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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT—-‘WaPo: Gray, Peebles Are ‘Likely’ Fenty Challengers‘; ‘D.C. Jail Details Assaults‘; ‘Pershing Park Case: D.C. Police Captain Testifies Ramsey Gave Arrest Order‘; D.C. General Shelter Management Fired Staff For Inappropriate Contact With Female Residents; and tweets galore!

IN LL WEEKLY—-Nonprofiteering: If earmarks were prohibited, how did Harry Thomas Jr. get them? Also: Earmark whistleblower Sharon Wise speaks out.

Morning all. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi warns District officials in a letter sent this morning [PDF] that the city has essentially no debt capacity remaining—-in other words, we’ve maxed out our municipal credit card. In fact, last week, OCFO had to sell $768M in new bonds to restructure debt service in order to bring the city back under its self-imposed 12 percent cap. “I urge the Mayor and Council to carefully evaluate the need for any and all proposed borrowing, including both for the core governmental functions handled by the [Capital Improvements Plan] as well as for economic development projects, and to set priorities for what is most critical to the needs of District residents.” There is some good news: The restructuring saved the city $95 million in the current fiscal year, about half of a projected budget gap caused by city overspending. But that debt burden remains, just pushed well into the future.

AFTER THE JUMP—-WaPo says Gray and Peebles are readying for Fenty challenges; GOP makes strong play in ward races; Skinner wants to resked testimony; some good news in new AIDS figures; will Ward 5 become a pot-dispensary ghetto?

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray ‘has told confidants that he is leaning toward running for the city’s top political office,’ Nikita Stewart and Paul Schwartzman report in WaPo. They write that ‘several sources familiar with his thinking said that a core group of his supporters has outlined a fundraising strategy for the mayor’s race, discussed possible campaign messages and explored whether to hire a national consulting firm to help the 67-year-old sharpen his image. A Gray mayoral campaign, the sources said, would seek to portray [Mayor Adrian M. Fenty] as a divisive force who has lost connection with voters, a sentiment that Washingtonians have expressed in recent polls.’ The reporters also follow up on LL’s reporting yesterday that developer R. Donahue Peebles is still very much considering a run. ‘[T]wo sources with knowledge of Peebles’s thinking said he’s interviewing media strategists and campaign managers about what approaches they would take in challenging Fenty. The developer also has paid for focus groups and a pollster to measure the electorate, the sources said….”The decision has been made to take steps necessary to enable him to pull the trigger should he choose to announce.”‘ Stewart and Schwartzman report that ‘the latest rumbling [is] that he will declare his intentions next week.’ The Peebles source says his man will decide within ‘a few weeks’ and will do so irrespective of whether Gray runs or not.

IMAGE IS EVERYTHING—-‘Running against Fenty would present certain challenges for Gray, who is nearly three decades older than the famously athletic and energetic mayor. Gray’s supporters have talked about emphasizing the council chairman’s physical prowess, pointing out that he works out daily and plays baseball in a city league. They have also said that Gray might need to ditch his preference for three-button, light-colored business suits and wear darker, more fashionable designs.’

The Republicans are coming! The Republicans are coming! WaPo’s Tim Craig reports that the D.C. GOP will be fielding candidates in all four ward races this election cycle, while eschewing runs in citywide races ‘because they say they are generally satisfied with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s priorities and doubt their party can win citywide.’ Writes Craig: ‘It will be the first time in memory that the party has competed in four district-based seats in the same year….In an unusual demographic mix for a GOP ticket locally or nationally, three of the four council candidates are black. Two of the party’s African American candidates are also gay. Republican leaders hope the diversity of the ticket will cause liberal-minded D.C. voters to give their candidates a second look, especially when the debate shifts away from national politics toward a discussion of how to improve residents’ quality of life.’ Marc Morgan, 37, an ‘extremely moderate,’ ‘pro-environment Republican’ will run in Ward 1; lawyer David Hedgepeth will run in Ward 3, and Timothy Day, who, like Morgan, is gay, will run in Ward 5. Jim DeMartino, the white guy, is running in Ward 6.

ALSO—-You probably won’t find this endorsement, from D.C. GOP honcho Paul Craney, on Fenty campaign materials: ‘Craney said many [Republicans] strongly approve of Fenty’s efforts to improve education and fight crime and have high regard for Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier.’

Sinclair Skinner‘s foreign travel schedule is once again complicating his subpoena-compelled testimony before the D.C. Council, Michael Neibauer reports in Examiner. ‘Skinner is scheduled to appear under subpoena March 24. But his attorney, A. Scott Bolden, said in an e-mail that the court-ordered date conflicts with his trial schedule, and Skinner, he added, will be “out of the country on business.” Bolden said he hopes to negotiate a new date with the council’s joint investigative committee and get the “testimony in and behind us.”‘

More on Yvette Alexander‘s surprise Jim Graham endorsement from WaPo’s Stewart, which took place at a Graham fundraiser at Georgia Brown’s: ‘”I explained to Jeff Smith my colleagues on the council, as long as we’re there, we have to work together,” Alexander said in an interview. “It’s a democracy. I wish him luck.” She recalled that Graham was the only elected official to attend her first fundraiser in 2007 when she won special election. Graham’s fundraiser also drew Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4).’

FEMS overtime continues to run out of control, Neibauer reports in Examiner. ‘Twenty-five employees of the District’s fire and emergency medical services department collected nearly $400,000 in overtime through the first five months of the fiscal year, helping to bust the agency’s overtime budget with seven months still to go.’ Chief Dennis Rubin, in a hearing yesterday, continued to blame a ‘large number of ‘frozen’ operational vacancies restricting our ability to hire new employees.’But Mendo says ‘Rubin is to blame for implementing expensive policies that the department can’t afford, like a $795,000 captain’s promotion. “I think the pressure’s getting turned up on him,” Mendelson said of Rubin. “The facts are making it increasingly difficult for a reasonable person not to see that there’s a management problem.”‘ Also WaPo, which notes: ‘Records show that one firefighter/paramedic, who makes $66,986 a year and was hired in 1989, made $106,993 in overtime in fiscal 2009 and $90,711 in fiscal 2008. An EMS preceptor, whose salary is $70,072, made $70,471 in fiscal 2009 and $89,935 in fiscal 2008. The list goes on.’

Let’s start with the good news: According to newly released city numbers, the number of full-blown AIDS cases has declined steadily in the District in recent years. Still, Darryl Fears reports in WaPo: ‘More than 3 percent of District residents older than 12 are living with HIV or AIDS, an epidemic rate of infection that continues to worry city health officials.’ As of Jan. 1, 2007, ‘at least 16,513 residents in the city were aware from testing that they had a form of the disease, a 9 percent increase from the previous year…But the decline in new cases of full-blown AIDS and AIDS-related deaths signals that aggressive testing and treatment efforts are starting to work and could lead to a decrease in cases of HIV, the illness that causes AIDS, said HAA Director Shannon L. Hader….”These are not easy gains,” Hader said, crediting the improvement to an increase in testing and medical clinics that provide primary care to people with HIV or AIDS.’ Another key stat: ‘Among African Americans, heterosexual contact is overtaking sex among men as a mode of transmission for the first time in the city’s history. The number of black people who reported transmission through gay sex, 30 percent, and heterosexual sex, 29 percent, was nearly equal.’ Also DC Agenda, NC8, WRC-TV, WUSA-TV, Examiner, which quotes Hader calling it a ‘modern epidemic…modern in both its scale and its complexity.’ Whitman-Walker Clinic has YouTubed the presser.

ALSO—-From WRC-TV: ‘A report to be released later this week on gay men in the District is expected to show one disturbing trend. The report indicates that older, highly educated gay and bisexual males are taking fewer precautions against the disease by engaging in sexual relations without condom protections.’ WaPo adds: ‘Several people who saw the study during a meeting at the HIV/AIDS Administration last week said it showed that the prevalence among gay men was 14 times higher than the city at large.’

Jonetta Rose Barras bristles at Michael Brown, et al.’s calls to ‘reform the reform’ at DCPS. ‘Certainly [Rhee]’s made a few mistakes, including offering artless comments. I haven’t agreed with several decisions — not the least of which is reassigning Patrick Pope, current principal at Rose L. Hardy Middle School….Still, Rhee inspires. She is a government official with enormous passion and determination. It’s also refreshing that she speaks candidly in an environment where some elected officials, bureaucrats and civic leaders often and deliberately misinform the public while playing harmful political games — like those in which Brown engaged earlier this week. Truth told, District residents and others who care about creating a high-quality system of public education should celebrate Rhee. As someone who has tracked schools since 1986, I have seen children in this city endure far too many school leaders who were timid, lacked a sense of urgency, or weren’t prepared to fight a bloated, constipated bureaucracy and its enablers whose prime concern was protecting or amassing territory.’

WaPo’s Bill Turque examines the alleged phenomenon of charters expelling students mid-year, who then go then back to traditional public schools without taking their per-student funding with them. He finds little statistical basis for the claim: ‘[O]fficials on both the public and public charter sides say there is no data supporting the phenomenon of some vast annual migration. According to DCPS, of the 2,529 mid-year admissions during the 2008-09 school year, just 264 (7 percent) were from public charter schools. The rest were kids who were either new to city, who had dropped out and returned, or who came from private and parochial schools. DCPS spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway also said the 264 figure does not represent a net gain, and that it is offset by students who leave. “DCPS students also transfer to charters mid-year—-and the funding doesn’t follow them either,” she said.’

Examiner three-minute interviews Donald Hense of Friendship charter schools.

DCmud covers developer presentations for Justice Park project in Columbia Heights. ‘At an ANC meeting yesterday, teams presented their visions and their reasons to “pick me,” though the plans all essentially create the same affordable residential product. As the developers compete over design, community benefits and financing capabilities, one group has less-than-subtly accused the rest of making empty promises. Though that sounds a lot like hot air, it gets to the core of an issue raised by our readers in response to DCMud articles on recent RFP awards and the opaque selection process for winning projects. It will be interesting to see if such a message resonates with the community and if it effects a change in the selection process in the Mayor’s office.’ DMPED decision is expected next month.

UrbanTurf covers Bisnow real estate summit, where Jim Abdo and other developers taked future plans: ‘Abdo said his firm will focus on the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor (where they did The Wooster and Mercer Lofts and have near-term plans for the undeveloped lot across the street), H Street NE (where they did The Landmark Lofts at Senate Square), and Brookland….Brookland in particular got Abdo excited. He said it is a “completely underserved” but very stable area with steady jobs from Catholic and Trinity universities and nearby Washington Hospital Center. He acknowledged that Brookland is currently light on amenities but that his firm is going to do something about it.’

WaTimes covers medical-marijuana activists upset because the proposed D.C. law is too restrictive for their tastes. ‘Marijuana advocates are pushing for changes in the current council proposal, which bans anyone with even a misdemeanor drug conviction from owning or working in a dispensary, and says they must be at least 1,000 feet from any school or youth center. Finding a site that meets that criterion in a dense urban setting like the District is like “looking for a needle in a haystack,” said entrepreneur Alan Amsterdam, co-owner of Capitol Hemp….Mr. Amsterdam – a native Washingtonian who in 1998 opened the first American-operated marijuana “coffee shop” in the Netherlands, where pot has been legal for more than 20 years – said he plans to apply for a license to run a dispensary and has been scouting potential sites. “Most of the options are going to be in the Northeast, the New York Avenue area,” said Mr. Amsterdam, adding that he plans to apply for a license no matter how the law turns out.’ Attention Harry Thomas!

Metro train operator fired for running a red light and derailing a train last month had just returned to work after nine years on medical leave, Kytja Weir reports in Examiner. ‘Some of her peers say she wasn’t given enough retraining after such an extended absence. “They need to stop blaming people and address their systems,” said a train operator who asked not to be named out of fear of retaliation….During her absence, Metro created new policies, brought in new types of rail cars and opened new Metrorail stations….But the train operator was given a few weeks of retraining at most, according to a source.’

Convicted murderer from Panama is captured in D.C., Freeman Klopott reports in Examiner. Juan Barrera, 36, escaped from a Panamanian prison in 2008, made his way to Washington, where he ‘used a fake Social Security card to obtain federally subsidized housing and cruised around town in three luxury cars.’ He attracted FBI attention after a tipster ‘claimed Barrera was planning to fire a rocket launcher at a Metro train….The tip began an around-the-clock investigation, [a court affidavit] said. The FBI staked out Barrera’s third-floor apartment at 1405 Montana Ave. NE, for two days in late January before taking him into custody. Authorities said in court documents that Barrera did not own a rocket launcher and had no plans to attack Metro. Barrera has since been transferred from FBI custody to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, spokeswomen from both agencies confirmed.’

Afro-American covers cuts to the summer jobs program: ‘Officials say with the launch of the annual Summer Youth Employment Program in June, the expectation is to hire some 22,000 between the ages of 16 and 24 – many of which will come from low-income backgrounds. But, this year, the $40 million program will be contracted from 10 weeks to just six weeks due to budget constraints and other issues surrounding its efficiency.’

Police seek bank robber, WaPo reports—-‘a black male, 5-foot-10 to 6 feet tall, weighing 150 to 160 pound…described as having a dark complexion and gray facial hair. He has been seen wearing wire-framed glasses, a black skullcap and a black leather jacket or a dark hooded coat, according to police. He has been seen carrying a black bag across his shoulder.’

Metro Weekly posts Robert Wone case update.

AU student magazine profiles Michael Brown. The lede: ‘Even in the ordinary setting of a routine hearing, [Brown]’s quiet composure stands out like the eye of a storm. Always firm but never confrontational, his questions probe the surface of a witness’s testimony to reveal something deeper.’

New posts at the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute blog: Why tax credits aren’t the best way to create jobs, and why the Bowser open-meetings law is a good idea.

WTOP billed $51 million in 2009, second-most in the country, WBJ reports.

Remember when Rhee closed 23 schools? Robert Bobb is closing 45.

GWU law prof is not fond of the council’s solution to the D.C. Jail late-release issue.

Washington Harbour is for sale.

WTOP peeks inside the new Social Safeway.

Honorees at this year’s D.C. Urban League gala: Virginia and Ben Ali, Chuck Brown, sportscaster James Brown, and Clark Construction.

Red Line, Blue Line delays this weekend.

D.C. COUNCIL TODAY—-10 a.m.: Committee on Health agency performance oversight hearing on Department of Health, JAWB 500; Committee on Public Works and Transportation agency performance oversight hearing on Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, JAWB 412.

ADRIAN FENTY TODAY—-6:45 a.m.: guest, Connecting with the Mayor, WRC-TV; 7:10 a.m.: guest, Fenty on Fox,WTTG-TV; 10:45 a.m.: remarks, Donatelli Development groundbreaking, 3801 Georgia Ave. NW.