Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Washington Post Makes Me Laugh

I pulled out the special Election section of the Washington Post this morning to read this teaser in the bottom right corner:
The District: Vincent Gray was elected mayor in a landslide, while Kwame Brown was chosen to succeed Gray as D.C. Council Chairman. Council races remained too close to call early Tuesday night. A29.

Vincent Gray, Democrat 96%
Carlos Allen, Independent 2%
Can we rewrite that as:
The District: Vincent Gray held off a write-in effort and beat token opposition, while Kwame Brown was chosen to succeed Gray as D.C. Council Chairman. Council races could not be called because many voting precincts remained unreported early Tuesday night. A29.

Vincent Gray, Democrat 74%
Write In 23%

Carlos Allen makes the front page of the Post's election coverage.  Seriously?  His15 minutes of fame should be long over.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why is the DC Board of Elections Incompetent?

It's 9:46pm and I can find out election results at the click of a mouse from as far away as the Dakotas, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas.  But in DC, nearly 3 hours after the polls closed and with what is likely a comparatively minscule turnout, all I get is this:

Election Results not available.

Why is providing timely, accurate results so incredibly difficult for the District?

UPDATE 10:11PM: First results went up at 9:51pm, but just for a few precincts in Wards 1 and 6 for a total count of about 700 votes.  That equates to counting at a rate of 4.1 votes per minute since the polls closed.

UPDATE 10:15PM: A moment ago, the first larger batch of results went online.  Still, zero precincts reporting from Ward 2.  Some results for all other wards.  Thus far, voters chose an elected Attorney General by a 4 to 1 margin.

For an Elected Attorney General

In most states, I'd probably say that there are enough knucklehead politicians running around.  But in the District, I believe it is best to elect our attorney general.

There are good reasons in favor of appoinment.  When it comes to the person who is responsible for overseeing criminal prosecutions, defending the state in civil suits, enforcing government regulations, and suing on behalf of the government, its understandable to seek the best-qualified legal mind for the job.  Gubernatorial (or mayoral) appointment, with Senate (or DC Council) confirmation, can provide for a rigorous selection process and may include folks that would be great for the job, but would not run for office. 

On the other hand, elected Attorney Generals, "AGs", are widely considered "Aspiring Governors." They must delicately balance a need to score political points and a photo op with fair and just enforcement of the law.  That's why some states stick with appointment.

But the District is not like other jurisdictions.  States have a full legislature, governor (and sometimes elected lieutenant governor), county and city governments, and elected district attorneys and sherriffs.  Our city of 600,000 people is essentially governed by just 14 elected officials -- the Mayor and the DC Council.  The city could use more checks and balances, accountability, and oversight.

Moreover, in the Fenty Administration, we had, in a respect, the worst of both worlds.  Attorney General Peter Nickles, while an extremely qualified and able attorney, also viewed his role as defending, personally and politically, the Mayor.  Rather than represent "the city" and its residents, he took sides between the Mayor and the D.C. Council, the Mayor and the DC Auditor, and those who questioned the legality of the Administration's actions - whether it was donating fire trucks to the Dominican Republic or circumventing procurement rules to award lucrative park renovation contracts to friends of the mayor.  The result is that we had a highly political AG that we did not elect.

Some have suggested that electing an attorney general brings us closer to Home Rule and statehood.  Maybe, but that's not my reason for voting FOR the ballot initiative.  It's a matter of having more checks and balances and accountability in DC government. 

Putting some fire under the AG could also result in some policy changes.  Is there any doubt that an elected attorney general would not stand by while youths who have committed crimes are quickly released back into the public to commit more violence?  Who will be the next DYRS "ward of the state" to make headlines?

One of my neighbors received a robocall identified identified as on behalf of "black churches" asking that he vote "NO" to the ballot initiative for an elected attorney general.  Those behind the robocalls are likely supporters of Vince Gray who do not want his power diminished by creating an independent attorney general.  Yes, electing an attorney general will reduce the mayor's power, just as eliminating the authority of the elected school board increased the mayor's control. 

In this case, the best choice is for an elected attorney general.

Friday, October 29, 2010

No Exit

The Examiner reports that although the Foggy Bottom metro station is the 8th busiest in the system and handles more passengers per day than Baltimore's light rail system, there are no plans to add a second extrance to the station.  Meanwhile, just across the water and one stop away on the blue/orange line, workers are installing a second entrance at the Rossyln station, which has less than half the daily use of Foggy Bottom.

Why?  Virginia and Rosslyn area developers are paying for the new entrance at Rosslyn.  The District and George Washington University, which is in the midst of a massive project just above the metro, are not.  Given GWU's ownership of such an immense area, its increases in student enrollment, its hospital patients, and its substantial development plans, I'm left wondering why it was not required to do invest in increasing the capacity and convenience of the station as a condition of approval of the project?

Any thoughts from Foggy Bottom / West End residents?  Is there a downside to promoting metro use in the neighborhood?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Killed Professor's Car Turns Up in Shaw With Ward of DC

It is not long since Shaw Middle School Principal Brian Betts was killed by three individuals that should have been incarcerated, but were not, because of the District's lax policies regarding youth offenders and lack of capacity to hold them. 

Now, the media is reporting that a man driving the car of the American University accounting professor Sue Ann Marcum, after a brief chase with police, crashed into a lamppost three blocks from my house at the busy intersection of New Jersey and M Streets / New York Avenue NW near the I-395 tunnel.  Ms. Marcum was found dead in her Glen Echo home.  

Deandrew Hamlin, the driver, recently turned 18.  He is a ward of the District's Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.  So far, it has been revealed that Hamlin had previous arrests for car theft and destruction of property.  I expect more of his criminal record will come to light over the next several days.

According to The Examiner, "It was not immediately clear whether Hamlin had absconded from juvenile detention, or had been placed in a residential facility as part of his rehabilitation. A DYRS spokesman declined to comment on Hamlin." 

As of this time, Hamlin has been charged with driving the stolen auto, but not with the burglary or murder.

Coverage: Washington Examiner, Washington Times, Washington Post

Friday, October 22, 2010

"No viable public use" for Franklin School

Today's Washington Business Journal [subscription only] highlights the ongoing saga of the disposition of the Franklin School building. 

Jose Sousa, a project manager with the deputy mayor for planning and economic development’s office is quoted as saying, “It is our belief there is no viable public use for that space.” 

Thus, the D.C. Council Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development will hold a public hearing on November 18 as it considers whether to declare the 150-year old historic building "surplus."  If approved, the District will likely enter a 99-year lease with Brooklandville, Md.-based Cana Development, which will turn the building into a boutique hotel and restaurant.

The Coalition of Franklin School, however, believes there are many viable educational uses for the Franklin School - but they have not be adequately sought and vetted.

The problem is that the District, as owner of the building, has allowed it to deteriorate for decades.  When built by famous architect Adolf Cluss 150 years ago, it was a model public school that was looked to for inspiration not just within the United States, but internationally.  After later serving as the District's Department of Education, and as a vocational education center, it was left vacant, then turned into a homeless shelter.  It has remained empty again since Mayor Fenty cleared it out in 2008.

Estimates are that it will take $35 million to bring the building back up to par.  The District has not made a commitment to renovate the building for an educational use.  Nor does it appear to have vetted potential uses with D.C. Public Schools, the Charter School Board, the University of the District of Columbia, or others.  Yet, it puts out RFP's and, receiving no proposals to take on a lease without a commitment from the city to make the building habitable, finds that there is "no viable public use."

Here's just a few viable public uses for the Franklin School:
  • A gifted-and-talented middle or high school, so that parents of high-achieving students have options other than sending their children to private school or leaving the District.
  • A downtown campus for UDC's new community college system or a new facility for its law school.
  • A home to one or more charter schools that are seeking space.
  • A public high school for Ward 2-area residents (many of whom currently treck up to Wilson High School in Tenleytown), particularly given the growing residential population of downtown.
  • A space for nonprofits providing job training and career services programs.
  • A facility for teacher training and continuing education.
  • Flex space for lectures, conferences, exhibits, performances, and meetings, similar to the use of the Sumner School near Dupont Circle.
Others would rather see the prime-location property turned into a money-maker for the city, rather than the city invest in improving it.  “There’s only one bidder and that is a hotel, and if that’s the only prospect then that is what I want to see,” said D.C. Councilman Jack Evans, D-Ward 2, who represents the Franklin School neighborhood. “I would like to see Franklin return to the tax rolls.” 

That's certainly an enticing position, particularly in this economic climate.  But the better long-term solution is to identify a best educational use for the Franklin School and invest, perhaps from District's School Modernization Fund, to make it a model for the 21st Century.

The public hearing on surplusing the Franklin School will be held on Thursday, November 18, 2010, 6:30pm, at Thomson Elementary School (large meeting room in basement), 1200 L Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.  Contact persons on this project are Jared Kahn (202) 213-9215 and Nimita Shah (202) 215-3650.  You can sign up to testify against the proposed surplusing here.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thorpe at it Again: Campaign Literature Theft?

Early this morning, a neighborhood resident "witnessed Leroy Thorpe going from house to house on the western side of New Jersey Avenue removing the anti-Thorpe leaflets" and snapped the fuzzy photograph above with his cell phone camera.  "As the photo shows, Mr. Thorpe was entering people's yards to see if they had a pamplet and if they did he took it and crumpled it up," the resident wrote.  The resident observed that "by 8am, [Mr. Thorpe] switched to a bicycle and was on the 1600 block of 6th St."  "At least he's getting his exercise this morning." 

The seized literature is along the lines of this website, which has been up for some time (and also subject to a Thorpe lawsuit), but was recently updated.

As the resident observed, while the literature may not be "flattering" and could be considered in bad taste, it is not slanderous, as it states factual information and is in the context of a contested political election.  The photograph follows reports of incumbent ANC Commissioner Kevin Chapple's campaign signs mysteriously disappearing from the neighborhood.

Leroy Thorpe doesn't take no for an answer.  The notorious former Shaw ANC Commissioner was outsted in 2006 and lost a bid to reclaim his seat in 2008.  He is running again this year. 

Along the way, Thorpe sued Martin Moulton, who founded the Convention Center Community Association as an welcome alternative forum to Thorpe's East Central Civil Association.  Thorpe's suit was ultimately dismissed with prejudice.  He was recently arrested and convicted of filing a false police report after calling 911 to report Moulton, by delivering neighborhood newsletters on his block, was violating a nonexistent stay-away order related to the civil suit.

Last night, the Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association hosted a candidates' forum for the Advisory Neighborhood Commission single member districts that fall within the group's boundaries.  Challengers for two ANC 2C seats, Rochelle Nigro (running for the position held by Theresa Sule) and Rickey Williams (running for the position held by Doris Brooks), attended.  The incumbents were invited, but did not attend.  Should Nigro and Williams join Commissioners Kevin Chapple and Alexander Padro, the area (which includes parts of Penn Quarter/Chinatown, and Mount Vernon Square/Triangle, as well as Shaw) may finally have the professional, competent representation that residents deserve.

Evans on Shiloh Tax Abatement; Explanation Doesn't Alter Neighborhood Opposition

UPDATE: At 4:30PM today, Councilmember Jack Evans sent the following message to the community: "In light of the community opposition to the legislation regarding the Shiloh Baptist Church’s properties, I have withdrawn the legislation and contacted Rev. Wallace Smith, Pastor of Shiloh, of such."  Our thanks to Councilmember Evans for listening and taking appropriate action. 

* * *

Yesterday, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans explained his proposal, discussed on this blog, to provide a substantial tax abatement to Shiloh Baptist Church, which owns many blighted properties in the Shaw neighborhood that have been a source of frustration to residents for decades.  Evans explained:
Brian - thank you for writing about Bill 18-1045, the “Shiloh Baptist Church Property Redevelopment Act of 2010.” Shiloh Baptist Church, (Shiloh), owns Lots 820, 821, 822, 824, and 825 in Squares 365, Lot 20 in Square 396; Lot 31 in Square 397 and Lot 46 in Square 421 in Shaw. These properties have been classified at Class 3, Vacant Properties. Currently, Shiloh owes $57,222 (Lot 820); $55,963 (Lot 821); $66,372 (Lot 822); $43,302 (Lot 824); and $58,306 (Lot 825), a total of $281,165 in property taxes on these properties.

The purpose of the legislation is to explore the idea of having monies owed by Shiloh put into escrow and used to renovate the properties rather than paying the money to the District Government. If Shiloh does not renovate the properties in a time period to be determined, the monies would go to the District.

I was approached by the leadership of Shiloh about this issue last year. I asked Commissioner Alex Padro to convene some neighbors for discussions with representatives of Shiloh. I want to thank them for the many hours they gave to these discussions. Several good ideas came out of these meetings. The legislation has been assigned to my Committee and I intend to hold hearings to solicit further neighborhood input. At that point, I will decide which direction to take. 

Evans' e-mail did little to ease opposition from Shaw residents.

Brian Smith, to whose email Evans responded, had tried to keep an open mind, but "drastically changed [his] feelings on this scheme," stating that he "100 percent oppose[s] any legislation or proposal that would give Shiloh any escrow agreement, break or "deal" on taxes that they owe and have owed for years."  "Currently the District government is roughly 180 million in the hole...correct?" Smith wrote.  "DCRA has been "unable" to collect over $180 million in delinquent property taxes . . . . How would some sort of "escrow" be administered?  Considering the track record of DCRA and the Government as a whole I just do not see that this could be done in any way, shape or form giving Shiloh yet again another gift on a property that the District has ALREADY GIVEN THEM MONEY TO DEVELOP!!!"

"Let me see if I got this right," said David Smith, who serves as an officer of the Convention Center Community Association.  "I own multiple properties--mostly adjacent to each other--which for decades I have kept vacant and allowed to deteriorate into derelict magnets for vagrants and vermin," said Smith in an e-mail to Evans.  Smith continued, "Over the years I make various promises to renovate the buildings, but never deliver on any of them. I accumulate a very large property tax bill because the District government finally applies the appropriate classification to these blighted properties.  But instead of making me pay the taxes, the District Government then offers to reward my bad stewardship by letting me keep the tax money I owe them if I promise to do some renovations on the properties which will remain in my hands. And then, since I'm a church--assuming I actually do the renovations--I can claim that the properties are being used for religious purposes, which means I may never have to pay property taxes on them again.  Wow--I'd say that's a pretty good gift to the worst slumlord in Shaw."

"Jack, This seems like another plan to keep running out the clock on Shiloh's part.. .your email says they approached you last year so that's at least ten months and now you're going to explore this proposal with the community?" questioned Bob Carroll.  "I can save you some time....enforce the laws we all allegedly live under and tell Silo to pay their tax bills.  From what I understand DC could use the cash."

"This is ridiculous!" exclaimed Carmen Gilotte in an e-mail to Evans.  "Good ideas?  Reward Shiloh's irresponsible behavior YET AGAIN?  Why should this church get any more tax breaks?  Why? They are slumlords, they have held the community hostage, and they keep getting help from our leaders to thwart their responsibilities to the law, the community and the city.  Stop the insanity!  Make them pay what they owe!"

CCCA President Martin Moulton has also chimed in, noting other Shaw churches, such as First Rising Mount Zion Baptist Church and Asbury United Methodist Church, have substantial property holdings and have completed major projects without imposing a burden on the community or seeking special tax abatements.  "These churches -- unlike Shiloh -- have creatively made dreams a reality and with hard work and commitment shrewdly found ways to make the impossible possible," said Moulton.  "Once Shiloh pays its appropriate taxes, I believe the District government should do everything reasonable to to assist Shiloh in making the 1500 b/o 9th Street a dynamic part of a critical area in the heart of the nation's capital."

Monday, October 18, 2010

Evans Promises Slumlord $100,000 Tax Break

According to an article in the Washington Business Journal, Councilmember Jack Evans (Ward 2) has proposed that the city tax a strip of vacant properties owned by Shiloh Baptist Church along the long-neglected Ninth Street corridor in Shaw as if they were occupied, a move that would save the church about $100,000 each year.

The brief history is that Shiloh has left these properties vacant for decades, severely damaging the recovery of the area just west of the Convention Center.  Numerous promises were made of grand plans for senior centers and housing.  For years, the church evaded the city's vacant property tax, which attempts to shift the cost of such nuisances from the community that deals with the increased vagrancy, drugs, public urination and defecation, public drinking, trash, rats, and dumping that results (and to which the Shiloh properties are prime examples) to the owner.

In the face of complaints from residents who felt the impact of the derelict properties on their safety and quality of life, the city finally imposed the higher tax rate.  In addition, in 2007, the Fenty Administration stepped up and condemned several of the properties.

In the ultimate snub, however, Shiloh then obtained from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) an exemption from the higher tax on the basis of work permits obtained to make the minor repairs necessary to abate the condemnation order (even though the law clearly says that the permits must be for work to make the property fit for occupancy).  Residents went ballistic and Shiloh's properties were reclassified as vacant, subject to the higher tax.  The city, however, let the church off the hook for the approximately $100,000 in additional taxes the church would have paid that year at the higher rate.

Good fortune again intervened for Shiloh in 2009.  Before the church got hit with the higher rate, the D.C. Council repealed the vacant property tax.  Shiloh still risked paying the new "blighted" property tax.

On October 1, thanks to Councilwoman Muriel Bowser, a revived higher tax rate for vacant property went into effect, leaving Shiloh subject to five times the residential tax rate.

The higher property tax appears to have finally provided the long-needed incentive for Shiloh to sell off two of its vacant houses and develop several others into office space for nonprofits and senior housing.  Evans' proposal to reward the church with hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax breaks, at a time in which the city is cash-starved, is fiscally irresponsible and sends precisely the wrong message to slum property owners.

Resident reaction to the proposed tax abatement was angry and swift:
"An owner is supposed to get a pass if they have a valid permit or pending zoning application. This owner should not get any special treatment especially given their 30 year slumbanking history."

"I would be supportive of this IF it was done in a manner that it was a carrot for taking action NOT done before the project began."

"The neighborhood conceded angle parking on Sunday with promises of fixing up their properties -- and that was when people were living in some of them. You have to be kidding yourself that a hefty tax abatement will make them move any faster or in any way whatsoever toward ameliorating their decayed properties."

"Shiloh has no intention of ever rebuilding. They game the city and the pols and get whatever they want while everyone else gets screwed over."
Exempt Shiloh's properties from the vacant property tax when they are no longer vacant.  That's an exemption the community can fully support.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bogus Charge?: Thomas Accused of Running Fake Nonprofit

Today's Washington Post includes reports on the back of the Metro page that Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas has been accused of his Republican opponent of running a fake nonprofit, Team Thomas/SwingAway LLC, for his own "slush fund."

I'm no fan of Harry Thomas, but these charges by Tim Day, an accountant who is challenging Thomas in the Nov. 2 general election, strike me as supreme B.S.  Day's evidence:
  • Thomas's organization is not registered as a 501(c)(3) with the IRS.  As an accountant, Day should probably not make the common error of confusing a nonprofit with a 501(c)(3).  "Nonprofit" is just a type of incorporation, which is registered with a state/DC government.  Nonprofits are not necessarily 501(c)(3)s, to which individuals can make tax deductible donations.  To become a 501(c)(3), a nonprofit must go through what can be a lengthy process with the IRS and agree to certain restrictions and reporting requirements.
  • Thomas's organization has not disclosed who donated to the organization and how the money has been spent.  So what?  Nonprofit organizations, like for-profit companies, have no obligation to publish their financial records to the world.  As a 501(c)(3), the organization would have to provide limited information in public filings, including how much was raised (but not the identity of donors), the salaries of top employees, and payments to largest contractors.  But Thomas's organization is not a 501(c)(3).
  • Thomas's organization is not in good standing with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.  Join the club.  There are lots of small nonprofits organizations, that largely rely on volunteers, who overlook submitting paperwork and later correct it.  It's not as a crime.
  • And just to throw it in -- Day makes an unrelated accusation that Thomas's wife worked on his campaign and received a $4,500 fee as a consultant.  Another big "so what," particularly if she provided services to the campaign designing leaflets and brochure or otherwise.  It may be poor judgment to pay family members from campaign funds, but I'm missing the illegality or corruption.
Well, I guess Mr. Day got his day in the Post.  But his charges seem to hardly warrant even a back-page story.  A blog post... maybe.

City Workers Used On Campaigns

Below is an e-mail disseminated to neighborhood e-mail distribution lists by Joe Martin, a former Ward Service Coordinator for Mayor Adrian Fenty (and an excellent one, I might add).  Until recently, Joe continued to work in the Fenty Administration.  He serves as Chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4C in Petworth and is currently running for reelection.  Joe alleges widespread violations of the Hatch Act, which significantly restricts involvement of federal (and city) civil servants in political campaigns.

How large of a problem is this -- are these types of violations just a fact or life in the political world?  Federal workers -- would this happen in your agencies?

From: Joseph Martin
Subject: City Workers Being Used On Campaigns
Date: Thursday, October 14, 2010, 10:42 AM

I hope after the election the Hatch Act can be thoroughly revisited, vetted by the public and that we can find a better way to do things here in the District of Columbia.

The Federal Hatch Act covers DC government workers (in addition to federal workers).

While employees of the Executive Office of the Mayor were instructed by the Mayor's Ethics Attorney on how to follow the letter of the law, my interpretation of those sessions was that there was somewhat of a wink-wink, nod-nod element that I did not like at all. A variation of...

Never write when you can speak, never speak when you can nod, never nod when you can wink.

I know for fact that there were cases where staffers were called at 1:00 pm while sitting at their city-government desks and told that they needed to put in for leave immediately "do visibility" for "Emerald City" -- code for the Fenty Re-Election Campaign.

Tracy Sandler, executive director of Serve DC, said at one weekly staff meeting early in the summer, "I am waiting for everyone's leave slips." My interpretation of that might be different from others. This request was repeated in other weekly meetings.

Fun Fact: By her own admission at a staff meeting in early July, she acknowledged to me after I asked that she still is in places the voice of Barbie. Some of my coworkers referred to Tracy as "Barbie." I asked why.

"Do you want to hear my favorite line!" She exclaimed in front of all of us at that early, July staff meeting:

"Sometimes a girl's just got to wear a tiara!" 

Calls came in to Serve DC staffers, registered Republicans in three cases, at their desks during the work day asking them to work on the campaign. "We are not even Democrats and they want us to work on the Democratic primary."

Days before the Ward 4 straw poll, Sarah Latterner of EOM calling from her office in the Wilson Building and emailed me via government email demanding that I come up with a list of what the Mayor accomplished in Ward 4.

"You know what it's for," don't you?," she asked on the phone that morning.

"Your diary?," I replied.

"How soon can you get it to me? We need it now. We don't have any institutional knowledge left downtown. We're relying on you to help."

Weeks before that, Sinclair Skinner passed word through someone to me, "We need Joe's help in Ward 2."

I heard via private text messages that questions lingered about whether or not I was a "team player" (Team Fenty). I posted about this item weeks ago when I got a text message from ANC 4D Commissioner Bill Quirk asking me if it was true that I had been seen talking to Vincent Gray at a block party two blocks from my house. I know an Office of Aging employee who told me that she, too, received a text asserting that she was seen talking to Vincent Gray on Connecticut Avenue.

Before the Ward 4 straw poll the calls to me were intense, Terry Lynch of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations called me on my personal cell while I am sitting at my desk: "Are you forgetting what Mayor Fenty has done for this city!! You need to call me, Joe."

There were a few days where I put my two-year-old iPhone on "airplane mode" at my desk to block all calls so that I could attempt to focus on work at Serve DC in the Reeves Center.

As things looked grim heading towards the primary, I asked one Serve DC coworker how her weekend went.

"I didn't have a weekend. I volunteered for Emerald City, knocking on doors of registered Republicans in the Palisades asking them to switch their party affiliation so that they could vote for the Mayor in the primary."

Around the same time when I took a quick, weekday lunch at Busboys and Poets, Councilmember Jim Graham asked me as I was leaving, "Why aren't you out on the streets helping your boss?" I was with a city agency worker, a close friend, and his son. My reply to Mr. Graham, "You do know that I have work to do for my day job across the street in the Reeves Center, don't you?," as I nodded across the street towards the Reeves Center.

I told my city-agency friend who also disappeared from his job to work for Emerald City that I was more forgiving of people like him working on the campaign, taking last minute leave. "You have small children to feed. I know that. So does Team Fenty."

A friend who used to work in the Wilson Building for another City Councilmember remarked at lunch the day after I received Bill Quirk's text message, "The whole Wilson Building is a Hatch Act violation."

This needs to stop.

It seems incredibly disingenuous for those who effectively are signing your paychecks to ask you to "volunteer" on their campaigns.

According to one friend who had business friends who received the emails, Sarah Lasner, former deputy chief of staff who served as a key figure on Team Fenty, sent an email to business people telling them to take the week off before the September primary to "volunteer" on the campaign. She added something to the effect of redefining the word "volunteer" for them.

I often wondered what the result would be if there was some secret way of asking all incumbents' staffs whether or not they would be working or "volunteering" on a given campaign if they did not feel as if their jobs depended on it.

If your boss who signs your paycheck asks you to "volunteer" on her/his campaign, how does that make you feel? Where are the ethics in that?

If I seemed very stressed out this summer to a lot of my friends and neighbors, this is a hint of why.

I would like to see this system stopped. Am I a fool to think it's possible?

My oldest brother in Rhode Island snorts when I talk about this. "What were you expecting? This is city government.

It happens everywhere." I would joke back, "I still don't think it's asking too much to expect someday that the DC government will work with the efficiency and professionalism of FedEx or UPS, the entire government." If my brother had been texting instead of talking to me on the phone, I probably would have looked at my screen to read: LOL!!! LMAO!

My brother refuses to text.

"If I need to communicate with someone, I pick up the phone and call them."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Noxious Burgers?

A D.C. Superior Court judge ruled the popular Dupont Circle eatery Rogue States a nuisance on Tuesday and ordered it to stop grilling hamburgers after an eight-month dispute with a neighboring law firm over its "intense and noxious odor."

Read more:

Has anyone been to this place?  What's the deal?

Fortunately, a Crumbs Bake Shop will soon be opening under my office window.  I may sue for cupcakes.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Give Us Our Parks, Please

The Washington CityPaper was not allowed to take a photo of this semi-"classified" map indicating what green spaces in the District are owned and controlled by the feds.  I once had one -- here's a photo of the portion of the map showing the downtown area.  Green indicates federal land.
Lydia DePillis has a post on Housing Complex on the numerous green spaces owned and controlled by the feds throughout the District of Columbia:
Today, the Park Service owns 6,776 acres of the District. The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation has another 841 acres, making D.C. the nation’s second greenest high-density city, just barely behind New York. The Park Service’s land is broken up into 637 separate “reservations,” 425 of which are smaller than one acre. While some have monuments and playground equipment, most are blank and empty, visited weekly by maintenance crews—and otherwise ignored by the feds, who don’t even have the money needed to keep the Mall in decent shape.
It's time that all of the National Park Service transfer the smaller parks - from the circles and squares down to the "pocket park" reservations - to the District.  Three reasons why...
  • Home Rule.  If we are going to ever have full home rule, as a state or otherwise, then the District has to take responsibility for its green spaces.  Now, if you've got a problem with a federal park, you can call Eleanor Holmes Norton's office, but the National Park Service is overseen by a Congressman from Arizona and a Senator from Colorado (at least the current Director of NPS is a Virginia native).  Yes, there's a cost to maintaining the land, but that's what states do.  Large green areas, such as the mall, Roosevelt Island, Rock Creek Park would remain federal parks.
  • Community Use and Planning.  It's very difficult to hold any type of event on federally controlled land.  While one can easily have a festival, outdoor movie night, or block party type event on DC Department of Parks and Recreation land, federal parks do not serve the community.  In addition, it's a challenge to make repairs or improvements.  Whether it is installing additional lighting at a pocket park, painting benches or planting flowers in Dupont Circle, or renovating the triangle at 6th and I with a Chinese-themed design... don't hold your breath.  Artists who offer to install public art, such as a sculpture, in a park, are limited to DPR properties. The federal ones remain barren and largely unused.
  • Public Safety.  U.S. Park Police have primary jurisdiction and responsibility for federal park lands.  They have a hard enough time covering terrorist threats at the National Mall.  How can they be stretched to effectively deal with drunkards in Logan Circle or prostitution in some tiny triangle park in Mount Vernon Square?  MPD has shared jurisdiction, but (and I've heard different things from officers over they years), they generally will not patrol federal parks unless called in on an emergency or they happen to observe a crime.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Are the votes in?

It's now coming up on 20 hours since the polls closed and the winners declared... but I'm still left wondering, how close are we to a final count?

Are all of the precincts finally in?  As of this morning, 13 of the 141 precincts had not reported their results.  That could be 20,000 or more uncounted votes.

Then there are the 22,000 voters who took advantage of the opportunity to vote early.  That includes me.  Those votes are apparently not counted until after the election day total is finished.

Next, there are an unknown number of absentee ballots.  Including those votes in the final tally typically takes several days.

Finally, there are an unknown number of provisional ballots cast under the new same-day registration process.

The current result in the mayoral race is based on votes cast of 107,257 voters.  It would seem that there could be as many as 50,000 uncounted votes out there.  That's substantial. 

The Board of Elections and Ethics just announced that they will give a status report in ten minutes.  Perhaps they will provide some answers as to what is counted, what is not, and when the outstanding votes will be included. 

It may not change any of the outcomes, but it would be nice to know that the "every vote counts" drilled into us means something.   It's frustrating to see an election declared when your ballot is sitting in a box (or computer hard drive or memory cartridge) somewhere.

UPDATE: At 6:13pm, the Board of Elections added about 12,500 more votes to the count, widening Gray's margin to nearly 10%.

Why Fenty Lost: He Embarrassed Us

I've read my share or pre- and postmortems of Adrian Fenty's single term.

Some, such as DC Watch, say its because he didn't listen to civic activists. Others suggest it was because he was arrogant, "a jerk," or disrespected old black ladies.  Many play up a growing racial divide in the city, suggesting Fenty was more concerned about smart transit, dog parks, and development than critical needs in struggling neighborhoods. Or that he didn't appoint enough African Americans to cabinet-level positions. Then there's the Rhee factor - with polls suggesting that she lost as many votes as she gained.

Relying on paid canvassers and staff, rather than the critical grassroots energy that propelled him into office, didn't help.

There's a grain or more of truth to each of those reasons. Some are more valid than others. I have a different theory, however. And I say this as a supporter...

He embarrassed us.

For years, District resident had to go into work each morning and face the inevitable question from their suburban coworkers. It also came up on the weekend phone conversations with family. "What is up with DC?"

With bow-tie Anthony Williams in office, residents had nearly eight-year respite.  Aside from Marion Barry rejoining the Council, there wasn't a whole lot of drama.  The mechanics of government were perfectly uneventful. We liked and got used to it. 

But lately, we've had a lot of 'splaining to do again.
How is it the Chancellor and Chief Financial Officer don't agree on how much is in the schools' budget before she enters into a new contract with the teachers?  Why would the city fire hundreds of teachers a few weeks into a school year?  Oh, because they have sex with their students.

The Mayor and D.C. Council are fighting over free baseball tickets after spending millions on a new stadium. Really?

The D.C. Attorney General is refusing to disclose records to the D.C. Auditor (same last name spelled differently). What's he hiding?  Contempt?

The city massively over spent on the summer jobs program, but the Mayor wants to expand it again? And in this economy?  And what the heck are 20,000 kids getting paid to do anyway?

Why is one nonprofit group, Peaceoholics, getting paid millions in public grants to stop violence that hasn't stopped and not expected to document any results?  And how is the founder of that 501(c)(3) taking such an active role in the campaign?  You know, Ron Moten, the guy who helped donate the DC fire engine to the Dominican Republic.  Why doesn't Fenty cut him off already?

60 beds for the entire male youth offender population of the city?  No wonder kids are running around shooting and getting shot.

Why is a very able Attorney General, the public official who is supposed to represent the entire city in court, repeatedly sound like the mayor's criminal defense lawyer, personal counsel, spokesperson, and political attack dog?  And does he really live in DC?

He put running buddies up for appointment to boards and commissions?

What's this about transferring millions from the Parks to Housing departments to avoid procurement rules, giving contracts to renovate parks to frat buddies turned developers, and firing officials who raise questions?

Why don't executive branch officials just show up for Council hearings as expected?

How come he just keeps doing it... despite all the questions, critical media coverage, op-eds, and concerns raised by those who supported him?
The election is over, but those questions from coworkers, friends, and family are not.

For the next several months, expect a new one. "What happened to that Adrian Fenty?"

And I'll be asking myself, how could he dash our hopes?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Election Day: Still Undecided?

Still undecided?  Here's my picks and the endorsements of some of the local papers.  Click the name to pull up the full endorsement.  

My Picks

Ward 1

Ward 3

Ward 5

Ward 6

U.S. Congress

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ward Endorsements

Ward 1 - Jim Graham.  When something happens Ward 1, Graham is there.  Some call his quickness in front of the camera, "Grahamstanding," but I believe that he is out front-and-center because he keeps his ear close to the ground. He's strong on quality-of-life issues and crime in a very diverse ward.  Neighborhoods in his ward are undergoing unprecedented development, but he has not lost sight of issues such as affordable housing.  He's survived his chief-of-staff's arrest for bribery -- if he was implicated, it would have come out by now.  Graham makes occasional mistakes, such as his fight against the jumbo slice, but overall this is a Councilmember Ward 1 is fortunate to have.  Voters should choose Graham over his challengers.

Ward 3 - Mary Cheh.  Cheh is unopposed in her bid for a second term and that's not without reason.  My former law professor has been a strong voice on the Council, standing as a needed balance in separating law from politics that spout from D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles.  Cheh has her issues -- election reform, the environment, animal protection, healthy food in schools -- some may find her pet issues too much to chew.  But she has also tried to address issues ranging from nuisance properties to noise control.  While she is unopposed, Ward 3 residents should check the box (or push touchscreen) for Cheh. 

Ward 5 - Not Harry Thomas.  Harry Thomas brags about his record of legislative accomplishment.  I have yet to see it.  I can't place my finger on anything positive from him.  I can point to some of the damage.  Giving out earmarks to favored organizations even after the Council declared them no more. Attacking a neighborhood newsletter for criticizing him.  He opposed strong anti-gang measures, even as he represents war-torn Trinidad.  He and his staff have been absent in numerous meetings to plan future libraries and parks in my neighborhood, despite serving as chair of the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation.  In that position, he presided over the embarrassing and offensive nomination hearing of Ximena Hartsock to lead the Department of Parks and Recreation, a hearing at which her qualifications were questioned on account of her citizenship (she's Chilean).  His car even got booted for all his unpaid parking tickets. The Washington Post called Thomas "a major disappointment." Ward 5 residents have several better choices - Kenyan McDuffie, Delano Hunter, and Tracey D. Turner.  The Post endorsed Hunter, a community organizer with Brookland Manor, who it called "an engaging newcomer who is running a grass-roots campaign."

Ward 6 - Tommy Wells Tommy Wells has his slogan -- a livable, walkable community. Some downplay his focus on smart transit, bike lanes, streetcars, noise control, park improvements, and pedestrian safety -- but Wells is building the infrastructure that makes the District an even better place to live, work, and play everyday.  A former social worker, Wells' is closely tracking and seeking solutions to address our juvenile crime problem.  The down-to-earth Councilmember, who can be seen riding to work and meetings on his bike, is responsive to his constituents in a ward that spans all four quadrants of the city.  He faces opposition as he seeks a second term.  Support Wells.

Service Request Response Times Down, Study Says

A recent study shows a continuing decline in response time for service requests throughout the city's neighborhoods.  Chart: The Money Cage.
Daniel Hopkins discusses an ongoing study by Georgetown Ph.D. student Lindsay Pettingill, who tracked over 1.5 million service requests placed through D.C.’s 311 hotline between 2000 and 2009. [Also NBC].

The numbers are encouraging.  They show that the Fenty Administration has continued the substantial progress of Mayor Anthony Williams in lowering response times to requests ranging from streetlight and pothole repair to illegal dumping to unpermitted construction.  Ms. Pettingill's study, which is not aligned with any mayoral campaign, also appears to uproot the notion that wealthy areas of the city get more attention from the current Administration than less affluent areas.

I'd like to look more closely at the study, its methodology, and its results, and have requested that Ms. Pettingill make it available to the public.  For instance, it is not apparent from the post whether online service requests were considered in addition to 311 calls.  The study is also likely to have inherent limitations.  For example, designation of a service request as "closed" within a shorter period of time does not necessarily mean the issue was actually and effectively resolved.  In some instances, it may just indicate than an inspector visited the site and either (correctly or incorrectly) concluded that no action was warranted or referred the matter to another agency or a contractor to perform the work, which could take several additional weeks.  Thus, resolution time (as opposed to a mere response) is likely a bit longer. 

Limitations and outstanding questions aside, the independent study's use of empirical data to confirm the substantial and continuing improvement in the delivery of government services, citywide, over the past decade is reassuring.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

For DC Council At-Large: Clark Ray

On September 14, residents across the city will vote for an at-large member of the D.C. Council.  I support Clark Ray in his challenge to 12-year incumbent Phil Mendelson.

Why Clark Ray?  I've known Clark since his time as a service coordinator for Mayor Anthony Williams.  He continued on to head Mayor Adrian Fenty's Office of Community Relations and then the Department of Parks and Recreation.  I've interacted with him at each of these levels and found him responsive and action-oriented, whether it is fixing street lights or building parks.  His experience as a reserve police officer and training as a teacher add to his credentials.

Mendelson is, in my view, one of the most honest and down-to-earth members of the Council.  He's generally doesn't put on political shows or appear to have aspirations for some higher office.  He's raised questions where questions need to be raised. 

But while Mendelson's deliberative nature may be a strength in some areas, it's a dangerous fault for us when it comes to dealing with crime.  Mendelson, who chairs the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, has never met a strong crime bill that he's liked.  Such bills repeatedly stall before his committee.  Promises to "look into" anti-gang measures amount to naught.  The obvious, serious problems with our juvenile justice system, including the lack of capacity and revolving door for juvenile offenders, occurred on his watch.

Mendelson also does not seem to have much drive left -- after a lackluster campaign, he's losing to a "shadow" - Michael D. Brown - the District's Shadow Senator, who many have confused with current at-large Councilmember Michael A. Brown.  Polls show that name confusion has given Mike D., who has raised no money and done little campaigning, a significant lead over both Mendelson and Ray. Should Brown get elected, he will have indeed fulfilled his campaign promise to bring the District's lack of voting representation to the forefront -- and perhaps dealt it its greatest setback as DC becomes the laughing stock of the nation.

Council positions were not meant to be lifetime appointments.  New blood and energy would serve us well. Clark Ray is qualified, responsive, and ready to go to work.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

For Council Chair: Kwame Brown

Kwame Brown with ANC 2B Commissioner Mike Silverstein.  When the city closed down P Street for road construction, stifling small businesses in Dupont Circle, Brown helped provide relief.  Photo: Kwame Brown for Chair 2010.
It's easy for an at-large Councilmember to fall out of touch.  You've got an entire city to represent.  Each diverse neighborhood has its own set of issues and goals.  But Kwame Brown has managed to bridge the gap.

The first rule of politics is showing up.  In my decade or so involved in the community, I cannot think of another at-large member who does such a good job of it.  Brown's visibility and likability are the reasons he will be elected to the second highest position in the District of Columbia.

But it's not the only reason.  Brown's focus on job training, restoring vocational education programs, expanding the District's community college, and supporting small businesses is precisely what the District needs in its #2 leader.  There are citywide issues that demand attention from a citywide leader. 

Brown and his staff are also responsive when it comes to individual concerns.  In my experience, he and his staff are quick to lend a hand to address individual community concerns.  He's also been strong on cleaning up nuisance properties and putting them back into productive use.  He's a champion against domestic violence.

I've seen a lot of Brown's opponent too, Vincent Orange.  The problem is that the only place I've seen Orange is on lampposts -- his signs barely came down for from his abysmal run for mayor in 2006 where he received an whopping 2.9% of the vote before his green and orange "DC Chairman" signs went up.  After the 2006 election, Orange did a stint as a lobbyist for Pepco.  This is a guy who declared himself a staunch opponent of gay marriage, then denied it when he was considering running for Council Chairperson, and then became a staunch supporter of gay marriage when declared his candidacy.  Really?

It's a choice between apples and Oranges.  I'll go with the apples.  Vote Kwame Brown for Chairperson on September 14.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Not Funny: Brown Poised to Win At-Large Race

You apparently have to be brown to get elected to citywide office in the District of Columbia.  Literally.

When Michael D. Brown, the District's little-known "Shadow Senator," won a straw poll for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council recently, I thought it was a fluke.  It had to be.  But today the Washington Post reports that polling shows Brown with a decisive lead over 12-year incumbent Councilmember Phil Mendelson and his primary challenger, former Parks and Rec Director and neighborhood services coordinator, Clark Ray.

When voters in a poll of 1,277 residents, including 780 registered Democrats, were asked whom they would vote if the election for at-large councilmember were held today 41% of likely voters answered Brown, 29% chose Mendelson, 6% said Ray, 2% went with other/not voting, and 21% had no opinion.  Among black voters, the percentage favoring Brown was even higher -- 49% to Mendelson's 14%.

What's shocking is that the Michael Brown they will be getting is not the Michael Brown they think they are voting for.  In 2006, Michael A. Brown, let's call him "A," got elected to an at-large seat on the D.C. Council as an independent after incumbent Carol Schwartz lost to Patrick Mara in the Republican primary.  A is not up for reelection.  Michael D is for Donald Brown ("D") will appear on the ballot as just "Michael Brown."  As the photo above shows, there's no resemblence between the two in person. 

Meanwhile, D has raised zero dollars for his campaign - he benefits from not advertising himself.  He does not appear to have a campaign website, which would cost next to nothing.  It's not as if D doesn't know how to get the word out.  According to his wikipedia biography, D is the president and founder of Horizon Communications Corp., which provides direct-mail services to political organizations and non-profit organizations.  Where's that mailing with your photograph on it, D?

Ray, on the other hand, has been campaigning hard for over a year -- knocking on doors across the city, distributing fliers, posters, and yard signs.

There could also be a handful of voters who vote for D because they instinctively think of the popular Kwame Brown, another at-large councilmember who is currently running for D.C. Council Chairman. 

Who is to blame for this high level of voter confusion just two weeks before the primary?

A, who has endorsed Mendelson, accuses D "political identity theft."   Some might say the voters' are at fault for not doing their homework.

But what about Phil Mendelson?  He's run a lackluster campaign, spending just $12,000 in the 2-month reporting period just preceding the primary.  He has one paid campaign staffer.  And I have yet to see a Mendelson yard, window sign, or door hanger, or him campaigning... anywhere.  Only recently did he distribute a flier that shows photos of the two Browns.  Can someone tell him he is up for re-election?

Whatever your choice in the at-large election, it will be a travesty and a bad joke if a virtual unknown is elected to the D.C. Council purely on the basis of being a Brown.