<![CDATA[NBC4 Washington - First Read]]>Copyright 2017http://www.nbcwashington.com/blogs/first-read-dmv http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/WASH+NBC4+BLUE.png NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.comen-usTue, 27 Jun 2017 10:34:42 -0400Tue, 27 Jun 2017 10:34:42 -0400NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Park Bench Remembers Civil Rights Icon Julian Bond]]> Mon, 26 Jun 2017 18:44:03 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Park_Bench_Remembers_Civil_Rights_Icon_Julian_Bond.jpg

Civil rights leader Julian Bond was a man of action, but he also appreciated the importance of time to think, particularly on a park bench among his neighbors in D.C.

"He liked the idea of sitting on a bench," said his widow, Pam Horowitz. "We lived in this neighborhood. He walked in the neighborhood a lot, because he said it was his thinking time."

So Monday, those neighbors honored the man who helped create the most important civil rights organizations in the country with his own dedicated bench.

There's even a plaque: "In Memory of Julian Bond, 1940-2015, 'Race Man,' a Life Dedicated to Civil Rights." News4's Tom Sherwood was there for the dedication of the bench on Connecticut Avenue, near Chevy Chase circle.

"I know it might seem a bit modest for such a grand life, such a giant of a man, but he would be delighted to know that this bench was here," said Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh.

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<![CDATA[Rushern Baker Announces Run for Governor]]> Wed, 21 Jun 2017 18:09:41 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/092115+rushern+baker.jpg

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker has announced he will run for governor. 

Baker announced he would seek the Democratic nomination Wednesday morning. 

"We can't wait for change. We've got to make it happen," Baker said in a campaign video published Wednesday. 

Baker, who is a Democrat, has been frequently mentioned as a likely challenger to the Republican governor Larry Hogan.

Hogan is seeking his second-term as governor. If he succeeds, he will become the first Republican governor to win a second term in Maryland in 60 years. 

Former NAACP president Ben Jealousbusiness innovation author Alec Ross and state Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr. have also announced their intention to run for the Democratic nomination. 

Rep. John Delaney, former Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and lawyer Jim Shea are also considering running. 

Baker has served as county executive since 2010 and has a political career that spans 25 years.  


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<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Hail to the…Supreme Court?]]> Wed, 21 Jun 2017 09:13:28 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/supreme-court-generic-new.jpg

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a rock band — and its ruling could help legally settle the fight over the name “Redskins.”

An Asian group calling itself “The Slants” had sought for years to trademark its name and by doing so, directly attack the derogatory use of the word as an insult.

Federal licensing officials refused to issue that trademark, saying the name was disparaging and violated trademark regulations that date back to the 1940s.

A unanimous Supreme Court ruled The Slants had a First Amendment right to call themselves essentially whatever they want, and it ruled the 1940s trademark limitation unconstitutional.

Justice Samuel Alito said in the court ruling that the federal restriction “offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend.”

Band founder Simon Tam said the band name was an attempt to neutralize the word.

“The notion of having slanted eyes was always considered a negative thing,” Tam said in January when oral arguments were heard in the case, according to National Public Radio. “Kids would pull their eyes back in a slant-eyed gesture to make fun of us. ... I wanted to change it to something that was powerful, something that was considered beautiful or a point of pride instead.”

Now after this ruling from a court of law, only the court of public opinion will decide whether The Slants will succeed.

The Washington Redskins team has fought an increasingly loud battle over the team name and its meaning. While team owner Dan Snyder and supporters say the team proudly honors the fighting spirit and determination of American Indians, opponents say the name is a historic slur and refers to the discrimination and even scalping of American Indians for profit.

The federal Patent and Trademark office canceled the “Redskins” trademark in 2014 after decades of its use. The team has fought back in court in a case that’s now pending in federal court in Richmond. Expert court watchers say there’s little chance the team will lose given the sweeping opinion from Monday’s Supreme Court ruling.

Team owner Dan Snyder declined an NBC News interview request on Monday, but issued a simple statement: “I’m THRILLED. Hail to the Redskins.”

The public relations battle over the name took an earlier hit last year when The Washington Post published a survey that said nine out of 10 Native Americans were not offended by the Redskins name. The survey in May 2016 covered 504 people in every state and in the District. It was similar to a poll done in 2004 and was “broadly consistent” across age, income, education, political party and proximity to reservations, The Post reported.

So, now what?

The legal ruling may help clear some of the opposition to the team returning to the District and the team paying for a new $1 billion stadium on the site of the old RFK. The team’s lease in Prince George’s County expires in 2027. It will take several years to gain federal approval and local permits and years more to build a new stadium.

The team is also looking in Virginia and another site in Prince George’s, but no site matches the history and drama associated with RFK Memorial Stadium. Intense opposition from neighborhoods around RFK could be a hurdle unless any new plan guarantees the family recreation and retail opportunities the neighbors want.

Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans — a longtime advocate for the team returning to Washington — says the District can provide extensive amenities to the adjacent neighborhoods and that the team could anchor development that benefits the whole city.

“The name should not be a sticking point in getting the team here,” Evans told NBC4 on Monday. “Whether the name stays the Redskins or gets changed is up to the owner of the team.”

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who opposes the team name, did not rule out negotiating a team return, but told NBC4, “whether the team name is constitutional or not doesn’t change whether it’s appropriate.”

■ Folklife Festival returns. Pack the sunscreen and grab a bottle of water or two. The popular event returns for two long weekends: June 29 through July 4 and July 6 through 9.

It’s the 50th anniversary of the festival, which this year will highlight circus arts, migrations of people across and around America, and iconic items that tell the story of 50 years of Folklife gatherings.

And more good news: The National Mall grass has been reseeded. The festival will return to its spot from 7th to 12th streets. Enjoy. It’s one of your Notebook’s favorite events.

■ A final word. We’ll have more to say in future Notebooks, but we join others in mourning the death last week of former Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham. He was best known on the council for supporting the homeless, the struggling tenants in a growing city and the need to keep Metrobus fares affordable for hardworking families.

Prior to joining the council, Graham for nearly 17 years ran the Whitman-Walker Health clinic that was an early leader in the care and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

Although Graham late in his career was reprimanded for mishandling government contracts involved with Metro development, his long career reflected far more good than bad. Our condolences are offered to his wide array of friends and to those who only knew him by his work.

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



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Bow Ties Encouraged at Memorial for Jim Graham]]> Sat, 24 Jun 2017 08:55:20 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Grahamspicture.jpg

Memorial services will be held Friday and Saturday for former D.C. Councilman Jim Graham, who died last week at 71, with mourners encouraged to don bow ties in his memory.

To many D.C. residents, Graham was the politician who wore bow ties and could be seen driving his Volkswagen Beetle convertible all over town. 

He was a longtime activist for LGBT rights, and opened Whitman Walker Health in the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis. He represented Washington's Ward 1 for four terms, starting in 1998.

Graham's body will lie in repose at the Wilson Building this Friday from noon to 5 p.m. Elected officials, dignitaries and special guests are expected to speak, and visitors are encourage to wear bow ties, the D.C. Council said Tuesday.

A viewing and a religious service is scheduled for Saturday at All Souls Unitarian Church (1500 Harvard St. NW). The viewing will begin at 10 a.m., followed by a religious service at noon.

A repast will immediately follow the service in the church's multi-purpose room. Again, bow ties are encouraged, the Council said.

Flowers and cards may be sent to Bacon Funeral Home (3447 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20010), the Council said.

Remembrances flooded in from local politicians and social media users after Graham died Thursday following a brief illness.

"He left our city a better place," D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Graham told friends in April that he had a life-threatening bacterial infection Clostridium difficile, also known as C. diff.

He was battling that infection and died of "chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder," his partner, Christopher Watkins, told The Washington Post.

Still, his death was a shock, Ward 2 Councilman and longtime friend Jack Evans said.

"Jim was a real advocate for people who were in need. That's the best way to describe it," Evans said.

Don Blanchon, the executive director of Whitman Walker Health, called Graham a legend.

"I always think of Jim as the father of this place. He's the person who put us on the map. He led this place for nearly 17 years during the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic," he said. 

Graham even enlisted actress Elizabeth Taylor in the local fight against the disease. One of the establishment's facility's bears her name.

The former councilman believed everyone can help create change, Blanchon said.

"He believed that all politics were local. He believed that people had the ability to change things locally," he said.



Photo Credit: NBC
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<![CDATA[Jim Graham, Ex-DC Councilman, Dies at 71]]> Fri, 16 Jun 2017 11:52:48 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Grahamspicture.jpg

Former D.C. Councilman Jim Graham has died after a brief illness. He was 71. 

The Council was informed that he died earlier Thursday, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Thursday afternoon.

Graham was a longtime activist for LGBT rights, and opened Whitman Walker Health in the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis. He represented Washington's Ward 1 for four terms, starting in 1998.

"He left our city a better place," Mendelson said in a statement.

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"On the Council, Jim worked especially hard on issues like homelessness, juvenile justice, diversity and public transportation. The District thanks him for his long public service and many accomplishments," he said. 

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“Jim Graham embodied DC values," D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

To many D.C. residents, Graham was the politican who wore bow ties and could be seen driving his Volkswagen Beetle Convertible all over town. 

Graham told friends in April that he had the life-threatening bacterial infection Clostridium difficile, also known as C. diff.

He was battling that infection and died of "chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder," his partner, Christopher Watkins, told The Washington Post.

Still, his death was a shock, Ward 2 Councilman and longtime friend Jack Evans said.

"Jim was a real advocate for people who were in need. That's the best way to describe it," Evans said.

Don Blanchon, the executive director of Whitman Walker Health, called Graham a legend.

"I always think of Jim as the father of this place. He's the person who put us on the map. He led this place for nearly 17 years during the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic," he said. 

Graham even enlisted actress Elizabeth Taylor in the local fight against the disease. One of the establishment's facility's bears her name.

The former Councilman believed everyone can help create change, Blanchon said.

"He believed that all politics were local. He believed that people had the ability to change things locally," he said.

Remembrances flooded in on social media.

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The D.C. Council will announce plans for services for Graham.



Photo Credit: NBC
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<![CDATA[Cosby Accuser Wants End of Sex Abuse Statute of Limitations]]> Thu, 15 Jun 2017 21:20:58 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Cosby_Accuser_Pleads_With_DC_Council_to_Change_Sex_Abuse_Sta.jpg

One of Bill Cosby's accusers pleaded with the D.C. Council Thursday to change the city's statute of limitations for sex abuse cases.

“I forgive Mr. Cosby,” Charlotte Fox said. “I’ve moved on with my life. I just want to see people who want to say something, give them the opportunity.”

Giving victims a voice has been charlotte fox’s mission since coming forward to say Cosby abused her.

For the past three years she has pressured the DC Council to remove the statute of limitations on criminal and civil sex abuse cases.

“If you don’t take full advantage of extending the statute of limitations, it will be another crime on humanity,” she said.

The Catholic Church opposes removing the limits on civil charges because they say government institutions won’t be held to the same accountability as everyone else.

“We strongly urge for considerations of fairness and parity between public and private institutions to be paramount,” said Kim Viti Fiorentino of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Maryland State Del. C.T. Wilson was a victim of sex abuse as a child and helped eliminate the limits in Maryland.

“As a Christian, I am somewhat offended when I hear the church is opposed to bills like this that are supposed to help our victims,” he said.

Council members seemed divided on the issue Thursday. It could be months before the council votes on the matter.

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<![CDATA[Va. Gov. Candidates Put Politics Aside After Shooting]]> Wed, 14 Jun 2017 19:50:33 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170613+NorthamGillespie.jpg

Northern Virginia Bureau Reporter David Culver caught up with the Virginia gubernatorial candidates Wednesday to discuss the Alexandria shooting. Both men put campaigning on hold in the wake of the tragedy.

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<![CDATA['Thoughts and Prayers': Politicians React to GOP Shooting]]> Wed, 14 Jun 2017 23:36:23 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/housedemspray.jpg

Politicians across the ideological spectrum called for Americans to keep House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and others who were shot Wednesday morning in Alexandria, Virginia, in their thoughts and prayers. 

The shooting happened during a baseball practice for congressional Republicans.

The gunman is James Hodgkinson, from Illinois, sources told NBC News. He is in his late 60s, Pete Williams reported. According to President Trump, Hodgkinson died from injuries sustained in a shootout with police.

Police say the victims, including Scalise, R-La., were transported to local hospitals.

President Donald Trump was among those to weigh in on Twitter in the hours after the shooting Wednesday morning, writing: "Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a true friend and patriot, was badly injured but will fully recover. Our thoughts and prayers are with him." His wife Melania later praised first responders. 

Vice President Mike Pence also tweeted a statement, writing that he and his wife were praying for those injured in the shooting. 

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe also released a statement Wednesday morning, saying in part: "Dorothy and I are shocked and deeply saddened by this horrible act of violence against members of congress, law enforcement and other innocent people who were simply enjoying an early morning baseball practice."

Former Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting, also offered her her thoughts on Twitter, writing: "My heart is with my former colleagues, their families & staff, and the US Capitol Police- public servants and heroes today and every day." 

House Democrats practicing for Thursday's congressional baseball game said a prayer for their colleagues. 

Bernie Sanders said he was "sickened by this despicable act," and said the shooter apparently volunteered on his campaign.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan addressed members of Congress a few hours following the shooting. "There are very strong emotions throughout this House today," he said. "We are all horrified by this dreadful attack on our friends and on our colleagues and those who serve and protect this Capitol."

Ryan added, “We are united. We are united in our shock. We’re united in our anguish. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.” Ryan's last comment was met by a standing ovation.

Ryan went on to thank first responders and the Alexandria police department, saying they were all "awed by the tremendous bravery of the Capitol Hill police."

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) believes the shooting was "political terrorism," he told MSNBC Wednesday afternoon, and that Americans need to come together and decide their political differences at the ballot box and not with violence.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) told WKBW that after the shooting, he will be carrying his gun from now on.




Photo Credit: @RepKihuen
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<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Suing the President!]]> Wed, 14 Jun 2017 05:50:28 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-695244658-TrumpMeeting.jpg

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh is mild-mannered almost to a fault. But don’t mistake that for any weakness.

“This case is about the right of hundreds of millions of Americans to honest government,” Frosh said Monday as he stood by his D.C. counterpart, Karl Racine. The two joined forces to sue President Donald Trump over basically profiting from his presidency.

“Elected leaders who serve the people — and not their own financial interests — are the indispensable foundation of our democracy,” Frosh declared. “Our constituents must know that a president who orders their sons and daughters into harm’s way is not acting out of concern for his own business.”

It’s not the first suit to challenge Trump for failing to distance himself sufficiently from his private businesses, including the lavish Trump International Hotel here in Washington. But some legal experts say the Frosh-Racine case may have a better chance in the courts than others.

The two attorneys general are representing millions of constituents, not narrow interests. They are both Democrats but say the case is nonpartisan. Racine said they’d be suing if Oprah Winfrey or Mark Zuckerberg were doing the same thing as president.

The White House has pushed back on this and other suits, contending the president is not violating the U.S. Constitution’s provisions against enriching himself or herself from either domestic or foreign sources.

Monday’s news conference thrust the two local lawyers into national prominence. Both earlier have supported legal cases against the Trump attempts to impose an immigration ban. Frosh and Racine invited other attorneys general to join their effort.

Monday’s case also is not the first anti-Trump legal move right here in the nation’s capital. In March, the owners of the Cork Wine Bar, 1720 14th St. NW, sued President Trump and the Trump International, saying the hotel unfairly enriches Trump as president and draws business from other establishments, including theirs.

“What the president is doing is unethical and unfair, and that’s why we launched our lawsuit,” said co-owner Diane Gross. She said that the business received a lot of support for filing the suit. But in this day of open warfare on social media, she and her husband Khalid Pitts have also received abusive messages — “our share of negative emails and phone calls and people telling us they hoped our business failed.”

The case has bounced between local D.C. Superior Court and federal courts. It is awaiting a ruling on jurisdiction from U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon. You may recognize his name, because he is also overseeing a suit against the proposed Purple Line rapid transit route in suburban Maryland.

■ New top lawyer. The good news: President Trump finally has nominated someone to be U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. The not-so-good-news: She lives in Virginia.

If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Jessie Liu would replace interim U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips, a veteran of the office and one of the most knowledgeable about the inner workers of the massive federal office here.

Unlike other U.S. attorneys across the nation, the federal office here prosecutes major local crimes because the District is not allowed to fully run its own justice system. Liu currently serves as deputy general counsel for the U.S. Treasury Department. It’s helpful that she also had been an assistant U.S. attorney in the Washington office before entering private practice.

The District also is the only place we know of where the top prosecutor doesn’t have to live in the jurisdiction he or she oversees.

■ Pride Parade misstep? NBC4 first reported last weekend that the largest ever Capital Pride Parade was missing a hometown hero, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton.

It turns out Norton, a staunch advocate of civil rights for all, never got an invitation to join the parade supporting LGBTQ rights. She said she had marched in every parade for decades. This year she was told she would have to pay a $600 entry fee and at first she thought she was being waitlisted because the parade was full.

News4’s Twitter recounting prompted a lot of complaints from people who thought the Pride organizers had disrespected one of the community’s biggest supporters. It didn’t help that the Capital Pride organization is faulted by some for being too white.

Well, News4 inquired about the flap. It turns out that there may have been miscommunication about being waitlisted, but the organizer said the $600 fee is assessed against all participants and has been for years.

“We regret the confusion and look forward to Delegate Norton’s participation in future Capital Pride Parades,” wrote spokesperson Peter Morgan. We hope so. A lot of equal rights protections have been earned over many tough years by a lot of people standing up for those rights. Norton has been an ally, and we look forward to seeing her in the parade next summer. (The Notebook will check back in May 2018 just to be sure.)

And as we wrote about last week, there was an expected, brief disruption of this year’s parade by the “No Justice, No Pride” protest group. The activists contend neither police nor corporations should be allowed to march in the parade because they remain opposed to true equal rights and protections for people of color, transgender people and other minorities.

Advocates supporting the parade contend it has taken decades to win marriage and other rights and to get the military, the police and other institutions to end discrimination. They contend Capital Pride is right to welcome allies into the fold because true equal rights and anti-discrimination laws are still to be gained.

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



Photo Credit: Olivier Douliery/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Voters Cast Ballots in Virginia Primaries]]> Tue, 13 Jun 2017 20:52:43 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/214*120/4_Things_to_Watch_From_Virginia_Primary.jpg

Voters across Virginia got their chance to cast a ballot in Tuesday's primaries. David Culver got a feel for what's motivating some people to vote.

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<![CDATA[Jaffe: Poll Shows Bowser Support Broad But Soft for '18]]> Fri, 09 Jun 2017 11:56:41 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170606+Bowser.jpg

Harry Jaffe, a longtime chronicler of the people and politics of Washington, D.C., writes a column for NBC Washington's First Read DMV blog.

With the 2018 mayoral primary just a year away, Mayor Muriel Bowser has favorable ratings but remains vulnerable in her bid for a second term, according to a citywide poll conducted in late May. 

The D.C. chapter of Democrats for Education Reform commissioned the poll. Director Catherine Bellinger said the poll was for internal use and not released to the public, but sources who read the poll described some of the results.

"Overall," one source said, "Mayor Bowser’s favorability is strong – but it’s soft."

Another source described her support as "a mile wide and an inch deep," and those supporters lacked deep, emotional attachment. 

In general Washingtonians responded that they were satisfied with the city’s direction, and they expressed no burning need to change the leadership. Taken together, the poll’s results point to a race that is the mayor’s to lose, a year away from the crucial Democratic primary.

"The mayor has detractors," her 2014 campaign manager William Lightfoot said, "but she doesn’t have strong, organized enemies in the community who will finance a campaign against her."

Lightfoot, who’s expected to chair her reelection bid, predicts Bowser will win on her broad support across the city, with a strong base in the gay community, Ward 3 and her home base in Ward 4.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Attorney General Karl Racine are also up for reelection, which means the District’s top leadership could change. At this point none of the incumbents has formally announced for reelection, and no challengers have formally declared for any of the three positions.

But the jockeying and handicapping have begun. Bowser skates to a second term without a serious challenger, so who might block her path?

Attorney General Karl Racine showed up Monday evening at the Lamond Riggs Civic Association in far Northeast D.C. to swear in the new executive board members. Was he there to make a point in the community where Bowser ran for mayor in 2014 but failed to win in the primary? His spokesman says he makes regular visits to community events.

Racine, 54, has been coy about whether he might challenge Bowser. The District’s first elected attorney general is midway through his first four-year term. If I were a betting man, I would say he runs for a second term rather than take on Bowser.

For one, Racine is not spoiling for a chance to go head-to-head with Bowser to become the District’s chief executive. Having run only one citywide race, he doesn’t have deep name recognition. He has scored some victories as attorney general but failed to turn them into political capital.

Meanwhile, Racine still has to retire a substantial campaign debt from his 2014 run, and he shows no alacrity to raise funds.

Vincent Gray seems eager to avenge his loss to Bowser in 2014. He believes in his heart that U.S. Attorney Ron Machen stole the election from him by implicating him in an investigation into dirty money in his mayoral campaign without proving he was involved.

Gray, 74, represents Ward 7 on District Council. He could run for mayor without losing his seat, but his path to victory is narrow, at best. The Democrats for Education Reform poll did not show strong support for Gray.

In fact, one source said Bowser polled better than Gray in his home ward. He might be most weak in Ward 3, the predominantly white neighborhoods on the city’s west side. Without Ward 3, he would have to almost sweep the rest of the District.

But numbers might not stop Gray from taking on Bowser, especially if she continues to face politically damaging news. 

On Wednesday evening -- as Bowser spoke to a conference for entrepreneurs hosted by Politico at Howard University – she was absorbing news that the Office of Campaign Finance fined her 2014 mayoral campaign $13,000 for taking contributions above the legal limit, mostly from developers and property managers.

Meanwhile, an Inspector General’s report said schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson gave special treatment to some of Bowser's top appointees to get their children into schools in high demand, allowing them to overstep parents beholden to a lottery system. The story is still unfolding.

And an investigation into financial improprieties in the Ward 4 council campaign of her protégé, Brandon Todd, involved Ben Soto, her campaign treasurer.

Bowser is most likely to kick off her reelection campaign in September. At that point there will be ten months until polls open in the Democratic primary, which all but determines the general election winner.

She will have a head start on fundraising, broad name recognition and support in all eight wards, soft though it might be.

Vince Gray is notoriously late in formally declaring his candidacy. That didn’t stop him from beating Bowser’s predecessor, Adrian Fenty, in 2010. Like Fenty, Bowser may be giving Gray an opening.

Karl Racine will be under pressure to announce his own reelection, and he might face serious challengers.

It promises to be an interesting autumn, but the first poll and early betting would favor Bowser.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: 'Take a Stand']]> Wed, 07 Jun 2017 05:49:05 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/History_Project_Provides_Insight_Into_Marion_Barry.jpg

It was a simple campaign clarion call.

Marion Barry, former street activist, former school board member and D.C. Council member, was running for mayor. And “Take a Stand” posters flooded the District.

Barry ran a progressive, upstart campaign against incumbent Mayor Walter Washington and then-Council Chairman Sterling Tucker. Barry tagged Washington and Tucker as old-school. He barely eked a victory in the three-way race, and history was set on a new course.

We bring it up now because on Monday, some of the veterans of Barry’s first campaign for mayor in 1978 jointed with George Washington University’s Gelman Library to announce the Barry ’78 oral history project.

For the past two years, about three dozen interviews have been conducted with insiders from that campaign. Full disclosure: Your Notebook conducted a couple of those interviews, invited to do so given our long history of chronicling Barry’s career.

Private donations of about $6,000 paid for the recording costs and some administrative work by the library. Future histories will be recorded, and organizers hope the project will be widely used online or at the library to tell the history of local home rule and the role 1978 played.

“And people were very candid,” said Betty King, a key leader in initiating the project. “It isn’t all just a whitewash of Marion. Some of the [stories] are tearjerkers and some of them are laugh-out-loud, falling on the floor.”

Anita Bonds — now an at-large D.C. Council member — was deputy campaign manager for Barry in 1978. “I want you to feel where we are today and where we have been,” Bonds said at a news conference at the Wilson Building announcing the oral histories. “It’s been a long journey.”

Richard Maulsby, a leader of the then-emerging LGBT community in Washington, was one of the first openly gay persons appointed to Barry’s administration. Of the history project, Maulsby said, “It’s not a vanity project; it’s not just about us who worked in ’78.” Maulsby said academics, journalists and ordinary citizens can hear for themselves how the insurgent campaign struggled to pull off the Barry victory.

Take a look at library.gwu.edu/ead/ms2342.xml.

■ Pride Week rumblings. Pride Week is a cause for weeklong celebrations and acknowledgement of the LGBTQ community here. Local Washington has long been an integral part of the national movement for lesbian and gay equal rights. History has been made here from simple welcoming neighborhoods and individuals to historic rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.

More than 125,000 people are expected to turn out this weekend for this year’s Capital Pride Parade. But as in other cities, the Pride establishment is being challenged by a group calling itself “No Justice, No Pride.”

This group objects to the inclusion of corporate sponsors who the protesters say are using Pride support to bolster corporate image rather than to signal true inclusion. It also objects to allowing D.C. police officers who identify as LGBT to appear in the parade because critics say the police department either still abuses or fails to understand transgender and other social, civil rights issues.

“No Justice, No Pride” is sponsoring alternative events this weekend. Whether there is acceptance, approval or objection to its agenda, its involvement and protests illustrate how LGBTQ communities are part of the mainstream of American life.

■ International attention. If you thought Metro gets a lot of local attention for its troubled rail system, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Local media reports over the weekend revealed that an international transit group is planning a conference here in Washington to review ways forward to help Metro.

Alain Flausch, secretary general of the International Association of Public Transport, was quoted as saying that for months he’s been in touch with Metro general manager Paul Wiedefeld on planning the conference.

“We must do something to fix it,” Flausch was quoted as saying. “Because if we don’t, it will go down, down, down, down.”

■ Honoring Jim Vance. Your Notebook will be pleased Thursday night to accept an award on behalf of longtime NBC4 anchor Jim Vance. It is the Chairman’s Award from Montgomery Community Media. The award celebrates his more than 45 years as a leading voice in the Washington region. The event is in Silver Spring at the Fillmore. Your Notebook has to wear a tuxedo, but for Vance that’s a piece of cake. He recently announced that he would be taking some time off to deal with cancer, and all of our hearts are with him.

■ A final word. We take a moment to wish the aforementioned Betty King a most happy 85th birthday. We first met her years ago when she was part of Mayor Marion Barry’s first administration. She, among others, was part of a group that helped guide Barry’s successes and tried to steer him from his frailties. She remains an unabashed, active national Democrat and strong believer in our local Washington community. Happy birthday, Betty!

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

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<![CDATA['Governor' Bowser? Council Considers Title Changes]]> Tue, 06 Jun 2017 19:35:56 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170606+Bowser.jpg

How about Governor Muriel Bowser?

A D.C. councilmember proposes retitling the jobs of D.C.'s elected leaders to better reflect the fact that D.C. government serves as not just a city government, but that of a county -- and a state.

The District council would become a "legislature." Councilmembers would become "legislators."

No, it's not really statehood, but Councilmember David Grosso hopes it would be a constant reminder that the nation's capital wants that.

"Its important, I think, for us to begin to call ourselves that," Grosso said.

He noted that the Council has the power to change the titles. Now-Mayor Muriel Bowser supports the proposed D.C. constitution that was approved by voters last year, which also changes the titles.

Former Mayor Anthony Williams also backed the title change; he changed the title of the District's city attorney to "Attorney General" when he was mayor, in line with other states.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: When Rush Hour Isn’t]]> Wed, 31 May 2017 14:03:55 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/031616_DC_Traffic.jpg

“Natives who beat drums to drive off evil spirits are objects of scorn to smart Americans who blow horns to break up traffic jams.” — Mary Ellen Kelly

“An object at rest tends to stay at rest, especially if you’re behind it when the light turns green.” — Robert Brault

Aphorisms and other quotes about traffic tend to be amusing only if you haven’t recently been sitting in traffic somewhere. If you are among the people who live here or the 500,000 who drive into and out of the city each work day, there’s nothing amusing about our traffic.

The afternoon rush hour downtown is now more than four hours long, stretching from 3 p.m. until 7 p.m. and beyond. Apart from other known bottlenecks, your Notebook is surprised there haven’t been serious road-rage incidents each afternoon in the jammed 9th Street tunnel leading to I-395. The jockeying for position onto the one-lane exit is frightening.

Part of the problem is the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s yearlong SafeTrack repair project that’s driven many rail commuters to their cars.

“The Metro system’s troubles pose a serious threat to DowntownDC’s economy,” says the 2017 annual report of the DowntownDC Business Improvement District. And the group warns, “Companies with a large number of suburban residents may be prompted to consider relocation to the suburbs in the absence of a strong public transit system.”

Downtown has seen a 7 percent drop in weekday rail commuters and a 15 percent drop in Metrorail use on weekends. Many of those commuters are believed to be driving.

But Metro woes are only part of the core city problem.

Despite some serious effort by the D.C. Department of Transportation to manage traffic signals, address lane striping and improve intersection flow, morning and evening rush hours are chaotic messes.

The District has a heartless reputation for writing parking tickets, but the truth is rush hours are wild west zones where illegal parking, intersection blocking and illegal turns are rampant. The Department of Public Works — responsible for ticket writing — is either not doing its job or, more likely, is overwhelmed.

Too many motorists fearlessly violate rush-hour laws. Hard-pressed delivery drivers who can’t find open loading zones — or simply don’t bother to look — just double-park and add the fine (if they get one) to their costs. This is especially problematic during rush hours on major downtown streets.

Although motorists scream at high-priced speeding tickets they get from traffic cameras, our parking ticket fines don’t intimidate enough people into obeying the law.

At the risk of inviting hate mail, both higher ticket prices and effective enforcement are desperately needed.

The District used to have chaos during snowstorms because emergency routes weren’t enforced. But $250 tickets, enforcement and an education campaign have eased that problem. Similar enforcement may help on a day-to-day basis.

Downtown D.C. has a lower office vacancy rate than nearby suburbs, but efforts to draw more people to live downtown have stalled. The Transportation Department has said about 25 percent of downtown traffic is people just looking for parking. In the future, improved public transit, car-sharing and driverless cars may ease our traffic mess.

But right now, better enforcement seems to be the missing ingredient.

■ We’re still car-centric. The U.S. Census Bureau takes a look at commuting every few years. People driving alone has stalled from decades of increases nationally but still accounts for almost 80 percent of commuter trips.

■ Memorial Day disrepair. Biking around downtown and the National Mall gives you a close-up view of pretty much everything.

On Sunday, we cycled over to Constitution Avenue to see part of Rolling Thunder. Our ride took us into Constitution Gardens, the offset lake and pathways near 17th Street NW.

The water was filled with algae and way too much trash. Whole sections of the coping along the water’s edge had broken and fallen into the water.

Here’s how the nonprofit Trust for the National Mall puts it online:

“If you visit Constitution Gardens today, you’ll find dead fish floating atop stagnant ponds, flooded and cracked sidewalks, and weed-strewn swathes of dirt where lush lawns once grew. What you won’t find so easily are restrooms, functioning water fountains, dining options, and other basic visitor amenities.”

Fortunately, the trust has begun a restoration effort because the National Park Service is reeling with billions of dollars of unmet needs nationwide. The trust is planning to use the old stone lock-keeper’s house at 17th and Constitution as a new welcoming plaza into the gardens.

To learn more about the trust, and maybe help, visit nationalmall.org.

■ Staycation time. We’re taking off from TV work this week to visit the nation’s capital. We plan to blend in with the tourists and see what they’re seeing.

Have a good week everyone. Summer is almost upon us.

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

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<![CDATA[Small Businesses Get Boost With "Project 500" Expansion]]> Tue, 30 May 2017 19:48:27 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170530+Small+Business.jpg

"Project 500" initially helped business owners in low-income, high-unemployment areas of D.C., but Tuesday the program expanded nationwide and will be known as "Ascend 2020." News4's Mark Segraves talked to one entrepreneur who says it could help his company become a household name.

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<![CDATA[Maryland Has New Law to Help Fight Opioid Addiction]]> Fri, 26 May 2017 06:17:03 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Maryland+Flag.jpg

Legislation to battle heroin and opioid overdoses in Maryland with education, prevention, treatment and law enforcement was signed into law Thursday by Gov. Larry Hogan. 

Matt and Cheryl Godbey, whose 24-year-old daughter Emily died in November from a fentanyl overdose, came from Frederick, Maryland, for the bill-signing ceremony. Matt Godbey applauded a new law that will bring stiffer penalties to drug dealers who knowingly sell fentanyl resulting in a death. Fentanyl is a painkiller that is often combined with heroin, with deadly results. 

Drug dealers were so aggressive in selling drugs to his daughter, Godbey said, they would pull up to the drive-thru window at the fast-food restaurant where she worked to place drugs in front of her when she was trying to quit. 

"It killed her so fast, she couldn't even close her eyes. They found her sitting in a chair with her eyes open,'' Matt Godbey said. "We just don't want other families to hurt like we are.'' 

One measure is called the HOPE Act. It requires hospitals to set a new protocol for discharging patients treated for substance abuse disorders. It creates a 24-hour emergency hotline and establishes a 24/7 crisis treatment center for people experiencing mental health and substance abuse crises. It also increases access to the overdose-reversal drug known as naloxone. The bill also provides added funding for community behavioral health providers. 

Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, a Baltimore County Democrat who sponsored the measure, said she worked to make the bill as comprehensive as possible to fight the stubbornly disturbing rise in overdose deaths. She said the only thing lawmakers didn't do was to put the words "please keep it in your prayers'' in the law. 

"Because that's what we need to do, because I feel like it just keeps getting worse and worse and worse,'' she said. 

Sen. Michael Hough sponsored legislation to create an added 10-year penalty for people who knowingly sell fentanyl resulting in an overdose death. The Frederick County Republican said his county has been particularly hard hit by the scourge. 

"Lots of young people dying and overdosing,'' Hough said. "It's just a real epidemic.'' 

A separate bill is called the Start Talking Maryland Act. It requires education programs in schools on opioid addiction. 

The governor signed 209 bills at his last scheduled bill signing from the legislative session that ended last month. 

At a separate news conference, Hogan vetoed a bill that would require businesses with 15 or more employees to allow employees to earn up to five paid sick days, saying it would kill small businesses. Democrats who support the bill said a veto override will be a priority in next year's session. 

Here's a look at some other bills signed by the governor Thursday: 

MEDICAID-ADULT DENTAL 

Authorizes expansion of Medicaid adult dental coverage. 

BEE HABITAT 

Prohibits pesticides known to harm pollinators on state land designated as pollinator habitats. 

SCHOOL TESTING 

Limits school testing to 2.2 percent of the school year. That's about 24 hours for elementary and middle schools and about 26 hours in high schools, except for eighth grade, which would be limited to about 25 hours.

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<![CDATA[Spending D.C.'s Biggest-Ever Budget: Will It Have an Impact?]]> Tue, 30 May 2017 19:08:50 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170525+WIlson+Building.jpg

Harry Jaffe, a longtime chronicler of the people and politics of Washington, D.C., writes a column for NBC Washington's First Read DMV blog.

UPDATE:

The D.C. Council today congratulated itself on first passage of the District’s largest budget ever, with little change from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s $14 billion proposal. The council preserved $100 million in tax cuts but shifted more funds to public schools. Chairman Phil Mendelson said the council had approved 98 percent of Bowser’s request.

But echoing Friday’s “First Read” column below, Mendelson urged his colleagues to consider what sounded suspiciously like return on investment, or ROI.

“We can celebrate our spending plan, but it is equally important that these tax dollars be spent wisely,” Mendelson added. “Throwing more at problems does not necessarily solve them, and spending carefully and effectively does mean each dollar goes farther. It is on us, the Council, through our oversight powers, to press for careful and effective spending.”

---

On Thursday, D.C. Councilmembers gathered for one of their favorite endeavors: spending your money. Amid much rhetorical backslapping, the 13 legislators discussed how to divvy up what is by far the biggest budget in District history, at just south of $14 billion.

What they failed to do – indeed what they never do – is consider in any way, shape, or form whether the billions they disburse will have any impact, change any lives, educate kids, heal the sick or house the homeless.

“Accountability does not exist,” says longtime Councilmember Jack Evans.

“There is absolutely no oversight,” says a veteran budget analyst in the Wilson Building.

D.C. Auditor Kathy Patterson, who served on Council for 12 years, has begun to follow funds to nowhere in her new capacity. “It’s time to measure outcomes,” she tells me. “Put money in to programs based on performance, department by department, program by program.”

Accountability. Oversight. Outcomes. Three words that rarely came up during Thursday’s giddy, marathon budget session.

Having witnessed this annual ritual for decades, I can say with certainty the 13 members will talk plenty but do little. They might quibble over details and nibble around the edges. A million here, a million there. But by and large they will rubber-stamp Mayor Muriel Bowser’s 2018 budget.

Magically, the budget will be both balanced, as required by law, but deep in the red. How’s that? The budget includes paying off the huge debt Council has racked up over the past decade. The line item to service the debt is now the fourth-largest in the budget.

Paying off the debt in the fiscal 2018 budget will cost more than funding the police department, Jack Evans pointed out when Bowser dropped her budget a few weeks ago.

“Let’s swipe that baby,” he said of the Council’s penchant for borrowing. “Our debt service is the highest per capita in the nation.”

Chairman Phil Mendelson chimed in to say debt service will top $900 million by 2020.

Evans, the longest serving member by far, was the only Councilmember to unsettle the celebratory mood Thursday. At that initial hearing he waved a list of the $329 million additions in funding over last year’s budget and said any cuts will be decreases in the increases.

Add this up: the District budget has nearly doubled in a decade, from $7 billion in 2008 to this year’s astronomical $14 billion.

“I don’t see the results,” Evans told his squirming colleagues. “We are still struggling with the identical problems as ten years ago. What went wrong? Nobody wants to look at that.”

Indeed.

We are already into the usual budget squabbles.

Ed Lazere, director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, wants $23 million more for homelessness, $10 million added to rental housing assistance, $28 million more for schools and more funds for health and jobs.

On the other side, former Mayor Anthony Williams has urged Council to maintain the $100 million in tax cuts that his commission advocates.

You can’t blame the usual suspects for advocating their cases. But somebody has to call a halt to the District’s unbridled and unaccounted spending. As Evans says, the good times will not last.

What's to be done?

“If the mayor and Council are committed to putting more money into schools and housing,” Lazere writes in an email, “they have the tools (more than I do) to find the needed savings elsewhere in the budget.”

Ed passes the buck, so to speak.

Standing at the opposite pole, Evans wants the District to cut off financial assistance to the poor after five years and asks: “At what point does the welfare state in the District come to and end?”

There is a sensible, middle ground. Our spendthrift politicians have been shown exactly how to calibrate their spending, reduce the debt and direct funds to programs that pay off with return on investment.

Kathy Patterson has been advocating the District adopt a system of oversight and monitoring recommended by The Pew Charitable Trusts. In its 2014 report “Evidence-Based Policymaking: A Guide for Effective Governing,” Pew presents a system of program assessment and evaluation that helps politicians direct funds to programs that work rather than ones where money disappears into a black hole with nothing to show.

“It’s a very strong model based on solid research,” Patterson tells me. “You build a data base on results.”

Patterson’s audit of the D.C. Housing Production Trust Fund discovered that the city’s principal way of building affordable house was leaking funds, lacking records and failing to house needy residents.

When the report came out in March, Councilmember Anita Bonds, whose committee allegedly oversees the fund, said: “Our inability as a government to effectively manage this essential tool means we’re failing to really do our part in addressing the affordability crisis.”

Sounds good, yet when the Council on Thursday considered the 2018 budget, Bonds recommended using $50 million from the prospective 2019 budget to finance the housing trust fund.

Mendelson balked at “borrowing from the future.”

To which Bonds responded: “It’s more of a paper transfer than actual dollars,”

Herein lies the problem: “actual dollars” are going out the window at an increasingly rapid clip. As the District budget doubled, from $7 billion to $14 billion in the past decade, the District got deeper in debt, too many schools failed to educate children, the number of homeless housed in motels paid for with city funds remained too high, and health care east of the Anacostia River continued to be inadequate.

Enough celebrating and backslapping in Council chambers. Back in the Marion Barry era, every budget cycle ended with the accounting of “funny money,” the unspent dollars that remained and needed to be spent. Barry’s gone, the District’s problems of poverty persist, and funny money still sloshes around the government agencies.

That’s nothing to laugh about.

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<![CDATA[DC Parks, Police and Pools Gear Up for a Safe Summer]]> Thu, 25 May 2017 19:12:03 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170525+DC+Summer.jpg

The approach of the Memorial Day Weekend has Washington, D.C. preparing for summer. Public pools are about to open, summer jobs programs are available for teenagers, and there’s still time to sign your kids up for summer camps through the Department of Parks and Recreation. DC Police are also designing their annual summer crime initiative. Officers will focus on getting illegal guns off the street and targeting repeat violent offenders. News4’s Tom Sherwood explores other ways D.C. plans to keep your family busy and safe this summer.

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<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: And Now, Security 'Envy']]> Wed, 24 May 2017 05:57:49 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/security_guard_generic_1200x675_409646147748.jpg

If you’re so important, well, so am I.

My security detail is bigger than your detail. My security barrier is bigger … Oh, never mind. You get the point. The image of having “security” is epidemic in the nation’s capital.

For way too much of official D.C., the bottom line is this: If you don’t flash personal security, then you are a nobody.

The Notebook calls it “security envy.” It is the twin sister of “security theater,” which is a concept that showboating security at least makes people feel secure even if it doesn’t actually provide it.

Now, security envy and theater is spreading.

NBC4 investigative reporter Scott MacFarlane revealed this past week that the House sergeant-at-arms is seeking $2 million to upgrade security at the home state offices of House members.

“Members of Congress have made an increasing number of requests to improve home-office security,” MacFarlane reported, citing Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving. The House official is seeking the additional money from the House Appropriations Committee. MacFarlane reported that Irving did not specify the nature of any threats against members.

But the work of “securicrats” — another word we’ve used for some time — is expanding.

Surely you have noticed the proliferation around town of what we call “two-car” motorcades. Invariably the vehicles are whomping, jet-black SUVs. There are two grim-faced men — almost always men — in the lead car, ready to blast a siren or turn on threatening blue police lights in the grille and other panels of the vehicle.

You also can notice them because they’ve all gone to the same protective driving school that teaches them to inch over one lane into another to discourage anyone from driving alongside. And, of course, they park illegally outside of restaurants, at crosswalks and other places.

We almost forgot. Who’s in the follow car? Basically anybody. It could be a federal department head, an elected official, top staff, a congressional leader, or even top security officials themselves. That’s a lot of people, folks.

How many are there? Ask that question and you get the classic answer: “We don’t talk about our security measures.”

Being just a regular citizen, we can’t help but wonder just how effective all this might really be. The hyper-SUV showboating seems to call attention to the very potential target supposedly needing protection. Each protectee must decide if it’s security necessity or maybe official Washington’s inflated view of itself.

A couple of caveats are necessary. The security impulse is powerful. Some officials are told by agencies that they must have security details and those officials simply go along. It’s not always personal egos involved but agencies.

Of course, security is a real concern. It would be naive to think no one needs security or that it’s all inflated egos. Ever since 9/11, police and law enforcement officials have privately told us the same thing — that much of what passes as “security” to the public is there to make the public “feel” secure. In fact, the security presence is there as much to respond quickly to attacks, not so much to prevent them.

But security squads bullying their way around town don’t have to be part of that equation.

■ Marion Barry redux. President Donald Trump gave a remarkable speech last week to U.S. Coast Guard graduates in Connecticut. “No politician in history, and I say this with great surety, has been treated worse or more unfairly,” Trump declared of himself. Whether true or not, it reminded us of an occasion involving the late Mayor Marion Barry many years ago:

At a news conference, Barry was discussing his successes and troubles. In his defense, he said for all his years of public service that he had suffered “a thousand wounds.” Without missing a beat, then-D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis remarked in a quiet aside, “Yes, all self-inflicted.”

■ Going nowhere. Columbia Heights at the intersection of 14th and Irving streets NW is both a success and a failure.

The shops, apartments and retail at the Metro stop have brought new life to a formerly run-down area.

But traffic at this intersection is ridiculously stupid. One unloading truck or bus heading eastward at 14th clogs one lane. If another vehicle is turning left, the other lane is clogged and traffic backs up. People rushing to the Metro or emerging from it crowd the sidewalks and cross streets sometimes in spite of the traffic signals.

Now the D.C. Department of Transportation is going to try fixing part of the pedestrian problem.

Starting next month, it plans to redo the intersection to allow a moment when all lights are red at the same time. Pedestrians will be able to cross every direction, including diagonally. It’s similar to a crosswalk design at 7th and H streets NW.

The idea is that pedestrians get a real chance to cross, helping traffic flow more smoothly. There will be new no-left-turn restrictions, too, which will move traffic along.

The whole operation — part of the Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2024 — should be up in running by mid-to-late June. Traffic control officers, and hopefully police, will be out there helping everyone figure out the new configuration.

Good luck, all.

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

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<![CDATA[Councilmember: Review All Four Years of DC School Lottery]]> Thu, 18 May 2017 18:33:05 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170518+Kaya+Henderson.jpg

A D.C. Councilmember is calling for a review of all four years that D.C. has used a lottery system to assign students to schools outside their neighborhoods -- including some of the District's most sought-after and selective institutions. 

Councilmember David Grosso, who chairs Council's education committee, called for the review following an Inspector General report that contends former school Chancellor Kaya Henderson gave improper favoritism to a handful of city officials in 2015.

That favoritism isn't illegal. But it does shake families' confidence in the fairness of the school lottery, which many try to use to get into better schools outside their neighborhood boundaries.

"We've had 2014 and 2016 school years that have also been perhaps implicated here," said Grosso, who also voted on his committee's version of the 2018 school budget Thursday. "So we're going to take a look at it. We'll look at it on the committee on education. We'll see then if we need to refer it then to the IG to look deeper, and we'll go from there."

Mayor Muriel Bowser said she's willing to "work with the council" on a review. She's also called for the current schools chancellor, Antwan Wilson, to halt any future student referrals outside of the lottery until new ethics guidelines are in place.

"From our point of view, moving forward is what's important. I want the public to have full confidence in our system," Bowser said.

She said she understands the concerns of public school parents.

"I hear their frustration, and I want them to know that we are putting a system in place moving forward where there will be no question."

Officials at the Office of the Inspector General have told the News4 I-Team their investigation found seven instances in which Henderson "improperly used her discretion" as schools chancellor. Henderson announced her resignation in June 2016.

Henderson issued a statement on the controversy in April. "As the IG report notes, in my capacity as Chancellor, I made a very limited number of discretionary placements for students when extraordinary circumstances applied. I stand by those actions. The IG does not provide evidence that placements were made improperly, only that they were discretionary," Henderson's statement reads.

It continues, "I am deeply disappointed by these continual attacks on my integrity in an attempt to besmirch my personal and professional reputation."

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<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Some Taxing Situations ]]> Wed, 17 May 2017 05:58:02 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/dc-flag-shutterstock_206336773.jpg

Should former Mayor Tony Williams get off the sidelines and run for mayor again?

More than a few folks would like that.

So we asked him on Monday.

He was at the DC Chamber of Commerce leading a business-oriented news conference in opposition to a move on the D.C. Council to roll back some of the $100 million in tax cuts due to take effect in January.

Williams is the head of the influential Federal City Council. The former mayor’s arms were characteristically flailing (but bow tie in place) as he argued for keeping the last phase of a multi-phase tax reduction plan that the council approved in 2014. It was a plan hashed out over 18 months by community, labor and business leaders who served on the Tax Revision Commission that Williams led. “A deal’s a deal,” Williams said.

On Monday, Williams promised that like-minded business and community leaders would be engaged in the political process in upcoming elections next year. “I think it’s important that we have choices for our voters who represent all the different issues facing our city — yes, I think it’s important that we have competitive elections,” he said.

We had our opening.

“You’re tan, rested and ready,” we teased as News4’s camera rolled and Williams recoiled in not-so-mock horror. “Any chance you could be drafted to run for mayor?”

Our question was drowned out by the laughter of Williams and the business leaders who know his feelings about that.

“I’m very, very happy,” he began.

“Are you Shermanesque?,” we asked.

“I’m Shermanesque,” he said. “Completely, Shermanesque. I’m very, very happy…”

So put away the political placards (or your pitchforks).

Needling Williams was fun but the tax battle underway is deadly serious.

At-large Council member David Grosso has raised the prospect of postponing or killing some of the last round of tax revisions. As chair of the Committee on Education, he specifically wants more money for schools.

“We’re not in a good spot with schools because there’s been a traditional underfunding, making them not the priority,” he told us on Monday. “We need to put [the money] into the schools and make them all great. That’s the challenge we have.”

It is unclear which, if any, tax breaks would be postponed or canceled. About $60 million of the break goes to standard deductions and personal exemption waivers. About $12 million would pay for lost revenue if the District increases its estate tax exemption from $1 million to match the federal exemption of $5 million.

Former mayor Williams says the council’s favored progressive social policy is only possible if the business community is strong enough to provide the taxes to pay for those programs. But he says the city’s very success blinds people to that: “It makes it harder because people see the prosperity. And they say, ‘Well, hey, we’ve got all this prosperity with the existing rates — what’s the problem?’”

Williams praised much of the progressive taxation and social spending the District has taken on, but said the political leaders need to be careful.

“Think about it,” he said. “All the new revenue, we’ve really only had about one, two, three episodes where we’ve taken a break and done some tax revision and reduction. Everything else has gone to programs, and I’m all for that.”

■ Tax revision history. One of the biggest results of the tax revision often is overlooked: a new tax level for moderate income earners. Those earning $40,000 to $60,000 a year are now taxed at a 6.5 percent rate rather than the old 8.5 percent level. That’s a significant tax break for upwardly struggling workers.

■ A final word. The chickens won. So did the cats. After quite a kerfuffle, Mayor Muriel Bowser pulled back proposed legislation that would have outlawed pet chickens in the District. It also would have required cat owners to get licenses for their cats just as dog owners do.

A petition to “lay off our hens” accrued hundreds of signatures, presumably all humans. Many cat owners turned up their noses at the idea their cats would wear collars and tags. “You ever try to put a collar on a cat?” one bemused owner asked.

It all started because the D.C. Department of Health expressed concern about disease and wastewater runoff with chickens. And there’s a serious issue in D.C. with feral cats. The officials included the law changes in their 2018 budget.

But the ideas weren’t vetted by the mayor’s staff or anyone sensitive to political bear traps. Former mayor and Ward 7 Council member Vincent Gray called all the time spent on chickens and cats “stupid.” He chairs the council’s Health Committee and vowed he’d kill the proposals. Gray also was planning to visit a neighborhood chicken coop until he learned the mayor had pulled the legislation.

The mayor’s office said there will be full community engagement before either cats or chickens are brought up again.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for Ne

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<![CDATA[What Happens To Your Budget If D.C. Scraps Landmark Tax Cuts?]]> Mon, 15 May 2017 19:09:43 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170515+DC+Tax.jpg

Some D.C. business leaders want lawmakers to cut more than $100 million dollars in local taxes, as scheduled -- but, as News4's Tom Sherwood reports, that could come at the expense of housing and education.

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<![CDATA[Bowser Responds to Report on School Lottery Waivers]]> Thu, 11 May 2017 18:38:31 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170511+Bowser.jpg

A report from the D.C. Inspector General says former school chancellor Kaya Henderson unfairly gave waivers to some city officials so their children could avoid the school lottery. Henderson denies the allegation. Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser said one of her appointees, Rashad Young, appears to be included in the report. But Young has proof he went through the lottery. The Inspector General tells News4 it will amend its report, but its overall conclusions remain the same.

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<![CDATA[Sen. Warner Asks Comey to Appear on Capitol Hill]]> Wed, 10 May 2017 19:53:41 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/677798384-James-Comey-Testifies-Abedin.jpg

Ousted FBI Director James Comey has been invited by the Senate Intelligence Committee to meet in closed session on Tuesday, a committee aide confirms to NBC News.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) told News4 he and the committee chairman, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), sent Comey a letter requesting he appear before the committee Tuesday or as soon as possible.

“I would hope he would want to tell his side of the story, and I think Jim Comey could be absolutely central to where this whole investigation heads now,” Warner said.

President Donald Trump abruptly fired Comey Tuesday in the midst of an FBI investigation into whether Trump's campaign had ties to Russia's meddling in the election that sent him to the White House.

“I thought I’d gotten to the point where this administration, the president, couldn’t surprise me,” Warner said. “Well, yesterday, they surprised me. I felt this was totally unexpected. I think, candidly, the president’s actions were outrageous. His rationale from the current attorney general and the deputy attorney general doesn’t pass any smell tests.”

Before the president fired him, Comey was scheduled to be questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday.

“I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination," Burr said in a statement Tuesday. "I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the committee."

Burr called Comey's dismissal a "loss for the bureau and the nation," calling Comey the most forthcoming FBI director he had ever worked with during his tenure on congressional committees.  

In a letter to Comey, Trump said the firing was necessary to restore "public trust and confidence" in the FBI.

Comey has come under intense scrutiny from both sides of the political aisle, most notably for his public comments on an investigation into Democrat Hillary Clinton's email practices, including a pair of letters he sent to Congress on the matter in the closing days of last year's presidential campaign.

“We’re going to have sort through all of this, and make sure on a going forward basis there’s not going to be further political interference from the White House into this investigation,” Warner said.



Photo Credit: Eric Thayer/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Is a $250 Fine Big Enough?]]> Wed, 10 May 2017 06:00:50 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170507+Red+Top+Meter.jpg

Metered street parking downtown is difficult to find.

City transportation officials say as much as one-fourth of downtown traffic results from cars and trucks circling, looking for street parking convenient to wherever they’re going.

Your Notebook has worn out our Twitter feed — @tomsherwood — pointing out the erratic enforcement of parking and traffic laws, particularly during morning and evening "rush" hours. We put "rush" in quotes because on too many streets it’s more of a slog.

As bad as parking problems downtown may be for many drivers, the situation has been horrible for drivers with disabilities.

You’ve all seen the red parking meters that were sprayed all over town for reserved disability parking. But the city for years had not enforced the program. That meant anyone, disabled or not, disability placard or not, could park in those spots.

Well, as of Monday, that changed in the downtown Central Business District.

Public works ticket writers and police are now issuing tickets for anyone who parks in those 350 designated parking spaces without displaying a disability placard or license plate. The drivers in those spots must pay but get longer time at those meters (up to four hours). Outside of the central business district, those with placards may park for free at twice the posted time of any meter.

The fine for red-top violators without placards is $250. If a person with a valid disability permit parks beyond four hours, the fine is $30.

Some think even the $250 fine should be higher. Drivers with disabilities must negotiate curbs, lamp posts, trash cans and many other impediments to easy travel. People who take their parking spaces should pay dearly.

There clearly are not enough spaces set aside for disability-placard vehicles, but at least this is a start. City officials say they will be monitoring spaces to make sure the disability placards are not fake or given out by unscrupulous medical offices. A sea of placards show up on some downtown streets near office buildings and federal agencies.

It’s unclear how aggressive enforcement will be for any of this. The D.C. Department of Transportation makes the decisions on placing parking meters, but the Department of Public Works has a division that handles parking ticket writers. We’re not clear why the enforcement isn’t all under the transportation agency. Maybe that will be a future column.

You can read about the city’s parking rules and geographic boundaries of the central business district at parkdc.com.

■ Suburb-city flip. Crime, crumbling roads, pockets of increasing poverty and school inadequacies. It’s a common refrain we’ve heard for decades about our American cities.

Well, that’s changing.

“Indeed, with their enormous physical footprints, shoddy construction, and hastily installed infrastructure, many suburbs are visibly crumbling,” writes Richard Florida for The Atlantic’s CityLab. “Once the key driver of the American dream,” he writes, “the suburbs have reached the end of a long era of cheap growth. Now their advantages to economic mobility have nearly disappeared.”

Florida notes that suburban dysfunction may turn out to be bigger than the urban declines solely because more people live there: “Today’s suburbs no longer look much like the lily-white places portrayed on sitcoms like ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ ‘The Donna Reed Show,’ or ‘Father Knows Best.’”

It means that lower-income families in the suburbs have longer commutes and more difficult time finding jobs that pay family support wages. The strain of daily living undercuts the upward-mobility that suburbs once promised.

The article points out the obvious — there are plenty of stable wealthy suburbs. But overall, there is significant change as many suburbs simply are wearing out and cities are revitalizing. Read more at CityLab: tinyurl.com/florida-suburbcrisis.

■ A final word. The Greater Washington Board of Trade announced Monday that its longtime president and CEO Jim Dinegar will step down later this year once a replacement is identified.

Dinegar is reorienting his life to care for his two teenage children. His ex-wife died of breast cancer a couple of months ago. As we told Dinegar in a text message as soon as we heard the news: “I just wanted immediately to say you always have been first-rate with me as a reporter and I wish you well as you begin a new chapter.”

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

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<![CDATA[See How Your Rep. Voted on the American Health Care Act]]> Thu, 04 May 2017 14:53:58 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-613089058.jpg

The House of Representatives voted 217-213 Thursday to pass the American Health Care Act, the Republican bill intended to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. 

Here is a list of how your local representatives from Maryland and Virginia voted on the bill. A total record of all votes can be found on the House website.

Virginia (in order of district)

  1. Rob Wittman (R) YES
  2. Scott Taylor (R) YES
  3. Robert Scott (D) NO
  4. Donald McEachin (D) NO
  5. Thomas Garrett Jr. (R) YES
  6. Bob Goodlatte (R) YES
  7. Dave Brat (R) YES
  8. Donald Beyer (D) NO
  9. Morgan Griffith (R) YES
  10. Barbara Comstock (R) NO
  11. Gerry Connolly (D) NO

Maryland (in order of district)

  1. Andy Harris (R) YES
  2. Dutch Ruppersberger (D) NO
  3. John Sarbanes (D) NO
  4. Anthony Brown (D) NO
  5. Steny Hoyer (D) NO
  6. John Delaney (D) NO
  7. Elijah Cummings (D) NO
  8. Jamie Raskin (D) NO



Photo Credit: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Politics Here and in Virginia]]> Wed, 03 May 2017 05:55:23 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/Anacostia1024x682.jpg

New Ward 8 D.C. Council member Trayon White — like any new member — is still feeling his way around the ins and outs of how the council operates.

But White was in his element Monday on the issue of feared gentrification looming over historic Anacostia.

“Housing is definitely a crisis in D.C., more specifically Ward 8,” he said during a forum on how low- and moderate-income residents can lessen the effects of gentrification. “How can we alleviate some of the pressure,” White asked, “so that we can still live here and stay here and grow here?”

White spoke after he had shaken hands with the guest of honor at the event — the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a two-time candidate for president in the 1980s. “Say amen, somebody,” Jackson said. And the crowd responded, “Amen.”

Jackson, who was one of the city’s first statehood senators in the early 1990s, was in town for a variety of events. On Monday, the 75-year-old bounded into the Black Box Theater of the Anacostia Arts Center on Good Hope Road SE.

“We’ve gone all the way from marching for fair housing to rent strikes, all kinds of combinations of schemes, to fight encroachment and to fight gentrification,” he said. Jackson offered residents help from his national Rainbow Coalition.

Former Ward 8 Council member Sandy Allen said the District has done a lot to preserve affordable housing, but market forces are overwhelming city efforts.

“The issues on housing have not really changed in the District,” she told NBC4. “We’re trying to be progressive, but there hasn’t been a lot of change.”

■ Debate night. Your Notebook enjoyed our role in Northern Virginia moderating Saturday night’s first meeting between the Democratic candidates for governor ahead of Virginia’s June 13 primary. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former House member Tom Perriello politely but aggressively answered our questions at the forum sponsored by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee.

Your Notebook has interviewed both men during separate appearances on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Politics Hour and looks forward to doing so again before the primary. Virginia Democrats this year want to continue their streak of holding all three statewide offices since 2009.

Northam served in the Virginia Senate before being elected lieutenant governor four years ago. He also holds a very progressive record that many believe is just right for rapidly changing Virginia. Northam was cruising to the nomination when Perriello jumped into the race in January.

He is trying to run to Northam’s left, with endorsements from U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

But Perriello’s progressive credentials have an asterisk. He was a one-term member of Congress from Charlottesville who came in on the 2008 Obama wave and was swept out two years later by the Tea Party sentiment in his southern Virginia district. Perriello lost despite earning an A rating from the National Rifle Association for opposing an assault weapon ban that he called “an affront to the Founding Fathers.”

A second vote involved abortion. In 2009, Perriello voted for a health care amendment that would have prevented any insurance companies participating in the new Affordable Care Act exchanges from covering abortion. Quite simply, the amendment was intended to prevent federal subsidies from paying for abortions.

Perriello now apologizes for the abortion vote. And he now calls the NRA a “nut-job” organization. While many of Perriello’s supporters either don’t know or don’t care about those votes, voters will hear a lot more about them before the primary.

Northam, a doctor, says abortion may be a difficult subject but it is the right of the mother to make any decisions.

Northam has been endorsed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Attorney General Mark Herring and the state’s Democratic U.S. senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.

The candidates will have their next debate in Roanoke this weekend. Perriello will be on the WAMU Kojo Nnamdi Politics Hour at noon Friday. Northam will appear in about two weeks.

As we noted, the debate was held at Lanier Middle School, just off Interstate 66 beyond the Beltway. In short, for this city dweller it was a long ride. Going out I-66 at about 4 p.m., we were dismayed at the bumper-to-bumper backup heading in toward the District. Like the mess at Metro, we hear a lot about Northern Virginia’s jammed roads. We’re happy we don’t have to put up with all that wasted time, gas, energy, et cetera.

It reminds me that many years ago I was invited out to the AOL headquarters to speak. I was almost an hour late because of backed-up traffic headed outbound. My first words when we finally arrived to speak? “I hope you enjoy it because I am never coming out here again.”

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

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