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.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Endorsement: Fenty for Mayor

Mayor Adrian Fenty at the Ribbon Cutting of the new Watha T. Daniel Libary on August 1.
Photo: Executive Office of the Mayor.
When you watch someone who you’ve trusted and respected, and whose vision for the city is very much in line with your own, take repeated missteps, it’s difficult to watch. That's why I have sometimes been particularly critical of Adrian Fenty on this blog.  My criticism, however, should not be misread as opposition to the current Administration. I endorse Fenty for a second term as mayor.  We need him to continue to move our city forward.

Why vote to reelect Fenty despite the mounting criticism, much of it deserved?

Fenty had the courage to throw out the status quo.  Obviously, the most frequently cited example is the schools. Perhaps he’s taken too much credit for what is essentially moving the system from under rock bottom up to the sea floor, but he’s taken the hardest first step, which is not continuing to do things the way they have always been done.

But there’s many other areas where Fenty has found that the old ways are not good enough anymore – and with results.  Over the past four years, I’ve seen ineffective police brass replaced with effective leaders, unlicensed porn shops closed, illegal billboards torn down, parking laws enforced on Sundays, dogs parks built, and application of the city’s long-ignored vacant and nuisance property laws.  Additional Circulator routes, bike lanes, and street cars are also important to many smart transit-oriented folks.  Developers now put in covered walkways to keep open pedestrian traffic where before they closed off entire streets, stifling small businesses and making it difficult for pedestrians.  We now have bans on sales of single bottle of alcohol in Wards 2, 4, and 6, a measure that the Mayor championed when he was a Councilmember.

When I ran for Ward 2 on the DC Council – improving our schools, parks, and libraries – essentially rebuilding our public infrastructure, was one of my main goals.  Fenty has done that. In my neighborhood, we have a new state-of-the-art Walker Jones Education Campus, which, in addition to a new public school, includes a library that replaces the embarrassing Sursum Corda porto-library that was the first glimpse of our public amenities for visitors driving in on New York Avenue.  This month, the Watha T. Daniel Library opened in Shaw, replacing a riot-era library that looked more like a concrete fortress than a place of expanding horizons. Several long-awaited park renovations are underway – even if some have stalled due to the Mayor’s lapses in judgment in contracting and his zeal for quick progress over all else.

There’s legitimate debate over whether the Mayor is responsible for the lower murder rate in the District, but I have greater confidence in our police force under his Administration.  While perhaps not consistent, there appear to be more foot and bike patrols.  The city is using “shotspotter” to better track and more quickly respond to gunfire in our neighborhoods – before, if a bullet was shot in the hood and no one was hit, it didn’t happen.  Police officers seem more responsive and community-oriented. Fenty has supported strong anti-gang and other crime legislation, while some on the Council, including his opponent, have not.  While I do not personally know Cathy Lanier, we are fortunate to have folks like Assistant Chief Diane Groomes in leadership positions.

Mayor Fenty has successfully imparted the constituent services values that made him an effective councilmember to his staff - they move at blackberry speed. The Mayor's Office of Community Relations ward members (MOCRs), in my experience, have been excellent.  Burned out street lights in high-crime areas and parks get fixed within days, if not hours, of a request.  But it’s not just the MOCRs.  Many of those who are working in government agencies are not the types that sit around at a desk, letting calls go to voicemail, and collecting a pay check.  They return calls and e-mails, spend late nights at community meetings, typically are prompt to address citizen concerns, and will take the initiative to consult residents for their advice on how they can make government work better.  They may not always resolve a situation how I would prefer, but my impression is that they try hard to reach the best possible result.

While one can raise legitimate questions about some of Fenty’s nominees to the city’s boards and commissions, there is little question about the quality of his appointments to top cabinet level positions: top notch. Particularly worthy of being singled out are Linda Argo in the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and Gabe Klein at the Department of Transportation.

Vince Gray is a likeable guy.  I respect him.  Attacking his record as head of a city agency at a time before the District’s youngest voters were born and others lived here is counterproductive.  It is disappointing that Gray sacrificed his important and still fledgling leadership of the D.C. Council to roll the dice for mayor. Gray has highlighted areas where Fenty should place additional emphasis in his next term, such as on building a stronger community college and job training programs for District residents.  But overall, Gray’s comments give a sense that he may backtrack in some of the areas discussed above or, at minimum, that he has other priorities.  He is surrounded by many of the folks who were in power for many years, but who are furious now find themselves with significantly less influence.

Fenty certainly has received the message that he needs to refocus and change his way of governing in his second term.  He has publicly recognized that he has made mistakes and I will take his pledge to do better at face value.

The city is on the right track.  Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Re-elect Adrian Fenty on September 14.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Fenty, Gray Endorse Open Primaries

Mayor Adrian Fenty failed in his eleven-hour bid to open up September's DC Democratic Primary to voters that are unaffiliated with a party, but the attempt could spur a change in the way the District elects local officials in the future... and it should.

Whoever wins the mayoral contest, the issue of open primaries may have finally found its legs. 

Fenty's challenger, DC Council Chairman Vince Gray, who has a slight lead in the latest polls, is now on record as supporting an open primary.  We're fine with the notion of the Democratic Party opening up to an open primary-type system," Gray said, "but this is something that should be discussed after the election."

The Washington Post's editorial board also chimed in to express support, stating "Enfranchising as many people as possible is the right goal."

There are thousands of voters who are locally disenfranchised in our already federally disenfranchised city because they feel compelled, as a matter of principle, their jobs, or other sensitivities, not to register as a Democrat.  It's adding insult to injury.

We all know that the election that matters most in the District is the Democratic primary.   Aside from two seats on the D.C. Council that are set aside for members of a minority party, there is no time in recent memory that an individual elected in the Democratic primary did not go on to win the general election. 

That's because 3 out of 4 of the District's registered voters are Democrats.  Yet, that leaves 72,000 unaffiliated voters, 30,000 Republicans, and about 700 other voters without a meaningful vote in local elections.

Thousands of them engage in charade every election cycle in which they switch their party affiliation to Democrat one month before the primary, then switch right back the days after the election. This year, 2,600 voters did the 'ol swicheroo.

The District's Democratic party, not surprisingly, strongly opposes open primaries. The local GOP has no official position at this time, according to its Executive Director Paul Craney.

I'm a Democrat.  I've run for election as a Democrat.  I might not support open primaries nationally or in other states, but our unique situation in the District calls for enfranchising all voters.

When I went door-to-door campaigning in 2008, I found it enfuriating how many residents were either registered as independents or with another party, or had specifically chosen to remain registered in another state because of the lack of meaningful representaton in D.C.  "You have a nice day" . . . next door.

Our current situation weakens the influence of the District on the national stage.  Since the District has no vote in Congress, and those who are not Democrats have very little say in local elections, transient Republicans and Independents have all the reason in the world to keep their registration elsewhere.  If you have the option, why register as a DC voter when it means almost completely losing your vote? 

It also drowns out the views of over 100,000 District residents, about 25% of the voting population, who have registered in the District despite its lack of federal representation in local affairs.  Other than those who occupy the two at-large seats on the D.C. Council that are set aside for members of minority parties, other local officials have less motivation to outreach to residents who are not registered Democrats, and involve them in local affairs, since they have no say in their selection.  Open primaries would allow more a more diverse range of views, both on the left and the right, make their way onto the Council.  It would energize the electorate, which the District desperately needs if it is every to achieve full representation in Congress and greater Home Rule.

Are Fenty's actions, Gray's response, and the Washington Post's op-ed simpy political maneuvering for the September primary?  Quite possibly, but I'm going to take their statements at face value.

Let's end the pre-election party affiliation musical chairs nonsense and let everyone vote in 2012.

5 Eye Finale - It's Bollywood Time!

I hope you'll join us for the grand finale of the 5 Eye Asian Film festival this Sunday, August 29.  It's Bollywood night in Mount Vernon Triangle.  The free outdoor movie is Lage Rano Munna Bhai or "Munnabhai Meets Mahatma Gandhi" (2006, PG).  An Indian dance performance will precede the film.

In this flick, a hilarious underworld gangster known as Munna Bhai falls comically in love with a radio host by the name of Jahnvi, who runs an elders' home, which is taken over by an unscrupulous builder, who gets the residents kicked out ironically with the help of Munna's sidekick, Circuit, while Munna is busy romancing Jahnvi elsewhere. Munna, who is now masquerading as a Professor specializing in the life of Mahatma Gandhi, must now battle his very own forces and the builder - but he has one ally on his side - none other than the great man - Mahatma Gandhi himself. Only trouble is that Munna may have problems convincing everyone about this presence - as he is apparently is the only one who can see and hear him. The movie won numerous foreign awards. It's in Hindi with English subtitles.

Thanks to all of those who came out and joined us for this series.  Once again, I'd like express my appreciation to all those who came together to make this film series happen, including the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District, Asia Heritage Foundation, Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association, Convention Center Community Asssociation, Chinese Community Benevolent Alliance, Chinatown Revitalization Council, Shaw Together, and the 555 Massachusetts Avenue, CityVista, and Madrigal Lofts condo boards. Generous financial support was also provided by Mandu Traditional Korean Cuisine, Kushi Izakaya & Sushi, 425 Massachusetts Avenue NW, The Donohoe Companies & The Arts at 5th & I, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, and Miller Copying Service. Special thanks to Franklin Parking for providing use of the lot and BicycleSPACE for supplying power. The community appreciates the support of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C, and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in US.  A special thanks to our planning committee -- Bill McLeod, Wuiping Yap, Thais Austin, Natalie Ferguson, Renee Killian, and Laura Gramling.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Coming Soon - Endorsements for September 14 Primary

Over the next week, this blog will include a series of endorsements for the September 14 Democratic Primary, including Mayor, D.C. Council Chairman, D.C. Councilmember At-Large, and the Ward seats that are on the ballot. My hope is that it will provide food for thought for those who have not yet decided who to support in this important upcoming election that will shape the future of our city for the next four years. I welcome your views.

Note that voting actually begins on Monday, August 30 -- when the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics opens for in-person early voting at its One Judiciary Square headquarters (Suite 250N).  On September 4, four other locations across the city will open for early voting.  This is the first time the District is permitting early voting without the need to provide a reason.  The Board of Elections now has up a special website for the primary, which includes a video of how the new voting machines will work, sample ballots, absentee ballot information, a way to verify your registration status online, and find your polling place.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Alexander Calls for Peaceoholics Audit

Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander
with Mayoral Candidate Vince Gray. 
Photo: Yvette Alexander official website.
Councilmember Yvette Alexander (Ward 7) has formally requested that D.C. Auditor Deborah Nichols perform an audit on the Peaceoholics, The Examiner reports.  Alexander has asked that the D.C. Auditor investigate how the nonprofit anti-youth violence organization spent $10 million in public funds as well as its role in the mayoral election.

“I am deeply alarmed by what I have read about the financial mismanagement of city funds provided to this organization,” Alexander said in a statement.

Alexander has endorsed the candidacy of Vince Gray for Mayor.  She succeeded Gray as Councilmember for Ward 7 when he was elected Chairman of the Council.

While politics is certainly at play in the call for an investigation, Nichols can be trusted to conduct an impartial and thorough investigation.  She is a diligent investigator who pulls no punches and calls it as she sees it.  Her work is meticulous.  Nichols has issued reports critical of the Fenty Administration in the past, but she does not appear to have political aspirations.  She doesn't have so much as a biographical statement or photograph online.  For Nichols, it's about compliance with accounting principles and the law.

It seems unlikely that Nichols will be able to obtain, carefully examine, and issue a report on the organization's financial records by September 3, as Alexander requested.  Nevertheless, Nichols' report will ultimately shed needed sunlight on the spending of local tax dollars.  Her investigation should not be so closely linked with the primary date - the grant funds were allocated over the course of three or four years.  I would expect that a full and complete investigation would require more than one week.

If Nichols' takes her investigation a step further and examines how involved the organization has become in politics, then it could spell trouble for the organization's 501(c)(3) status with the IRS.  Peaceoholics co-founder Ron Moten has taken a very active and public role in supporting Adrian Fenty.  Although Moten stepped down as president of the organization, he continues to serve on its Board of Directors and has taken groups of Peaceoholics youth to campaign events to support the Mayor's reelection bid.  In the IRS's eyes, that's a big no-no for a charitable organization.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Big Spenders - Bloomberg or Fenty?

Last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg came down to the new Carmine's restaurant in Penn Quarter to endorse D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty for a second term.  The endorsement led to comparisons between the two big city mayors in their governing styles, challenges, and close reelection bids, and Bloomberg's mentorship of Fenty.  They also both spent record amounts on their reelection campaigns.

AP Photo.
New York.  There are 4.47 million registered voters in New York City.  In his 2009 campaign, Bloomberg spent $102 million, most of which came from his own personal fortune.  That's about $23 per registered voter.  At the end of the day, Bloomberg spent $174 for each vote cast for him (585,000).  He secured reelection with just 50.6% of the vote.

Photo: dbking on Flickr
District of Columbia.  There are 329,000 registered Democrats in D.C. (437,000 registered voters when including other parties).  As of August 10, Fenty raised $4.7 million toward his reelection bid (his chief opponent, Vince Gray, has raised $1.3 million).  Assuming Mayor Fenty spends his entire war chest, he'll have paid about $14 per registered Democrat or $11 per registered DC voter.  If voter turnout is the same as in the 2006 D.C. Democratic primary (106,178) and Fenty wins reelection with 51% of the vote (54,151), then he'll have spent about $87 per vote received.  Of course, this does not include what is likely to be a surge of activity in these last weeks before the primary, which will likely put the final total a bit higher.

Bloomberg wins the big spender award -- he shelled out nearly twice as much per registered voter and per vote received as Fenty is likely to spend.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Kurosawa's Dreams: Free Movie Sunday

NEXT SHOWING: SUNDAY, AUGUST 19:
KUSHI PRESENTS KUROSAWA'S DREAMS

On each of the five Sundays in August, the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District and Asia Heritage Foundation will show outdoor movies at the lot located at 5th and Eye Streets NW. Live pre-show performances begin at 8pm. Showtime is 8:30pm. I hope you'll bring a lawn chair and join us!

The idea came about after an eagerly-awaited development slated for the property stalled and the city entered a two-year lease with a private company to use the land as a parking lot. After a meeting with city officials, we formed a workgroup of community members to turn lemons into lemonade and explore "temporary urbanism" projects for the site. The outdoor film festival is the first result.

The five award-winning movies span a variety of cultures and genres - action, drama, and comedy. Some have never been shown in the United States, but were blockbusters abroad. We chose an Asian theme for the program, building off the lot's location just north of Chinatown and the diversity of the area. All movies will have English subtitles.

THE 5 EYE ASIAN FILM SERIES

- Five Free Outdoor Movies at 5th & Eye Streets NW -
Presented by the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District and the Asia Heritage Foundation


SUNDAY, AUGUST 1:
Hero (Ying Xiong) (2004) PG-13
The Qin King has long been obsessed with conquering all of China and becoming her first Emperor, which makes him the target of three legendary assassins.  As a result, he promises great power to anyone who can defeat them. Jet Li heads the stellar cast as Nameless, the enigmatic county sheriff who earns his audience with the mighty King and stands to win mountains of gold in the process.  Zhang Yimou directs this lush, Oscar-nominated epic.  Arrive before 8pm as the film series kicks off with a dragon dance featuring the Hung Tao Choy Mei Leadership Institute Lucky Lions, the irrefutable and indisputable "Lion Kings"of the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
In Mandarin with English subtitles.  96 Minutes.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 8:
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in US presents
Cape No. 7 (Hái Jiao Qi Hao) (2008) (NR)
Aga, a band singer, returns to Hengchun with frustration. Tomoko is a Japanese model assigned to organize a local warm-up band for the Japanese super star beach concert. Together with other five ordinary Hengchun residents who were not expected to be great or anything, they formed an impossible band.  Cape No 7 is the top grossing film in the Taiwan’s cinematic history, surpassing Titanic.  Part drama, part comedy, part romance, the film won over a dozen awards and was Taiwan’s official submission to the 2009 Academy Awards Foreign-Language Film category.
In Mandarin with English subtitles129 Minutes.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 15:
Mandu Traditional Korean Cuisine presents
The Host (Gwoemul) (2007) R
Chemicals dumped into the Han River in Seoul create a huge mutant creature that begins to attack the locals. When the daughter of the Park family is captured by the beast her brother and father mount a rescue operation in this horror film with a comic twist.  Recipient of Asian Film Award, Asia-Pacific Film Festival award, Baek Sang Art Awards, Blue Dragon Awards, Grand Bell Award, among others.  Please note that this movie may not be suitable for those under 17 years of age due to violence and some profanity.
In Korean with English subtitles.  119 Minutes.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 22:
Kushi Izakaya & Sushi presents
Japan’s most famous director, the late Akira Kurosawa, captures his dreams on film in eight chromatically brilliant vignettes.  'Sunshine Through The Rain': a young boy is told not to go out on the day when both weather conditions occur, because that's when the foxes hold their wedding procession. In 'the Peach Orchard': the boy encounters the spirits of the peach trees that have been cut down by heartless humans. 'The Blizzard': a team of mountaineers are saved from a blizzard by spiritual intervention. 'The Tunnel': a man encounters the ghosts of an army platoon, whose deaths he was responsible for. 'Crows': an art student encounters 'Vincent Van Gogh' and enters the world of his paintings. 'Mount Fuji in Red': nuclear meltdown threatens the devastation of Japan. 'The Weeping Demon': a portrait of a post-nuclear world populated by human mutations. 'Village of the Watermills': a sunny portrait of a village whose population is entirely at one with nature.  Kurosawa, who created this film when he was in his eighties, had no peer when it came to splashing the screen with sumptuous colors and awesome images.  Nominated for Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.
In Japanese with English subtitles.  120 Minutes.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 29:
Lage Raho Munna Bhai
(Munnabhai Meets Mahatma Gandhi) (2006) PG
A hilarious underworld gangster known as Munna Bhai falls comically in love with a radio host by the name of Jahnvi, who runs an elders' home, which is taken over by an unscrupulous builder, who gets the residents kicked out ironically with the help of Munna's sidekick, Circuit, while Munna is busy romancing Jahnvi elsewhere. Munna, who is now masquerading as a Professor specializing in the life of Mahatma Gandhi, must now battle his very own forces and the builder - but he has one ally on his side - none other than the great man - Mahatma Gandhi himself.  Only trouble is that Munna may have problems convincing everyone about this presence - as he is apparently is the only one who can see and hear him.  Won awards for Best Director, Best Story, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Dialogue from the International Indian Film Academy and Golden Lotus Award for Best Popular Film Providing Wholesome Entertainment and Silver Lotus Award for Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Lyrics from the National Film Awards, India.
In Hindi with English subtitles.  144 Minutes.

I want to thank all those who came together to make this happen, including the Mount Vernon Triangle Community Improvement District, Asia Heritage Foundation, Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association, Convention Center Community Asssociation, Chinese Community Benevolent Alliance, Chinatown Revitalization Council, Shaw Together, and several Mount Vernon Triangle condo associations. Generous financial support is also provided by Mandu Traditional Korean Cuisine, Kushi Izakaya & Sushi, 425 Massachusetts Avenue NW, The Donohoe Companies & The Arts at 5th & I, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells, and Miller Copying Service. Special thanks to Franklin Parking and BicycleSPACE. The community appreciates the support of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6C, and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in US.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wrapped in Billboard, Mansion Rots at 11th and K

2004 Official DC File Photo of 1001 11th Street NW
Why is it that in the District it is perfectly legal to take a grand old mansion, board it up, wrap it in a billboard, surround it with a chain link fence, ring it with barbed wire, and pay the typical commercial property tax rate...late, no less?

Welcome to 1001 11th Street NW, just two blocks west of the Washington Convention Center smack in the middle of Logan Circle and downtown.  It's the perfect location... for billboard blight.

Back in the day, this was the home of General Harrison Allen, according to Victorian Secrets.  After helping push back Lee at Gettysburg, Allen entered politics first in Pennsylvania and then in the new Dakotas.

 “In General Allen's Washington, the most fashionable addresses were on K Street NW. However, the most elite mansions were slightly west. The more easterly blocks of K Street were more the province of complementary-styled townhouses clustered about a flamboyantly turreted central house. An outstanding example, the nine Second Empire houses of Mount Vernon Row, stood at Tenth and K Streets NW.  The house, listed as 1017 K Street, appears to have been a mini-version of a row, with complementary-styled smaller houses at 1015 K and 1001 Eleventh Street attached to either wing.”

Official DCRA Photo of Approved 75' x by 30' Billboard
Since July 2003, Allens old digs have been owned by Jemal's Bulldogs (aka Doug Jemal), who bought the property for $650,000.  About a year after purchase, the building was in the condition to the right, as seen in the official DC photograph that appears in property records.  Three months later, Jemal received approval to use the property as 1 of just 32 "special signs" in the District, aka billboards.  For the past six years, Jemal has rented the space to Van Wagner, the outdoor advertising giant that explicitly takes credit for "initiat[ing] the legislative changes that led to the authorization of advertising murals, in Washington, DC."  In turn, Van Wagner proclaims, "Today, we are the market leader and operate most of the lawfully permitted sites in the highly coveted District."

The billboard, I mean, special sign, I mean, mural at 11th and K is 75 feet long and 30 feet high.  It wraps the building, which is likely deteriorating underneath, while the owner likely brings in tens of thousands of dollars of advertising revenue each month.  The property is recorded with the District for store/miscellaneous use.

11th and K Streets Today
Although the property is clearly vacant and some would consider it a blight, Jemal pays neither the vacant property rate of $5 per $100 value or the blighted property tax of $10 per $100.  Instead, he pays the regular commercial property tax of 1.65%.

The property has tripled in value since Jemal purchased it seven years ago - it is assessed by the city at $1.9 million.  Although Jemal must rake in the dough on this property, his company still seems to have a history of repeatedly being late in paying its already low taxes, then paying fines. In fact, the property was listed for tax sale in 2007 after it came up over $25k short.

By the way... wonder how Van Wagner got its self-serving legislation through?  Look no further than campaign finance records.  In 2005, the advertiser contributed $10,000 to Jack PAC, the now defunct slush fund of Councilmember Jack Evans.  Most likely, this was a reward for shepherding through the legislation.  Van Wagner also maxed out with a $1,000 contribution to the Evans' campaign in 2003.   While Evans took the lions share, others benefited.  Van Wagner contributed $2,000 and $1,000 to the reelection campaigns of Mayor Anthony Williams and Chairwoman Linda Cropp in 2001.  Councilmembers Harold Brazil and David Catania received smaller donations.

Isn't it about time to get rid of the mural at 11th and K, save this historic building, and return it to productive use?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How Much Does Peaceoholics Get?

Peaceoholics is making quite a bit of news lately.  Yesterday, The Washington Post dubbed the organization's co-founder and current board member, Ron Moten, a "chief strategist" for the Fenty campaign.  TBD notes that the Fenty Administration characterizes Moten's as just a hard working volunteer, but has not requested a correction.  Moten suggests the former title is accurate and earned.  "If I was a professor and I looked at the work I was doing, I would say I was a strategist," he said. "So, I'm a strategist."

Given Moten's growing active role in the campaign, a frequent issue is how much funding Peaceoholics has received from the city, particularly after the latest disclosure that the organization was seeking another $400,000 for unknown services rendered. Numbers vary from article to article.  Here is what I've found:

CityStat, the District's procurement database, provides a list of direct payments from city agencies to Peacoholics. It approaches $3 million. This does not account for significant payments to Peacoholics through the court system, which is technically federal, as well as other grants and a housing project discussed below.

That's consistent with what a Congress Heights blogger obtained through a FOIA request, which she posted online. The documents show that Peacoholics received $1.3 million from the Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services in FY 2008-2009, $4.5 million from the Housing Production Trust Fund in FY 2007-2009, $300,000 from the Public Safety and Justice budget in FY 2007-2008, and $50,000 from the Department of Human Services in FY 2008.

The number is actually much higher.

Peacoholics' Executive Director Maia Shanklin Roberts stated at a recent community meeting that the organization received $3.48 million in city, federal, and private funds between 2008-09 alone.

There may be more money flowing indirectly to the organization.  The Examiner reported that Peaceoholics also receives cash indirectly from DYRS.  It gets funding through the East of the River Police Community Partnership, which received a two-year DYRS contract valued at about $3 million in 2009. How much Peaceoholics gets from that source is unclear.  Moten has close ties to the Rev. Donald Isaac, who heads East of River.

One Washington Post article noted that that Peacoholics received over $8 million in the past four years, including $4.4 million to build a group home, $3.6 million in city contracts, and $500,000 from the Justice Grants Administration.  Another estimated $10 million.

Where does the money go?  According to a 2007 Form 990 (the most recent available online), Peaceoholics paid out over $1 million to "consultants" in a single year.  Its founders each collected $100,000 salaries.  And the organization distributed approximately $64,000 as what Moten calls "stipends" and his co-founder Jauhar Abraham says are "donations."  While speaking at length about the organization, Roberts did not use the term "stipends," but made references to “direct funds to youth," "direct support" provided to youth and their families, and use of "flex funds" to provide youths with necessities, such as clothes and shoes, as part of its DYRS-funded activities. (There were allegations that youth who attended the Ward 8 Straw Poll with Moten received $100 payments to participate, which Moten vehemently denies.).  To be certain, the organization is involved in many legitimate projects and activities, some of which are discussed here.  It would be very interesting to know, however, where, precisely, the millions in taxpayer money went.

And it is nearly all taxpayer money…. according to Moten’s form, just $34,000 of Peaceoholics funding in 2006 came from individual contributions and fundraising while $2.1 million came from government grants. Abraham’s form indicates $68,000 from individual contributions and nearly $2.3 million received in government grants.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Burying the Lead

A front page headline on today's Metro Section reads: "2,600 D.C. voters switch to the Democratic Party ahead of mayoral primary."  But aside from the lead paragraphs, most of the article is about how a wholly different issue - Mayor Adrian Fenty's "pocket" veto of legislation passed by the D.C. Council that outlawed vote buying. 

This is why the Washington Post has a reputation as a cheerleader for the Fenty Administration.  A more accurate headline for the story would have been "Fenty blocks vote-buying bill."  That's not my invention, its what the Post called it when they posted the story online at D.C. Wire.  Instead, they buried that not-so-nice-sounding press in the print edition.

That 2,600 voters changed their registration to Democrat on the eve of the District's primary is indeed newsworthy, but it's not adequately covered by the story, which might have explored questions such as how many voters typically switch parties for the DC primary, was this year more or less than usual, or how many voters who switch immediately switch their registration back to Repubican or Independent when it's over?  The reporters could have interviewed a handful of voters who switched their registration this election (names and addresses publicly available from the Board of Elections) or who routinely do so each election season, to ask why they do it and how they feel about needing to do so.  The article might have considered calls for an "open primary" and the ridiculousness of a system in the Nation's capital - a place with already limited representation - that requires thousands of voters to switch their party, then switch back, in order to have a meaningful vote in local elections.  Alas, the article doesn't get into it.

Which just shows the true story.  It's not every day that Mayor Fenty vetos legislation.  And the fact that it was a bill to prohibit vote buying that was apparently spurred by accusations that Peaceoholics, whose founder Ron Moten has handed out money to youth to vote in a straw poll in Ward 8, a charge he denies.  Moten, who, in the words of the article, has become a "chief strategist" for the Fenty campaign, also organized several go-go concerts to entice young people to register to vote.  It was supported by every member of the D.C. Council, including those who back the Mayor's reelection, aside from Tommy Wells and Jim Graham who abstained (most likely because they are up for reelection in challenged races) and Marion Barry who was absent.

Here is what the bill actually says:
It shall be an offense for any person to knowingly or willfully:

(A) Pay, offer to pay, or accept payment of any consideration, compensation, gratuity, reward, or thing of value either for registration to vote or for voting;
(B) Give false information as to his name, address, or period of residence for the purpose of establishing his eligibility to register or vote, that is known by the person to be false;
(C) Procure or submit voter registration applications that are known by the person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent;
(D) Procure, cast, or tabulate ballots that are known by the person to be materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent; or
(E) Conspire with another individual to do any of the above;

(2) A person who violates paragraph (1) of this subsection shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $ 10,000, be imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.”
Does the bill properly draw sufficiently clear lines as to what is permissible and what is criminal?  Obviously, giving out money in exchange for a vote is and should be illegal.  What about other types of practices that our local politicians routinely use?  Free dinners at straw polls?  Get-out-the-vote concerts?  Free t-shirts for supporters?  Campaign-funded shuttle buses for seniors to the polls on election day?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Political Connections Get the Bird

A Wood Trush, the District's official bird, appears on the 2010 low-number plates reserved for those with political connections.  Photo: DCPlates.com.
What's at stake in the District's hotly contested mayoral election?... license plates, of course.

Those who are politically connected in DC can request special plates.  For the past several years, the familiar sign of political connects are the low-number license plates enclosed in a square.  You won't find these tags listed anywhere on the DMV's website.  I don't know whether there is a tangible perk to having such a plate other than to show your status, but possibly ticket writers might think twice before approaching one of these cars. 

Now, the squares are out, the birds are in.  A few months ago, plates bearing the District's official bird, the Wood Thrush, began appearing on the streets.  A close relative of the robin, the male Wood Thrush is said to have one of the most beautiful songs of North American birds.  So the question is this -- is the bird singing for Fenty or Gray?  Could it be a sign that the Wood Trush's lifespan is a little over 8 years?

The District rolled out these new license plates with little fanfare, while a proposal to create license plates for DC sports teams has languished in the DC Council since December 2009.  The irony is that Maryland and Virginia provide suburban drivers with the option to get a Washington Capitals or Washington Redskins plate, while residents in DC can't show their home team.  The legislation, which would authorize license plates with the logos of the Capitals, Redskins, Wizards, Mystics, and DC United, hasn't had a hearing or vote - while those with political connections get the bird.

DCPlates.com has an excellent history and photographs of low-number tags issued in DC.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Day at the Pool

Banneker Pool.  Photo Credit: Andrew at The New Columbia Heights.
The District has some great public pools, so good that when residents come to enjoy a nice summer day, they often find every sign post and railing wallpapered with bikes and every seat at the pool taken. 

According to District government officials, they have doubled the number of chairs at recreation centers such as Banneker, located on Georgia Avenue NW across from Howard University.  After residents went as far as to form a Facebook page to advocate their case, the Department of Parks and Recreation added sixty chairs this summer.  Nevertheless, on any given weekend, there is no available seating.  DPR states that it plans to order more chairs next year, but it has no funds in its budget for this season. 

Likewise, the city has depleted its budget for bike racks.  Although a recreation center would seem to be a logical place for bike racks, Banneker has none.  The lack of bike racks leads more people to drive, both because its difficult to find a secure and convenient place to lock a bike and because its not possible to carry a chair when riding.  It also may impact the ability of disabled individuals to access the pool, given that bikes cover railings and intrude upon the sidewalks and walkways.  The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) has had some success in working with the Department of Parks and Recreation and District Department of Transportation to purchase and install pike racks at Jelleff Pool in Georgetown.

There's an easy solution that does not require the District government to place precious tax dollars in a recession toward such luxuries as pool chairs and such conveniences as bike racks. 

Aside from chairs and bike racks, there's one other thing that is obviously missing at the District's recreation centers... drinks.  Surprisingly, there are no vending machines.  Many poolgoers would happily shell out $1 to enjoy a cold bottle of water or $2 for a sports drink or soda.  Current choices are drinking so-so water out of a fountain, bringing a drink that turns warm as it bakes in the sun, or walking several blocks to buy one. 

When I was a Brooklyn kid, my friends and I occasionally sold drinks on Brighton Beach and Coney Island.  In just a few hours, we would walk away with enough profit to triple our allowance.  With just a little bit of entrepreneurship, the District could generate enough revenue to fund all the chairs and bike racks it needs and make poolgoing in the city an even better experience for all.

The District's outdoor public pools are open Monday through Friday from 1pm until 8pm and on weekends from 12pm until 6pm.  There is no admission charge for District residents, but be sure to bring your DC drivers license or other ID.  You can find the nearest outdoor pool here including its hours of operation.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

On a Quest?


What's the deal with that property?  There is an interesting tool on the District government's website, Property Quest, that may provide some quick answers.

This interactive database developed by the Office of Planning combines several DC government resources to allow the public to look up any property in the District.  Put in an address or a square and lot number, and it will provide plat and arial maps, and ownership, zoning, and tax status.  Property Question will also note whether the property is within a historic district, its political representation (Ward/ANC), and its police district.  It will provide a photograph of the property and provide a link to Google Maps street view. 

What may be most helpful about this tool is that the user can click on any property and pull up the information.  That's particularly useful when the precise address of a property is not known.

There are some limitations.  The database is not integrated with the DC Public School System, which would allow users to determine the schools for which the property is zoned.  It also could provide more than the Ward, Advisory Neighborhood Commission, and Police Service Area number that the property is within, but also the name of each official, an e-mail link, and other contact information.  Finally, the database provides only property ownership, not business, information.  In the future, Property Quest could integrate data available from the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration on ABC licenses or Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs regarding certificates of occupancy and business licenses.

You can find links to Property Quest and many other fun DC resources on the bottom of the side panel of the Other 35 Percent.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Franklin School to Become New UDC Law School?


One week ago, at a meet and greet in Cleveland Park, DC Council Chairman and Mayoral Candidate Vince Gray declared, "I think the Franklin School would be a great place for the David Clarke School of Law. That certainly would better serve the community than another hotel."

The Fenty Administration has remained silent on this issue.

Seven months have passed since the deadline expired for Requests for Proposals (RFP) for use of the historic Franklin School building.  Three applicants submitted proposals for use of the site: a boutique hotel/culinary school, a successful Chinese-language immersion charter school, and the Coalition for Franklin School, a group that has urged the District to refocus on promising educational uses for the site.  Representatives of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) have repeatedly declined to comment on the status of the process.  An earlier RFP for Franklin, focusing on charter school use, was abandoned as "not viable." 

Use of the Franklin School as a new home for the UDC's law school is promising.  Currently, the law school, which has about 300 students and 20 faculty members, occupies one floor of two buildings on the Van Ness campus, plus a basement level.  Classrooms and clinics are on the second floor of building 38, administration and reception/special event space are on the 2nd floor of  building 39, and the library is at the basement level. 

In 2008, Councilmember Kwame Brown (D-At Large) introduced legislation, co-sponsored by 9 fellow councilmembers, to require UDC to develop a campus plan for the purpose of modernizing its facilities, including a separate facility for the law school.  The legislation does not appear to have moved forward, however, the law school's website states, "We are planning a state-of-the-art 'green' building, in which we will co-locate with many D.C. legal services providers to better serve clients and provide great internship, community service, fellowship, clinical, summer and post-graduate job opportunities for students." 

The status of plans for a new building, now two years later, are not known.  New and green sound snazzy, but there is something to be said for location, location, location.

Is Franklin a good fit for the law school?  Here's what a UDC student wrote us:
The David A. Clarke School of Law is the only American Bar Association-approved law school in the United States without its own, stand-alone building. We are currently housed on a single floor of the incredibly bland UDC-Van Ness campus. On an aesthetic end, a recent coat of yellow paint was applied in an attempt to make the interior of our building more bearable, but no one was fooled. Our school is tiny and our classrooms cramped, even with a student body of under 300 future lawyers.
Having such limited space inhibits enrollment, which in turn hampers our school's ability to recruit and develop a student body that reflects its mission statement of serving those traditionally underrepresented in law school enrollment. The current concrete building in which our one-floor law school sits looks as if it were built in Soviet Russia. Sometimes it feels like it, as well.

As a member of the student body, I have heard rumor after rumor that our school is looking for a stand-alone building in which to put the law school. Someone even suggested that a bland office building downtown would be our next home. But imagine our school in your building. We wouldn't have to remodel as much as would be needed to turn a suite of offices into a law school. Your building is already a school. And quite a beautiful one at that. It once helped shelter homeless persons--our school runs clinics that help lower income DC residents like the homeless. The fit seems perfect.
I agree and apparently so does Vince Gray.

Courtyard expansion area
The Franklin School could provide a great boost to the reputation of UDC's law school. It would provide 51,000 square feet (38,000 usable) including 14 classrooms with room for about 400 students and its Great Hall.  There's room for expansion.  As the RFP notes, while adding additional floors above the existing building is not feasible due to its historic designation, "use of some of the rear yard is expected to provide modern core facilities."  The site is zoned for a height of up to 110 feet with the highest Floor Area Ratio (FAR) of 10.0.  This area might host a new modern library and administrative space.  More importantly, the location would place law students within blocks of the District's courthouses and numerous private firms.

It also meshes well with the school's proud focus on public interest law. As the Coalition pointed out in a recent letter pitching the idea to Law School Dean Katherine S. Broderick, "As the administrative headquarters for the DC Public Schools for 40 years in the Twentieth Century, the Franklin Building was often the site of demonstrations, sit-ins, and court challenges related to the struggle to integrate DC public schools."

What say you Mayor Fenty?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

News Round Up

Annie Ropeick, an intern at NPR, was randomly stabbed at 7th and H Streets NW at 9am Wednesday.  Annie stands in front of a vacant building in Mount Vernon Square.  Photo: NPR.

Intern stabbed in Chinatown.  There doesn't seem to be any news on the condition of Annie Ropeick, 20, an NPR intern who was randomly stabbed in the neck, with no warning, by what appears to be young woman with mental illness.  It happened yesterday when Annie was walking to work at a busy intersection in Chinatown, just outside the PNC Bank at 7th and H Street NW.  According to witnesses at the scene, given the amount of blood, they presumed her dead.  Fortunately reports confirm that she made it to Howard University hospital and her family was at her side. Good samaritans acted quickly to hold the assailant, 24-year-old Melodie Brevard, and care for Annie.  Annie, a Silver Spring, Maryland native, is entering her junior year as a classics and philosophy major and student journalist at Boston University.  She is Executive Producer of Intern Edition at NPR, blogger, and a cappella singer.  Keep her in your thoughts.  UPDATE: According to Boston University's student newspaper, a family source said her injuries were non life-threatening, and that doctors expect her to make a full recovery.  “She was conscious and talking the whole time,” the source said.  “Basically, she’s a lucky girl.”

Fenty Loses on Home Turf.  Last night, Mayor Adrian Fenty has actually managed to lose a straw poll in his home Ward 4 to challenger Vince Gray.  In fact, gray came within 2% of the 60% vote needed for an outright endorsement of the Ward 4 Democrats at the roudy forum.  You can watch the entire forum online here.  After sweeping every precinct in the city in 2006, Fenty has squandered this good will to lose straw polls in every area except Ward 2.  Can he turn the momentum around as the primary approaches in just six weeks?

Can't Go Home Again.  Washington CityPaper reporter Lydia DePillis exposes how the city's Home Again program, which was formed to eliminate neighborhood blight, has instead perpetuated it.  "The Department of Housing and Community Development is now phasing Home Again out—but many properties are still stuck in its portfolio, mired in litigation and bureaucracy, sticking neighborhoods with blight that otherwise might have been cleared up long ago. Which is, of course, exactly what the program was set up to avoid."

ANC Election Season Begins.  DCist reminds us that nominating petitions for Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner positions are now available.  While it only takes 25 valid signatures to get on the ballot, these positions are important and can have a significant effect on the quality of life in a neighborhood.  They can promote or discourage development, permit or stop more liquor stores from opening, fund beneficial and worthwhile projects or give taxpayer dollars to friends and political supporters, and demand community involvement in government policy decisions or stay silent.  You can view the list of candidates who were first to pick up nominating petitions.  Think about running.  Make sure to cast an educated vote.

A New DYRS?  Think Again.  For those who thought Mayor Fenty's appointment of prosecutor Robert Hildum to head the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services would take the troubled agency in a new direction, that assessment is already looking fuzzy.  The Examiner reports that among Hildum's first actions was to hire Linda K. Harllee-Harper to serve as the agency's head of internment.  Harllee-Harper formerly served on the Board of Directors of Peacoholics, the organization that received millions in public funds during the Fenty Administration and has worked closely with Ron Moten, the organization's founder -- you know, the one who compared Fenty to "Jesus," was involved in the fire truck sent to the DR, was accused of paying youth to vote in a straw poll for Fenty, protested Council legislation against vote buying, and sued a Ward 8 ANC Commissioner for libel.  Now Harllee-Harper will "play a pivotal role" in awarding DYRS contracts to organizations, including Peaceaholics.  Taxpayers, hold onto your wallets.

Free Summer Movies in Mount Vernon Triangle.  Patty Yao, a native Taiwanese and contestant in the 2010 Washington Metropolitan Miss Chinese American Pageant Finals will sing live at the DC Premier of Cape No. 7 on Sunday, August 8, at 8pm at 5th and Eye Streets NW.  The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in US presents this second of five free outdoor movies in the Five Eye Asian Film Series, Cape No. 7 is the highest grossing film in Taiwan's history.

DC Gov Would Take Away Little Disabled Pet Chickens From Children.  The Washington Post profiles a Capital Hill family that had to send their pet chickens to a farm in Virginia.  "Flash is a chocolate-colored bird in that awkward stage of chickenhood, somewhere between chick and hen. Flash also has a deformed leg. Sam's sister, Maxine, 7, explains why they have to care especially for the crippled bird. 'He's smaller than the other birds because he can't feed himself so well,' she says."  The family applied for a permit from the DC Health Department and built a mini-chicken coop in their backyard with the support of neighbors.  All seemed to be in order until the Department declared the hens illegal, finding that their own regulations allowing chickens are superseded by a contradictory statute banning poultry and any other creatures not specifically allowed. "Sam and Maxine, meanwhile, are left with the worms to find and play with. If that's allowed."

Monday, August 2, 2010

When Do the Kid Gloves Come Off?

The Examiner reports that a fight among "youth" under the auspices of the Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services broke out in none other than city hall itself in the presence of the Mayor Adrian Fenty and juvenile justice experts.

The throwdown, which involved three girls who were apparently receiving awards from the mayor as among the most successfully rehabilitated offenders, involved chairs, fists, and went on for several minutes before D.C. fire and rescue workers arrived at the Wilson Building to reestablish control. 

An investigation by Attorney General Peter Nickles that began after three DYRS killed Shaw Middle School principal Brian Betts revealed that 71 percent of the juvenile offenders in DYRS were convicted again within two years and that youths had been disappearing for weeks at a time before the agency sought an arrest order.  Thus far in 2010, at least 10 youths who were supposed to have been under the supervision of the agency have been charged with murder, and six of the agency's youth have been slain themselves.

I keep seeing the word "youth," but check the ages. 

In the Wilson Building incident, police arrested Grace Ebiasah, 18, Anna Ebiasah, 20, and Deanna Morris, 19, with fighting in a public place.

In the Brian Betts' murder, the youth charged in his killing -- Sharif T. Lancaster, Alante Saunders and Deontra Q. Gray-- were all 18 years old, had lengthy criminal records, and were at large.

Many of the "youth" that are under DYRS supervision are actually not youth at all.  They are often over 18 years of age, yet still get treated as if they are children.  With respect to these "girls," the city does not even have a holding facility, given that New Beginnings only serves boys.

At some point, isn't it time for the city to take off the kid gloves?

Lucky Lions Kick Off 5 Eye Film Series

video
The 5 Eye Asian Film Series in Mount Vernon Triangle had a great opening night.  Although a chance of showers lingered throughout the day, the weather was just perfect for the 8 pm show.  The Hung Tao Choy Mei Leadership Institute Lucky Lions kicked it off - they were superb and drew quite a crowd.  Jet Li's Hero did not disappoint.

Join us next Sunday, August 8, as the The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in US presents
Cape No. 7 (Hái Jiao Qi Hao), the top grossing film in the Taiwan’s cinematic history, surpassing Titanic, which will be shown for the first time in the Washington, D.C. area.