TODAY IS MAY 23, 2011 — DAY 137 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION
Mayor Vincent Gray is quite aware his administration is off to a stumbling start, and he tried to get back on solid footing this month by meeting with campaign supporters at a church in Southwest. Nikita Stewart has the scoop in today’s Post: “The meeting’s purpose, said Pierpont Mobley, Ward 5 coordinator for the Gray campaign, was to ‘regroup, to put this back on track.’ ‘My feeling is to stay positive and work through this,’ said Mobley, who described the mayor as receptive. But other campaign workers, who did not want to be identified because they did not want to publicly criticize the mayor, disagreed. The meeting ‘wasn’t good, in my opinion,’ a former campaign worker said. ‘He doesn’t think there’s anything wrong. ... It’s going to be a long four years. That’s if he makes it to four years.’” Meanwhile, Gray searches for a chief of staff who can keep his political house in order. Will it be Lloyd Jordan, campaign aide, former DCRA director and consummate insider? Or will it be wild card Christopher Murphy, deputy chief of staff at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and former executive director of City Year? Jordan, in any case, is doing quite well representing his potential new boss, telling Nikita that Gray “has to let people know what he inherited. ... He has been busy putting his fingers in the dike.”
AFTER THE JUMP — no midnight surprises on budget — is the council’s spending proposal “surreal”? — why parking permits should cost more — why medallions are a bad idea — why Reservation 13 needs an overhaul — what retailers will be lured in Vegas this year?
*** MAIN COURSE ***
DON’T CALL IT A KITCHEN CABINET — “Some supporters said they fear that Gray has failed to grasp the perception that the probes have hampered his ability to effectively lead and have eroded his base of support. ‘He hasn’t dug himself a ditch,’ said a supporter who attended the meeting. ‘It’s a canyon.’ Gray played down the concerns but acknowledged that he has begun to seek advice from former campaign and transition volunteers to help guide his administration over the next several months. ‘I wouldn’t call it a kitchen cabinet. I’d call it an advisory group,’ Gray said. ‘Kitchen cabinet sounds insular.’ ... Beyond the weekend and into summer, Gray will rely on a coterie of advisers, including budget expert Alice Rivlin; Joslyn Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO; and Barbara Lang, president and chief executive of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce.”
BUDGET UPDATE — Less than 48 hours are left for D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown to hammer out the 2012 D.C. budget. As I reported Friday, he’s looking to restore many social programs and eliminate Gray’s proposed income tax hike, and he’s likely to do it by taxing out-of-state municipal bonds for the first time, in addition to various other revenue raisers. Question is, when new revenue estimates come in next month, will he use the expected boost to pay for more services or “buy back” the bond tax? One council member tells me it will be the latter. Meanwhile, social service advocates organized over the weekend in response to (unconfirmed) news that council members once steadfastly in support of an income tax increase were wavering under pressure from Brown. From an e-mail: “We are planning an emergency action on Tuesday, May 24th at noon! Please come down to the Wilson Building so we can push hard against the efforts to throw $19 million into tax repeals. Help us tell Council: WE NEED THAT MONEY FOR SERVICES.” Also: Tom Howell Jr. reports in The Washington Times that Brown is committing to nixing the proposed extension of the sales tax to theater and live entertainment. And at least some are hoping to avoid streetcar-like midnight surprises this year: The D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, along with more than 40 other organizations and individuals, is petitioning Brown to release the draft budget proposal a full 24 hours before Wednesday’s vote.
A ‘SURREAL’ BUDGET DEBATE — A Saturday Post editorial said “it’s been a little surreal” to watch the council plead poverty on the city budget when it is proposing to spend more money than ever. “Judging by the council’s recent deliberations, there seems to be general agreement to add to — not subtract from — Mr. Gray’s $10.8 billion spending plan.” And by relying on expected revenue upgrades “[i]nstead of taking a good hard look at spending, the council seems to want to take the easy way out. ... [T]he council’s impulse is just to spend. And if it has to raise taxes, no big deal. ... [W]e are not philosophically opposed to increasing taxes, particularly when they (and here the gas and parking taxes come to mind) help to drive public policy. We hope, though, that that the council will be better disciplined than to think there is no end to what government can do and what its constituents can afford.”
THE CASE FOR RPP HIKES — Speaking of policy-driven revenue-raisers, Tommy Wells explains in a Post op-ed why it’s important to raise fees for residential parking permits: “In many neighborhoods, there is not enough parking for every household to use even one space on the street. Yet data show that some households park five, six, seven and even more cars on residential streets. ... Higher residential parking permit fees would allow households that legitimately need several cars to continue using street parking, but it would also encourage them to seek alternatives — including reducing the number of cars they use or using off-street parking in their alleys or garages. By assessing a reasonable fee on the privilege of occupying valuable parking space, Washington could accrue financial benefits and enhance our public transit options. ... Transit riders are doing their part. Last year’s WMATA fare increase cost the typical bus rider an extra $115 a year and the typical rail rider $190 a year — far more than the average proposed residential parking fee increase.”
THE CASE AGAINST MEDALLIONS — The Post editorial board sees “taxi trouble” in a proposal to create a medallion system for city cabs — based in part on a OCFO study that found “windfall profits for a small group of people; an overall decline in service with longer waits and higher fares; and a system open to corruption.” Harry Thomas Jr., Marion Barry, and Michael Brown introduced the bill, and “Neither Mr. Barry nor Mr. Brown offered any argument for medallions; both told us they see the bill simply as a way of starting a discussion on how to improve cab service. Mr. Barry acknowledged to us there were problems with the bill, which he said was written by John Ray, a former council member representing a coalition of cab owners and drivers. That Mr. Thomas — who wouldn’t talk to us about why medallions are a good idea — has personally used Mr. Ray to represent him in the separate matter of still-unresolved questions about his nonprofit should add to the unease. ... No doubt there are issues with cabs in this city. ... We, though, are not convinced that the best solution lies in upending a system that, by and large, has produced plentiful and reliable cab service.”
CONTINUITY AT CFSA — Also: With Roque Gerald leaving the Child and Family Services agency, a Post editorial today calls on Gray to “act quickly to stabilize the agency in the wake of the planned departure of its fifth director in 10 years.” While Gerald “leaves a department stronger than the one he inherited,” challenges remain, the editorial reads: “Case management is uneven, there’s a gap between what the agency promises to do and what it can do, and there is a threat of harmful budget cuts. Uncertainty in leadership only adds to the problems.”
PROGRESS NEEDED AT RES 13 — Jonetta Rose Barras finds it “absolutely appalling” that that the city has yet to move forward on the redevelopment of Reservation 13 (aka Hill East, aka the D.C. General campus), what she deems a “dumping ground” and “stunning example of government inefficiency” that “testifies to the city’s disregard of vulnerable populations and indifference toward residents to whom commitments were made.” She writes in the Examiner: “District officials have created a virtual homeless warehouse, installing hundreds of women and children into the old D.C. General Hospital and other buildings, ignoring their welfare and that of the surrounding community. They have overloaded the site with drug treatment programs; and relocated there a mish-mash of unrelated agencies and equipments. Last year nearly 25,000 homeless individuals, drug users, persons with sexual transmitted diseases and others participated in programs housed in buildings in acute states of decay. The streets are marked by crater-size potholes. City trucks reportedly used for snow removal dominate an entire area; residents have complained debris collected during plowing has been discarded in the river.” Harry Thomas Jr. tells Jonetta the site “isn’t at the top of his list” for redevelopment, falling behind the McMillan site and Walter Reed Medical Center. Not mentioned: The Fenty administration moved toward a Hill East RFP but pulled back when it was clear no entity could finance a massive redevelopment in the middle of a recession.
OUCH — Viral video of the day: A man being pulled out of his wheelchair and slammed to the ground by Metro Transit Police outside the U Street Metro stop Thursday. From the Post: “Metro issued a statement Sunday saying that the man, whom police have not identified, had resisted arrest, ‘which resulted in him falling out of his wheelchair.’ In the statement, Metro said transit police on routine patrol ... spotted the man in a wheelchair ‘drinking an alcoholic beverage.’ When asked to leave, the man refused, Metro said. The officers tried to issue a citation, but he ‘refused to comply.’ The officers then told him that he would be placed under arrest, and he resisted, the statement said.” More from WRC-TV, DCist.
’REALLY?’ — Michelle Rhee and George Parker’s new alliance made the New York Times on Saturday. Sam Dillon writes: “She says she hopes Mr. Parker can be a compelling voice for change, especially in speaking to teachers’ union members around the country. He says Ms. Rhee hates teachers’ unions less than most people think. ‘We had our fair share of shouting matches, but over all we get along well,’ Ms. Rhee said. ‘I see tremendous potential in having somebody who was president of a local teachers’ union advocating on behalf of policies that other unions are fighting against bitterly.’ As a senior fellow, Mr. Parker will travel the country speaking to state legislators, teachers and union members about the need to overhaul American public schooling. Neither Ms. Rhee nor Mr. Parker would disclose the stipend he will receive for the part-time position. ‘I can tell you this, I’m not doing it for the money,’ said Mr. Parker, who is a math teacher with 25 years of experience. ... Mr. Parker informed Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a text message on Wednesday, just moments before he and Ms. Rhee announced publicly that he would join Students First. ‘I had to read the message a couple of times,’ Ms. Weingarten said. ‘I thought it was a joke. I texted him back, “REALLY?”’”
VIVA LAS VEGAS — The Examiner’s Liz Farmer and Freeman Klopott compile a list of retailers that local officials are set to meet with at this week’s shopping centers convention in Las Vegas. Topping the list: Wegman’s, the New York-based megagrocer. “The highly sought-after grocer has two scheduled meetings this week with Mayor Vincent Gray and council members at a retail development conference in Las Vegas that historically has been the breeding ground for major real estate deals in the District. Keith Sellars, senior vice president of development and retail for the Washington DC Economic Partnership, said city officials have been courting Wegmans ‘for years’ but never had a site large enough. ‘Now we have a site we believe will accommodate them at Walter Reed,’ he said. ... [C]ity officials are meeting with AMC Theatres to discuss potential locations, including one on First Street, south of M Street and adjacent to Nationals Park. Officials also plan to meet with Under Armour, Target, Home Depot, Bloomingdales, Wal-Mart, Lowe’s and Michaels for sites like the Shops at Georgetown Park, NoMa, Capitol Riverfront and the O Street Market.” The Post’s Jonathan O’Connell is in Las Vegas and if anything materializes, he’ll have it at the CapBiz blog.
SUBURBAN INVADERS? — Slots in some of the city’s best public schools are going to non-District residents, and Kwame Brown wants to find out why. Lisa Gartner reports in the Examiner: “At least 75 students paid nonresident tuition to enroll in D.C. Public Schools while living in Maryland and Virginia this year, flocking toward high schools with arts, tech, and other special programs, along with graduation rates 26 percentage points higher than the systemwide average. And the number is growing, up from 63 students in the 2008-2009 school year. School officials have explained that slots are only opened to nonresidents — at up to $12,227 a year — when city students fail to fill them up. But Brown and District residents are skeptical that there aren’t local students eager to walk the halls of the city’s best-performing high schools.” Brown is promising hearings once the budget is buttoned up.
*** SMALL PLATES ***
Carol Schwartz on Kojo: “We are being barraged from every angle, and I think we’ve got to to hit back from every angle. The tax thing we really haven’t done, and I think money talks. ... I’m willing to go to jail.” (WAMU-FM)
Shirley Sherrod/Andrew Breitbart fight tests District anti-SLAPP law’s applicability in federal court (Legal Times)
How “one man, one vote” does, and doesn’t, apply to the District (Housing Complex)
American University changes its campus plan — but not enough to placate neighbors (AU news release)
Hill activist Diane Bernstein explains why she got arrested for voting rights: “Through our defiance, the world is learning about the recent congressional intrusions. Moreover, Congress is starting to get the message.” (Post)
Rittenhouse vs. Riggs turf squabble leads to chaos at Coolidge High (D.C. Schools Insider)
Metro station names could get shorter, thank goodness (Examiner)
Rhee, Adrian Fenty and Richard Whitmire speak in Sacramento (Sacramento Press)
Superior Court Judge Robert Morin OK’d for reappointment (Legal Times)
School Without Walls, Wilson score high on Jay Mathews’ Challenge Index (Post)
Capitol Hill businesses vexed by Memorial Day Metro shutdown (Examiner)
Chevy Chase stands up to save the E6 (GGW)
Parsing the inconsistencies in Gray hiring testimony (WaTimes)
Why most of Ideal Academy was spared from closure (Examiner)
DDOT HQ now completely moved to Southwest (news release)
Woe to the teenager looking for a summer job (Examiner)
Prince George’s Metro board member: good gig if you can get it (Post)
*** ON THE MENU ***
Gray in Las Vegas for International Council of Shopping Centers convention; appears at District reception, 6:30 p.m. at the Encore hotel — D.C. Council hearing on “Metropolitan Police Department and Department of Real Estate Services’ Fleet Maintenance Contract with First Vehicle Services,” 2 p.m. in JAWB 412 — panel discussion on “Confidentiality vs. Open Access in DC Juvenile Cases” hosted by the Council on Court Excellence, 6 p.m. at the D.C. Court of Appeals, 430 E St. NW