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June 29, 2011

Culture of Corruption

Dear Honest Citizens:

Patrick Madden at WAMU-FM has bad news for the city’s taxicab drivers ( “[Councilmember Tommy] Wells chairs the council’s Public Works and Transportation Committee, and he says the latest incident [the arrest of two reporters at a taxicab commission meeting, see themail, June 26] has convinced him it may be time to scrap the taxicab commission and start over. ‘The taxicab commission has not seemed to be able to do its job for quite awhile,’ says Wells. Wells says the commission has not held meetings or been responsive to drivers. The agency has also endured a few controversies, such as a bribery scandal that led to the arrests of dozens of cab drivers and a council staffer. ‘I’m going to look at other states to see how they set rates and hear complaints, and also how they plan for the number of taxi cabs,’ says Wells.”

Wells is a bad fit for the job of overseeing cabs. He has an unrelenting hostility to automobiles, he does everything he can to make life more difficult and expensive for drivers, and he doesn’t exempt taxi drivers from his anti-driver crusade. (See “The Nose’s” January column in the Hill Rag for a humorous take on this, Also see a January 27 NY Times article for a description of the kind of European anti-car policy Well’s wants DC to pursue: “While American cities are synchronizing green lights to improve traffic flow and offering apps to help drivers find parking, many European cities are doing the opposite: creating environments openly hostile to cars. The methods vary, but the mission is clear — to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally friendly modes of transportation,” What makes the situation even worse for cab drivers, however, is that in this case Wells’ anti-car bias is reinforced by his preference for centralized government planning of the economy. Wells’ quote to Madden, that he is going to see how other governments “plan for the number of taxi cabs,” exposes his underlying assumption that government should control how many people it will allow to practice particular occupations.

While the DC Taxicab Commission hasn’t been operating well for many years, the opportunity for corruption presented by the proposed taxi medallion scam has made it worse, and acting Taxicab Commission Chairman Dena Reed’s unprofessional and disruptive behavior at the last meeting of the Commission took its malfunctioning to a more public stage. But the solution isn’t to dissolve the Commission and to give its power to a councilmember who wants to make things miserable for automobile drivers in the city, as Wells and anti-car crusaders Greater Greater Washington suggest. The solution is to remove Dena Reed, to appoint good members to the Taxicab Commission, to ensure that independent drivers are represented on the commission, and to strengthen it.

Gary Imhoff


Gambling Parlors, Coming to Your Neighborhood Soon
Dorothy Brizill,

At a roundtable hearing today before Jack Evans’ Committee on Finance and Revenue, councilmembers and the public learned for the first time how the DC Lottery Board and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer plan to implement “iGaming,” i.e., Internet gambling, in the District of Columbia. Internet gambling was approved by the city council when it voted in December on a supplemental budget. The initiative was contained within a “Lottery Modernization Act” offered by Councilmember Michael Brown as an amendment to the FY 2011 Supplemental Budget Support Act of 2010, and it was voted on by the council on December 7, 2010. As a result there was no public hearing or input, and no council debate, on this amendment.

Since the adoption of the legislation in December, neither the Lottery Board nor the CFO’s office had revealed its plans for implementing it. Both councilmembers and the public learned the details only today, at the hearing. CFO Natwar Gandhi testified that his office plans to offer two free games, blackjack and Victory at Sea, on the web site starting on July 26. On August 23, it plans to move all gambling to a new web site,, and add Texas hold-em poker, bingo, e-scratch, and “Random Number generated games,” and to begin making all games cash games on September 8. The CFO’s office claims that it will be able to verify that all players will be nineteen years old or older and that all players are located within the District of Columbia.

At the hearing, citizens and councilmembers were shocked to learn that Internet gambling will initially be available only at facilities licensed by the Lottery Board — bars, restaurants, hotels, libraries, and recreation facilities. In my testimony, I raised the issue that neither the Lottery Board nor the CFO’s Office had any plan to inform communities about the siting of these gambling parlors, and had no provision to allow public comments, even from organized community groups or Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. Residents of neighborhoods and ANC’s have statutory provisions allowing them to comment on the siting of various facilities, including liquor stores, bars, and adult entertainment facilities, in their neighborhoods, but gambling parlors will be allowed as a matter of right, even in government buildings where children gather, such as libraries and recreation centers.

The other shocking issue I learned in preparing for the hearing was that one game that the Lottery Board describes benignly as “Electronic Instant Ticket Vending Machines” is actually just a euphemism for “Video Lottery Terminals,” which is itself a euphemism for slot machines. Slot machines are banned by federal law (the Johnson Act) in DC, and this ban has been confirmed as recently as 2006 by the DC Court of Appeals.

Because the city council is getting ready to go out for summer recess, there is great interest among councilmembers in having Jack Evans introduce emergency legislation on July 12, at the council’s final session before its summer recess. That legislation would at a minimum delay the roll-out of Internet gambling until the public and the council have a full chance to weigh all the issues — and at best would overturn the law completely.


Culture of Corruption
Dorothy Brizill,

Yesterday, June 28, I testified before Michael Brown’s Committee on Housing and Workforce Development on the appointment of Pedro Alfonso to the DC Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. The DC Housing Authority is an independent agency that is overseen by an eleven-member board. It has limited government oversight, except for the mayor’s appointment (and the council’s approval) of six public members, and it is by far the largest landlord in the District of Columbia, with a massive budget. DCHA was the vehicle that Mayor Fenty used to award all of the noncompetitive, questionable, contracts — unapproved by the council — to rehabilitate DC Parks and Recreation facilities, including recreation centers, a task that had nothing to do with its central mission.

Alfonso has a history of being appointed to many boards and commissions around town, a history of being a serious contributor to many political candidates in DC, and he also has a history of serious corruption. In 2004 he was the chairman of the Citizens Committee for the DC Video Lottery Terminal Initiative, and in that position he promoted a voters initiative that would legalize a gambling emporium with 3,500 video lottery slots terminals in northeast Washington. After nine days of public hearings, the Board of Elections and Ethics denied ballot access to Alfonso’s committee’s petitions. The forty-seven-page order stated that Alfonso and other initiative supporters demonstrated a “clear indifference to the integrity of the electoral process in their management of a petition drive marred by fraud, forgery, and other irregularities.”

Even though the violations of election law were so overwhelming as to cause the Board of Elections to reject Alfonso’s committee’s petitions, Alfonso continued to have a close working relationship with the District government, signing multiple consulting contracts under both the Williams and Fenty administrations. Over the past eight years, his company, Dynamic Concepts, Inc., has had more than eight contracts with a variety of government departments and agencies, totaling more than forty million dollars. These contracts have continued under the Gray administration. When I asked an administration official whether they were aware of Alfonso’s history of running this corrupt election petition drive, and the fact that the scale of its wrongdoing resulted in the Board of Election’s imposing the single largest fine it has ever levied for violating DC’s election laws — $622,880 — I was told that they were, and it created no problem for his nomination. Committee Chairman Michael Brown did not ask Alfonso or me any questions about my testimony, but at the end of the hearing Alfonso claimed that the DC Court of Appeals had overturned the Board of Elections order, had thrown out all fines and all charges against his committee, and had exonerated him,, at 1:28:40. He directly, deliberately lied to the council committee under oath. In fact, the DC Court of Appeals upheld the Board of Elections order. In a decision issued September 28, 2004, the Court wrote, “We affirm the Board’s thoroughly documented and carefully explained decision, substantially for the reasons stated in its supplemental opinion attached hereto.” It then referenced a “pervasive pattern of fraud, forgeries, and other improprieties” by the Alfonso’s committee’s petition drive, Will the council reward Alfonso for lying to them during his confirmation hearing?


Ask Your Parents
Dorothy Brizill,

Last Thursday, June 23, at the kickoff of the mayor’s Healthy Summer initiative, announcing that Wal-Mart was granting $655,000 to six DC organizations, DC’s State Superintendent of Education Hosanna Mahaley spoke to a gymnasium full of government officials, nonprofit service providers, and fifty to seventy-five young children in the front rows of the audience.

I E-mailed Ms. Mahaley about her remarks: “I would like you to comment on your remark at this morning’s Healthy Summer Kick-Off. As you may recall, you indicated to the audience that General Mills was one of the District’s ‘partners.’ You then asked the kids sitting in the first few rows if they knew what General Mills makes. The kids responded, ‘Cereal.’ You then asked, ‘What else?’ The kids responded, ‘Yogurt.’ You then stated to the assembled audience, ‘When the new Wal-Mart opens, remember to ask your parents to buy cereal and yogurt made by General Mills.’ As the State Superintendent of Education, do you think your remarks were appropriate, especially with regards to promoting the opening of a new Wal-Mart store in DC and the purchasing of General Mills products?

Ms. Mahaley responded, “It is typical to recognize corporate and philanthropic partners for their contributions to the District. As someone who benefited from the Free Summer Meals program as a child, I am very excited about the opportunities it provides low-income children, and was probably a little too enthusiastic around my appreciation for their support for the District’s children. Thanks for your E-mail.”


University President’s Compensation
Richard Rothblum,

Probably it’s a trivial point, but Ann Loikow’s criticism of GWU President Knapp’s salary [themail, June 26] overlooks the most important function of a university president: fundraising. I am not sure how much money Mr. Knapp is expected to bring in, but I would guess that it is far in excess of what the university is paying for his services. It’s not cheap to hire the guys who can turn on the money spigots.


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