DeMorning DeBonis: June 7, 2010
TODAY IS JUNE 7, 2010 -- 99 DAYS UNTIL PRIMARY DAY
That's right -- less than 100 days till DCision 2010 is upon us. I'll be on NewsTalk With Bruce DePuyt at 4 p.m. Monday to talk about how the campaigns are developing. Might even wear a tie! This weekend's conversation-driver is Nikita Stewart's Sunday A1 piece breaking down Mayor Adrian Fenty's spending on a ward-by-ward basis. What she found challenged the conventional wisdom -- that the massive Fenty building spree has benefited richer, whiter parts of town. As Nikita writes: "[A] Washington Post analysis of city data on school construction, parks and recreation projects, and funding for new libraries and schools over the past three years shows that the reality is more complex. And as the city's population becomes whiter and younger, the old geographic fault lines aren't as telling as they once were." It's a thesis that is not being greeted warmly by Vincent Gray and his mayoral campaign. At a well-attended fundraiser last night, Gray argued that the analysis of school spending failed to account for the relative number of schoolchildren in each ward. A fair point, but one that will not be appearing on the tens of thousands of Fenty mailers that went out to city households this weekend -- each emblazoned with a ward-specific array of spankin'-new bricks and mortar.
AFTER THE JUMP -- More on last week's mayoral debates -- is Nat Gandhi turning into a yes man? -- OCF opens Rhee inquiry -- Graham defends cheap bus fares -- NPS foils Transformers shooting -- a better way to budget
*** MAIN COURSE ***
MORE -- From Nikita: "Records show, for example, that predominantly black Ward 5 received more school construction funds -- $152 million -- than any other ward in fiscal 2008 and 2009. According to the city's most recent data available, Wards 8 and 2 followed with $117 million and $103 million, respectively, crushing the idea that when it comes to school construction, wards were favored by class and race. Ward 2 is mostly white, and it includes Georgetown as well as condo-soaked downtown, while Ward 8 is nearly all African American and has the city's highest unemployment and poverty rates. Over the past few months, Fenty has maintained a frenetic ribbon-cutting pace throughout the city, but his detractors' criticism has stuck partly because of his initial focus on recreation projects in mostly white and affluent Ward 3, his push for gentrification in some neighborhoods despite resident opposition, and his swift response to the fires at the Georgetown Public Library and Eastern Market. His cuts in social programs -- including closing service centers in Northeast and Southeast to help close a budget gap -- also have fed accusations of favoritism."
DEBATE DEBATE -- Didn't get enough coverage of last Thursday's Ward 3 mayoral debate here? Martin Austermuhle wrote up the proceedings for DCist: "It's difficult to say if the forum produced a clear winner. Fenty's message came off as stronger, but his arrogance remains a liability. When asked to explain the contracts scandal involving his fraternity brothers, Fenty again acted like the whole thing was small potatoes, completely missing one of the main concerns some people have with him: he just can't seem to accept fault. Gray, on the other hand, is the sort of guy you really want to love but can't find the exact reason to do so. His arguments about Fenty's style of leadership are completely valid, but make for limp central campaign slogans." Molly Redden also did a full roundup for the Georgetown Dish, plus a more Georgetown University-specific post at Vox Populi. And Tim Craig got reactions from leaders of the neighborhood groups that hosted the shindig for Saturday's paper: "Spence Spencer, outgoing president of the Palisades Civic Association, said he decided to back Gray. 'I found Gray to be more interested in really trying to solve the city's problems,' Spencer said. John Chelen, president of the Cleveland Park Citizens Association, is undecided but said Fenty at times seemed 'too defensive.' 'But I thought he made some strong points about how he's shaken up the city,' he said."
ALSO -- At the Sexist, Amanda Hess looks at how the candidates present at Wednesday's D.C. for Democracy forum handled a question about appointing a transgender person to the Human Rights Commission: "So, we had one candidate voice his support for a transgender appointee, and then spend the rest of his time talking about achieving gay rights in the District. Then, we had the current mayor voice his support for a transgender appointee, then spend the rest of his time talking about completely unrelated [er, stuff], even though he is Mayor right now and apparently has not appointed a transgender person to the commission yet. Then, we had another candidate voice his support for a transgender appointee, and then spend the rest of his time talking about how he thinks gay rights should be subject to a popular vote. Way to go team."
DR. YES? -- Nikita also looks at perceptions that, in light of the fiscal maneuverings behind incidents such as the streetcars and the teacher contract, Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi isn't living up to his famed "Dr. No" moniker. "Gandhi acknowledged the perception by some that his decision-making is pressured by politics but denied that it influences his certification of the budget. 'You operate in a highly political environment here,' he said. 'My function here is to say no.' ... Gandhi said his recommendations go only so far because he cannot make policy. "We don't tell them where to spend the money. We tell them there's money to spend," he said. He said he was "very assertive" with the mayor and the council about the city's fund balance. "You can lose just like that," he said, snapping his fingers. But reserves, he said, are rainy-day funds that are used during crises, and the city's declining revenue could be considered a crisis. "In tough times, a family uses its savings account," Gandhi said."
'SLAYING THE CHANCELLOR' -- The Office of Campaign Finance has opened an inquiry into Michelle Rhee's solicitation of philanthropic money to fund the D.C. Public Schools' new teacher contract. And Jonetta Rose Barras writes in the Examiner, "That should make D.C. residents question the competence of these OCF officials." Barras fingers Ward 5 activist Robert Brannum as filing the complaint, which "asserted Rhee sought to guarantee her job by accepting donations to which foundations attached the caveat that they could withdraw support if there were a change in the reform agenda or a change in school leadership." Barras makes the case that the complaint is frivolous and that Brannum is part of a cabal that "will do whatever is necessary to derail [Fenty]'s reelection, including discrediting his education reform platform and sullying Rhee's reputation."
QUERIES FROM COLBY -- On Saturday's op-ed page, Colbert King suggests a few questions for this year's city candidates. My faves: "What projects now being planned can be delayed or eliminated to make more money available to fund critical programs?" -- "The city cannot tax commuters or federal and nonprofit real estate, and it has restrictions on building height, which limits the value of real estate and the taxes that can be collected. What new sources of revenue should be considered to make up for these limitations?" -- "Do you think spending can be reduced? If yes, which specific programs and by how much?" -- "Mayoral candidates. Mr. Fenty: What steps have you taken to reduce costs and what steps will you take to reduce costs? The last time you ran, you pledged not to raise taxes, but you have increased many fees that are also a hardship for many. Are you making the same promise for the next four years? Do you believe that you can continue to cut to meet expenses? Mr. Gray: If more cuts can be made, why didn't you make them when the council reviewed the mayor's budget?"
ALSO -- Colby reports that Javon Hale, the 16-year-old alleged murderer of a Capitol Heights man, is a Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services ward who was on a weekend pass from a community facility when he allegedly committed the murder late last month. "The progressives call this kind of community placement 'juvenile justice reform.' I say it's a disgrace and a clear-and-present threat to public safety. But the admission of mistakes just isn't in the nature of the 'enlightened.'" (PostPartisan)
IN DEFENSE OF CHEAP BUS FARES -- Jim Graham, Ward 1 council member and just departed Metro board chair, responds in a Close to Home op-ed to the Post editorial last month arguing that too-low bus fares -- enabled by the WMATA board's jurisdictional veto -- are hurting the system's budget. "The economic nose dive, the drop-off in riders -- mainly on buses -- and the tragic train crash on June 22, 2009," Graham writes, "are the real causes of Metro's budget gap," not bus fares -- and raising them, he argues, "might not mean higher revenue." Moreover: "Changing how the board is appointed, or how the balance of power is synchronized, might have very adverse consequences unless reform of Metro governance is accompanied by significant, regional revenue dedicated exclusively to transit operations. This is the real nut that needs to be cracked."
MEET THE GOP -- Deborah Simmons gives some ink to the four Republicans running in ward races, via the famed Washington Times "wide-ranging interview": "The candidates - Marc Morgan of Ward 1, David Hedgepeth of Ward 3, Timothy Day of Ward 5 and Jim DeMartino of Ward 6 - are trying to mark history knowing they face uphill battles. Neither history nor the odds are on their side. But they are driven by what they see as the lack of leadership, vision and innovative thinking in City Hall. ... For the most part, their key priorities are quintessential urban politics - too little school choice, blown budgets and, of course, parking, crime, transportation and taxes." Here's the problem: How to "[f]ind a way to persuade 6,500-7,000 voters in each race to vote Republican - a winnable but daunting effort since D.C. Democratic voters overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans, independents and members of the Statehood Green Party. ... The D.C. electorate is 75.28 percent Democrat vs. 6.86 percent Republican."
NEW TEACHERS WIN -- Post columnist Jay Mathews looks at the DCPS contract and says the prime beneficiaries are "teachers, particularly the innovative ones who have been taking jobs in city schools and joining [Randi Weingarten]'s union in large numbers in the past several years." The new DCPS deal, Jay writes, "give this new bunch an opportunity to prove that their creative and aggressive teaching will help inner-city children realize their untapped potential." Rhee, of course, is one of them. His caveat: "If this doesn't work, it will be leaders like Rhee who get the blame. Test scores will deliver the final verdict, as far as the public is concerned. Tests are flawed measures, but they are pretty much all we have. That is why the new breed of teachers takes them seriously and why Weingarten agreed to test-driven teacher evaluations. The fastest-growing part of her membership demanded them. If scores don't continue to improve, the headlines will say Rhee failed. But the teachers driving schools in these new directions will blame themselves and try something different, a useful habit if we want urban schools to work."
GO KIDS -- Children's advocates are mostly happy with the council's work on the 2011 budget, Leah Fabel reports in the Examiner. The changes: "About $1 million went toward the city's Year Round Youth Employment Program; $3.5 million went to funding child care subsidies; $2 million was given to subsidies for grandparent caregivers. ... A politically popular effort to expand free, voluntary pre-kindergarten for all 3- and 4-year-olds in the city received its full funding -- about $18 million. Charter schools will receive about $200 more per student to pay for facilities, bringing the city's total outlay to about $3,000 per student." Fabel also takes note of the latest DCPS enrollment projection, which shows an "increase next year for the first time since the early 1970s." The school system estimates that 44,900 will enroll next year, up from 44,700 -- an increase driven almost entirely by increased pre-kindergarten enrollment. "Barring the outsized growth among pre-schoolers, enrollment would likely decline by about 400 students. ... Despite declines elsewhere, the enrollment increase in early grades should be proof of a positive trend, said [Rhee]. 'When we got here there were lots of pre-k classes that weren't full,' she said. 'We now have waiting lists.'"
OBSTRUCTION JUNCTION -- Marion Barry's recent and ongoing habit of holding up city contract approvals is examined by the Examiner's Alan Suderman. Barry says he'd doing it to save the city money and fix a procurement process that "is just really not working very, very well." Or is he "holding up contracts for no other reason than that he wants attention," as critics claim? Says Council member/sparring mate David Catania, "We all have to cater to him and try and kiss his robe when he adds no value, and the process adds no value. ... Since he doesn't have a chairmanship that's pretty much all he does." And Attorney General Peter Nickles says whatever problem Barry's trying to fix were "broken ... because of the very things Barry brought with him when he was mayor."
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE -- Epic lede from colleague Jonathan O'Connell in today's Capital Business: "As the story goes, the Transformers -- enmeshed in intergalactic battle -- traveled from the far-off planet of Cybertron all the way to earth in pursuit of an all-powerful talisman. They are having trouble handling the National Park Service, however." The latest installment in the blockbuster Hollywood franchise was all set to start filming here later this year. However: "A dispute with the Park Service ... over where and what the film crew will be allowed to shoot has producers from Paramount Pictures and DreamWorks scaling back their plans for the city. The companies had planned a colossal number of filming days -- about 14 -- in addition to an expected month or more of time in D.C. for other production needs. Now the period of "principal photography" might be whittled down to less than a week, despite the project having director Michael Bay and producer Steven Spielberg at the helm." An NPS spokesperson "said the producers 'have asked to do some things that simply are not done on the National Mall,' among them staging a 'car race' along the Mall's gravel paths." So, yeah, that might be a problem.
REAL BUDGET TRANSPARENCY -- There's a better, more open way to prepare the city budget, Elissa Silverman explains on the group's blog: "Until the rules change, the natural tendency of the Council will be to make budget changes up until the last minute. A common-sense provision would be to have a two- or three-day review period in which a final draft of the budget is circulated to council members as well as the public. That way, members can choose to carefully read and examine the budget and craft written amendments if they feel changes are necessary. It also gives D.C. residents a chance to weigh in one last time on how their tax dollars will be spent."
*** SMALL PLATES ***
Is there a Gray-and-Cheh package deal in Ward 3? (D.C. Wire)
Hamil Harris interviews a woman with both Fenty and Gray signs in her yard. She's undecided, doncha know. (D.C. Wire)
Hill residents mobilize to save community garden (Post)
City buys land in Prince George's County for congressional mail sorting facility, clearing Hill East land transfer; Eleanor Holmes Norton is glad. (WBJ)
D.C. Appleseed's Walter Smith argues why the feds should pay WASA stormwater fees (WAMU-FM)
Nickles tries to ease concerns about group homes in Ward 4 (Housing Complex)
Fewer homicides are getting solved today versus 1980 (Examiner)
Famed graphic designer Massimo Vignelli says Metro has too many signs (AP via WaTimes)
New home for troubled girls, committed to DYRS, opens in Marshall Heights -- an alternative to expensive, far-off treatment facilities (Post)
The District's history in song, documented by John Kelly (Post)
DCPS recruiters are pitching charter school teachers on becoming "master educators" (D.C. Schools Insider)
DCPS meals already getting healthier (WAMU-FM)
Why streetcars are good for the poor (Yglesias)
OMG, an overhead wire on the Mall! (GGW)
Graham floats U Street liquor-license moratorium (Left for LeDroit)
"About 10:45 p.m. Friday, a male cyclist traveling southwest in the 1400 block of Southern Avenue SE was struck by a 2004 Chevy Suburban. The driver remained at the scene, and the victim was later struck by a second car -- a dark blue compact -- occupied by three people, police said. The second car drove off." The cyclist, 42-year-old David Haywood Williams, died. (Crime Scene)
Caron Butler (remember him?) to ride bike on Mall (WRC-TV)
*** DESSERT ***
The Post's Monica Hesse, reports from Astoria, Ore.: "There is a compulsion, a yearning, a force that causes people to drive to this remote village, up the rocky coastline and through the hilly streets in weather that is almost always damp. They park near the olde shoppes and the gingerbread Victorians, walk to the cream house with purple trim, and then, as if fulfilling a destiny that has shaped every moment of their lives, they raise their shirts, they shake their belly fat, and they do the Truffle Shuffle." It's the 25th anniversary of the Goonies, ladies and gentlemen.
*** ON THE MENU ***
Fenty kicks off Goodman League basketball season at Barry Farm with Wizards Coach Flip Saunders -- Council's government ops committee takes up "Open Government Act of 2010."
June 7, 2010; 9:54 AM ET
Categories: Morning Mike , The District
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