Morning all. The Blizzard of 2009—-aka SnoMG, Snowpocalypse Now, Snowmageddon, etc.—-has come and gone. But 20-plus inches of snow are still here, piled tops of immobile cars, hard-packed onto uncleared sidewalks, or slowing melting into city sewers. How has the District government handled it? For one thing, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has been here on the scene, rather than at some far-off locale—-which alone puts him well ahead of Marion Barry‘s response to 1987 snows. (Harry Jaffe did some reminiscing on those days—-‘D.C. streets would turn from snow to slush to water by the Barry method of clearing snow—-warmer temperatures.’) Even without the favorable comparison, the snow-clearing operation seems to be going quite well, according to reports and LL’s own eyes. Fenty offered big talk to NYT on Friday, promising ‘to throw everything we have at it to keep the District open for business on this busy preholiday weekend.’ That was a pipe dream given the whiteout conditions, but Gabe Klein‘s DDOT and Bill Howland‘s DPW have been out in force. The job’s far from done: Many residential streets are waiting to be fully cleared—-an operation that can be a political powder keg. But all major commuter routes are passable, and the city’s business goes on—-or at least its government’s: The feds went all wimpy, but Fenty stood strong, showing some Obama ‘flint’ and keeping D.C. government open.
AFTER THE JUMP—-Complete coverage of humorless, gun-pulling cop; gay marriage bill is signed, and hugs for Fenty from Gray and Mendo; Nichols audits council earmarks, finds plenty of problems; 120 years for Banita Jacks; Gray will send marijuana initiative to Congress posthaste; another federal judge slaps down Nickles
BAD BLIZZARD NEWS—-There was a fire in Trinidad. A snowplow hit a bus on H Street NE, injuring nine. A house collapsed in Georgetown. Blogger ‘And Now, Anacostia’ had his Friday Christmas party invaded by thieverous thugs. And one plainclothes detective didn’t react too well when revelers at 14th and U Streets NW pelted his Hummer with snowballs.
MORE ON FUN-HATING COP—-WCP’s Jason Cherkis, bringing his usual zest to stories involving misbehaving cops, has been leading the pack on this one. WJLA-TV had early video, and WaPo’s Matt Zapotosky wraps up the incident on A1 of today’s paper. DCist’s Kriston Capps was an eyewitness, as was Matthew Bradley, who offers his own account. Also CNN, WAMU-FM, WRC-TV, NY Daily News. The essential bit of bad behavior here is that the plainsclothes officer in question gets out of his Hummer and unholsters his weapon without showing a badge or telling anyone he’s a cop, leading to massive freak-outs among the snowballers. And, dude, seriously? Are you really that pissed about a couple of snowballs hitting your damn SUV?
METRO HAD ITS PROBLEMS, TOO—-‘Many people trying to use Metro on Saturday afternoon were caught unaware when buses and aboveground trains stopped running about 1 p.m. because of the snow….Tony Dorsey was on the Orange Line between the Dunn Loring and Vienna stations when the train stopped shortly after 1 p.m. The operator initially announced that they were returning to Dunn Loring, Dorsey said, then said no one was going anywhere; the train’s brakes were frozen. Dorsey said he and other passengers were stranded for nearly 2 1/2 hours until another piece of equipment arrived and dragged the train back to the station. Metro said 10 customers were stranded for about 90 minutes.’
IN SUM—-The start to Sunday’s WaPo lede-all: ‘A major storm that broke all records for a December snowfall buried the Washington area Saturday, forcing authorities to suspend public transportation, declare a state of emergency and plead with residents to stay home….Hundreds of airline flights were canceled, Metro stopped running trains to aboveground stations and shopping malls closed early because few customers could navigate treacherous roads to get there on the last weekend before Christmas.’ And today, WaPo covers the cleanup, as does Examiner.
The gay marriage bill is signed, in a big room packed full of good feelings, by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Hizzoner was joined by some of the legislators he’s been most prickly with, including Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray and fellow members Phil Mendelson and Harry Thomas Jr. (He shared hugs with Gray and Mendo.) Fenty delivered as fine a piece of oratory as he’s delivered, comparing, as WaPo noted in its Saturday lede, ‘the hurdles confronting gay couples to those his parents faced when they married four decades ago as an interracial couple.’ (Phil and Jan Fenty sat in the audience at All Souls Unitarian church in Columbia Heights.) Fenty added: ‘Marriage inequality is a civil rights, political, social, moral and religious issue in this country and many nations. And as a I sign this act into law, the District, from this day forward, will set the tone for other jurisdictions to follow in creating an open and inclusive city.’ Lou Chibbaro Jr. covered for DC Agenda; also WAMU-FM, NC8, WTTG-TV, DCist. WCP’s Darrow Montgomery took fabulous photos, AmericaBlog. See an account from the event’s lone protester, the Rev. Rob Schenck of Faith & Action.
CATHOLICS UPDATE—-The conflict between the city and the archdiocese, WaPo reports, ‘might be subsiding…After initially saying that city-church contracts were threatened by the measure, church officials Friday appeared to take a more conciliatory tone. Officials from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Charities said they expect to find a way to continue the multimillion-dollar contracts, but they did not offer specifics or say why things had suddenly become less precarious….Speculations about the archdiocese’s strategy included the possibility that it would remain in the contract and wait for the city to sue if, for example, a church employee’s gay partner were denied spousal benefits. That would put the city, not the church, in the position of appearing to sacrifice services provided to some of the city’s poorest residents.’
LL missed this Tom Toles cartoon from Thursday’s WaPo:
D.C. Auditor Deborah Nichols has completed an audit of the council’s fiscal 2009 earmarks, and the results aren’t good, Bill Myers reports in Examiner. ‘Nichols concludes that [$48M] went out with “no credible review process.” It exposed taxpayer funds to groups that weren’t registered to do business in the District, owed the public back taxes or spent the money on salaries, “administrative costs” or fringe benefits.’ Among the findings: ‘Nearly one-third of the earmark recipients weren’t licensed to do business in the District…Bureaucrats under Chief Financial Office Natwar Gandhi rubber-stamped applications for groups despite not having records that they were obeying tax laws….Seven earmark recipients spent more than $11 million on themselves, “instead of using the funds to support actual delivery of programs or services.”‘ Expect to hear plenty more about this.
Justice was served Friday for Banita Jacks; she received a 120-year sentence from Superior Court Judge Frederick Weisberg.
Keith Alexander Paul Duggan reports in WaPo that Weisberg said evidence photos showing the remains of her four murdered daughters ‘will probably haunt me for the rest of my life.’ Jacks ‘listened impassively’ as Weisberg ‘rejected a defense request for a lesser punishment and imposed four 30-year prison terms, climaxing a case that horrified even longtime police officers and boldly underscored deficiencies in the District’s child-welfare system.’ Also AP, NYT.
Big news on medical marijuana: Gray announced in a late Friday press release that the council plans to transmit the 1998 Initiative 59 legalizing medical marijuana to Congress for passive approval. DCist covers the announcement. In it, Gray says he is ‘confident lawmakers will follow the same hands-off policy that thankfully led them to loosen the ropes on this appropriation’ and notes that ‘since the Initiative 59 becomes an act of the Council, the Council is free to amend the measure at any time – even prior to it becoming effective.’
OCTOgate approaches its end: Yusuf Acar pleaded guilty to bribery in federal court on Friday. Del Wilber reports in WaPo that he ‘faces at least nine years in prison under federal guidelines at his sentencing in March. As part of the plea deal, Acar agreed to forfeit more than $275,000 to the U.S. government.’ Still to plea is contractor Sushil Bansal, and still to reveal himself is the whistleblower that brought their scheme to an end.
Donald Gates has been officially exonerated of the 1981 rape and murder of Georgetown student Catherine Schilling. Wrote Superior Court Judge Fred B. Ugast: ‘The court finds by clear and convincing evidence that Mister Gates is actually innocent.’ Alexander reports in WaPo that prosecutors ‘also acknowledged in a letter Friday to Ugast that they had found correspondence alerting them in 1997 to 13 discredited FBI crime analysts, including one whose testimony they had relied on heavily during Gates’s trial. Prosecutors previously indicated in court that they had not been told about the analysts, a mistake that Ugast had called “outrageous.”‘ Says Gates, free with his family: ‘I thank Judge Ugast for correcting the wrong that was done to me…and I thank God.’ Also Legal Times, AP.
Peter Nickles still unable to get a federal judge to buy his attempts to wrest away judicial oversight of a key social-service agency. This time, Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle declined to end court supervision of the District’s services for the developmentally disabled, Henri Cauvin reports in WaPo, saying that ‘the important organizational changes the city had made were only beginning to show results and were hardly enough to ensure that the improvements would last.’ Moreover: ‘Delivering her decision from the bench, Huvelle took aim at [Nickles], saying his hard-line legal strategy in the case was not serving anyone’s interest, least of all the 600 people whose care the court is charged with overseeing. “I say this to the attorney general: You have responsibilities to the public, to the vulnerable people involved here and to the taxpayers,” Huvelle said. “If you think court intervention is evil, come up with a way to resolve this case through a remedy.”‘ A small piece of good news: ‘Huvelle’s decision, which she said she will lay out in a written opinion, is not binding on other federal District Court judges who are considering similar requests.’
The WaPo editorial board assesses the parks contracting scandal in light of the projects’ return to the hands of Allen Lew. ‘The silliness of the situation should be a wake-up call to the executive and legislature that their squabbling is hurting the people they are supposed to serve,’ they write, making it clear that the bulk of the silliness lies on the legislative side of the equation. ‘[A]fter a seemingly endless series of council hearings, it’s apparent that the mayor was guilty mainly of an impatience to get going on these badly needed projects. Contrary to its reckless rhetoric, the council never established that the executive’s real aim was to steer contracts to favored businesses. No smoking gun of a conspiracy emerged….If the council and mayor had cooperated, the work likely would have been completed by now.’
Meanwhile, Sen. Dick Durbin defends himself against the WaPo ed board on vouchers: ‘The language you described as being “tucked away” in the fiscal 2010 omnibus appropriations bill has been a public piece of my financial services and general government appropriations bill since July. We held two hearings on the bill and two more on D.C. school funding, and the Senate Appropriations Committee passed the bill 29 to 1. I’ve been quoted in this publication clearly expressing my position on the D.C. voucher program. To suggest I’ve been disingenuous is the height of hypocrisy….If the mayor and the D.C. Council think more money should be spent to expand the voucher school project, may I, as a proponent of home rule, respectfully suggest that the city use its own authority to expand the program and stop challenging Congress to ride to the rescue.’
Jonetta Rose Barras calls for the head of Metro GM John Catoe in thinly reasoned Examiner column: ‘Graham and other board members have smoke in their eyes. Catoe has been burning aides. He fired his deputy general manager and chief of bus services. Three others were demoted….The person whose job should be on the line is the man at the top—-the one who should have better evaluated the effectiveness of his staff; who should have understood the operations problems in his organization; and who should have declared, before Mikulski’s tongue lashing, his so-called “war on safety.”‘
ALSO—-Barras interviews Don Peebles for her jrbarras.com Web site: ‘In order to get things done more rapidly, Peebles called for more cooperation and compromise between the executive and legislative branches….”Washington, D.C. should be a Mecca for African Americans,” he continues. And, education is one of the best platforms for launching new ideas. He adds the University of the District of Columbia to that mix, investing more in it and demanding more from it.’ Yadda yadda. But Barras does address an issue that LL has a hard time approaching: ‘He may be able to sidestep residency and friendships. But already there are concerns about his white wife. For all the advances African Americans have made, there still is a strong reaction to a black man marrying a white woman….Fenty’s polling numbers show his weakest support is in predominantly black wards like 7 and 8. Can Peebles rally those troops, with a white wife on his arm?…”When my wife looks at me, I’m sure she does not see a black man. She sees someone she loves. And when I look at her, I do not see a white woman.”‘
STILL MORE, UNFORTUNATELY—-‘Some opponents of same-sex marriage…believe they have received the raw deal in the media because the deck was stacked against them. Several of the individuals who reported on the legislation are themselves gay. None revealed their status in the gay community, which surely created in TBR’s mind a bias. TBR doesn’t want to out anyone. They know who they are….Standard practice in journalism is for reporters to publicly announce, whether in print, on the radio, on television, on the Internet, when there is a conflict of interest. But not one of the reporters made such an announcement. And that is a disgrace.’
FULL DISCLOSURE—-LL, as a straight man, apologizes for disgracing his coverage of ‘traditional marriage’ due to his proclivity for females.
Colby King just isn’t a fan of the city-subsidized H Street NE shuttle, calling it ‘a compelling example of how District politicians cater to narrow interests even when the spending contributes, albeit unintentionally, to this city’s racial and class divide.’ King argues that ‘accountability for the risks inherent in private ventures has been assumed by taxpayers citywide,’ pointing out a plethora of parking and extant bus service provided by Metro. ‘The whole point of the free, private bus service is to make it easier for people wishing to sing a little karaoke, throw down a few beers, dance and socialize with folks of similar tastes to do so without having to deal with any unpleasantness that comes with the surrounding territory.’
Huzzah: Federal officials seem to be pleased with the District’s response to questions about HIV/AIDS funding, Darryl Fears reports in WaPo. ‘Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Mercedes Márquez threatened last month to withhold $12.2 million in federal funding unless the District improved how it tracks spending by AIDS programs and monitored the services they were responsible for delivering….Over the past month, [David Catania] addressed HUD’s concerns point by point in weekly meetings of his health committee. He and D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration Director Shannon Hader also met with Márquez, drafted a revised plan, responded to questions from federal officials and submitted a final plan about 5:30 p.m. Thursday.’
WaPo’s Theola Labbé-DeBose covers a string of carjackings that has east Capitol Hill residents on edge: ‘The carjackings began in mid-October and have occurred between 10th and 14th streets NE, stretching to Constitution Avenue NE….But it was the latest incident, an armed carjacking of a mother of two on Dec. 13, that galvanized residents to push public officials to action. Petra Jacobs arrived home on Sunday afternoon after taking her two children, ages 1 and 2, to see a Christmas tree display at Union Station. She had just taken them out of their car seats, she said, when a man stuck a gun in her face, demanded her purse and car keys and then drove off with an accomplice in the family’s 2008 Toyota Highlander.’ Police ‘believe that the carjackers are teens and young adults living in Clay Terrace, a cluster of public housing units across the Anacostia River in Northeast.’ Arrests have been made in three of the incidents.
Michelle Rhee will not be taking her ‘performance incentive bonus’ this year, Bill Turque reports at D.C. Wire. ‘[F]or the second year in a row, she says she’s passed on the extra dough. “I don’t think it’s right to take a bonus when the city and district are in the financial situation we face,” Rhee said in an e-mail.’
In Sunday WaPo, Sandhya Somashekhar reports on the financial hopes of local businesspeople now that gay marriage could be legal in the District within months: ‘Six years after Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage and long after same-sex commitment ceremonies have become routine, a robust industry has developed around what many say is a tradition that has special needs. Arlington County-based GayWeddings.com, for example, sells dual groom and dual bride cake tops. Wedding announcements available on Outvite.com include interlocking hearts fashioned to look like the symbol for female. Both Web sites reported an uptick in traffic from Washington area customers in the past few weeks….”We’re all ramping up in anticipation that this is going to be big for the wedding industry here,” said Allison Britton, an Alexandria-based photographer.’
Dennis W. Wiley and Christine Y. Wiley, pastors of Coventant Baptist Church, write WaPo op-ed on how black attitudes toward gay marriage aren’t monolithic: ‘We have seen the resistance that [Yvette Alexander] and Barry were talking about. We know it has deep cultural and historical roots. But we have also seen that this resistance is not stuck in concrete….Last week, two black D.C. Council members voted against the same-sex marriage bill. But five black council members voted for it. Our black mayor signed it on Friday, and our black congressional representative has promised to defend it on Capitol Hill. Although the bill faces the possibility of intervention by Congress, something revolutionary is happening in this city to debunk the notion that the black community’s homophobia is entrenched.’
AP, via WaTimes, looks at recent ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act prohibits federal benefits for gay spouses and domestic partners, and sees implications for gay marriage in D.C.
Examiner reader writes in on gay marriage: ‘Now two men of the same gender can serve openly in the D.C. National Guard as a married couple. Adoption agencies will have to place minor children with cohabitating homosexuals. Churches must now refrain from describing legally sanctioned homosexuality as a sin.’ Not one of those things is true.
The operator who crashed a Metro train last month in a Virginia yard has been fired ‘for failure to follow standard operating procedures,’ Ann Scott Tyson reports in WaPo. ‘Metro sources said the train was moving at 18 mph when it crashed, above the 15 mph limit for rail yards and far faster than the speed operators are supposed to run when approaching parked trains.’ The damage total could reach $36M.
WaPo details likely Metro cuts coming due to budget shortfalls. They include: ‘Eliminate eight-car trains at peak periods….Restructure peak service on the Red Line….Increase the gaps between trains on weeknights and weekends….Reduce the frequency of bus service and eliminate some trips….Reduce the number of bus stops.’
Hold off on those draft campaigns: Ex-mayoral candidate (and, some hope, future mayoral candidate) Marie Johns has taken an Obama administration post, as deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration, WBJ reports. From a statement by Sen. Mary Landrieu: ‘A former business executive, and Howard University board member, Marie brings to the SBA the knowledge and skills necessary to ensure that small businesses in America have the resources to thrive.’
Robert Bobb gets a whole lotta love from WSJ for his work in the Detroit schools: ‘Mr. Bobb is garnering national recognition for rooting out waste, clamping down on corruption and luring hundreds of millions of federal stimulus dollars to the district. He managed to retain hundreds of students this fall who were projected to leave the district, which now has fewer than 85,000 students, about half the size it was a decade ago.’
The District has applied for a $35M federal grant to start an energy-efficiency loan program, Michael Neibauer writes in Examiner. Loans would go ‘to homeowners and commercial property owners for energy-efficiency improvements like new storm windows and doors, solar panels or light fixtures.’
D.C. GOP chair Bob Kabel says in WaPo op-ed that the ‘purity test’ being considered by party leaders is ‘not the way to build the Republican Party.’ He notes Patrick Mara‘s strong at-large council run here in the bluest of blue bailiwicks. ‘If the Republican Party continues on this path, we will not be able to win in traditionally blue places such as the District. Instead, we should focus our energy on identifying candidates like Mara who are articulate and young and can act as ambassadors for the party in areas where it needs to grow.’
New unemployment numbers are in: The District drops a tenth of a point from its record high, to 11.8 percent. Dion Haynes reports in WaPo that the figure, taken with those of the 36 states that also recorded declines, ‘signaled a possible plateau for the highest levels of joblessness in decades.’
Dr. Ehigiator O. Akhigbe, 56, is convicted in federal court of bilking the District out of $133K in Medicaid dollars from 2002 to 2005, WaPo reports, by billing ‘for “invasive surgical procedures” and for “ghost office visits.”‘
Eleanor Holmes Norton does interview with WaPo mag: ‘What do you like best about your job? Fighting and winning for the District….What is your favorite suburb to visit? I need a passport to get to the suburbs, truly. I am a Washington girl, third generation. I shop here, try to have fun here….What is your favorite television show? The show I go to sleep on, old “Law & Order.”‘
ALSO FROM EHN—-From Sunday TV appearance, via Politico: ‘Everyone must understand that the Senate is an undemocratic body. One senator decides matters in the U.S. Senate.’
Vinny Schiraldi appears on NPR’s Tell Me More: ‘I think the data for what we’re doing sort of speaks for itself. I mean, for the facility we ran, which was a dungeon and a nightmare by everybody’s standards. It was called Oak Hill, where rats and cockroaches used to crawl on the kids, and rooms were freezing cold or boiling hot, where it was actually easier to get drugs than on the streets of D.C. What we did was we turned it around and reformed it. And if you look at 2005, versus our most recent recidivism data, 2007, re-arrests from those kids has dropped by 47 percent, right?…So yes, there were definitely things I did, like having a barbecue at my home – which by the way, I thought was a cool thing – and then one kid ran away, and that kid was already on home-pass status. So he could have run away from home that weekend if he wanted to.’
Watergate Hotel deal fell apart due to parking garage squabble, Melissa Castro reports at WBJ.
Federal and local officials kick off hiring for $435M DHS project at St. Elizabeths, Jonathan O’Connell reports at WBJ: ‘The “opportunities trailer” is a temporary structure built on the campus near one of the entrances from Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, between Anacostia and Congress Heights….Inside is a meeting room, space for interviewing candidates and computers for filling out job applications. GSA and Clark officials said the trailer would be open 8 a.m.-5 p.m. for District residents who want to work on what D.C. congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton called the country’s biggest construction project.’
Dennis and Eileen Bakke of Imagine Schools respond in WaPo to Jay Mathews‘ suggestion that some charters need to be closed more swiftly: For one, ‘the very nature of charter schools forces poorly performing ones to shut on their own. Charter school funding comes from the government based on how many students choose to attend the school. If the school performs poorly, parents won’t send their children there, and the school won’t have the funds to operate. Parents, not the government or regulators, are the best evaluator of a quality school.’
Get this: The Metro Silver Line to Dulles will have bathrooms, WaPo reports. Lots of ’em. And you won’t need to ask for a key. ‘But in a design-driven decision that might make some riders and Metro workers jittery, bathrooms in three of the first five stations scheduled to open in 2013 will be outside the fare gates, potentially drawing nonpaying customers.’
Florida media outlets get wise to Kenneth Ellerbe‘s sweet pension deal.
Changes pondered for intersection of Pennsylvania and Potomac Avenues SE. The city’s ‘prospective plans include creating a more open, six-point intersection or rerouting traffic around a central oval or square, similar to Dupont or Scott circles in Northwest D.C.’
The Naval Observatory clock may be down for the count.
Winter officially starts in Washington at 12:47 p.m. today.
Barbara Dixon Simpkins, former DCPS administrator (and mother of NBA forward Dickey Simpkins) is dead at 75.
Peter Craig, an attorney who helped keep expressways from traversing
D.C. neighborhoods, is dead at 81. ‘He also prevented an effort in 1973 to replace McLean Gardens with high-rise condos, a hospital, hotel and offices; forced the city to throw out 9,700 flawed property assessments in 1996; and recently fought unsuccessfully to overturn the District’s method of assessing property taxes.’
D.C. COUNCIL TODAY—-10 a.m.: joint public oversight roundtable on the ‘Contracting Process Related to Parks and Recreation Projects,’ JAWB 500; 2 p.m: Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary roundtable on ‘Continuing Overtime and Pay Problems in the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department,’ JAWB 123.
ADRIAN FENTY TODAY—-No public events scheduled.