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July 21, 2010


Dear Ethical Readers:

Contumacious consigliore Peter Nickles has backed down — somewhat, but not entirely — from his unethical threat. Nickles was angry that Council Chairman Vincent Gray questioned his ethics for making a deal that rewarded Fenty’s cronies at Banneker Ventures after the council squashed their questionable contracts to build DC Parks and Recreation facilities, so he threatened to retaliate against Gray by launching a criminal investigation against him. Fenty wanted to award a contract to run the DC Lottery to a group that included some of his cronies; after months of wrangling, the city council ended up approving a contract with a different group that included cronies of some of the councilmembers. As I wrote nearly two years ago, “It’s a shame that one of these groups has to win” ( But Nickles has resented the shutout of Fenty’s cronies for months, and won’t let it go; he accused Gray of cronyism, even though Gray recused himself from voting on the DC Lottery contract.

Last week, Nickles threatened to use his prosecutorial powers to retaliate against an elected official who would dare both to criticize him and to run a political race against Mayor Fenty. This threat was a clear violation of the DC Bar’s rules of conduct. But today Jeffrey Anderson reports in The Washington Times ( that Nickles has decided not to bring charges against Gray, at least immediately, but to refer his complaint against Gray to Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby. Nickles, as a campaign surrogate for Mayor Fenty, accompanied his complaint with a heavy dose of political rhetoric designed to smear Gray, damage his reputation, and to convince voters that Gray’s contracting practices are as unethical and unprincipled as Fenty’s. This is another ethically questionable act by a prosecutor.

Nickles may have taken one step back, but using the office of Attorney General (or its predecessor, the Corporation Counsel) to pursue and threaten to prosecute the mayor’s political enemies is still more unethical, and more dangerous, than any past city administration has ever been. It is corrupt.


In the last issue of themail, I wrote about Kwame Brown’s personal financial problem, and asked whether it would affect your vote. Jackie Young gives her opinion below. Jonetta Rose Barras gives hers in her column in today’s Examiner, As always, Jonetta wanders off into giving her opinion that the mayor is always right in any dispute between the mayor and the city council, but in the end she gets around to choosing sides in the Council Chairman’s race between Brown and Vincent Orange. She picks Brown.

Gary Imhoff


Charter Crisis in DC
Dorothy Brizill,

The District government is in the midst of a true Charter crisis. As Tim Craig reported in the Post’s City Wire on Wednesday, “unless the DC council and Mayor Adrian Fenty act fast, there might not be a Board of Elections to oversee the September 14 Democratic primary,” Under District law, the three-member Board of Elections and Ethics must have at least two members in order to constitute a quorum. Last week, on July 16 (the day after the council went on its summer recess), Errol Arthur, the chairman of the BOEE, submitted his letter of resignation to the mayor in order to accept an appointment as a magistrate judge at DC Superior Court. After July 31, Charles Lowery will be the sole member of the BOEE and, without a quorum, the board will not be able to “conduct official Board business,” including the deliberation and resolution of disputes, preparations for the September primary, and the certification of election results following the primary. Nevertheless, Mary Cheh, chair of the council’s Government Operations Committee, which the oversees the BOEE, told Craig, “I don’t want anyone to think there is any crisis or issue cause things are quite under control.”

The options open to the District government to resolve this crisis are limited. Under District law, the mayor nominates BOEE Board members, subject to confirmation by the council, but over the past year the mayor has nominated a series of his cronies who did not have the qualifications for Board membership, and the council did not approve their appointments. Currently, however, the council is on summer recess, so that the mayor cannot legally even forward a nomination to the council unless it agrees to come out of recess. According to Wilson Building sources, Cheh is working with David Catania to develop a list of possible candidates who would be acceptable both to Fenty and the council. At the Ward 2 Democrats forum this evening, Bruce DePuyt from NewsChannel 8 interviewed Fenty, who indicated that the City Administrator was working with Cheh and Catania to identify a “blue chip” nominee whose name could be forwarded to the council in the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours. Under this scenario, the council would end its summer recess briefly and hold an emergency legislative session to approve the nominee.

As I am writing this article for themail on late Wednesday evening, the Washington Post has posted that City Administrator Neal Albert is saying that Mayor Fenty “could unilaterally appoint two members” to the BOEE “if he and the council are unable to agree on consensus candidates,” According to Albert, “Attorney General Peter Nickles has opined that in emergency circumstances” the mayor “has the authority to make interim appointments to boards and commissions.” Since under the DC Code the mayor has no such authority, if he did try to strong-arm the council and try to make unilateral appointments without council confirmation — to appoint more unqualified cronies instead of “blue-chip” BOEE board members — it would create a crisis that would be headed to court. Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy ride.


There’s More to Scores (and Stats) Than Meets Rhee’s Eyes
Len Sullivan,

The recent stir over school test scores indicates how little the Fenty/Rhee team understands them, and the dangers of trying to peg the future of DC’s students and teachers to arbitrary annual increases. NARPAC spent years rummaging through test score data ( and concluded that it would be unwise to exaggerate DCPS educational deficits or assume that school actions alone could overcome them. Excessive management pressures on scores will simply replace kids’ broader educational needs with more knee-jerk test-taking. This teaching approach will be particularly counterproductive when so many of the kids’ learning problems reflect socioeconomic issues way beyond the control of Fenty, Rhee, or the WTU A cursory review of the latest (2009) National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) “average age scores” continues to show the importance of both “score creep” and “score gaps” (my terms) in assessing both school performance and management professionalism.

Score creep continues apace: the average US public school student had an “average scale score” of 282 in 8th grade math in 2009, up some 20 points over 1990, and this growth applied almost equally among the major subsets described next. Nationwide, the major score gaps between those subsets also remain unchanged: boys and girls vary by only one point; but on average, Asian kids still beat whites by 8 points, Hispanics by 35 points, and blacks by 40 points (301 versus 261). Poor kids lag better-off kids by 28 points (266 versus 294), and the average score of kids with college-grad parents is 30 points higher than for those with high school dropout parents (295 versus 265). DC kids have also improved by 23 points since 1990 reaching 254 in 2009, and not all that far below the expected average for any 8th grade math class made up of predominantly (90 percent) black/Hispanic kids, 69 percent poor, and with parent(s) 75 percent non-college educated. (NCES does not score single-parent kids separately.) But the notion that schools, unionized or not, can routinely offset these socioeconomic disadvantages is not supported by national statistics — or any teachers union.

It may be the WTU’s “fault” that DC has twelve times as many charter school kids as the US average, but it surely isn’t their fault that DCPS has four times as many pre-K kids, six times as many special ed kids, or 39 percent too few kids per school It is not their fault that current DCPS schools are emptier than the larger number of DCPS schools were four years ago. Such stats help perpetuate one of the most inflated ratios of teachers-to-students among large city school districts, as well as the second highest cost per student. If DCPS was on average for the hundred largest US school districts (mostly urban, mostly underprivileged), it would have 78 fewer school properties, 1500 fewer teachers, and consume $490 million less annually. These figures are well within the authority of the Fenty/Rhee management to manage without the WTU’s agreement. In principle, DC could save $355 million by simply farming out DC’s kids, half each to Maryland and Virginia public schools, at their average costs per kid. Or maybe Mayor Gray could hire one of their more professional, less egocentric, school district superintendents.


Candidate Petition Challenges
Bill O’Field,

The September primary nominating petition challenge period ended Monday at 5:00 p.m. On Monday, as the clock in the Voter Services Division of the DC Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) was approaching 5:00 p.m., some DC voters were busy putting their finishing touches on their paper work for challenges to the nominating petitions of Democratic candidates for the September 14 primary election.

Valencia Mohammad filed challenges to the nominating petitions of mayoral candidates Carlos Allen and Sulaimon Brown, and Dorothy Brizill and Gary Imhoff filed a challenge to mayoral candidate Leo Alexander’s petition. Chairman of the Council candidate Calvin Gurley’s nominating petition was challenged by Alonzo Edmondson. Four challenges were filed to the nominating petitions of the five candidates seeking the Ward 5 city council seat currently held by Harry Thomas, Jr. Cynthia M. Gill filed a challenge to Kathy Henderson’s petition; DC lawyer Cary Clennon is challenging Delano Hunter’s petition; and candidate Henderson is challenging both Kenyan McDuffie and Tracey D. Turner. Ward 6 Council candidate Randy Brown’s petition is being challenged by Jim Abely.

According to the DCBOEE election calendar, for the Primary, the DCBOEE has until August 3 to determine the validity of the challenges. And August 6 is the last day for a challenger or any candidate named in a challenge to apply to the DC Court of Appeals for review. Over the next few days, it will be interesting to see if any of the challenges are withdrawn by the challengers based on lack of evidence to challenge or “behind the scenes” negotiations between the candidates and challengers. It has happened before.


DMV Change of Address
Bob Levine,

DC’s Department of Motor Vehicles does it again. I just moved and was very pleased to find that you can change your drivers license address online. It worked well, but there is no way to change your car registrations address except when you renew it. So I will wind up going to one of the service centers, waiting in line just as if they never put in the new online address change — because they can’t get the details right and include car registration in the address change package.


A New Round of the War Against the Poor
David Schwartzman, DC Statehood-Green Party Candidate for At-Large Councilmember,

David Catania has recently threatened to introduce a bill to cut off benefits to welfare families, potentially making them homeless, because of truancy of student family members. This strong medicine is really a poison pill. I strongly agree with Kathyrn Baer’s (Poverty and Policy) and Jonathan Smith’s (Legal Aid) opposition to this approach. Ignored by the mayor and a majority of the city council is the harsh reality of being poor in DC, with TANF 60 percent of the federal poverty level for the majority of recipients (go to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute for documentation). Could it be that with higher Metro fares many families simply don’t have the money to send their children to school regularly, especially since Fenty/Rhee closed 23 neighborhood public schools? As of June 27, the SmartStudent Pass costs $30 for one month’s Metro access, and DC Student Tokens cost $7.50 for ten rides. Further, as Mai Abdul Rahman pointed out in her piece in NorthWest Current (June 30), District government hasn’t taken advantage of federal funding for subsidizing transportation for low income folk (Job Access and Reverse Commute and the United We Ride programs). What a shame and how typical!

Meanwhile, here is a sad commentary on the council’s misplaced priorities: they cut $1.3 million for Adult Education, $0.5 million for Child Care, and $6 million for Interim Disability Assistance in the FY2011 budget (compared to FY2010) and wiped out Emergency Rental Assistance entirely — in a depression for so many residents no less — while they voted eight to five to defeat a very modest tax hike for wealthy residents (the Graham amendment) that would have avoided the new hurtful budget cuts and helped to partially restore the $50 million for affordable housing and other essential needs already cut in the FY 2010 budget. Both incumbent at-large council candidates, Mendelson and Catania, voted for no tax hike for wealthy residents but did vote for new regressive fees that have the heaviest burden on low income residents. Have they no shame?


DC Elections
Jackie Young,

You asked [themail, July 17] whether Brown’s financial difficulties will influence my voting decisions. Yes! Someone so irresponsible about his own personal finances can not be trusted with someone else’s money, e.g., DC taxpayers’. Unfortunately, this leaves me with no one I am willing to vote for. Orange is too pro business and has disregarded the will of Brookland residents as to underground utilities. Although Thomas did the right thing in voting for gay marriage, he also sided with the developers (who have given him campaign contributions) against the will of 100 percent of Brookland/Edgewood ANCs, so I can’t vote for him. I support Rhee, but cannot vote for Fenty because of his giving government contracts to his fraternity buddies, and the city gave an engineer’s license to a Fenty friend who failed the engineering exam four times. Give me a break. Is no one honest in our fair city? Since I support Rhee, I don’t think I can vote for Gray, who won’t commit to keeping her. Sometimes I can hold my nose and vote; I am not sure I can do that this year.


To Sherwood and DeBonis
Ellis Whiting,

[Re: themail, July 17] Check out the debts of media including yourself. Also the PEPCO outrageous rate hikes and lobbying by Orange with Evans and Company. Let those without a closet cast the first stone .



Norton Roundtable in Ward 2, July 22
Alexander M. Padro,

Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and Ward 2 ANC Commissioner Alexander Padro will join together to host a roundtable discussion in your neighborhood. Come learn about the next steps in securing DC voting rights and discuss federal issues you are facing here in the District. Thursday July 22, 6:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m., Chatman’s D’Vine Bakery and Cafe, 1239 9th Street, NW. For more information, please contact Delegate Norton’s District office at 783-5065


Ward 4 Democrats Candidates and Endorsement Forum, August 4
Deborah Royster,

The next monthly meeting of the Ward 4 Democrats will be held on Wednesday, August 4, at 7:00 p.m., at St. George’s Ballroom and Conference Center, 4335 16th Street, NW. Please note that this meeting will feature a candidates forum for Democratic candidates running for the position of mayor of the District of Columbia. We will also hold an endorsement forum for Democratic candidates running for the following positions: 1) mayor, District of Columbia; 2) chairman, Council of the District of Columbia; (3) councilmember at-large; and 4) delegate to the US House of Representatives. Citizens of Ward 4 who are registered with the DC Board of Elections as of July 28 are eligible to vote in the August 4 endorsement forum, and voting will occur from 6:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. The meeting will begin promptly at 7:00 p.m. Please mark your calendars and plan to join us on Wednesday, August 4. If you would like to receive regular notice of monthly meetings, please join the Ward 4 Democrats listserv at


Dupont Circle Citizens Association, August 7
Robin Diener,

Iced coffee social at Filter on Saturday, August 7, from 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. Dupont’s newest coffee house, Filter, opened in March “with the intent of sharing truly amazing coffee.” Drop by to cool off with neighbors and taste one of Filter’s special pressings or single origin coffees. Bring a friend to join DCCA and you’ll both be entered in a drawing for a flat screen TV. Filter is at 1726 20th Street, NW, This is an Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets “First Saturday” Event.

Artists who are interest in participating in the Saturday, September 11, DCCA-sponsored open-air Art Fair, as part of the 17th Streetscape Completion Celebration, should contact Debby Hanrahan at

This year’s Dupont Circle House Tour is scheduled for Sunday, October 17, from noon until 5:00 p.m. Volunteers are needed the day of the tour to staff homes and to help set up the afternoon tea. Volunteers also are needed a few weeks before the tour to distribute posters. The house tour is the major fundraising event of the year for the Dupont Circle Citizens Association. DCCA supports neighborhood activities and charitable contributions for the benefit of the entire Dupont Circle community, including Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets, Clean Teams for Dupont Circle Park, Ross Elementary, and much more. All volunteers receive a free ticket to the House Tour, and admission to the After-Party at the Black Fox Lounge. Please contact Jara Freeman (Chair, Volunteers Committee, or Deborah Schreiber (Chair, House Tour Committee, to volunteer. Houses are also needed to participate in the tour; please contact Debbie Schreiber to volunteer your house.



Air Conditioner
Bryce A. Suderow,

My air conditioner has pooped out. Can anyone either give me a replacement or sell me one? E-mail me at


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