City Paper is not for tourists
Morning all. Has Adrian Fenty snatched snow defeat from the jaws of snow victory? Hizzoner, it seems, is suffering from a self-inflicted case of inflated expectations when it comes to his storm response. Let’s rewind to December’s weekend blizzard, when Fenty presided over what was by all accounts a fine job clearing city streets ahead of the Monday rush. Another big weekend storm, another triumph, right? Hasn’t worked that way—-this snow is wetter, heavier, and there’s simply more of it. But Fenty on Saturday pledged to have the city ‘open for business,’ writing a check he could cash only by annoying parents and city employees, who are expected at work even though roads are still a mess, public transportation is spotty at best, and virtually all other major employers are requiring only essential personnel to report. For some insight into why this is so, check Steve Hendrix‘s front-page WaPo piece examining what LL will call ‘snow machismo.’ Fueled by Barack Obama‘s well-worn ‘flinty Chicago toughness’ line, Fenty has ‘seized on a massive snow-removal effort as a way to burnish his credentials as a leader who can get things done,’ with ‘his aides gleefully point[ing] out that the D.C. government was open Monday while Obama’s federal workforce was told to stay home.’ So snow removal can indeed be treated an quasi-athletic endeavor, a test of mettle—-the feds lost, and D.C. won. Pardon the residents if they don’t share your glee, Mr. Mayor.
AFTER THE JUMP—-Fenty unaware of actual meaning of ‘mens rea’; Smart Car handles well in snow when advanced by heavy plow; city emergency reserve funds are dwindling; Muriel helps fix DCRA mess; Santos to help pick new DCHA chief; DOJ honcho to D.C.’s federal bench?
DO NOTE—-‘Efforts to reach an official representative of flinty Chicago to comment on Washington’s new winter resilience failed. A recording at the City of Chicago’s office in the District, its Office of Intergovernmental Affairs on Pennsylvania Avenue, said the agency was closed “due to inclement weather.”‘
Question still outstanding: What accounts for Sunday’s early decision to open DCPS schools, followed by the (thankful) move to close them? Bill Turque didn’t get much of an explanation from Michelle Rhee, nor did LL, but Examiner’s Leah Fabel got a tidbit: ‘Rhee said the decision was made “based on information needed to run schools effectively,” including the final call from public transportation officials at 8:30 Sunday night to keep buses off the roads early Monday morning.’ Fenty wasn’t interested in detailing his decisionmaking process, telling WaPo, ‘I don’t get into my mens rea….We made the right decision.’ For those unawares, mens rea is a Latin legal term that ‘refers to the mental state in which one commits a criminal act.’
ONE EXPLANATION—-Via WaPo: ‘Many parents wondered aloud whether Fenty was pushing to open the schools as a way of showing that he had managed to keep the city functioning during the record-setting storm. “It was the mayor trying to say he did an excellent job of snow removal,” Marvin Tucker, a parent at Anacostia High School, said in an interview.’
WaPo covers the governmental scramble to clear roads, noting that ‘[h]ow governments handle the storm could have significant political implications, especially for area leaders up for reelection this year’—-noting, in the process, the infamous Marion Barry 1987 Super Bowl disaster. The piece ledes with one Hillcrest resident’s plea for plow service before moving on to this bit of bad mayoral optics: ‘Fenty…reported having no trouble driving himself through the city Monday in a convertible SMART car,’ Sandhya Somashekhar and Ann E. Marimow wrote. ‘Moments before Fenty began a news conference Monday afternoon, a snowplow worked frantically to clean up slush and ice on the road in front of the Bald Eagle Recreation Center, where the mayor was announcing an expansion.’
MORE—-‘In the District, many cars were still encased in cocoons of snow, and some intersections remained an obstacle course of hardening slush and chunks of ice. Several residents in wards 7 and 8, including Council member Yvette M. Alexander, said they saw plows getting stuck in their neighborhoods. Alexander…who lives in Penn Branch, questioned whether heavy plow equipment was being equitably distributed throughout the city. “We all have been stranded for three days—-not one plow,” Alexander said. “There is no love for Ward 7.” But snow drifts blocked roads elsewhere as well, including in Dupont Circle. “The snow does not seem to be going anywhere,” said Robin Diener, president of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association.’
METRO IMPACTS—-Still rather dire, reports Kytja Weir in Examiner: ‘Metro continued only limited underground rail service Monday, the third straight day without a complete rail system as the agency struggled to clear snow from its 39 aboveground stations. It planned expanded service for the first part of Tuesday but up to 6-feet drifts have hampered the Red and Blue lines….The third rail needs to be deiced, sometimes repeatedly, so electricity can power the trains. Metro doesn’t want trains to stall on the tracks, forcing officials to rescue riders, he said.’ Some 15 stations remain closed today, including Brookland, Rhode Island Avenue, and New York Avenue. Also WaPo.
WaPo’s Carol Morello and N.C. Aizenman cover the struggles of workers, mostly low-income, trying to get to their jobs: ‘[B]eing snowbound was not an option for the army of service workers who staff the area’s restaurants and hotels, guard its offices and government buildings, restock grocery shelves and clean houses. Many went to extraordinary lengths to get to work during and after the storm, driven by dedication—-and their need for a paycheck.’
Examiner’s Bill Myers grades regional jurisdictions on snow response. A C- for the District: ‘D.C. became capital of the region’s outrage after the weekend blizzard….Fenty’s street was well plowed, but hardly anyone else’s were. “I appreciate the many workers who have worked long hours to plow the streets,” said [Phil Mendelson]. “But in my hour-and-half walking to work, I didn’t see a single plow.”‘ Fairfax County got a B. Really?
Questions of snow-removal etiquette occupy WaPo reporters Ian Shapira and Aaron C. Davis. ‘Every snowstorm generates complaints about homeowners and business people who fail to do their part, as well as extensive debate about who’s supposed to clear sidewalks, who’s not doing the job and why freaking not?’ They call out one Adams Morgan resident, and several businesses in the neighborhood, for failing to comply with the urban compact. Shame on you, Optic, Pharmacy Bar, Maggie Moo’s, and Saki Asian Grille! NC8, WUSA-TV cover parking-space savers.
NWS FORECAST—-‘A WINTER STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM NOON TODAY TO 7 PM EST WEDNESDAY. * PRECIPITATION TYPE…SNOW. * ACCUMULATIONS…10 TO 20 INCHES. * TIMING…EARLY TO MID AFTERNOON TODAY THROUGH WEDNESDAY. * TEMPERATURES…TEMPERATURES NEAR FREEZING AT THE ONSET THIS AFTERNOON. TEMPERATURES WILL DROP INTO THE UPPER 20S TONIGHT AND WEDNESDAY. * WINDS…LIGHT SOUTHEASTERLY WINDS TODAY BECOMING NORTHWESTERLY 15 TO 25 MPH WEDNESDAY.’ WaPo details storm prep.
Examiner’s Michael Neibauer details $99M in spending cuts ordered by Fenty: ‘The D.C. Public Schools, Child and Family Services Agency, Metropolitan Police Department, and Fire and Emergency Medical Services were spared, but most other agencies were hit hard. The property management budget, for example, was pared from $81.5 million to $71.2 million. The office of Deputy Mayor for Education Victor Reinoso was gutted, losing more than half its $778,000 budget. The Department of Transportation was cut by $2.8 million, the Department of Public Works $7.4 million, the Department of Mental Health $5.4 million and the Department of Employment Services $6.2 million.’ Buried lede: ‘There are only 18 days’ worth of working capital in emergency reserves, roughly $284 million, well short of the 30 days considered best practice. Reserves are down from $415.7 million in fiscal 2008.’ Nat Gandhi says he’s ‘gravely concerned.’
There were 220 instances of corporal punishment reported in DCPS last school year, Bill Turque reports in WaPo, but it’s unclear how many of those were sustained after investigation. ‘The allegations, provided to the police by Hawk One, the school system’s former security contractor, were obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act. They provide no names or results of follow-up investigations. But they nevertheless offer a vivid glimpse into an issue usually out of public view. That issue surfaced last month when [Rhee] told a business magazine that an unspecified number of teachers laid off during October budget reductions “had hit children.”‘ For instance: ‘At H.D. Cooke Elementary School in Ward 1 on Oct. 24, 2008, according to the records, a staff member reported passing a boys’ bathroom and hearing a child say “ouch” and cry. She said she then heard an adult male voice say: “Now you know how it feels to hit someone.”‘ Why the numbers might not be so shocking: ‘Many instructors say they are still constantly vulnerable to false claims of mistreatment. Students use the rules to settle scores; administrators can trigger corporal punishment investigations to intimidate or harass instructors they’d like to get rid of, teachers say.’
An (increasingly rare) DCRA horror story: Marina and Mark Marich needed a year to secure a license to rent out their Capitol Hill townhome, Marimow reports in WaPo. ‘In February, March and April, their phone messages to schedule an inspection went unanswered. In June, the inspector was a no-show, after he called the wrong number. In July, when Mark called to complain that the inspector had failed to show for a second time, a city worker answering the phone hung up, telling him, “Call the mayor.” And in December, after Marina’s call was bounced to four people, she turned to her neighbors’ on the Shepherd Park listserv, which got Muriel Bowser‘s attention. The problem was solved soon after. Says Linda Argo, ‘It’s inexcusable. How can you defend it?’ Measures have been taken!
CONSTITUENT SERVICE FTW!—-‘[S]he turned to the e-mail group list on Dec. 30. Within 10 minutes, Marina got a response from an aide to [Bowser], and later a personal message from Bowser. “The timeline you describe is appalling. Missed visits and unreturned calls are especially troubling,” Bowser wrote in a message to the Internet mailing list and to Argo. Bowser forwarded a copy to the mayor, who said he would wait for word from Argo. Once Bowser’s aide connected Marina with his department contact, she quickly received a call from the supervisor, who apologized for the ordeal.’
Look who’s going to be helping to pick the new executive director for DCHA: Why, none other than DMPED Valerie Santos, Jonathan O’Connell reports at WBJ. The backstory: ‘Fenty appointed a new board chair, developer Bill Slover, last spring, only to then replace him with LaRuby May, who heads a faith-based nonprofit, during the brouhaha over a dozen city parks contracts. The initial search committee for a new director, named by Slover, included himself, public housing resident Aquarius Vann-Ghasri and Ken Grossinger, an appointee of the Metropolitan Washington AFL-CIO. When May took over, she assumed Slover’s spot on the search committee — a natural move for the new board chair. But she also replaced Grossinger with none other than [Santos], which will give the administration an early and weighty say over candidates for the post. That selection could further irk those who believe Fenty is overreaching in trying to control independent agencies.’ Ya think?
The District’s next federal judge? Main Justice’s Joe Palazzolo identifies Mary Patrice Brown as undergoing vetting for a seat on the D.C. District bench. Brown is head of the Office of Professional Responsibility at DOJ, where she ran into a spot of controversy over investigations of Bush lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee. There are other seats open, and according to sources, ‘The lawyers being considered for the other two vacancies are Venable LLP partner Robert Wilkins, former special litigation chief for the D.C. Public Defender Service, and D.C. Superior Judge James “Jeb” Boasberg, who was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in District before his confirmation in 2002.’
Check out Track DC, OCTO’s new ‘accountability’ Web site—-‘a rich, interactive site where visitors can track the performance of District government agencies and connect directly to each agency to ask questions and express views and concerns.’ LL hasn’t had much time to play with it yet, but it promises real-time budget data, performance indicators, and more. In terms of accountability and transparency, LL would prefer if the Fenty administration would just answer a question now and again, but this is nice, too. If nothing else, great headshots of agency directors!
Michelle Rhee op-ed on ‘Ending Poverty through Education.’ A snippet: ‘I believe we can solve the problems of urban education in our lifetimes and actualize education’s power to reverse generational poverty. But I am learning that it is a radical concept to even suggest this….As the leader of a school system in a privileged country, I know we cannot have the same conversation about poverty in developing nations as we can about urban and rural poverty in the United States. But when we ask what it will take to ensure that no child anywhere has to “beat the odds” to have viable future choices, the answer is the same whether we are in Washington, DC or in a brave Haiti enduring disaster from a poverty-stricken stance. The obstacle is not one of knowledge but of social and political will, with education as the lynchpin.’
WaPo ed board chair Fred Hiatt wants to know why Obama hates vouchers so much: ‘The Obama administration said it was going to respect science and respond to evidence—-a contrast, many Democrats said, to the previous regime. So why is President Obama killing off the program that offers the best chance to find out if school vouchers work?’
Carol Joynt would like to know when Georgetown’s going to get plowed. ‘Yesterday I received a blast email from the DC government, saying they were about to launch an “all out effort” to dig us out from under the Blizzard of 2010. Today I walked downtown and wondered, “where in the hell is that effort?” Sidewalks were cleaner than most of the city streets.’
Richard Layman posts a pic of a well-plowed 17th Street NW, near Fenty’s house in Crestwood, making the rounds on listservs. His reasonable take: ‘I don’t see what the big deal is. First, the snow clearing isn’t that much better than the snow clearing on my street (which, granted, is a key street that the police department uses to get from one part of Ward 4 to another). Second, it’s reasonable to ensure that the street of the city’s chief executive is passable….There is so much anger and animus in advocacy circles that logic gets thrown out the window.’
D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute affordable-housing report is available on their Web site. Also: The DCFPI crew points out several noteworthy hearings later this week (if they happen), including one on a bill that would ‘authorize the Mayor to exercise eminent domain authority to acquire property in the area of the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and Minnesota Avenue, S.E.’ because the area is ‘afflicted with buildings and improvements that are obsolete, dilapidated, and deteriorated to the point of being nuisances to the community.’
‘Homeland security challenges for the Washington D.C. police’
Harry Jackson has some issues with WaPo polling.
Trenchant tweet from Patrick Mara.
Meet Leo Alexander Feb. 20 at Big Chair Coffee. Light refreshments will be served!
D.C. COUNCIL TODAY—-2 p.m.: Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary meeting (scheduled), JAWB 123; 4 p.m.: Committee on Libraries, Parks, and Recreation meeting (scheduled), JAWB 120.
ADRIAN FENTY TODAY—-8 a.m.: remarks, snow update, 1413 W St. NE; 10:30 a.m.: remarks, CoStar relocation announcement, 1331 L St. NW.