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DeMorning DeBonis: July 6, 2010

TODAY IS JULY 6, 2010 -- 70 DAYS UNTIL PRIMARY DAY

Let's launch this extra-long long-weekend edition of DMDB with a brief discussion of the failings of this year's Palisades July 4 Parade, that fabulous civic institution that, in election years, also provides for prime preening for politicos. Alas, there seems to be a political backlash brewing: Post reporter Stephanie Lee reports that "Some paradegoers said they were less than thrilled with the high politician turnout. ... Longtime resident Beatrice Meyerson said: 'The ratio of politicians to everything else is too high. It's more fun to watch bands and kids.'" And Harry Jaffe also laments the parade's makeup, writing that "it has been overtaken by politicians and political activists, who out numbered bands and local floats by about 2-1." Otherwise, Michael Grass, writing at City Desk, was most dismayed by the smell of horse excrement festering in the sun, as well as the scratchy towels -- "a mix between sandpaper, chamois and ratty gym towel" -- tossed by Mayor Adrian Fenty's crew. My beef: Where was the candy? Between the water, electric fans, and pocket constitutions, there was plenty of swag on offer from politicians. But only Jack Evans, god bless him, gave the kids what they wanted: sugar.

AFTER THE JUMP -- dueling opinions on Michelle Rhee's role in the mayoral campaigns -- Rhee tells Newsweek "procedure and harmony" are not her priorities -- questions raised about city takeover of United Medical Center -- Banneker Ventures settles for $550K -- is it too hard to get a gun in this town?

*** MAIN COURSE ***

SHOULD SHE STAY OR SHOULD SHE GO? -- Two must-reads in the Post offer different perspectives on Michelle Rhee and the mayoral race. Columnist Jay Mathews explained on Monday why Rhee ought to butt out of the mayoral race: "Rhee has vowed to focus on the problems of students, not adults. Until now she had been true to her word. That has led many adults whose advice she has ignored and prerogatives she has overridden to wish she would go find some other school district to save. Saying she would leave if [Vincent Gray] is elected is good news to those people. It is bad for the principals she has appointed, the teachers who share her commitment to raising achievement and the parents who are beginning to see the teamwork, creativity and persistence in regular city public schools that they have found in many charter schools." And the Post's editorial argues Tuesday why Rhee should rightly be part of the campaigns: "Key to Ms. Rhee's ability to bring about change was the unflinching support -- in resources and political backing -- from the mayor. ... Mr. Gray is more cautious and far more sensitive to the sensibilities of those upset by the chancellor's actions. ... He has left open the door to retaining Ms. Rhee if he is elected, but critics say that is motivated more by the politics of his mayoral campaign than any real possibility he would retain someone with whom he has so repeatedly clashed. Mr. Gray rightly argues that reform doesn't depend upon one person. But the past three years have shown two men with a very different sense of urgency about reform. Voters who believe the D.C. schools have turned an irreversible corner may opt for Mr. Gray's slower, consensus-building style. Those who believe Ms. Rhee has made epic progress in positioning the schools for change but think there is still work to be done, will have reason to give Mr. Fenty their vote."

RHEE ON "DISDAIN" -- More from Rhee on why she probably wouldn't be able to work for Gray, on Bill Turque's D.C. Schools Insider blog: "I don't think it's any secret--the chairman certainly hasn't made any secret of the fact-- that he has a fair amount of disdain for the way we have conducted this reform effort to date. So I don't think he's been shy about that. And so it's very difficult for me to understand how anybody thinks that all of a sudden he would embrace this reform agenda, this particular reform agenda. ... We've worked together for three years. Over the course of that three years he's repeatedly said he's not happy with the way that the reform efforts have gone. I'm very clear on that. And again, I think it's naive to believe that all of a sudden, overnight, just moving from Sept. 14 to Sept. 15 that's going to change."

"I'M NOT HIS GIRL" -- Rhee says still more to Newsweek, in an item titled "How School Reformer Michelle Rhee May Be a Factor in the D.C. Mayoral Race." : "'I am not trying to frame this as a referendum on me,' she said in an interview late Thursday. Instead, she said, people are reading more than they should into public statements she's recently made acknowledging that [Fenty and Gray], have 'very clear differences in their approach to education reform.' 'I think I've been clear from the beginning that I believe that the only way I can do what's best for kids is if I have the full backing and support of the person I'm working for,' she said. 'You need to be in lock step and have the same philosophy and outlook. You both have to be willing to make hard decisions and take the heat that comes with them.' While Gray clearly supports school reforms, she said, he is 'very process-oriented and wants less turmoil. That's one way to go about things, but if procedure and harmony are his priorities, I'm not his girl.'"

RHEE-ELECT -- Tom Toles looks at the real race this election year:

RHEE-TORT -- Young Education Professional has this to say about Fenty's debate no-show: "Mr. Fenty is certainly a busy man -- father, mayor of the nation's capital, triathlete -- but surely he could offer a better reason for not showing up than he 'couldn't make it work.' By not doing so, Mr. Fenty only reinforced the common charges against him of his indifference and disrespect toward many constituents -- charges to which this voter, for one, is increasingly willing to listen."

BIG BOXED -- Wal-Mart is coming to D.C., and it seems to be for real this time. "Wal-Mart is negotiating to open a store on New York Avenue NE near the intersection of Bladensburg Road, on a parcel owned by a family in the taxicab business," Jonathan O'Connell reports in Capital Business, citing sources familiar with the negotiations. "Brothers Andrew, Dave and Jerry Schaeffer own both a large local taxi company and more than 11 acres in the triangle bounded by New York and Montana avenues and Bladensburg Road NE, property that includes a strip club and used auto parts shops. Until earlier this year, the brothers had contracted with D.C. developer Jim Abdo on a plan to build a massive housing and retail complex on the site, but the deal fell through after the real estate and credit markets collapsed. Abdo said the Schaeffers' land could be an 'ideal location' for Wal-Mart. ... Unlike other D.C. sites Wal-Mart has considered in recent years, such as property near Poplar Point in Anacostia, building a store on New York Avenue would likely require no zoning changes or city subsidies, possibly allowing the company to sidestep many of the political concerns it attracts because of its uneasy relations with organized labor." WTTG-TV follows up.

SHOULD THIS HOSPITAL BE SAVED? -- The Post's editorial board warns of the "financial perils" of the city assuming control of United Medical Center. "One has to wonder," it writes, "if officials really know what they are getting the city into by trying to acquire Southeast's only hospital. Not only has the District's chief financial officer warned about the likely fiscal risks, but the city's nightmarish experience of running D.C. General -- and getting out of that arrangement -- should serve as a cautionary tale. ... [C]ity officials are right to feel the special obligation to maintain the only hospital in Southeast. ... Nonetheless, there's been a disturbing tendency by the council, particularly council member David Catania (I-At Large), who helped engineer the agreement with Specialty, to forge ahead without a clear-cut idea of where the city will end up." Meanwhile, Jonetta Rose Barras slams the council in the Examiner for "recklessly moving toward a financial collision" by moving to take over the hospital: "Maintaining a hospital east of the Anacostia River is a noble goal. But these repeated failures suggest it may not be possible. They provide tangible reasons for [CFO Natwar Gandhi']s reluctance. But the CFO can't just put his concerns on paper. It may be time he flexed his congressionally created muscles. It may be time for him to step in, as he did with D.C. General, to prevent elected officials from spending or investing one more dime of the public's money on the United Medical Center." WBJ's Ben Fischer does a fine job of detailing the hospital's fiscal challenges.

BANNEKER SETTLES -- Banneker Ventures has settled with the city over the controversial parks contracts canceled by the D.C. Council, Nikita Stewart reported on Saturday, paying $550,000 on a $2.3 million claim. "The agreement went into effect Thursday when it was signed by [AG Peter Nickles] and Adrianne Todman, interim executive director of the D.C. Housing Authority. It comes two weeks before a special council committee expects a briefing from defense attorney Robert P. Trout, who is heading the council's independent investigation on a pro bono basis. Trout is investigating how the contract was handled. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5), chairman of the Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation, said Trout will present an update of the probe but that a final report is not ready. The investigation has been slowed by reluctant witnesses despite subpoenas, he said. ... Thomas said he is aware that releasing a final report closer to the election could be perceived as politically motivated, but he added that Trout and his staff are trying to be thorough. 'What we're trying to do is have true findings as opposed to thinking this is a political witch hunt. We want to do this right,'" Thomas said." Says verbose Banneker lawyer Scott Bolden: "Unfortunately, the unnecessary and unreasonable scrutiny of this D.C. contract is ongoing with the D.C. Council at great expense to my clients and the residents of the District of Columbia, with the real victims being D.C. residents, Banneker and its many subcontractors who worked extremely hard to simply renovate and rebuild several recreation and community centers in the most challenged part of the city." Also note that Sinclair Skinner, prime beneficiary of the contracting, "remains a visible volunteer on Fenty's campaign."

DOWN THE DRAIN? -- The federal government's decision not to pay local stormwater fees is examined by O'Connell in Cap Biz. Turns out the move, which could cost D.C. Water more than $3 million in yearly revenue by next year, may not be final: "Susan A. Poling, GAO managing associate general counsel, said the letter represented a 'preliminary review.' Its final decision is expected before the government receives its first storm water charge in October. 'I think our concern is the constitutional issue,' Poling said. 'So we're looking into it right now and we're in discussion with both the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority and also the D.C. Department of the Environment.' The discussion will be academic if Congress passes a bill by Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) that instructs agencies not to consider storm water charges as taxes and to pay them. In May, Cardin wrote the Council on Environmental Quality, which advises the president on environmental issues, to ask that the government share the financial burden of addressing storm water pollution. His bill, which also reauthorizes and expands federal efforts to protect the Chesapeake Bay, was approved by a committee and sent to the Senate on June 30."

LOTTO QUESTIONS -- Just what is Veterans Services Corp.? Jeffrey Anderson of the Washington Times continues his look at the new city lottery contractor and finds many questions about projects that VSC listed as having completed. Several government contracting executives tell Anderson they've never heard of VSC; what's revealed is that the projects are the work of a web of contractors and executives that includes VSC CEO Emmanuel Bailey. "A common denominator among Mr. Bailey's various firms is that they work in an arena regulated by the federal government for the benefit of disadvantaged companies seeking to get ahead. ... VSC's profile says it is a 'SBA 8(a) certified' company. A document VSC filed with the District's small-business-development department states that the company is a 'certified minority, service-disabled-veteran-owned management firm.' ... However, SBA spokeswoman Cecelia M. Taylor said 'Veterans Services Corp. is not an 8(a) approved company.' ... Shortly after The Times discovered the construction-services profile on the VSC website on June 10 and began calling federal agencies to inquire about the projects, the profile disappeared from its website. In its place, a statement first observed two weeks later, on June, 24 read: 'Please be advised that the prior [profile] for VSC was mistakenly combined with the past performance of a different firm associated with one of the principals of VSC.'"

GET YOUR GUN? -- NPR's Morning Edition yesterday asked, in the wake of the McDonald Supreme Court decision, whether D.C. gun laws are too strict: "Attorney George Lyon lives in a row house in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of D.C. with his wife, his dog and his Glock. He was one of the plaintiffs in the suit that overturned the original gun ban, and he shoots regularly. He figured out how to get a handgun. But, he says, imagine a woman being stalked who fears for her life. 'She has to go to the D.C. Police Department, she's got to take the test, she's got to have the background check, and she's go to wait 10 days while she could potentially be killed,' Lyon says in frustration. ...D.C. Councilman Phil Mendelson says that shows the regulations do exactly what they're supposed to do -- identify the bad guys, but leave the good guys alone. 'For the Metropolitan Police Department, when they find somebody with a gun, if the person doesn't have a registration certificate, which is typically the case, they can arrest the person on the spot because they know that person has an illegal gun,' Mendelson says." Famed plaintiff Dick Heller "says the current regulations make a mockery of the court's decision. ... Heller argues that 'it's unconstitutional to be forced to pay fees to exercise your constitutional right,' and says the only reasonable restrictions prevent sales to felons, children and those with a history of mental illness."

STILL WORK TO DO -- Researchers and activists Dana Best and Marc Edwards respond in a Post op-ed to CDC chief Thomas R. Frieden's piece last week on waterborne lead in D.C. They write that "what happened in the District was far more serious than this piece suggested. As soon as the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority started to note the elevated water lead levels, it began to hide problems and play down potential health effects. If it hadn't been for the work of reporters from The Post, D.C. residents might never have learned the full extent of dangers from the water supply. Once the story broke, the messages delivered to D.C. residents contained misinformation and tended to play down the risks of elevated lead in the water supply. Dr. Frieden's commentary continued in this vein by presenting a skewed version of events in which the CDC is portrayed as a victim of D.C.'s poor data collection rather than the author of an inaccurate and misleading report. ... We remain concerned about the perpetuation of misinformation released during the crisis. While the heads of the agencies and organizations involved have changed, many people with significant responsibility for the coverup of the elevated lead and associated harm to D.C. residents remain. Dr. Frieden seems to be hearing their voices without hearing ours."

WHAT'S SOUSA'S SECRET? -- Post reporter Stephanie McCrummen explores how Principal Dwan Jordon has been able to up test scores at Sousa Middle School: "Sousa has for years exemplified failure. Privately, one faculty member at another school called it a 'dumping ground' for burned-out teachers, a place toxic with low expectations, where students roamed the halls and fought. Eighty percent of the Southeast school's students are from low-income families, 99 percent are African American, and most come from neighborhoods where violence, drugs and other uncertainties invade childhoods. When D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee appointed Jordon to take over the freshly renovated school two years ago, only 23 percent of its students were proficient in reading, 17 percent in math. Described by a former colleague as 'very, very, very, very, I-can't-say-enough verys competitive,' Jordon fired most of the staff and pushed through other changes his first year. The union fought him. Some parents asked for his dismissal. Then the test results came in: Reading proficiency rose to 39 percent, math to 42 percent. Although those lag behind some D.C. public charter schools', Sousa's gains were the biggest of any public middle school in the city last year, and they have drawn attention. In recent months, principals, teachers and education consultants have descended on the red-brick school off Minnesota Avenue SE. They have asked to see Jordon's master schedule, his code of student conduct and the acronym his teachers developed to help kids with reading tests, seeking a distillation of a process that might be replicated."

NO BIAS HERE -- Another Deborah Simmons classic in the Washington Times. Start with the headline: "Fenty boasts achievements as election nears." Stay for the nut graf: "Team Fenty is trying to answer the question 'What have you done for me lately?' before voters even pose the query. It's all part of the campaign's 'Getting Results' slogan, whose intent is to credit Mr. Fenty and dispel any suspicion that his administration has class or race biases. The mayor is an equal opportunity tax-and-spend Democrat."

GOOD HIRE -- Kwame Brown's campaign for council chairman has a new flack: Former Loose Lips columnist James Jones. WTOP's Mark Segraves reports: "'He's got it all, the policy side and the press side,' Brown said. Jones left the City Paper two years ago to become the Senior Program Analyst with D.C. Appleseed a non-profit, public policy group that focuses on local issues such as HIV-AIDS and poverty. Prior to City Paper, Jones was an on-air reporter for WAMU radio. He is well respected both inside government offices and local newsrooms. NBC 4's Tom Sherwood, the dean of Metro reporters, has known both Brown and Jones for years. 'James Jones is a serious journalist who knows how and why the media does what it does. If Kwame Brown wants to learn all that-- Jones is a great choice.' Jones tells WTOP, 'I'm very excited about the opportunity to keep the District moving forward and the council moving forward under the able leadership of Kwame Brown.'"

*** SMALL PLATES ***

Michael A. Brown parks his Hummer illegally (Prince of Petworth)

Harry Jaffe compares D.C. to Chicago (Examiner)

The messy state of the Washington Teachers' Union leadership (City Desk)

Protests save tree at Fourth and I streets NW (Post)

Karen Gray Houston covers the war of signs in Ward 4. Also: Fenty HQ was hopping on July 4, while Gray's offices were closed (WTTG-TV)

Two men, 19 and 66, killed in separate incidents of weekend violence. The younger man, Joshua Hopkins, was a former congressional intern attending Fairmont State University in West Virginia; the older man, John Pernell, was at a neighborhood barbecue when he scuffled with armed robbers. (Post, WTTG-TV, (WRC-TV)

Burglars pose as D.C. Water workers! (Examiner)

Long-term care advocate defends Health Care Finance chief (Post)

Metro pulls 100 rail cars due to door concerns (Post)

Young ANC candidate torn between public safety, youth rights (City Desk)

MPD isn't "cracking down" on slugs, chief says (WTOP)

Vacant building owned by church hit with $149,000 tax bill (WJLA-TV)

Victor Reinoso tells fellow mayoral education advisers that quality education "is not just about running the school system in the right way, it is also about ensuring that the compilation of services that the city has to offer is there." National League of Cities)

Is Lynn Leibovitz "D.C.'s Toughest Judge?" (WRC-TV)

Are Ward 6'ers about to get towed on street-sweeping days? (The Hill Is Home)

Preservation board delays decision on Barney Circle Historic District (DCmud)

Monday morning fire unit block of Rhode Island Avenue NW leaves 18 homeless (Post)

More on Rep. Jared Polis's Fenty endorsement (Blade)


*** DESSERT ***

Why cameras belong in the courtroom (Wall Street Journal)


*** ON THE MENU ***

Heat, sweat and lots of cold drinks

By Mike DeBonis  | July 6, 2010; 10:15 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Mike, The District  
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Next: Patrick Mara, ex-council hopeful, tops list of school board challengers

Comments

Shadow representative Mike Panetta was giving out candy as well, though I think it ran out before the end of the parade. He also had temporary tattoos saying "Where's My Star?" that were popular with the kids.

Posted by: KCinDC1 | July 6, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

Please tell Michelle Rhee she is Not running for mayor. I know this gal thinks she can do it all. Again Ms. Rhee, You ARE NOT Running For Mayor!

Posted by: fivetogo | July 6, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

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