going to either force some deep strategic voting, or result in a winner who’s low on the ranked list for many voters.” Solution: An instant-runoff voting experiment! As of 8 a.m. Friday, Weaver was winning.

WHO’S GOING TESTIFY — Mary Cheh is issuing subpoenas for six witnesses for the next round of Gray hiring hearings, Jeffrey Anderson reports in WaTimes. They include Sulaimon Brown, international man of mystery; Howard Brooks, alleged bag man; Peyton Brooks, his son; Nicholas Hall, son of ex-chief of staff Gerri Mason Hall; and Cherita Whiting, the Ward 4 activist and Gray backer who was hired to a parks-and-rec job. Notes Anderson: “Ms. Whiting has retained D.C. attorney A. Scott Bolden. Mr. Bolden on Thursday said he had not yet met with his client and declined to offer any details about the nature of his representation or her recent separation from her city government job.” Note that Sulaimon Brown remains unserved: “I have not received a subpoena from [Cheh] or anyone else, as reported by the Washington Times,” he texted me this morning.

CITY VS. GOWN — The D.C. Zoning Commission heard five hours of testimony of the Georgetown University campus plan last night. And there will be much more to come. Coverage from Patch, the G’town Dish and Vox Populi, and The Hoya. But there is an interesting development in the background: A novel citywide organization of college neighbors, calling itself the “District-Wide Coalition of University Neighborhoods.” Folks who live near American, Catholic, Georgetown, George Washington and Howard are opposing the GU plan because it could set a bad precedent for other schools’ campus plans. The Georgetown Dish gives the group some digital ink. And Lydia DePills ruminates at Housing Complex about how the coalition isn’t completely citywide: “The fiercest fights crop up between wealthy institutions and wealthy residents. ... Not all neighborhoods view their universities as imperialistic forces bent on disturbing their peace. And those who are happy with the university presence in their neighborhood usually don’t speak up about it. So far, this DCUN thing can’t claim to represent anyone besides a few citizens associations.”

QUITE AN ARGUMENT — Prominent black conservative Ken Blackwell, writing in World magazine, connects the new census figures to local leaders’ advocacy for government-funded abortions: “With a black-to-white abortion rate of 3-to-1 nationally, abortion remains what Jesse Jackson called it in the 1970s—black genocide. Now, Mayor Gray and Chairman Brown actually want fewer black people in the nation’s capital. Why else would they be willing to risk arrest for the ‘right’ of Planned Parenthood to abort more unborn children of black mothers? At a time when Metro fares are rising, taxes are being hiked, and services cut in the district, isn’t it a strange thing that this execrable traffic in death is what they are willing to fight for?”

*** SMALL PLATES ***

Metro board moves to cut weekend rail service, Anacostia bus subsidy; hearings on tap (Post, Examiner, WaTimes)

DMPED Victor Hoskins won’t be staying at the swanky Wynn for ICSC this year; Gray will — though taxpayers won’t pay more than GSA rate (WBJ)

Thorn Pozen, OAG ethics counsel and ex-Fenty council aide, moves to the private sector: “After the new administration came in, I really enjoyed working with them...that made my decision to leave much harder” (Legal Times)

If Congress had D.C. agency oversight assignments ... (City Desk)

Blade endorsements: Peter Rosenstein for Biddle; Mark Lee for Mara (Blade, Blade)

Skyland groundbreaking by September? Sure ... (DCmud)

GLAA turns 40 (Blade)

Inside Capital Bikeshare (Housing Complex)

Gray budget puts curbs on tax breaks (DCFPI)

Biddle mailer doesn’t mention he’s a sitting council member (Loose Lips)

Ninety percent graduation rate at Anacostia High? (WTTG-TV)

Continuing a yearly ritual, David Catania spars with city health care providers at budget hearing (WBJ)

Providers push back on D.C. cap on special education costs (WAMU-FM)

”Mayor Marion Barry is right on educational reform” (Phila. Tribune)

Rabbi talks about election lawsuit (WTTG-TV)

What causes truancy: “unsafe routes to and from home, bullying, teen dating violence, lack of proper attire or not having Metro fare” (Examiner, Times)

Michelle Rhee Answers Her Critics” (CNN)

”End the Test-Driven Culture of D.C. Public Schools” — via online petition! (Change.org)

The many (angry) faces of Eleanor Holmes Norton (TBD)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray appears on Politics Program With Mark Plotkin, 10 a.m. on WTOP; attends D.C. Vote youth rally, 11 a.m. at Stewart R. Mott House, 122 Maryland Ave. NE; attends Emancipation Day festivities, noon at African-American Civil War Memorial, 1200 U St. NW; attends baseball field ribbon-cutting, 2 p.m. at Oxon Run Park, Mississippi Avenue at Wheeler Road SE — council closed — at-large council candidates Tom Brown, Dorothy Douglas and Alan Page appear on the Politics Hour, noon on WAMU-FM, 88.5

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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