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March 12, 2014

Do DC Voters Care

Dear Voters:

When Mayor Gray gave his State of the District speech on March 11 at Kelly Miller Middle School in Ward 7, one of the most telling events didn’t happen inside, and never got reported. Several District police officers were stationed outside to direct traffic. As they directed traffic, they studiously ignored the activity at the busy drug house down the street leading to the school.

Inside the auditorium, District government cabinet members, contractors, lobbyists, and workers were all seated prominently in the front rows, and responded on cue repeatedly to applaud every line in which the mayor called for larger government programs and more government spending, and to chant “four more years” at intervals throughout the speech and at its conclusion. It was staging worthy of a convocation of the Politburo.


Megan McArdle writes, in Bloomberg View, “Do DC Voters Care if Politicians Are Corrupt?,” Glenn Reynolds, linking to McArdle’s article in his Instapundit blog, writes that, “by all appearances, the answer is no.” We’ll know for sure in a couple weeks, won’t we?


A press release from Phil Mendelson on March 12 was headlined, “City Council Chair Phil Mendelson Says Tregoning’s Zoning Rewrite has Broken the Public Trust; DC Residents Complain that the ZRR is Longer, More Difficult to Use, and Eliminates Public Input.” The press release reports on a public oversight hearing that Mendelson held on the Office of Planning and the Office of Zoning, and concludes that, “Towards the end of the hearing, Councilmember Mendelson said the public testimony conveyed, ‘a rather profound unhappiness with the Office of Planning.’ Mendelson went on to say that he thinks the Office of Planning has, ‘created an enormous amount of public distrust and it’s going to make everything OP does difficult.’” Take that as a confirmation of what Sue Hemberger writes below.

Gary Imhoff


Muriel Bowser’s Record as Councilmember
Dorothy Brizill,

When Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney was preparing an article about Muriel Bowser, he asked me to give him my impression of her. I wrote him a long E-mail and told him that he could quote anything in it. In McCartney’s article,,rr he wrote that I “was one of a half-dozen people I interviewed who have observed Bowser’s work on the council and described it as lackluster. The others spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid offending a potential mayor.” Here’s an expanded version of what I wrote him.

Muriel Bowser has been a member of the city council since 2007, when she won a special election to succeed Adrian Fenty as the Ward 4 representative on the council. As a legislator, Muriel doesn’t have an impressive record in the introduction of legislation or the use of the council to solve important public policy issues. The ethics bill, the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability Establishment and Comprehensive Ethics Reform Amendment Act of 2011, is the one exception. It is an important bill, and it is identified as her signature legislation. But the public was clamoring for ethics reform, she was running for reelection, and she touted her work on the bill as the one example of her legislative accomplishments, The bill was largely pushed through the council by Council Chairman Kwame Brown. In the wake of the “fully loaded SUV” controversy that raised questions about Brown’s own ethical lapses and poor judgment, Brown wanted to use the ethics bill to redefine himself in the eyes of DC voters as an “ethics reformer,” and he used his influence in the council to ensure passage of Bowser’s bill. Because of the messy manner in which the bill was drafted, several verbal amendments were made on the council dais, The final text of the bill wasn’t ready for several months after council passage, and no draft text was made available during that time for public comment. Neither Muriel nor her staff consulted with experts or Washington citizens who were most familiar with the ethics issues that have plagued the city government over the years. It should also be noted that, as chair of the Government Operations Committee, Muriel wasn’t able to draft a campaign finance reform bill, although other councilmembers introduced multiple bills on campaign finance in 2011 and 2012. It wasn’t until 2013, when freshman councilmember Kenyon McDuffie became chair of the council’s Government Operations Committee, that a comprehensive campaign finance bill was drafted and adopted by the council.

Muriel doesn’t work well with her council colleagues. She is not well liked or trusted by them, and many of them consider her a lightweight. Even before councilmembers all started running against each other to be mayor, you couldn’t find another councilmember who would speak well of her.

Muriel has not demonstrated good judgment in hiring her staff. She has one of the worst staffs on the council. They are not informed, knowledgeable, or even pleasant, and she micromanages them. She insists that her legislative/committee director, Rob Hawkins, keep his office in her suite of offices rather than in the committee office. Her staffers, including her press director, claim never to know about legislative or issue matters, and they must get Bowser’s or her chief of staff’s permission to provide any information. All calls to her committee and staffers must go through her main office receptionist.

As a Ward 4 councilmember, she provides very poor constituent services, and there are numerous complaints by residents of the ward about not being able to get service or assistance from her office. Her director of constituent services, Brandon Todd, has been working on her campaign full time for several months.

Regarding education, about three years ago Ward 4 residents were outraged over conditions at Roosevelt and Coolidge High Schools and the slow pace of renovation at the two schools. Coolidge, which should have been the first on the list schools in the District to be renovated, was dropped down to one of the last to be renovated. It was widely believed that funds that were earmarked for Roosevelt and Coolidge were diverted by Mayor Fenty to the renovation of Wilson and Woodson. Ward 4 residents felt that Bowser didn’t fight for school funding in her ward, and more generally that she wasn’t engaged in education issues. In an effort to silence Ward 4 residents who were criticizing her on education, Bowser tried to counter the Ward 4 Council on Education by creating her own entity, which she called the Ward 4 Education Compact; it has not been active or engaged since its creation.

Economic development in Ward 4, especially on Georgia Avenue, has been a consistent promise by Bowser to Ward 4 residents, but for years there was been little meaningful economic development on the Avenue. Recently, Councilmember Jack Evans, campaigning against Bowser in the mayor’s race, took advantage of this lack of economic development by holding a rally on Georgia Avenue. The one exception has been the building of the Georgia Avenue Walmart. Walmart, of course, has many vocal opponents, especially in the labor movement, but one of Bowser’s early and most prominent financial backers was David Wilmot, who served as the finance chairman for Bowser’s 2011 reelection campaign. Wilmot is a paid lobbyist and consultant to Walmart. After Walmart announced its intention to open a store at the busy intersection of Georgia and Missouri Avenues, Muriel refused to hear or respond to legitimate community concerns about the store, including traffic and its potential impact on other businesses in the area.

Most observers of District politics and the inner working of the Wilson Building have had unpleasant encounters with Bowser. People compare her personality to Adrian Fenty’s, and say that she is cool, aloof, and mean. She will roll her eyes and openly display disgust at citizens or colleagues with whom she disagrees even when she is on the council dais or at community meetings. She is still working in Fenty’s shadow; there are even rumors that Fenty will return to DC to campaign for her in the final weeks of the campaign, and he is raising funds for her in California. Many unpleasant people who worked for Fenty are now working in Bowser’s council office and campaign.

A telling example that is often cited regarding Bowser’s personality and how she has discharged her council duties is her treatment of Betty Noel. Noel, a prominent Ward 4 resident, had served with distinction as the District’s Peoples Counsel for eighteen years, representing citizens’ interests with respect to public utilities. When her last six-year term expired, Mayor Fenty refused to reappoint her, and instead, with Bowser’s blessing, nominated Vicky Beasley, an attorney with little experience, to the Peoples Counsel position. Beasley’s nomination, however, was not approved by the council because of opposition from citizens, the Consumer Utility Board, and civic organizations. Bowser took the council’s rejection of Beasley personally, blamed Noel for it, and retaliated against Noel. When in 2011, Mayor Gray nominated Noel to fill a vacant seat on the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in the District, Bowser immediately announced her opposition. Rather than champion the appointment of a Ward 4 resident to such an important and prestigious commission, Bowser worked tirelessly with PEPCO behind the scenes to defeat Noel. Through procedural maneuvers, Noel’s nomination died in the council’s Public Service and Consumer Affairs Committee on March 15, 2012, in a three to two vote, with Bowser, Alexander, and Mendelson voting against her. To date, the seat to which Noel was appointed on the three-member board has remained vacant.

Most troubling when assessing her qualifications to be mayor of the District is the fact that she has no meaningful work or management experience. Prior to running for the council to fill Fenty’s Ward 4 seat, she was an employee at the Silver Spring downtown redevelopment corporation, where she was not in management.

Finally, despite her public image as being “clean,” Bowser has skirted campaign laws and regulations. When she ran for reelection to her Ward 4 council seat in 2012, she initially ran the campaign out of her council office. Joy Holland, her chief of staff, held campaign strategy meetings in Bowser’s front office, and Bowser’s campaign posters and literature were stored in the committee office of Ron Austin, who was then her chief of constituent services. Over the years, she received at least $18,600 in campaign contributions from Jeffrey Thompson and his straw donors.


Even More Convoluted and Substantially Less User-Friendly
Sue Hemberger, Friendship Heights,

The dialogue that surrounds the ZRR (zoning regulations review) has been surprisingly nasty and polarizing. Lost in the name calling and the focus on a few issues (parking, accessory apartments, and corner stores), is the fact that the Zoning Commission is being asked to replace our existing zoning code with a new 980-page document that virtually no one has read and even fewer people have actually tried to use. The Office of Planning (OP) was charged with streamlining, simplifying, and updating the code and making it more user-friendly. Has OP succeeded?

The proposed new code is almost three hundred pages longer than the existing code. By contrast, when Philadelphia planners were given the same task, the new code they proposed was two hundred pages shorter than the old. An overlay that consists of six consecutive and coherent pages in the current code has its provisions scattered over at least 37 different pages (and six different subtitles) in the proposed code. And those pages now provide conflicting information about what can be done within the affected area.

Under the current code, we have 35 zones and 26 neighborhood-specific overlays; under the proposed new code, we’d have 142 different zones. The naming/numbering of zones in the existing code is logical and systematic. In the new code, not so much. Typically, a recodification project of this nature — i.e., one that is cast primarily as a clean-up of an old and much-amended existing code that has grown convoluted and difficult to use — would attempt to codify and incorporate settled case law and administrative interpretations. No such attempt has been made here. The status of existing precedent under the new code gets even murkier because the proposed code retains much of the same vocabulary as the old code, but redefines a number of terms. It would keep many existing zone definitions, but change the names associated with them. Many passages in the new code have been cut and pasted from the old code but, in this process, their context has changed. So are we going to start from scratch and treat every interpretive question that arises as a new one? Instead of revising the code to make it easier to understand, OP has adopted an approach that will make the process of interpreting the zoning regulations even more opaque and unpredictable.

There are a host of other, smaller issues — e.g., endless almost-but-not-quite-identical tables (that lack legends and whose coding is counterintuitive), incomprehensible sentences, the absence of cross-references or overviews — that suggest the drafters of this code had little or no previous experience writing regulations and didn’t spend much, if any, time thinking about how a reader would use the text they were creating.

We do ourselves and our city a real disservice if we treat the ZRR as just a referendum on whether corner stores are good or cars are bad. This is high-stakes legislation — the zoning code controls the use and development of land throughout the District, and the last code DC adopted has stayed in place for over fifty years. The fact that it took the Office of Planning seven years and countless meetings to produce this 980-page nightmare of a draft isn’t sufficient reason to adopt it. The Zoning Commission needs to make its decision based on whether the new code represents a significant improvement over the old code. By any of the criteria set forth at the beginning of this process, it does not.

Just to be clear, I’m not arguing against changing the existing code. Through the ZRR process, the Office of Planning has continued to propose (and the Zoning Commission has continued to adopt) text amendments to the existing code. These have included the Green Area Ratio (GAR), zoning for the development of Saint Elizabeth’s, and a variety of other minor provisions. There’s no reason that parking minimums, accessory apartments, and corner stores (or any other policy change OP wants to initiate) can’t be handled in the same way.


Urban Institute Survey Supports CWAB’s Alert
Karen Settles, Samuel Jordan,

We are President and Special Advisor, respectively, of the Citywide Advisory Board (CWAB), the jurisdiction-wide representative of the District’s public housing residents. Due to our concerns regarding the enrollment of public housing residents in qualified health plans offering essential health benefits as required by the individual mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA), on November 26, 2013, we proposed to the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) a comprehensive, coordinated program of ACA informational and enrollment services that would help to maximize the number of eligible residents enrolled in compliant health insurance plans by the ACA’s March 31, 2014, enrollment deadline.

In December of 2013, we were advised by the Deputy General Counsel of DC Health Link (DCHL), the District’s health insurance marketplace, that “the law does not permit us to serve that population,” an assertion repeated by DCHL’s Senior Deputy Director, although neither official offered citations to the provisions of the ACA supporting their declarations. Nevertheless, having made our proposal to DCHA in the course of a series of continuing negotiations on programs impacting public housing residents, we have been sorely disappointed in the lack of a reasoned response to our initiative. Instead, we learned that DCHA will not discuss the proposal further because the agency is reluctant to publicly recognize Ms. Settles as President of CWAB. Yet DCHA seeks Ms. Settles’ signature on documents required by US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) when proof of resident leadership review or approval is needed. The basis for DCHA’s decision is a matter having no significance whatever to residents’ need for ACA informational and enrollment services.

In subsequent communication with DCHL, DCHA, the Office of the Mayor, and HUD we have noted with urgency that public housing residents are “among the least ‘Internet connected’ and least informed by public policy makers’ outreach efforts.” Corroborating our characterization of the need for the proposed services is the following paragraph in a study published by the Urban Institute on March 5, 2014:

“While these ACA target subgroups were more likely to have looked for or have planned to look for information in the Marketplaces than their respective reference groups, they were also more likely not to have heard at all about the Marketplaces. For example, 23.4 percent of uninsured respondents, 27.0 percent of adults in low-income families, and 22.6 percent of those age 18–34 had not heard about the Marketplaces — significantly higher than the full population average (17.1 percent) and the averages for the respective reference groups.” (“Who Has Been Looking for Information in the ACA Marketplaces? Why? And How?,” F. Blavin, S. Zuckerman, and M. Karpman March 5, 2014 Urban Institute Health Reform Monitoring Survey)

The District’s low income adults include residents of public housing, a disproportionate number of whom have not heard of the Marketplaces. This is a phenomenon we also expect to be found elsewhere across the nation and have urged HUD to take appropriate measures. Further, we note with emphasis that the enrollment deadline will have passed in three weeks and DCHA must yet account for its disregard for the number of residents within its jurisdiction who will not have enrolled in health plans by March 31. The intent of the ACA will have been frustrated by official disengagement. CWAB seeks a resumption of negotiations with the DC Housing Authority that will also treat the matter of residents’ health and insurance with the gravity these concerns merit.



Ward One Democratic Council Candidates Forum, March 13
P.L. Wolff,

Ward 1 City Council Candidates incumbent Jim Graham and challenger Brianne Nadeau are to square off Thursday evening, March 13, at King Emmanuel Baptist Church, 2324 Ontario Road, NW, starting at 7:00 p.m. The session will be moderated by Anthony L. Harvey, this publication’s Associate Editor, who is himself a longtime neighborhood resident as well as a longtime reporter of Ward 1 news. For information about the expected issues to be put to the candidates, visit to read the Special Report posted at the top of the home page.


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