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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 04/07/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: April 7, 2011

TODAY IS APRIL 7, 2011 — DAY 92 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY — Sekou Biddle deals with his Kwame Brown problem

This reporter and others will be spending many, many hours today in Room 120 of the John A. Wilson Building, where D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) will convene her second hearing examining Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s hiring practices. The witness list is long and juicy: scorned auditor Sulaimon Brown, dismissed DOES chief Rochelle Webb, alleged (and unverified) bag man Howard Brooks, ousted chief of staff Gerri Mason Hall, and many more. Tweet along with me today at @mikedebonis. But first read Nikita Stewart’s Post profile of Lorraine Green , Gray’s friend of 20 years, campaign and transition chairwoman and personal confidant: “She is at the center of Gray’s tumultuous first three months in office, swirling in criticism of cronyism and nepotism — including the hiring of children of campaign staffers and salaries that exceed city limits — while his administration is responding to inquiries from federal authorities and the D.C. Council. In interviews with more than a dozen sources connected to the Gray campaign, Green is described as either an accomplished high-level manager who performed exceptionally during the campaign, or a political operative who consolidated power the day after Gray’s primary victory by pushing aside campaign professionals in a grab that benefited her friends. ... Green, who declined to be interviewed, has denied doing anything improper. “

AFTER THE JUMP — Rochelle Webb talks about her firing — Talib Karim blames the media — Gray preps for shutdown — American reads about Gray’s “rough start” — Green daughter hire hikes film-and-TV office budget — Kwame’s family business

*** MAIN COURSE ***

MORE LORRAINE — “’It was: “Thanks. We’ll take it from here,”’ said a former campaign consultant who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to publicly criticize Gray. ‘People were feeling shut out. ... There was this small group of people all traceable to one person.’ ... The criticism generated by Brown’s allegations has been as loud as it has been relentless, including from Gray campaign consultant Johnny Allem, who said Green must limit her involvement to soften the impact on the administration. ‘This is a mayor who’s got an awful good heart, high standards and high ethics,’ he said. ‘I just quietly hope she goes into the woodwork.’ Such harsh words — publicly and privately — from Gray’s supporters and critics are not what they expected to say about Green, a 65-year-old personnel executive who until Friday was vice president at Amtrak. Somehow, they say, the gravitas and common sense she has displayed professionally ... didn’t translate when she had to lead Gray’s campaign and transition. ‘I don’t think she did anything illegal. I don’t think she did anything unethical,’ said a D.C. Democratic operative who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to publicly criticize the mayor. ‘The most astonishing thing is her lack of political judgment and his trust in her judgment.’ Gray declined to be interviewed but said in a statement that he has known Green for more than 20 years and was impressed with her appointments to [Bill Clinton]’s Cabinet, her long career and her love of the city. ‘For all those reasons, I entrusted her to be chairperson of my campaigns for Chairman of the Council and Mayor,’ Gray said. ‘Any challenges to her character are counter to the Lorraine Green that I know.’ ... Emily Durso, who has known Green for at least 25 years, said Green deserves credit for Gray getting elected after his late campaign start in late March 2010. ‘She and Vince pulled off a miracle to start with no campaign, no money five months earlier,’ said Durso, who was recently appointed interim assistant superintendent for postsecondary education and workforce at $120,000 a year. ‘I think this is chauvinism. If this was a man, people wouldn’t be whining that they didn’t get treated well enough. If she were a man, they would say he was tough as nails.’”

ROCHELLE SPEAKS — City Paper’s Alan Suderman speaks with dismissed Employment Services nominee Rochelle Webb for this week’s Loose Lips column: “The dominant view at the Wilson Building is that Webb was a tone-deaf bureaucrat who was too eager to take advantage of District taxpayers and whose missteps kept adding up. ... But there are signs that Webb might not be entirely responsible for the clumsy political maneuvers that have come to define her.” Her W Hotel stay, she says, wasn’t her idea. Nor was her use of a chauffeur. It was Gray HR boss Judy Banks who offered to get her son a job, she says. Suderman’s verdict: “Either way, Webb’s probably guilty of poor political judgment in trying to get her son a job. But it’s hard to fault her too much, when it looks like it was open season in the Gray administration to get jobs for the politically connected.” And the rumors that Webb passed on inappropriate moving expenses for her top aides moving in from Arizona? Webb says she never saw those. The kicker: “[A]s for thoughts on the Gray administration, Webb says they’ve lost their way. ‘They’re creating so many cover stories that they’re lost in their own stories,’ says Webb.” She is set to testify today. Also: See what her son, Brandon Webb, has to say about his brief tenure at FEMS.

’WHO IS QUALIFIED,’ ANYWAY? — Here’s some more advance reading for today’s hearing: Talib Karim, the former chief of staff in the Department of Health Care Finance, pens an Afro piece titled: “Who is Qualified for Public Service in the Nation’s Capital?” Writes Karim: “]T]he question before Councilmember Cheh is whether the ‘issues’ raised about my personal history, which had no bearing on my work in the District’s Medicaid agency, are nonetheless sufficient to disqualify me — a lawyer with a track record of providing counsel on health and other policy matters to members of Congress, the D.C. Council, and the mayor — from appointed public service in the District. And if the answer to the above question is yes, then this begs the next question — exactly who is qualified? Well, let’s do the math. ... Based upon [D.C. court] figures, there is the possibility that as many as 75,000 people with bad credit or bad personal relationships in the District could be disqualified from any level of appointment in D.C. government, despite their professional credentials or work performance. Who else can we add into the bag ... how about ‘criminals?’ ... [L]et’s simply use the number of criminal cases prosecuted in local District courts in 2009—over 25,000. That now brings the potential number of ‘disqualified’ Washingtonians to more than 100,000, over 20 percent of the District’s adult population. ... Are we saying that if you stumble — regardless of what you do to turn your life around; even if you (like me) earn mechanical engineering and law degrees, manage to secure positions of responsibility in both the private sector and the federal government, and actively contribute to civic life in the District — your ‘checkered’ background will preclude you from appointed government service in D.C.? If this is the answer, then the District is committing gross public waste by denying itself the full value of its greatest asset—human capital.”

SHUTDOWN’S A-COMIN’ — The prospect of a federal shutdown has the District government, with its federally appropriated budget, preparing for a shutdown of its own. What I wrote yesterday: “District residents would be unable to register their vehicles, renew their driver’s licenses, have their trash picked up, apply for building permits, register a business or check out a library book, under a plan announced Wednesday by [Gray]. ... Schools would remain open, however, and police, fire and emergency medical personnel would remain on duty. Other personnel deemed ‘essential’ by Gray would also remain on the job. Gray said that trash pickup would cease for one week before resuming — much like what happened in November 1995, when the first of two federal shutdowns that winter shuttered many D.C. agencies. ‘That’ll be a treat, won’t it?’ Gray cracked at a news conference.” CFO Nat Gandhi says a shutdown could cost the city $5.5 million a day in extra costs and lost revenue. Metro service, however, will not be affected. Mark Plotkin, natch, sees all this as an opportunity for civil disobedience. Council member Michael Brown called on Gray to thumb his nose and declare all District workers “essential.” DCist asks, “What If D.C. Just Didn’t Shut Down?” The gist: “In theory, though, there’s nothing stopping the District from just working through this. It’s not like Congress is coming down to shut off the spigot and confiscate the credit cards. It’s more that consequences can be severe — an agency head, in this case, Mayor Vince Gray, could be fined, imprisoned or removed from his post for any transgression. Yikes.” Also WaTimes, City Paper, AP, WBJ, WRC-TV, DCist, Bloomberg. Here’s what happened in D.C. during the last federal shutdown, 16 years ago.

COUNCILS DIGS IN TO BUDGET — Gray sat before his former council colleagues for the first time Wednesday to present his first-ever budget proposal. The typically marathon hearing was overshadowed later in the day by all the shutdown talk; what media-worthy tidbits that did emerge from the hearing came courtesy of David Catania, who accused Gray of growing the budget while telling residents that he’s had to make tough choices. “To suggest there’s a world of pain being imposed on people is an absolute joke,” he said, per the Examiner’s Freeman Klopott. The mayor and his aides protested at the hearing that the local-spending rise is due to a decrease in federal dollars that had to be partially covered with local dollars, among other factors. But Catania alighted on 22 percent increase in the Office of Motion Picture and Television Development — which is almost entirely accounted for (as I first noted) by the shift of one $125,000 FTE from DMPED to the movie office. That position is currently held by — wait for it — Leslie Green, the daughter of Gray confidante Lorraine! Tom Howell Jr. of The Washington Times runs with that tidbit at the head of his very good rundown of council reactions to the Gray budget. Council budget hearings begin today.

’ROUGH START’ — AP moves a piece by reporter Ben Nickols titled “New DC Mayor Gray off to rough start.” His lede: “Washington’s new mayor hasn’t had much of a honeymoon. Three months after he succeeded Adrian Fenty, Vincent Gray has been besieged by controversies and minor scandals. ... The image that Gray presents, observers say, is of a mayor who can’t effectively manage his staff and is constantly on the defensive. ‘He is off to just a terrible, terrible start,’ said Mark Rom, a Georgetown University political scientist. The allegations ‘give the appearance that he’s gone back to old-school Washington politics.’ The D.C. government was plagued by cronyism and poor financial management under Mayor Marion Barry, who went to prison in the early 1990s after he was videotaped smoking crack during an FBI sting. There have been few major scandals during the past decade.” Read this piece in such fine American newspapers as the San Jose Mercury News, the Argus-Press, the Beaumont Enterprise, and The Washington Post.

’ZAMINER DOESN’T LIKE KAYA’S IMPACT — An Examiner editorial holds that DCPS Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson is “backing away from the no-excuses reform of her controversial predecessor, Michelle Rhee.” Their beef: “Less than a year after then-Deputy Superintendent Henderson defended IMPACT, she is promising to scale back the ‘hard-core testing environment’ she helped Rhee put into place. It’s no secret that Mayor Vincent Gray, who nominated Henderson for the top school job without seriously considering any other candidates, and his supporters in the Washington Teachers’ Union would love to ditch IMPACT and go back to the old system that produced the fourth worst urban school district. ... If Henderson is serious about a legacy of her own, she cannot afford to dull the only tool she has to impose accountability on teachers in exchange for what are now some of the highest salaries in the nation.”

ALL IN THE FAMILY — In the wake of the OCF audit of his 2008 campaign finances, the Examiner’s Klopott notes that Kwame Brown has come under fire before for having family members on his campaign payroll: “In 2004, when Brown first ran for office, a similar system ended with cash payments for his brother and father, campaign finance reports and media reports at the time show. Three days after Brown won the Sept. 14, 2004, Democratic primary, he hired Capitol Solutions Group LLC. The company was owned by Kevin McGhaw, who had run Brown’s campaign through the primary. Finance reports show the 2004 campaign has since paid $78,400 to Capitol Solutions. ... Che Brown and his father, Marshall Brown, told the Washington Post in January 2005 that Capitol Solutions paid them a total of $7,500 for working on the 2004 campaign. The two had been paid about $24,000 directly by Brown’s campaign from August 2004 through May 2004, but the payments stopped after Brown’s opponents criticized him because of them, media reports said.” Here’s a pair of 2004 reports from then-Loose Lips Elissa Silverman on the matter.

TEST SECURITY QUESTIONS — The State Board of Education found itself unusually well covered yesterday as it looked into whether DCPS appropriately handled test cheating accusations. Jack Gillum, one of the USA Today reporters who brought the story back into the spotlight last week, writes: “[B]oard members questioned why student answer sheets are sealed by a principal or school test coordinator — rather than by the teacher immediately following the exams. ‘What gives you any guarantee that a secured, locked room is enough?’ board member Mark Jones asked Tamara Reavis, the acting director of assessment and accountability for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which administers the test. ‘We have to trust our principals that it is secured,’ Reavis answered.” Bill Turque writes in the Post: “Some [board members] wondered whether there was too much reliance on schools policing themselves. If OSSE suspects irregularities, its first option is to ask a school to conduct their own inquiry. ‘It seems to me that the incentive to not dig too deeply could be great in some cases,’ said board member Mary Lord.” Bill also notes that this year’s completed DC-CAS tests will sit on school premises for more than a week before they are shipped for scoring. Also WTTG-TV. CNN covers the controversy, too.

*** SMALL PLATES ***

A violent night in D.C. leaves at least three dead (Post)

Medical marijuana rules finally issued; don’t expect dispensaries for months yet, however (DCist, the420times.com)

More on the impact of Gray’s budget plan on the city’s poorest (DCFPI)

A “close listen” of the Vince Gray diss track (Arts Desk)

”Kwame Brown says voters can trust him.” (WUSA-TV)

”Mayor Gray giving DC residents voters’ remorse” (District Chronicles)

House Republicans are proposing means testing for the Tuition Assistance Grant program (D.C. Schools Insider)

”Michelle Rhee: Education reform huckster” (Salon)

Rhee featured in Good Housekeeping! (news release)

More Adrian Fenty at GU: “There’s noting more accountable than elections, as I have proven.” (Vox Populi)

Bob McDonnell gets his seat on the Metro board (Post)

Dulles Airport will get more convenient, more expensive underground Metro station (Post)

The case against term limits (GGW)

DCFD vs. FEMS: the poll (Crime Scene)

Debbie Simmons says DCPS needs to crack down on residency; also says Catania youth mental health bill “reeks of government overreach” and has “ungodly motives” (WaTimes))

A Patrick Mara endorsement: “We do not need another Council member closely allied to those with dubious ethics, chosen in a chaotic process. We need an independent voice, not owing any favors to the Mayor or anyone now on the Council.” (G’town Dish)

Log Cabin Republicans like Mara, too, of course (Metro Weekly)

How Bryan Weaver would close the budget gap (BryanWeaverDC.com)

Street sweeping sign confusing means $40 ticket for resident (WJLA-TV)

Firefighter sentenced on fraud charge (TBD)

Phil Mendelson to meet with Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) to talk gun violence (AP)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray interviewed by Joe Madison on WOL-AM, 8 a.m.; interviewed by WTTG-TV, 9:30 a.m.; interviewed by Mark Segraves on WTOP, 10 a.m. — talks to D.C. Bar, 12:30 p.m. at Wiley Rein, 1776 K St. NW — D.C. Council hearing on Gray personnel practices, 11 a.m. in JAWB 120 — budget hearings on Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, 10 a.m. in JAWB 500; Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, Small and Business Opportunity Commission and Department of Small and Local Business Development, 10 a.m. in JAWB 412; Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners, Office of Veterans Affairs, Office of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs and Office of Latino Affairs, 2 p.m. in JAWB 500 — community roundtable on Henderson confirmation, 6 p.m. at Lafayette ES, 5701 Broad Branch Road NW

By  |  10:30 AM ET, 04/07/2011

 
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