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Posted at 11:33 AM ET, 03/11/2011

DeMorning DeBonis: March 11, 2011

By Mike DeBonis

TODAY IS MARCH 11, 2011 -- DAY 68 OF THE GRAY ADMINISTRATION

PREVIOUSLY -- D.C. Council tensions erupt over Gray hiring allegations -- Howard Brooks hires former Prince George's state's attorney

The tensions prompted by Mayor Vincent C. Gray's questionable hires moved across branches of government yesterday, when a D.C. Council committee meeting exploded over the necessity of a deeper probe into allegations of overspending and nepotism. Mary Cheh, chair of the government ops panel, had her staff draw up a cursory draft report on the matters, but it did not go far enough for committee member David Catania, who called it a "whitewash" and demanded that Cheh hold a separate hearing on the matter. By meeting's end, Cheh said that she would -- creating another politically embarrassing spectacle for Gray. Oh, and Catania said that Gray aide Gerri Mason Hall needs to consider resigning. To get the feel of what happened, you might read my tweets. WAMU-FM's Patrick Madden, WTTG-TV's Matt Ackland and City Paper's Alan Suderman also cover the Cheh-Catania antics; Examiner's Freeman Klopott plays the Thursday happenings as "yet another controversy in the scandal-marred first two months of [Gray]'s administration." WRC-TV's Tom Sherwood looks at how Gray is dealing (or not dealing) with the controversy. Meanwhile, Marion Barry went on WTTG and NewsChannel 8 to lend Gray some support. In other news: Gray accuser Sulaimon Brown told TBD his bike was stolen while he met with FBI agents.

AFTER THE JUMP -- Post editorial thanks Machen for having a look -- How Sulaimonia is threatening "One City" -- Lew aide has funky payment deal -- Orange raises $191K for at-large bid -- D.C. Metro board appointees split on late-night train cuts

THANKS, RON -- The Post editorial board writes again on the Brown allegations, lauding the U.S. attorney's office for having a look: "It's a welcome move by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen that hopefully presages a swift but thorough examination of charges that have disquieted the District. ... [W]e hope that Mr. Machen recognizes the need for the community to get answers to unsettling questions about its government. In that regard, Mr. Gray ought to be more forthcoming about decisions made during the transition and the fledgling months of his administration. Leaving aside Mr. Brown's charges -- and his history suggests the need for some skepticism -- there have been other troubling signs of an administration seemingly more interested in the needs of people it knows than the people it is supposed to serve. How else to explain jobs going to the children of top administration or campaign officials, the pointed warning from the respected head of a local health association about political hacks being dumped into a vital city agency and salaries for top staff exceeding approved limits? ... Mr. Gray has been in office less than 70 days, so there is plenty of time for a course correction that would allow him to deliver on the laudable promises of his campaign. Perhaps, as some have suggested, Mr. Gray has not been well served by those he trusted. Clearly, there were -- to use his own words -- 'missteps' in his transition. But it's time for Mr. Gray to do more than admit to vague missteps, hire a good lawyer and hope the subject changes. He needs to do some real soul-searching about how things could have gone so wrong so quickly and then act fast to make the needed changes."

So LONG, 'ONE CITY'? -- For the not-a-column, I talked to Sheridan-Kalorama resident and old political hand Marie Drissel about her second thoughts about supporting Gray: " 'We told you so' is what Drissel hears these days. 'Why did you ever support Gray? How fast can he undo things?' Two decades ago, the District's mayor might not have minded much if he alienated the richest, whitest swaths of the city. But Gray minds: He ran on a platform of repairing the city's racial, economic and geographic faults. He called it 'One City,' " and after his election, he worked to make it a reality, visiting Ward 3 community meetings and neighborhood salons. But within a few weeks, Gray's political carelessness threatens to blow up his bridge-building efforts, Alec Guinness-style. He now has to act, lest the 'One City' mantra that adorns his news releases, Web site and seemingly every other word out of his mouth turns into a hollow bit of rhetoric -- a joke, even, in Drissel's part of town. To do that, he will have to move decisively to show that city jobs have not become political favors to be doled out indiscriminately. ... If Gray can't restore some confidence, his administration could be in serious jeopardy. His black middle-class base isn't the safe retreat it once might have been -- both because of the city's changing makeup and the fact that his hiring controversies haven't gone over well in that demographic, either. For now, services are being maintained and bond ratings are solid. But the trickle of controversy can wash away the benefit of the doubt."

SWEET DEAL -- So someone finally did the story on Warren Graves's non-salaried paycheck. That would be Jim McElhatton of the Washington Times, who asks why the longtime political figure who has most recently served as top aide to Allen Lew in his various capacities, gets his income as a contractor rather than as a salaried employee. "Mr. Graves was hired through a nearly quarter-million-dollar no-bid contract, an arrangement that meant he was not subject to city personnel rules and that would allow him to continue collecting a government pension. Mr. Graves received a sole-source contract for $224,250 in August from the city's office of public education facilities modernization for services described as 'on site consultant' at a time when he routinely was referred by that office not as a consultant, but rather as chief of staff. ... The city administrator's office defends the hiring, saying officials followed all procurement rules and that the arrangement had been in place for years. In fact, officials said it was Mr. Graves's 'right' to work essentially as an independent contractor as opposed to a regular employee. ... 'Warren Graves is a longtime employee of the District government having served every mayor since home rule,' [Lew spokesman Tony Robinson] said. 'This issue is not a procurement matter but a personal services matter that is an allowable practice in government and private industry.' "

V.O.'S COFFERS BURST -- Interesting doings in the at-large council race: The latest campaign finance reports are in, and while he has been relatively quiet on the hustings, Vincent Orange has been raising plenty of cash -- reporting $191,000 in takings and no expenditures; second in cash on hand is Sekou Biddle, who either has $15,000 or $40,000, depending on whether he messed up the math in his report. Martin Austermuhle has much more at his Four26 Web site. In other news: Bryan Weaver has submitted more than enough change-of-address forms to stay on the ballot, and a BOEE hearing to assess the challenge to Patrick Mara's petitions has been postponed to Monday.

SPLIT OVER METRO LATE-NIGHT CUTS -- The proposal to cut late-night Metro service has the District delegation to the WMATA board split. Adam Tuss reports at WTOP that members "are on collision course over potentially scaling back rail service on weekend nights." The proposal would stop trains at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, permitting more extensive maintenance work. Gray-appointed member Tom Downs said the board has "some really tough choices to make," suggesting that a closure will be necessary. But Tuss reports that "Downs' comments come in stark contrast to fellow D.C. Board members Michael Brown and Tommy Wells -- both D.C. Council members -- who have said they are strongly opposed to any cuts to late night service. ... 'I am strongly opposed to cutting back the night hours of Metro,' said Wells during a D.C. hearing on Wednesday. ... Wells is now calling for a full analysis of how much revenue D.C. would lose if late night rail service is scaled back. Privately some say that figure could be as high as $7 million per year. Downs is leaving the possibility open for cuts to late night service, even though Mayor Gray, the man who appointed him, has told WTOP he is strongly against the idea." Tuss also reports that the city could withhold its $50 million capital contribution if the cutback goes through. More from the Examiner.

DON'T BLINK -- The Wilmington News Journal does a rather comprehensive report on UDC President Allen Sessoms's appearance before the D.C. Council this week: "While the specific details differ, the scenario fits a familiar pattern to many who remember his days in Delaware. Wherever Sessoms has served as president, daring ideas and crippling controversy have followed. In the 1990s at New York's Queens College, he promised a $30 million AIDS research facility, then resigned following reports he misled trustees about his fundraising efforts. In Dover from 2003 to 2008, he increased enrollment and enhanced the quality of DSU's research. He also alienated many students, faculty and alumni. At UDC, Sessoms created a separate community college and dissolved a faculty senate he considered dysfunctional, all during his first year. But as it did at DSU, his aggressive style conflicted with the glacial pace of academia, where decisions evolve through careful study and consensus-building among faculty, students and alumni." The Afro also covers the controversy, including this fact: Sessoms "suffers from a condition known as blepharitis, which causes eyes to blink uncontrollably."

*** SMALL PLATES ***

House Oversight Committee passes D.C. voucher bill (D.C. Wire, WSJ)

GAO report says mayor needs to do a better job of explaining why charter schools aren't getting surpluses property (GAO.gov, Washingtonian)

The Office of Risk Management sure was a mess, says auditor (Loose Lips)

Glenn Ivey, Claude Bailey will probe Pepco reliability claims (The Post)

Big deal: Change to Maryland Medicaid policy could screw District hospitals (WBJ)

With Brian Betts's death, DCPS ditches extended grades at Shaw Middle School (D.C. Schools Insider)

Ye gods: An ANC voted to relax a liquor license moratorium (Housing Complex)

Is proposed voluntary developer fund to "enhance, expand and assist local business development" just another "political scheme"? (WBJ)

NextBus still not that accurate (the Examiner)

Meet your Ward 4 SBOE candidates (Informer)

The latest, lousy First Source numbers -- and how to fix them (Housing Complex, Poverty Policy)

Is Brookland ANC trying foil development by landmarking Colonel Brooks' Tavern? (GGW)

"Councilmember Tommy Wells Takes Bus, Eats Fruit" (DCist)

Is tax credit to lure nonprofits unfair to the nonprofits already here? (WBJ)

"Watch Marion Barry wander around the NewsTalk set" (TBD)

Nurses' strike cost WHC $6 million (The Post)

Laid-off teachers air their grievances (WTTG-TV)

Another day, another Michelle Rhee op-ed (WSJ)

"Developers to develop Southwest waterfront" (WJLA-TV)

*** ON THE MENU ***

Gray meets with Angolan delegation, 10 a.m. in JAWB; attends DPE senior Mardi Gras event, 11 a.m. at Columbia Heights Recreation Center; presents check to Covenant house on behalf of CareFirst, 8 p.m. at Verizon Center -- council oversight hearings on Department of Corrections, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, Office of Unified Communications, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and Office of the Attorney General, 10 a.m. in JAWB 500; on Department of Human Services, 10 a.m. in JAWB 123 -- Barry's committee takes up "Human Rights for Ex-Offenders Amendment Act," 10 a.m. in JAWB 412

By Mike DeBonis  | March 11, 2011; 11:33 AM ET
Categories:  Marion Barry, Michelle Rhee, The District, Vincent Gray, Vincent Orange  
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