Monday, January 31, 2011

Moved to the Countryside

I was shocked to learn this morning from The Georgetown Dish that I've moved to Rockville.  Truth be told, as of yesterday evening, I've moved near Darnestown, Maryland, a place that this city boy did not even know existed until recently.  It's a change that I expect that I will be coming to terms with for some time.  I refuse to call it the "suburbs."  I call it "the countryside."

As I explained in my final President's Column of the Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association newsletter, with my first kid soon to arrive, it was time for a larger place in a safe neighborhood with excellent schools. 

The District will remain home to me.  It's the place where I spend the majority of each week at work, where I have so many good friends, and where I will continue to own a house.  At the end of the day, however, I'll be sleeping somewhere a bit quieter, with more nature, and more power outages.  Pepco, look out, you may become my next mission!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

D.C. Same-Sex Marriage Law Survives Supreme Court Challenge

Speaking of Home Rule, the U.S. Supreme Court this morning denied review of a challenge to D.C.'s same-sex marriage law.  The petition in the case of Jackson v. D.C. Board of Elections was aimed at reviving a proposed ballot initiative that would have asked D.C. voters to define marriage as between a man and a woman.  Last year the D.C. City Council approved same-sex marriages, the sixth jurisdiction in the nation to do so.  More on the Blog of the Legal Times. 

Early on, I had requested an investigation of Reverend Jackson's standing to seek a referendum on marriage in the District.  Reverend Jackson, who owns two homes in Maryland, is pastor of a 3,000 member Maryland church, founder of a nonprofit organization incorporated and located in Maryland, and is a registered Maryland voter, registered to vote for the District of Columbia on April 22, 2009, claiming as his residence a condominium near the Washington Convention Center.  After “residing” in the District just six days over the minimum thirty days mandated by law, Reverend Jackson filed a petition with the Board as the primary “proposer” of a referendum on the recognition of same-sex marriage in the District on May 27, 2009.  As the investigation began, Rev. Jackson subsequently claimed that he moved to an apartment near the ballpark.

The U.S. Supreme Court's denial of certiorari closes this attempt to thwart Home Rule.

Token Voting Power Gone

A New York Times editorial today draws attention to the District's lack of voting representation.
The long suffering, and underrepresented, taxpayers of the District of Columbia are properly worried about their shrinking role in the new Republican-controlled House. Tucked into the changes enacted by Speaker John Boehner is a rule depriving the district of its one bit of token voting power in Congress.... read the full editorial here.
In related news, last week, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton reintroduced the same three bills she always drops in each Congress providing alternative ways to obtain representation -- (1) statehood; (2) representation in both the House and Senate without statehood; or (3) giving the District a single vote in the House.  What was it that Albert Einstein said about insanity?

Only full representation is acceptable.  But nothing will pass unless there is a strong push by the District's elected leadership (beyond a billboard or street naming) and grassroots movement from the citizenry.  That is largely absent. 

Having the District share federal voting representation with Maryland, while retaining Home Rule, may be most poltically viable from a national standpoint and historically justifiable.  Statehood is also a worthy goal. 

Until then, the District should focus on increasing our independence from the federal government.  We still don't fully control our courts, our prosecutors, our parks, our legislation, or our budget.  Becoming more like a state, even if not yet a state, would be a positive step.  It may be the only viable area for progress under a Republican House.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

For Rent: Penn Quarter Condo

Now that Attorney General Peter Nickles is out of office, how quickly will he ditch the secret Penn Quarter condo and D.C. driver's license that he was forced to rent in order to establish residency in the District to legally work in the Fenty Administration?  There's at least one reason to keep it -- the pad is just a stone's throw from Covington & Burling, where he will return as head of the law firm's new crisis management practice.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Evans Emerges Unscathed, More Powerful

DC Wire reports today that the new Council Chairman, Kwame Brown, has replaced Jack Evans (Ward 2) as Chair Pro Tem with Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3), a largely ceremonial position that Evans, as the longest serving member, has held for 12 years.  One might think that loss of the #2 title marks a power shift, since Evans supported Fenty while Brown and Cheh supported Gray in his mayoral bid.  Evans himself mulled over running against Brown for Chair.  While Evans did not get take an official position in the race after he bowed out, Evans' former campaign and council communication director, Sean Metcalf, led Vincent Oranges' campaign for the position.

But Brown has apparently named Evans as co-chair of the committee that will oversee redistricting in the wake of the 2010 census, along with At-large Councilmember Michael Brown.  Ward 2, as an area of the city that experienced a modest increase in population, could lose some of its territory to shrinking Ward 1 or gain back some area of quickly growing Ward 6.  As chair of the Committee, Evans will be in a position to ensure that his new boundaries, and future electability, are to his liking.  Brown also gave Evans oversight over the Washington Convention and Sports Authority, and he will continue to chair the powerful Committee on Finance and Revenue, the equivalent to Congress's Appropriations Committee.

The Post suggests that in giving Evans power over redistricting and WCSA, Brown gave him "an apparent consolation prize" for losing chair pro tem, which it calls a "stinging setback."  So wrong.

Continued chairmanship of Finance, added oversight of WCSA (the sports issues Evans absolutely loves -- can we build another stadium for the Redskins right now?), and he gets to redraw the political boundaries throughout the city in his favor (and bank political IOUs from his colleagues) in exchange for giving up a ceremonial title?  Sounds more like Cheh received a small reward for her risk in supporting Gray in predominantly pro-Fenty Ward 3, and Evans, from whom Kwame will want support to effectively lead the Council, got a coup. 

Also noted by the Post is that Councilmember Tommy Wells (Ward 6) will take oversight of WMATA, replacing Councilmember Jim Graham.  It's a somewhat thankless position that is shared with representatives from Maryland, Virginia, and the federal government, but obviously a very important one.  Councilmember Michael Brown, who has missed at least 52 board meetings since appointed, will apparently continue to serve as the other DC member.

Will Gray Administration Address City Nuisance Properties?

There’s the crumbling façade of a historic house on N Street that, aside from a chain link fence securing it, has remained frozen in time while all of the adjacent properties were renovated, rented, or sold. A rowhouse on Ridge Street collapsed in the middle of the night in 2007, leaving an empty lot. Two blocks away, the 1970s-era “porto-library,” resembling a highway rest stop, stands boarded up on New York Avenue since it closed 2 years ago.

In each case, the landlord is the same – the DC government.

These 3 properties are in my neighborhood, but there are well over 100 city-owned vacant houses and lots across the city. Many remain in the same condition, and under city control, for a decade or more.

That does not count the larger properties, such as closed schools. Some have promises of future renovation. Others are slated for uses that are not in tune with the District’s comprehensive plan or surrounding community’s wishes. Downtown, the shuttered Franklin School, a historic gem built to teach 400 children as a model educational institution, is slated to become a 30-room boutique hotel.

Meanwhile, the District’s fledgling community college opened its downtown campus in a nondescript office building for which taxpayers pay the rent -- starting at $1.8 million and rising to $3.8 million each year (and an additional $264,000 to $391,909 annually for its parking lot).  The city’s public law school, charter schools, and nonprofits search for space.

The Gray Administration must develop a comprehensive inventory of its property, carefully evaluate the city’s needs, and thoughtfully consider the ideas and preferences of those who live around the sites.  He should quickly move vacant houses into affordable and market-rate housing, preserve our public treasures, and return the larger buildings to productive use.