TODAY IS APRIL 18, 2011 — DAY 103 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION
Later today, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown will defend himself in a private meeting with Office of Campaign Finance officials, who recently found his 2008 campaign filings riddled with errors and shadowy transactions. Brown faces tens of thousands of dollars in fines, but the Washington Post editorial board thinks the consequences should go further: “Now the question is whether the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance will insist on real resolution of these unsettling issues — or try to sweep them under the rug. That the hearing into the matter will be held behind closed doors is not a good omen. ... It apparently is the campaign office’s practice to make investigative hearings of this nature closed to the public. That is nevertheless disappointing given the significant public interest in this issue and the inadequacy of Mr. Brown’s explanations. The failure to account for more than quarter-million dollars in donations and expenses is more than the minor ‘administrative errors’ Mr. Brown described. ... The Brown case should be presented to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics for referral to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
AFTER THE JUMP — Can the city do a better job lobbying for itself? — local politicos get ticked at Obama — NYT takes stock of Gray’s early missteps — Gray recalls his 14-minute chat with Sulaimon Brown — three more arrested in budget protests — council wants to confirm all deputy mayors — rabbi’s election challenge fails
*** MAIN COURSE ***
MORE HIRED GUNS? — Given the raw deal the District got in the federal budget deal, the Post’s Ben Pershing poses a question: “Can a city that is bursting with lobbyists do a better job lobbying for itself?” On its side, the city has Eleanor Holmes Norton, the shadow delegation, D.C. Vote, and city intergovernmental affairs staffers. “But to some activists, the sum of those efforts isn’t enough. ‘Every other issue in this town has a gaggle of lobbyists, has a [political action committee] and is more organized than we are,’ said shadow Rep. Mike Panetta (D). ‘I think we need to step up our game and start behaving like the big corporations, the big trade associations and the big nonprofits that have a sustained, professional presence on the Hill.’” The city has paid outside lobbyists at least $300,000 recently, but to work mainly on federal land issues. “The city does not employ any private lobbyists on the issues that have caused the most friction between the city and the federal government: statehood, voting rights, budgetary autonomy, gun-control laws and policy ‘riders’ on issues such as abortion and needle-exchange programs,” Ben writes. “Regardless of who is on the payroll, the city should adopt some of the tactics used by K Street professionals, suggested former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), rather than staging protests. ‘I don’t think it went over very well with Congress,’ Davis said of a rally last week that led to the arrests of Gray and D.C. Council members. ‘I think they’re laughing and saying: “This is so ‘60s.”’ ... [Janene Jackson], the city’s point person on congressional relations, disagrees with Davis. ‘We don’t lobby the way lobbyists lobby,’ she said. ‘We’re a government.’”
DOWN WITH OBAMA — The District is ticked off at President Barack Obama. From Paul Schwartzman and Nikita Stewart’s Sunday Post front-pager: “ If anyone could understand the plight of a second-class citizenry, it had to be a former community organizer on Chicago’s South Side. That Obama has not met those expectations is disappointing enough for those who view the District’s status as nothing less than the deprivation of a basic civil right. But their frustration is magnified by who Obama is and what they wanted from an African American president residing in the nation’s most prominent and predominant black city. ... ‘This is personal,’ said Donna Brazile, a Democratic political strategist. ‘I believe the president is sincere when he says that he believes in D.C. voting rights and home rule. But, as you know, D.C. residents like proof.’ Mark Plotkin, a WTOP political commentator who has made District statehood something of an obsession, said he sees little to distinguish Obama from his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. ‘The greatest assault is indifference, and he has the hubris to take us for granted,’ Plotkin said of Obama. ‘He went to Cairo to talk about democracy. He won’t go to Brentwood or Deanwood. He has not made one utterance about D.C. to D.C. in D.C.’” Says the White House in a statement: “[T]he president is confident that the budget agreement ... is not just in the best interests of the American people, but also the best interests of District residents.” See also Politico, whose Joe Williams talks to Brazile and activist Anise Jenkins before going off on a tangent about Obama’s troubles with black voters outside the District.
GRAY LADY HAS A LOOK — New York Times headline: “Washington Mayor’s Missteps Cast Harsh Light.” Sabrina Tavernise’s lede: “WASHINGTON — When Vincent C. Gray campaigned for mayor last fall, he promised to bring character, integrity and leadership back to the District of Columbia. But 100 days into Mr. Gray’s tenure, he is battling the perception that his administration has brought anything but, mostly because several staff members have been accused of helping their children get jobs in his administration and of receiving inflated salaries. ... This is all bad news for a city trying to overcome its past, Mr. Gray’s critics say. They argue that the headlines created by his missteps are reviving bad memories of the 1980s, when the city, under Mayor Marion Barry, bungled its affairs so badly that it was taken over by a federally appointed control board.” Those quoted include David Catania (”The leadership of our city has been diminished and embarrassed, and that undercuts our ability to make the case about why we should govern ourselves”), Tom Sherwood (”The fears that he was some type of modern-day Marion Barry were totally off-base. But these early stumbles have allowed that impression to set in”) and Gregory McCarthy (”Children of five people in relatively junior positions in a 35,000-person government doesn’t strike me as something to rerun the election over”).
A GOOD WEEK — Tom Howell Jr. writes in the Washington Times that the Monday arrests “might save Mr. Gray’s political career.” He continues: “[W]hen Congress used an 11th-hour budget deal to strip the District of its right to fund abortions with local dollars and to reinstate a school-voucher program, Mr. Gray reclaimed the momentum that had propelled him to office by a decisive margin and arguably had his best week as D.C. mayor. ... Mr. Gray’s recent actions have drawn applause and praise from D.C. residents and numerous community groups — a stark contrast to the air that surrounded his administration just a week prior. ... It is less clear, however, whether the mayor and his supporters will be able to sustain the momentum he has gained on issues of D.C. voting rights and statehood. The mayor has not outlined specific ways to keep the full-court press on Capitol Hill. Instead, he envisions a ‘carefully crafted’ strategy that incorporates a wide swath of opinions from D.C. residents, and not just Vince Gray.’ Nonetheless, he and his supporters say the arrests and other festivities are just the beginning of a sustained effort. ... ‘I think what happened Monday is our fruit truck, our fruit stand,’ said ‘Shadow’ U.S. Rep. Mike Panetta, a reference to the Tunisian merchant credited with kicking off the Middle East rallies.” (Note the quotes on “Shadow.”)
TOTAL RECALL — Gray appeared Friday on WTOP’s Politics Program, and under questioning from Mark Plotkin, he recalled what that infamous 14-minute phone call with Sulaimon Brown might have been about: “After consulting records from that day, Gray said Friday the July conversation was most likely in reference to a WPFW radio debate earlier that morning with the mayoral candidates, from which Brown was excluded. ‘He asked me if I would call him later that day, which I did,’ Gray said. ‘I don’t remember the conversation, but I think there was a discussion about some candidates were included and some candidates were not included.’” Writes DCist: “14 minutes is a pretty long time for a politician who was in the middle of a fiery campaign to spend on the phone — so it’s a little hard to swallow that the entire conversation was about Brown’s displeasure about not being invited to appear on a radio debate.”
VINCE STRIKES BACK — In a letter to the Post, Mayor Vincent Gray responded to last Sunday’s editorial that found his budget plan lacking in austerity, writing that it “exhibited a profound misunderstanding of the D.C. budget.” Hizzoner explains that much of the increase is driven by independent agency budgets; “unavoidable and uncontrollable” hikes in unemployment taxes; and $47.1 million shifted from borrowed capital funds to operating. “In reality, the actual budget growth is only 1.36 percent, less than inflation. Many of the agency increases in this budget were nondiscretionary, including $31.5 million for debt service on previously approved projects and $134.2 million to support school enrollment increases. They also cover ongoing special education spending pressures. Without the $187 million in cuts, inflationary budget growth would have been 4 percent. . . .Any claim that this is not an austere budget after examining the cuts to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), affordable housing, Interim Disability Assistance and homeless services is not reasonable and not accurate.”
KEEP AWAY FROM ABORTION ISSUE — In her Examiner column, Jonetta Rose Barras is critical of Gray’s decision to hold his post-arrest news conference at a Planned Parenthood. “No doubt pictures from the event and comments made by Gray during multiple media appearances linked the two issues in the minds of many Americans unfamiliar with the city’s political structure. The District needs allies if it is to win its fight for independence. But friends will be harder to come by if the city’s cause is cemented to one of the most divisive issues in the country. ... Gray may have been appalled that the city was used, yet again, as a pawn in the fight between Republicans and Democrats. But his impetuous response and self-preservation gambit may have guaranteed that the District will be forever trapped in this role.” Barras cites conversations with unnamed “residents” who oppose the District government’s financing of elective abortions via Medicaid.
FROM THE LEFT COAST — The Los Angeles Times editorial page takes note of the District’s shabby treatment in federal budget negotiations, writing that the abortion spending rider and the imposition of a school voucher program are “are unjustifiable intrusions on the authority of the district government and dramatize the second-class status of the nation’s capital. ... The district is undeniably unlike other cities in the United States, and under the Constitution, home rule exists at the sufferance of Congress. Short of a constitutional amendment making the district a state — an elusive goal — it will retain its anomalous status. But Congress recognized something important when it established home rule: that giving residents a say in their local affairs strengthens democracy. The two provisions added to the budget compromise violated that principle. They should be repealed.”
MORE ARRESTS — Friday saw a second round of Capitol Hill protests from District activists. This time around, three were arrested for blocking traffic: Shadow Senator Michael D. Brown, Capitol Hemp owner Adam Eidinger and retiree Bob Johnsen. Ben Pershing reports at D.C. Wire: “The protest, organized by the activist group DC Vote, took place on Second Street NE next to the Hart Senate Office Building, just around the corner from where a larger, louder gathering took place Monday that resulted in the arrests of 41 people. . . . The arrestees were among about 60 volunteers who lined Second Street early Friday afternoon and then, in a choreographed action, covered their mouths with gags to symbolize the District’s lack of a voice in the federal government. Several pointed at the Hart building, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has his office.” More from DCist, WUSA-TV.
JUDGE SAYS NO TO RABBI — Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld’s bid to extend the hours of the April 26 special election is a no-go, I reported Friday: “U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan found that the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics had given observant Jews sufficient voting options. The board has offered early voting at its downtown headquarters since April 11; voters can also request an absentee ballot in the special election for seats on the D.C. Council and the State Board of Education. Given those alternatives, Sullivan said in a bench ruling, the city ‘imposes only a limited burden’ on Herzfeld’s right to vote. Sullivan said while he was ‘profoundly sympathetic’ to the rabbi’s desire to vote at his local polling place, that desire was not constitutionally sufficient to affect the election.” While the election won’t be changed, Herzfeld can still sue for a violation of his constitutional rights, Sullivan said. Legal Times, WTOP.
TOLDJA SO — Colby King offers a well-deserved told-ya-so in his Saturday Post column: “Even before the political tsunami swept over Congress last November, District leaders were warned to expect major problems if the congressional gavel shifted from Democratic to Republican hands. ‘[I]f the GOP prevails on Nov. 2, congressional intervention is a given,’ I wrote. ‘Gone, too, will be any chance of the city winning full autonomy from Congress over the spending of locally collected dollars.’ But the important point of that column, which apparently fell on deaf ears, was the suggestion that Gray, faced with a Congress bent on meddling in the city’s business, ‘will have to heavy up his administration’s liaison to Capitol Hill.’ ... Okay, maybe nothing could have prevented the D.C. sellout. Boehner and the Republicans were hell-bent on having their way, and Obama caved. But it’s also fair to suggest that the city’s political and civic leadership should have moved to engage both the Obama administration and the new Congress earlier, and with a greater sense of urgency, to reinforce the political and moral case for D.C. self-government. Justice for the District can’t be achieved with presidential license plates.”
CONFIRMATION BATTLE? — The D.C. Council wants the right to confirm Gray’s deputy mayor of health and human services and his deputy mayor for public safety and justice, Freeman Klopott reports in Examiner. The council already reviews candidates for the education and economic development deputy posts. Gray is opposing an emergency bill, and Klopott says this is his “first direct opposition to a council proposal and makes the expected Tuesday vote on the bill a test of the pull Gray still has with the 13-member body.” Says bill co-introducer Jim Graham, “I don’t think anything untoward is going on. ... We need to make it uniform that anyone who holds the position of deputy mayor should be subject to council confirmation.” Adds Marion Barry: “He campaigned on accountability and transparency. ... What’s he object to?”
AT-LARGE CANDIDATES TWEAK BUDGET — The Post asked each at-large D.C. Council candidate to explain how they would change Gray’s budget proposal. The suggestions fall into three categories: More tax hikes (generally through more progressive income taxes); more cuts (of “waste and abuse,” natch, not real programs); and what I’ll call “magic money” — stuff like Medicaid reimbursement and special-ed spending and fee-and-fine collection that sounds good but is tough to actually book. Sekou Biddle says to cut jobs, not programs. Bryan Weaver is big on magic money but also calls for the “creation of a six-tiered progressive tax” regime. Vincent Orange goes big on magic money, including from “[p]roper marketing of the DC-Net fiber-optic communications system.” Patrick Mara is all about “reforming the many District agencies that are bloated and inefficient” — with the added twist of pension reform. Joshua Lopez laments Gray’s cuts to human services without suggesting a way to offset them. Statehood Green-er Alan Page also decries the cuts, but suggests taking $200,000-plus earners at 9.5 percent to restore them. (Gray is proposing 8.9 percent.)
REAL-ESTATE PARANOIA — In today’s themail, Gary Imhoff raises questions about the Qatari investment in the CityCenter project: “This deal is good news for the city’s finances — if you don’t care about the international politics of Qatar, which is a strong ally of Iran and Syria; or its exploitation of foreign workers, which gives it a lousy human rights record; or its ownership of al-Jazira, whose Arab language television service promotes the Muslim Brotherhood and anti-American and anti-Western propaganda. It’s a good deal for both parties — Qatar gets a safe haven for its oil and natural gas profits and gets favorable publicity in the capitol of the United States, and DC gets money.”
*** SMALL PLATES ***
Groups press Wal-Mart for concessions (Capital Business)
The case for a larger D.C. Council (GGW)
Post ombudsman: Gray arrest story should have gone front-page (Post)
Gray budget town halls start Thursday (DC.gov)
Some D.C. protesters aren’t city residents! (Examiner)
DCPS review finds 235 nonresident students, costing city $648,000 in unpaid tuition (Examiner)
Private fundraising covers past-deadline abortions (TBD)
Vouchers are back, baby (New York Times)
Deborah Simmons calls on Kwame Brown to dig into whether there is an “equitable distribution” of DCTAG money (WaTimes)
DDOE will release commercial buildings’ energy use data — “first stage of a tax”? (Capital Business)
Gray budget takes aim at Main Streets, again (Housing Complex)
Gray talks vouchers (WMAL-AM)
”The fact is the Council and mayor’s theatrics are not going to help the fight for representation in Congress, are not going to help the city’s budget autonomy, and are surely not going to help win back a critical health program for women.” (Patch)
”New York Avenue/Florida Avenue/Gallaudet University” to become “NoMa”? (GGW)
Siemens national corporate headquarters moves downtown (Capital Business)
*** ON THE MENU ***
No public appearances for Gray — D.C. Council budget hearings on D.C. Public Library, 10 a.m. in JAWB 412; Department of Motor Vehicles and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 10 a.m. in JAWB 500; Office of Aging, Office on Human Rights and Office of Community Affairs, 10 a.m. in JAWB 120; Child and Family Services Agency, 11 a.m. in JAWB 123 — FEMS Chief Kenneth Ellerbe appears on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, noon on WAMU-FM
This post has been updated since it was first published.