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DeMorning DeBonis: July 14, 2010

TODAY IS JULY 14, 2010 -- 62 DAYS UNTIL PRIMARY DAY

That's right, 62 days -- two months till Primary Day. My colleagues Tim Craig and Nikita Stewart use the milestone to examine the state of the mayoral campaigns, "how incumbent Adrian M. Fenty and leading opponent Vincent C. Gray are running campaigns that mirror their leadership styles -- pitting a fast-paced, lean operation against a more deliberate campaign that has put the once-popular mayor on the defensive." One game-changing bit of news yesterday: City officials announced the latest batch of public school test scores, and they aren't the home run Fenty sorely needed. While secondary schools continue to improve, primary school scores dropped in both math and reading -- what Bill Turque calls "a setback to Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee as she seeks to overhaul the city's schools." It's also a setback for the Fenty campaign, which, as Turque notes, "hopes to demonstrate to voters that the city's school system, among the nation's weakest, is undergoing a historic turnaround. As Fenty fends off charges of cronyism and indifference to constituent concerns, school improvement has emerged as an increasingly critical part of his political portfolio."

AFTER THE JUMP -- Marathon council meeting before summer break -- Report indicates big problems with city contracting -- Rhee stumps for Baltimore politico -- Ex-Fenty campaign aide has suit tossed -- District could be getting Capitol statues soon

*** MAIN COURSE ***

CHALLENGES -- More from Tim and Nikita: "Fenty has been relentless at street intersections and Metro stations in the morning and at doorsteps in the evening -- the same tactics that catapulted him from council member to mayor in 2006. ... But sources close to the campaign said Fenty has been unwilling to take advice and slow to grasp that, unlike in 2006, he is not a fresh-faced council member known for constituent service but an incumbent mayor defending his record. For instance, Fenty overruled advisers who urged him to hold off on the TV ads until the campaign had put together a more comprehensive strategy, two sources close to the campaign said. And some say his style has hampered his ability to build and nurture an electoral coalition." As for Gray: "[S]upporters worry that he has been putting in too many hours on council business and needs to spend more time selling himself to undecided voters. ... A more pressing concern among Gray supporters is that he is too slow to make some decisions. They point to the education plan that he rolled out two weeks ago. A dozen advisers helped Gray develop the plan, and then he and his staff vetted it with nearly 100 government officials, teachers, school administrators, labor leaders, parents and other stakeholders, sources said. Gray is taking a similar approach to proposals on crime, economic development, job creation and fiscal responsibility. ... [I]n an election that could be decided by a few thousand ballots, many political observers are skeptical that Gray's field operation is disciplined enough to coordinate a winning get-out-the-vote effort, especially against a candidate who spends nearly every night collecting names of potential voters. Some Gray supporters said they had to drive to his headquarters to pick up yard signs after the campaign failed to deliver them."

ALL ABOUT TEST SCORES -- More Turque on test scores: "The data released Tuesday did reflect encouraging news for middle and high schools, which extended gains in reading and math proficiency on the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System. Officials said the three-year record of double-digit growth in secondary schools' test scores -- an average gain of 14 percentage points in the reading pass rate and 17 points in the math rate -- surpasses the norm for big urban school districts. But the dip of between four to five points in elementary scores halts an upward two-year trend. From 2007 to 2009, elementary pass rates had risen about 19 points in math and 11 points in reading. The decline comes at an inopportune moment for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who is in a hotly contested Democratic primary battle. ... The elementary school decline also represents a blow for Rhee, who has made test score growth an integral part of the cultural change in schools she has pursued since becoming chancellor in 2007. ... Fenty and Rhee remained upbeat about the school system, pointing to an innovative new teachers contract, freshly renovated schools and a three-year record of achievement gains. ... Rhee said that reversals were inevitable when attempting to turn around a low-achieving school system and that she was undaunted. 'We like to celebrate when we do well, and when we don't, we have to take responsibility,' she said in an interview later in the day. 'We have to own this and figure out how to move forward.' " Also see WAMU-FM, DCist and the Examiner, whose Leah Fabel noted that Fenty "appeared somewhat perplexed when asked by a parent why his office doesn't do more to communicate the school system's results. 'I grew up in D.C. when people, all they did was talk and talk. I like to do,' he said. 'People can look around and see the progress.' " And the paper's Freeman Klopott looks at the political implications. Also see the charter vs. traditional public school breakdown -- the scores are essentially equal in primary grades, but charters do much better at the secondary level.

WHY TESTS ARE TRICKY-- The Post's Valerie Strauss has a smart take on the news at her Answer Sheet blog: "The problem is that she has made raising standardized test scores a central measure for achievement -- hers, students and teachers. When test scores go up, as they very often do when a great emphasis is put on the results and teachers 'teach to the test' (either consciously or subconsciously), it is easy to claim credit. School reforms are working! Yeah! But scores invariably go down after a time, no matter who is giving them and who is taking them, and they do so for reasons that may have nothing to do with the teacher, or the student, or the schools district chief."

LONG DAY ON THE DAIS -- The D.C. Council wrapped up its business before summer recess with a marathon 10-hour legislative meeting yesterday. On the agenda:

-- Bill to open up juvenile records passed an initial vote.

-- Greg Selfridge was confirmed to the Zoning Commission, but fellow developer Stanley Wall had his nomination tabled.

-- Temporary legislation allowing streetcar wires on H Street NE passed unanimously.

-- United Medical Center takeover is finalized, but not before "another round of personal squabbling between [Marion Barry] and the takeover plan's lead advocate, David Catania."

TECH CONTRACTING IS A MESS -- A post-OCTOgate D.C. Council investigation of procurement practices at the city technology agency finds it to be "overly reliant on contractors, too eager to award jobs to under-qualified local businesses and not nearly aggressive enough in its monitoring of their work, setting up a system that is easily defrauded and wastes piles of taxpayer dollars," Michael Neibauer reports at WBJ. The report, done pro bono by the Sidley Austin law firm, "keyed on the OCTO's reliance on outside contractors, inadequate monitoring of contractors and the long-held policy of awarding work to local firms that are often little more than 'temp agencies' scouring Internet job sites for potential hires to fill open government jobs." The OCTOgate schemes, investigators wrote, "were not particularly sophisticated. They merely exploited weaknesses in the District's procurement system." Neibauer adds: "That conclusion is eerily similar to the findings of another investigation into a much more costly scam: the $48 million taxpayer rip-off by mid-level managers in the Office of Tax and Revenue."

CORPORATE SHELL GAME -- WAMU's Patrick Madden does a very good piece on LLC "bundling" in city campaign fundraising -- that is, the practice of one business concern, typically a developer, spreading out several maximum legal donations among several subsidiary corporations. " 'There is definitely an inherent advantage to real estate holding companies in terms of being able to help the candidates they want to support,' says Terry Lynch, a longtime D.C. activist. As Lynch explains, real estate companies often own many properties. To limit their liability, if a development goes south, these companies often create individual LLC's for each property. But there's an unintended consequence when campaign season rolls around. ... D.C. campaign law says corporations are not allowed to use subsidiaries or companies under its control to skirt contribution limits, but at the same time, it says it's perfectly legal for corporations and their owners to make multiple contributions." Attorney Rod Woodson, chair of the Building Industry Association's legislative committee, says it's all legal and, moreover, "Access in D.C. government and to D.C. government officials is not a function of giving money to them." Mary Cheh says, "Honestly I don't pay that much attention to where the money comes from," but she says she'll look at the issue. (Note that BIA and other real estate interests are throwing a fundraiser for Cheh tomorrow.)

WHERE'S THE PARENTS? -- Another report from Monday's hospital hearing -- this one from Jonetta Rose Barras, highlighting "disturbing acrimony among those who were there, particularly committee Chairman David Catania and Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry. The two repeatedly interrupted each other and bickered over everything from how many visits Barry had made to the hospital to how many minutes each had used to question witnesses. A parent was desperately needed. ... Legislators' pettiness was the sideshow for the real madness: Three months after Catania, Attorney General Peter Nickles and others began planning their takeover of UMC, they couldn't agree on what the financial burden would be to taxpayers. ... This might be a good time to start talking about term limits. Who needs a bunch of misbehaving spendthrifts, anyway?"

RHEE ON THE HUSTINGS -- Turque reports that Rhee, billed as a "Nationally Renowned Progressive Education Reform Advocate," is set to appear at a Baltimore fundraising event for Maryland state Senate candidate and fellow Teach for America vet Bill Ferguson (D). "Tickets start at $50 for Baltimore city school teachers and top out at $1,000 for 'hosts.' ... Rhee said Tuesday afternoon that she didn't consider the appearance to be a campaign event, nor was it an endorsement of Ferguson, who she doesn't know. 'Somebody who knows him called me and said they were having an event for him,' she said. 'They want me to talk about the importance of education reform. It's very general.' "

EX-FENTY AIDE FOILED -- Some good news for Fenty on a day full of bad news: A lawsuit filed by former campaign worker Clinton LeSueur, who wanted a $5,000 unpaid bonus payment, was tossed by a Superior Court magistrate judge. Keith Alexander reports in The Post that Judge Michael J. McCarthy "cited a District law that provides immunity for elected officials ... McCarthy said that even if Fenty (D) had made the deal with LeSueur, it had to have been made after Fenty was elected mayor, and therefore LeSueur had no recourse in court. Fenty's attorney, Bruce Klores, also argued that there was no proof that Fenty had made such an agreement. Further, Klores said, LeSueur sued the wrong party because he was working for the Bowser campaign at the time." LeSueur says he'll appeal.

STATUES OF LIBERTY -- Somewhere Mark Plotkin is smiling, saying "About freakin' time": "The House Administration Committee is expected to approve a bill Wednesday that would add two statues from D.C. to the National Statuary Hall Collection, which includes statues of historical luminaries from each of the 50 states," Ben Pershing reports at D.C. Wire. "[T]he city picked its two representatives -- abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass and Pierre L'Enfant, the architect who designed the city -- four years ago. The statues have been sculpted, at a combined cost of about $200,000, and have been sitting in the lobby of One Judiciary Square awaiting their chance to move into the Capitol. ... Republicans on the Administration panel are not expected to oppose Norton's bill. But the committee's ranking GOP lawmaker, Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.), is expected to offer an amendment that would reduce the District's statue quota from two to one, while also extending the same privilege to Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories that are similarly unrepresented in Statuary Hall."


*** SMALL PLATES ***

Man convicted in two killings admits to five more -- "All of the shootings occurred in Southeast Washington between 1994 and 2000, one of the deadliest periods in the city's history. 'These killings were reminiscent of what it used to be like in the city with a string of retaliations,' D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said. 'Closing these cases is like turning toward a new day.' " (The Post)

CNN picks up Ron Moten's Fenty-as-Jesus pitch (Political Ticker)

InTowner endorses Jim Graham and Phil Mendelson -- "Yes, there's talk that it's 'time for a change' but we are not in that camp." (InTowner PDF)

Gray picks up endorsements from corrections/protective-services officer unions (D.C. Wire)

National union formally intervenes in Washington Teachers' Union election mess (D.C. Schools Insider)

Deborah Simmons takes an admiring look at charter-led "reconstitutions" of failing DCPS schools (Washington Times)

A sixth DYRS ward is murdered this year. Stanley Dawson was 19. (Capital Land)

Did you know? "[T]he District's proposed fiscal 2011 budget would drain $539,000 from the Tree Fund and redirect the money to the general fund." (Examiner blog)

School board candidate Patrick Mara "doesn't blink when asked how he'll counter skeptical voters in a ward where registered Republicans comprise a mere 5% of the electorate. 'Education is not about partisanship,' he insists." (Examiner)

Surprise! Fenty skips mayoral forum moderated by Robert Brannum (City Desk)

Clark Ray would like an investigation into homophobic MPD fliers, please (Capital Land)

Following successful appeal, union leaders want fired social workers reinstated (AP)

More on Monday's Stein Club endorsements (Blade)

Inside the MPD "go-go report" -- funny, they didn't list "Go-Go 4 Fenty" (City Desk)

Can the Washington Monument grounds be improved? (DCmud)

At Turkey Thicket, Olympic gold medalist helps D.C. kids learn to swim (The Post)

MPD will, in fact, escort female protesters from the Washington Islamic Center (Capital Land)

Imposter Metro bus driver has same address as actual Metro bus driver (The Post)

Two wounded in Shaw shooting (NC8)

Lightning strike may have caused St. Elizabeths fire (WTOP)

Did Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) stiff a cabbie? (WTTG-TV)

Federal jurors watch porn (Legal Times)


*** ON THE MENU ***

Fenty, Nickles, Catania cut ribbon in new pediatric ER at United Medical Center -- Council hearings on police Breathalyzer problems, heat-related power outages, election reform

By Mike DeBonis  |  July 14, 2010; 9:26 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Mike , The District  
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Next: DeMorning DeBonis: July 15, 2010

Comments

As one who has an entire block peppered with Gray for Mayor signs let me just say that the response time was amazing. My neighborhood signs were delivered in the middle of the evening by two very dedicated Gray for Mayor Volunteers. What people are missing is the fact that Mr. Gray's camp is made up of volunteers who, after family commitments, job, and home responsibilities and priorities take their personal time to commit themselves to the cause of getting him elected. That commitment is very different from someone who is paid and paid handsomely to do a job that they are assigned, not to mention all of the DC government employees who have mysteriously taken leave of absences to work on Mr. Fenty’s campaign.
As for Mr. Gray's decisiveness with which he puts out policy; my view is that I would rather have someone take their time and get it right then to rush it and have to pay millions of dollars in lawsuits as in the Bannaker Ventures debacle and the CFSA workers who are now being ordered to return to work and paid back pay of $300,000.00 and the misstep of pulling Special Education students from private placement without a plan for integrating them back into the public school system and then with egg on your face, having to apologize to the parents and students for such an egregious mistake.
So, if you are telling me that being inclusive, which is what this country was founded on is somehow a bad thing, than as a woman and an African-American have fought for rights and privileges in this country, I would rather have someone who considers my views and the views of my neighbors before they arbitrarily decide my fate and the future of my children.

Posted by: lacairaine | July 14, 2010 12:26 PM | Report abuse

I've heard that Cheh has a nearly weekly breakfast with a group of developers that she relies on and is close to. Is this true? Did you note the testimony of Parisa Nourizi in January on a district facilities bill where she noted that no developers testified, which she pointed out as evidence that the developers already have close contact with Cheh? I guess the millions that are involved with developers and the Council just doesn't matter.

Posted by: clarkesq | July 14, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

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