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Posted at 12:35 PM ET, 03/29/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: March 29, 2011

TODAY IS MARCH 29, 2011 — DAY 83 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

Mayor Vincent C. Gray gave his State of the District address at Eastern High School last night. It was an opportunity to get the media and the public talking about anything other than the scandals that have made his March a no-good, very bad month. So what are we talking about this morning? Scandals, thanks to the infelicitous timing of a D.C. Council hearing on his administration's hiring practices. Gray’s speech, by most accounts, was long and unsurprising, offering little besides his “One City” platitudes to change the developing narrative of his mayoralty. In particular, it offered few details about the budget he will submit to the council later this week. The more compelling news of the day was to be found in the council chamber, where members — David Catania, in particular — grilled current and former officials on how exactly the Gray administration went about its hiring — particularly the hiring of former candidate Sulaimon Brown. Here’s your B1 Post lede, by Tim Craig: “Gray’s former chief of staff made several attempts to find a city job for [Brown], eventually placing him in an agency with oversight over how the District spends funds on local and federal health-care programs.” Much more after the jump.

AFTER THE JUMP — More reports from council hearing, State of the District — Pundits local and national respond to Noyes cheating allegations — Jaffe: D.C. needs a ‘junkyard dog’ in its inspector general — 50 years ago, D.C. won the right to vote for president

*** MAIN COURSE ***

FROM THE HEARING — “In his testimony before the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment, [former Health Care Finance Chief of Staff Talib Karim] said Brown was hired to work on a ‘special project’ with the agency’s associate director for planning and policy. But after three weeks on the job, Karim said, agency leaders became concerned with Brown’s ‘poor performance and erratic behavior,’ including ‘invading meetings he did not belong in.’ About the same time, Karim said, leaders started ‘receiving reports’ that Brown was harassing female employees, including offering ‘a romantic gift to an intern with the agency.’ In an interview after his testimony, Karim alleged that Brown gave the intern a ‘love CD’ on Valentine’s Day. ... Brown, who sat in the hearing room for part of the proceedings, declined to comment on Karim’s explanation of his termination. ‘I won’t even dignify his comment with a response because it is off-base,’ Brown said.” From a Washington Times report by Tom Howell Jr.: “The all-day hearing was marked by a series of contentious comments from council members David A. Catania and Marion Barry, who defended the mayor’s right to make political appointments — even when it was disclosed that some of those hired were the children of high-level staffers. Judy Banks, interim director of the D.C. Office of Human Resources, testified that it was fair to say Ms. Hall hired her child and established his salary at the Department of Parks and Recreation. ‘I want that to linger for a second, so we all understand what’s going on,’ said Mr. Catania. ... When pressed, Ms. Banks agreed that hiring one’s own child and setting his or her salary amounts to nepotism.” More from the Examiner, WTTG-TV, WUSA-TV, DCist, WTOP, WAMU-FM and Loose Lips. The hearing will resume April 7, with testimony from ex-chief of staff Gerri Mason Hall, Lorraine Green and Howard Brooks.

SotD REACTION — Post B1 story, by Nikita Stewart: “Mayor Vincent C. Gray, whose first months in office have been saddled by questionable hiring practices and spending on staff salaries, delivered a State of the District address on Monday that largely ignored the troubles lingering for his administration. Instead, Gray (D) used his remarks to shift the public conversation over his administration’s troubles to the District’s longtime tale of two cities, exacerbated last week by new U.S. Census numbers that show the black population has dwindled to barely 50 percent in the once predominantly African American city.” More from Washington Times, Patch, WTTG-TV, WAMU-FM.

KEYNOTE — From the prepared text of Gray’s speech: “The 2010 Census data we received last week had some good news: For the first time in 60 years, the population of our city has grown from one census to the next. Almost 20 thousand new residents have made D.C. their home in the last decade. And we now have more than 600 thousand residents! People are finding the District of Columbia an attractive place to live, and are moving back to our city – increasing our tax base and infusing our city with new vibrancy, life and creativity. But as we grow, we also need to be sure that our city is a place where those who have been here for many years continue to have the chance to live. We have much to be proud of and much to look forward to. But yet, something feels curious about this litany of successes. We must consider a painfully obvious fact: the city that wins these accolades isn’t the same one that many of you wake up to each day. The truth is that the growth in our city has been a miracle for some —and a mirage for others. For those left behind, the picture I have just painted of the city’s success is not a self-portrait, but something closer to a foreign landscape; you can gaze at it admiringly, but it doesn’t look anything like your neck of the woods. ... At its widest, the Anacostia River spans barely half a mile — but when you pass over it, it can feel like you’ve left one continent for another. In a city that has been growing, the child poverty rate east of the river is double — yes, double! — the national average. In the healthiest city in America, the rate of HIV/AIDS infection east of the river is as severe as it is in Africa; it’s the highest rate of infection in the United States by a wide margin. In a city that has been ranked as the third-best location for chefs nationwide, we have a grand total of five sit-down restaurants east of the river – two in Ward 7 and three in Ward 8. That might not seem important, but it matters because with so few restaurants serving fresh food and with so few grocery stores where food can be purchased, families struggle each day to ensure their children eat nutritiously — and in some cases, just eat. Let’s be clear: my intention is not to pit one part of the city against another. I don’t believe in that kind of division. I too am proud of our successes west of the river, and I know those triumphs encompass the hard work of many people in this room. But I do believe that too many of us have operated under the false assumption that a rising tide therefore would lift all boats.”

NEWSY BIT I — “In some quarters, we have created a culture of dependency that does not encourage residents to take control of their lives. Public assistance should be a hand up, not a permanent hand out. Over time, the system we have in place has strayed from this belief — and it’s time we returned to it. I have directed my Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services, BB Otero, to lead the effort to break down the silos in our current support system so that we can better serve our residents in need of assistance. That’s why we will implement substantial reforms to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Beginning April 1st, recipients who have received TANF for more than 60 months will graduate into a program that will provide the kinds of services that help break the cycle of dependency.”

NEWSY BIT II — “Each year the city spends hundreds of millions constructing and renovating buildings but that effort often is uncoordinated, disjointed and inordinately time consuming. Moreover, agencies whose mission may be to provide recreation services or to perform a variety of basic public services also are asked to renovate or construct buildings. In the Fiscal Year 2012 budget, I will propose consolidating capital projects from a number of agencies into a new department that also will address the leasing of space. The new unit will manage capital projects by working with agencies to accurately budget for them, developing performance measures, establishing and adhering to timelines and achieving the most efficient use possible of public dollars. This will better ensure that projects run on time, stay on budget and are aligned with the city’s strategic objectives. And, with many capital projects under one umbrella, it will promote colocation and will push agencies to work in collaboration rather than silos.”

‘PUBLIC TRUST’ — “What you will see in the months to come is the government you deserve — one that takes seriously the notion of public trust and accountability. If that trust is violated, you can expect swift action. My entire life has been spent in one or another form of service to the public. ... In every instance, I have discharged my responsibilities with honor and respect for the public trust. And I have always required those working with me to behave the same way.”

BY THE NUMBERS — Courtesy @chuckthies: “Text of @mayorvincegray’s State of the District speech is 8,117 words. Obama’s 2011 SOTU = 7,029 words; speech on Libya tonight = 3,386.”

DID NOYES CHEAT? — Monday’s big USA Today story on suspected cheating at Noyes Elementary School reverberates. USA Today reporters Marisol Bello and Jack Gillum note in a follow-up that the normally low-profile State Board of Education will have a hearing on the allegations. Bill Turque, who wrote about the cheating allegations two years ago, writes this morning at D.C. Schools Insider that the story “covers some familiar ground [but] it drills down to new levels and leaves little question that District officials had no intention of trying to find out what really happened in the classrooms that had exceptionally high erasure rates. And by refusing to make former Noyes principal Wayne Ryan (since promoted to instructional superintendent) available for interviews, Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson only reinforces the perception that DCPS has something to hide.” The firm hired by DCPS to investigate the cheating allegations, Caveon, released a statement Monday: “Caveon had complete freedom to carry out the interviews [with teachers] and review data with strong encouragement to use our best professional judgement and experience to inform our results and conclusions. There was no encouragement to minimize problems or ‘sugar coat’ our results.” And here’s Michelle Rhee's response: “It isn’t surprising that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the Earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved ... unless someone cheated.” (On The Tavis Smiley Show last night, she was slightly less strident.) The story generates a response from educational wise woman Diane Ravitch, writing at the Daily Beast: “Shame on Michelle Rhee.” Also writing at the Daily Beast, Dana Goldstein calls the story proof of Campbell’s Law: “In other words, the more punishments and rewards — such as merit pay — are associated with the results of any given test, the more likely it is that the test’s results will be rendered meaningless, either through outright cheating or through teaching to the test in a way that narrows the curriculum and renders real learning obsolete.” Picked up by the Examiner, DCist, WAMU-FM, WTTG-TV, WUSA-TV, Mother Jones, FireDogLake and two bloggers at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (note that Rhee has recently taken her road show to the Georgia State House).

ISO ‘JUNKYARD DOG’ — Harry Jaffe takes a whack in his Examiner column at Inspector General Charles Willoughby for his milquetoast investigative ways: “Isn’t it time for a junkyard dog rather than a lap dog? Watch Willoughby try to tell D.C. Council members on Monday why he is not investigating claims that Gray campaign operatives paid off Sulaimon Brown to heckle Adrian Fenty during the last mayoral race. It seems a secretary in the mayor’s office called and asked if Willoughby might have a job for Brown. What’s wrong with this picture? First, it speaks of a cozy relationship between the mayor and Willoughby, the erstwhile tough guy. Second, it suggests that elected officials can ask favors of the inspector general, and if they get it, or not, it compromises any future investigative dealings — as it has in the Brown matter. Willoughby should have told the secretary to instruct Brown to apply for a job through official channels. Better yet, he would have railed at her for having the temerity to call his office. What did our watchdog do? He met personally with Brown — as a kindness to Gray. ... Because Willoughby compromised himself, the sanctity of the District’s independence has suffered, and the federal authorities have had to fill the void.” Anonymous quote from “former District legal official,” too: “When he gets in a political thicket, he’s not willing to stick his neck out.”

50 YEARS OF PARTIAL DEMOCRACY — A New York Times op-ed from Northwestern University Professor Kate Masur, historian of D.C. voting rights, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the 23rd Amendment, giving District residents the right to vote for president: “Washington is an undemocratic anomaly, despite the grand ideals of equal rights carved into the city’s stone monuments. Its second-class citizenship is a legacy of racial injustice and, more recently, partisanship in Congress. ... The 23rd Amendment is a reminder that support can be rallied for greater democracy for the District. And yet, in our polarized political climate, the powerful argument for voting representation in Congress seems perpetually stymied. One problem is indifference; most Americans are unaware of the capital’s anomalous status, the city’s ‘Taxation Without Representation’ license plates notwithstanding. A second is partisanship; to establish a vote in Congress for Washingtonians, who are overwhelmingly Democrats, Republicans would have to place a moral imperative ahead of partisan interests. Another is race. A half-century after the dawn of the civil rights era, many Americans still have a hard time seeing African Americans as citizens entitled to the rights that so many white people take for granted. For residents of a place once known as ‘Chocolate City,’ these attitudes are a sadly familiar obstacle to equality.”

ANACOSTIA SPEAKS ON STREETCARS — City Paper’s Alex Baca covers a Saturday meeting on the planned Anacostia streetcar line. It “began with a message from Councilmember Marion Barry, relayed by staffer Brenda Richardson. ‘The councilmember wants you to know that he supports whatever the community wants,’ said Richardson. ‘But,’ she continued, ‘he doesn’t want to see the streetcar go past the Anacostia Metro station. He’d rather see all that money go to education.’ This had the majority of those gathered at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church standing up and cheering.” What now? “Within the next several months, DDOT will come up with a ‘locally preferred alternative,’ taking into account environmental, historic preservation, and traffic studies among other analyses. The Federal Transit Administration makes the final determination, and will consider community comments as part of its decision — which means DDOT will need all the charm it can muster.”

*** SMALL PLATES ***

Kwame Brown: Ethics training for council staff! (NBCWashington.com)

Informer editorial: “Keep the heat on, but don’t give up on Mayor Gray ... yet.” (Informer)

Suspect’s lawyer asks judge to order costly landfill search for slain teenager’s body (The Post)

FOIA’d e-mails “show Department of Human Services administrators working diligently to fix the impossible: To find space for the city’s too many homeless families” (City Desk)

Circulator fares could go to $2 under new budget; meanwhile, Mall line has been slashed (Examiner, Examiner)

Jury awards woman nearly $100K for 2005 “contempt-of-cop” arrest (Legal Times)

Voting rights backers visit Senate offices to lobby against House funding bill (The Hill)

Nia Community PCS, Ideal Academy PCS could lose charters tonight (the Examiner)

DOH. Providence Hospital join forces against obesity (NBCWashington.com)

Fab pic of Harriet Tregoning looking super excited to be standing next to Wal-Mart developer Rick Walker — also: Tregoning floats a cut to the District capital gains tax (Bisnow)

How will Walker’s development deal with day laborers? (GGW)

Looking beyond SmarTrip (GGW)

If you got a street-sweeping ticket between Match 1 and March 28, contest it and DPW will toss it (DCist)

The softer side of Bryan Weaver (Borderstan)

No chamber endorsement in at-large race (@mikemadden)

Diagonal parking: pros and cons (GGW)

Metro go get 150 new security cameras (Government Video)

Rhee and KJ: They sure love “Mad Men”! (Marie Claire via SacBee)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray to break ground on citywide broadband network, meet with entrepreneurs, cut ribbon on new Kaiser Permanente clinic on Capitol Hill — confirmation hearing for Office of Risk Management Director Phillip A. Lattimore III and D.C. Secretary Cynthia Brock-Smith, 10:30 a.m. in JAWB 412; Brown hold hearing on “A plan for evaluating the District of Columbia Public Schools: From Impressions to Evidence,” 11 a.m. in JAWB 500 — At-large candidate forum hosted by Ward 2 civic associations, 6 p.m. at Church of the Holy City, 1611 16th St. NW

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By  |  12:35 PM ET, 03/29/2011

 
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