DeMorning DeBonis: Jan. 10, 2011
TODAY IS JAN. 10, 2011 -- DAY 9 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION
PREVIOUSLY -- Biddle sworn in as newest D.C. Council member
Sekou Biddle is now an at-large member of the D.C. Council, having been sworn in Friday evening by Chairman Kwame Brown in a quiet ceremony, but debate on the propriety of the interim appointment process isn't over. On Friday, Tim Craig reported at D.C. Wire that the balloting process used by the D.C. Democratic State Committee apparently violated national party rules forbidding secret ballots. The Post editorial board opines this morning: "If there were any question about what's wrong with letting political insiders -- and not the voters -- select people for office, it was all but obliterated with last week's unbecoming process" -- though shielding Biddle from the opprobrium, calling him a "standout member" of the State Board of Education who "shows much promise." DCist's Martin Austermuhle, writing at the All Opinions Are Local blog, said the process was "enough to make anyone abandon hope in democracy." David Alpert writes at GGW that it's good that Biddle won but that he needs to "start branding himself as an independent person and distancing himself from the distasteful process" -- make that an "archaic, backroom practice which leaves a stink of corruption on even good candidates." This reporter's take: Hard to blame Biddle -- in politics, you don't often win without playing the game.
AFTER THE JUMP -- Keep William Lockridge in your thoughts and prayers -- Gray health pick served in Pratt administration -- Team Thomas deadline is today -- Gray issues order on transparency policy -- Emerson will oversee D.C. budget on Hill
*** MAIN COURSE ***
MORE ON BIDDLE -- From Tim's item: "Ronnie Edwards, the committee member who oversaw the voting process, said in brief interview Friday morning that an accurate accounting of how a member voted could not be obtained. ... Edwards added that party leaders fear members could be susceptible to 'intimidation' if their ballots were not considered secret. ... 'We maintained openness in the process in that we had a ballot and recorded the ballot,' Edwards said. 'But we really did not do a good job of trying to track people's votes because we did not want anyone to be threatened or intimidated for exercising their right to vote.' ... D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said she was surprised when she was unable to find out Thursday night which committee members voted for which candidate. 'When someone called last night and said people had switched (from [Vincent Orange] to Biddle), I said, "Who are they?" ' Cheh recalled. 'They said, "They didn't know cause it was a secret ballot. ... My instincts are, "Gee I ought to be able to know that." ' From the editorial: "Picking a council member is too important to be relegated to back rooms. With the special election scheduled so soon, it seems unnecessary, not to mention unfair to those candidates who don't get the leg up of immediate incumbency. ... At-large vacancies are a rare occurrence, and so there's the temptation to overlook last week's problems. We would urge the council to rethink how vacancies are filled and seek legislative remedies to ensure a better process."
THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS -- William Lockridge, Ward 8's longtime representative to the old school board and now the State Board of Education, suffered a burst aneurysm Friday afternoon and is fighting for his life at George Washington University Hospital. A spokeswoman said yesterday that Lockridge, 63, "remains in the intensive care unit on life-support and has shown little, but encouraging progress." A candlelight vigil is set for 7 p.m. tonight outside the Foggy Bottom Metro station.
GRAY APPOINTEES -- Nikita Stewart covers Friday's rollout of Mayor Vincent Gray's appointees to lead his health, health-care finance, small-business development and communications shops. As reported Thursday, Virginian Wayne Turnage will indeed run DHCF, and Linda Wharton Boyd will handle Gray's communications. Antonio Hunter returns to run DSLBD. Most intriguing is the appointment of Mohammad Akhter to run the Department of Health -- a job he held under Mayor Sharon Pratt from 1991 to 1994 to generally good reviews. "Akhter, who said he now lives in Ward 2, is a senior associate dean at the Howard University College of Medicine, and he served six years as executive director of the American Public Health Association. He said he returned to District government because 'Mr. Gray asked me.' But he also said he has a 'once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set the system right.' In an interview in the 1990s, Akhter told The Washington Post that he was frustrated that he did not have the resources to tackle some of the pressing health problems of that time: AIDS, tuberculosis, drug and alcohol addiction and infant mortality. ... Akhter, who promised to bring together the community and city leaders to discuss the issue, said he knows residents east of the Anacostia River 'deserve better services.' "
IMPROVING EotR HEALTH-- In her Examiner column, Jonetta Rose Barras responds to the Akhter pick by questioning how much the city can really do to improve the health of poor residents who might not want to take advantage of the health opportunities they've been given. "I knew him to be a dedicated, hardworking administrator. A Pakistani, he brought a Third-World missionary zeal to the job. I had great respect for him and regretted his departure. When he left, he blasted the bureaucracy, complaining of cumbersome procurement rules and insufficient funding, among other things. The more things change, the more they stay the same: There may have been some reforms in procurement, but that system still needs a lot of work. ... [I]f Gray and Akhter have decided they should be evaluated based on whether people actually avail themselves of certain programs, they may have set themselves up for failure. After all, government can only provide the services. People have to decide whether to use them."
TEAM THOMAS UPDATE -- The court-imposed deadline for Harry Thomas Jr. to hand over detailed information about his Team Thomas nonprofit is here, and a Post editorial reports that Thomas attorney Fred Cooke "doesn't know" if the information is forthcoming. "[I]t seems to us there shouldn't be any question about a public official complying with a court directive -- particularly an elected representative who says he has nothing to hide and has promised openness. ... [Cooke] said that a variety of options are under consideration. These include appealing last month's ruling by Superior Court Senior Judge Stephen F. Eilperin requiring Mr. Thomas to comply with a subpoena seeking more detailed information about the more than $200,000 raised since January 2008 by Team Thomas. Mr. Thomas could also decide not to produce the documents, thus forcing the city to go back into court for enforcement. Mr. Cooke suggested that perhaps incoming attorney general Irving B. Nathan wouldn't have the same appetite for the investigation as did his predecessor, Peter J. Nickles. We certainly hope that is not the case."
DID GRAY INTERVENE TO KEEP FRIEND'S GROUP HOME OPEN? -- Jeffrey Anderson of the Washington Times raises questions about the nonexistent recordkeeping and other issues with Dupree House, a Petworth group home for troubled youths run by Associates for Renewal in Education -- a organization run by Gray buddy Thomas Gore. "[T]he lack of paperwork is not the only unusual thing about Dupree House. According to DYRS officials, the group home has played a unique -- and some might say questionable -- role in the housing of high-risk youthful offenders for whom there was no bed space at the New Beginnings Youth Development Center. ... [Former DYRS director Robert Hildum] emphasized that the group home has had a good reputation in the community for more than 25 years. 'But it appears that the previous administration was using the house to control the population at New Beginnings,' he said." From there, things get more sketchy. Jauhar Abraham, head of Peaceoholics, claims that ex-DYRS chief Vinny Schiraldi wanted to shut Dupree House down but Gray ran political interference to prevent it. The Peaceoholics, of course, have a bit of an ax to grind against Gray.
GRAY TRANSPARENCY POLICY -- Gray's first executive order [PDF] lays out his administration's "transparency and open government policy" -- one that prompts the Examiner's Freeman Klopott to write that hizzoner "sounds serious about open government." Within 120 days, the city administrator will come up with "recommendations on improving transparency, participation and collaboration in governmental actions." Said Gray: "My administration will ensure that information is disclosed, consistent with law and policy, promptly and in a manner or medium that is useful to the public. Responsible officials must actively encourage that records exempt from mandatory disclosure be made available as a matter of discretion when disclosure is not prohibited by law or harmful to public interest." In other words: There's should be a much lesser need for FOIA requests. We shall see.
QUEEN OF THE D.C. BUDGET -- The congressional overseer of the city's budget will be Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), who will replace Rep. Jose Serrano as chair of the House appropriations subcommittee on financial services. Ben Pershing explains at D.C. Wire why this is good news for the city: "Emerson has compiled a relatively moderate voting record compared to many of her Republican colleagues. She has backed some efforts in the past to attach riders to D.C. bills -- including a prohibition on spending money to implement a law permitting the use of medical marijuana -- but she has also been generally supportive of the idea that the District should be able to manage itself without interference from the Hill. Though she represents Missouri, Emerson was born in the District and grew up in Bethesda." NOTA BENE: This is not the same as the House Oversight subcommittee that also has jurisdiction over District affairs. An announcement from Oversight chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on that post is forthcoming.
REDSKINS? FUGGEDABOUTIT. -- WTOP's Mark Plotkin hosted three of the four living former mayors of the District -- Barry, Pratt and Williams -- on his "Politics Program" on Friday. They proceeded to throw some needed cold water on the notion that the Redskins could be coming back to the District anytime soon: "'It's really quite delusional to think (the Redskins) are going to come back anytime soon,' said council member Marion Barry. 'Dan Snyder is making money galore.' Barry says Snyder has a long-term commitment at FedEx Field, and it's unlikely that the team will move back to D.C. Former mayor Anthony Williams says bringing the team to the District would come at a cost. 'It's easy for everybody to say "just do what you need to do to bring the Redskins back to Washington, D.C.," but take it from me, the owner's gonna want something, so you're going to have to put up something like we did with baseball,' Williams said. 'And believe me, you're going to get your butt burned for it,' he added." Also: How Barack Obama came knocking on Williams's door many years ago.
*** SMALL PLATES ***
Gray calls incendiary package sender "cowardly, dastardly" (D.C. Wire)
Upshur Dog Park opens, without Mayor Gray (WTOP)
Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe talks about taking his "transformational style" back to FEMS and his long relationship with Gray, rooted in baseball: "I've known the mayor since I was 14 years old. I like the type of man he is." (WRC-TV)
Georgetown dean, Obama "car czar" will advise Brown on ethics committee makeup (JRBarras.com)
"Common core" standards could take years to implement (The Post)
Rhee agenda "focus[es] on three areas: the teaching profession; empowering families with information and choices; and developing more accountability" (AP)
How east-of-the-river development will be jump-started (WBJ)
DCPS investigates allegations of Dunbar teacher's "inappropriate conduct" with student (D.C. Schools Insider)
Patrick Mara's BMW-related special education transportation claims "mostly on point" (TBD)
Can D.C.'s public squares be improved? (Housing Complex)
Federal appeals court reverses corruption conviction against DCRA employee (WaTimes)
Thomas explains what he's doing for Rhode Island Avenue (Rhode Island Insider)
Family sues over alleged police assault at 2008 Caribbean parade (WUSA-TV)
Gay activists upset at Cardinal Donald Wuerl's role in inauguration (Blade)
NCPC takes up comprehensive plan amendments, including support for downtown air rights development (DCmud)
How to improve the Metro message machine (TBD)
JBG's Ben Jacobs, perhaps the region's most savvy developer, is hanging it up; Michael J. Glosserman is the firm's new head (The Post)
We're so literate (USA Today)
*** ON THE MENU ***
David Catania appears on NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt, 10 .am. on TBD -- Gray hosts moment of silence for Arizona shooting victims, 11 a.m. in JAWB atrium -- D.C. Water's George Hawkins talks "water safety, service, and what customers can expect in future water bills" on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, noon on WAMU-FM -- Gray hosts first cabinet meeting, 3 p.m. in JAWB G9