Loose Lips

Morning Links

D.C. Council sues Vince Gray and CFO Jeff DeWitt over budget autonomy. [PostRoll CallWashingtonianTimes]

Gray launches housing program for 500 families. [Post, Housing Complex]

Are you running for D.C. Council? Here's a handy flowchart to figure it out. [LL]

Pot activists celebrate Tommy Wells. [City Desk]

Hypothermia blamed for I-295 deaths. [Post]

School Without Walls parents oppose school merger. [WAMU]

Post ed board wants punishment for lieutenant in Medric Mills case. [Post]

NoMa gets WiFi. [WAMU]

Traffic safety campaign launches in DMV. [WAMU]

Man wanted in three bank robberies. [Post]

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

Are You Running for D.C. Council? Consult This Chart!

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With its eight mayoral candidates and handful of down-ballot races, the April 1 Democratic primary may have zapped the attention spans of all but the closest watchers of District politics. Which could make the general election’s race for two at-large seats on the D.C. Council a bit of a mind derecho, at least if you haven’t been keeping score at home. Who’s running or considering? And why? This chart could help.

Design by Carey Jordan

Morning Links

D.C. Council will sue Vince Gray and CFO Jeff DeWitt over budget autonomy. [Post]

Republicans threaten to sue Democrats who switch parties to run for at-large seats. [Times]

Light crowds turn out for Emancipation Day. [WUSA9, WAMUPost]

It's time to think about who Emancipation Day is really honoring. [LL]

Post ed board backs court fight over budget autonomy. [Post]

Tony Cheng admits that he picked the worst public official to approach in taxi scheme. [LL]

Metro officials resign after ugly audit report. [Post, WAMU]

Read more Morning Links

Raining on Vincent Orange’s Parade

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Smith Special Productions makes giant parade balloons, and lots of them. The Williamsport, Pa., company tends toward cartoon animals like “Tally Ho the Toucan” and “Icee the Shy Little Penguin.” But District taxpayers got gasbags with a little more gravitas from the company on Wednesday, thanks to $15,120 from the D.C. Council.

The balloons, featuring figures like John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks, floated above the festivities at Wednesday’s Emancipation Day parade. Even though Smith Special made nine balloons, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans joked a week earlier at a Council breakfast that a helium-filled version of one Emancipation Day figure had been overlooked: At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange.

Orange is the closest thing that the District’s nine-year-old holiday has to a founding father. In 2000, Orange, then the councilmember from Ward 5, passed legislation noting April 16, 1862, the day the federal government paid $1 million to buy freedom for slaves in the District.

Four years after that bill, Orange pushed through one that made Emancipation Day a District government holiday, meaning D.C. government employees and public school students had the day off to go to the parade. (Though that didn’t necessarily mean they’d spend the day attending.) In 2006, Orange rode in a horse-drawn carriage with then-Mayor Anthony Williams after the horse meant to pull Orange’s own carriage got too scared to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

When Orange returned to the Council in 2011, his love for Emancipation Day hadn’t diminished. Since then, Orange’s Council staff, along with the Council’s Office of the Secretary, has administered the festivities, while Orange serves as the “presiding officer.” Last year, Orange argued successfully to increase the budget for this year’s events by $100,000, to $350,000.

Emancipation Day loves Orange back. In 2013, the holiday’s budget included $2,500 for a promotional video that featured narration from Orange and—at one moment—fireworks bursting over his illuminated face (the same video company received $5,000 for this week’s events). A related Emancipation Day booklet featured pictures of Orange and his family so prominently that it that called to mind North Korea’s Kim dynasty. The parade’s contractors include former Orange consultants, too: Marketing firm Otim Williams, for example, received $10,750 to promote the parade just a month after it designed Orange’s mayoral campaign website

Despite the budget increase, the crowds at the parade have stayed stubbornly small. Nearly 10 years after the District declared Emancipation Day an official holiday, it’s time to consider how much of the Emancipation Day money is being used to honor freedom, and how much is being used to honor Orange.

Read more Raining on Vincent Orange’s Parade

Politically Connected Chinatown Restaurateur, Son Admit to Poorly Planned Scheme

Since opening his first Chinatown restaurant in 1986, Tony Cheng has proved himself a savvy navigator of the District's political waters. Cheng's prominence saw him involved in attempts to end a protest over a Ward 8 carryout; and he tried to find an post-mayoralty job for Marion Barry in the 1990s. So how, in the fall of 2010, did Cheng sign on to such a dumb scheme?

The question hung over Cheng's guilty plea hearing this afternoon, where Cheng and his son, Anthony R. Cheng Jr., admitted to offering or making payoffs to a public official in 2010 and 2011. Both the elder Cheng, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of making offer of unauthorized compensation to a public official, and his son, who pleaded guilty to felony payment of a gratuity to a public official, face six months in prison when they return on July 17 for sentencing.

Unluckily for the Chengs' plans, their scheme centered on then-D.C. Taxicab Commission head Leon Swain, whose undercover work in another taxi corruption scheme had already been reported more than a year before they approached him. Swain has said he worked with investigators on this case, as well.

The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment on the case beyond a statement, in which U.S. Attorney Ron Machen says that the Chengs' pleas are a "sobering reminder" of "pay-to-play culture."

Read more Politically Connected Chinatown Restaurateur, Son Admit to Poorly Planned Scheme

Morning Links

Today's Emancipation Day parade survives after D.C. Council agrees to give up future parades to the mayor's office. [LLPost]

Ousted Housing Finance head admits he used agency credit card for personal expenses, still thinks he shouldn't have been fired. [LL]

Gay Democrats have to choose between David Catania and their party. [Post]

Charter school at center of alleged self-dealing scheme will likely stay open. [Post]

Councilmembers mull ditching power over contracting.  [Post]

Despite being GPS-monitored, man eludes District police. [Post]

Read more Morning Links

D.C. Council Loses Control of Emancipation Day in Funding Dispute

Tomorrow's Emancipation Day parade will be the last of its kind. Although the D.C. Council organized and paid for this year's parade, a budget dispute means control of future Emancipation Day celebrations will be handed over to the mayor's office, according to Pedro Ribeiro, a spokesman for Mayor Vince Gray.

“Which makes sense, because that’s why you’ve got an executive branch," Ribeiro says.

The Gray administration and Council parade organizers, led by At-Large Councilmember and Emancipation Day enthusiast Vincent Orange, were at odds over how the parade would cover $116,000 in city costs related to the events, including $60,000 in police overtime pay. Ribeiro says organizers in Orange's office revealed that the parade couldn't cover the costs, despite a $100,000 budget increase last year that brought the Emancipation Day bankroll to $350,000.

Read more D.C. Council Loses Control of Emancipation Day in Funding Dispute

Ousted Housing Finance Director Sues D.C. Over Credit Card Rules

High-living former District of Columbia Housing Finance Agency boss Harry Sewell is back. After getting the boot last November following LL's stories about how he used his agency credit card at a luxury shoe store and Miami nightclubs, Sewell filed a lawsuit Friday against his old agency for firing him over more than 600 charges.

In his breach of contract lawsuit, filed Friday, Sewell concedes that he used his agency credit card for personal purchases. But Sewell says that didn't violate his employment rules, claiming that he reimbursed the agency for personal expenses and stopped using government cards entirely after he issued a new credit card policy in October 2013.

Sewell claims that his November ouster both cost him six months of severance pay and embarrassed him. Sewell's attorneys didn't respond to a request for comment, while a DCHFA spokeswoman declined to comment to LL, saying that the agency hasn't been served with the complaint yet.

Read more Ousted Housing Finance Director Sues D.C. Over Credit Card Rules

Morning Links

Muriel Bowser says she was misunderstood on controversial boundary proposal. [Post]

Budget impasse between Vincent Orange's office and Vince Gray administration could doom Wednesday's Emancipation Day parade. [Post]

Fire department investigating whether medics failed to follow policy in woman's death. [NBC 4]

Post ed board: Democrats like Yvette Alexander and Tommy Wells mulling a party switch would be pulling a "crass ploy." [Post]

Deputy mayor says don't get attached to the school boundary proposals. [WAMU]

Jack Evans' constituent service fund spends another $26K on sports tickets. [LL]

Evans eyes a Georgetown rowhouse for his kids. [Post]

16th Street Heights residents petition against unsafe Arkansas Avenue. [WAMU]

Tech seed funder says Gray's tech policy was all about "picking winners." [WBJ]

Bikeshare riding spikes in cherry blossom festival. [WBJ]

Read more Morning Links

Evans Constituent Service Fund Spends Another $26K on Sports Tickets

The latest round of constituent service fund disclosures came out earlier this month, and they show—LL can't believe it—lots of actual constituent service.

Vince Gray's fund covered some rent bills; D.C. Council chairman Phil Mendelson's fund spent $290 on food for people mourning Medric Mills, the 77-year-old man who died after not receiving help outside a District fire station. Mayoral hopeful and Ward 4 councilmember Muriel Bowser's fund paid $1,100 to campaign strategist Tom Lindenfeld's firm in exchange for robocalls to her constituents.

In the first three months of 2014, meanwhile, Ward 2 councilmember Jack Evans' fund continued with its usual policy of spending constituent service money on sports tickets, spending $26,266 on three Washington teams. Evans defends the purchases, telling LL that the tickets go to constituents who might not otherwise be able to afford a game.

Lucky Evans constituents could see the Wizards ($8,075 spent), the Nationals ($12,935 spent), or the Capitals ($5,256 spent). And maybe they'll be joined by Evans, who concedes that he "sometimes" uses the tickets himself.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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