Get to know D.C. with our daily newsletter
We dive deep on the day’s biggest story and share links to everything you need to know.
Morning all. How will the D.C. Council deal with one of its own? That is a question that will begin to be answered this morning, as Chairman Vincent C. Gray takes reporters’ questions on his response to the Bennett Report. WUSA-TV’s Bruce Johnson is already reporting that Marion Barry will face what will likely be unanimous votes to censure him, strip his committee chairmanship, remove him from the finance committee, and refer the case for criminal prosecution. The pundits are weighing in, too: Jonetta Rose Barras demands strong action: ‘The peripatetic politician should be kept away — off the council dais, out of the John A. Wilson Building and away from other government facilities. He has demonstrated a propensity to abuse the electorate repeatedly and indiscriminately.’ WaPo columnist Courtland Milloy, however, subjects Barry today to the same chickenshit moral equivocation that’s shielded him from consequences for years: ‘Barry has been steadfast in raising the issues of poverty and joblessness. And the hearings that he has held on those issues frequently highlight an immorality far greater than what he has been accused of….If Barry did take a kickback from his girlfriend, they say, it didn’t result in somebody’s death. So why should he face censure when those who stole [city AIDS money] got away clean?’ Fine, Courtland, but can you name a single thing Barry’s done in his legislative career to address that ‘immorality’ besides pay it lip service?
AFTER THE JUMP—-WaPo front-pages the Fenty racial divide; DDOT chief calls for new mega-snow plan; hundreds of DUI cases at risk due to faulty equipment; appeals court refuses to stop gay marriages; Washington Hospital Center fires employees who didn’t show during snow; judge orders Skinner to appear before council
MORE JONETTA—-‘How many times have residents heard Barry’s mea maxima culpas?…After his crack cocaine arrest he took to the pulpit of Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast, confessing an addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs and sex. Later, congregants from that church organized a caravan of cars and buses that traveled to the federal prison in Pennsylvania to bring Barry home — as if he were a returning hero. In his last term as mayor, when he reportedly relapsed, Union Temple once again came to Barry’s rescue, serving as backdrop for yet another quasi-apology….Last week, Barry apologized, again — at Union Temple Church, again. Aren’t the folks there tired of being used?’
ANOTHER DEFENDER—-Jerome G. Miller, the federal receiver who ran the city child welfare system from 1995 to 1997, steps up in a WaPo op-ed to defend Barry from the ‘unctuous prattling’ of the media and his colleagues. Because some ‘freewheeling conversations, arguments and debates’ he had with Barry in weekly meetings about child welfare ‘had nothing to do with “deals,” political or otherwise,’ the mayor-for-life, Miller concludes, is a swell guy. ‘I found the mayor always well-informed on the issues, articulate and deeply committed to making the kinds of changes the situation clearly demanded. Frankly, in retrospect he was greatly more helpful than most in the passing parade of mentors, monitors, faux child advocates and “class-action” principals (talk about “self-aggrandizement”!), so many of them ready to relieve the District of hundreds of thousands of dollars in their continuing quest to ensure that no basic reform ever occurred.’ Duly noted. Nowhere does he address Barry’s actual misdoings, past or present—-citing only his empty empathy that’s too rarely translated in any sort of action to improve the lot of his constituency. A weak defense, but perhaps the best that can be mustered.
THE MECHANICS—-Courtesy of Dorothy Brizill and Gary Imhoff in themail: ‘It’s bigger than Barry….In order to hold a vote of censure, the council will first have to amend its rules of organization and procedure…to give itself the right to censure a member, and that will require it to formulate general requirements and conditions for censure. In formulating those requirements and conditions, the council must not tailor them just to fit Councilmember Barry or the specifics of his case. It has to write them with enough generality that they will fit misconduct and improprieties, personal or financial, by any of its members….That will put many of them at risk for their actions regarding earmarks and personal service contracts that up to now been commonplace.’ LL thinks what’s more likely is that the council drafts no guidelines, at least before tomorrow, and subjects Barry to a ‘sense of the council’-type wrist-slapping.
The Fenty racial divide is exposed on WaPo A1 this morning by Ann Marimow and Jennifer Agiesta: ‘While the mayor’s approval rating has dropped throughout the city, nowhere are his numbers more troubling than in predominantly black wards 7 and 8. The divide between how whites and blacks view Fenty has much to do with the gap between expectation and experience, and the view among many African Americans that the mayor is insensitive to their needs and more aligned with the wave of gentrifiers who are diluting the District’s longstanding black majority. Many African Americans expected that their political and emotional chemistry with Fenty during his 2006 campaign would carry over to his governing. But the relationship has eroded over a string of events during his tenure, leading many blacks to conclude that Fenty is out of touch, that he does not understand their concerns. They point to the selection of few black Cabinet members, bad relations with city unions, the high rate of unemployment east of the Anacostia River and his public snub of poet Maya Angelou.’ Among the disaffected: Former police chief Ike Fulwood, who ‘thought that Fenty, the son of a black man and a white woman, would pull together newcomers and longtime residents like him. “The city is now more divided than ever before. That’s the biggest disappointment.”‘ Also weighing in are Kevin Chavous, Bernard Demczuk, and Lawrence Guyot, who notes that unions ‘have been targeted for destruction in a very systematic way that cuts into the whole history of how blacks have advanced.’ See infographic, too.
ADRIAN VS. TONY—-‘The negative sentiment toward Fenty also stems in part from expectations that as a young black man and a native Washingtonian, he understood the city and its people in a way that his bow-tied predecessor, Anthony A. Williams, a child of Los Angeles, did not….Like Fenty, former mayor Williams struggled to overcome the perception that he was indifferent to residents east of the Anacostia even as he initiated development in Ward 8, such as a $27 million arts and recreation center and thousands of apartments, many for low-income families. There were different expectations for Williams, though, a fiscal manager who never came across as a grass-roots populist.’
FENTY RESPONSE—-‘Fenty made it clear in a brief interview that he did not want to discuss racial politics or the implications of the city’s changing population….Fenty pointed to the city’s nearly $80 million investment to shore up United Medical Center in Ward 8 and a $5.9 million grant for the hospital to serve uninsured residents. His office provided a 95-page compilation of news releases and charts, highlighting the administration’s support for projects in wards 7 and 8. Among them: the funding and preservation of more than 3,175 units of affordable housing since he took office; $187 million to overhaul 57 schools; plans to open four more libraries; and the rebuilding of three recreation centers.’
The first official examination of the city’s response to Snowpocalypse 2010 came Friday in front of Jim Graham‘s transportation and public works committee. There, Nikita Stewart reports in WaPo, DDOT Director Gabe Klein told councilmembers that ‘[W]e need…a different plan. A contingency plan. A major storm plan.’ But planning alone would not have fixed the lack of suitable equipment: ‘The city has a supply of plows that were too large to squeeze through streets crammed by snow and ill-parked vehicles, he said. “There were, unfortunately, instances of plows hitting cars,” Klein said….The city owns fewer than 10 small heavy-duty plows, Klein said, and contracted 56 more to help with snow removal. In the future, the city might want to prohibit cars from parking on both sides of a residential street, Klein said, adding that it would have to weigh limiting parking against snow removal.’ WRC-TV and Examiner focus on uncleared sidewalks; the latter notes that Klein pledged ‘the purchase of a new truck that will suck and melt the snow.’ (You mean, like the snow melter that the District already has? The one spotted in action by a WRC-TV viewer last week at the old convention center parking lot?) Also WTTG-TV, DCist, and TheCityFix.com, which had probably the most detailed write-up.
PLOW-IT-YOURSELF?—-From WaPo: ‘Kathy Henderson, a former Ward 5 advisory neighborhood commissioner, praised the city’s overall performance but said there should have been a plan for staffing during the storm. Henderson said she hated to wake up a driver asleep in his plow to tell him to get to a certain missed block “after your catnap.” She said residents who have been certified or trained to operate such equipment, including her, should be identified for emergencies. “I’d be willing to plow some streets,” she said.’
Hundreds of drunk-driving prosecutions could be imperiled by faulty police equipment, as first reported by WRC-TV’s Pat Collins and subsequently picked up by Examiner, WaPo, NC8, WTTG-TV, WTOP, WAMU-FM. As many as eight of 10 Intoxilyzer 5000 machines used by MPD may have been miscalibrated or otherwise malfunctioning, an internal audit found; pending DUI/DWI cases have already been withdrawn from the courts, and cases dating back to October 2008 may now be in question. OAG is investigating; Cathy Lanier says, ‘It’s disappointing in some sense but I’m happy we caught it and happy we caught it when we did.’ Says defense attorney David Benowitz: ‘I think this is going to open up a flood gate of appeals motions for new trials. There are people convicted who did jail time on what appeared to be flawed scores.’ Another attorney, Stephen Mercer, is calling for an independent review of the matter. The Intoxilyzer brand has been subject to questions before, notes DUIattorney.com.
INSIDE MPD—-‘Some police officers told The Examiner that that top brass kept them in the dark about the machines’ accuracy problems even while drunk driving cases were routinely being dropped. On Thursday night, after The Examiner began making inquiries into the matter, a top police official sent out a copy of the Fenty administration’s statement on the matter. Police union Chair Kris Baumann said Attorney General Peter Nickles and Fenty have “basically given drunk drivers in this city a free pass.” “They need to understand the severity and the magnitude of the problem,” Baumann said.’
D.C. Court of Appeals refuses to stay the District’s gay marriage law pending appeal from pro-referendum forces. Which means, barring unlikely congressional intervention, gay couples can start applying for marriage licenses on Wednesday. Also WaTimes.
WaPo Sunday A1, above the fold: Washington Hospital Center, Theresa Vargas reports, ‘has fired 11 nurses and five support staff members who failed to make it to work during the back-to-back snowstorms that paralyzed the region earlier this month. Dozens of staff members at [WHC] face internal investigations, union representatives say, and it is unclear how many employees will lose their jobs. On Friday, the nurses union, Nurses United of the National Capital Region, filed a class-action grievance with the hospital. “I see it as so unfair and uncaring,” said Shirley Ricks, a 57-year-old nurse who has spent her entire career at the hospital. “That’s it. You call in one day in the biggest snowstorm in history and you’re out. No ifs, ands or buts about it. . . . You go from getting a salary every two weeks to nothing. It’s scary.”…Geri Lee said she received two pieces of mail this month that represent the highest and lowest moments of her 31-year nursing career. One was a thank-you card from a woman who credits Lee with saving her son’s life. The other was a letter of termination from the hospital that informed Lee she was fired for “gross misconduct.” Lee said she showed up at the hospital for her Feb. 11 shift prepared to stay the night. But when her shift ended Friday morning, she said she didn’t see a need to stay because the snow hadn’t started falling. She went home to Silver Spring. The next day, Lee, 54, said she tried for an hour and half to get out of her neighborhood before calling the hospital to say she could not make it in. That night, she was placed on indefinite suspension. Six days later, she received a termination letter.’
WHC STATEMENT—-E-mailed to employees: ‘Sadly, we did experience some issue with associates who did not show the same commitment as most of their co-workers to the community, our patients and their fellow associates. They are the few who turned away from their scheduled shifts and who tried — and are still trying — to turn the focus on themselves rather than the thousands of Washington Hospital Center workers who fulfilled their commitment to their patients and colleagues, and made it to work.’
New property assessments are released: The city tax base has dropped about six percent from last year (before appeals) with commercial property accounting for the bulk of the decline. East-of-the-river communities were hit hardest, due to high rates of foreclosures, OTR says. Only a small handful of neighborhoods, all in Wards 2 and 3, saw a rise in residential assessments. (LL has the geographic breakdown, complete with map.) Stewart notes in WaPo that the assessment dips may actually translate into higher tax bills for ‘about 22,000 homeowners [who] have benefited from tax-relief programs, including a homestead deduction and a senior citizen tax break….The D.C. Council approved legislation last year that requires homeowners to pay on at least 40 percent of a property’s assessed value. That will lead to [a] $345 average increase.’ But the real threat to your tax bill in fiscal 2011 is going to be the tax rate, not the assessments; a residential property tax hike is going to be on the table to close the gaping 2011 budget hole. Also Examiner.
The genesis of the city’s current overspending woes is examined by Examiner’s Michael Neibauer. To wit, the Fenty administration’s struggle to implement wildly ambitious FY2010 revenue and spending targets: ‘”There were promised initiatives that were going to save millions of dollars, and halfway through the fiscal year they haven’t done squat,” said at-large Councilman Phil Mendelson….In the case of traffic fines, for example, the timetable to expand automated traffic enforcement has been delayed to the end of the fiscal year…In the adopted $5.4 billion fiscal 2010 budget, traffic fines were projected to generate $108 million, but Gandhi revised that figure down by $18 million….Also in the adopted budget, the contract for inmate health care at the D.C. Jail was to be restructured to better reflect a lower average daily population, saving $2.1 million. But no changes were made and the Department of Corrections now expects to spend $29.7 million on inmate care, roughly $10 million more than its budget.’
Also from Neibauer: ‘The Public Service Commission has directed Verizon, AT&T and other providers of local exchange service to stop the practice of DNP — disconnection of basic, regulated local telephone service for failing to pay for a non-regulated service such as long distance, or in some cases wireless. DNP, the commission concluded in its order, is “unreasonable and contrary to the public interest. … If a customer is making payment sufficient to keep its local service account current, including any taxes and fees, then local service should not be disconnected.”‘ Says Verizon: ‘This move only benefits those customers who chose to game the system by not paying their bills, knowing that they will get a free ride.’
Calling them a ‘political addiction,’ the WaPo editorial board calls on the D.C. Council to end earmarks for once and for all. ‘No earmarks were included in this year’s budget because of the Barry controversy and tight finances, but it’s clear that there is still an appetite on the council to be able to steer funds to favored groups. [Yvette Alexander], for instance, insisted that the needs of her ward couldn’t be met if not for the work of some nonprofits. Without question, many of the grants benefit legitimate groups that do worthy work, but the earmark process, as spelled out in the Bennett report, is troubling. Most originate from informal connections with council members. There is no competitive process, no uniform application procedure and precious little oversight. Most troubling is that there is no incentive for council members to oppose, or even scrutinize, another’s earmarks because of an “I’ll support yours, you support mine” mentality….It’s clear [that] band-aid reforms can’t fix a system that is beyond repair.’
A D.C. Council subpoena is in fact worth a damn, it turns out: Sinclair Skinner has been ordered to appear before the council parks-contracting investigation committee on March 24, Nikita Stewart reports at D.C. Wire, after Superior Court Senior Judge Stephen F. Eilperin ‘found that Skinner has avoided appearance despite “numerous formal and informal efforts” by the council to get him to testify.’ He faces $5,000+ in fines if he doesn’t show.
What happens to the Radio One headquarters deal without its principal partner? Kwame Brown has an idea, Jonathan O’Connell reports in WBJ: Use the precious city debt now earmarked for the Shaw project to finance a Costco deal. ‘[W]ith Radio One pulling out, Brown proposes moving the TIF into the Costco deal, with developer Trammell Crow Co. and Fort Lincoln Realty Co. Inc. The city’s debt limit would not likely be affected. “There is some money there — some savings there — that can be transferred over without messing with the debt cap and can be transferred to Costco,” Brown said.’ Still, DMPED and Jack Evans both want to give the Shaw developers more time.
Will Metro make David Gunn‘s findings public? The former Metro GM and transit veteran ‘is tasked with giving Metro leaders guidance as the agency grapples with deadly safety concerns, dropping ridership and a major budget crisis in the midst of a leadership vacuum,’ Kytja Weir reports in Examiner. But Gunn will give his report to the WMATA board behind closed doors. Says chair Peter Benjamin: ‘We want to get the unvarnished truth….He’s got to be able to say stuff about individuals and the agency that have legal and personnel implications that shouldn’t be public.’ But transit advocates, including Sierra Club and GGW, want as much to be made public as possible.
ALSO—-Metro has reversed its decision to fire Art in Transit director. ‘Michael McBride, who oversees Metro’s Art in Transit program, was among 46 employees laid off Feb. 18,’ Weir reports. ‘But e-mails flew among board members last week once they learned that McBride, head of the two-person art program, was among the cuts.’ And Metro will spend $3.4M on safety upgrades for old rail cars—-rollback protection (long ago ordered by NTSB) and new door safety systems.
Keith Alexander notes in WaPo that Superior Court Room C-10—-aka arraignment court—-will be undergoing renovations for about a year, which means that defendants’ initial appearances will moved to the much smaller Room 201. This raises security concerns: ‘[A] greater number of family members and friends of victims and defendants will be spilling into the hallway outside the courtroom, which is already crowded with individuals waiting outside other courtrooms that handle drug-abuse cases and child-support hearings.’ More security will be posted. Also, a single magistrate, Karen Howze, will now oversee the courtroom, rather than a rotation.
Legal Times’ Jordan Weissman totals up all the attorney fee requests made by MPD officials’ private lawyers in the Pershing Park cases. The tally: $1.53M and counting. Assistant Chief Peter Newsham ‘has been represented since the beginning of the case by Deso & Buckley partner Robert Deso. In billing requests dating back to Oct. 2003, the firm has received $767,000 in fees and costs….Former police chief [Charles Ramsey], who plaintiffs have alleged was in fact responsible for round-up order, has been represented individually in the case since 2005 by Vinson & Elkins partner Mark Tuohey. For work dating back to December 2006, the firm has received $764,000.’
Harry Jaffe looks at the new downtown D.C.—-young, rich, and bustling. ‘[W]hat were empty streets running through vacant office buildings are now bustling with people hitting clubs, eating at fine restaurants or taking in a game or a show at the Verizon Center. The downtown transformation didn’t just happen. It took people like Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations to advocate, jostle and change the way the city was growing….In 1985, from his offices in the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, Lynch started to lobby for the “living downtown.” In 1990 he argued before the D.C. Zoning Commission that the city should designate a 100-square-block area east of 15th Street NW, as a mix of office, retail, arts and housing. With the support of then zoning commission Chairman Tersh Boasberg, he changed the zoning regulations. Then Abe Pollin built his arena on Seventh Street, a block south of Chinatown. Restaurants opened. Movie theaters. Clubs. Shops. More apartments and condominiums.’ All they need now is a supermarket.
WaPo education columnist Jay Mathews weighs in again on the IMPACT teacher evaluation system instituted by DCPS. ‘I have written four columns so far pointing out what appear to be weaknesses, including dubious benchmarks of good teaching and inadequate training. But I am also getting a sense that many teachers like the new system. It is far from ideal, but it is also the best evaluation system they have ever participated in, they say….The evaluation system could fail for many reasons. What happens to teachers who don’t meet the standards will be crucial. But many smart people like what they see so far. Columnists and union presidents, along with everyone else, ought to wait for results from the classroom before we make up our minds.’
Telling remark from POTUS, doing introductions at a Sunday event: ‘A champion on behalf of D.C. statehood — or at least voting rights — Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton. (Applause.)’
WaPo’s Ovetta Wiggins on the Brookland ArtSpace Lofts, affordable housing for artists now under development: ‘The project will involve razing Brookland Studios, the warehouse where artists rent work space, and constructing a four-story building with 41 housing units and underground parking….Heidi Kurtze, director of property development for Artspace Projects, said the nonprofit organization has been working with the District on the project since 2006….”The Fenty administration truly believes that the arts is an engine for economic growth,” Kurtze said. The D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development is providing $10.4 million in stimulus funding and $1 million in 9 percent low-income housing tax credits on the 57,000-square-foot project.’
AARP studies local seniors who are part of ‘aging-in-place’ networks: ‘In some graying neighborhoods, residents have banded together and paid a yearly fee for social activities and access to a network of volunteers, or vetted contractors who can help them with tasks such as rides and computer help….The AARP chose to study the District because, except for San Francisco, the region has more of these villages than any other area in the country: about 15 operating or in development in the District, Maryland and Virginia.’
Best comment yet on Metro control board threat, from WaPo reader: ‘I can’t imagine why, but four members of the U.S. Senate charging the Metro board with “institutional failure” brings to mind pots and kettles.’ Also in WaPo letter: ‘The $7.4 million that the D.C. Council wants to give to Northrop Grumman would be better invested in a competitive grant program to assist local entrepreneurs whose business ideas will serve the community in innovative and sustainable ways.’
Marquis Wade, 20, was gunned down Saturday night on the 300 block of Parkland Place SE, where Wade lived. No details yet from police.
These guys robbed the Florida Avenue Burger King last Tuesday.
Two construction workers tumble 30 feet off scaffold at the Georgetown Safeway site Friday morning. Paul Duggan reports for WaPo: ‘The men, who are brothers, suffered “serious but not life-threatening injuries” shortly after 9 a.m. when the wind gust shook the scaffolding and the two lost their balance, Fire Department spokesman Pete Piringer said….Piringer said the men, whose names and ages were not immediately available, plunged into a ditch and were briefly trapped before being extricated by firefighters. Some debris and equipment for the scaffolding fell on top of them, Piringer said. He said they were taken in ambulances to a hospital.’
Also Friday: ‘Twenty-nine students at the private Lab School in Northwest Washington were taken to hospitals Friday morning, most of them for precautionary reasons, after someone apparently discharged a canister of pepper spray in the campus’ high school building,’ WaPo reports.
Northeast church whose roof collapsed in snow has copper pipes looted.
Teacher-blogger Guy Brandenburg fails to see any correlation between test-score performance and DCPS principal replacements. ‘In my blog entries over the past few months, I have shown how lots and lots of Rhee’s claims are totally at variance with reality. I am beginning to think that there is something dangerously wrong with the mentality of Michelle Rhee. She has told SO MANY LIES, and in such a bold and utterly confident manner, that it’s really scary. (And the mass media has fallen for almost all of them, without researching the truth behind any of them.)’
John Kelly on parking meter hikes: ‘I don’t think 7 1/2 minutes has been so expensive since Eliot Spitzer decided to order room service. Well, what can you do? If you gotta park, you gotta park. And at least we can rest easy knowing that the money is going to a good cause: Marion Barry’s girlfriends.’ Also: If you’re curious about Poona Court NW…
Bloggers react to Gabe Klein WaPo profile—-pro and con. (A WaPo letter writer goes so far as to accuse Klein of ‘hypocrisy’ for driving a car once in a while.) ALSO—-Reaction to the DDOT ‘action agenda’ from WashCycle, Richard Layman.
Cold case: Barbara Jean Dreher has been missing since Aug. 12, 1984.
The D.C. Council’s war on dry cleaners.
Pepco profits sink.
U Street audio tour now available.
As of yesterday, you’re paying more for your Metro rides.
This February was ‘one of the snowiest and one of the coldest in the city’s weather history,’ WaPo says. No kidding. The final DCA snow total was 32 inches.
Dr. Frederick C. Green, public-health advocate who pushed District leaders to recognize the dangers of lead paint, is dead at 89.
D.C. COUNCIL TODAY—-9 a.m.: Committee on Government Operations and the Environment agency performance oversight hearing on Office of the Secretary, Office of Partnerships and Grants, District Department of the Environment, Contract Appeals Board, and Executive Office of the Mayor, JAWB 500; 10 a.m.: press briefing, JAWB 412; 11 a.m.: Committee on Economic Development agency performance oversight hearing on Washington Convention Center and Sports Authority, Destination DC, and Boxing and Wrestling Commission, JAWB 412; 1 p.m: Subcommittee on Taxicabs roundtable on PR18-662 (‘District of Columbia Taxicab Commission Paul Cohn Confirmation Resolution of 2009’), PR18-663 (‘District of Columbia Taxicab Commission I.Raj Pahwa Confirmation Resolution of 2009’) and PR18-664 (‘District of Columbia Taxicab Commission Ralph Burns Confirmation Resolution of 2009’), JAWB 120.
ADRIAN FENTY TODAY—-No public events scheduled.