City Paper is not for tourists
2014 set the table; 2015 is when we get to eat the feast. There’s a new mayor, five incoming freshmen councilmembers, and a complicated soccer stadium deal that still isn’t settled. And the District now has out-of-town congressmen interested in keeping pot illegal in the city limits.
Read on for what to watch for in the coming year, with a couple of LL predictions thrown in:
- Will 2015 finally be the year the federal investigation into Vince Gray wraps up? U.S. Attorney Ron Machen can’t lean on any more excuses now. Waiting until Gray left office made (some) sense, but now there’s no risk of an interim Mayor Phil Mendelson taking over after an indictment. Machen’s reputation hangs in limbo until the investigation is resolved; so do whatever cushy job offers await Gray. What university or nonprofit wants to hire a guy who could get indicted?Also in a Machen-imposed freeze: the lives of Jeff Thompson and Gray cronies like Jeanne Clarke Harris, Vernon Hawkins, and Mark Long, all of whom have seen their sentencing dates pushed back as the Gray investigation continues. They could finally get their sentences this year. LL’s prediction: Thompson gets his promised six months of house arrest, to the dismay of everyone who doesn’t work in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
2015 will also be notable for who doesn’t appear in court. At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange and former Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp are named pseudonymously as shadow campaign beneficiaries in Thompson’s plea deal (they both say they didn’t do anything wrong). 2015 should finally settle this, one of the final questions of the years-long investigation.
- Marion Barry has something big named after him—although whether the memorial commission Gray appointed on his way out the door has anything to do with it remains to be seen.
- The plan to shore up United Medical Center by teaming it with Howard University Hospital will start looking like the last-minute work of a lame-duck mayor, which is exactly what it is. LL’s prediction on this isn’t so much a prediction as a statement of fact: teaming the city’s most struggling hospital with its second-most struggling won’t end well for either of them. Already, incoming Mayor Muriel Bowser sounds noncommittal.
- Gray, Mendelson, and Bowser pulled off a stoppage-time goal of their own and hammered out a soccer stadium deal before the end of the year. The package has a cap of $150 million for the District’s contribution. That cap, though, is about as hard as cotton candy. The District still hasn’t struck a deal with landowner Akridge on how much to pay for its two acres in the stadium footprint. Even the deal’s supporters agree that Akridge isn’t thrilled that its rainmaking opportunity to grab U Street NW land has evaporated along with Gray’s version of the soccer deal. Expect eminent domain, then a big payout to Akridge after that.
- The District will get the Olympics, and it’ll be terrible news for anyone who doesn’t make their living reporting on how the District government screws up.
- Homelessness will be a 2015 issue, just like it was a 2014 issue and a 2013 issue and on and on. Already, the city is looking at a double-digit jump in family homelessness. But with even Gray’s plan to replace D.C. General still vague, the city will continue to spend big on Maryland hotel rooms.
- 2015 is set for a showdown between the District and Congress over whether the December federal budget deal really did outlaw marijuana legalization. Mendelson says he’s going to go ahead and transmit the legalization initiative to Congress for review anyway, breaking the supposed prohibition on spending any money putting the measure into law. (Mendo’s time isn’t free, after all!)The next year will also settle whether Congress botched its legislative language in a way that means it didn’t actually stop the city from legalizing it. With that in mind, 2015 ends with either legalized personal grows or as the first of many years that a Republican Congress keeps the District sober. LL’s prediction: Pot-hating Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) will continue to be unbearably smug.
- New Attorney General Karl Racine keeps it low-pro, emerging only to issue a positive opinion on marijuana legalization. There isn’t a mayoral election for a few more years, after all.
- The streetcar won’t start until the spring. It will be much longer after that until drivers stop parking over the tracks.
- Popular police chief Cathy Lanier finally gets some heat, as the ball first kicked by 2014 Council hearings on “jumpout squads” and racial profiling keeps rolling.
- The races for the Ward 4 and Ward 8 seats are ready to make the crowded at-large field look manageable. Alas, in Ward 4, Bowser is sticking with her succession plan and backing heir Brandon Todd. All the Ward 4 aspirants and Advisory Neighborhood Commission time-servers can’t beat Todd’s treasury in what should be a very low-turnout election in April—in three days in December, he pulled in more than $50,000. LL’s bet: Bowser’s plan works, and she gets at least one councilmember who owes her big.More exciting: the race to succeed Barry in Ward 8. Son Christopher Barry, now toying with running, would be the favorite if he didn’t have to face more than a dozen people hungry for the same spot. In a ward as starved for political action as Ward 8, too many old-guarders have been waiting for their shot to let the younger Barry (currently on probation for a DUI charge) walk into the job.
If anyone made book on municipal elections, LL’s bets would be on Bowser-allied candidate LaRuby May or Ward 8 Democrats president Natalie Williams. Bowser likely won’t endorse May, but that won’t stop her from scoring the same donations from developers looking to get in good with the mayor-elect. Williams, meanwhile, looks to be the most agile of the ward’s veteran political brawlers. Then again, Ward 8 is the hardest part of town to predict, and LL could be all wrong.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery