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Posted at 9:41 AM ET, 01/24/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: Jan. 24, 2011

By Mike DeBonis

TODAY IS JAN. 24, 2011 -- DAY 23 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

Freeman Klopott analyzed the at-large D.C. Council race in the Sunday Examiner, and he makes the bold claim that Mayor Vince Gray's endorsement of Sekou Biddle "has effectively narrowed the field to two main candidates," the other being Republican Patrick Mara. And the key issue of the race, he writes, is "who can best claim the Michelle Rhee title of school reformer." The piece generated a good amount of Twitter fury for a weekend, with @fklopott, @jasoncherkis, @DaveStroup, @ChuckThies and others debating the fairness of narrowing the field from well over a dozen to two with weeks to go before the ballot is even set. And, sure, Klopott may overstate the value of Gray's "political machine that has gathered little dust" since last fall's elections (won't be that easy to motivate anti-Adrian Fenty voters to show up en masse for a former Fenty supporter). But it's true that is Biddle is basing his pitch on ed-reform bona fides, and Mara is already looking to sharply undercut them: "By aligning himself with people who are not from the Rhee camp, I don't see how Biddle can still be independent," Mara tells Klopott. "There's no way he can claim the Rhee mantle anymore." It maybe too early to count out Vincent Orange, Bryan Weaver, Jacque Patterson and others, but the Biddle/Mara education clash is where the early sparks are flying.

AFTER THE JUMP -- more on Gray cabinet picks -- WMATA board picks Sarles as Metro's first "CEO" -- budget gap now estimated at $600 million -- why Gray should intervene with Team Thomas -- a rave for D.C.'s new libraries

*** MAIN COURSE ***

CABINET MAKER -- More on the Gray cabinet picks announced Friday: Michael Neibauer writes in WBJ that Victor Hoskins, the new deputy mayor for planning and economic development, "will be charged with overhauling the very manner in which the District fosters business, jobs and development" -- in Gray's words, moving to "dramatically reshape the mission and structure of DMPED." Here's the buried lede: "[Gray] also plans to reestablish quasi-public entities, like the disbanded Anacostia Waterfront Corp. and the National Capital Revitalization Corp, that can 'make us more nimble' in addressing development in specific areas -- around St. Elizabeths and the Department of Homeland Security headquarters, for example." City Paper's Lydia DePillis weighs in on Hoskins, noting he "has extensive experience in leveraging private sector funds to create and preserve affordable housing. ... The fact that Gray didn't pick Hoskins for D.C.'s Department of Housing and Community Development suggests an even stronger focus on housing in his administration, while making a strong pitch for partnerships with the private sector. With so much fretting over D.C.'s bond rating, his familiarity with Wall Street is reassuring as well." Lou Chibbaro, natch, has a full download on GLBT affairs chief Jeff Richardson in the Blade. And Tim Craig and Nikita Stewart, in their Post rundown of the picks, highlight new Office of Risk Management leader Phillip A. Lattimore III, formerly general counsel for the Department of Human Resources: "An investigation last year found that the workers' compensation agency had failed to transfer $3 million to $6 million deducted from the paychecks of 1,400 city employees to insurance companies to pay their premiums. 'It is a mess,' Gray said during the news conference. Lattimore said that as general counsel, he was part of the investigation. Asked about whether the probe found evidence of fraud, Lattimore said: 'We made no conclusions. We referred the matter to the inspector general.'" Also: There is still a deputy mayor to come -- for health and human services.

SARLES IN CHARGE (SORRY, COULDN'T HELP IT) -- After a strange day of high-profile leaks, non-denial denials and finally a confirmation, Metro announced Friday that Richard Sarles will become the system's permanent leader -- with the new title of CEO. Ann Scott Tyson and Ashley Halsey have the news for the Post: "The CEO designation will give the veteran transit official an unprecedented level of authority and autonomy. The decision to award Sarles that power followed recommendations from two groups that the Metro board focus on major policy issues and reduce its micromanagement of daily operations. ... Once the board formalizes its decision with a Jan. 27 vote, Sarles will be empowered by shedding the interim title but faced with a daunting long-term challenge to resurrect a transit system beset with safety issues, aging infrastructure and an enormous shortage of money. .. Sarles, who for months said he had no interest in staying on, won the admiration of Metro's board in tackling morale and safety issues and budget deficits. His achievements made him one of three finalists for the job." GGW's David Alpert offers only lukewarm support for the decision, writing that Sarles "isn't what WMATA needs in the long run ... but he could be a good source of stability as WMATA extricates itself from its immediate crises." Examiner's Kytja Weir reports that the selection process might have violated open-meetings laws.

YOUR $600M BUDGET SHORTFALL -- The latest estimate of the size of the fiscal 2012 budget gap now reaches toward $600 million, Neibauer reports for WBJ, citing Gray administration sources (probably similar to sources who told this reporter the same figure). "[A]gency chiefs are being told in private meetings with Gray's budget team to prepare for a $600 million gap, for double-digit cuts to their budgets and for drastic changes to the District's capital plan, sources say. ... The estimate will change again, probably soon, but it's unclear in what direction. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi's February revenue projection is critical, as it forms the basis for the 2012 baseline budget. And city officials don't have a firm grasp yet on 2011 spending pressures -- or agency overspending caused by unforeseen events, such as overtime, lawsuit settlements or a reduction in federal subsidies."

DEATH AND TAXES -- In his Saturday Post column, Colby King runs down dismal statistics on city foster care, welfare, teen pregnancy and incarceration. "I call attention to these conditions now because I'm willing to bet that District taxpayers will soon be asked to pony up more taxes to fund those city networks and bureaucracies that maintain the safety net under the poor. ... Speaking personally, I'm good to go with more taxes if it will prevent unwarranted pain and suffering, particularly for fellow residents unable to help themselves and their children. But the idea of more taxes to fund the status quo, which means continuing business as usual, stops me short. The District government can no longer play the role of compassionate enabler. Teen pregnancy; irresponsible and absentee fathers; and abusive, neglectful and welfare-dependent parents are not regrettable signs of the times to be accommodated with 'services' aimed toward making life more comfortable. Those behaviors, if we are to grow as a community, must be reversed. If not, any talk about the District becoming a world-class city is pure fantasy."

A KICK IN THE BUTT -- Gray continues to remain mum on Team Thomas -- the now-defunct sports organization that's generated several months worth of unsettling headlines for Harry Thomas Jr. -- and Alan Suderman lets Hizzoner have it in a late Friday post at the Loose Lips blog: "Gray's position at the top of municipal food chain makes him by default the government's moral authority. There's also the fact that Gray ran on a platform of an open and transparent government, and it's become increasingly clear that Team Thomas is neither open or transparent. LL's perfectly aware that there is less than zero political incentive for Gray to rail against his close ally Thomas, and it's probably the smart move for Gray to say as little about Team Thomas as possible. But leaders lead, Team Thomas stinks, and something needs to be done about it. ... Obviously, hounding from the press is not going to get Thomas to release Team Thomas' finances. But maybe a message from the new mayor that the city isn't going to tolerate this kind of foolishness would."

NO CHEAP ELECTIONS -- A Post editorial urges the D.C. Council and Board of Elections and Ethics not to take shortcuts with the April 26 special election, for instance, by opting for a cheaper "voting centers" option: "[C]hanging long-established rules less than 100 days from the election is problematic. Discussion should have occurred long before campaigns were underway and candidates had come forward. We are glad that council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), chair of the committee that oversees the board, has said her preference is to keep all 143 voting precincts open. [BOEE Executive Director Rokey Suleman] said he will go back to the drawing board to try to find additional savings. If he can't, surely the District can come up with money to fulfill such a basic tenet of government." And as Chuck Thies told the Council in a hearing last week, the piece notes an inconvenient fact: "[N]either Mr. Gray nor the council is exactly a neutral player in the election. Six council members and Mr. Gray have endorsed interim council member Sekou Biddle (D). That underscores yet again the problems the District confronts in not having a fully staffed board of elections with bipartisan representation."

CHECKS AND BALANCES? -- Jonetta Rose Barras detects incipient rubber-stampism on the D.C. Council. She notes in her Examiner column Marion Barry's defense of executive prerogatives at a health committee hearing last week. And she notes that Gray's appointment of Tom Downs to the Metro board got little scrutiny: "'Has there ever been a [public] hearing or a roundtable for a Metro nominee?' Brown asked during my conversation with him Saturday. 'I'm still researching that.' Help us. He moved Downs forward without even knowing if there should be a hearing. ... Brown and company may be happy with biographical summaries of mayoral nominees. The public deserves better. Hopefully, other individuals won't receive a similar royal pass under the guise of an emergency."

OUR FAB NEW LIBRARIES -- The new Tenley-Friendship branch library opens today, and Post architecture critic Philip Kennicott raves about the District's new libraries in a piece fronting the new Sunday Arts section: "These buildings might have looked a lot more like Starbucks or Whole Foods, more slick debit-card modernism making life blandly comfortable. They might have suggested an old-fashioned pomposity and grandeur. They might simply have been dull and meaningless. But by design, or accident, or some mix of both, the architects who have contributed to this project have managed to make libraries that are in their own way every bit as inviting, serious and inspiring as the libraries of yore that helped forge a new middle class out of a Babel of huddled masses more than a century ago." Also: Read Kriston Capps on why the MLK Library ain't so bad.

THIS WEEKEND IN RHEE -- Richard Whitmire, author of a forthcoming Michelle Rhee biography, wonders in a Post op-ed whether a "Michelle lite" approach -- that is, education reform with collaboration and a smile -- is a better path to student achievement gains: "The broad embrace of Michelle Lite among politicians is understandable. Who can blame them, especially after Mayor Adrian Fenty lost his reelection bid partly, or even mostly, due to unpopular school reforms?" But Whitmire argues that D.C.'s teaching corps was so bad that Rhee-style mass firings were the only way to prepare the system for further reforms. He continues: "Could Rhee have succeeded with a Michelle Lite approach? The only solid answer lies in example. Several urban school chiefs are winning applause for carrying out important reforms with more collaborative approaches: in Baltimore, Tampa and Miami, for instance. But their reform packages fall short of what Rhee accomplished in the District. Winners of federal Race to the Top grants are states undertaking admirable school reforms. But I can't identify one state poised to make Rhee-style academic gains. It's possible that in districts such as Newark, Detroit, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Kansas City and Dallas, there are no Michelle Lite reforms likely to move student achievement numbers in the direction this country desperately needs to see them move. And that is what's worrisome about the rush to embrace Michelle Lite school reforms. It may be a warm, fuzzy illusion." Also in this weekend's Rhee news: Valerie Strauss examines, with some devastation, how Rhee's parenting and education-reform philosophies conflict. And Rhee herself gives some SotU advice to President Obama in the pages of the New York Times, urging him to move strongly to seniority-based layoffs in public school systems.

MORE ON HARDY -- The Georgetown Dish editorializes on Kaya Henderson's handling of the Hardy Middle School situation. They don't like it much: "So far, Henderson's actions are highly reminiscent of Rhee's communication gaffes with their heavy toll on credibility and public support. ... Henderson is already losing the public relations battle and further undermining [Principal Dana Nerenberg] and her own administration in the process. If she doesn't act soon, Henderson will lose her capacity to lead the school system, even if Mayor Vincent Gray makes her appointment permanent. More political leaders will feel the need to get involved, just as Chairman Brown already has, and we will move down the road to a more politicized, polarized DCPS."


*** SMALL PLATES ***

First at-large candidate forum set for Wednesday at One Judiciary Square -- it's nonpartisan! (GGW)

Why city-unfriendly House GOP spending plan isn't going anywhere (D.C. Wire)

H.R. 3 would ban use of city funds for abortions (D.C. Wire, DCist)

Two MPD cops indicated for taking protection money from Woodley Park liquor store; two others implicated (Crime Scene)

Mary Cheh ponders PILOTs for her other employer and other nonprofit institutions (Hatchet)

Air rights development over Union Station yards leads to Height Act dispute (Capital Business)

Council bill aims to restrict employers from running credit checks on job applicants (Examiner)

Brookland debates a mixed-use future (Post)

The case against an independent evaluation of IMPACT (Post)

Man attacked at Metro station asks: "Why didn't you help me?" (Post)

Building a library for Ballou High (Post)

Will Gray nix the Giro? "Fenty was enthusiastic about the Giro, but the new mayor has nothing against the Giro. ... If an idea is a good one, it is not the measure of just one mayor."(VeloNews)

Restaurant lobbyists still dead-set against health inspection letter grades (Young & Hungry)

Interested in suing as a "private attorney general"? Then you'll probably want to read these D.C. Court of Appeals opinions (Legal Times)

DCPS sells parents on its middle schools (D.C. Schools Insider)

Arts group to Gray: Be "sincere, thoughtful and strategic" (Arts Desk)

DCRA inspections chief Don Masoero is ousted (AOBA

D.C. Lottery expands agent network in hopes of boosting bottom line (WBJ)

Twenty-five Wal-Mart protesters picket developer's home (DCist)

K.I.P.P. is now just plain KIPP (Post)

Solar energy subsidies in jeopardy? (Housing Complex)

Council action needed to pave way for P Street NW charter school (GGW)

Dorm drug-makers expected to plea (WTTG-TV)

How the Adams Morgan hotel tax break ended up (DCFPI)

Is D.C. properly transferring juvenile sex offenders to the adult list? (WUSA-TV)

Those wondering if DCRA had a guide to starting a business -- maybe something like this? (DCRA)

A transit geek can dream, can't he? (GGW)


*** ON THE MENU ***

Jack Evans, Patrick Mara on NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt, 10 a.m. on TBD -- Tenley Library ribbon cut at 10 a.m. -- Gray lunches with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, meets at Wilson Building with bike-loving Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.)

By Mike DeBonis  | January 24, 2011; 9:41 AM ET
Categories:  Morning Mike, The District  
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