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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT—-“Councilmembers To Nickles: WTF,”Poll Shows Fenty Beating Gray In Ward One,” “Thieves Loot Argonaut,” “Runaway Horse Dashed Through Cap Hill

Good morning. D.C. Council Chairman and Mayoral candidate Vincent Gray didn’t let the Monday break go to waste. He held a Q & A with prominent local bloggers at Ben’s Chili Bowl (points off for cliche setting). Gray took questions from DCist, Borderstan, We Love DC, Greater Greater Washington, and The District Curmudgeon; the bloggers covered everything from the streetcar flip-flop and education reform to small business regulations and Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier. The bloggers walked away impressed by Gray’s—-what else?—-penchant for detail and his ability to admit when he screwed up (streetcar flip-flop). But let’s just get to the news that warms this substitute LL’s heart: IF ELECTED, GRAY HAS PROMISED TO BRING BACK THE WEEKLY PRESS CONFERENCE.

DCist’s Martin Austermuhle reports: “On education, Gray spoke proudly of his ambitious plan to create a comprehensive birth-through-24 system. He pledged to be more transparent and hold weekly press conferences — something Fenty has been strongly criticized for. He agreed that the District’s Summer Youth Employment Program — which ‘has been about a numbers game’ — needed reform, as did the District’s Department of Youth and Rehabilitation Services. He promised that economic development would be one of the things he tackled in his first year, using regulatory reform to improve the “Byzantine system” currently faced by the District’s small businesses. And yes, Gray emphasized that he was in favor of streetcars, though he did worry that not enough planning had been done before tracks were laid down on H Street NE. When asked about the budget kerfuffle which saw funding for streetcars stripped from the city’s budget and then restored, Gray admitted that ‘it was a misunderstanding.’ ‘I’m really sorry that it happened,’ he added.”

More coverage via Borderstan. Greater Greater Washington’s Dave Stroup summed up his impression of Gray: “Any skilled candidate will provide thoughtful and compelling answers at a session such as this. The real questions are always in the nitty-gritty. There’s no doubt that Vincent Gray loves the District and wants to see things change for the better. This campaign will be won or lost on Gray’s ability to convince District voters that he can make these things happen. The wisest thing Gray said on Monday was that this campaign will not come down to who has the most money. Fenty has a large war chest, and a record of results. He also has vulnerabilities. This will be an extremely close race, and it will be interesting to see whether the idealistic campaign plan of Vincent Gray can weather the long, hot DC summer.”

AFTER THE JUMP—-Fenty friend fails and yet still succeeds, D.C. Council pissed at Peter Nickles (again), Mary J. Blige may be enrolling at Howard University, and much, much more!

IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED: The Examiner’s Bill Myers breaks some news on the Parks-and-Rec-Fenty-Frat-Bro narrative with today’s must read: “A D.C. board issued an engineering license to a co-founder of a company with ties to Mayor Adrian Fenty even though the man has never passed the professional exam, The Washington Examiner has learned. Abdullahi Barrow has emerged as a key figure in the ongoing investigation into millions of dollars’ worth of parks contracts awarded to companies owned by the mayor’s friends and fraternity brothers. One of them, Sinclair Skinner, has said publicly that he relied on Barrow’s expertise to win public parks contracts for Liberty Engineering and Design, a company founded by Skinner and Barrow. But Barrow failed his engineer’s exam seven times since 2002, sources said and documents obtained by [The Examiner] show. In 2008, the Fenty-appointed Board of Professional Engineers unanimously granted Barrow the professional license because of his ’eminence’ in the field, board spokesman Clive Cooks said. There are three ways to obtain a professional engineer’s license in the District: passing the exam, having already obtained a license in another state, or for eminence. The board rarely issues eminence licenses, Cooks said. Since 2005, only four have been given out — including Barrow’s, Cooks said. Barrow’s lawyer, A. Scott Bolden, said any suggestion that Barrow wasn’t qualified as an engineer was ‘nonsense.'”

Of course, Fenty may also have his own fence problem. Myers goes on to report: “Barrow was deposed last month. Sources familiar with his testimony said that Barrow, like Skinner, had trouble recalling basic details about his company, including its first client and the last name of a third man, ‘Chris,’ who initially started the business with Skinner and Barrow. Barrow said, however, that yet another company co-founded by him and his wife was paid by Liberty Engineering, the sources said. The company, Providence Construction, has also been given a contract to build a fence for the city’s real estate agency, sources said.”

MORE PARKS AND WRECK: WaPo’s Mike DeBonis reports that several D.C. Councilmembers are ticked off at Attorney General Peter Nickles, for paying out hundreds of thousands of dollars to one Rec Center developer/Fenty pal: “D.C. Council members aren’t taking well the news that the city reached a $550,000 settlement last week with Banneker Ventures, the company overseeing Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s controversial parks construction. Democrats Mary Cheh (Ward 3), Phil Mendelson (At Large) and Harry Thomas Jr. (Ward 5) have jointly taken exception to the settlement — in particular, the decision by Attorney General Peter Nickles to sign an agreement while the council’s investigation of the parks contracts is ongoing. ‘Your decision to settle at this particular time appears to be poor judgment and motivated by something other than the best interests of the District of Columbia,’ the members wrote in a letter to Nickles delivered today. It goes on to suggest that the agreement was signed ‘for no other reason than to bring this matter rapidly to a close.’ Cheh was still more explicit about said motivations in an interview this afternoon: ‘To make something that’s problematic for the mayor go away.’ She said the move was of a ‘similar nature’ to when the Housing Authority cut a check for $2.5 million to Banneker on Christmas Eve — when no one on the D.C. Council, which was already investigating the matter, could have stopped it.” Nickles tells DeBonis that everything was above board. Of the councilmembers’ complaint: “They really don’t know what they’re talking about.” More coverage via Washington City Paper’s new Loose Lips columnist Alan Suderman, and WBJ.

JONETTA ROSE BARRAS: The Examiner columnist thinks Gray’s education plan reads too much like Fenty’s education plan (which she likes). Still, she argues that the plan “lacks freshness and innovation.” Barras concludes: “Undoubtedly, Gray and his campaign have deliberately exploited the reality that most voters aren’t intimate with the details of education reform. But those who have closely followed such events won’t find any substantial difference between Gray and Fenty’s plan — except the council chairman offered his with a warm smile and the promise of tons of town hall meetings. There’s one more thing: Fenty has been implementing his plan for the past three years.”

POLLING: D.C. Wire’s Tim Craig digs into the numbers behind the Graham campaign poll showing Fenty with a slight edge over Gray among Ward One voters: “According to the poll, the incumbent mayor leads Gray in Ward 1 by a margin of 43 percent to 37 percent. Despite that narrow lead, many observers believe Fenty needs a much greater margin in Ward 1 on Election Day to overcome Gray’s expected advantage in communities in Northeast and Southeast Washington. Ward 1, the city’s most diverse, is home to many of the new District residents that the Fenty campaign has been heavily courting. On July 4, a few hours before the fireworks, Fenty was spotted campaigning door-to-door in Mount Pleasant. In his successful 2006 campaign, Fenty won 61 percent of the vote in Ward 1, his best showing outside of his home base of Ward 4. Still, Graham’s poll demonstrates that Gray still faces a challenge in becoming better known. Only three out of four Ward 1 residents recognize Gray’s name, compared with the nearly 100 percent who knew Fenty’s. And with 18 percent of Ward 1 residents undecided, there is still a path for Fenty to match his 2006 numbers in Ward 1.”

HIV-AIDS: Amanda Hess writing over at WCP’s The Sexist tries to figure out what Vincent Gray means when he says he won’t “over promise” on this issue: “Is Gray suggesting that the District couldn’t deliver on its promises to its last HIV/AIDS director? A recent op-ed in the Washington Blade posits that Hader received ‘little support’ from the District, and that her ‘hands were tied’ by a ‘local government that lacked the funds and the vision to realize the full potential of a more integrated, multi-agency approach needed to address this public health emergency.’ It’s certainly going to be difficult to sugarcoat D.C.’s HIV/AIDS crisis for potential candidates. Without promises of additional resources, will the District be able to snag a director that’s nearly as effective as Hader?”

METRO MESS: The Examiner’s Kytja Weir reports that the cheaper SmarTrip Cards will be ready in late August: “The agency is planning to drop the price of the cards from $5 to $2.50 to encourage riders to use the reusable plastic cards. But the change isn’t slated to occur until Aug. 29, according to a Metro report. Consider this the latest confusing fare change at Metro. The transit agency boosted fares on June 27 but plans to increase other aspects of fares — including charging 25 cents extra per rail trip for users of paper fare cards — starting Aug. 1. But it won’t reduce the cost of the SmarTrip cards until just before Labor Day. Other SmarTrip card changes are expected this fall. So riders may want to do some calculations as to what makes the most sense: buy the plastic fare cards before Aug. 1 if planning to take more than 10 rail trips before the end of the month? Or wait until the price drops? Bus riders already pay a 20-cent differential when they pay cash instead of using a SmarTrip card — and they lose out on the transfer discount when switching from bus to bus or train to bus if they pay cash. So buying a SmarTrip card now makes sense for frequent riders.”

CITY POOLS: The District is extending pool and library hours, reports NC8: “District officials say they want to ensure residents have a place to get out of the heat. One of the places they recommend are public libraries. a location on m street was open until 9 Tuesday night and people stayed inside until the doors closed trying to cool off.”

MARY J. BLIGE: NC8 reports that the singer may be enrolling at Howard University: A well-known singer could be packing more into her busy schedule to get a college degree from a well-known D.C. university. Mary J. Blige may have eight multi platinum records, nine Grammys and several number one hits. Now she’s after her college diploma. ‘I got accepted into Howard University for the class of 2014!! Cheers…’ said Blige. That candid comment caught on stage for Good Morning America Friday is causing a big buzz on Howard University’s campus in Northwest D.C.” University officials refused to comment on whether Blige has enrolled. Doesn’t this sound like a reality-show premise?

WE HAVE A DEAL: On the convention center hotel.

MAYOR’S SCHEDULE: No public events.

D.C. COUNCIL’S SCHEDULE: Confirmations of funeral boardmembers and public service commission, rent-control roundtable discussion at 11 a.m., hearing on Community Service Block Grants at 2 p.m.