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Posted at 10:49 AM ET, 03/18/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: March 18, 2011

TODAY IS MARCH 18, 2011 — DAY 72 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

Well, District residents, meet Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) — the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who says he’s taking a hard look at exactly what happened between Sulaimon Brown and members of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s campaign. Nikita Stewart broke the story Thursday afternoon, reporting that Issa’s initial inquiries into the matter were not well-taken: “It’s unprecedented, the lack of information we’ve received,” a spokesman told her. But they have some information, such as “evidence that Brown did not interview for his $110,000 job as a special assistant in the Department of Health Care Finance” but was “simply placed there.” A statement from Issa included this knock: “The initial findings of these efforts do not give me confidence that the District government can make this evaluation.” And here’s the real scary bit for Gray: “We haven’t ruled out hearings.” Hizzoner, usually a fiery opponent of congressional interference in city affairs, was relatively subdued in a statement and in a WTTG-TV interview. “Congressional involvement is not likely to illuminate any additional issues or information,” said the statement, but he promises to “cooperate fully” with Issa’s probe. Playing bad cop is Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who issued a fiery statement last night: “I am outraged that a congressional committee with a full agenda would make a detour to investigate a purely local matter. ... A congressional investigation would take the new House Republican majority’s obsession with invading the District’s home rule to a new low.”

AFTER THE JUMP — Patterson backs Orange for at-large seat — SUV hearing reveals city could be on hook for $30,000 for Navigators — Kwame says he’s not backing tax hikes — inside an IMPACT evaluation — feds change Walter Reed layout — DCPS cocaine bust!

*** MAIN COURSE ***

MORE ON ISSA PROBE — Reports from Examiner, WaTimes, Talking Points Memo, TBD, WTOP, DCist. Note that key investigation figures continue to lawyer up: Accused bag man Howard Brooks has former Prince George’s State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey, now at Venable. Campaign mastermind Lorraine Green has Sidley Austin white-collar ace Thomas Green. And fired chief of staff Gerri Mason Hall has hired former U.S. Attorney Kenneth Wainstein, now with O’Melveny Myers. Mark Plotkin calls Issa a “publicity hound” and says “he is hotdogging this issue” on WTOP. “This is really a cheap shot. I expected it from Issa.” Alan Suderman writes at Loose Lips that it’s good news for Gray: “[I]t’s probably one of the better things that could happen to the mayor in this whole Sulaimon mess. ... Issa, who probably should have been content to let the U.S. Attorney’s Office do its thing before jumping in, has given Gray a near-perfect foil. ... This is a town that voted 92 percent for President Obama, and Issa is the congressman who declared that Obama is ‘one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.’ Gray hardly has to even do anything to win sympathy from his constituents, even those west of the park, with Issa as his chief persecutor.”

NEWS — A little more than a day after he was kicked off the ballot, Jacque Patterson announces he’s endorsing Vincent Orange for the at-large D.C. Council seat. Patterson’s statement: “While all of the candidates bring unique skill sets, Vincent Orange is prepared to address the urgent issues immediately. I am confident that Vincent Orange will be able to work with other fiscally responsible Council members and be an independent Legislator. His knowledge of government operations is desperately needed at this time.”

SUVGATE ROLLS ON — Boy, Kwame Brown is one lucky dude. Issa’s Gray probe and the elementary-school cocaine incident (see below) knock Tommy Wells’s SUV hearing inside the Post Metro section and deeper into yesterday’s evening newscasts. Here’s what the hearing turned up, per Tim Craig: “Brown’s team requested a Lincoln Navigator from city officials within hours of winning the November election, a demand that could end up costing taxpayers more than $30,000 even though Brown drove the sport-utility vehicle for only a few weeks. ... City Administrator Allen Y. Lew and Public Works Director William O. Howland Jr. recalled being told by Brown or one of his staffers that Brown wanted the city to lease for him a Lincoln Navigator with black interior and such amenities as a moon roof and entertainment system.” Also, there is finally some clarity on how much this is costing taxpayers: “[B]ecause of what Howland described as a mistake, the Department of Public Works paid $17,669 up front when it entered the lease for the vehicle that Brown rejected. The city sent the vehicle back to the leasing company, but Lew said the city might not recover any part of the payment because the company is claiming a breach of contract. ... After Brown gave up the second SUV, Public Works returned it to the leasing company. But Howland said the leasing company has filed a $12,400 breach-of-contract claim against the city. In a brief interview Thursday, Brown said it is not his fault that Public Works violated city rules by paying a big part of the initial lease upfront. ‘I’m still committed to make my payments for the uses and time I used the vehicle,’ Brown said.” Sekou Biddle, running for council with Brown’s support, issued this statement this morning: “The Chairman needs to pay the taxpayers back [for his SUVs] in full. ... At a time when we’re facing massive budget deficits, our goal should be to reduce waste and excess spending. This is the only way to begin restoring trust and credibility in government.” Also WRC-TV and WAMU-FM, which notes that Howland said he “should have questioned some of the luxury options requested.” The Examiner’s Freeman Klopott notes that “Wells hammered [Lew] and [Howland] for hours Thursday on a wide range of procurement policies, including dozens of Chevrolet Suburbans leased by the city despite a 2004 law making that illegal.”

FLASH — Kwame Brown tells NewsChannel8’s Bruce DePuyt that he “will oppose any effort to close the city’s budget gap by boosting the property tax or the tax on income.” Said Brown, “People are tired of their taxes going up, especially in these environments.” This a day after he sent this “Dear DC Resident” message to his e-mail list: “Let’s face it: we’ve had a difficult few months at City Hall and I have learned some tough lessons. DC deserves better; you deserve better. I promise you that I plan to operate differently moving forward — to get past any distractions, focus on the people’s business and work even harder to ensure that our thriving city takes its rightful place as an unparalleled world capital. So much good work is being done by the Council and active community members. I have been fortunate enough to participate in a number of high-impact initiatives, attend fun community-building events, meet inspiring individuals, and introduce important legislative changes during the past week. I want to share these stories with you.”

NOSE FOR NEWS — How’s this for TV news bait: A student at Thomson Elementary downtown takes cocaine to school and shares it with four classmates. Bill Turque writes in The Post: “The incident stunned parents who received word at afternoon pickup and jolted officials accustomed to dealing with an urban school system’s usual array of crime and other emergencies. No one could remember a drug incident involving students so young. ‘This is very unusual,’ said Safiya Simmons, a D.C. schools spokeswoman. ‘Not something we’re accustomed to dealing with.’ Officials did not disclose the children’s grade levels and said they were trying to determine how the student acquired the undisclosed amount of cocaine. Some of the students ingested it orally and others inhaled it, authorities said, but they did not know how much each student consumed.” WJLA-TV reports: “Sources tell ABC7 the student, believed to be 8 or 9, found the bag of cocaine in the back of his step-father’s car when he was being dropped off at school this morning. ... Now the incident has shifted to a criminal investigation inside a Prince George’s County home tonight, where detectives and police from both jurisdictions spent hours searching this home, believed the be the home of the 4th grader who allegedly brought the cocaine to school. Police are not releasing the step-father’s name tonight, but his neighbor, Jason Cannon, who happens to be a kindergarten teacher in the District, said he is stunned. ‘I’m astonished,’ Cannon said. ‘How can this happen?’” Yeah, how is a kid who lives in Prince George’s going to school in downtown D.C.? More from City Paper (“Today, a kid briefly turned his elementary school into Studio 54 ... ”), Examiner (Jack Evans calls it “tragic”).

HOW IMPACT WORKS — The Post’s Stephanie McCrummen takes a close look at how IMPACT is playing out for DCPS teachers, focusing on Clay Harris, a math teacher at Anne Beers Elementary in Ward 7, and his conference with a “master educator.” Here’s the context: “IMPACT, now in its second year — is becoming a national model, even as unions and some experts question the wisdom of staking careers on it. ... [T]he heart of the new system is a set of nine standards — from explaining content clearly to time management — that are supposed to represent years of research on the elements of great instruction. During five, half-hour classroom observations throughout the year, most unannounced, principals or master educators assess how well teachers incorporate the standards into their teaching. After each observation, there is a conference. It’s the moment when the reform agenda meets the teachers expected to carry it out, when teachers so often praised in emotional or even artistic terms — for effort, devotion, creativity — confront a new, more technical set of measures. ‘There is this “bless your heart” problem in the teaching profession,’ said Jason Kamras, the key architect of IMPACT. ‘It’s, “This is so hard, so bless your heart for trying.” That’s not how you become a real profession. We need to be honest about that conversation.’ ” Read the piece and see how one honest conversation goes.

GRAY’S START ‘DISAPPOINTING’ — Gray supporter Peter Rosenstein weighs in on Hizzoner’s month of misery, via his Washington Blade column: “Disappointing is the word I use to describe the first months of the Gray administration. I recognize that some good things have happened. The mayor has appointed excellent deputy mayors, announced Kaya Henderson as D.C. Public Schools Chancellor, formed a new high level HIV/AIDS Commission and is moving forward on a slew of initiatives. But all this is overshadowed by the unproven allegations of a losing minor mayoral candidate. What Gray has called missteps I consider accepting bad advice from erstwhile ‘friends.’ I am not surprised, nor should he be, by how quickly some are willing to declare a ‘crisis’ in government. But the ‘missteps’ of giving jobs to employees’ children and raising salaries for some in his administration have only given ammunition to those that want to see a crisis.”

BIG CHANGES AT WALTER REED — The federal government has decided that it doesn’t need part of the Walter Reed campus it once thought it did, so the District now can redevelop more of it — 62 acres worth. Here’s a map, courtesy of WBJ. Crucially, Michael Neibauer reports, the new boundaries include “all street frontage along Georgia Avenue.” That’s the good news. The bad news is that a planning process more than a year in the making will now have to start over. “The city’s original reuse plan, unveiled in October, featured 2.2 million square feet of development — to include 850 residential units, 200,000 square feet of retail and 90,000 square feet of office space — plus 40 acres of open space on 62.5 acres. ... Clearly, that will change, as the map has changed and both the District and State Department control more acreage than they did before. Victor Hoskins, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said DMPED will reengage the community ‘to get their input on the new opportunities presented with the boundary shift.’ ” Said Gray: “We want to see this property opened up to be a part of the heartbeat of Ward 4, Georgia Avenue and the District of Columbia.” More at WTOP, Housing Complex, Examiner.

GIVE SESSOMS A FAIR SHAKE — A Post editorial says that UDC President Allen Sessoms deserves the “benefit of the doubt” when evaluating his hefty travel expenses because of the progress he’s made: “Mr. Sessoms has brought refreshing leadership and needed change to the city’s long-beleaguered public university. To avoid jeopardizing that progress, it’s critical that the UDC board of trustees complete its review of the travel issues and take appropriate action to reassure the public that the institution is being appropriately governed. ... Since taking over as president two years ago, Mr. Sessoms has brought much-needed — albeit not always popular — changes to UDC. He strengthened academic standards, raised tuition, challenged a faculty protective of its interests, and sought to weed out wasteful and inefficient programs. Most significant was his bold launch of a community college that aims to fill a critical void in the District. We are not suggesting that the good work done by Mr. Sessoms is an excuse for poor use of university resources. Surely, though, it’s reason to give him the benefit of the doubt while the facts are being determined.”

A LOCAL BUSINESS OWNER ON WAL-MART — Yes! Organic owner Gary Cha explains in a WBJ op-ed how he wants the city to treat Wal-Mart: “In the same way our elected officials listen to Wal-Mart’s lobbyists who are spreading lots of largess around town, I urge that they hear people like me ... who have survived tough economic times and earned our stripes as a vital part of the D.C. community, especially in underserved and low-income areas. ... No one can argue against a healthy mix of national, small and locally owned businesses. But I question whether Wal-Mart, given its size and habit of crushing competitors, will be willing to coexist. ... Our local officials should take a cue from Wal-Mart’s impact in other communities and assure a level playing field for local businesses that have invested capital and sweat equity in D.C. How can you compete with the biggest retailer on earth? The answer rests here in D.C. Political and community leaders can exert leverage. ... An enforceable, measurable plan could chart a new path for Wal-Mart and give our capital city an opportunity to set a standard that others can embrace.”

*** SMALL PLATES ***

He’s back: @mayorvincegray is here (Twitter)

Gray HR director Judy Banks defends her placements (Examiner)

Residents weigh in: Should Kwame Brown resign? (Afro)

Rock Creek Academy, recipient of city special-ed money, under investigation “for lax security, high rates of truancy and inadequate academic programs” (Post)

Should MPD set up a dedicated traffic unit? (GGW)

So what did happen to that $100,000 at McKinley Tech? (WTTG-TV)

Amy Berman Jackson confirmed for D.C.’s federal bench (D.C. Wire, Legal Times)

“D.C. man gets 18 years for $600 drug deal” (WaTimes)

Another pro-voucher op-ed, from former PCSB member Don Soifer (Examiner)

Metro transit police chief talks youth-crime crackdown (WUSA-TV)

Meet the XIX International AIDS Conference host committee, led by Mayor Sharon Pratt (news release)

Will human services cuts threaten education reform? (DCFPI)

After examining complexity of D.C.’s truancy problem, Deborah Simmons concludes: “Kids drop out of school because we let them.” (WaTimes)

Why restaurant health grades are a bad idea (Blade)

Could Tourmobile’s Mall monopoly be coming to an end? (GGW)

How Georgetown U. is neglecting Holy Rood Cemetery (G’town Metropolitan)

Navy won’t let cyclists on bike trail except during business hours (GGW)

Michelle Rhee tells Cleveland what it really needs in a schools chief: “You have to be OK with not being liked.” (Plain Dealer)

Nominate someone for a Committee of 100 “Vision Award” (C100)

Good job, WTOP, forcing DDOT to spend $150 to help Verizon’s branding — using a mismatched font, at that (WTOP)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray appears at “green power” awards ceremony, 10 a.m. at Phelps High School; at D.C. Chamber policy forum, 2 p.m. at Ronald Reagan Building; holds cabinet retreat at Convention Center — Council oversight hearings on Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, Office of Administrative Hearings, Office of Police Complaint and Metropolitan Police Department, 10 a.m. in JAWB 120; on Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, Metropolitan Council of Governments, Office of the District of Columbia Auditor, Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining, Office of Cable Television and Public Access Corp., 10 a.m. in JAWB 412

By  |  10:49 AM ET, 03/18/2011

 
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