TODAY IS MARCH 8, 2011 — DAY 65 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION
Hmm, where to start today. How about here: The Office of Campaign Finance, as expected, has launched an initial investigation of former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown’s claims that he struck a deal with Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s campaign for cash and a job. Acting Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan announced this morning that he won’t investigate the matter directly, but will “facilitate” the Inspector General and OCF probes, so they will “have full and prompt access to D.C. government records, as well as to personnel with knowledge of these matters.” U.S. Attorney Ron Machen is neither confirming or denying a probe, per its usual practice, as calls for a federal probe escalate (see below). And the mess has former AG Peter Nickles weighing in: “I think it’s an extremely serious matter, and I guess the one reaction I have is I hope it doesn’t get buried.” Brown, meanwhile, embarked on a media tour: On WUSA-TV, he leveled charges that “precinct captains were paid to withhold the ballot count in areas where incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty was expected to win” — allegations that elections board officials say have no basis in fact. (And it’s wholly unclear how simply holding the vote would have made a difference.) And on Fox 5, he delivered this nugget, via @alansuderman: “I want to bring this to the point that Mayor Gray will have to resign.” He also made a WRC-TV appearance. The show will go on — Mark Plotkin says Brown will appear on his Friday WTOP program — though one spectacle has been put on hold: Gray campaign chair Lorraine Green’s confirmation hearing for a Washington Sports and Convention Authority board post has been “indefinitely” postponed.
AFTER THE JUMP — Is this “D.C.’s own Fatal Attraction”? — Post editorial wants USAO review — Gray a “disaster,” says Petula — Jaffe blames “retreads” for vetting fails — Gray: Obama is a “full supporter of the charter of the District of Columbia” — half of agency heads get personal cars — how Kaya Henderson got picked
*** MAIN COURSE ***
FUN STUFF — Here’s Tom Toles’ take:
See also Nate Beeler’s toon in the Examiner. Says Plotkin to the wide WTOP audience: “It’s awful! He’s being compared to Marion Barry — how bad can you get?”WUSA-TV’s Derek McGinty calls it “D.C.’s own Fatal Attraction.”
BRING IN THE FEDS — Regarding Brown — aka “a man with a spotty background, questionable credentials and a pattern of peculiar behavior that included sending agitating messages to, among others, the mayor-to-be” — here’s what the Post editorial board has to say: “[A] probe conducted by a city agency will not suffice. Interim Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan is an appointee of Mr. Gray; the inspector general has neither the resources nor the zeal to undertake this effort; and the campaign finance office has little credibility. Given the limbo into which investigations such as the probe of nonprofit fundraising by D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) have fallen, the need for outside intervention is clear. U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. took office promising to root out public corruption, so surely he has an interest in determining whether a problem exists in the nation’s capital.”
‘DISASTER’ PREPAREDNESS — Gray “is a disaster right now, not even 100 days in office,” Petula Dvorak writes in her Post column. “The very platform of his campaign - sound ethics, fairness, transparency and dignity - are now crumbling in the face of some ugly allegations. In his first few acts as a reform mayor who’s come to clean house, Gray increased his staff and jacked up their salaries. Then he hired their kids. And as though he was totally certain that nobody was looking, he hired a former campaign opponent, one who is now saying that Gray’s folks were slipping him fat envelopes of cash to keep his vitriolic attacks on [Fenty] going. Is it any surprise that people are already peddling ‘I MISS FENTY’ bumper stickers?” But she closes with some perspective: “[T]empting as it may be, this is not the time to buy that Fenty bumper sticker or get all nostalgic about the former mayor’s cute little SmartCar. Remember, Fenty had a Lincoln Navigator, too, and it was fully loaded with its own scandals. Maybe Gray is just front-loading his debacles, getting his screwups out of the way in his first 100 days and moving on. Gray still has plenty of time to prove that he knows better.”
REVENGE OF THE OLD GUARD — Harry Jaffe’s Examiner column is unusually astute, if a tad sexist today (and he makes pains to reminds us he’s read A Prayer for the City): “[Gray] lacks a smart, tough, trusted fixer. Think of David L. Cohen, who served as Ed Rendell’s chief of staff when he was Philadelphia mayor in the 1990s. ... Gray has four women running his political and personnel shop. They are adviser Lorraine Green; press chief Linda Wharton Boyd; chief of staff Gerri Mason Hall; and Judy Banks, who served as personnel chief until last week. All are veterans of the Marion Barry or Sharon Pratt Kelly regimes. They represent exactly what Gray’s critics feared: a return to the musty old ways of the do-nothing District government, where friends hired friends to cash paychecks and not deliver services. The four ladies let Gray down. They let Brown get hired, then fired, then furious. They took care of their own, by seeing that friends and family got city jobs. In the process, they exposed Gray to ridicule and perhaps a criminal investigation. Ultimate blame here falls on the mayor. He never took control of his office, let alone the District government. He created yet another layer of bureaucrats between him and the people. He hired retreads — and amateurs.”
GRAY TO CONGRESS: BUTT OUT — In an interview with interesting timing, Gray talks about congressional relations with Roll Call’s Daniel Newhauser. In the face of “toxic headlines,” he writes, “Gray remained defiant, saying that despite what critics call a rough start, the capital city can run its own affairs. The controversies, he said, should give no ammunition to Congressional opponents of his stated goal: D.C. statehood. ‘As an argument to say that we should not be permitted to manage ourselves, that is really bogus,’ Gray said. ‘I think I would suggest that somebody look at 13 balanced budgets as corroborated by an auditor. I would suggest that someone look at our bond ratings, which have continued to escalate.’” Newhauser also votes Gray’s “apt job sharpening [voting rights] rhetoric.” In the space of 30 minutes, “he invoked the Revolutionary War, women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement, and the U.S.-supported toppling of autocratic regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan as inspiration for the District’s own battle for sovereignty.” And Gray let slip a detail from his December conversation with President Barack Obama: “One of the things the president said to me is that he’s a full supporter of the charter of the District of Columbia.” That’s somewhat short of statehood.
KWAMEGRAM — Subscribers to Kwame Brown’s e-mail list got this message last night: “Dear DC Resident, As you know, more troubling news broke over the weekend surrounding former mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown and his alleged conversations with Mayor Gray’s staff during the mayoral campaign. I have known Mayor Gray for many years and consider him a dedicated public servant and person of integrity. I want to stress that Sulaimon Brown’s statements to the press are only allegations at this point. Nevertheless, you all deserve to know the truth and so, after speaking with several Councilmembers, I have decided to refer this matter to the Office of the Inspector General for a thorough, independent review. ... I assure you that the Council is doing everything it can to restore your trust and confidence in City Hall. Regards, Chairman Kwame R. Brown”
D.C. ‘FALLING BEHIND’ ON AIDS — D.C. Appleseed’s annual HIV/AIDS Report Card is being released today, and “[f]or the first time in several years, the District is falling behind in its efforts to combat” the disease, Lena Sun reports in the Post. The report “pointed to a lack of leadership by [Fenty] at the end of his term and said the city’s grades declined in three other areas: gathering and tracking data on the illness, managing grants to groups that help people with the disease, and its needle exchange program. The report called on [Gray] to use the bully pulpit of the city’s top elected official to restore momentum in the fight against a disease that is at epidemic levels in the District. ... Although Fenty said HIV/AIDS was his top health priority, the group took Fenty to task because ‘the frequency and focus of the mayor’s involvement diminished over time,” the report said. “We think that leadership and public engagement must go deeper than appearing at HIV/AIDS-themed events.’” Gray is responding today by calling the first meeting of his 27-member HIV/AIDS Commission. Says Appleseed boss Walter Smith, “the mayor has to use it to make things happen.”
PAY YOUR TICKETS! — Sadly buried today: In Examiner, Freeman Klopott tallies up which city agency heads are provided with cars for personal use — “nearly half” — and notes which ones have outstanding parking tickets attached. “The vehicles range in size and price, from City Administrator Allen Lew’s 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe and interim D.C. schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s 2004 Tahoe to public library director Ginnie Cooper’s 2001 Ford Taurus. ... Gray’s chief of staff Gerri Mason Hall cruises around town in former Mayor Adrian Fenty’s 2009 Smart Car. The Ford Crown Victoria assigned to the [interim] Department of Human Services Director Deborah Carroll has racked up $785 in fines for parking and moving violations. All five tickets are months past due. Carroll could not be reached for comment. Judy Banks, director of the D.C. Department of Human Resources, is driving a city-purchased 2007 Chevy Impala which has been tagged with $670 in unpaid tickets. The citations appear to have been issued before she was appointed by Gray in January.” Here’s Jack Evans’s point of view: “With the exception of the mayor, no one in District government, or working for the District government, should have a car.”
HOW KAYA GOT PICKED — Gray yesterday refused to confirm reports that Kaya Henderson is his pick for permanent schools chancellor. But, Bill Turque reports in today’s Post, “he has left little doubt that he is sold on Rhee’s former top deputy. The advisory committee he appointed last month to evaluate candidates in whom he has interest has met just once and discussed only Henderson. Asked if he owed the city a more thorough search for a schools leader - given the importance of the position and in light of recent disclosures about his administration’s vetting and hiring practices - Gray said: ‘I think what we owe to citizens is to select the person who is best suited to lead the D.C. public schools.’” And Bill sketches out what the sole meeting of the search panel looked like: “It met for about five hours on Feb. 24 at the Reeves Center. Co-chair Katherine Bradley, president of the CityBridge Foundation, served as a facilitator for the discussion, which participants said was broken into two basic parts: what residents wanted to see in the next chancellor, and whether Henderson fit those criteria. ‘We must have filled up 20 easels of paper,’ said Daniel Holt, head of the PTA at Brent Elementary in Ward 6. He said panel members were essentially seeking someone ‘with deft communications skills, the ability to make decisions and to tell people bad news in a way that they are willing to receive it.’ Holt said no formal vote was taken but that closing statements made by each member reflected a heavy consensus for Henderson.” Gray’s comments came as he announced an additional $76 million injected into local school budgets for fiscal 2012.
SESSOMS ‘NOT GOING TO DIE’ IN COACH — As students protested outside his office demanding his resignation, UDC President Allen Sessoms sought to explain his pricey travel habits, first reported by WTTG-TV. As for his penchant for first class travel, he proffered this argument, per the Post’s Dan de Vise: “Sessoms said that’s the only way he will travel. He has circulatory problems in his legs that, he said, require him to stretch out on long voyages. ‘Yeah, I’m going to fly first-class,’ he said. ‘I’m not going to die for any job.’” As far as missing receipts, he said, via the Examiner: “I turn in my receipts when I return from trips; where they go from there I can’t say ... A lot of it is paper. Paper gets lost.” Is Sessoms going to face a revolt? Not clear, says de Vise: “The level of support for Sessoms on campus is hard to measure. The leader of the interim academic senate supports him; the faculty association president is comparatively critical. Michael Watson, student senate president, led Monday’s protest, but he said a number of other student leaders remain loyal to the president. A petition calling for his resignation had drawn 37 signatures by Monday afternoon.” Also WJLA-TV, WTOP, WRC-TV.
CHALLENGED — The Board of Elections and Ethics yesterday made a preliminary review of challenged ballot petitions. Sekou Biddle, who challenged Patrick Mara, Jacque Patterson and Bryan Weaver hit one-and-a-half-for-three: Patterson, the BOEE ruled, is all but a goner (pending appeal — hearing Wednesday); Mara is A-OK (pending appeal — hearing Thursday); and Weaver needs to get 52 of his petition signers to file change-of-address forms (pending appeal — hearing next Monday). Fine coverage from DCist, Examiner, and especially Four 26.
‘ACCIDENTAL’ ANC — The Post’s Chris Jenkins profiles “accidental commissioner” Nicole Pugh, who wrote her own name in for ANC last year, and a “week later ... learned that her impulse had turned her into a local politician.” Assuming office in SMD 8E01 “means attending endless meetings and no extra money. But she does get a city pass that allows her to park for free almost anywhere she wants when she is on ANC business. ‘I don’t have one regret,’ said Pugh, 32, a Denver native who moved to Washington in 2003. ‘For some reason I find this reeeally fun.’ Two months into her term as her district’s new commissioner, Pugh is taking on the unexpected role with enthusiasm. She attends as many meetings as her schedule allows, with young Democrats or at St. Elizabeths Hospital campus to discuss the construction of the Department of Homeland Security headquarters. She takes meticulous notes on her iPad and uploads them to her new ANC blog. And because she didn’t know much about the commissions before she wrote herself in, she has visited ANC meetings from Georgetown to U Street, figuring out how the panels work and how commissioners run them.” Pugh, Jenkins writes, is “part of a growing civic energy east of the Anacostia River, largely fueled by those who bought homes in new housing developments over the past decade.”
*** SMALL PLATES ***
Meet the marijuantrepreneurs — and Steve DeAngelo will not be among them (Post)
Why the Airports Authority is badly in need of sunshine (GGW)
More vintage Metro IG reports! (WaTimes)
Pepco’s big reliability plan is ‘cobbled together,’ says independent consultant (Post)
Will appeals gut into projected property tax windfall? (WBJ)
4D cop collared in burglary sting (Post)
Valerie Strauss on the new DCPS mayoral control report (Answer Sheet)
The Kastles are moving to Southwest — and the Williams sisters are staying (Post)
D.C. politicos, rated on their Twitter presence (TBD)
Rhee stumps for national charter chain seeking D.C. entry (@m_rhee)
Council candidate Arkan Haile: “embodiment of the American Dream” (Samuel M. Gebru)
Mara makes his case to the Urban Moms (DCUMD)
Klingle Road reno passes enviro-review. No big whoop. (Housing Complex)
Martin O’Malley, Rushern Baker add to Metro board (Dr. Gridlock)
“More bummed about #DC ‘s non-existing medical marijuana program than my divorce today. Thanks #DCGOV for getting that done today btw #Gray (@aeidinger)
*** ON THE MENU ***
Gray releases Appleseed HIV/AIDS report, inaugurates HIV/AIDS Commission, 10 a.m. at Citywide Conference Center at One Judiciary Square; lunchtime appearance at Metropolitan Club; attends evening kickoff for Rail-Volution at Clyde’s Gallery Place — council oversight hearings on UDC, 10 a.m. in JAWB 412; on D.C. Retirement Board, Public Employee Relations Board, Office of Employee Appeals, Department of Human Resources and Office of the Secretary, 10 a.m. in JAWB 500