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.