TODAY IS JUNE 23, 2011 — DAY 173 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION
Today’s outrage: How two journalists ended up in handcuffs and charged with disorderly conduct and “remaining” after covering a meeting of the D.C. Taxicab Commission. Pete Tucker of thefightback.org and Jim Epstein of Reason TV were locked up by Park Police yesterday after clashing with commission members and staff over taping and photographing the proceedings. Late last night, the commission’s interim chairwoman, Dena Reed, released a statement saying she had nothing to do with the arrests, that it was the Park Police’s decision. But questions remain about the commission’s commitment to holding open meetings. The Post’s John Kelly was at the meeting: “Things got off to a bad start when [Reed] got snippy with [Tucker] after he placed a voice recorder on the table in front of her. She told him to remove it. He said: ‘Miss Reed, this is a public meeting. This is not your table.’ She forbade him to leave it there, so he sat on the floor holding it up. I also heard her call security. When the floor was opened for public comments, [Tucker] made a few: He complained that Reed was not following the city’s open meetings law. Then he sat down. A few more people spoke. Then, suddenly, a clot of Park Police officers frogmarched Tucker out of the auditorium. Apparently, he had used his phone to take a photo of the commissioners at the table, something Reed had forbidden. (‘Disruptive,’ she told me later.) ... When I tried to go back into the meeting, a very large uniformed Park Police officer barred my way. Just following orders, he shrugged. I don’t know if there were any reporters in there while Reed and the taxicab commission finished their business. Hmmm. I wonder if that’s what she wanted in the first place.” More excellent coverage from WRC-TV, City Paper and DCist.
AFTER THE JUMP — Magic money not going very far — About that $32 million for Medicaid contractors — Gandhi says he didn’t mess up deed tax collections — Why OIG doesn’t matter — Gray commits to Metro memorial park — Can the government lower city gas prices?
*** MAIN COURSE ***
BEHIND THE HEADLINES — Thanks to everyone who came out last night for The Post’s “Behind the Headlines” event at Friendship Public Charter School in Ward 7. Lauren Abdel-Razzaq recaps the event: “They talked about D.C. schools, economic disparities and other issues that affect the city’s African American community. But the loudest message was this: Mayor Vincent C. Gray must do a better job of reaching out to residents and bringing jobs into the city. ... Former D.C. mayor Anthony Williams, also a panelist, said that Gray, a Democrat, who has had a rocky start as mayor amid a hiring scandal, should focus on creating jobs. ‘What the new generation of leadership has to do is try to use government not as a main engine of growth, but [as] a catalyst to bring in public and private partnerships,’ said Williams (D), who served from 1999 through 2006.” See also tweets from myself and others about the event.
THAT MAGIC MONEY — Yesterday’s unveiling of the new revenue forecasts ($107 million in FY11 and $77 million in FY12) caused some consternation at the mayor-council breakfast meeting. Nikita Stewart reports at D.C. Wire that Natwar Gandhi and David Catania clashed over the basis for the projections, and a later argument broke out over the $32 million designation for Medicaid managed care contracts. “Gandhi’s estimates show that the city could come up $6 million short in that payment, so city leaders will have to figure out how to make up the difference. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) offered to explain. [Jack Evans] told him he wasn’t interested in hearing anything he had to say. Barry and Catania went at it minutes later. ‘David, stop it,’ Barry said. ‘Marion, I’ll do as I please. You’re not the boss of me,’ Catania said.” In the Examiner, Freeman Klopott reports that Jack Evans and Phil Mendelson are agitating to reopen discussion of how the “magic money” should be spent. It is unclear whether Chairman Kwame Brown would allow that to happen. (My guess: no way. For a refresher, here’s the “magic money” list.) Also note (a) automated traffic ticketing isn’t going as well as expected, creating a $10 million FY11 spending pressure and (b) that fewer lawyers means fewer downtown tenants means less taxes. Also DCist, WaTimes, Examiner.
MEDICAID QUESTIONS — About those Medicaid contracts: A Post editorial takes a whack at the council for bowing to pressure and agreeing to the $32 million in spending. “It’s bad enough that the companies think they have the city over a barrel because of federal guidelines that require beneficiaries be given a choice under mandatory managed-care programs. Even worse is that D.C. Chartered Health Plan, which does the largest share of the business to an annual tune of $322 million, was hauled into court by the city because of suspect business practices.” The editorial takes note of Chartered owner Jeffrey Thompson’s political largesse and calls out by name the seven members who supported “unconditionally giving the companies more money. ... It makes you wonder whether those seven or the mayor cares what the public gets for its money.”
NOTHING TO SEE HERE, FOLKS — Also on the subject of the city fisc: Gandhi, as expected, has concluded that his office made no mistake in failing to collect taxes on certain property transactions over the past decade, potentially losing hundreds of millions of dollars. But at the same time, he admits to an “ambiguity” in the law that he wants the council to fix. The attorneys who first brought the issue to Gandhi’s attention find this position to be ridiculous, however, as does David Catania. Also noted in my story: Two witnesses back in the D.C. Council in 2001 said this would be a problem, and it was not fixed. Jack Evans says he will hold a hearing on the matter this fall. Also the Examiner, WBJ.
GRAY REACTS — At his weekly news conference, Gray reacted to The Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll: “The issues that we’ve been dealing with around hiring decisions continue to be things that we’re trying to address. ... Much of the stuff we’re talking about happened either during the campaign or afterwards, and we continue to try to address those. We continue to run this government. We’re focusing every day on how this government runs. ... I can go down virtually every area of this government and show you improvements that are being made.”
INSPECTOR FECKLESS — In this week’s Loose Lips, Alan Suderman puts some well-deserved scrutiny on Inspector General Charles Willoughby, making the case that his office has been essentially out to lunch while confidence in city government wanes. “[F]or the Office of the Inspector General, which has an annual budget of more than $15 million and is supposed to be the District’s main watchdog, it’s been a typically quiet past few months. [Willoughby] really only made news by deciding not to have his office investigate the mayor’s campaign, on the pretext that Willoughby once had a brief meeting with Gray’s chief accuser, Sulaimon Brown, to talk about jobs. And the two most interesting reports out of the office lately have been most notable for being old” — on the fishy firetruck and the botched response to a 911 call. Cue a rehash of the whole Charles Maddox drama, and this devastating kicker: “[I]t’s clear to LL that Willoughby hasn’t had much, if any, impact on recent public discourse regarding the behavior of D.C.’s elected officials. On the big issue of the day, OIG has nothing to say. ... The lack of an aggressive OIG has led the council to try and pick up the slack by holding its own investigations. Those clumsy episodes have produced plenty in the way of spectacle (one word: sunglasses) but little in the way of results. That’s a shame. Because if recent weeks have taught us anything, it’s that there are plenty of big fish to be fried out there. Too bad OIG doesn’t seem hungry.”
METRO MEMORIAL — Gray showed up at an anniversary memorial service for the victims of the Metro crash two years ago and played conciliator, Kytja Weir reports in the Examiner, promising families that he would build a better memorial to the nine dead than a plaque at the Fort Totten station. Said one parent, “They never made it to Fort Totten.” She and other family members “have asked for a memorial more than half a mile away at the New Hampshire Avenue bridge that crosses over the tracks where the crash occurred. They want the victims’ names and photos listed, plus a nearby park dedicated to their memories so the children they left behind have a place to remember their parents. ... Gray told the families that he would help them with a park. He and four D.C. Council members — Kwame Brown, Harry Thomas Jr., Muriel Bowser and Yvette Alexander — spoke at the service, even though none were scheduled to speak. ‘Let me make a commitment today that it will be done,’ Gray said. ‘If we can’t do this, we ought to turn in our badges.’ ” Also WAMU-FM.
UNREST IN THE STREETS — Barrington M. Salmon of the Informer does some man-on-the street interviews on the spate of political scandals. He finds a public “disappointed and disgusted.” A sampling: “ ‘I’m mad as hell,’ said a Ward 5 resident whose gestures punctuated her agitation. ‘I worked real hard for Vincent Gray and I just threw out all of his T-shirts. It’s embarrassing for the whole city. Thomas, Brown, Gray’ ... One 30-something woman frowned when asked about the D.C. Council. ‘You mean the corrupt Council?’ she asked with arms folded. ‘This is just ongoing proof and a clear indication of the lack of integrity in the Council,’ she said. ... For local educator Terry Williams, perception is reality. ... ‘You elect them to represent you and they’re stealing money. We just got new textbooks and the pages are already falling out. I was just talking to a friend about the school system. Our resources are depleted, books are outdated, they fire teachers and cut [programs]. Yet, it seems that there’s always money to steal.’ ”
THE RHEE ISSUE — A trio of Michelle Rhee-related stories in City Paper this week: Dana Goldstein profiles “anti-Rhee” Diane Ravitch, the former federal education official who once lauded high-stakes accountability measures but “now believes that the ‘corporatist agenda’ of school choice, teacher layoffs, and standardized testing has undermined public respect for one of the nation’s most vital institutions, the neighborhood school, and for one of society’s most crucial professions: teaching.” Suzy Khimm airs anxiety from Rhee’s liberal supporters that she’s developed close ties to firebrand anti-union Republican governors. And Suderman looks at the cadre of staffers and funders that are making Rhee into a household name. The piece includes this quote from Kaya Henderson about Rhee’s fundraising savvy: “She is bold. I think really there are a lot of people who are measured and not willing to go out as far as she is. ... I’ve seen her shake her booty and get some cash over and over again. She’s a very good fundraiser.” She also says Rhee’s results in D.C. have inspired donors: “It brought a renewed sense of possibility for rich people for what their money could actually leverage. ... For a relatively small investment, they got a very radical teachers’ contract.”
HOW TO LOWER GAS PRICES — Writing in City Paper, Christine MacDonald has more on the D.C. Council and its beef with gas mogul Joe Mamo. If the council has its way, she asks, will gas get any cheaper? She notes that the AAA Mid-Atlantic testified Friday that nothing except Mamo’s market concentration explains the “huge gap” between gas prices in D.C. and elsewhere. “Mamo says a small group of Exxon franchises are engaged in price gouging that’s inflated the citywide average cost of a gallon of gas, and insists that his company and other ‘jobbers,’ as they’re known in the industry, are all that stand between District drivers and even higher gas prices. ... But a council hearing last week featured testimony from antitrust experts who say Mamo’s company is the problem, not the solution. The reason gas prices have gone up here, the theory goes, is an unhealthy competitive landscape that emerged in the last five years or so as big oil companies sold off their retail stations to jobbers like Mamo.” In any case, the council’s bill won’t get voted on till fall at the earliest.
*** SMALL PLATES ***
Mo Elleithee and Tom Lindenfeld on “How Vince Gray Can Get His Groove Back” (National Journal)
After two escapes, South Carolina clinic stops taking D.C. youths (WaTimes)
“Kaya Henderson Is Winning By Laying Low” (Yglesias)
DCision 2012: state of play (DCist)
Nardyne Jeffries, mother of 16-year-old killed in a South Capitol Street drive-by, sues city for not preventing the killing (WaTimes)
Hearing today on MPD celebrity escorts (Post Now)
Bob McCartney is “indignant and amused” about campaign antics in D.C. and Maryland (The Post)
How school approval numbers can turn on a dime (D.C. Schools Insider)
Marcia Cohen, former HUD, AFL-CIO official, nominated to Zoning Commission (Housing Complex)
Wal-Mart steps up with $665,000 for “grants for school nutrition, jobs and learning programs” in D.C. (The Post)
Yes, Bob Bennett represented both Bill Clinton and Vincent Gray (Judicial Watch)
Walls student explains how budget cuts are hurting (Answer Sheet)
Judith Terra is now chair of the Commission on Arts and Humanities (G’town Dish)
Caribbean festival and parade are Saturday (WUSA-TV)
Trial of Neil Godleski’s alleged murderer set to begin Feb. 6 (Homicide Watch)
It’s now “Dr. Vince Gray,” thanks to Strayer University (the Examiner)
ANC rejects latest Hine project tweaks (the Examiner)
Watch the D.C. Urban Moms and Dads go at it over chocolate milk (DCUM)
A less charitable review of “Inside One City” (DCist)
Cookie Buffet — aka former GLBT Affairs Director Chris Dyer — is back! (Metro Weekly)
*** ON THE MENU ***
Gray attends Continental Society conference, 10 a.m. at Liaison Capitol Hill Hotel, 415 New Jersey Ave. NW; holds “One City Summer Fun Be Healthy THIS Summer” news conference, 10 a.m. at Columbia Heights Community Center, 1480 Girard St. NW; meets with Albanian Ambassador Gilbert Galanxhi, 11:30 a.m. in JAWB — D.C. Council hearing on MPD escort policy, noon in JAWB 412; confirmation hearing for Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright, 1 p.m. in JAWB 500 — Michael A. Brown on NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt, 10 a.m. on NewsChannel 8 — Peter Nickles joins Eugene Dewitt Kinlow and Patrick Madden on “Discuss D.C.,” 11 a.m. on WPFW-FM