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Posted at 10:56 AM ET, 03/21/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: March 21, 2011

TODAY IS MARCH 18, 2011 — DAY 75 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY — BUD’SPAC goes to bat for Patrick Mara

Get used to having Sinclair Skinner to kick around, folks. For Saturday’s paper, I reported on Friday’s official presentation of the Trout Report to the D.C. Council and the testimony of its author, attorney Robert P. Trout. The headline finding: Skinner, famous fraternity brother of former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, “passed on more than a half-million dollars in contract markups to District taxpayers,” while Fenty administration officials gave the parks spending little oversight, enabling a “classic case of waste and abuse,” in Trout’s words. “The investigation found that [Skinner’s Liberty Engineering and Design] had little internal capacity to do the work and instead hired outside firms, then passed on their bills to Banneker with ‘grossly excessive’ markups. ... During the course of the projects, LEAD paid about $422,600 to its subcontractors. It then billed Banneker about $969,000 for the same work, Trout’s report indicates. Banneker partners told Trout attorneys that a 10 percent markup was the industry standard, with some special cases meriting 20 percent.” Skinner, meanwhile, wrote an op-ed piece published in Sunday’s Post Outlook section that doesn’t respond to the Trout allegations so much as lash out as his critics. His lede: “Vincent Gray should resign. His involvement in nepotism and financial mismanagement is inexcusable and an embarrassment to the District of Columbia. And his administration duped voters with a plan to bully Adrian Fenty from office in what I believe was a corrupt campaign that violated election law.” OK, then. What Skinner doesn’t talk much about are the profiteering allegations, except to say this: “I won’t sugarcoat it — the Trout report calls for further investigation of my business. I am confident that this investigation will clear my name.”

AFTER THE JUMP — reactions to Vince Gray’s course-correction efforts -- V.O. wins big in Ward 8 as Biddle distancing effort continues -- Moneme lobbies his former employer to maintain paratransit contract -- Donatelli seeks tax break for Ward 7 apartments -- Rhee as “wonky Che Guevara”

*** MAIN COURSE ***

GRAY TRIES TO RIGHT THE SHIP — Gray on Friday announced he was cutting the salaries of eight top officials to comply with statutory salary caps, most by less than $1,000. Here’s a representative reaction, from Doug Parrish at Georgetown Patch: “Wow, Mr. Mayor. That’s really bold of you — bold like a slap in the face to your critics. Then again, maybe the Health Director deserves all that money.” And opinion-mongering continued through the weekend. Debbie Simmons takes a stab at diagnosing Hizzoner’s maladies in the Washington Times: “He misread the tea leaves. Every elected D.C. mayor from Walter Washington — considered by some whites to be too black and by some blacks not black enough — to the politically pliable Adrian M. Fenty was handed a mandate. Not so for Mr. Gray. Swept into office as the anti-Fenty candidate, he is being true to form, playing defense on first base. And although he batted better than .500 in high school, most of Mr. Gray’s at-bats as mayor so far are being recorded as errors in judgment — not home runs. Stakeholders merely want Mr. Gray to buy a few new trains and keep them running. After all, nothing in the city is broken, as was the case for Sharon Pratt and Tony Williams. So there is nothing for Mr. Gray to fix.” Freeman Klopott writes in Examiner that “Gray ran on a motto of ‘One City,’ but accusations of Gray for Mayor campaign impropriety have led to a congressional investigation that might only serve to further divide it. ... Gray has been trying to rally District residents to join him in a campaign to win the city’s independence from federal oversight. But if he chooses that route, he may only push away residents who want to get to the bottom of Brown’s claims.” TPM’s Evan McMorris-Santoro writes that Gray “seems to be using the occasion of the [Darrell Issa] probe to turn attention away from his scandals and back toward a conversation D.C. loves to have: how much Congressional oversight is too much? ... A local politician will go a long way in Washington with complaints about a meddling Congress — especially a Republican one, who will likely not find many friends in this city of 75 percent Democratic voter registration.” Mark Plotkin opines at WTOP: “He needs to come totally clean and he hasn’t. He needs to make a citywide speech to the residents of the District or have a marathon press conference where all and every question has been answered and asked so he can say, ‘Look, let’s move on.’” Jeffrey Anderson of The Washington Times keeps the heat on campaign supporter Cherita Whiting, given a Parks and Recreation job, reporting that it remains unclear whether she disclosed a 2001 felony conviction when applying for the position. Gary Imhoff writing in themail, begs for some historical perspective: “Does anyone who compares Gray unfavorably to Mayor Williams, and who praises Williams for running such a clean administration, remember that Williams fired his first Chief of Staff (Reba Pittman Evans, now Reba Pittman Walker) within the first few months of his administration in the aftermath of the ‘niggardly’ controversy ... ? Remember that he lost his second Chief of Staff (Abdusalam Omar) because an Inspector General’s investigation revealed that he illegally raised $1.5 million, supposedly for a sham nonprofit entity to help at-risk children, that was diverted to the use of the mayor’s office? Remember that he lost his third Chief of Staff (Kelvin Robinson) because an Office of the Special Counsel investigation revealed that he violated the Hatch Act forcing government employees under his control to work in Williams’ campaign and to give money to Williams’ campaign?” Meanwhile: Sulaimon Brown talked to the FBI again Friday, and Sulaimania made NPR’s All Things Considered. And Jonetta Rose Barras wonders when Harry Thomas Jr. is going to come clean about Team Thomas: “Issa, where are you?”

LETTER FROM MOCO — Here’s an extra-District view on the Kwamemobiles from Richard Parsons at Montgomery Village Patch: “Since when is any elected city council chairman entitled to a taxpayer-funded car in the first place? Mayors and county executives, I can see. They have a role that requires them to get around in blizzards and other emergencies and direct the response agencies that report to them, though that hardly justifies full leather, custom wheels and top-end sound systems. Local legislators have no justification at all. D.C. council members have even less. They are among the highest paid local officials in the country. If they want a brand new SUV so they can be seen navigating the rugged terrain of D.C.’s mean streets in style, they can bloody well pay for it themselves. Even in large, affluent jurisdictions like Montgomery County, you would never see Council President Valerie Ervin cruising around in a tricked out Lincoln Navigator at taxpayer expense. She would never even ask.”

FEAR THE CITRUS — The Ward 8 Dems gathered Saturday to endorse an at-large council candidate. Vincent Orange ran away with the thing, winning 141 of the 164 votes cast. Sekou Biddle and Josh Lopez tied for second, with six votes apiece. The Georgetown Dish also covers Orange’s campaign kickoff. Meanwhile, the Post’s Tim Craig takes a snapshot of a race where candidates “are using phrases such as ‘machine politics,’ ‘openly corrupt’ and even ‘banana republic’ to describe the District government. ... [T]he language heralds a dramatic shift in political climate that has left [Gray] and [Kwame Brown] sidelined in a campaign that could affect the ideological balance of the 13-member council.” And caught in the middle is Biddle, who is now “try[ing] to put some distance between himself and his Wilson Building backers. ‘In a matter of weeks and months, we have seen ourselves step backwards,’ Biddle said at a candidates forum in Kalorama on Thursday. ‘It’s clear we have to go in a new direction.’ ... Biddle said he voted for Fenty over Gray in last year’s election, and at recent forums his interracial marriage has become a key part of his stump speech, an apparent effort to reach out to voters in majority-white neighborhoods. ‘I don’t have years of political deal-making under my belt,’ Biddle said at the Gertrude Stein Club forum last week. ‘And I don’t owe anyone anything.’ Max Brown, who managed Anthony A. Williams’s 1998 mayoral campaign, said Biddle’s strategy is risky because he needs Gray and Brown to help him raise money and organize a get-out-the vote campaign. ‘The lifeblood of politics is loyalty, and you want to stand with your friends in tough times,’ he said. ‘Special elections are about turnout ... and it seems to me the mayor and council ran very effective races [last year] and have supporters out there who can run a ground game.’” Here’s Gray on the at-large race: “I think I can be very helpful, but at this stage [Biddle] is going to have to make his case. ... Where I can be helpful, I am prepared to do that.” And here’s Brown: “He’s got to show he’s not a rubber stamp, and he’s going to think independently, and he’s someone who’s going to bring vigor to the council, and that’s why I support him.”

CITIZEN MONEME — Nice scoop from WAMU-FM’s David Schultz, who reports that former DDOT Director and WMATA executive Emeka Moneme is now lobbying on behalf of MetroAccess operator MV Transportation. The firm hired Moneme, now of The Carmen Group, to help win a $130 million extension to the contract to run the troubled paratransit operation. “[J]udging by a private email obtained by WAMU, Moneme’s been using his insider connections within Metro to make sure the company gets it. In the email, sent late last year, a representative from Moneme’s office requests an in-person meeting with an adviser to Metro’s Board of Directors. Moneme wants to meet because he wants to ‘discuss MV Transport and the MetroAccess program.’ ... Steve Yaffe used to work at Metro; he ran the MetroAccess service. Yaffe says Metro’s ethics rules are supposed to prevent its executives from doing things like this. ‘WMATA has a very strict rule, in that you can leave WMATA, you can go work for a contractor, that’s not a problem,’ he says, ‘but you can’t work on WMATA business.’ ... Later this week, MV’s contract extension is slated to come before the Board of Directors, and according to several sources within Metro, it’s expected to be approved.”

DONATELLI WANTS WARD 7 TAX BREAK — Developer Chris Donatelli is seeking a tax break to build more than 300 apartments in Ward 7, near Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road NE. Jonathan O’Connell reports in Capital Business that Donatelli is “asking that the government waive 10 years of property taxes on the building in Northeast, at a total cost that he estimates at about $1.8 million. ... If the D.C. Council passes the tax abatement, Donatelli said he will start construction later this year or early next on the $53 million project. He plans to open a Lou’s City Bar — a sports bar and restaurant named after his father, developer Louis T. Donatelli, that recently opened in one of Chris’s buildings in Columbia Heights — on the first floor and is looking to attract another sit-down restaurant. He also said he is trying to persuade chains like Potbelly Sandwich Shop and Chipotle, both tenants of his in Columbia Heights, to open in his Northeast project. If the city declines to offer a tax deal, Donatelli said it will be difficult for him to begin construction and he might have to rework plans. ‘As currently designed, it would be difficult to finance,’ he said.” Spotted Friday: Jim Graham dining at the extant Lou’s; Donatelli was in the house as well, keeping an eye on a big NCAA tournament crowd.

NEW CHARTER HAS HIGH STANDARDS — Much debate about the BASIS chain of charter schools, which is now seeking its first D.C. charter. The Post’s Jay Mathews highlights the school in his column today: “The D.C. school will do exhaustive summer preparation for new students from fifth grade on. AP courses will start in ninth grade, perhaps earlier for some. Students will not graduate unless they pass at least six of the three-hour college level AP exams. It is part of a plan, the BASIS Web site says, ‘to educate American students at an internationally competitive level.’ If you graduate from a BASIS school, its founders say, nobody can argue that you have not learned as much as the best students in Finland, Japan, Korea, Singapore and other countries American educators admire. ... It will be interesting to watch. No one has ever planned for D.C. students to work this hard and do this well. If such high standards succeed at BASIS, other schools may have to give them a try.” Charter advocate Mark Lerner, representing the opposition, writes on his Examiner blog: “To me this appears like an elite private school is being set up for Ward 3 parents.”

ANOTHER RHEE PROFILE — Michelle Rhee and her role as “wonky Che Guevara” of education reform are examined in a lengthy New York magazine piece by Andrew Rice. It’s worth a lunchtime read. Here’s what Rice concludes about Rhee’s DCPS tenure: “Rhee’s failings were not simply matters of communication. Her dedication to assessing [teacher quality] was undermined by a difficult fact: No one has adequately defined good teaching. Value-added formulas, like the one behind IMPACT, are only as accurate as their inputs. Critics argue that standardized tests are flawed and inconsistent and don’t measure what kids should really be learning anyway. And Rhee carried out hundreds of firings before IMPACT was even in place. Rhee acknowledges that for all her talk of stringent standards, there was ‘no perfect option’ when it came to making many of her firing decisions. ‘In anything that we chose, there was a possibility of someone getting screwed,’ she said at an appearance in December. ‘But we thought, “Better the adults getting screwed than the kids.”’ In the end, it was this perhaps unavoidable unfairness that angered many Washington voters. ... A teacher who was unjustly fired could always find another job, but the harm done to a wronged child would be impossible to correct, she says. ‘You only have one shot at first grade.’”

*** SMALL PLATES ***

Mary Cheh on Kojo: “I’m just very sad.” (Kojo Nnamdi Show, @alansuderman)

Kudos to OCFO for putting YTD spending online — but it could be better (CFOInfo, DCFPI)

Jason Cherkis shares all the most depressing parts of Thursday’s CFSA oversight hearing (City Desk)

What will become of the Takoma Theatre? (Post)

Hearing on Brookland development delayed while opponents pursue historic preservation move (Examiner)

Taxi medallion proposal “has little or nothing to do with standards and everything to do with extending city control over one of the most dynamic and entrepreneur-friendly businesses in the district.” (Reason Foundation)

BZA nominee Lloyd Jordan ran into a spot of controversy in St. Louis way back when regarding his taxpayer-funded car (Loose Lips)

Eleanor Holmes Norton is among a “hard-core group of liberal House Democrats” who are “questioning the constitutionality of U.S. missile strikes against Libya” (Politico)

Rep. Dennis Kucinich is now living in Anacostia Randle Highlands (Plain Dealer)

Metro proposes $851M capital rehabilitation plan (Examiner)

Muriel Bowser, Graham to Bob McCartney: Marion Barry don’t speak for us (Post)

D.C. government gets half its energy from renewable sources, more than any city in the country (WAMU-FM)

Some Latino leaders upset about nomination process for OLA chief (Latina Lista)

Afro staff to UDC president: “Sorry [Allen Sessoms], WE DON’T BUY IT” (Afro)

Herb Miller’s boys hang a shingle, get set to redevelop H Street AutoZone (WBJ, Housing Complex)

Gay weddings are good for business, but hard to say just how good (Capital Business)

Petworth restaurateur accused internal-affairs cop of hitting him with a Mercedes (City Desk)

Max Brown lives in an award-winning house (Housing Complex)

Good to know: 46 percent of the city’s non-park, non-military land area is in Northwest (GGW)

Dorm drugmakers get probation (WTOP)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray kicks off “Potholepalooza” at 12:30 p.m. on the 1300 block of Jasper Street SE — Health Committee hearing on “Mayor’s Council on Physical Fitness, Health and Nutrition Establishment Act,” “Medicaid Prescription Reimbursement Allowable Cost Act,” and “AIDS 2012 Commission Establishment Act” — Vincent Orange appears on NewsTalk With Bruce DePuyt, 10 a.m. on NewsChannel 8

By  |  10:56 AM ET, 03/21/2011

 
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