City Desk

Russ Ptacek Spent Tuesday Waiting for Muriel Bowser

WUSA9 investigative reporter Russ Ptacek and a cameraman sat outside Ward 4 D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser's office at the Wilson Building for two and a half hours Tuesday, waiting to snag an interview with the Democratic mayoral nominee. But Bowser never came, and Ptacek, whom Washington City Paper dubbed D.C.'s most excitable newsman in a 2013 cover story, didn't seem happy.

The newsman took to Twitter to tell his nearly 10,000 followers what was happening. He also went to her Georgia Avenue NW campaign headquarters with no luck, and took four selfies throughout the day, showing his dismay with the perceived stonewalling.

A station producer tweeted a photo of Ptacek standing next to a large picture of the mayoral candidate, saying "this is as close as we got to @MurielBowser." (This photo is not included in the selfie count.) The newsman also retweeted messages from his followers thanking him for holding government officials accountable. The Council is currently on Easter recess, but Ptacek says he saw every other member in the hallway during his stakeout.

"I'm very busy, and that's a huge waste of time," Ptacek says of chasing around Bowser for the day. "But I will do it if someone blows me off for two months."

Ptacek has been working on an investigative piece about the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, of which Bowser sits on the board of directors. This specific story—which is set to air tonight on the 11 p.m. news—has to do with what Ptacek describes as six months of "missing" WMATA bus data for the last half of 2013. The stats, which WUSA9 staff pulled from the agency's website, keep track of all the Metro bus times and are used to determine if buses are generally running on time or late.

He wants to know why those figures weren't properly plugged in. He says he's contacted the other 14 WMATA board members, and only one of them agreed to an interview. That board member said he wasn't aware of the missing data, even though WMATA officials say they disclosed the issue at a board meeting.

"When it came down to report, they were like, 'It's not that the dog ate the homework, it's that we lost the homework,'" Ptacek says. "We felt it was crucial to find out if [Bowser] was paying attention in the meeting and if she was paying attention to the report."

Unsurprisingly, Bowser's office did not want to comment on this story about them not commenting. WMATA spokesman Dan Stessel tells City Desk by email that "it is not that the data is 'missing,' but rather that it cannot be used to accurately calculate on-time performance during the latter half of 2013 because, due to a technical issue, buses that ran early were counted as on time when they should not have been." Stessel says this lapse was publicly reported at a board meeting and that it didn't affect NextBus or any other customer services. WMATA tried to see if the data could be corrected, but it couldn't.

Ptacek—who is most known around D.C. for his taxi cab stings and raids of restaurants that violate health codes—defends his reporting tactics.

"As a last-ditch effort before the story aired, we went to places that we thought she was going," he says. "I believe very strongly that city officials should be available to the media particularly when there are uncomfortable issues... It's not like we pitched a tent."

WUSA9 has been promoting the investigative report, and it's still slated to air tonight, likely with no comment from Bowser. Ptacek, who recently ran stories on Metro's speaker system and unsuccessfully tried to request documents to see how often Metro employees give customers the finger, says this is an important topic to his viewers, and he'll keep pursuing it.

"It's clearly a hot button issue, I know it's important to our viewers, I know it's important to people who use public transportation," he says. "Is it the most important piece of journalism I've ever done in my life? No."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • Matthew

    Thank god there's at least ONE reporter in this town trying to do some reporting and get answers. God knows the media has been far FAR too gentle when handling WMATA's mismanagement.

    Keep at it Russ!

  • justsayin

    "I'm very busy, and that's a huge waste of time," Ptacek says of chasing around Bowser for the day. "But I will do it if someone blows me off for two months."

    Welcome to the experience of the Ward 4 constituency and thank you for pushing to get answers. WMATA owes AT LEAST that much for all of the money it continues to shakedown from its patrons.

  • Rob

    Bowser was probably at the Washington Post getting her puppet strings adjusted.

  • jess

    Can he do a report on how grossly overcompensated WMATA employees are? Much appreciated.

  • Tbonebullets

    She probably used Vincent's escape hatch from the Wilson Building.

    Maybe it's like the Batcave: you go down a long chute into a cavernous underground waterway, where a boat awaits to take passengers to the Fish Market.


    Amen to your commment, justsayin. We Ward 4 residents are use to Bowser non responsive nature.

  • 20011

    "Can he do a report on how grossly overcompensated WMATA employees are? Much appreciated."

    I believe those numbers are publicly available.

  • Bowser : (

    Thanks for trying, Mr. Placek. You aren't the only one she is unavailable to. How about a story on how she is accomplished nothing for BUSINESS in DC even though she is the Chair of the Economic Development Committee. You cannot get her or ANY of her staff on the phone or to reply to e-mails. Not even about issues in her WARD!!??? At first I thought she was a nice person. Noooooooooooo. She is VERY arrogant!! That and everything else we hear she is incapable of, managing her own staff, getting anything done, managing her own WARD, etc. I am truly worried about our city. Have you gone to talk to David Catania? I do not know much about him but am ready to listen as I think most are who have encountered her and her staff. Very disappointing to say the least.

  • LT

    Right on, justsayin! I've contacted her office numerous times about different things--either no response whatsoever or a staff member passes the buck. Just one more reason she has never gotten my vote and won't get it for mayor.



  • Thunder

    So why didn't he chase down the dozen Metro Board members who didn't respond? It seems this isn't about missing data, but just another opportunity for Ptacek to mug for the camera.

  • justsayin

    The board member who aspires to be Mayor and has all but declared herself the heir-apparent can't be bothered to at least acknowledge a concern put before that board? I'm less concerned about the reporter's tactic than I am about a mayoral hopeful who cherry picks when and to whom they should respond on matters that affect the citizens they purport to represent.

  • UNC-G grad

    The one message Gray's campaign was 100% spot on about was:


    That says it all.

  • Ray

    So if I'm understanding this correctly: @RussPtacek @WUSA9 is chasing down Ms. Bowser in order to get an explanation for 6 months worth of missing data on whether or not Metro buses were generally running on time? Seriously dude!?! I can answer that -- NO, the busses generally were not on time. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. Kudos to Ms. Bowser for deflecting Mr. Ptacek!! I'm sure she has more important issues to address than Metro's bus schedules. Find a real story dude, and stop beating the dead horse that is WMATA. We all know they've got problems.

  • RussIsFullOfYouknow…

    This dude is clearly gunning for attention. Bowser is 1 of 14 members kn the board. 1 of 3 from DC including the board chair. It isn't like bowser is the only one not responding. He's only got one bs comment from a board member. Has he camped out at the board chairs office? No! Gutter journalism at its finest.

    He's trying to get play by harassing the next mayor of DC.

  • SayWhat

    Everyone knows that he is David Catania's friend, get over yourself and quit the lying. In the bed with a loser David Catania.

  • SayWhat

    Everyone knows that you and David Catania are great friends and you will write whatever he wants you to print, so stop with your bull. Why does Muriel have to debate someone who is not an official Candidate for Mayor. He hasn't picked up or turned in one petition. She should treat him like a gnat at a barbecue.


    if you wanted to ask her why she voted to stop wmata from hiring felons but then she told all the felons to vote for her cause she was going to have the board vote again and try and get them to hire late she did that only to get their votes now it is no need to do it they were dumb enough to vote for her

  • Son of Washington

    Is he a DC Resident?