Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Park Police Chief Returns, Real Story Overlooked

After a seven-year legal battle, Teresa Chambers has been reinstated as Chief of the U.S. Park Police.  She returned to her job yesterday after an administrative panel, with new members appointed by the Obama Administration, reversed her dismissal.  But recent media reports have overlooked an important element of this story -- at least for residents of the District of Columbia.

Reports uniformly cite Chambers' comments to the media regarding her concerns with the lack of staffing and budget to adequately protect national monuments following increased security demands post-9/11 as the reason for her dismissal. 

But that's not quite what she said. 

Chief Chambers expressed concern that due to the increased demand for officers to stand as sentries at the monuments, the U.S. Park Police would not be left with adequate officers to patrol neighborhood parks in the District.  As a result, she was suspended in late 2003 and fired in mid 2004.

At the time, as a Logan Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, I was busy trying to improve the safety and look of Logan Circle Park, which, at times, was overturn with drug use and public drinking.  Many of the District's circles and squares, as well as smaller "pocket parks," are federal property and primary jurisdiction for patrolling them falls to the U.S. Park Police.  In fact, over the years, MPD officers have confirmed to me that they will not patrol these parks unless they happen to view illegal activity occurring.

That is why District residents should hail Teresa Chamber's return as a personal victory.  Although responsible for safety and security of the National Mall, Rock Creek, Baltimore-Washington and George Washington parkways, as well as New York's Liberty Island and San Francisco's Golden Gate National Recreation Area, she kept DC's neighborhood parks a priority.  She lost her job for doing so. 

Welcome back, Chief Chambers.

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.

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