DeMorning DeBonis: Jan. 25, 2011
TODAY IS JAN. 25, 2011 -- DAY 24 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION
PREVIOUSLY -- Boehner, Lieberman aim to revive D.C. voucher program
This week in poor political optics: The city is facing a budget deficit of a half-billion dollars or better, and the city's top elected leaders are tooling around in nearly $2,000-a-month luxury SUVs. This revelation comes via City Paper's Alan Suderman, who notes that both Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown have opted for Lincoln Navigators as their preferred conveyance. That's the same model favored by prior mayors Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty, so perhaps some will find it in their taxpaying hearts to understand. As to why Brown needs a Navigator, that's probably less understandable, considering that the council apparently had a Chevy Tahoe in its inventory that cost about half as much. And moreover, it appears the city paid an extra $1,600 so Brown could have his Navigator by inauguration day. Brown says through a spokeswoman that he's "appalled" by the SUV's cost and is exploring whether the lease can be broken. OK, but a guy who has been outspoken of late on the need for fiscal austerity might have thought twice before climbing into a spankin'-new Navigator on a daily basis. DCist joins in on the tsk-tsking.
AFTER THE JUMP -- vouchers are back on the congressional agenda -- RSC leader takes aim at D.C. gay marriage -- city leaders head to Wall Street next week -- is the MPD withering into oblivion?
*** MAIN COURSE ***
VOUCHERS ARE BACK -- Hey, District of Columbia: Meet the new Republican House! First news: Just when you thought D.C. school vouchers were as good as dead, Speaker John Boehner (along with Sen. Joe Lieberman) is moving quickly to revive them. "Boehner is set to unveil the bill one day after President Barack Obama is expected to call for greater political comity in his State of the Union address," Ben Pershing and I reported last night. Said Boehner in a statement: "If the president is sincere about working together on education reform, we should start by saving this successful, bipartisan program that has helped so many underprivileged children get a quality education." He will have a group of charter supporters sitting in the Speaker's Box for tonight's address, including Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl. An interesting new dynamic: Unlike the previous two mayors, Gray is not a voucher supporter, viewing the program as yet another example of congressional experimentation. "These are decisions that should be made by the residents of the District of Columbia," he said in statement. Politico also covers the impending voucher announcement.
GOP GROUP AIMS TO BAN GAY MARRIAGE -- In other news: The Hill reports that Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chair of the influential Republican Study Committee, is planning to push a vote to ban gay marriage in D.C. -- not just force a referendum, but ban it outright. Adam Serwer notes at the American Prospect that a standalone bill has little chance of ultimate passage, "[b]ut it's a reminder that the GOP hasn't abandoned its culture war against the District, or the cruelty and hypocrisy necessary to wage it."
TODAY IN BUDGET NEWS -- Deborah Simmons at The Washington Times can't get anyone to go on the record with the $600 million budget-gap figure that Gray's people are privately discussing: "Right now, everyone is sticking to the official figure of $545 million, a figure that already had been revised upward in the past few months and already had Wall Street on edge." She notes that city officials are set to visit bond raters in New York next week. In other news, Jack Evans appears to have been keeping close tabs on the rising political fortunes of the Paul family: "Stop spending," he tells Simmons. "Neither Congress nor Wall Street is interested in us raising taxes. With [congressmen] Ron Paul and Rand Paul [who support lower taxes] taking leadership roles and Wall Street warning us about spending reserves, we have to fix the budget, cut expenditures and sell the hospital."
WHITHER THE COPS? -- Harry Jaffe warns in his Examiner column of a police exodus "a steady troop of cops marching -- some would say fleeing -- from the Metropolitan Police Department." What's responsible? A nebulous concoction: "Discipline is harsh, morale is low, opportunities beyond the District abound." Jaffe proceeds to cite MPD stats that attrition is down in recent years, from 200 a year down to 150. But let's not let the facts get in the way of a good Jack Evans rant: "Law enforcement forces in the suburbs and federal agencies are raiding our best people. ... The costs of education and human services have increased every year. Police haven't had a raise in five years. Enough is enough." Fair enough. Writes Jaffe: "In a time of falling revenues and rising deficits, does the local government owe its citizens the basics, namely public safety, public education and clean streets? Or are we responsible for public welfare for all comers?"
SEKOU SPEAKS -- In an interview with DCist, Sekou Biddle reacts to the notion he's the "insider" in the at-large council race: "It's enough to make anyone's head spin, Biddle's included. 'I don't think we'll ever get beneath the outsider-insider thing, because it's a story that's easy to tell when you don't worry about the details,' Biddle told me late last week as he followed the arc of his career from education advocate to an interim At-Large member on the D.C. Council. ... Biddle still seems perplexed by his overnight transformation -- he wishes that a reality show had been based around his ascendancy to the Council, if only to correct misconceptions -- but strongly fights back at any indication that he got where he is because of the people he knows, rather than the work he's done." And Biddle "bristles" at suggestions that his personal relationship with Kwame Brown led to his endorsement: "[H]e's not supporting me because we went to high school together. You went to high school with people that I'm sure you'd love to hang out with, but you're not referencing for any jobs." Former KIPP official Biddle also gives Martin Austermuhle a detailed sketch of his education philosophy.
*** SMALL PLATES ***
Evans says he will vote against any budget that includes a tax hike (TBD)
Freeman Klopott explains his Mara vs. Biddle contention (Examiner)
New mayoral gay liaison once took a verbal shot at Marion Barry (DCist)
Forget Ashburn: Let's bring Redskins training facility to D.C., says Michael Brown (WAMU-FM)
Fourth suspect in Brian Betts murder set to plea to reduced charge (WTOP)
Why were two murdered in a quiet corner of Lamond-Riggs? Pat Collins demands to know! (WRC-TV)
Tenley-Friendship Library is open for business (WTOP)
Georgetown University contributes to inaugural, constituent service funds (Hoya)
Bully on the Metro parking shop (GGW)
Labor activists set to "Make Walmart Respect D.C." Thursday at JAWB (AFL-CIO)
Arrested on drug charges? It helps to be rich. (City Desk)
*** ON THE MENU ***
Gray attends Association of Public and Land Grant Universities meeting; meets with UPO, Buffett Foundation reps on child development programs; meets with ex-mayor of Bogota, Colombia; and attends State of the Union address -- D.C. Vote's Ilir Zherka and council candidate Josh Lopez on NewsTalk, 10 a.m. on TBD