City Desk

From Streetcars to ‘Crony Frat Brothers': Loose Lips Daily

As much local politics as humanly possible. Send your tips, releases, stories, events, etc. to lips@washingtoncitypaper.com. And get LL Daily sent straight to your inbox every morning!

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Good morning, Washington! I’m Michael Grass, your substitute for Loose Lips’ substitute, Jason Cherkis, who is busy moving this Memorial Day weekend. You may know me better as the guy who co-founded DCist.com six years ago. I also used to get up at 5 a.m. to aggregate and blog local news for The Washington Post’s red-headed stepchild, Express. I’ve done a bunch of other stuff in and out of the world of political journalism and Web development. I’m sort of like that old high school teacher your older brother used to talk about who’s been brought in out of retirement to be the substitute teacher for your 11th grade civics class. Except that I didn’t pour bourbon in my coffee before first period! Really!

Today’s lesson? D.C. politics, naturally. Let’s get to it!

FROM STREETCARS TO ‘CRONY FRAT BROTHERS’: What’s the best way to forget about Wednesday’s epic streetcar budgetary debacle? If you’re D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, who by all accounts had a crappy Wednesday, the answer is to change the subject entirely and throw some mud at Mayor Adrian Fenty. Now, the even-tempered and consensus-building Gray wouldn’t dare do that on the council dais. But as your substitute LL witnessed last night, a campaign fundraiser at the swanky Franklin Square club, The Park at Fourteenth, provided just the right venue. Up on the fourth level where a DJ was spinning some hot jams amid the fancy Dale Chihuly glass sculptures, Gray mingled with smartly dressed members of the Young Professionals for Gray, whose host committee included Carlos Gray (the chairman’s son) and Sam Brooks (a consultant and unsuccessful 2006 D.C. Council candidate), among others.

Damian Miller, who introduced the chairman, got the crowd riled up with chants of "no more frat brother contracts!" The elder Gray declared that "[t]his city will not be given away in a Vincent Gray administration," making a muddled reference to Fenty’s Howard University fratboy friend Sinclair Skinner, whose questionable Department of Parks and Recreation contract has been the subject of intense scrutiny. "We need to tell it like it is," Gray said to vocal approval by the young professionals and creative types in the crowd. The chairman went on to discuss small business opportunities and education reform in the District, saying "there’s a lot more to education than K-12." But with a crucial fundraising reporting deadline just weeks away, Gray appealed for campaign donations, but noted that "we’re not going to raise $4 million" like the well-resourced Fenty. "But we don’t need to raise $4 million."

AFTER THE JUMP—Transit geek power trumps Big Soda dollars, a ruling on FenceGate, speedhump and sidewalk politics, Metro OKs fare hikes, an obscure reference to Kate Gosselin’s dreadful paso doble and so much more!

OH YES, THAT PESKY FENCE: The other topic of political discussion not discussed openly at last night’s Gray fundraiser was about the five-month saga involving the regulatory obscurities related to a black aluminum fence surrounding the D.C. Council chairman’s Hillcrest home. Just a few hours before Gray’s appearance at The Park at Fourteenth, the little-known Public Space Committee, according to The Washington Post’s Ann E. Marimow—who also stopped by the party— "determined that there was no compelling justification to allow Gray's fence, which is 5 feet 7 inches tall, to exceed the District's height limit on fences built in a public right of way." Recently, Karina Ricks of the Public Space Committee told Marimow that the fence regulations are confusing and "really not intuitive, which is why we exercise a fair amount of patience." Gray’s lawyer on the fence matter, former D.C. Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti said he was "very surprised" with the fence ruling and said "it appears the committee had made up its mind before we walked in." More from Marimow:

Fenty has not publicly discussed the fence, but city Attorney General Peter Nickles has said he has monitored the process to ensure that Gray is treated like any other resident. It is not uncommon, Ricks said, for homeowners to be unaware of such permit requirements, but Nickles has said Gray should have known.

Perhaps this was all on the mind of the D.C. Council chairman at his fundraiser when he cited unnamed but omnipotent forces he’s facing in his quest for mayor. "You all know who 'they' are?" Gray asked the crowd. (Ummm, Nickles?) "I'm not backing up an inch," Gray said defiantly. But at least for that dog-gone fence, it will have to be lowered or removed to comply with all those obscure District laws. Didn't Hizzoner have his own issues involving that security shack outside his Crestwood home back in 2007? Housing Complex also dissects the fence issue.

SIT BACK AND ENJOY THE SHOW? With all the recent hoopla over the budget, the D.C. Republican Party wants the D.C. Council’s dilly-dallying to stop and instead wants some "straight talk."

In a statement released Thursday, the chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee, Robert Kabel, declared that watching councilmembers deal with the Fiscal 2011 budget has been more entertaining than "Lost," "Glee" and "American Idol" combined.

If you're looking for a good day time TV drama, tune into channel 13. Nowhere in America can you see 13 elected officials act like magicians so well. In their first act they cut the streetcar program and soda tax idea and then in their second act, they restore it. District residents deserve a Council that is light on fanfare and heavy on results. As small businesses and residents try to make ends meet, the 13 flip-flop in front of channel 13 on soda taxes and street cars. It’s time our Councilmembers checked into acting classes and out of politics."

What, no “Dancing With the Stars" reference? Your substitute LL thinks this whole budget drama has been more awkward to watch than Kate Gosselin’s comically painful paso doble back in April!

The Washington Post’s editorial page shakes its finger at those in power on the budget mess:

But neither Mr. Fenty, who is running for reelection, nor council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), who is challenging him for mayor, showed any appetite for reining in spending or discussing tax increases. Neither official has distinguished himself. Mr. Fenty submitted a flawed spending plan; Mr. Gray made it marginally worse, while his gyrations on streetcar funding undermined confidence in the council's decision-making.

“Gyrations," eh? See, this is one massive dance.

SOME GOOD NEWS FOR GRAY: The police and fire unions want the D.C. Council chairman to be mayor! As D.C. Wire's Tim Craig noted on Thursday:

Like most unions that represent city employees, the firefighters and police associations have been battling Fenty over his leadership style. The police union has also questioned Fenty's crime fighting strategies.

Although unions have a diminishing impact on local elections, the police and firefighters associations will likely provide Gray with considerable grassroots resources. The endorsements may also help Gray blunt Fenty's efforts to take credit for the recent decline in violent crime in the city.

Kristopher Baumann, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police, said in a statement that “Vincent Gray understands the issues that face the citizens of the entire city. Vince Gray has proven to be a thoughtful and diligent public servant and a friend of the police and the community."

We Love DC’s Dave Stroup ponders the endorsement:

What impact will this have on the campaign? Hard to say at this point. Fenty will surely be touting the recent decrease in homicides and violent crime, this move may work to muddle that message a bit. However, Fenty’s campaign will likely emphasize that it was the leadership from MPD brass that has led to the recent decreases, and that it’s unwise to change management at this point.

More from the Examiner, NC8.

When LL asked Gray campaign spokeswoman Traci Hughes if there were any other endorsements coming down the pike, she said indeed there were, but said she couldn’t divulge who just yet. Chairman Gray, if you call for the reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to vehicular traffic, you could secure that ever-critical endorsement of the Association of Oldest Inhabitants of the District of Columbia! Do those folks still talk about that?

SO, DID THE BLOGGERS AND TWITTERERS SAVE STREETCARS? According to bloggers and Twitter, the answer is a resounding "Yes." On Wednesday, just as various protesters decrying social service budget cuts were crowding the Wilson Building’s 5th floor and chanting as councilmembers were meeting behind closed doors before their public vote on the budget, Greater Greater Washington’s David Alpert was galvanizing social media forces around the city when news broke that funding for the beloved H Street NE-Benning Road streetcar line was in jeopardy:

Our report was very quickly picked up and reconfirmed by many other blogs. DCist, We Love DC, Prince of Petworth, Frozen Tropics, The Hill is Home, H Street Great Street, Life in Mount Vernon Square, the Sierra Club's Streetcars4DC, and many more asked people to call Gray's office, in most cases well before the vote.

Twitter, too, lit up with the news. Our first tweet was retweeted with and without modifications numerous times; According to bit.ly's summary, it got 388 clicks and 70 "shares" on Facebook, and 47 retweets, which don't even include the ones using Twitter's "native retweet" functionality. And that was just one tweet from one blog.

It was also the No. 1 local topic trending on Twitter on Wedensday! Golly gee, I tweeted that!

Your substitute LL wonders: Who is the more potent force? Transit geeks who love streetcars or yoga lovers who clog councilmembers’ e-mail inboxes? One should note that those niche interests didn’t spend a cent on their non-traditional lobbying efforts. How much did "Big Soda" spend on their attempts to defeat Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh’s proposed soda tax?

ONE FINAL NOTE ON STREETCARS, PROMISE: So once the initial H Street NE-Benning Road line is complete, what next? Here’s a fun video via GGW of the streetcar traveling along a reconstructed K Street NW. How will it be paid for? Nobody knows! But it has some wireless sections, so that should please the aesthetic purists, right?

METRO FARE HIKE: Hey, this next item isn’t about streetcars, but it is about other public transit, which will be getting more expensive. Cue the doomsday music. As the Examiner’s Kytja Weir sums up:

Expect to pay more to ride Metro starting later this summer, with rail riders facing up to $5.45 per trip and bus riders paying as much as $1.70.

But riders won't be facing less service for that money — the Metro board of directors gave preliminary approval Thursday to a budget proposal that does not cut those services, as initially planned.

But more rail cars are on the way to replace those Carter-era cars with the dated—and ugly—brown, orange and yellow interiors. GGW, naturally, has the details. More from WaPo, WBJ, DCist, WTOP, Washington Times, WUSA-9 and WTTG/Fox5.

SPEED HUMP HICCUPS: Up on the 5100 block of Chevy Chase Parkway in Northwest, a majority of residents are in support of a speed hump to slow down traffic. As The Current’s Katie Pearce noted earlier this week, the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission took up the issue of traffic calming, which has roiled other areas of Upper Northwest. Meanwhile, over on the 1300 block of Clifton Street NW, Prince of Petworth looks into why city crews removed a speed hump there. (DDOT installed them there by mistake. Oops!)

SUMMER SPLASH: As the D.C. Council has been battling over the budget, the mayor has been awfully quiet, hasn’t he? Today, however, he’ll be opening city swimming pools, a mayoral tradition. It's not clear if Hizzoner will be doing an Anthony Williams-style cannonball splash, but if there were ever a time to maybe sneak a peek at the mayoral six-pack, head over to the Thurgood Marshall Pool at Fort Lincoln pronto!

NEXT WEEK’S SIDEWALK VOTE: After Memorial Day, D.C. Council members are expected to vote on the "Sidewalk Assurance Act." As The Current’s Elizabeth Wiener reported this week:

As introduced by Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh last year, the bill would require the District Department of Transportation to install a sidewalk on blocks that have none when the agency is reconstructing roads or replacing curbs and gutters.

Expect that vote on June 1. But will residents of the sidewalk-less sections of the Palisades and Kent take out their aggression on councilmembers at the annual July Fourth parade on MacArthur Boulevard? Stay tuned …

UPDATE ON ALONTE SUTTON MURDER: In court proceedings on Thursday, a police detective testified that the 28-year-old alleged killer of D.C. Council intern Alonte Sutton admitted to having a fued with the 18-year-old Ballou Senior High School student with a promising future. But as The Washington Post’s Maria Glod reports, Omare Cotton denied pulling the trigger, but said he slashed Sutton’s tires and chased the teenager.

BRIEFLY: The Washington Post’s Bill Turque reports that "[t]he District's top special education official apologized to a roomful of anxious parents Wednesday night for mishandling an attempt to remove their children from private schools where they had been placed at public expense because the city was unable to meet their needs."

According to The Washington Blade's David J. Hoffman, a "primary care medical clinic specializing in serving HIV/AIDS patients will soon open its doors" in the District, perhaps in the relocated D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.

Mike Scarcella of Legal Times notes that "lawyers who fought out the landmark Supreme Court case over D.C.'s handgun ban today declined any further mediation to resolve a dispute over the attorney fees demanded by the prevailing plaintiffs' attorneys."

Theola Labbe-DeBose of WaPo relays word of an official D.C. Fire/EMS report that rules the disastrous 2007 Eastern Market fire started because of electrical issues.

DCist’s Kriston Capps looks at what’s in store for the historic Randall School property in Southwest, slated for a major upgrade complete with hotel and contemporary art museum.

Former Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent Orange is scheduled to be on WAMU’s "Politics Hour" with Kojo Nnamdi today. Your substitute LL has a noon lunch scheduled, but we’ll catch the rerun tonight. What a way to kick off the Memorial Day weekend!

D.C. COUNCIL TODAY: Committee on Public Works and Transportation (Meeting) PR 18-0842; PR 19-0878; Bill 18-57, 4:00 p.m. Location: John A. Wilson Building, Room 123

MAYOR’S SCHEDULE: 10:45 a.m. Remarks: DPR Pool Season Kick Off. Location: Thurgood Marshall Pool, 3100 Fort Lincoln Dr. NE

Have a good Memorial Day weekend and have fun sitting in traffic. Feel free to send me tips at mgrass@gmail.com if you see a politician do something noteworthy over the three-day weekend. I’ll be back on Tuesday!

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