Most Read: Local

Posted at 09:50 AM ET, 05/16/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: May 16, 2011

TODAY IS MAY 16, 2011 — DAY 131 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

Lorraine Green’s Friday testimony before the D.C. Council was about as inconclusive as expected, though her decision not to testify on matters related to “close, personal” friend and alleged bagman Howard Brooks went some way toward confirming a very active federal investigation into the alleged payoffs by Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s campaign. Otherwise, Nikita Stewart writes, the hearing “shed little new light on the administration’s personnel practices and elicited more details about Green’s interactions with [Sulaimon Brown], who she said demanded in November to be named ‘deputy mayor of finance’ at $185,000 a year” — a request that Green deemed “delusional.” In early January, according to text messages obtained by the Post, Brown accosted Green via text message: “I’m not going to sit back and let you screw me and my family,” he wrote. “It won’t happen.” And yet Brown got a job anyway. As Alan Suderman writes at Loose Lips: “The worse the Gray team makes Brown look, the more credibility they give to his story that he was promised a job. Why else would they have hired him?” Patrick Madden notes at WAMU-FM that “there has been no clear determination on one point: Is Sulaimon Brown telling the truth?” Freeman Klopott writes in the Examiner that the hearings have “led some council members toward the conclusion that [Brown] was promised a job” — including probe chair Mary Cheh. Also WaTimes, RealClearPolitics, and DCist.

NOTA BENE — The D.C. Council gathers at 9:30 a.m. on the John A. Wilson Building’s fifth floor to hash out the budget. Follow live tweets at @mikedebonis and #dcfy12.

AFTER THE JUMP — HUD money goes to waste, thanks to poor local oversight — new heat on Harry Thomas — why Wal-Mart is good for jobs — youth crime rising — more cops or more crime — top special ed officials depart

*** MAIN COURSE ***

’THE SORORITY AND THE MYSTERY MAN’ — From Bob McCartney’s Sunday Post column: “The Sorority and the Mystery Man. Those are the major players who have emerged in four days of hearings about the hiring scandals hobbling [Gray]. The Sorority is the nickname coined by D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) to describe three close friends who were also top advisers to the Democratic mayor’s transition. They are former campaign chair Lorraine Green, former chief of staff Gerri Mason Hall and former interim human resources director Judy Banks. The Mystery Man is former campaign consultant Howard Brooks, who is keeping a low profile and has refused to testify. He appears to be at the center of the big, remaining question in the scandal: whether criminal charges will be brought against members of Gray’s campaign or even the mayor himself. The main thing learned in the hearings so far is that Gray showed bad judgment in allowing the Sorority to guide so much of the hiring for patronage jobs just below the cabinet rank. ... Where does all this leave the mayor and the city? As I’ve written before, the scandal has spoiled Gray’s debut and will always be a stain on his legacy. Whether the U.S. attorney brings charges will probably depend on whether there’s physical evidence to support Brown’s allegations and on what prosecutors learn from Brooks or others about his dealings with Brown. The mayor could help his own cause by testifying voluntarily under oath before Cheh’s committee and by publicly pressuring Green, Brooks and others to be more forthcoming with the public. ...Assuming he isn’t indicted, however, I still believe Gray can put this behind him by forcefully pushing ahead more with a positive agenda for the city, especially on education and jobs. There’s still time to climb out of the hole that the Sorority and the Mystery Man have helped dig for him. “

ALSO — Suderman has more nuggets from the Green e-mail trove, including Carlos Gray’s “off message” magazine interview. And WaTimes’ Jeffrey Anderson keeps the heat on Cherita Whiting.

HUD WASTE — “Million-Dollar Wasteland,” the Post’s investigation of failed housing projects financed by the federal HOME program, found an ideal example of waste in Southeast D.C. Debbie Cenziper writes: “A nonprofit developer promised to spend millions renovating three rotting apartment complexes in some of the most blighted neighborhoods of Southeast Washington. It would be one of the largest redevelopment projects in years east of the Anacostia River, helping dozens of low-income renters suffering through roof leaks and winters without heat. In late 2007, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty sent a letter to the D.C. Council touting the developer’s experience, construction team and financing. The council swiftly approved the deal, lending $3.5 million in federal funds to help pay for the renovation of 98 units priced for the poor. But the project died before a shovel ever hit dirt. East of the River Community Development Corp. had taken on nearly $8 million in mortgages to buy complexes riddled with leaks, sewer backups, and buckling stairwells, roofs and floors. Soon after the city delivered the federal money, the group declared bankruptcy and shut down. The District lost millions of dollars while the project was delayed for years. But one group reaped millions. A handful of real estate speculators, including three previously convicted in a sweeping housing fraud scandal, had sold the complexes to East of the River based on adjusted appraisals written by one of the sellers’ associates, The Washington Post found. The project is a case study of the breakdowns in the nation’s $2 billion-a-year affordable-housing program, in which extensive construction delays have derailed the development of thousands of homes.”

ALSO — “The sale had a tangled history that included the involvement of a District politician. In 2004, when the building was first put on the market, apartment developer Steve Schwat offered $950,000 to buy it. Schwat planned to make repairs without displacing families. At the time, the complex was home to a tightknit group of tenants who would share dinners and keep watch over one another’s children. The Schwat sale never happened. Before the deal was sealed, tenants were contacted by Paul Strauss, a lawyer who serves as the District’s ‘shadow senator,’ an unpaid elective office that lobbies for D.C. statehood. Strauss and his law partner, Richard Bianco, offered to help tenants negotiate cash settlements in exchange for moving out. Schwat couldn’t afford to pay tenants to leave. But Strauss and Bianco said a new buyer had emerged, with a $1.2 million purchase price that included payouts of $13,000 or $18,500 per tenant. The buyer was [convicted fraudster Steven Madeoy]. Strauss said that he considered the deal good for tenants and that they directed him to accept the offer. ‘My recollection was that these were happy tenants,’ Strauss said.”

WHAT’S IN A NUMBER? — The Post editorial board uses the appearance of Fred Cooke’s phone number on Hall’s to-do list to renew its call for Harry Thomas Jr. to come clean about his Team Thomas dealings: “Mr. Cooke told us in the most vehement terms that he never sought to meet with the mayor on behalf of Mr. Thomas and, according to him and administration officials, no meeting ever took place. So the curious notation adds yet another unanswered question to the many surrounding Mr. Thomas. ... Just as Mr. Thomas had derided the initial questions about Team Thomas as a smear campaign by a political opponent, so did he denigrate the integrity of the probe started by then-Attorney General Peter J. Nickles as payback for his opposition to Adrian M. Fenty, who was mayor at the time. But Mr. Nickles is gone, and the investigation is continuing under Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan. We hope the public gets some answers soon.” The editorial page’s decision to pair the piece with a photo of Thomas with Gray and Sulaimon Brown prompted some Twitter reaction on Saturday morning.

TEEN CRIME UP — A “long hot summer” story in the Examiner on rising youth crime: “The number of children under 18 arrested and charged with violent crimes — homicide, rape and aggravated assault — has risen 10 percent this year compared with last year. Burglary arrests of juveniles jumped 90 percent, while robberies shot up 173 percent. ... More young people are ending up homicide victims, too. Of the first 34 people killed in the city in 2011, 13 were 21 and younger. A year ago during the same time, there were 32 slayings, and 10 victims were 21 or younger. William Chambliss, a criminal justice professor at George Washington University, said many factors may explain the increase in arrests, from reporting issues to police policies to an increase in the number of people in the age group. ‘This may be like a stock market goes up and down,’ he said.” Jim Graham says DYRS needs to get tough; Phil Mendelson says overall crime remains down; and Ron Moten says it’s “just the beginning.”

WAL-MART IS GOOD — Harry Thomas Jr. teams up with a Chicago counterpart, Emma Mitts of the 37th Ward, to tout the benefits Wal-Mart brought to a depressed part of the Windy City — and push back on the Loyola University study that found the store “a wash” for job creation. They write: “The picture of the 37th Ward that this study painted simply was not the neighborhood that exists in the real world. ... We would like to know exactly what neighborhood they are writing about. Before Wal-Mart, the 37th Ward was, unfortunately, like many neighborhoods in D.C. today — with many empty lots and few retail or grocery options. ... As D.C. works to revitalize its neighborhoods, attract retailers and overcome its budget deficit, how could it think to turn away a company that wants no government subsidies but will bring retail prosperity to areas of the city that have been forgotten and neglected for years? If stakeholders in cities across the country are intent on using Chicago as an example of what can happen in their city, we encourage them to go to Chicago and see, first hand, what the arrival of Wal-Mart has meant.”

TAKE THE DEAL — Martin Austermuhle argues in a Post op-ed that the city should welcome the plan floated by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to give the city partial budget autonomy, freeing the city to spend local funds even if its federal dollars haven’t yet been appropriated. “Like many other advances for D.C. voting rights and self-determination before it, Issa’s proposal goes only halfway toward what many residents and activists have been demanding for decades. But, at this point, is half of what most District residents want the best they’re going to get? It seems like it. ... [A]t this point, the perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good. Considering the frustrating lack of progress on D.C. voting rights and self-determination in recent years, Issa’s plan may well be as positive a development as we could hope for. No, it won’t stop Congress from imposing its ideological whims on the District. But it will at least allow our city to better plan, manage and spend the billions it raises locally.”

LESS COPS, MORE CRIME? — Police union chief Kristopher Baumann responds to my not-a-column last week that questioned the basis for claims that the city will descend into chaos should it lose a handful of cops: “Since 2007, jurisdictions across the country have been hit by one of the toughest financial crises in U.S. history. As a result, we can review the experiences of other departments to understand the consequences of reductions in the ranks of police. A contemporary analysis is especially relevant because, despite the hard economic times and in direct contradiction to the predictions of criminologists, crime, especially murder, has continued to fall nationally. Many of the communities that have proven an exception to the downward trend in crime have something in common: They have dramatically cut their police forces. ... If the experiences of other cities are not enough, perhaps academic research that is more current than the study cited by DeBonis can settle the issue. In 2005, an economist and a law professor conducted a study on the effects of more police on crime, and they found that an increase in police resulted in a reduction of crime. This study’s results are particularly compelling because they drew on data exclusively from the District.”

IN PRAISE OF CARROTS — Jonetta Rose Barras writes in her Examiner column that Allen Lew “might be onto something” with his incentive-based approach to getting District residents hired by city contractors. “The Workforce Incentive Program could alter the city’s enforcement of the First Source Act, offering cash bonuses to Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization contractors who bring District residents onto their payrolls. ... General contractors hired for six school projects that meet Lew’s target would receive a 5 percent bonus against their total fees. Subcontractors would receive 10 percent of the total hours paid to District residents. For example: 10,500 hours at $25 per hour would result in a $262,500 payroll; the subcontractor bonus would be $26,250. .... ‘If these are important goals, then we should put our money where our mouths are,’ said Lew, adding the administration would evaluate results before deciding whether to take WIP citywide. One thing’s already clear to me: Significantly reducing the city’s unemployment rate will take more than a government-funded summer fling.”

GIANT STEPS — The Post’s Lori Aratani profiles the pitched and ongoing battle over the Wisconsin Avenue Giant in Cleveland Park: “In the history of the District, few redevelopment battles have been quite as bitter or as enduring as the one that has been waged over the supermarket in this Northwest Washington neighborhood. Since 1999, efforts to modernize the store have gone through so many iterations, it’s almost impossible to track. Some neighbors no longer speak to each other. Other residents are reluctant to speak on the record about their views out of fear of backlash. ‘This whole thing is absurd,’ said Margaret Lenzner, a longtime area resident who is among those who have raised concerns about the project’s density. But the neighborhood may be close to getting a replacement for the supermarket some ruefully call ‘The Giant That Time Forgot.’”

REVOLVING DOOR — Some big departures from the D.C. government last week: Richard Nyankori leaves after four years of running special education of DCPS; Bill Turque writes that he’s “generally credited with improving the timeliness with which families and kids can receive special ed services. But he also leaves as the District is struggling to improve its capacity to serve the more than 2,300 students who have been placed in private schools at public expense because DCPS can’t help them.” Also leaving is OSSE special-ed chief Tameria Lewis, who was “known to be frustrated with the pace of change in special education and especially the lack of clout given to OSSE.” At DDOT, meanwhile, finance chief Leah Treat is following Gabe Klein to Chicago, and planning director Karina Ricks is departing, telling WAMU-FM’s David Schultz that she and other officials have been in “purgatory” without a permanent DDOT chief. Also City Paper.

*** SMALL PLATES ***

Jack Evans explains why he wants to lower parking meter rates: “Tommy Wells can ride his bike to the Safeway. Someone else can take Metro. But I have three kids. I can’t do that.” (G’town Dish)

Evans supports combined reports, except that he doesn’t (Examiner)

Jay Mathews: Charter board needs to close “more bad charters sooner” (Class Struggle)

Fenty at Yale: “Explode urban school systems! Get rid of school boards!” (New Haven Independent)

Gas mogul’s lawyer says AG probe is “a lot of sound and fury” (City Desk)

Tenleytown Safeway could go mixed-use (Post)

Meet your nominees for three — count ‘em, three — Superior Court bench seats (Legal Times)

Excessed DCPS teacher speaks out: “This deliberate and malicious plan is designed to get rid of certain people ...” (WTTG-TV)

Deborah Simmons writes something about redistricting — what exactly, I can’t tell you (WaTimes)

DDOT rejection of Wal-Mart plan due to “misunderstanding” (Housing Complex)

All about Metro’s proposed service cuts (Post)

Ideas on how to improve Georgetown University’s transportation policies (GGW)

Gray’s taxi moves example of how “bad policy often trumps good policy” (Ezra Klein)

Not good: UnitedHealth Medicaid plans no longer covering MedStar facilities (WBJ)

D.C. Court of Appeals extends key whistleblower provision (Legal Times)

Sidwell Friends affair could imperil psychologist’s license (Examiner)

City Paper likely to deploy new SLAPP law against Dan Snyder (Legal Times)

Family Treatment Court helps moms and dads get their kids back (WaTimes)

UDC’s new athletic director is Matt Rienzo, son of famed Georgetown U. AD Frank Rienzo (UDC)

Marion Barry’s car got keyed (@alansuderman)

Nancy Linton, civic activist and former HPRB member, is dead at 83 (Post)

*** ON THE MENU ***

No public events for Gray — D.C. Council members meet to hash out budget, 9:30 a.m. in JAWB 502 — Washington Interfaith Network rallies to save Community Benefits Fund, 6 p.m. at Nationals Park, 1500 South Capitol Street SE

By  |  09:50 AM ET, 05/16/2011

 
Read what others are saying
     

    © 2011 The Washington Post Company