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Posted at 11:11 AM ET, 03/17/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: March 17, 2011

TODAY IS MARCH 17, 2011 — DAY 71 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY — D.C. Republicans targeted by apparent shooterGray meets with business leaders to stave off doubts

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Mayor Vincent “Hastily Called News Conference” Gray last night made his strongest move yet to hit the reset button on his sputtering administration, firing Chief of Staff Gerri Mason Hall toward the end of a day that included a lengthy sit-down with business poo-bahs in the downtown office of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. The decision made, Gray said, because personnnel controversies were “overshadowing the work of the government.” The drama certainly overshadowed any other happenings in the John A. Wilson Building yesterday. Hall sat in the fourth-floor hearing room all morning, waiting for her turn to testify before Mary Cheh. WRC-TV’s Tom Sherwood, who first reported rumors of the firing, also captures video of Hall leaving a council oversight hearing around noontime, where she made a pretty convincing case that she didn’t know she was getting axed later in the day. So what happened in that meeting with biz big shots? Here’s what Chamber doyenne and Gray-backer Barbara Lang had to say: “Obviously, we’re very concerned about recent events, and we wanted to give the mayor an opportunity to give his perspective on where do we go from here.” Dorothy Brizill has an unsourced, more conspiratorial version of events, saying that the powers-that-be were pushing Gray to replace Hall with Federal City Council CEO John Hill, former City Administrator Robert Bobb or former Deputy Mayor Herb Tillery.

AFTER THE JUMP — Marion Barry’s advice should be ignored — Neil Stanley will take DYRS’ reins — Patrick Mara is a lucky duck — ed-reformers still don’t trust Gray

*** MAIN COURSE ***

HALL STATEMENT — “Today I tendered my resignation to Mayor Vincent C. Gray as his Chief of Staff. This has been an educational and eye-opening experience. While I appreciate the Mayor’s support, I strongly feel that remaining in this position would only cause continued distractions for the Mayor and his administration. ... I refuse to let my presence be the focal point of the administration and the reason why Mayor Gray’s progress is not getting the attention it deserves. I left the private sector to take this job – and my service to the city was a calling and never a source of self-enrichment. ... As a native of the District, I love this city. I love this Mayor and I want nothing but the very best for both. I personally have a need to move on with my professional and family life and wish the Mayor well.”

MORE — Here’s the money line from Cheh’s preamble to her oversight hearing: “If people understand that public service is a calling and not a case for self-enrichment, those are the people that we want. Those are the people that we need.” Michael Neibauer writes at WBJ that Gray’s political hires have been ordered “to report for fingerprinting and ‘orientation’ by April 15. The mayor, he wrote, directs it. ‘The investigation will include a criminal records check (both FBI and local), credit check, and the completion of a personal history statement,’ read the e-mail, sent Wednesday. The checks will be conducted ‘regardless of whether the Excepted Service appointee had a background investigation or background check conducted under a previous administration,’ according to the e-mail. The appointees will have to take about an hour out of their workday to visit No. 6 D.C. Village Lane SW, home to the MPD Recruiting Branch.” More from Loose Lips, Examiner, Washington Times, WUSA-TV, WTOP. Later today, the Kwamemobile saga will reappear, as Tommy Wells questions DPW Director Bill Howland, City Administrator Allen Lew and others on luxury SUVs.

BAD ADVICE? — Post columnist Bob McCartney talks to Marion Barry, soliciting some scandal-management advice from the mayor-for-life: “’I am an expert on successfully maneuvering through a crisis,’ Barry (D-Ward 8) said at the start of our talk Monday. ‘ know what the game is.’ Much of what Barry said was pretty conventional and has been said elsewhere. The mayor should have a game plan. Communicate well. Don’t get distracted from the real work of leading the city. But Barry also sought to cast Gray’s predicament in what I saw as an ‘us versus them’ context, an approach I hope the mayor rejects. ... Barry’s argument is also mischievous. It effectively urges Gray to copy Barry’s own strategy — employed in numerous past scandals — of rallying popular support by casting himself as a victim of malicious forces out to get him. That would be counterproductive for Gray. If the mayor succumbed, he would betray his campaign theme, ‘One City.’ It would revive political, geographic and racial divisions that we don’t need. Instead, Gray should stick to dealing with the substance of the scandals and avoiding political spin.”

EYES BACK ON DYRS — Lost in the mix by close of business yesterday were Gray’s appointments of three new agency heads: Interim Director Rob Mancini takes over at OCTO; Millicent West will stay on at HSEMA, and Neil Stanley takes over DYRS, the most controversial agency of the three. Freeman Klopott gets reaction to Stanley, who has held posts across the District government: “Stanley was hired as general counsel two years ago by then-director Vincent Schiraldi, who implemented a rehabilitation-focused model of juvenile justice that critics say opened the doors for juvenile delinquents to commit high-profile murders and sometimes be murdered themselves.” Says new Human Services chair Jim Graham: “We don’t want to go back to brutality and neglect, but we do need to see how [Stanley] has philosophically approached the balance.” Says youth advocate Daniel Okonkwo: “He’s not a pure public safety, law-and-order guy and he’s not a pure reform advocate. ... The agency needs someone like him right now who can bring the two sides together.” And here’s Kris Baumann: “If he doesn’t get serious about violent juvenile offenders, then nothing is going to change.”

LUCKY DUCK — In his Loose Lips column, Alan Suderman calls Patrick Mara ”One Lucky Republican” for (a) running as a Republican during a period in which the city’s Democratic leadership appears to be imploding and (b) somehow remaining on the ballot despite the election board’s findings that he submitted 160 forged signatures on his ballot petitions. “The [ballot] ruling is another piece of evidence that Mara is on an incredible hot streak, one that he had mostly nothing to do with. He needs it. In a town with more than 10 registered Democrats to every one Republican, candidates like Mara require something close to divine intervention to win a council seat. ... Mara hasn’t been similarly blessed with [an Arrington Dixon-like] dud of a candidate. Democratic leaders, including Mayor Vince Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown, were determined not to repeat history; they coalesced behind Sekou Biddle, an ambitious and bright education reformer who should appeal to supporters of former Mayor Adrian Fenty and his public schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee. Biddle’s not lazy, and he’s fully aware that he’s in for a tough fight. But while Biddle might not be a bum, he’s now weighed down by the support of the very people who helped him nab the Democratic State Committee’s appointment to the council. And that brings us back to Mara’s good fortune. Biddle’s most influential backers are tied up in embarrassing scandals that have the whole Wilson Building—to say nothing of voters—gawking. .. If Mara can’t use these scandals to fire up a good chunk of the District’s 30,000 registered Republicans to come out and vote in the only election they have a shot of winning, then he has no business being in politics.” In other news: David Wilmot’s group-home operator, Individual Development Inc., has settled with the District. Again.

WILL GRAY EVER BE GOOD ENOUGH? — Richard Whitmire, Rhee’s biographer, responds to Kaya Henderson’s hiring as her replacement in a Washington Times op-ed. Henderson’s hiring alone is not enough to prove that Gray is truly committed to education reform, he writes. Nor is the fact that he appealed a arbitrator’s decision to reinstate fired teachers. Nor is the fact that he’s refused to rehire the ousted principal of Hardy Middle School. “]I]t does seem strange that Mr. Gray, who was Ms. Rhee’s biggest detractor on the D.C. Council and made no effort to keep her after he was elected mayor, seems to be backing her reforms. Perhaps it’s too strange to be true. Brin ging in his own chancellor would have meant taking ownership of the D.C. school system, which for years has been Washington’s weakest public institution. With Ms. Henderson, if things don’t work out, Mr. Gray can always say he gave the Rhee reforms a serious try. ... In truth, Mr. Gray has yet to be tested on his resolve about school reform. The first signs of that may arise in the budget process. To preserve academic programs, will he allow teacher layoffs? Will he close undersubscribed schools? ... The real test of resolve will come with Impact, Ms. Rhee’s teacher-evaluation system, which is admired nationally but despised by many D.C. teachers. ... Mr. Gray knows the controversy over Ms. Rhee’s teacher firings helped get him elected. Why risk getting scorched by that same political anger? The mayor has ways to shift Impact into neutral: Just get the word out to principals to ease up on evaluation grades. Quietly, subtly make sure that hundreds of at-risk teachers ‘improve’ and dodge termination. ... Having Ms. Henderson at the helm means the progress made in previous years has a good chance of continuing. The tough decisions that will determine that progress, however, are still ahead.”

*** SMALL PLATES ***

Vincent Orange finally has a campaign (news release, Four26)

Phil Mendelson’s “large retailer” bills would affect Wal-Mart — and Target and Giant and Safeway (Housing Complex)

Feds are investigating Miracle Hands, recipient of $400,000 in HIV/AIDS funding (WaTimes)

Chuck Ramsey to Chicago? (Sun-Times, Examiner)

Feds to look into alleged theft of McKinley High grant funds (Examiner, D.C. Schools Insider)

Forest Haven now a favorite desination of “urban explorers” (TBD)

Airports Authority to restart CEO search (Post)

Metro’s overtime costs are rising, and it’s paying above-average worker’s comp claims (Examiner, Examiner)

Politicos ponder what to do about 12,000 truants (Examiner, WAMU-FM)

Barry’s State of Ward 8: ‘Liberation and transformation’ (Informer)

”Confessions of a Black Gentrifier” (City Paper)

Eight Benning Terrace men charged for alleged gang violence (Post)

Anacostians not particularly jazzed about streetcars (Housing Complex)

United Medical Center has bedbugs (TBD)

Inside the new evidence warehouse (TBD)

Cheh says she’ll testify against GU campus plan at Zoning Commission (G’town Dish)

More on Educare and Gray’s concern for the “intrauterine experience” (D.C. Schools Insider)

George Hawkins on his “Awesome, Humbling Challenge”; on “Fix a Leak Week” (Smart Global Health, Examiner)

More on Tuesday’s Council introductions (GGW)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray unveils revised Walter Reed plans, opens Shaw skate park, attends Friendly Sons of St. Patrick dinner — D.C. Council oversight hearings on Child and Family Services, 10 a.m. in JAWB 500; on the Department of Health, 10 a.m. in JAWB 412 — special hearing on “Procurement and Use of DC Official Vehicles,” 10 a.m. in JAWB 120 — confirmation hearing for DCRA Acting Director Nicholas A. Majett, 11 a.m. in JAWB 123

By  |  11:11 AM ET, 03/17/2011

 
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