Loose Lips

The Loosies: The Best, Worst, and Weirdest in D.C. Politics in 2014

PrintSee ya, 2014! This year gave us a new mayor, a bunch of new guilty pleas, an elected attorney general, and even more vacant D.C. Council seats. And it gave us 12 more people deserving of Loosies.

The Bash Brothers Award for Distinguished Defense of Vince Gray: Chuck Thies and Pedro Ribeiro

If Mayor Vince Gray stood any chance at winning the Democratic primary, he couldn’t look like a hunted man. Instead, Gray feigned a public indifference to whether U.S. Attorney Ron Machen wanted to put him in an orange jumpsuit—that matter, Gray said, and still says, is left to his attorney.

If Gray couldn’t attack his critics, though, he needed someone who would. Or rather, someones. Gray found them in campaign manager Chuck Thies and mayoral spokesman Pedro Ribeiro, who spent a good chunk of 2014 roasting the mayor’s rivals. Thies used any campaign setback to wax poetic on the political doom awaiting opponents, while Ribeiro, in one memorable exchange, called Gray rival Tommy Wells a “dope.”

Gray’s camp has taken a less pugnacious tone now that he’s leaving office, and Ribeiro has decamped for the federal government. His replacement, meanwhile, hasn’t even publicly insulted anyone. These lame-duck periods really are tough.

Best Argument for Abolishing Advisory Neighborhood Commissions: Carolyn Steptoe

ANCs are the wetlands of District politics. On one hand, they can promote a beautiful diversity of neighborhood opinion. On the other, they can turn into gloomy fens of pointless political rivalries. Case in point: former Ward 5 commissioner Carolyn Steptoe, who allegedly deleted an audio recording of a contentious meeting after it became the target of an open records request.

The missing recording meant more than a neighborhood fight, though. After a lawsuit over the vanished recording, the District ended up paying around $58,000 in legal fees. The kicker, according to the plaintiff’s attorney? The audio wasn’t even that interesting.

The “If You Can’t Say Anything Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All” Award: Mary Cheh

Ward 3’s Mary Cheh was one of the few councilmembers not to rally behind Near Mayor Muriel Bowser in the general election. Rather than endorse colleague David Catania as he headed off to a brutal loss, though, Cheh hung back entirely. Her one word about Bowser: saying that Barack Obama’s endorsement of the future mayor was “peculiar.”

The Achievements in Crookedness Award: Mark Long

Shadow campaign maestro Jeff Thompson’s March guilty plea had an air of braggadocio about it. Here was a guy who engineered five years or more of illicit election schemes, and he would’ve gotten away with for even longer, if it wasn’t for this meddling Sulaimon Brown. But it was Thompson crony Mark Long, charged in September, who was revealed as the real innovator in crime.

First, Long convinced Thompson to bankroll his doomed 2008 at-large campaign. When that flopped, though, he wasn’t over yet. Long managed to secure a gig as Gray’s paid 2010 campaign driver, funded by Thompson. Even now that he’s busted, his cooperation with prosecutors bodes well for his future sentencing. Talk about making the system work for you.

The Casper the Friendly Ghost Award for Ghostwriting: Marion Barry and Omar Tyree

In theory, late Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry and novelist Omar Tyree were the perfect match. One of them lived one of the wildest lives in municipal history; the other writes books where women’s breasts are described as “torpedoes.” Teaming up to write Barry’s Mayor for Life memoir turned out to be a brilliant move. It’s not because the book is that great (it isn’t), but because Tyree’s flair for words turns Barry experiences like using cocaine into phrases like “[I] felt like I had ejaculated.” Now that’s good reading.

The One Rude Dude Award: James Bulger

It was a good year for doing bad. But the most colorful tale of alleged wrongdoing belongs to former Gray administration neighborhood liaison James Bulger. In May, an allegedly intoxicated Bulger showed up at trendy Logan Circle seafood spot Pearl Dive to rant at the restaurant’s manager over a neighborhood dispute.

The fight purportedly included a threat to sic government inspectors on the restaurant. Finally, a guy in this town brave enough to take a stand against the bland transformation of 14th Street NW.

The Walter White Memorial Award for Power Mania: Phil Mendelson

Phil Mendelson spent his first 13 years on the D.C. Council as a bookish policy guy—basically, David Catania without the Hulk issues. Now he’s still a nerd, but he’s got buckets of power as the chairman. Mendo didn’t learn to work the Council until after 2013, when he saw Gray stomp all over his beloved Walmart bill.

Helped along by a lame-duck mayor, Mendelson has been flexing all over the dais, fending off councilmembers and whipping their votes into line. Nobody’s making mustache cracks now.

Best Argument for Voting: Khalid Pitts

Voting in the District is a drag. You’ve got to rustle up proof of residence, then head to your polling place in the middle of the workday. If you’re really conscientious, you also have to know who the candidates are. But there’s a good reason to do it: You might someday run for office in the District and look really silly for not voting.

At-Large Council hopeful Khalid Pitts became a cautionary tale for the importance of voting where you live after LL reported that Pitts hadn’t cast a ballot in the District for 19 years. Despite being boosted by solid forum appearances and gobs of his own money, the Logan Circle wine bar owner’s campaign never recovered. At least he shouldn’t have any trouble drowning his sorrows.

The Sore Loser Award: Vince Gray and Brian Hart (tie)

This was a tough one, because 2014 left a lot of bad feelings to go around. But in the end, LL had to go with a split decision. There’s Brian Hart, the doomed at-large candidate who griped, after a rival racked up councilmembers’ endorsements, that the process for picking them up wasn’t fair.

And then there’s the outgoing mayor himself, who spent his post-primary doldrums dodging questions about when he would endorse Bowser for the general election. The answer, as it turned out, was never.

Phil Mendelson Keeps Education Committee, Creates Housing Committee

D.C. Council chairman Phil Mendelson released his shuffled committee chairmanships today to his colleagues.

There are some changes! You can see the full committee membership list. Scroll to the bottom of this post to see the new committee responsibilities, embedded below.

Faced with five incoming freshmen councilmembers and sticking by his rule that rookies can't run committees, Mendelson has eliminated some committees and restructured others. After Jim Graham's exit, the human services committee will be folded into Yvette Alexander's health committee. The prestigious economic development committee, most recently helmed by Near Mayor Muriel Bowser, won't exist come January.

Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie gets a promotion in Mendelson's new order, running the judiciary committee. Ditto Anita Bonds, who will run the newly created housing committee, now no longer subsumed into the economic development portfolio.

Read more Phil Mendelson Keeps Education Committee, Creates Housing Committee

Morning Links

Court says homeless families deserve private shelter. [Housing Complex]

Would-be soccer stadium neighbors cut a deal. [Housing Complex]

A gloomy goodbye speech from Vince Gray. [LL]

SBOE holds off on more flexible high school graduation requirements. [Post]

Pepco-Exelon merger opponents turn out at hearing. [WAMUPost]

Ex-jail guards want to carry guns. [Times]

Read more Morning Links

Vince Gray Says Goodbye in Lengthy Farewell Speech

Still Mayor Vince Gray would like to tell you what he got done—do you have a couple hours? In a speech last night that ran nearly as long as his term in office, Gray recounted the best parts of his administration and gave some recommendations for the next one.

After a prayer where Gray was described as a "native son" with a "destiny" for helping people, the soon-to-be-ex mayor took the stage at Dunbar High School, his alma mater.

"It's hard to say goodbye," Gray said, his voice catching.

Gray's speech focused on the highlights of his administration: an expansion in early childhood education, the Dakota Crossing Costco, the last-minute D.C. United stadium deal. Gray bolstered his case with the launch last night of two legacy sites and the release of a booklet recounting his accomplishments. One of the sites is hosted outside of the District government's servers, presumably to escape any post-inauguration purge from Near Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Gray's speech avoided any mention of the federal investigation that helped ensure an end to his administration. He also ditched the aggressive speechifying of his primary campaign—he skipped a portion of his prepared remarks where he alluded to Adrian Fenty's administration offering the city a "false choice" between "progress and inclusion."

Read more Vince Gray Says Goodbye in Lengthy Farewell Speech

Morning Links

D.C. United stadium deal wins Council approval. [LL, WAMUWBJ,

Vince Gray talks up his record in goodbye speech. [LL,  WAMUPost]

Council votes for handgun bill. [WAMU,

Primaries will move to June, then September. [WAMUPost]

New subcommittee boss Jason Chaffetz: Don't legalize pot. [Post]

Post ed board cheers Muriel Bowser administration picks. [Post]

Nine miles of new bike lanes add up to District record. [WAMU]

Read more Morning Links

Read Vince Gray’s Goodbye Speech

Still Mayor Vince Gray came to Dunbar High School tonight with a nearly 10,000 word speech recounting his four years in office. Among the topics: education, statehood, and his recommendations for successor Muriel Bowser.

Gray improvised a good amount of the speech, especially as it lurched towards a two-hour running time, but you can read the prepared text below:

Read more Read Vince Gray’s Goodbye Speech

D.C. Council Approves D.C. United Stadium

The D.C. Council is now fully behind a D.C. United soccer stadium at Buzzard Point, voting unanimously this morning on two bills approving the stadium deal.

Most controversy around the deal evaporated last week, when Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Still Mayor Vince Gray cut a deal on funding a package that doesn't include swapping the Reeves Center for developer Akridge's stadium land.

The next obstacle for the stadium involves convincing Akridge to hand over the land without receiving Reeves in a swap. If Akridge won't part with its land, today's Council vote authorized the District to use eminent domain, a process that could push the city's cost above $150 million.

Most councilmembers used their dais time to praise the deal, with Vincent Orange casting an eye on what will replace D.C. United's current home at RFK Stadium. (Maybe a water park!). Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans enthused that the stadium will keep United in the District.

“With the exception of the football team, there is not not one franchise in all of professional sports that uses the name 'Washington' but doesn’t play in Washington," Evans said, in what LL might be tempted to read as burgundy-and-gold foreshadowing.

Read more D.C. Council Approves D.C. United Stadium

Morning Links

Marion BarryWard 8 field gets bigger, could pull in Marion Barry's son. [LLPost]

United Medical Center teamed up with Howard University hospital and its turnaround partner. [PostWBJ]

New debt backs D.C. United stadium plan. [WBJ]

Wilson Building staffers walk out in "Black Lives Matter" protest. [Post]

District gets out from under special ed lawsuit. [Post]

Report: D.C. FEMS radios are now encrypted. [Statter911]

More on Phil Mendelson's plan to send marijuana law anyway. [City Desk]

Read more Morning Links

New Candidates, Old Councilmembers Appear in Ward 8 Race

Nate Bennett-Fleming

Marion Barry has been buried for more than a week now, and the race to replace him has finally begun in earnest. Outgoing shadow representative Nate Bennett-Fleming picked up nominating papers today, becoming the latest to join a group of 13 candidates (so far!) racing to replace the mayor-for-life.

Bennett-Fleming, who lost an April primary attempt at Anita Bonds' at-large D.C. Council seat, claims that he won't have trouble facing such a large field.

“I stand out already," Bennett-Fleming says. "I’m the only person that’s running that’s an elected official."

Bennett-Fleming isn't the only new candidate in the race. While eight candidates signed up to run on the first day ballots petitions were available, they've since been joined by Karlene Armstead, Angela White, and David J. White.

Bennett-Fleming will also face LaRuby May, Near Mayor Muriel Bowser's former Ward 8 coordinator. May tells LL that the campaign apparatus she organized for Bowser is still in place–a formidable asset, even in a ward that didn't back Bowser in the primary. Already, May says she has the 500 signatures required to make the ballot.

Read more New Candidates, Old Councilmembers Appear in Ward 8 Race

Morning Links

Muriel Bowser's inauguration committee rakes in cash from donors who have an interest in her new administration. [LL]

Bowser appoints new deputy mayors. [PostPost]

Forrester Construction agrees to pay $2.15 million over tactics revealed by WCP. [LLPost, AP]

With school lottery ahead, Bowser stays quiet. [WAMU]

Local crank grumpy. [Times]

More on Bowser's Olympic pitch. [WAMU]

Donald Trump's name will not be "too ostentatious" on the Old Post Office. [WBJ]

Read more Morning Links