<![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-usThu, 19 Oct 2017 09:07:06 -0400Thu, 19 Oct 2017 09:07:06 -0400NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[DC Council Considers Bill to End Arrests for Fare Evasion]]> Wed, 18 Oct 2017 20:16:13 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Metro_Fare_Evaders_Could_Get_Lighter_Penalties_Under_Bill.jpg

When they meet Thursday, the D.C. Council will discuss a bill that would stop police from arresting fare evaders on Metro.

Often riders who pay don’t notice people drafting behind them. Rider Jade Miller said she sees it all the time and she’s sick of it.

"I pay my hard-working money to get on Metro, so why can’t they pay,” she said.

Council member Trayon White, who represents Ward 8, introduced a bill that would decriminalize fare evasion in the District. He believes enforcement is unfair.

“There's been a 40 percent increase in arrests made by Metro as far as fare evasion,” he said. “We feel that it shouldn't be arrests. It should be more fines. We should be using that energy elsewhere."

Metro admits to a crackdown on fare evaders but disputes that 40 percent figure.

The transit agency put an ad in the Express paper Wednesday saying 92 percent of fare stops result in either a warning or citation and arrests are almost always the result of another crime, like an outstanding warrant.

Metro said it can't put an exact estimate on how much it's losing in fare evasion, but it is estimated in the tens of millions of dollars.

If passed, the Fare Evasion Decriminalization Act of 2017 would eliminate jail time and drop the fine from $300 to $100 for cheating bus or rail fare in the District.

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<![CDATA[Hundreds of Travel Ban Protesters March Outside White House]]> Wed, 18 Oct 2017 18:54:52 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/nombanever.jpg

Hundreds of protesters marched outside the White House on Tuesday, declaring opposition to the Trump Administration’s travel restrictions.

People holding signs declaring "No Muslim Ban," "Proud American Muslim" and "No Ban No Wall" filled Lafayette Park, facing the White House, in opposition to President Trump's proposed travel ban. Hundreds more protesters joined after marching from H Street.


The newest iteration of the travel ban was set to take effect Tuesday, but was largely blocked by a federal judge in Hawaii. 

The "No Muslim Ban Ever" protest has been scheduled for weeks, and organizers vowed to continue their campaign regardless of what the courts decided.


"We will continue to resist this immoral and unconstitutional Muslim Ban and any new bans in all forms, in all venues, and in all ways—no matter how long it may take to achieve justice," the group said. 

In January, President Trump signed an executive order putting a moratorium on refugees resettling in the United States, and temporarily banned travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen -- all countries with Muslim majorities. 

President Trump unveiled a new executive order which indefinitely banned travel from Iran, Syria, Venezuela North Korea, and others in September.

“Muslim communities are organized, and our allies have our back. We will not be silent and we will stand up for our communities in the face of any and all discriminatory policies,” rally organizers said in a statement. 

MPower Change, the MASA Organizing team and several other groups organized the rally.

The march is the culmination of a six-week campaign around the issue.



Photo Credit: NBC Washington
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<![CDATA[House Races Test Northern Virginia Republican Incumbents]]> Tue, 17 Oct 2017 10:52:48 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/110816+virginia+flag.jpg

In less than a month, Virginia voters will pick 100 people to represent them in the House of Delegates, races that will be closely watched as an early referendum on President Donald Trump's first year in office. 

The elections also will be a test of whether Republicans can hang on in increasingly diverse, populous and liberal-leaning northern Virginia. 

A surge of Democratic candidates unlike the party has seen in years is going up against Republican incumbents across the state, even in deeply red pockets. But many of the most hotly contested races are in Washington's growing suburbs, where the changing demographics and Republican retirements have made many seats competitive. 

"I think it is going to become tougher and tougher (for Republicans) unless there are pretty dramatic changes in both parties," said Thomas Rust, a Republican and former longtime mayor of Herndon who held a northern Virginia seat in the House for 13 years. 

In the past, Democrats have essentially ceded control of the House to Republicans, who have led the lower chamber for nearly two decades and currently have a 66-34 majority. The biennial contests typically draw far less attention than races for governor or the state Senate. 

But many political newcomers have jumped in this year, at least partly motivated by Trump's victory. Sixty of the 100 seats are being contested on Nov. 7 by candidates of both major parties, more than in any year for at least two decades. 

Democrats have candidates running in all 17 Republican-held districts where Hillary Clinton beat Trump last fall. Ten of those are in northern Virginia, where it's more expensive to run a campaign and where money has been pouring in. 

Republicans say they're not worried. Their years in power have helped them build up a significant cash-on-hand advantage, and they say voters in local races care about local issues - not what's going on in Washington. They say their delegates are well known in their communities and have track records of success. 

"You could see us hold everything," said John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia. "It wouldn't surprise me at all." 

Still, he acknowledged tough contests in the northern Virginia races to replace retiring Del. Mark Dudenhefer and Del. Dave Albo and said the races in Prince William County are "very important'' to the party. 

The nearby 67th district, which includes parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties, is another seat Democrats see as a possible pickup. 

Moderate Republican Jim LeMunyon, a technology company entrepreneur, was first elected in 2009 to represent the increasingly liberal district. 

That year, about 58 percent of voters in the district voted for Republican Bob McDonnell for governor. But in 2013, 51 percent voted for Democrat Terry McAuliffe over Republican Ken Cuccinelli, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. And in the fall, Clinton beat Trump there by 22 points. 

LeMunyon, who didn't respond to the AP's interview requests, says in campaign materials that he's worked across the aisle to get a record number of bills passed and signed into law. 

His opponent is Karrie Delaney, who owns a small consulting firm doing communications strategy for nonprofits, and has previously worked with kids in foster care and as a sexual assault crisis counselor. 

She said in an interview that LeMunyon's votes against Medicaid expansion and full-day kindergarten show his willingness to take Republican party positions against voters' interests. 

"For far too long, LeMunyon has been putting politics over the people," she said. 

But former Republican Del. David Ramadan said he thinks LeMunyon will win comfortably, in part because of his relationship with constituents. 

"It doesn't matter if Jim's a Republican or Democrat. To that voter, Jim's the guy who's at their door. Jim's the guy that writes them 20 times a year on transportation issues, which is their No. 1 issue,'' said Ramadan, who represented a district that included parts of Loudon and Prince William counties. 

Susan Swecker, chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, says observers should take note of what happened in a special election for clerk of court in Prince William County earlier this year. Del. Jackson Miller, a member of Republican leadership, lost to Democrat Jacqueline Smith, despite outspending her more than 5-to-1. 

"I think the winds of that kind of change are at our back," Swecker said.



Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Race for Governor Tightens as Election Day Approaches: Poll]]> Tue, 17 Oct 2017 10:34:43 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170613+NorthamGillespie.jpg

With Election Day quickly approaching, the race for Virginia governor is tightening, according to a new tracking poll by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.

Democrat Ralph Northam is maintaining his lead over Republican Ed Gillespie, but Gillespie's share has increased slightly.

According to the poll released Tuesday, 48 percent of voters prefer Northam while 44 percent say they would vote for Gillespie. Three percent of voters polled in the survey chose Libertarian Cliff Hyra, and 5 percent said they were  undecided.

The new poll places Northam's lead within the survey's margin of error. 

"With even a weak third-party candidate on the ballot, the winner may not cross the 50 percent mark," said Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center. "But there’s plenty of room and time left for Northam to close the deal or for Gillespie to close the gap."

This poll did not include the state's other races.  

Virginia is one of only two states electing governors in 2017, and the contest is getting national attention as a potential early referendum on President Donald Trump's first year. The other gubernatrial race is in New Jersey. 

Gillespie is debating with his advisers whether to ask Trump to campaign with him, The New York Times reported, citing multiple Republican officials. Trump performed well during the presidential election in many rural areas of the state, but not in more populous places like Fairfax County.

Virginia's election will take place Nov. 7. 

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<![CDATA[Virginia Voter Registration Deadline Quickly Approaching]]> Fri, 13 Oct 2017 14:31:12 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/voting-generic.jpg

The deadline to register to vote in next month's election is quickly approaching. 

The Virginia Department of Elections says voters must be registered by Monday. 

Any Virginian can check or update their registration information or register for the first time online . Registered voters can also preview their ballot or request an absentee ballot through the website. 

You may also register at your local voter registration office. Opportunities are also available at DMV customer service centers and social service offices. 

The election is Nov. 7. Voters will be choosing the next governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. All 100 seats in the House of Delegates are also up for election. Democrats have a longshot chance at taking back control of the chamber from Republicans.




Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Northam Maintains Leads Over Gillespie in New Poll]]> Mon, 09 Oct 2017 06:11:38 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170613+NorthamGillespie.jpg

With just one month to go until Election Day, Democrat Ralph Northam is maintaining his lead over Republican Ed Gillespie. 

Northam's lead over Gilliespie has increased slightly, according to a new tracking poll by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.

According to the poll released Monday, 49 percent of voters prefer Northam while 42 percent say they would vote for Gillespie. Three percent of voters polled in the survey chose Libertarian Cliff Hyra, and 6 percent said they were  undecided.

“The movement we see in this tracking poll runs in the Democrats’ favor, and all three continue to hold their advantage,” said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center.

According to the survey, voting trends continue to favor the Democratic party in the other statewide races. 

Democrat Justin Fairfax is ahead of Republican state Senator Jill Vogel 48 percent to 40 percent in the lieutenant governor’s race while current Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring leads former federal prosecutor and White House aide John Adams by 11 points in the race for attorney general. 

Virginia is one of only two states electing governors in 2017, and the contest is getting national attention as a potential early referendum on the president's first year. 

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<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: ‘It Will Be Momentous’]]> Wed, 04 Oct 2017 05:43:10 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/supremecourtfeuerherdstock.jpg

Again, the rush of news consumes us. Too much of it horrific.

The slaughter in Las Vegas.

The heartache and ruin in Puerto Rico made worse, many believe, by the slow federal response and the insensitive tweeting by President Donald Trump.

And, now a month later, who even still worries or thinks about how the people in Houston are managing the devastation after Hurricane Harvey?

Now comes maybe a political hurricane of cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, which opened its new term this week.

"There’s only one prediction that’s entirely safe about the upcoming term," Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said late last month at Georgetown’s law school. "And that is, it will be momentous."

One case involves the artistry of a baker who sells his creations to the public but, for religious reasons, refuses to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. Do the baker’s religious beliefs override his public license? If yes, what restrictions on discrimination would be allowed? Would we see signs again on doors saying who will and won’t be served?

Another case explores the impact of gerrymandering, the overt political drawing of election boundaries to determine political outcomes. A ruling by the court could upend American politics. (Redistricting again becomes a big deal after the 2020 census. That’s why the 2018 elections are so important.)

A third case is the limit of your privacy rights while using a cellphone. How private is your life when a phone can track your every move and that information could be made available to law enforcement or other government entities?

Your Notebook also is watching a workplace case that, depending on how it is decided, could cripple the finances of public sector unions.

A Supreme Court ruling in 1977 said public service workers did not have to belong to unions but at least were required to pay an “agency fee” to any union that legally represented those workers for pay and work rules. Any such fee cannot be used by unions for political activities.

But a case on appeal out of Illinois (Janus v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) seeks to overturn that ruling. Mark Janus, a child support specialist, contends that workers should not be compelled to pay any union dues at all.

Labor union leaders worry the conservative-leaning court is poised to overturn the 1977 ruling. It’s important because public sector unions are a stronghold of union membership and power. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 34 percent of public sector workers are covered by unions, far more than the 6.5 percent of private-sector workers. In local government, about 40 percent of workers are covered by union contracts.

In Maryland, Montgomery County Public Schools filed a brief in the case supporting the right of unions to assess non-members. The teachers’ union is particularly strong in Montgomery County. The brief argues that agency fees give unions "financial security" to represent all workers covered.

Janus is represented pro bono in his case by attorneys from the National Right to Work Foundation.

There could be one bright side for public employee unions, some observers say. If they lose the right to assess non-members, it will prompt — or force — the unions to become more aggressive in recruiting members and educating them on what unions do for workers. It clearly is a fight that will take on more urgency if the Supreme Court torpedoes the current dues system.

■ Momentous birthdays, too. This week, more lightheartedly, we quote our former wife, Deborah Jones Sherwood, who observed another birthday this week. Read the whole column on her blog, DeborahJonesSherwood.com, but here’s an excerpt:

"I am part of a generation that said, 'Never Trust Anyone Over 30.' I am now twice that, plus a little more.

"Aside from my short term memory deficit, growing old can be quite advantageous as well as entertaining. I get to board flights first, I get discounts at movies, stores, restaurants, and people don’t seem so miffed when I say, 'I’m sorry, I forgot.'

"One of the many great things about being an old lady is that so many strangers are willing to help me. One afternoon, I was walking down a flight of stairs when a young woman coming toward me said, ‘Excuse me, but did you know your shoe is untied?’ (I didn’t.) I thanked her and leaned over to tie it when she said, 'Let me do that for you.’

"The physical aspects of aging are obvious; I don’t walk as quickly or as far, and I could swear I used to be taller. On the upside, I am no longer terrified when I catch my reflection in a store window, since I finally concluded my mother isn’t haunting me. I often wear a feather clip which covers my thinning hair. It’s actually kind of cute and makes people think I’m quirky.

"I am now at the greatly advanced age of sixty-nine.

"My mailbox is incessantly stuffed with catalogues sent by companies anxious to sell me items all beneficial to my aging body. Compression socks, oversized cell phones with gigantic buttons, and vitamin supplements top the list.

"One by one they get tossed into the recycle bin. Although, I have considered an ‘I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up’ button. Might be worth looking into."

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



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[DC Council Passes Bill Allowing Dogs at Bars With Patios]]> Tue, 03 Oct 2017 18:31:00 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Regulation_Under_Review_After_DC_Cracks_Down_on_Dogs_at_Bars.jpg

The D.C. Council passed emergency legislation Tuesday to allow dogs to accompany their owners at restaurants and beer gardens that have outdoor spaces.

The city's health department recently caught attention when it started enforcing an obscure law banning dogs from establishments that serve food.

Mayor Muriel Bowser is expected to sign the emergency legislation in the coming days.



Photo Credit: NBCWashington]]>
<![CDATA[Northam Cancels Gun Control Events After Vegas Shooting]]> Mon, 02 Oct 2017 18:33:10 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170613+Ralph+Northam.jpg

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam has canceled several campaign events following the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas. 

The events were expected to feature former Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who has pushed for stronger gun control after she survived a gunshot wound to the head in 2011. Giffords and her husband were planning to praise Northam for supporting "responsible gun violence prevention policies" at a series of roundtable discussions in northern Virginia. 

Northam was not scheduled to attend. His campaign sent out a brief advisory Monday morning saying the events had been canceled "in light of recent events." 

At least 59 people were killed and more than 500 hurt late Sunday when a gunman opened fire during a country music festival. It is the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.


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<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Political Notes From All Over]]> Wed, 27 Sep 2017 08:13:00 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/mcauliffe+bowser+hogan.jpg

Mayor Muriel Bowser, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan set off on a two-day trade mission to Canada on Monday to promote tourism, trade and diplomatic relations.

We don’t know about trade and diplomatic relations, but there are reports that world tourism to this region is down -- and many think it has something to do with President Donald Trump’s image.

Whatever that may be, local citizens should welcome the regional approach boosting the D.C. area. Meanwhile, the political winds for all three politicians are blowing quite nicely, too.

McAuliffe is in his last few months as governor. Soon, he’ll be packing up his beer keg and other belongings in the Richmond governor’s mansion and heading back to his home in Northern Virginia. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency, McAuliffe’s stock in the private sector or chance to operate on the world stage would have been off the charts.

Instead, McAuliffe is weighing his options, and some believe one option includes a possible run for president. But first things first. He’s going all out to see that Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam wins the Nov. 7 race against Republican Ed Gillespie.

Northam and Gillespie battled politely last week in an hourlong NBC4 debate in McLean. Afterward, both sides stepped up negative ads to appeal to vote-rich Northern Virginia. It’s crucial for Democrats to run up the score in Northern Virginia, the Tidewater area and Roanoke (the so-called three-corner offense). Republicans tend to win everywhere else in the state.

New polling shows Northam with a small but firm lead. But Gillespie — according to Northam’s campaign itself — is well-known as an establishment Republican. He poses a real threat if Democrats don’t turn out in big numbers. Among many voters, Trump is a drag for Gillespie. But Gillespie is mimicking Hogan in Maryland, trying to downplay the national impact of the race.

Hogan, meanwhile, is confounding the stable of Democrats gearing up to run against him in 2018. A new poll released Monday by Goucher College in Baltimore suggests Hogan has maintained his popularity and so far has adequately distanced himself from Trump. The poll reaffirms that Trump is “deeply unpopular” in the state. The poll showed that 71 percent of those polled said they disapprove or strongly disapprove of the job the president is doing. And that was before the kerfuffle over sports teams kneeling or not for the national anthem.

The poll showed 62 percent of the respondents approve of Hogan as governor. That’s very good, but it’s down from a stratospheric 70 percent rating last year.

As a Republican in a dark blue Democratic state, Hogan has repeatedly countered Democrats, most recently with his ambitious, $9 billion road-building plan for the Beltway, I-270 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. The poll showed that 35 percent of registered Democrats intend to vote for him next year.

Still, it’s a long way until the summer primary for Democrats. The campaign could take on different attributes by then, based on whatever Trump does next and how Democrats sort out who is best positioned to take on Hogan.

On the WAMU Politics Hour last Friday, Mayor Bowser announced she is formally running for re-election. She noted she has worked well with both Republican Hogan and Democrat McAuliffe. She said the city would work with whomever Virginians elect to replace McAuliffe. In a bit of lightheartedness, she also said voters in Maryland and the District might be choosing new leaders, too.

It was just a little bit of humor but Bowser enjoyed the self-deprecating moment. In fact, the mayor is far more personable and friendly — when she wants to be — than the often stern image that her critics, some reporters and even a few supporters perceive.

We asked her about that image on the radio show, observing that The Washington Post editorial page, normally strongly in her corner, had pointed out she can be "prickly."

Some people, we said, worry that her re-election would make her even more demanding and less tolerant of criticism. Others told us, however, that they hope — even expect — that a re-election victory would give Bowser more confidence to be more open and relaxed in dealing with D.C. Council members and those with whom she disagrees.

Which is it, we asked?

"My view is I certainly work hard every day to work with a lot of constituencies," she told us. “And when almost two-thirds of the people [in a recent poll] say that you’re working well with our neighborhood or that you’re really good on our issue or our initiative, that means that we are doing the type of outreach that wins people’s support. We have to continue to do that. The council is no different."

Bowser did acknowledge room to improve: "I think that I have certainly grown in my role. And one thing I have committed to is every fight is not an equal fight. So if there is an opportunity to give a little on this program or this piece of funding, then I will always look for ways to do that."

The mayor fussed at us a little bit for worrying too much about how politicians get along rather than how much they get done. We thought both were important to serving the citizens.

Host Kojo Nnamdi interjected, "Let the record show Tom Sherwood just got lectured to."

The mayor wasn’t lecturing. She made her point with a smile.

■ A hopeful word. Actually, two, as the baseball playoff season soon gets underway.

Go Nats.

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

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<![CDATA[National Voter Registration Day: How to Register]]> Tue, 26 Sep 2017 04:56:10 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/483.jpg

Tuesday marks National Voter Registration Day, and your vote counts.

The state of Virginia will elect a new governor on Nov. 7, in a race that is being watched across the nation. The deadline for registering to vote in the state is Oct. 16. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 31.

If you live in Virginia, Maryland or D.C., here is how to register:

Virginia: Virginians can register online, or in person at a county registration office. In addition to the gubernatorial election, all of Virginia's House of Delegates seats are up for re-election.

Maryland: Voters in Maryland can register online, by mail and in person at your local board of elections. You can also process your voter registration at your local motor vehicle administration office when completing driver’s license transactions. Maryland’s registration deadline is Oct. 6. 

Washington, D.C.: Though D.C. is not facing any critical elections this term, their board of elections also allows online registration year round. D.C. residents that vote at least once every four years, do not move, or change their names or party affiliations, do not have to re-register each year.

Across the DMV area, voters must be 18 by the date of the November election, reside in the locality where they register and not be disqualified to vote by a court. 



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[DC Public Schools Transformed After Decade of Reform?]]> Mon, 25 Sep 2017 11:57:14 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20160928+Classroom+Generic.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.

Seaton Elementary School lies on the fault lines of the social and economic conflicts in the nation’s capital.

The school sits at the center of wrenching change in the Shaw neighborhood, at 10th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW. Couples that can buy a four-story brownstone for $2 million share blocks with families that squeeze into three-room apartments in subsidized housing. Former crack houses are now swank restaurants.

Yet Seaton Elementary is a place of peace, learning and dare I say joy. Walk into Seaton -- as I do every Thursday to volunteer for the nonprofit Reading Partners -- and you will see Latino and African-American mothers and fathers dropping off children, white parents pushing strollers alongside their young students, and Asian kids riding up on the bicycles. The halls are quiet. Student are learning.

The success at Seaton and schools across the District lends credence to those who believe education reform is working in D.C.'s public and public charter schools -- and that D.C. is on its way to going from the worst to one of the country's best urban school systems.

Hard data proves the case:

  • Since 2011, achievement test scores have risen at a faster rate than in any other urban school system, according to the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress and Trial Urban District Assessment.
  • Enrollment in D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) has grown in D.C. schools for the past five years.
  • The city has invested $3.35 billion in renovating and building new public schools, according to the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer, and it shows in schools and athletic fields in all eight wards.

To be sure, some middle and high schools in the city’s more troubled neighborhoods still fail to prepare students for success. Truancy is still too high in many schools. The racial achievement gap persists: white students attending schools in neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park score higher in achievement tests than African-American and Latino students in poor parts of town.

“Teacher turnover is unacceptable,” said Ruth Wattenberg, who represents Ward 3 on the advisory State Board of Education. Nearly one-third of teachers in “high- poverty schools” across the city leave every year, she said. “You can’t raise achievement that way," she said. 

I would add that principals come and go too quickly, as well.

But achievement is slowly rising at schools in every community, both rich and poor, according to results of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, released last month.

That wasn’t the case a decade ago, when then-Mayor Adrian Fenty moved to take control of the schools his first week in office.

Before Fenty took over the school system, Seaton Elementary, like schools across the District, was dangerous outside and disastrous inside for generations of students it failed to teach.

Even skeptics like Wattenberg, who believes the schools paint a rosy picture of reform and still fail to teach at-risk students, admit the city’s public schools now are unrecognizable from what they were in 2000, when her kids attended them. 

Remember the 1990s, when D.C. Superior Court Judge Kaye Christian refused to allow DCPS to begin the school year because she deemed many buildings unsafe

“Ten years ago it wasn’t even school,” said Catherine Bellinger, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform in D.C. She recalled tutoring students in 2007 who told her they had watched television in class and learned little in previous years. “Now it’s school," she said.

I sent my daughters to schools in Chevy Chase, D.C., where bathrooms didn’t function, boilers failed and roofs leaked. Science teachers would ask students to put their heads down and nap during class. And they went to some of the better schools.

Since the Fenty administration took over the schools in 2007, the city has sunk $3.35 billion into renovating and building new schools. It shows.

Beyond bricks and mortar, results from a number of nationwide tests have put numbers behind successes in the classroom. Granted, the improvements are small in some cases, but they are still headed up.

“I think DCPS turned the corner a bit ago,” former chancellor Kaya Henderson said. “These scores demonstrate that the system is continuing to progress.”

That’s true even for students at schools where achievement levels have been level or slow to rise.

(Full disclosure: I helped write a memoir by Henderson’s predecessor, Michelle Rhee.)

EmpowerK12, a nonprofit that uses data to improve instruction, released the results of its annual “Bold Performance” awards on Tuesday. The group recognized 22 public and public charter schools that serve at-risk students and still showed improved math and language proficiency rates that were dramatically higher than schools that teach similar populations.

“Due to the extraordinary efforts of these Bold Performance schools, an additional 1,500 DC students are on-track to be college ready,” EmpowerK12's executive director, Josh Boots, said in a statement.

Boots said strong teachers and administrators helped improve results at these schools. In the decade since Fenty took over the schools, teacher training has improved, along with pressure to show improvements. The labor contract recently approved by the union and the city makes D.C. teachers among the best paid in the nation.

Seaton Elementary was one of 14 schools, according to EmpowerK12's analysis, that showed proficiency rates at least 10 percentage points higher than schools with similar demographics. That demonstrates success.

Without 10 years of concerted reform and billions of dollars invested in the schools, that would not be the case.

Kudos to Fenty, the politicians who supported his reforms and the educators who keep bringing them to D.C.'s students.



Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Northam Leads Gillespie by Slim Margin in New Poll]]> Mon, 25 Sep 2017 06:18:26 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170613+NorthamGillespie.jpg

Democrat Ralph Northam is leading Republican Ed Gillespie by six points as Virginia approaches its gubernatorial election, according to a new survey by the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.

According to the poll released Monday, 47 percent of voters prefer Northam while 41 percent say they would vote for Gillespie. Four percent of voters polled in the survey chose Libertarian Cliff Hyra, and 8 percent said they were  undecided.

"Northam is doing well where he needs to do well,” says Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center. “A plus-11 advantage in Northern Virginia and plus-20 in Hampton Roads are hard for a Republican to overcome in the rest of the state."

According to the survey, voting trends also favor the Democratic party in the other statewide races. 

Democrat Justin Fairfax is ahead of Republican state Senator Jill Vogel 46 percent to 42 percent in the lieutenant governor’s race while current Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring leads former federal prosecutor and White House aide John Adams by 5 points in the race for attorney general. 

"Right now, the Democratic field clearly has an advantage,” says Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center. "The question is whether they can turn out their voters on Election Day, something the party traditionally struggles with in off-year elections."

Virginia is one of only two states electing governors in 2017, and the contest is getting national attention as a potential early referendum on the president's first year. Most polls have shown a close race in the swing state, where Democrats have won every statewide election since 2009.

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<![CDATA[Tom Sherwood's Notebook: Unsettled History ... Still]]> Wed, 20 Sep 2017 17:55:08 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/lafile-filmmaker-ken-burns.jpg

As if our current-day national politics and world tensions are not enough (point to most anywhere on earth), along comes the Vietnam War, reprised, reconsidered, roaring back in an 18-hour PBS series. It reminds us that this war is just as maddening today as it was in the 1960s and early ’70s.

The first hour of “The Vietnam War” aired Sunday night. You had choices. You could watch the history lesson that night or record it, maybe instead tuning into the commercial glitter of the Emmy Awards or seeing the Nationals’ bats finally come alive to defeat the Dodgers.

But the Vietnam series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick is worthy of your time even if you have to catch up on DVR. It lays out the political missteps that led us there and offers contemporary guidance for our unending battles in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as our risk of simplistic thinking and miscalculating the North Koreans, among other conflicts.

As starkly haunting as the Vietnam Memorial itself, the PBS series strives to maybe bring some closure to understanding the war. “We hope we might be some agency of healing,” Burns said in one interview.

Some of the harshest critics say the documentary is glossing over nothing short of war crimes by the United States. In many ways the war still divides us, just as it did back then.

Your Notebook is a contemporary of those times. Opposing the war and facing the Army draft, we joined the U.S. Navy Reserves and spent our active duty in 1968 and ’69 right here in Washington at the Navy Yard.

My older brother Ed made a different choice. In 1969 he was a first lieutenant in Vietnam, a platoon leader. He served in the field from Jan. 11 until June 2 when he was wounded.

We’ll let him pick up from there.

“Except for one week, we were constantly in the field on combat patrols,” he wrote us. “I was an infantry platoon leader (third platoon) with the rank of First Lieutenant. My unit was Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

“Our company of 110 men took heavy casualties (16 killed and 50 wounded) during May-July 1969 in some of the heaviest fighting of the war. Prior to Vietnam, I served as an instructor with the US Army Infantry School’s Ranger Department at Fort Benning, GA, teaching combat patrolling to soldier trainees.”

My brother recently saw an hour-long preview of the new Burns documentary, and the Notebook wants to share his further thoughts:

“I have no regrets about my personal service in the war as misguided and mismanaged as the war may have been.

“I do have deep regret over the war’s high cost in human life and suffering by both friendly and enemy soldiers and their loved ones. I also regret that for too long, the term ‘Vietnam Veteran’ wrongly called up images of homeless derelicts and potheads who had lost their way.

“My best and lasting memory of the war is the faithful service, high commitment, courage, and sacrifice evidenced by the young soldiers with whom I served on that distant battlefield long ago. They rightly deserve our nation’s honor. In my view, the documentary will fall far short if it fails to accurately portray their honorable service despite the tragic failures of the senior government and military leaders who misled them.”

My brother’s final thoughts could serve most anyone tuning in: “The experience of watching ‘The Vietnam War’ includes terror, horror, disbelief, discovery, disgust, marvel, pride, ambivalence and tears. You’ll lose count of how many times you’ll have to pick your jaw up off the floor — even when the facts ring vaguely familiar.”

■ Local politics. We’ve written several times that the D.C. Council may be one of the most progressive in the country, but cautioned that its group of new laws regulating business could be viewed by those businesses as piling on. We got the first indication of that last spring when Council Chairman Phil Mendelson abruptly opened the door to changes to funding for the paid family leave program that he had spent more than a year pushing through the council.

In recent years the council also has passed annual increases of the minimum wage, which will rise to $15 an hour in 2020; considered bills regulating sick leave and scheduling; and weighed limits on campaign pay-to-play donations, among other measures. This week Washington Post reporter Peter Jamison detailed how the council appears ready to take a breather — he called it a retreat — on some of those issues.

Jamison quoted Chairman Mendelson: “Businesses like certainty, and if we’re constantly changing the tax burden or the tax environments, or constantly changing the regulatory burden, then it becomes more difficult to do business in the District,” the chairman said. Mendelson has proposed a moratorium through the end of 2018 on bills that would negatively affect businesses. “This doesn’t mean absolutely nothing will go through,” he added.

Mendelson says the city needs time to see how the bills it has passed are working out. Cynics in the crowd might note that a moratorium through 2018 would get the chairman and other council members through their expected re-election campaigns next year.



Photo Credit: KNBC-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Regulation Under Review After DC Cracks Down on Dogs at Bars]]> Wed, 20 Sep 2017 20:22:39 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Regulation_Under_Review_After_DC_Cracks_Down_on_Dogs_at_Bars.jpg

Pets at bars, coffee shops and restaurants is a growing trend, but it’s not legal everywhere, and a D.C. regulation is under review after a crackdown at a beer garden that serves food.

At The Midlands in northwest D.C., which is co-owned by the son of News4 reporter Tom Sherwood, Andy Pants the dog was as much a part of the business as the beer until a D.C. health inspector ordered Andy and all dogs off the patio Tuesday.

“Nobody is in the kitchen with their dogs,” dog lover Andrew Zukosky said. “It’s an outdoor venue anyway. There are birds in there. It seems like they're way dirtier than domestic animals.”

Tracey Newberry and her dog Suzy Q found themselves shut out of one of their favorite restaurants Wednesday.

“I don't know what I'm going to do,” she said. “I’m probably not going to go out as much.”

Many businesses encourage customers to bring their dogs. Some restaurants and bars host yappy hours.

But the D.C. Department of Health says it’s against the law. It’s been telling establishments to keep the dogs out or face a $500 fine.

"Every restaurant I've ever worked in has allowed dogs on their patios and it's never been a problem with enforcement before, so why start now?" Midlands co-owner Peyton Sherwood said.

Other jurisdictions in the area found a way around the health code restrictions.

In Arlington, Virginia, bars and restaurants can apply for an exemption and get a permit to allow dogs. Oz in Clarendon got a permit and hosts regular yappy hours.

"From my understanding of what Arlington does, it sounds great, having exemptions for restaurants that want to have animals," Sherwood said.

In Montgomery County, Maryland, restaurants can get a permit to allow four-legged companions on the patios as well.

Wednesday afternoon, the D.C. Department of Health changed its position on dogs at bars, saying it’s reviewing the regulation, and a D.C. Council member is considering emergency legislation to allow dogs at some restaurants.

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<![CDATA[Virginia Governor Candidates Need to Get Voters to the Polls]]> Tue, 19 Sep 2017 19:04:25 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Virginia_Governor_Candidates_Need_to_Get_Voters_to_the.jpg

Northern Virginia Bureau Chief Julie Carey, a panelist for the Virginia governor's debate, explains what the candidates need to accomplish.

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<![CDATA['Pivotal Moment' in Virginia Governor's Campaign]]> Tue, 19 Sep 2017 18:34:25 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Pivotal_Moment_in_Virginia_Governor_s_Campaign.jpg

News4's Aaron Gilchrist, who is a panelist for Tuesday's debate and has covered Virginia politics for a long time, previews the governor's debate.

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<![CDATA[What Millennial Voters Think About the Virginia Governor's Race]]> Tue, 19 Sep 2017 18:30:14 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/What_Millenial_Voters_Think_About_the_Virginia_Governors_Rac.jpg

Northern Virginia Bureau Reporter David Culver spoke to millenial voters about the Virginia governor's race.

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<![CDATA[Chuck Todd Previews Virginia Gubernatorial Debate]]> Tue, 19 Sep 2017 18:23:40 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Chuck_Todd_Previews_Virginia_Gubernatorial_Debate.jpg

Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd previews the Virginia gubernatorial debate he is moderating Tuesday evening.

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<![CDATA[What's at Stake in Virginia Gubernatorial Debate]]> Tue, 19 Sep 2017 18:22:25 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Whats_at_Stake_in_Virginia_Gubernatorial_Debate.jpg

NBC News Senior Political Editor Mark Murray explains what's at stake the candidates in the Virginia gubernatorial debate.

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<![CDATA[Why The Va. Governor’s Race Is High-Stakes for Dems, GOP]]> Tue, 19 Sep 2017 13:28:05 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Mark_Murray_Explains_the_Virginia_Governor_Race.jpg

Mark Murray, the senior political editor for NBC News, explains the high stakes of the Virginia governor race. Watch the debate at 7 tonight on NBC4.

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<![CDATA[Clinton Book Tour to Start in DC; Tickets on Offer for $900]]> Thu, 14 Sep 2017 16:22:49 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/ClintonBookSigning.jpg

Hillary Clinton will speak about her new campaign memoir "What Happened" in Washington, D.C. on Monday -- and tickets for her sold-out appearance are available online for 12 times their original value. 

Tickets to the book event at the Warner Theatre originally sold for $55 to $75, which included a copy of the book. Multiple ticket resale websites now have them for sale for as much as $897, for up-close orchestra seats. 

Resale websites and Craigslist advertised seats further from the stage for $150.

Clinton will talk about her failed bid for the presidency, with Lissa Muscatine, a Politics and Prose co-owner who served as Clinton's chief speechwriter at the U.S. State Department and the White House. 

Clinton is set to speak about the campaign, her relationship with then-candidate President Donald Trump and how she has moved on after losing.

The book tour will make stops in Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Boston and Portland, plus cities in Canada. Additional cities could be added to the tour as they are confirmed, according to the book tour's website.

The tour is set to end in Vancouver on Dec. 13.

For the full list of dates, locations and tickets for "What Happened" across the country, see Clinton's book tour website.



Photo Credit: Seth Wenig/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Clear Skies for Mayor Bowser?]]> Wed, 13 Sep 2017 06:51:54 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170819+Muriel+Bowser.jpg

At first glance, Karl Racine dropping out of any potential race for mayor suggests an easier road for Mayor Muriel Bowser and a tougher road for Vincent Gray if — or probably when — Gray gets in.

Racine, the D.C. attorney general, would have split some of Bowser’s support among white and middle-class African-American voters, maybe opening a narrow path for Gray, the former mayor and current Ward 7 D.C. Council member.

On WAMU’s Politics Hour on Friday, Racine declined to embrace Bowser. He has had many positive things to say about Gray’s term as mayor, despite the legal troubles that dogged his 2010 campaign and derailed his 2014 re-election bid.

Racine is far better known and liked among politically active locals than general opinion polls show. He could stick to his own re-election race or, if inclined, add credibility to any Gray campaign.

Still, several politically active observers say Gray would have a steep uphill battle against Bowser. But in the short term, they say he does benefit politically by even being seen as a potential candidate. That pays dividends even if Gray decides, against his heart, that a comeback race for mayor is not winnable. Bowser has said she is running for re-election. She is expected to formally file in the coming weeks.

It’s also possible, some say, that Gray could make a turn and run against Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. Privately, Gray has told people that he would not run for chairman, another office he has held, but who knows what 2018 may hold?

■ Virginia governor debate. Who serves as governor in Maryland and Virginia is important to the District. From Metro funding to competition for jobs to other regional issues, it matters.

Next Tuesday at 7 p.m., NBC4 will host a one-hour debate between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam. NBC’s Chuck Todd will be moderator. NBC4 anchor Aaron Gilchrist and Northern Virginia Bureau chief Julie Carey also will be asking questions. It will be broadcast from the Capital One headquarters in McLean.

If you can’t get to a television, it will stream live on nbcwashington.com. Your Notebook may be tweeting live during the debate.

■ Sour note ’Skins. While the Nationals were clinching the National League East playoff berth this weekend with a win over the Phillies (and a loss for the Marlins), the local football team fumbled and flustered to an opening day loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The bigger worry may be the loss of fans for a team that seems to struggle even when it’s winning. Washington Post columnist Dan Steinberg weighed in on this even before the dispiriting game.

“I can’t get over the fact that the Redskins — one of the league’s glory franchises, one that has sought stars for 20 years, one that has a national fan base and all those shiny trophies — don’t have a single player in the top 45 of NFL jersey sales,” he wrote.

And veteran Post columnist Thomas Boswell weighed in, too. He dismissed more than two decades of unrealized happy talk about a team turnaround. “And yet the happy talk dished out by owner Dan Snyder’s team is never true,” wrote Boswell. “In the past quarter century, only one team in the NFL has failed to win more than 10 games in a year: Washington. After Sunday at FedEx, the under looks safe again.”

And bottom line: Maybe it comes down to Snyder. Steinberg quoted Eric Bickel of 106.7 The Fan. “There’s 100 percent been a degradation of the fan base under Daniel Snyder; there’s no question about it,” Bickel said. “They’re losing fans annually. They just are.”

From the Saturday sofa: It’s amazing how many football players — college and pro — blatantly try to cheat by sliding the football beyond where the play stops. The sofa view says they ought to be penalized. The refs surely see it and slide the ball back.

The weekend sofa was a comfortable spot to watch coverage of Hurricane Irma.

On every channel, some cozy anchor in a temperature-controlled studio was telling some soaking wet reporter somewhere to “be safe.” Yes, it’s probably sincere, but a cliché nonetheless. If television stations really wanted reporters on such live shots to “be safe,” they wouldn’t be standing out there in the first place.

And we were happy that those anchors and reporters pretty much stayed away from referring to the storm’s “wrath” or “fury.” As we say every hurricane season, hurricanes don’t have feelings. They are powerful, intense, deadly, devastating and so on, but there is no human feeling attached.

You’ve also been hearing about these powerful “natural disasters.” Yes, hurricanes do wreak damage. But many of the building collapses, or roofs blown off or other destruction, occur because man has not planned or prepared for such events. And worse, we’ve built in low-rising areas in ways that can’t withstand hurricanes. That’s not a “natural” disaster but a man-made one.

■ A final word. A good section of hometown Washington said goodbye Monday to former D.C. Police Chief Ike Fulwood, who died Sept. 1 at 77. Fulwood served nearly 30 years on the force, stepping in as chief in 1989 just as the city slid into a horrible crime and homicide era. D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, speaking at the funeral service for her friend at the Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington, Md., offered a nice summation: “If D.C. ever needed a tough chief, it was in the 1990s.”

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



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Madaleno: Invest in UMd. to Bring Amazon to College Park]]> Wed, 13 Sep 2017 17:34:00 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Amazon-Seattle-Headquarters.jpg

A Democratic contender in Maryland's governor race released a plan Monday suggesting the state attract online retailer Amazon by investing $1 billion in the University of Maryland.

Rich Madaleno said the plan would aim to bring Amazon to College Park. The online retailer announced last week that it is seeking a second headquarters.

Madaleno's plan would pump $250 million into the university annually over four years. Amazon would have input on which academic programs receive the money, according to a press release.

The plan also allows Maryland to offer the incentives Amazon wants without giving tax breaks that use public money, Madaleno said in a statement.

"We would be attracting good jobs while simultaneously investing in our people and growing a Maryland talent pool that might spawn the next Amazon. This is good for Amazon's shareholders but even more important it's good for Maryland's shareholders: our taxpayers and our children," Madaleno said.

Future purple line stations may also help entice Amazon, Ken Ulman, University of Maryland's cheif stratergy officer, said in the release. 

Current Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Maryland is an ideal place for Amazon's new headquarters. Amazon says their final decision will be announced in 2018. Proposals to Amazon are due in October. 

The metropolitan area surrounding D.C. is able to fulfill many requirements on the company's wish list for its second home, including a large population, a robust university system, an international airport and a public transportation system.

Washington and Baltimore were two of 20 North American cities that fit all of the company's requirements, according to an analysis from the Brookings Institute

Amazon's CEO and founder, Jeff Bezos, also has connections to D.C. He owns The Washington Post and bought a 27,000 square foot museum in January with plans to convert it into a single-family home in D.C.'s exclusive Kalorama neighborhood, The Washington Post reported.

The new headquarters could bring 50,000 jobs, with an average annual salary of $100,000, according to the company's request for proposals. It would also require up to $5 billion in capital investment from the company over more than a decade.

CORRECTION (Sept. 13, 5:32 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Ken Ulman's workplace. He works for the University of Maryland.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Virginia Governor Declares State of Emergency Ahead of Irma]]> Fri, 08 Sep 2017 13:49:00 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-632690128.jpg

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has declared a state of emergency in Virginia so officials can better prepare for Hurricane Irma and help other impacted states.

The governor's office said in a statement that the order issued Friday allows the state to mobilize resources including the Virginia National Guard. It also allows people and equipment to be staged to assist in storm response and recovery efforts.

The statement says that while the track of Hurricane Irma is still uncertain, it appears increasingly likely that Virginia will see "significant" impacts. It says the whole state should prepare for possible flooding, high winds and storm surge.

The governor is also urging coastal residents to know what hurricane evacuation zone they live in under the state's new plan unveiled earlier this year. A lookup tool is available online.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Maryland Gov. Hogan Dedicates ICC to Former Gov. Ehrlich ]]> Thu, 07 Sep 2017 17:01:52 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Governor+Hogan+Presser+-+10142718.jpg

Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday dedication of the Intercounty Connector (ICC) to former Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr.

Hogan credits Ehrlich and his administration for bringing the ICC to life.

“Over the decades, plans for the ICC started – and stalled – countless times, but it wasn’t until Gov. Ehrlich made it a top priority that the Intercounty Connector Project was finally revived,” Hogan said. “The ICC was the very first all-electronic toll road in Maryland, and it is one of the most significant transportation projects in state history.”

Since its opening in 2011, the ICC has reduced congestion and shortened commutes for Maryland motorists.

Hogan called the dedication “a real personal pleasure.” The current governor worked in Ehrlich’s cabinet from 2003 to 2007.

"I would like to sincerely thank Gov. Hogan for this wonderful dedication," said Ehrlich. "Many Marylanders thought the ICC would never be built.”

Planning efforts for the ICC date to the 1950s, but the project never got off the ground until Ehrlich directed the Maryland Department of Transportation’s State Highway Administration to begin construction. Ehrlich made a request to President George W. Bush to secure funding, and garnered bipartisan support to make the 17-mile road a reality.

“It was certainly a difficult task, against all odds, but it got done through the hard work of professionals who contributed to the planning, financing, and construction of this magnificent road,” Ehrlich said. He also thanked Doug Duncan, a Democrat who challenged Ehrlich in the 2006 Maryland gubernatorial election after serving as Montgomery County executive from 1994 to 2006.

“Gov. Ehrlich’s direction to bring the ICC/MD 200 to fruition directly benefits MDTA customers with a shorter, safer, less congested and more reliable driving option,” said MDTA Executive Director Kevin C. Reigrut.



Photo Credit: NBC Washington ]]>
<![CDATA[Jaffe Report: Will Mayor Bowser Run Unopposed in 2018?]]> Thu, 07 Sep 2017 08:17:14 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170819+Muriel+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.

And then there were two -- or perhaps only one.

Rather than challenging D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Attorney General Karl Racine has decided to run for re-election to a second term, according to sources involved in his campaign. He’s scheduled to make a formal announcement as early as Friday.

"Karl believes he has more work to do as attorney general on the local and national level," one source told NBC4.

That leaves Vince Gray as the only credible opponent standing in the way of Bowser’s second term. The former mayor and Ward 7 councilmember has been contemplating a revenge race since Bowser dethroned him in 2014.

Gray has been cagey about whether he would mount a challenge; he could not be reached for comment.

Bowser has been gearing up for a second term since she knocked off Gray in the Democratic primary and beat former council member David Catania in the general election. Sources in Bowser’s political camp expect her to open her campaign committee within the next two weeks, for certain by the end of the month.

The decisive Democratic primary is scheduled for next June, which gives potential candidates less than ten months to organize a campaign and raise the $1 million it would take to mount a credible challenge. Since the District has a vestigial Republican Party and Independents don’t stand much of a chance, November’s general election is a formality.

Vince Gray still sees red when he recalls how Bowser unseated him in the last election. He’s convinced that he would have cruised to a second term had federal prosecutors not implicated him in their investigation into 2010 campaign finance corruption by his close associates.

Gray maintained his innocence and he was never charged, but prosecutors alleged that he was directly involved in a scheme that funneled $650,000 in dirty money into his 2010 campaign.

In considering whether to take on Bowser, Gray has to convince voters he’s beyond the corruption scandal, raise a seven-figure war chest and carve out a path to victory without Ward 3, where the majority of white voters still associate him with the dirty campaign.

"He’s leaning against it," a veteran council member said. 

If Gray chooses to take on Bowser, their race would most likely take on a negative tinge. Gray could smear her with a number of ethical lapses, none of which have gotten much traction thus far. They include charges of favoritism in bestowing contracts and an inspector general’s report that showed her appointees were given special treatment in placing their children in favored schools.

"It would be negative from the start," says a veteran D.C. political consultant. "A knock–down, drag–out, kick-in-teeth fight.”

As grim as that sounds, if Vince Gray decides not to run, Muriel Bowser is likely to run unopposed. No other challenger with enough name recognition, political experience or gumption for the fray is standing in the wings.

"There’s not one soul, not one person out there," another councilmember said. "Not even a crazy person."

Bowser is hardly invincible. Polling has shown her support is wide, but it’s neither deep nor strong. She backed four candidates in the last council elections. Three lost and the fourth squeaked into office. Her home base in Ward 4 is in play.

Her campaign aides say her message to motivate voters will be "continuity." Since the District is "winning," crime is lower and public schools are improving, they should stay the course and keep Bowser at the helm.

"That’s the unthinking incumbent’s response," in the words of another District political consultant. "Most people are interested in the future, not the past."

Anyone interested in democracy would prefer the incumbent mayor compete for a second term in a robust campaign against a credible challenger. For starters, Bowser should be forced to defend her record on affordable housing, homelessness, public schools and development deals.

Without a challenge, Lord Acton’s admonition applies: "Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Calling on aspiring urban leaders: businessmen, activists, entrepreneurs, entertainers. Who wants to be mayor of Washington, D.C.?



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Holmes Norton: We Can Tax Foreign-Owned Nuisance Properties]]> Wed, 06 Sep 2017 15:12:36 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Argentine+Nuisance+House.jpg

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said Wednesday that District officials may have the authority to impose real estate taxes on foreign properties that are no longer used for diplomatic purposes and pose "a public embarrassment" to neighborhoods.

The city may be able to tax abandoned properties, Norton wrote in a letter to D.C. officials including Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Taxing such buildings might incentivize foreign governments to keep them from falling into disrepair -- such as one Kalorama townhouse owned by the government of Argentina.

News4's Tom Sherwood visited that building to find it crumbling and overrun with vermin.

"It's just sad to see a wonderful house like that sitting there with nobody in it for 24 years," neighbor Irene Wertzel told Sherwood.

Norton wrote a letter asking Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the U.S. State Department to help fix the problem, which is complicated because these buildings are covered under special diplomatic rules.

"The offending properties are a public embarrassment to the neighborhoods, to the District of Columbia, to the State Department, and, particularly, to the United States," Norton wrote in the letter. "A growing number of buildings owned by foreign missions in the District of Columbia... have been vacated and fallen into poor condition, posing health and safety risks to neighbors and depressing nearby property values."

Norton asserted in Wednesday's letter that D.C. could act on its own, without the federal government, under laws including the Home Rule Act and local D.C. tax law.

Norton also cited Supreme Court precedent for cities to tax buildings owned by foreign governments that are not exclusively used for diplomatic purposes. In that case, the court upheld New York City's ability to tax a building used by the Indian government to house low-level employees.

The most recent letter was addressed to the mayor, the city council and D.C.'s chief financial officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt, whose office would levy taxes on the properties in question. The chief financial officer's office has not yet issued a response to the letter.

The Northwest Current noted a number of problem properties, including ones owned by Serbia, Sri Lanka, Egypt and Pakistan.



Photo Credit: News4]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Football, Books and Bluesy Drama]]> Wed, 06 Sep 2017 05:36:49 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170829+Redskins.jpg

No matter what the meteorologists or astronomers officially say, summer ends for most us with Labor Day. We know because football — high school, college and pro — is upon us.

But warning signs are flashing. Are we seeing football’s popularity starting to fade?

The District, Virginia and Maryland are each eying the potential for a new Washington Redskins stadium project. But questions are arising about the future of the game itself, no matter where the team may play.

"This sport will never die, but it will never again be, as it was until recently, the subject of uncomplicated national enthusiasm," writes columnist George Will.

The columnist essentially says this fading popularity can be explained in two words: brain damage.

"CTE [chronic traumatic encephalopathy] is a degenerative brain disease confirmable only after death, and often caused by repeated blows to the head that knock the brain against the skull,” Will wrote in a recent Washington Post column. “The cumulative impacts of hundreds of supposedly minor blows can have the cumulative effect of many concussions.”

Will is a columnist and author who otherwise waxes romantic on baseball, except for its excruciating length of play.

But back to football. Is the District wooing a dying game? Could the play on the field become less gladiator and more finesse? Would the further loss of brutal hits also mean a loss of fans?

Will cited a New York Times story reporting on data from Stanford University researchers. Their analysis explained the effect on a college lineman who sustained 62 hits in just one game. “Each one came with an average force on the player’s head equivalent to what you would see if he had driven his car into a brick wall at 30 mph.”

In the end, Will pointed to the unreal riches of both pro and college football and suggested the schools and pro owners may tilt here and there toward more player safety reform, but the hugely profitable appeal of the sport will win out. At least for a while.

■ A book blitz. To our knowledge, no one was hurt in the crush of book lovers last weekend at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The National Book Festival had every floor of the place jumping. The crowd it attracts is diverse in age, race and gender. Dozens of Library of Congress volunteers and staffers scoot about in purple T-shirts, guiding lost folks to history, poetry, contemporary life, fiction and children’s events.

Your Notebook had the pleasure of dabbling in a taste of poetry. We introduced the five new National Student Poets for 2017. They were the winners — maybe survivors — of a contest that drew 20,000 entries this year. Entrants had to be at least juniors in high school. The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers culled the number to 1,000 aspiring high school poets. Of those, 200 were awarded either gold or silver medals for achievement. The five regional winners were chosen from a field of 35 semifinalists.

Your Notebook thinks back to high school days, especially that class in the 10th grade where our teacher drilled us on poetry mechanics — iambic pentameter for all — but never got to the heart of what poetry can mean. We all have poetic thoughts; most of us just fail to remember to write them down. But poetry is a messenger from the heart and mind like no other art form.

A poem may speak only to its author or to millions. It was fun to be part of Saturday’s annual event again. If you missed it, watch for it next year.

■ Come for the music. Stay for the play. Another part of our cultural weekend was taking in the Mosaic Theater’s production of "The Devil’s Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith." It’s playing until late September at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE.

The one-act play covers the extraordinary world of Bessie Smith, including her life, music and loves as well as the discriminatory racial times that limited her career. She died 80 years ago, in September 1937. But her style — she called herself the "Empress of the Blues" — set the stage for the blues world that has come after her.

Bessie Smith is played and sung by Miche Braden, who also serves as director, arranger and composer. Hers is a long and applauded career. The theatrical notes in the program say that she dedicates her performance “to the memory of her mother, Dr. Mildred J. Dobey, her first musical influence.”

The Mosaic Theater Company of DC is in just its third season. Founding artistic director Ari Roth says Mosaic is unique in that it is a "fusion community" of participants from other, disparate theaters. He writes that its plays, community discussions following some performances, and breadth of subjects intentionally “reflect a fusing of different racial, religious, and theatrical DC hubs, with the intention of forging cross-cultural experiences.”

Roth notes the nation has entered "a period of intensifying belligerence, intolerance and re-segregation" and says of Mosaic that “we join the fight to beat back” that ugly strain: "Passionate art can stem the rush of rage and despair.” And amid this seriousness of purpose, there is a lot of humor with which to lighten the load. You’re invited to inquire. Local theater is only as good as the people active in it — and supporting it.

■ A final word. Former D.C. Police Chief Isaac "Ike" Fulwood died this past week. He served as chief during one of the city’s most difficult and violent times. After he left the Metropolitan Police Department, he spent five years as head of the U.S. Parole Commission until stepping down in 2015.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said it best: "Ike Fulwood’s career in locking people up led him to its antithesis — deterring residents from trouble and prison. It would be difficult to find a resident whose service has been as deep and lasting as the Chief’s."

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



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