THE REGION

Campaign Launched to Encourage Giving

A coalition of 20 nonprofit organizations and businesses kicked off its annual holiday season campaign yesterday to encourage more Washington area residents to donate to local charities.

The effort includes an ad campaign in local newspapers, radio spots, online ads and televised appeals asking residents to donate time and money through the Web site www.touchdc.org, which provides information on 23,000 of the region's nonprofit organizations. TouchDC.org, now in its third year, raised $1.6 million last year for the group, and organizers said they hope to beat that total this year.

THE DISTRICT

D.C. Credit Rating Rises to Best in Years

Wall Street analysts yesterday raised the District's credit rating to its highest level in 14 years, citing a reassuring commitment by city leaders to sound financial practices that make a return to the "junk bond" days of the late 1990s increasingly unlikely.

On the strength of the District's latest bond offering, Standard & Poor's upgraded the city's bond rating to A from A-, the first time since 1990 that the District has earned an unqualified A rating.

Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings revised its outlook for the District to positive from stable. Fitch declined, however, to boost the city's rating above A-, citing concerns about "high debt levels" likely to be exacerbated by "plans for debt financing a new baseball stadium and economic development in the Anacostia area."

Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi was nonetheless pleased. "Standard & Poor's and Fitch have recognized the city's financial stability and viability moving forward," he said in a written statement. "With soon-to-be-eight consecutive balanced budgets, substantial cash reserves, and a fund balance of $900 million and growing, the District is on an economic roll."

Former Convention Center to Be Imploded

The old Washington Convention Center will go out with a bang, or a series of them, Dec. 18, when the 20-year-old building is scheduled to be demolished.

The Convention Center's steel and concrete columns will be rigged with explosives designed to collapse the steel roof sequentially. The implosion of the building at 11th Street and New York Avenue NW is to begin at 7:30 a.m. Convention Center officials said traffic closures, part of a safety perimeter around the dark-glass-and-concrete building, will be in effect from 5:30 to 9:30 a.m. The entire event likely will last about 20 seconds.

Tony Robinson, spokesman for the Washington Convention Center Authority, said he does not anticipate widespread problems with traffic, noise or dust. He said Convention Center officials have met with nearby property owners, the Secret Service, hotels and city agencies to coordinate the implosion. The 10-acre site will be a parking lot while the city determines how to redevelop it.

VIRGINIA

4 Employers Win Family-Friendly Awards

Northern Virginia Family Services, a Fairfax County-based social services agency, gave its 12th annual CARE (Companies As Responsive Employers) awards yesterday to four area employers, citing them for their family-friendly workplace policies.

The small-company award went to Herndon-based National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp., the mid-size company award to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association of Arlington, and the large-company awards to Freddie Mac in McLean and the consulting firm of KPMG LLP in the District.

200 Students to Undergo TB Testing

Health officials will start testing about 200 students today in the Westmoreland County town of Colonial Beach for tuberculosis after someone in the "school community" was diagnosed with the infectious disease.

Health and school officials aren't identifying the person, who they say is in good condition and is expected to be cured, said Ted Tweel, acting director of the state Health Department for the region, which is along Virginia's coast.

About 75 people came to a meeting Wednesday night, including some who questioned why it took five days for health officials to notify parents of the TB case. Tweel said it took time to get letters organized and the mechanism in place to test hundreds of students who are considered at risk.

Catching TB requires prolonged contact with someone who has the disease, which can impact anywhere in the body but is considered curable if diagnosed and treated. There were 250 cases of TB reported in Virginia this year through Nov. 1 and 332 in all of 2003, according to the state Health Department.

MARYLAND

Malpractice Talks End Without Agreement

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and the two Democratic leaders of the General Assembly emerged without consensus from a closed-door meeting yesterday on how to address the escalating cost of medical malpractice insurance.

Ehrlich characterized discussions as "tense" but said he now believes "it is possible and maybe even likely" that the legislature will convene in December for a special session on the matter.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said only "incremental progress" was made during the hour-long session, and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said the primary sticking points remain unresolved.

The Democratic leaders would like to pay for a proposed state reinsurance fund by assessing a 2 percent premium tax on HMOs, an approach Ehrlich opposes. Ehrlich and Miller also diverge over the scope of legal changes that should be adopted.

Most Maryland doctors are facing a 33 percent rate increase on bills that are due Dec. 1.

Judge Won't Reinstate Police Leader

Comparing a complaint by Baltimore's fired police commissioner Kevin Clark to "reading a dime novel," a city judge yesterday rejected Clark's request to be reinstated.

Clark sought a temporary restraining order to get his job back while a $60 million lawsuit he filed this week against Mayor Martin O'Malley goes forward. He alleges that O'Malley fired him in part because police were investigating a mayoral ally, officials said.

But Circuit Court Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan said Clark's "leadership is so tainted at this point, and he's said so many adverse things about the mayor and the city [in the complaint] that" his reinstatement "would be totally disruptive."

"It wasn't so much what he remembered about age 3 but some other things about his past that he shared with us."

-- Baltimore County police spokesman Bill Toohey, on Richard Coffman's implication of his mother in the death of his brother 32 years ago. -- Page A1

Compiled from reports by staff writers Jacqueline L. Salmon, Lori Montgomery, Manny Fernandez, Michelle Boorstein and John Wagner and the Associated Press.