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Posted at 09:48 AM ET, 03/15/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: March 15, 2011

TODAY IS MARCH 15, 2011 — DAY 69 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY — Elections board could boot Patrick Mara from at-large ballotTrout Report identifies questionable dealings by Fenty friendsD.C. food truck owners object to sales-tax proposal

THE TROUT IS OUT! The epic 18-month probe commissioned by the D.C. Council and conducted by attorney Robert P. Trout has concluded that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and his administration did not steer contracts to his friends. But those friends in question, Omar Karim and Sinclair Skinner, still have some ’splainin’ to do. As Tim Craig and I write: “‘Multiple ties,’ both personal and professional, existed between Karim and Skinner, but neither would answer detailed questions about the extent of their relationship, investigators said. [Skinner’s firm] had to hire outside firms and employees to complete its work, the report found, marking up its cost significantly — as much as 400 percent for site surveys. When the council and its pro bono attorneys tried to unravel the controversy, Skinner and Karim were uncooperative. ‘The witnesses’ claimed failure of recollection was so extensive and so complete that it was unworthy of belief,’ the report said. ‘Karim and Skinner essentially thwarted the investigation, and their performance left us with the clear impression that they believed they had something to hide.’” Skinner, dressed in his Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity jacket, read a defiant statement and took questions while flanked by attorney A. Scott Bolden. As Alan Suderman notes, both claimed “vindication,” but anyone who actually reads the report will conclude that Bolden and Skinner have a strange definition of vindication. Here’s a deeper dive into the parts of the report that could prove troublesome for Karim and Skinner. More coverage from Examiner, WAMU-FM, AP, WTTG-TV, WRC-TV, Loose Lips, DCist. On Friday, the D.C. Council will conduct a hearing on the report.

AFTER THE JUMP — Post editorial cheers Fenty vindication — more on Sulaimon Brown’s record — a call for an ethics overhaul, stat — new AG loosens dress code — Mara could be kicked off ballot — Evans slows BZA noms

*** MAIN COURSE ***

NOTHING TO SEE HERE — “Never mind” is the headline of the Post’s lead editorial today: “‘Pay to play,’ ‘rigged contracts’ and ‘shady deals’ were among Mr. Gray’s choicer [campaign] assertions. Now, rather belatedly, come the results of an exhaustive investigation that exonerates Mr. Fenty. Will we hear apologies from [Mayor Vincent C. Gray], or any of the former mayor’s other accusers? ... The report, 18 months in the making, largely supports the version of events initially outlined by Fenty administration officials and put forward during what seemed like endless council hearings. That there was no hurry by the council to get the report completed before last September’s critical Democratic primary adds to the unfortunate impression that concern about the contracts — which amounted to $4.5 million and not the $82 million bandied about — was mainly a political contrivance to undermine Mr. Fenty. A main architect of the controversy was council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), whose standing to judge others’ ethics is somewhat in question given unanswered questions surrounding his own nonprofit organization. Many factors contributed to Mr. Fenty’s loss at the polls, not least his inability to effectively address criticism and his aversion to gladhanding. But the unfounded charges relating to the recreation contracts from Mr. Gray and others played a substantial role. Mr. Gray issued a statement late Monday thanking Mr. Trout but making no comment on Mr. Fenty’s vindication.”

SPEED KILLS — Trenchant insight from Examiner’s Freeman Klopott: “For four years, [Fenty] was in a rush. He wanted to get things done and get them done fast. As he himself noted during his re-election campaign, that often had many in the community feeling left out. In the end, it was likely the reason his re-election bid failed. His rushing was also what landed him in hot water over a city contract to a company owned by a fraternity brother. ... [The Trout report] concluded that it was Fenty’s rush to get work done on certain park projects that caused him to move the contract through the independent housing authority and out of the council’s reach. ... So Fenty set himself up for a battle with the D.C. Council and with the city’s voters because, as the report says, ‘the combination of expedition, inattention and inertia left the city vulnerable to complaints that there had been at least an appearance of impropriety.’”

SULAIMON’S PAST — More on Sulaimon Brown’s checkered past from Nikita Stewart in today’s Post: “Brown had had six run-ins with law enforcement, including three charges in the District and an attempted-murder charge in Chicago, at the time he received a $110,000-a-year job” in the Gray administration. Four of those six charges were known to the Gray team when they gave Brown the job. A 1988 attempted murder charge in Chicago, of which he was acquitted, and a 2008 arrest for suspicion of assault, for which he was not indicted, were discovered only later. “Brown’s legal troubles appeared to have begun in Chicago in 1988 when he was 18. ‘I don’t have any comment on Chicago,’ Brown, 40, said in an interview last week. ... The other charge missed by Gray’s transition team was the most recent, stemming from an incident in 2008 at a rooming house in East Orange, N.J., where Brown lived. ... On Sept. 29, 2008, Brown was arrested on suspicion of assault by East Orange police, Sgt. Andrew DiElmo said. DiElmo said Brown was living in a rooming house when he ‘got into an altercation with one of the other residents.’ ‘He allegedly produced some kind of cutting tool and struck the other resident,’ DiElmo said. ... Brown was not indicted. He did not respond to requests for comment on the New Jersey incident. ... Brown left his last accounting job in 2008 and headed back to the District. ‘I came back to D.C. to run for mayor. I wanted to establish residency,’ he said.” WUSA-TV also updates its story on the old charges: “After ignoring repeated calls for comment, Sulaimon Brown called 9NEWS NOW on Monday to correct an earlier online version of this story: the early story had said he was acquitted of ‘murder.’ It should have read ‘attempted murder.’”

ETHICS REFORM NOW — Harry Jaffe uses his Examiner column to stump for a city government ethics overhaul: “In more than 30 years reporting on the capital city, I can’t think of a time when our politicians were so deep in ethical muck. Even when [Marion Barry] stood accused of cocaine possession and distribution in 1990, the city council was not implicated. ... What to do? Why not take a cold look at the ethical lapses and use the opportunity to take a dramatic step in the other direction? Let’s challenge the city council to quickly write and introduce a serious and sweeping ethics reform law. It would order District politicians and high-ranking officials to disclose the following: every source and amount of outside income; every donation and freebee, from tickets and travel to meals and sweetheart deals; every meeting with city contractors; and every local and federal tax return. That’s just for starters. Consequences for violating the rules should be quick and painful. I know Kwame Brown has talked about ethics legislation, and he has asked Georgetown University to help draft it. Time’s up. The council needs an ethical bath, pronto, as in this month.”

RELAX! — Zoe Tillman of Legal Times covers Acting Attorney General Irvin Nathan’s Friday oversight hearing. One notable tidbit: Nathan has relaxed the dress code for OAG staff lawyers implemented by predecessor Peter Nickles “in a nod to union requests.” That means suit and tie is no longer mandatory on days that attorneys aren’t meeting with clients. “Steven Anderson, president of Local 1403 of the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents staff attorneys, testified earlier on Friday that Nathan had ‘improved the morale’ in the office. But, he added, the union still has several issues they need to hammer out with management, from finding an effective way to challenge firings to coming up with a revised purchasing system to hire expert witnesses.” Also: “Nathan said he was meeting with local law firms to see if attorneys could do pro bono work for the city, an idea [Phil Mendelson] greeted with some skepticism, noting that previous attorneys general for the city had pursued that solution in the past with limited success. ‘I’m not suggesting it is the answer to all of our problems, but it is an answer,’ Nathan said.” Perhaps Robert Trout might be available?

MARA IN DANGER — In at-large council race news: Patrick Mara finds out today if he’ll be booted from the April 26 ballot due to, among other things, apparently fictitious signatures. I explain: “While reviewing the other challenges, [Board of Elections and Ethics] staff identified about 80 signatures submitted by Mara that are potentially fraudulent. ... Eighty discarded signatures wouldn’t be enough to eliminate Mara, but combined with the other challenges, it is entirely possible Mara could sink below 3,000. There is also the possibility that the board could toss all the signatures collected by the circulator responsible for the falsified John Hancocks, multiplying Mara’s problems. More at Four26 on yesterday’s hearing on the matter: “Mara attorney Charles Spies objected to how the hearing had been re-scheduled and the new allegations that had been raised. Spies quoted extensively from a Post editorial published over the weekend that claimed that Republicans were at an unfair disadvantage when dealing with the board, two members of which are Democrats and a third minority-party seat that has remain unfilled for a year. Spies argued that Mara’s petitions were being subjected to “unique scrutiny,” and that the campaign was only notified Friday at noon of the new claims against it.” Whatever happens today, it’s likely to go to the D.C. Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, Bryan Weaver is safely on the ballot, and Sekou Biddle won the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s endorsement last night.

BZA NOMS MOVING FAST — Jack Evans tells the Georgetown Dish he wants to slow down two fast-tracked Gray appointments to the Board of Zoning Adjustment. One of the nominees is Lloyd Jordan, the former DCRA director who played a key role in the Gray campaign. The other is Nicole Sorg, “senior executive of an architectural and planning firm whose clients regularly have business before the BZA.” Writes the Dish: “Evans said the nominations have moved ‘far too quickly’ to allow adequate public review and comment. Jordan’s nomination was received by the Council on March 2. It was the subject of a hearing a week later on March 9 and is scheduled for final action by the full Council on Tuesday. The confirmation process normally allows at least several weeks for public testimony to be considered. ‘I’ve gotten numerous emails asking that the confirmation vote be postponed so that we can get more public input,’ Evans [said]. ‘I’m inclined to agree.’”

*** SMALL PLATES ***

Jeez, Kaya Henderson, I don’t think this will be necessary: “I promise I will die trying to ensure children in D.C. public schools have an excellent education.” Also: “I have to do whatever I think is right, and if I get fired for that, that’s life. There’ll be another job waiting for me.” And: the “devil is in the details” for NCLB rewrite. (WJLA-TV, WTTG-TV)

Gray’s State of the District address is set for March 28 at the Convention Center (@DCSportsEnt)

Fox 5 picks up Kwame Brown campaign finance story. Says Mark Plotkin: “His political future is very much endangered.” (WTTG-TV)

Another new Fenty gig: “strategic advisor ... to help address fiscal challenges and improve the efficiency and quality of IT services delivered to citizens” (news release)

Medical Examiner Marie Pierre-Louis says Police Chief Cathy Lanier didn’t check with her before making controversial DC9 comments (City Desk)

Students fight back against new noise law (Washington Times)

D.C. cops knock down wrong door in drug raid, injure 86-year-old man (WTTG-TV)

DCPS out-of-boundary lottery sees record number of applicants — and record number on waitlists (Examiner, D.C. Schools Insider)

Has the DCPS central office really grown? (D.C. Schools Insider)

Does food-truck proposal prove Evans a tax-cutting hypocrite ? (DCist)

Jeb Boasberg confirmed as federal judge (Legal Times)

Capital Bikeshare to offer 5-day pass (GGW)

Michigan columnist to Michelle Rhee: Save us (Freep)

Gray Lady assesses Robert Bobb’s progress in Detroit: “Not great.” (New York Times)

Try your hand at designing a Metro map (GGW)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray, Kwame Brown, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Yvette Alexander and others break ground on Educare center at Thomas ES, 650 Anacostia Ave. NE, 10 a.m. — Gray tours three DCPS schools through the day; Kimball ES, Brightwood EC, Banneker HS; attends Everybody Wins! gala, 7:30 p.m. at Capital Hilton — council legislative meeting today

By  |  09:48 AM ET, 03/15/2011

 
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