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February 20, 2011

Perks and Privileges

Dear Top-of-the-Line Readers:

The two big blockbuster story lines that are being followed by the whole local press corps are about the kinds of minor indiscretions that can ruin poliicians’ reputations. Both stories exploded to a new level Sunday. When the first story started, it was about the cost of leasing of a luxurious, top-of-the-line Lincoln Navigator SUV for Mayor Gray and an almost identical luxurious, top-of-the-line Lincoln Navigator SUV for City Council Chairman Kwame Brown. Then it was revealed that two luxurious, top-of-the-line Lincoln Navigators had been leased for Mayor Gray, one for the use of his staff. And on Sunday, Mike DeBonis revealed that two luxurious, top-of-the-line Lincoln Navigators had been leased for Chairman Brown — the second because Brown rejected the color of the interior on the first —

The second storyline is about Mayor Gray’s hiring of cronies (and children of cronies do count as cronies), and, as the title of Nikita Stewart’s story summarizes it: “Gray hires more senior staffers than Fenty did, and is paying them significantly more,”

Both story lines, as they have grown, have caused firestorms of anger among citizens. The first reminds me of when it was revealed that Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, early in her term, had put a personal make-up artist on the city payroll. The money involved was insignificant when it was compared with the millions of dollars the city government wasted on contracts. That is why it was a minor indiscretion. But it was a major issue because it was a scandal of a size that people could understand. It wasn’t a multimillion dollar deal. It was a few hundred dollars for a make-up artist — a few thousand dollars total for the contract. It was for something that most people thought she should have been paying for personally, not putting on the city’s tab. And because of that it seemed to be a case of a politician’s using her office for personal aggrandizement, taking advantage of perquisites and privileges that should not be part of public office.

Gray’s hiring of friends and cronies, and his raising already inflated salaries for top city employees, also puts him on the wrong footing, even with his strongest supporters. The city is undergoing a budget crisis that has necessitated a hiring freeze and putting government employees, even the lowest paid, on furlough for four days a year, to start. It’s only a tin-eared politician who would risk the appearance of favoritism in hiring or who would boost the salaries of his highest-paid employees while penalizing the rank-and-file. And a politician who increases the pay of the highest-paid government officials is undermining any chance he has to convince taxpayers that a tax hike is necessary to meet necessities, rather than merely wanted to subsidize extravagances.

Gary Imhoff


Life in the District, Part 2
Dorothy Brizill,

In the Sunday, February 13, issue of themail, I detailed my frustrations regarding life in the District after suddenly learning on the previous Friday evening that, without advance notice, “no parking” signs had been posted on more than half of the north and south sides of the 1300 block of Girard Street, where Gary and I live. It took literally an entire week of E-mails, telephone calls, and meetings finally to learn the details of the parking ban that was being proposed and to fight it.

NCBA Estates, an apartment building at the corner of 14th and Girard Streets, NW, is being renovated, with new kitchens and baths in the units, etc. Hamel Builders, which is doing to work, applied for and received a public space permit from the DC Department of Transportation to take the parking spaces as a “construction staging area.” The community was first informed on Friday, February 11, when Hamel posted the no parking” signs and distributed a flyer in the 1300 block of Girard Street, saying that the restrictions would go from February 14 through December 31. Although DDOT initially indicated that the parking restrictions were needed to facilitate construction staging, the actual permit indicated it was issued so that the builders could “install a construction entrance to NCBA’s parking lot from Girard Street for construction equipment, vehicles, and tractor trailers.

Starting on Monday morning, I started trying to contact Hamel Builders and NCBA Estates by telephone and E-mail to discuss their plans. I got no response, so I contacted DDOT. I questioned why the Girard Street entrance was necessary, since NCBA already had a double-side entrance to its parking lot on Harvard Street, and that entrance could be accessed without taking any public parking spaces on Harvard Street, and could be used by removing only the gate across the entrance. It took a few days to get an inspector from DDOT to come out to the site, but when he did he agreed to suspend the permit and to issue a “stop work” order on constructing a Girard Street entrance. Hamel continued to tear down the brick wall on Girard Street, and continued to want to locate the truck entrance there. On Thursday, February 17, several senior officials from DDOT came to the site and inspected it, and heard both from the Hamel site supervisor and me. They agreed that there was no reason to take public parking spaces unnecessarily. It revoked the “no parking” permit that it had issued, and told Hamel to come back with a revised plan. On Friday evening, I received the following E-mail from the Executive Vice President of Hamel: “I spoke with [the site supervisor] to better understand your concerns about the removal of parking spaces along Girard Street, and found that he has subsequently met with DDOT, and indeed they have reversed their decision to permit access to the NCBA side on this side. they have indicated that we should use the Harvard Street entrance and that the direction we intend to take. I apologize for any misunderstanding the Open Space Permit may have caused as we began to set up the site access we were granted. Please let me know if you have any other questions or concerns.”


Nominating Petition Challenge Period Underway for the April 26 Special Election
Bill O’Field,

The challenge period for the nominating petitions for the April 26 Special Election for at-Large Member of the Council is underway at the DC Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE). The challenge period runs from yesterday, Saturday, February 19, through 5:00 p.m. on Monday, February 28.

According to the DCBOEE web site, Releases&id=648&mid=2&yid=2011 and The Washington Post, eleven out of the nineteen individuals who picked up nominating petitions have filed the requisite three thousand signatures needed for ballot access for the special election. Those who filed petitions are: Sekou Biddle (D), Tom Brown (D), Dorothy Douglas (D), Calvin H. Gurley (D), Arkan Haile (IND), Joshua Lopez (D), Patrick Mara (R), Vincent Orange (D), Alan Page (STG), Jacque Patterson (D), and Bryan Weaver (D).

Challenges to their nominating petitions can be filed by any DC registered voter on the grounds that a circulator is not a registered voter, the petitioner (signer) is not a registered voter, or the signatures on the petition are in the same hand or do not match those of the registered voters in the Board’s file. (DCBOEE has the authority to and should refer those for criminal prosecution.) Also, petitioners may be challenged because they were not registered at the address on the petition at the time it was signed; however, DC law allows those individuals to file a change of address within ten days of the date that a challenge is filed.

After the challenge period closes, DCBOEE has two weeks to resolve any and all challenges, and then we will have a better idea of the names of the candidates on the ballot. However, a challenger or any person named in a challenge may apply within three days of the DCBOEE decision to the DC Court of Appeals for review. There is a potential that we may not know the final list of candidates on the ballot until March 18, when the entire ballot access process concludes.


Snow Shoveling Bills
Bryce A. Suderow,

Councilmembers Tommy Wells and Mary Cheh are proposing a bill that would fine people for not shoveling their sidewalks. What do people think of the merits and demerits of this proposed bill?


Indignation over the “Official” Cars
William Haskett, William

The temporary indignation over Kwame Brown’s official car is well-founded: it indicates once again that political in the District of Columbia moves closer and closer to a national norm. Here rank within a structure such as the council is correlated with large salary and discriminatory privilege. The original error, of course, was to move the council’s chair from being simply an officer of the council itself to being somewhat analogous to the mayor — as elected by a general vote of the city’s general electorate. This has the effect in the worst circumstances of attaching material benefit (here the Lincoln, with its black on black, or disappointingly charcoal black, or gray, or tan interior) to the performance of a quite unnecessary ceremonial one that we are invited, presumably, to bow to as it passes. The chairman of the council does not need it to sustain his importance. If he does, he is in the wrong place, and probably for the wrong reasons. A suitable punishment (if that is what is called for) is to allow Mr. Brown the car (and its decorative interior or exterior), but subtract the monthly lease cost of $1900.00 from his official salary. Thus, we can all be pleased: Mr. Brown will have his toy, and we all will not be paying for it, even by proxy. This seems to me eminently fair to everyone.


The “Fully Loaded” Democrats Just Don’t Get It
Paul D. Craney,

DC Councilmembers have been spending taxpayer money so quickly that they currently spent us into a six hundred million dollar deficit. The Council has been threatening to raise taxes on DC residents to pay for their deficit because they can’t find ways to cut the ten billion dollar budget. Not only are the DC councilmembers some of the highest paid elected officials in the country, with some of the most expensive staff in the region, but now we learn our city leaders must have the fanciest vehicles.

Today’s Washington Post reports ( that DC Council Chairman Kwame Brown spent taxpayer money to lease two fully loaded SUVs with all the bells and whistles. Chairman Brown originally ordered one high-end SUV, but when he learned that it didn’t meet his check list of demands like leather seats, a moon roof, an entertainment system, a black paint job and high end wheels, his staff ordered the Council Chairman another SUV on our dime. Both SUVs are on lease and had to be delivered for the Chairman before his inauguration. Mayor Vincent Gray also ordered a high end SUV and a vehicle for his staff.

Why do our council chairman and mayor need four very expensive vehicles? Why are DC taxpayers forced to pay for these luxury vehicles, when there’s a six hundred million dollar budget deficit?


Plastic Bags, Paper Bags, and Roach Infestation
Robert Marshall,

Unless forced to, I never bring home groceries in a paper bag. When I do, I promptly dispose of them. Why?

Because I read somewhere that that’s how roach infestations/re-infestations proliferate. Roaches and roach eggs hitch a ride in paper bags and use them as nesting material. Paper bags can also provide a source of moisture for roaches, as the bags absorb and hold water.


Who Has the Better Argument — Gray or Brown?
Sarah Livingston,

If a voucher program for DC students were being proposed and funded by a private foundation interested in education rather than by Congress, who would have the better argument — Gray or Brown? [themail, February 16] In my view, neither, because they are both starting from the premise that school choice is a good thing. Gray argues there’s enough choice between the improvements in DCPS and the number of and variety of charter schools. Brown argues for more choices with the “three sector” approach.

The DC School Choice Incentive Act of 2003 established the first federally funded private school voucher program in the United States, providing scholarships of up to $7,500 for low-income residents of the District of Columbia to send their children to local participating private schools. The law mandated that the Department conduct an independent, rigorous impact evaluation of what is now called the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP). The study’s latest report, Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Three Years, measures the effects of the Program on student achievement in reading and math, and on student and parent perceptions of school satisfaction and safety. The evaluation found that the OSP improved reading, but not math, achievement overall and for five of the ten subgroups of students examined. The group designated as the highest priority by Congress — students applying from “schools in need of improvement” (SINI) — did not experience achievement impacts. Students offered scholarships did not report being more satisfied or feeling safer than those who were not offered scholarships; however, the OSP did have a positive impact on parent satisfaction and perceptions of school safety. The same pattern of findings holds when the analysis is conducted to determine the impact of using a scholarship rather than being offered a scholarship. Twenty-five percent (346 out of 1,387 students) of those offered an OSP scholarship never used it; thirty-four percent (473 students) used their scholarships during some but not all of the first three years after the award; and the remaining 41 percent (568 students) used their scholarship consistently for the entire three years after the lottery.

The study, looking at the full sample for reading, makes a distinction between the offer of a scholarship, having an impact of 3.1 months of additional learning, and the use of a scholarship, having an impact of 3.7 months of additional learning. And, as it says above, there was no impact in math from either the offer or the use of the OSP. The complete evaluation can be available here:

It is very, very strange to me that in the midst of all the budget cutting being proposed, Senators Lieberman and Collins are standing up to propose spending money! On a program with the above evaluation, no less. If I were a parent in a state sending my children to private school on my own dime, I’d be pretty upset with the Lieberman/Collins proposal, and if I were a private foundation, I would think twice and twice more about funding a program with such little “bang for the buck.” OSP was put to rest last year in a way that harmed none of the children in it. Let’s leave that be and go on to more pressing matters!



Ward Three Democratic Committee Hosts Mayor Vincent Gray and Councilmember Mary Cheh, February 24
Shelley Tomkin,

The Ward Three Democratic Committee will hold its first meeting of the 2011-2012 term on Thursday, February 24, at 7:15 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, 4201 Albemarle St. NW.

Mayor Vincent Gray and Ward Three Councilmember Mary Cheh will be the featured speakers for the evening. Mayor Gray will provide his view of the “State of the District” eight weeks after taking office and Councilmember Cheh will offer a legislative update from the vantage point of the DC council. Both Mayor Gray and Councilmember Cheh will answer questions from the audience.

For additional information, please see our web site at


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