TODAY IS APRIL 5, 2011 — DAY 90 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION
PREVIOUSLY — Cherita Whiting, controversial Gray backer, to leave DPR post — D.C. fire protection gets high marks from raters — Anniversary: 43 years after the riots — Does the D.C. pension system already need to be saved?
Mayor Vincent C. Gray appeared this morning on NewsChannel 8’s NewsTalk program, where host Bruce DePuyt gave Hizzoner the full hour to discuss the state of his administration. He discussed his budget and the burgeoning D.C. Council opposition to some of his choices. He defended the hiring of confidante Lorraine Green’s daughter in the city film and TV office, calling her “eminently qualified,” while other aides’ kids “never should’ve been there” in city jobs. He discussed the dismissal of woulda-been DOES Director Rochelle Webb, and how she “was talked to, not by me, but the deputy mayor” about her use of a chauffeur. He said Wal-Mart needs to discuss “what they are going to pay people in this city, and whether they get benefits,” while punting on discussions of specific sites (though he hinted that a Wal-Mart might anchor the Skyland redevelopment). He delivered a milquetoast re-endorsement of Sekou Biddle for the pending at-large special election, saying that “he’s making a really earnest effort on the council.” He discussed the objections he’s heard from local business leaders to his budget plan (”They were quite forthright in their views”). He expressed appreciation to “our good friends in Qatar” for kick-starting the CityCenter DC project (see after the jump). And Gray also addressed the looming prospect of a federal shutdown, which stands to do the same to the city government. “Theoretically, everything could shut down in the city,” he said, noting that trash service, pothole filling, homeless services and cash assistance payments could all be suspended during a federal shutdown. Never fear, folks: City Administrator Allen Lew, he said, is “working on a plan.”
AFTER THE JUMP — House CR cuts $42M from D.C. spending, adds abortion rider — OCF investigation on Kwame Brown reportedly accounts for all funds — Lorraine Green bows out of convention center board nomination — More grumbling about ‘DCFD’ change — CityCenter DC breaks ground at long last
*** MAIN COURSE ***
THIS JUST IN — From Ben Pershing at D.C. Wire: “House Republicans introduced a new stopgap measure Monday night to keep the government running for another week that would cut $42 million from the District budget and bar the city from spending its own money to provide abortions to low-income women. The bill is the latest gambit in the ongoing, high-stakes spending negotiations between House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the White House. ... The odds that the Senate and the White House would agree to the House’s one-week bill in its current form appear slim, and the White House has already told Republicans that the measure is unacceptable.”
ON THAT NOTE — The Post editorial board asks who on the Hill has the District’s interests at heart during the federal budget battles: “Whether the District uses its own local taxpayer funds to pay for abortions for low-income women makes not an iota of difference to whether the federal government balances its budget. Ditto for whether the city’s needle-exchange program continues. That, though, has not stopped the programs — and the District’s ability to govern itself — from emerging as possible bargaining chips in congressional negotiations to keep the government funded. If the White House and Senate Democrats are, as they profess, serious about their support for D.C. home rule, they wouldn’t even think about sacrificing the city’s interests to reach a budget deal with House Republicans.” The board notes “notable silence” from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on whether he would fight GOP budget riders on D.C. spending. “Democrats who were not able to deliver on their promise of congressional voting rights for D.C. — and yes, Mr. Reid figures prominently here — must at least take a stand to protect what precious local autonomy the city still has.”
THE MONEY IS THERE — Via @brucejohnson9 last night: “Kwame Brown source says Campaign Finance Off report clears him of misusing funds. All funds there. Fines r possible.” Deborah Simmons adds today at The Washington Times: “Funds from the 2008 Kwame Brown campaign have been accounted for, but the D.C. Council chairman could face fines because of filing irregularities in his finance report, according to a source involved in an audit expected to be released Tuesday by the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance (OCF). ... The six-month OCF probe delved deeply into the Brown campaign’s bookkeeping and expenditures, including payments to consultants, such as Mr. Brown’s brother. The audit reveals that Che Brown, who has worked on all of Kwame Brown’s election campaigns, netted $25,000. ‘There is no missing money,’ the source said. ‘There were administrative errors in failing to report in a timely fashion. There may be fines.’ ”
LORRAINE BOWS OUT — Gray confidant Lorraine Green is no longer pursuing her appointment to chair the Washington Sports and Convention Authority. Writes myself: “Gray nominated Green to head the board in January. Evans, who chairs the committee overseeing the board, had scheduled a hearing on her nomination for early March. After [Sulaimon Brown]’s allegations were publicized, Evans postponed the hearing indefinitely, effectively freezing the confirmation process. ‘I’ve known Lorraine a long time,’ Evans said Monday. ‘I think she would have been a great chair.’ Green’s attorney declined to comment on her behalf. A statement issued by Gray’s office said Green plans to pursue ‘a business venture she put on hold several years ago’ and was thus unable to serve.” Green is still set to testify before the D.C. Council, but next Monday rather than Thursday. Also WaTimes, Examiner, AP. In other news: Gray backer Cherita Whiting says she’s leaving her DPR job after being dogged by Washington Times reports.
LETTER BOX — Harry Jaffe takes a look at the current controversy within the Fire and Emergency Medical Services department in his Examiner column. He does a fine job diagnosing the reason why there’s such backlash at the idea of abolishing the “DCFD” initials: “D.C. firemen do a lot of things, in addition to dousing fires and rescuing people from burning buildings. But in their souls, they are firefighters, carrying on a long tradition of men and women who have gone under the banner DCFD for 140 years. Which is why most firefighters are furious that D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Chief Ken Ellerbe has summarily banned his troops from wearing anything that says DCFD on the job.” From there, Jaffe goes off the rails. “Let’s leave aside the hundreds of dollars each firefighter and paramedic will have to shell out for new gear. Ellerbe’s decision sent a message to his people: ‘I don’t give a rat’s a— what you think,’ says another fireman who works out of a platoon in Anacostia. ‘Ken’s losing the hearts and minds of his people.’ ” Jaffe says that the change “emanated from a bureaucratic impulse to merge the fire department with the emergency medical services.” Actually, no, that merger happened a decade ago. What Ellerbe is doing is finally, three-and-a-half years later, following through on the recommendations of the Task Force convened in response to David Rosenbaum’s 2006 death. Recommendation 1: DCFEMS should be “fully integrated, all hazards agency” — not host to separate cultures of DCFDers and EMSers.
THANKS QATAR! — Thanks to a $620 million cash infusion from a Qatari sovereign wealth fund, work is underway on the massive CityCenterDC development on the old convention center site. Look to Jonathan O’Connell for The Post report: “Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and members of the D.C. Council gathered to celebrate the start of construction at the site. ... Six buildings are planned for the site over the next three years — two for apartments, two for condominiums and two for offices, all connected by a public courtyard. On the ground floor, shops and restaurants will line each side of every building. There will be 458 apartments, 216 condominiums, 185,000 square feet of retail, 515,000 square feet of offices and four levels of underground parking. Tenth and I streets will be reopened to reconnect the city’s original street grid. ... D.C. chose Hines-Archstone to develop the site through competitive bidding in 2003, but lawsuits over the selection process, the complexity of the project and the economic downturn hindered progress. The delays could have extended for years if not for a $620 million investment by the real estate arm of the Qatari Investment Authority, which made the project its first U.S. real estate investment and is now its principal owner. ... The downtown area had about 4,000 residents 20 years ago; today it has 8,449, according to the U.S. Census. CityCenter will add more than 1,000. Construction is not scheduled to finish until 2014, and a second phase, along New York Avenue, will not be done until late 2015. Gray said he expects the project to create 1,700 construction jobs and almost 4,000 permanent jobs. Nearly 100 local companies have secured contracts with the development team.” WBJ’s Michael Neibauer quotes Hizzoner calling CityCenter the “last piece of the puzzle for downtown Washington.” Lydia DePillis likes the alleys. More from DCist, WaTimes, WTOP, WAMU-FM. Here is the official news release from Hines-Archstone.
AT-LARGE UPDATE — Martin Austermuhle writes a state-of-play post for DCist, noting that candidates are “struggling to win over what is likely to be a small number of voters that will decide the contest.” Vox Populi wraps up the weekend forum sponsored by D.C. Students Speak, YouthPAC, and the D.C. Federation of College Democrats. Do note: “[O]nly [Dorothy Douglas] and [Patrick Mara] explicitly pointed out that students had as much of a right as other groups to live in city neighborhoods.” Big G of Backyard Band/The Wire fame is backing Josh Lopez. SEIU is about to send its first mailer on behalf of Sekou Biddle, touting him as an “independent leader who will make city government work for us” and “will stand up to political insiders and cronies.” Bryan Weaver debuts a new YouTube spot highlighting “D.C.’s Dirtiest Jobs.” As Tim Craig notes at D.C. Wire: “While playing the part of a leasing agent about midway through the video, Weaver stands in front of a black SUV and asks, ‘What do I have to do to get you into this vehicle?’ ”
RHEE-TURN TO THE AIR — The ‘erase to the top’ allegations enter their second week of controversy as Michelle Rhee went on WAMU-FM’s Kojo Nnamdi Show for a half-hour to quell the concerns. Said Rhee about the testing allegations: “I actually think that it was an excellent call for the chancellor to call for the I.G. investigation. ... I just think that it is — it’s better to kind of lift the cloud and make sure that everybody is clear, that the gains were real. And if there were problems in, you know, isolated instances, then those problems should be dealt with directly.” About her initially intemperate response to the allegations: “So the part of that statement that I wanted to walk back was the part about the Earth is flat, because I just thought that was a silly part of the statement. ... We have to make sure there’s test integrity and good test security, so it absolutely makes sense that people take those allegations seriously. So the Earth is flat part was a little silly.” WTTG-TV and WUSA-TV’s Bruce Johnson ambushed Rhee outside the WAMU studios. Said Rhee: “The chancellor made the absolute right call. ... What you want to do is make sure the cloud is lifted.” More from Johnson: “She admits her administration found some irregularities, but Rhee won’t confirm information that irregularities were so high in four classrooms that people charged with administering the tests were removed from their positions.”
FEDS PROBE DCPS — Federal authorities are looking into how the D.C. Public Schools look into and prevent reports of sexual violence within schools, Nick Anderson and Bill Turque report in today’s Post: “The inquiry comes after an allegation of a rape last fall at Dunbar High School in Northwest Washington. Russlynn H. Ali, assistant education secretary for civil rights, said that even though criminal charges were eventually dropped in that case, the incident raised broader questions that warrant federal review. ‘Now it’s about what is the environment in your school and in your district,’ Ali said. ‘Do girls and young women feel safe? What are the procedures if this were to happen again? What would be the immediate response?’ Ali said federal officials were seeking to help D.C. Acting Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson and other school chiefs across the country who might face similar challenges. ‘They need to make sure they have a culture that is safe for all of their students,’ Ali said. D.C. schools spokeswoman Safiya Simmons said the U.S. Education Department ‘is working to introduce new guidance to help schools, colleges and universities understand their civil rights obligations to better prevent and respond to sexual assault.’ Ali added, ‘The District is cooperating fully, and we’re working to resolve the matter.’”
GRAY BUDGET IN REVIEW — Two reviews of the Gray budget plan: Writing at GGW, David Alpert writes that it is “generally good for transportation” and includes “exciting investments” in transit funding. “Besides a capital investment in streetcars, the budget maintains Circulator funding and gives WMATA a small increase, but not enough to stave off Metro service cuts. Off-street parking taxes raise general revenue and will also create incentives for employers to stop subsidizing parking.” Writing at Poverty & Policy, advocate Kathryn Baer takes a dimmer view of Gray’s choices: “Now I see that there’s more than one way to take an unbalanced approach. ... The mayor deserves credit for backing off his opposition to any increase in income taxes. ... But the proposed budget is nonetheless, to use the old cliche, balanced on the backs of the poor.”
THE OTHER SIDE — Ron Moten delivered his rebuttal to Gray’s State of the District address last night at a Mount Vernon Square bar. Sadly, I was unable to attend, but here’s a snippet from a copy prepared for delivery: “Some people might have thought that I was either crazy or a mad man a few months ago during the height of the election campaign. I know that a number of people thought that I should have chilled out, sat down like a resident of the city and kept my mouth shut. What they did not know is that I’m a man who knows the difference of being a resident and a citizen. ... I am here to tell you that I did not choose to vote for the current Mayor or some of our Councilmembers. But you can believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that I want to see them succeed. ... However, if our brothers or sisters, no matter their color, are given a chance and they don’t fulfill their promises and commitments to the people, then we have a solemn obligation to remove them from the positions we have given them.” Thus the Vince Gray recall timer posted on Moten’s Web site. (Jonetta Rose Barras also writes in her online column about some nascent Gray recall talk.) Also, here’s the video for the Vince Gray diss track by Big Wax. And Alan Suderman notes that Moten has put together some sweet “Don’t Blame Me! I Voted Sulaimon Brown” T-shirts.
*** SMALL PLATES ***
Evans wants to guarantee 4,000 sworn police officers. Funding? “We have some thoughts.” (Examiner)
News flash: “Gray should have been more prepared for the waves of bad publicity that overtook his young administration and been able to turn the public’s attention to his achievements and goals over the next four years, political analysts say.” (WaTimes)
McKinley Tech guidance counselor goes public with accusations against principal (WTTG-TV)
On the proposed Department of General Services (Housing Complex)
Virginia tourism authority tricks Park Service into allowing ad in Dupont Circle (Housing Complex)
OAG budget generally spared (Legal Times)
More Richard Whitmire: “Why Rhee Remains at the Core of the Controversies” (HuffPo)
Gabe Klein tells Oregon about the wonders of D.C. (OTREC)
Better names for Circulator routes, please! (GGW)
More on opposition to Southwest Circulator cuts (GGW)
Cliff Roberson, pioneering gay rights advocate and city employee, dies at 60 (Blade)
Tonight at GU: “An Evening with Mayor Adrian Fenty” (Georgetown.edu)
*** ON THE MENU ***
Gray tours FEMS academy, 11:30 a.m.; holds Office of African Affairs mixer, 1 p.m. in JAWB press room; hangs out with Mendo, 3:30 p.m.; attends Source Theater performance, 7 p.m. — D.C. Council legislative meeting, 10 a.m. in JAWB 500