<![CDATA[NBC4 Washington - First Read]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcwashington.com/blogs/first-read-dmv http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/WASH+NBC4+BLUE.png NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com en-us Tue, 01 Dec 2015 19:02:49 -0500 Tue, 01 Dec 2015 19:02:49 -0500 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[D.C.'s Paid Family Leave Bill on Slower Track]]> Mon, 30 Nov 2015 21:41:02 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/DC+Seal+at+DC+Council+generic.jpg

A proposed D.C. law that would require employers to give employees 16 weeks of paid family leave, which would be the most generous family-leave program in the nation, hit a snag and is no longer on the fast track for approval.

A majority of D.C. Council members introduced the bill in October, almost assuring it would pass. But businesses, government and nonprofits complained a new tax of up to 1 percent to pay for the plan would cost too much and strain many smaller companies.

“There are a lot of issues with the Paid Leave Act, and we need to work our way through it,” Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said.

Mendelson said a hearing on the bill Wednesday would only be the first of at least three through February.

“If you're a company that has 500 employees and one or two of them take leave, that's a very different scenario than if you're a small business of eight employees and two of them take leave,” Mendelson said.

Even at-large Council member David Grosso, the main sponsor of the bill, acknowledged more hearings were necessary and the bill might change.

Business groups, including the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, welcome the slower track for the bill but still don't support it.

“We want people to be able to take care of their families. We're not against that,” said Harry Wingo of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. “We are against this bill. This bill goes too far, too fast and would hurt businesses in D.C.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser cautioned again Monday that the act, if passed, would be difficult even for the city to enact for its 30,000 employees.

Photo Credit: NBCWashington]]>
<![CDATA[New Mont. Co. Law Against Predatory Towing]]> Mon, 30 Nov 2015 20:28:16 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/2015-11-30_1917.jpg

A new law in Montgomery County is aimed at stopping predatory towing by banning so-called "spotters," among other rules.

The law, which took effect Monday, also adds new requirements for parking lot owners who want to have a car towed, including written authorization during daytime hours and photo evidence of the violation.

"This law is supposed to be... about parking, not a hunting license for tow truck operators," said Eric Friedman, director of the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection (OCP).

Each year, 30,000 cars are towed non-consensually in the county -- a practice often called predatory towing.

Proponents of the new law say so-called spotters keep an eye out for drivers who park in lots and walk off the property. They then notify tow truck drivers, who often tow vehicles within minutes. The offending cars are then towed to sometimes-distant lots, where it can cost drivers up to $150 to retrieve their cars.

"Nothing will kill a business district... more than someone who thinks they've been unfairly towed," Friedman said.

The new law is closely aligned with the state towing law, county officials said in a release.

The law also requires signs to be posted at entrances and in parking lots; requires towing companies to notify the police before leaving the parking lot, and allows car owners to get personal property from their cars without charge. It also allows the county executive to set flat rates for towing.

"In addition, commercial parking lot owners that elect to engage in trespass towing are now required to electronically register their parking lots with OCP and to provide annual reports to OCP regarding towing activities," county officials said in a release.

Of course, drivers should still read all posted signs and be careful where they park.

The county council passed the bill unanimously in July; it was then signed into law by County Executive Ike Leggett.

<![CDATA[Montgomery Co. Welcomes Syrian Refugee Resettlement]]> Fri, 27 Nov 2015 18:54:42 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20151127+Syrian+Refugees.jpg Montgomery County is breaking with Maryland's governor in welcoming Syrian refugees. News4's Chris Gordon reports.]]> <![CDATA[Current, Former D.C. Officials Attend Turkey Bowl]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 21:54:04 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Yvette+Alexander+and+Muriel+Bowser+at+2015+Turkey+Bowl.jpg Former and current D.C. officials turn out for the Turkey Bowl. News4's Mark Segraves reports.

Photo Credit: NBCWashington]]>
<![CDATA[Attorney: Report on DC Police Use of Force a 'Whitewash']]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 10:01:23 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/212*120/2015-11-25_1337_001.png

A police investigation found officers used appropriate force in detaining two men on a sidewalk in the Capitol Hill neighborhood last month, Police Chief Cathy Lanier said, but an attorney for those men called the report a "whitewash."

No one who was stopped was charged, but cellphone video of the incident led to protests on Capitol Hill. The 30-second video clip posted on social media showed 18-year-old Jason Goolsby face down on the sidewalk as two officers tried to handcuff him. 

According to an investigative report released by police, the officers were responding to a call about three suspicious men near an ATM at the Citibank in the 600 block of Pennsylvania Avenue SE on Oct. 12.

The dispatcher made a mistake, Lanier said, saying the teens may have been trying to rob people rather than acting suspicious.

"I think the confusion in the radio transmissions doesn't help but I don't think it alone is a factor in this at all," Lanier said.

Goolsby's attorney, Peter C. Grenier, said that mistake is inexcusable and made the officers believe Goolsby was a suspect.

"They were 'suspicious' for no other reason than that they are black," Grenier's statement reads.

One of the officers pulled his police cruiser onto the sidewalk and ordered two men matching the description to stop. One stopped, but the other ran, police said. 

When an officer caught up with him, he appeared to reach into his backpack and didn't comply with orders to make his hands visible, police said.

"Understand that's an important thing for us, to be able to see your hands," Lanier said. "We never know who we are walking up on or if somebody might have a weapon, and we want to go home at the end of he day."

The officer, fearing for his life, threatened the man with pepper spray and forced him to the ground, according to the report.

"We feel that the officer's actions, given the entirety of the circumstances were appropriate, and within department policy," Lanier said.

The report does not name Goolsby as the man who was forced onto the sidewalk. 

"Not surprisingly, the MPD report is nothing more than a whitewash, and I mean that in literally every sense of the word," Grenier's statement reads.

Grenier doubts an officer fearing for his life would pull pepper spray instead of a service weapon and said in the statement that his client never reached for his backpack.

Grenier's statement also suggests police responding to an attempted robbery wouldn't have been so calm in addressing the suspects.

At a news conference last month, Goolsby said he ran because he was scared. 

"I seen the gun and the pepper spray, and I nearly got hit by a car, so my first instinct was to run, because I didn't want to die," Goolsby said. "I feared for my life."

Goolsby, a freshman at the University of the District of Columbia, said he stopped at the bank after leaving a volunteer program with two of his friends. 

Goolsby, a musician, was about to withdraw money to pay for a studio session that night when he received a text postponing the session, Grenier said. He then held the door open for a white man and woman with a baby in a stroller, at which point the woman said she forgot something in the car and the family left.

Goolsby was on his way to a bus stop when police stopped him a few blocks away from the bank, according to Grenier. 

Grenier said Goolsby and his friend were detained in handcuffs by several police officers for almost two hours. But Police Chief Cathy Lanier said the two were not held for that long, 15 to 20 minutes, and neither complained of injuries before being released. 

No one was arrested or charged, and no complaint was filed, police said, but the incident was investigated because of the video on social media.

Statement From Jason Goolsby's Attorney:

Understanding that I have not given the report a truly detailed read, here are my initial responses:

Not surprisingly, the MPD report is nothing more than a whitewash, and I mean that in literally every sense of the word.

While I have yet to see any MPD self-investigation result in a finding of by an MPD investigator’s colleagues, fortunately juries are smart enough to figure out the truth.

Do you truly believe that an MPD officer, confronting whom he thought had committed a robbery at a bank, and claiming that he feared Jason Goolsby was “reaching for a weapon” (see page 2 of report), would not have pulled his service weapon on Jason? It is undisputed that the officer never actually pulled his service weapon from its holster, yet the MPD wants the public to believe that Jason reached into his backpack, potentially “reaching for a weapon,” which placed the officer in “fear….” And the officer says he only had his OC Spray out…. The reason this makes no sense is because it is pure fabrication – none of the supposed “uninvolved witnesses” say a thing about Jason reaching into his backpack. The reality? Jason’s backpack contained the following items:

His school laptop computer
His headphones case
His schoolwork
Pens and a pencil
His keys

Which of these items does the MPD consider to be a “weapon?” Where in the report does the investigator tell the public what was actually FOUND in the backpack?

Please be very clear – Jason never reached for his backpack, which remained on his back. How could he supposedly be fleeing the officer, while also unzipping his backpack on his back?

It is shameful and inexcusable that the MPD dispatcher reported the 911 call – the transcript of which is appended to the report – as an attempted robbery. The responding officers reflect this in their individual reports, and it is reflected in the second bullet of the Discrepancies and Clarifications section, on page 13. Perhaps even more shameful is that supposed “clarification” to the officers that “these subjects were just suspicious and not wanted for robbery.” Again, they were “suspicious” for no other reason than that they are black. NOTHING in the 911 call justified nor warranted what happened to these two fine young men, and the MPD as a whole has LOT of explaining to do. We trust and assume that the involved dispatchers have been severely disciplined – the report is very noticeably silent on that issue.

The investigator’s bias is self-evident, and the internal inconsistencies are legion. By way of example but not limitation, in his Summary and Conclusions (page 15), he soft-pedals the initial encounter between Jason and the MPD officer, stating that the officer said “Hey, I need to talk to you both for a minute.” In numerous other sections of the report, including notably the “uninvolved witnesses”” statements, they all characterize the officer’s voice as loud and commanding. Does the public truly believe that a police officer, pursuing someone he claims to have believed may have been attempting robbery at a bank, calmly says “Hey, I need to talk to you both for a minute”?

On page 15 of the report, the MPD investigator states, after acknowledging the dispatcher’s gross misstatement about there being a “robbery,”: “Officers responding were aware that this call was of suspicion only.” That is false – multiple officers stated in their reports that they believed they were responding for an “attempted robbery” (See, e.g., Attachment 4)

I have to wonder why the MPD did not discuss in the report their findings about these young men’s activities immediately prior to this horrific incident – why not tell the public about the altruistic volunteer work these young men had been doing minutes earlier? Why not tell the public that they checked Jason’s cell phone and corroborated that in fact, while at the ATM machine, he had received a text postponing his recording session that evening, for which he was initially going to withdraw money?

The one word most noticeably missing from the report is the word “innocent.” It is beyond dispute that Mr. Goolsby and Mr. Brown were innocent. Why doesn’t the MPD simply come out and say, “These two young men committed no crime”?

I can only say that it continues to be a sad day for the citizens of the District of Columbia, when the threat of a lawsuit over an individual’s deprivation of his civil rights causes the MPD to abandon ITS moral compass and write a narrative to excuse their egregious behavior. Shame on them.

<![CDATA[Should Wilson HS Change Its Name?]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 09:59:51 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/kaya_henderson.jpg

The leader of D.C. Public Schools, which includes a high school named after Woodrow Wilson, is following the controversy over the former president’s association with Princeton University.

After a two-day sit-in by students at Princeton, the university agreed to consider removing a mural of the 28th president.

Wednesday the New York Times editorial page urged the school to remove Wilson’s name from the campus where he served as president from 1902-10, calling him an unapologetic racist for his role in segregating federal employees.

Woodrow Wilson High School in upper northwest is one of D.C.’s highest performing public schools with a diverse student population.

Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said she’s been paying close attention to the protests around the country.

“I’ve been following all of what’s been going on on college campuses, and I think if that makes sense, we can bring that recommendation to the mayor at some point, but that’s not what’s top of mind for us right now,” she said.

Mayor Muriel Bowser said she had no comment on the Times article. When pressed about whether the name of the school should change, she said, “That hasn’t actually ever been a topic of discussion for us.”

Bowser’s administration is currently considering changing the name of Ballou High School in Ward 8 the honor Mayor Marion Barry.

<![CDATA[The Week Ahead: Spotlight on Ben Carson]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 10:20:59 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20141205+The+Week+Ahead.jpg

The Week Ahead with Andy Gross: GOP candidates gather for another forum, Obama heads to Asia for APEC meeting, Congress returns to work for four days and Andy gives a dramatic reading.

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<![CDATA[The Week Ahead: Ready to Rumble?]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 12:39:57 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20141205+The+Week+Ahead.jpg

The Week Ahead with Andy Gross: GOP candidates gather for another debate, Obama to meet with Israeli PM Netanyahu, Obama presents another Medal of Honor and Kathryn probes the Pyramids!

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<![CDATA[Sherwood, Nnamdi, Cheh Get D.C. Flag Tattoos]]> Fri, 20 Nov 2015 20:36:36 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/2015-11-20_1611_001.jpg

News4 reporter Tom Sherwood just made a big commitment -- a permanent one, in fact.

Sherwood had been saying for years that if a WAMU 88.5 listener made a major donation during "The Politics Hour," he would get a tattoo of the D.C. flag. 

Done, and done.

On Friday, Sherwood, WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi and D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh headed to the H Street NE location of Fatty's Custom Tattooz. A crowd gathered to watch as three artists, including the owner, tattooed varying versions of the three-star D.C. flag on each person.

Sherwood had a red flag inked onto his bicep, while Nnamdi got a black flag on the inside of his elbow. Cheh -- whose version of the flag features hearts instead of stars -- got hers on her foot.

"It actually doesn't hurt as much as I thought it would hurt," Sherwood said as he was inked, "although this red color that's going on now hurts worse than the outline."

Sherwood said he'd been nervous before the big event, but not because of the pain.

"Well, you know, I actually woke up three times last night, worried about it," he said before the tattoo artists got started. "Because, again, I'm not a tattoo person; I'm not worried about it hurting, I'm not worried about it not looking good, I' m not worried about any of that. It's just that I don't normally mark up my body. I don't even dress up for Halloween. So this is kind of odd for me."

Sherwood, a regular guest analyst on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," had said for several years that he'd get a D.C. flag tattoo like his son's if someone made a donation fo $5,000 to the show.

No one ever came through, so he lowered the amount to $3,000. During Oct. 23's show, Nnamdi and Cheh, the guest on the show that day, chimed in and said they'd get the tattoos, too... if only someone would donate. 

Within minutes, the long-sought donation arrived, the station announced on Twitter

"I'm too old to be getting a tattoo, but for WAMU I'm going to," Sherwood said at the time.

Sherwood said he and Nnamdi first discussed the tattoo in 2012.

"I wanted to do something for WAMU, so I thought I'd offer to get a D.C. flag tattoo like my son's if someone donates $5,000," he said, describing the image on the bicep of his son, Peyton Sherwood. "No one said OK, so I decided to drop the price to $3,000. Then, what do you know, someone did it."

Sherwood, an Atlanta native who's lived in the District since 1974, said he was proud to contribute to the WAMU program.

"I think 'The Politics Hour' is a very good place where people can hear politicians for more than a minute or two," he said. "We get to talk about regional politics and have conversations. I think that's important."

Cheh said through a spokeswoman that the tattoo would not be be her first and that she was happy to show support for the station in such a permanent way.

"I love public radio and WAMU in particular. Intelligent programming, great guests and every week I learn something new," she said last month. "I'm also a staunch D.C. statehood advocate, so when I was presented with the opportunity to join Tom and Kojo in the D.C. flag tattoo pledge, it was no question that I wanted to participate and support everything this effort stands for."

Photo Credit: Mark Segraves, NBC4
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<![CDATA[Plan for Police Body Cameras Advances in D.C. Council]]> Thu, 19 Nov 2015 19:28:09 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/111915+dc+police+officer.jpg

More than 2,000 D.C. police officers could be wearing body cameras by next March.

The judiciary committee of the D.C. Council unanimously approved a plan on Thursday for the 2,800 patrol officers in the District to wear body cameras.

"We want to reduce the false complaints against our officers who risk their lives on a daily basis, but at the same time we want to make sure that we are fostering better community police relations," judiciary chairman Kenyan McDuffie said.

The Council's bill -- now expected to go before the full Council by the end of the year -- would insure the camera footage would be more easily available to the public than what Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed last spring.

"This bill is drastically better than the bill that was initially submitted eight months ago," McDuffie said. "We've had groups like the ACLU, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Open Government Coalition, the national reporters' committee, all at the table."

The plan still would protect the privacy of people caught on video connected with cases of domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Bowser supports the revised bill, press secretary Michael Czin said.

"There was a lot of back and forth over the last couple of months," he said. "But what we're really happy about is we've been able to balance the goals of transparency and accountability."

The District is ordering thousands of cameras and training officers.

"Our goal is to transcend any Ferguson kind of situation," Councilmember Anita Bonds said.

<![CDATA[The Week Ahead: Will Ohio Approve Pot?]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 14:53:40 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20141205+The+Week+Ahead.jpg

The Week Ahead with Andy Gross: Legalized marijuana is on the Ohio ballot, Native Americans gather at the White House, Trump.

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<![CDATA[The Week Ahead: GOP and Hillary Square Off Over Benghazi ]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 12:40:20 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20141205+The+Week+Ahead.jpg

The Week Ahead with Andy Gross: Hillary Clinton heads to the Hill to face Benghazi inquiry, new NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll is released, Pakistan's Prime Minister Sharif meets Obama -- and Andy has some debate ideas, too.

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<![CDATA[Critics Want FreshPAC Investigated Over Pepco/Exelon Merger]]> Tue, 17 Nov 2015 21:31:10 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000012659622_1200x675_568834115859.jpg Critics are calling for a formal investigation into FreshPAC, the controversial fundraising group supporting D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, over the Pepco/Exelon merger.]]> <![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Pulling the Plug, But Not So Fast!]]> Wed, 18 Nov 2015 05:54:02 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/DC+Mayor+Muriel+Bowser+GettyImages-492469062.jpg

Mayor Muriel Bowser has pulled the plug on FreshPAC.

The ill-fated “independent” political action committee is still being denounced as wrong-headed, foolish and politically damaging to Bowser’s reform image. Even many of her allies privately bemoaned the gambit.

But pivoting from FreshPAC is not the end of the story.

Bowser supporters and appointees created both the PAC and the controversy with hard-edged fundraising among people with city contracts.

And there still are serious unanswered questions about FreshPAC’s creation, how it sought contributions, and from whom.

Many think no question is bigger than this: Did FreshPAC aggressively seek big cash contributions from Pepco and Exelon even as their proposed $6 billion merger hung in the balance and as Bowser was negotiating a revised deal she could support before the Public Service Commission?

Astonishingly, FreshPAC, Pepco and Exelon so far have each publicly and bluntly refused to comment on whether a big ask was made.

It’s relevant because the Public Service Commission is even now in the midst of reconsidering the power company merger that will have lasting effects on tens of thousands of customers. Perhaps the groups opposing the merger — or the commission itself — will inquire in upcoming public hearings.

All three entities — FreshPAC, Pepco and Exelon — have issued statements saying that no money was given to FreshPAC, but they all skirt the issue of who, if anyone, put the arm on the companies to contribute. Sources who have declined to be identified so they can speak freely about FreshPAC have told your Notebook that Pepco and Exelon rightly — and to their credit — declined to give money to FreshPAC, saying it was inappropriate at the time.

The Notebook takes no side on whether the Pepco-Exelon merger is a good deal or not for District citizens, but public disclosure of the process ought to be clearer than it stands right now.

Did FreshPAC seek to benefit financially from two vulnerable power companies?

Did FreshPAC influence the merger deal even as Bowser was negotiating revised terms?

Who, if anyone, representing FreshPAC made the requests? What did they say to Pepco and Exelon executives?

Mayor Bowser first told NBC4 before leaving for China that she was unaware of any such solicitation.

Last Friday, in her long-distance news conference call from China, she told NBC4’s Mark Segraves that she still doesn’t know if a solicitation was made, but she added that she wouldn’t approve of such a solicitation if it were. She declined to comment on whether the three parties should disclose any interaction.

Here’s the exchange:

NBC4’s Segraves: “Would you instruct your supporters at FreshPAC to answer that question [about donations]? And secondly, [Washington Post columnist] Colby King said [FreshPac] was arrogant and stupid. What do you think this does to your image as a reform mayor?”

Mayor Bowser: “Well, I think that everybody should recognize that the supporters of, the leaders of FreshPAC made a hard pivot away from it. And they recognize the level of criticism despite the fact that it was operating completely transparently and aboveboard, and recognize that any distraction from the important work we have to do was not, was not something that I would support.

“As it relates to the questions about Exelon or Pepco, I’m not aware of anybody reaching out to them or soliciting anything from them, nor would I approve of it if I knew about it. And so, that is not something that I think that the PAC should have been involved in and I don’t know that the PAC was involved.”

Associates of the mayor say the news conference call from China was intended to both promote the positive aspects of the city business trip — a good thing — but also maybe to dampen the media attention she’d receive upon her return.

The mayor said in that Friday news conference that FreshPAC had been “operating completely transparently and aboveboard.” It may take a few more answers before that assertion is verified.

King, the veteran observer of city politics for The Post, says the pay-to-play nature of FreshPAC demands more answers. Writing in his Saturday column, he asked, “Any interest, D.C. inspector general, D.C. attorney general or D.C. ethics board? Or does the U.S. attorney have to do the job for the city?”

King also noted that opponents of the merger are screaming that Pepco suddenly came up with a $25 million donation for fuzzy naming rights to the city’s new soccer stadium project just as the mayor was involving herself in the merger.

In a telephone call last week, Bowser strongly defended her ethics, saying nothing in her political career suggests she would do something unethical or illegal. The Notebook notes that no one has made a specific charge that Bowser herself has done something improper. Most all of the questions go to the people surrounding the PAC, what they knew and what they did.

King, who wrote a previous column asking “who will save” Bowser from her development-oriented friends, noted that opponents of the soccer-Pepco deal have asked the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to look into Pepco’s sponsorship agreement.

And he wrote, “Bowser wittingly decided to get behind the creation of a richly funded political vehicle launched to reward friends and punish enemies, in the finest tradition of Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall. That is likely to be an issue that will bleed into next year, and in ways that Bowser and her political crew never expected.”

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

<![CDATA[The Week Ahead: Save the Date, It's a Democratic Debate]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 12:40:49 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20141205+The+Week+Ahead.jpg

The Week Ahead with Andy Gross: The first Democratic debate is in Vegas. Will Rep. Ryan go for Speaker? South Korea's Park to meet with Obama in D.C., and look who drove McCarthy out!

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<![CDATA[Bowser: FreshPAC Became a Distraction]]> Fri, 13 Nov 2015 09:54:44 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/110415+muriel+bowser.jpg

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday that a controversial political action committee (PAC) formed by her close allies had become a distraction.

After mounting criticism, the independent committee called FreshPAC announced this week that it would close. The PAC came under fire for raising large sums of cash with firms and individuals doing business with the city.

Bowser made the comment on a conference call with reporters Friday morning. She is currently in China, wrapping up a week-long trade mission.

Her statement that FreshPAC had become a distraction was the same reason cited by FreshPAC treasurer Ben Soto for shutting down the committee.

The PAC had raised $340,000, with a goal of $1 million. Its founders took advantage of a law that allows political-action committees to accept unlimited contributions during non-election years. The committee received $10,000 donations from people who do business with the city or are seeking city business. 

The committee had threatened to campaign against opponents of the mayor.

Independent D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine has said that FreshPAC was blatant "pay-for-play politics" that citizens oppose.

Bowser, a Democrat, said the appearance of impropriety was taking away from her administration's "important work."

Washington Post columnist Colby King said FreshPAC has already done its damage.

"This was an effort, not so cloaked effort, to get around the law and to play politics in the city the way we've seen it before in the way it ought to be condemned," he said.

"It's an affront to the city; it's an affront to clean government, and she's going to pay a price for it," he said.

Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, another harsh critic of FreshPAC, said it was a reason to keep closer tabs on the Bowser administration.

"The whole thing was rotten from the beginning, and it was rotten in its implementation," she said.

Bowser previously defended FreshPAC, saying, "[The PAC] will support an agenda that people voted me to get done. There's no attempt to hide. The disclosure and sunlight is how everybody is aware. They're operating how the law contemplates."

<![CDATA[Deeds Tours Mental Health Facilities in Northern Va.]]> Thu, 12 Nov 2015 21:29:21 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/AP412035767346.jpg

A Virginia lawmaker whose son died in the midst of a mental health crisis visited Northern Virginia Thursday looking for answers.

State Sen. Creigh Deeds’ (D) quest to reform mental health services began a little less than two years ago after his 24-year-old son, Gus, attacked him, then killed himself.

Deeds now heads a legislative committee tasked with improving treatment for the mentally ill. He and fellow lawmakers did some fact-finding today at Pathway Homes, a non-profit providing housing and services for 500 mentally ill adults. What's especially unique is the organization provides housing in one of the 193 properties it owns leases or managers for as long as an individual needs it

Sue Zywokarte went to Pathways in 2002 suffering from severe depression. But in time, she said, the combination of stable housing and treatment helped. She went back to college.

Deeds and the delegation also toured Fairfax County's new Community Services Board facility -- often a starting point for many with mental health challenges. Staffers wore buttons reading "Diversion First," signifying a new effort to divert some mentally ill offenders away from jail and into treatment.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[The Week Ahead: Shutdown Showdown?]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 12:40:10 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20141205+The+Week+Ahead.jpg

The Week Ahead with Andy Gross: Will Congress keep the doors open? Hillary and Carly tangle with Chuck on Meet the Press, a new NBC/WSJ Poll and a "throwback" look at the Pope.

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<![CDATA[The Week Ahead: Trump's National Security Plan]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 16:06:51 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20141205+The+Week+Ahead.jpg

The Week Ahead with Andy Gross: Donald Trump unveils his national security plan on a battleship, the second GOP debate takes place, Hillary hits The Tonight Show and Andy updates the 2016 campaign.

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<![CDATA[PAC Supporting Bowser to Shut Down]]> Wed, 11 Nov 2015 20:03:45 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/110415+muriel+bowser.jpg

A controversial political action committee supporting Mayor Muriel Bowser is shutting down.

The independent committee called FreshPAC -- formed by Bowser's closest allies -- has come under withering criticism for raising large sums of cash with firms and individuals doing business with the city.

Independent D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine told News4 on Friday that FreshPAC was blatant "pay-for-play politics" that citizens oppose.

Supporters of the PAC say the committee, which threatened to campaign against opponents of the mayor, had become too much of a "distraction."

Washington Post columnist Colby King said FreshPAC has already done its damage.

"This was an effort, not so cloaked effort, to get around the law and to play politics in the city the way we've seen it before in the way it ought to be condemned," he said.

"It's an affront to the city; it's an affront to clean government, and she's going to pay a price for it," he said.

Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, another harsh critic of FreshPAC, said FreshPAC is a reason to keep closer tabs on the Bowser administration.

"The whole thing was rotten from the beginning, and it was rotten in its implementation," she said.

Bowser previously defended FreshPAC, saying, "[The PAC] will support an agenda that people voted me to get done. There's no attempt to hide. The disclosure and sunlight is how everybody is aware. They're operating how the law contemplates."

She is currently on a trade mission to China and not immediately available for comment.

<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Excess Baggage]]> Wed, 11 Nov 2015 10:49:52 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/muriel+bowser2.jpg

Mayor Muriel Bowser is in China on an official trade mission until Saturday.

Given the enormous international investment in the city, it’s a smart trip to take. China has investment dollars, and the District is one of the hottest real estate markets in the nation, if not the world.

The mayor’s office noted in a release Monday that Mayor Bowser had met with Beijing Mayor Wang Anshun to discuss development opportunities and closer ties. The elaborate arch in Chinatown was the result of a China trip that former Mayor Marion Barry took many years ago.

Mayor Bowser has made clear she will make economic development — in all eight wards — a priority of her administration. The mayor is right to spread the word that the District is open for business.

But more than a few people — including some of her close supporters — worry Bowser has taken on some excess baggage that may weigh down her whole administration and her reputation as a fresh voice in the mayor’s office.

The China trip shows how the recently disclosed FreshPAC supporting the mayor already is affecting coverage of her activities. Some of the delegation members with her in China are private developers who have paid large sums into FreshPAC.

Even though its organizers told The Washington Post’s editorial board and WAMU 88.5’s Patrick Madden late Tuesday that FreshPAC was being disbanded because it had become “too much of a distraction for the mayor,” some of the questions may loom.

FreshPAC is the independent political action committee created by Bowser’s political allies. Though legal, it’s caused a lot of criticism among both Bowser’s critics and, more importantly, some of her strongest supporters like the editorial page of The Washington Post. The Post twice called on her to shut it down.

Whether FreshPAC was a mistake or not, the risk was that virtually everything Bowser did in the lucrative economic development field would be seen through the prism of the committee.

“I think the whole issue of FreshPAC relates to the question of pay-to-play politics,” said independent D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, speaking to NBC4 last week. “I think it’s clear that D.C. residents don’t even want to have the appearance of pay-to-play.’’

On the WAMU Politics Hour Friday, he was more blunt, calling it “the return of flagrant pay-to-play politics in the District of Columbia” and saying people “want that day to be past.”

Prior to Tuesday’s reports, the mayor had been vigorously pushing back. She says she has never done anything unethical and never will. She has privately dismissed Racine’s criticism as that of a potential political opponent.

However, as the FreshPAC story continued to unfold, the entanglements were building barnacles.
Madden reported that City Administrator Rashad Young bought his home from Ben Soto, the head of FreshPAC, and that EagleBank, where Soto is on the board of directors, wrote two mortgages for Young’s purchase. Young told WAMU that the city’s ethics board approved the arrangement but cautioned him to distance himself from Soto’s extensive business interests.

So already, Young, the widely respected city administrator who touches all aspects of official city business, was hemmed in by FreshPAC.

Other appointees of the mayor aggressively sought donations for FreshPAC. When and how they raised the money — and what they said in aggressively soliciting it — remain questions.

Another example is the pending Pepco-Exelon merger. It is one the most high-stakes issues facing the city right now. But Pepco, Exelon and FreshPAC itself all have declined to say whether

FreshPAC asked the utility giants for contributions while the mayor’s administration was negotiating the recently revised deal that allowed her to support the merger. Pepco and Exelon, sources say, properly refused to donate to FreshPAC during this time, but the circumstances of the alleged ask haven’t been disclosed.

Racine said he sees this as a reasonable line of inquiry. “I can certainly understand that question and I do think the public has the right to understand whether such a request was made,” he said on the Politics Hour. “And this is what causes the problem with pay-to-play politics.”

Again, the mayor told NBC4 she is unaware of any FreshPAC dealings with Pepco or Exelon — if any — and she defended her personal integrity and said she wouldn’t do anything to undermine that.

But as The Post’s Colby King recently suggested in an opinion column, the real question may be: What is being done in her name by her associates?

■ Know your history this week. The 42nd annual Conference on D.C. Historical Studies begins Thursday and runs for four days.

The opening lecture by Pulitzer-winning author and Columbia University professor Eric Foner will be at 6 p.m. Thursday at the National Archives. Other events will be at the Carnegie Library, 801 K St. NW.

The conference includes sessions on the roots of multicultural Washington, social upheavals following World War II, slavery and freedom, the rise of LGBT issues and the city’s music scene. Check out the website: dchistory.org/conference. (And thanks to Jane Freundel Levey for alerting us to the varied agenda.)

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

<![CDATA[The Week Ahead: President Xi Goes to Washington]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 16:08:45 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20141205+The+Week+Ahead.jpg

The Week Ahead with Andy Gross: China's President Xi makes an official state visit, The Pope arrives in Washington, Fiorina in the spotlight and Andy updates the 2016 race.

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<![CDATA[The Week Ahead: Budget Deadline and Iran Treaty Await Congress]]> Thu, 26 Nov 2015 16:09:24 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20141205+The+Week+Ahead.jpg

The Week Ahead with Andy Gross: Congress returns from break to face a budget deadline and the Iran Nuclear Deal, Biden-Mania continues and Kathryn has a plan for America.

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<![CDATA[Yield at a Stop Sign? Law for Cyclists May Change]]> Tue, 10 Nov 2015 09:57:15 -0500 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20151110+bike+wheel.jpg

Cyclists in D.C. would be allowed to treat stop signs like yield signs when there is no nearby traffic under a traffic safety bill being considered by D.C. Council.

The bill takes on a flash point between drivers and cyclists. Right now, the law says bikes must come to a full stop at a stop sign, just as other vehicles do. But anyone who has ridden a bike knows that stopping at every stop sign is tough, particularly when no other car or pedestrian traffic is in the area.

This bill would require cyclists to slow down at stop signs and stop if needed. But it also would allow them to roll through if no vehicles or pedestrians are present. 

The cycling advocacy blog Washcycle calls this an "Idaho Stop," after a similar law in place in Idaho since 1982. 

"This does not allow bicyclists to run stop signs; it does not allow them to nearly hit pedestrians," said Greg Billing of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association. "All of those behaviors would remain illegal.

"When there is no other person present, either in a vehicle or on foot, it would allow a person to roll through a stop sign," Billing said. "Everywhere else the bicyclist would have to yield the right of way to whoever's there first."

The changes are part of a hearing December 8 by council member Mary Cheh's transportation committee. The proposals also include tougher drunk driving fines, tougher distracted driving rules and higher penalties for repeat offenders.

You can download copies of the bills here. (.pdf)

And there are many provisions to make sure that drivers, cyclists and pedestrians share the roadways, including zones that give priority to pedestrians or cyclists in each ward.

Most of the proposals came from a city task force that included AAA, The Washington Area Bicycle Association, D.C. transit officials and others. Washcycle says the full package of bills would "put DC at the forefront of American cities with respect to pedestrian and cyclist safety."

"We're an urban area," Cheh said. "We need to figure out how to get these modes of transportation operating safely at the same time."

But some motorists think the change for stop signs is not a good one. "I'm a cyclist, too," said one motorist. "It's a terrible idea. Why? You put yourself in danger as much as other traffic users."