D.C. area news briefs

Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 9:27 PM

Gray, Norton rally for D.C. House vote

Vincent C. Gray made his first public trip to Capitol Hill as mayor Tuesday, joining Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) at a rally to protest the incoming GOP House majority's plan to strip the District of the one few voting rights it has in Congress.

On Wednesday, the House will vote on a Republican-authored rules package that would take away the ability of delegates and resident commissioners to vote in the Committee of the Whole, a term describing the full House when it acts as a committee for the purpose of considering legislation.

At the rally Tuesday, Gray (D) gave a fiery speech to an assembly of D.C. officials and activists, imploring them to fight "to preserve what little democracy we have." Norton warned that Wednesday's vote might be just the opening salvo in what could become "a full-scale war on home rule for the District of Columbia."

After some activists visited the office of the incoming House speaker, John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), Boehner spokesman Cory Fritz said: "Speaker-designate Boehner ... continues to believe, however, that delegates should not vote in the Committee of the Whole because they constitutionally cannot vote on the House floor."

- Ben Pershing

Metro operator to undergo retraining

A Metrorail operator is undergoing refresher training after a video captured a passenger speaking with the operator through an open door of the cab as the train traveled between stations, Metro officials said.

Metro officials said they learned of the incident Monday, the day the video was posted on YouTube. The incident took place on a Yellow Line train headed to Reagan National Airport, said Metro spokesman Reggie Woodruff.

The story was first reported by WRC-TV (Channel 4).

- Ann Scott Tyson

Graham out, Wells in on Metro board

The D.C. Council passed a resolution Monday naming Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) to the Metro board of directors, council spokeswoman Traci Hughes said.

Wells replaces longtime Metro board member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Hughes said.

The move comes as the Metro board undergoes major turnover. Several board members have acknowledged frustration at serving in the time-consuming position for little or no pay or public appreciation.

- Ann Scott Tyson

Special election date set in delegate race

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has called a special election for March 8 to fill the General Assembly vacancy created by the resignation of Del. Thomas D. Gear (R-Hampton).

The date ensures that Gear's seat will be empty throughout the 46-day legislative session.

Gear submitted his resignation last week, indicating that he had been struggling with worsening multiple sclerosis and needed to avoid the stress of another session. Adding to his difficulties, Gear's wife and sister are both battling cancer.

Candidates have have until Jan. 21 to file to run for the seat.

- Rosalind S. Helderman

Prince George's gets pilot loan program

Prince George's County is expected to become the site of a pilot project for a federally guaranteed small-business loan program to help entrepreneurs raise capital for business expenses, a Small Business Administration official said Tuesday.

Bridget E. Bean, who oversees the Washington region for the SBA, said the program, known as the Community Advantage Program, will begin in March and offer guarantees for 85 percent of loans up to $250,000. One of its chief goals is to expand the number of lenders making loans to underserved communities. The county's Financial Services Corp. will administer the program. The corporation, which helps provide loans to small businesses that banks often reject, has a default rate of about 17 percent, far less than banking industry norms, said Shelly M. Gross-Wade, president of the corporation.

- Miranda S. Spivack

Hearing planned on Pepco performance

Montgomery County will hold a public hearing Wednesday to seek customer comments about Pepco outages and customers' overall level of satisfaction with the utility's service.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Stella Werner Council Office Building, 100 Maryland Avenue in Rockville.

A Washington Post study found that Pepco's reliability problems go beyond storm-related outages.

Registration for speakers is on a first-come, first-served basis, and the number of speakers is limited to 50. Speakers must pre-register by calling 240-777-3764. Each speaker will have a maximum of three minutes.

Written comments can be submitted by Jan. 6 to the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection at ConsumerProtection@montgomerycountymd.gov with "Pepco Comment" in the subject line. Elected officials who wish to comment should file written comments.

- Staff reports

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