<![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-usWed, 24 May 2017 19:49:54 -0400Wed, 24 May 2017 19:49:54 -0400NBC Owned Television Stations <![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.

<![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."

<![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

<![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.

<![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.

<![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.

<![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.

<![CDATA[Va. Democrats Face Off In First Debate for Governor]]> Mon, 01 May 2017 17:15:51 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170427+Va+Debate.jpg

The two Virginia Democrats hoping to win their party's nomination for governor debated for the first time Saturday in Northern Virginia.

Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello, a former member of Congress from Virginia, answered questions about a variety of issues, including traffic in Virginia, Metro funding, raising the minimum wage, campaign ethics and finance, and their governing styles.

They also discussed the cost of college, abortion and hate crimes. 

News4's Tom Sherwood moderated the debate. 

The Republican candidates in the gubernatorial race debated on Thursday, April 13 at Liberty University. You can watch the debate here.

<![CDATA[DC Council Hears Pros, Cons of Regulating Short-Term Rentals]]> Wed, 26 Apr 2017 19:26:58 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170426+Airbnb.jpg

The D.C. Council held a public hearing Wednesday as it weighs whether to regulate short-term housing rentals, including those booked through the website Airbnb. News 4's Mark Segraves reports.

<![CDATA[Joe Biden Speaks at GMU Sex Assault Awareness Event]]> Wed, 26 Apr 2017 18:54:50 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Joe+Biden+at+GMU+George+Mason+042617.jpg

Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke Wednesday at a campus sexual assault awareness event at George Mason University.

Biden has long been at the forefront of the movement fighting to end violence against women. In the '90s, as a senator, he wrote the Violence Against Woman Act that changed how the U.S. criminal justice system responded to domestic violence and sexual assault.

As vice president, he appointed the first-ever White House adviser on violence against women and has been a champion for the "It's On Us" campaign, which the Obama Administration launched in 2014 and aims to reduce campus sexual assault.

"My dad used to say the greatest sin a man can do is ignore the abuse to all," Biden said during Wednesday's event. "You have an obligation to say something. This is about truth."

Biden also talked about the recent firing of Bill O'Reilly following allegations of sexual harassment.

"You know you're making progress when you have the most popular talking head lose his job for sexual assault," Biden said. 

Actress Alisha Boe, known for her role as Jessica in the Neflix's series "13 Reasons Why," also spoke at the event.

George Mason has made eradicating sexual assault a top priority, offering a 24-hour crisis hotline which is managed by the Student Support and Advocacy Center, and obligating students to take the Mason pledge to end sexual violence.

Photo Credit: NBCWashington]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: A Side-Eye to Sidewalk Ban ]]> Wed, 26 Apr 2017 05:43:02 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/white+house+fence.jpg

We live in a dangerous world.

It’s worth saying again.

We live in a dangerous world.

But, really, a spit of a sidewalk is too dangerous to keep open to the public?

We’re referring to the sidewalk on the south side of the White House along what used to be E Street NW before the street itself was closed and turned into a parking lot for security personnel and miscellaneous vehicles.

Last week, the U.S. Secret Service announced that the sidewalk adjacent to the White House fence no longer would be open to the public. Tourists and others are being relegated to the other side of the old street, about 25 feet farther away. Tourists will have to use their zoom features a little bit more.

This little sidewalk section already was closed from 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. each day. That sounds reasonable. But is it such a security threat — or nuisance — that it has to be closed 24/7?

We have visited and revisited this impulse to close down iconic American spaces rather than efficiently protect them. Back in September 2014, we wrote about this subject yet again after a fence-jumping intruder prompted the Secret Service to block off even more of what used to be 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Now it’s part plaza and part security compound.

Here’s what we wrote:

"There’s no doubt that providing 24/7 security is a tough and demanding job. The potential for boredom or fatigue can sap even the most earnest guard. That’s why they change shifts, walk, ride and patrol. Staying alert is the crux of the job.

"Simply enlarging the secure area is an easy way to lessen the task. Well, it is until some deranged person, criminal or terrorist decides to take out the new screening posts. Then we would need more expansion?”

Over the weekend, one person offered this reaction on Twitter to the new restrictions being considered: “Man manages to climb the fence, the INTERIOR security fails at all levels, & the people outside need to stay further away? Um…”

That about sums it up. Do we need to stop allowing tourists, veterans, families and foreign visitors to stand near the high White House fencing because the security team on the other side was caught napping?

Somebody needs a wake-up call. But it’s not the free American people.

That’s how we ended the 2014 column. But there is no end in sight to the chipping away of what once was America’s unique openness.

■ Your Notebook in Virginia. You may not have noticed, but there is a heck of a race for governor in Virginia. We’ve interviewed both Democrats — Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello — on Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU Politics Hour. Now, your Notebook will moderate a live, one-hour debate Saturday night in Fairfax County. NBC4 will live stream it on the web.

The debate is being sponsored by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee and EmergeUSA.

The primary is June 13. Can Democrats hold their statewide victories for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general this November?

Republicans have not won any statewide office since 2009. Republican front-runner Ed Gillespie hopes to change that. First, he has to get past Prince William County’s Corey Stewart and Frank Wagner of Virginia Beach. But Gillespie leads in polling and fundraising. He’s raising GOP hopes because he came within a whisker of defeating Democratic Sen. Mark Warner in 2014.

■ They’re going to pot. A CBS News poll has found that 61 percent of Americans support the legalization of recreational marijuana. The poll showed half of the respondents acknowledged trying the drug. The new polling shows a 5-point increase from 2016 and a huge jump from only 27 percent approval in 1979. The poll also revealed a generation gap, with respondents over 65 being the most averse. (That surprises your Notebook. We’re in that age group. This older group was part of the pot haze of the ’60s and ’70s.)

It’s important to remember this: Federal laws involving marijuana likely won’t “lighten up” under new Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He’s opposed to legalization, saying it minimizes the “very real danger” of marijuana. Somewhere on an island in the Pacific, and elsewhere, people are waiting to see what happens next.

■ The Parks at Walter Reed. That’s the new name for a 3-million-square-foot redevelopment of the old Army hospital grounds in Ward 4. It honors both the historic hospital once active here and the unique green space.

About 66 of the 113 acres are being turned into housing, retail, education, parks and other uses by the city in a joint development along Georgia Avenue NW. The remaining acres of Walter Reed land, specifically on the 16th Street NW side, are being turned over to the U.S. State Department for new embassy construction.

The District’s redevelopment is a favorite of Mayor Muriel Bowser, who once represented Ward 4 on the D.C. Council.

“It will be a fantastic collection of housing,” she told us at a ceremonial groundbreaking on Monday. She said new retail here also will stem the need for many residents of this area to go shopping in the suburbs. It’s called “leakage” in the world of retail and government taxes. The city in recent years has made a major dent in “leakage” to the suburbs. It can only help the District to provide for its citizens.

(The Notebook will admit to buying a small coffee pot at Pentagon City last week. We feel bad about it.)

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

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[DC Lawmakers to Debate Regulating Airbnb Rentals]]> Tue, 25 Apr 2017 20:23:50 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/042517+kenyan+mcduffie.jpg

D.C. Councilman Kenyan McDuffie has proposed regulating commercial Airbnb operators seen to harm the city's supply of affordable housing. News4's Tom Sherwood reports. Look here to see the entire bill.

Photo Credit: NBC Washington]]>
<![CDATA[Four Arrested at Pot ‘Smoke-in’ on U.S. Capitol Grounds]]> Mon, 24 Apr 2017 21:48:00 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Capitol+Smoke-in+Arrests+042417.jpg

U.S. Capitol Police arrested four demonstrators for smoking marijuana on Capitol grounds, legal marijuana advocates said.

Demonstrators intended Monday's “smoke-in” to be an act of civil disobedience. Those lighting up want pot to be legalized nationwide and for the federal government not to interfere with states that already have legal pot.

Two men and two women were arrested by U.S. Capitol police shortly after they started smoking Monday afternoon, said Nikolas Schiller, a co-founder of the group D.C. Marijuana Justice (DCMJ).

The four were charged with possession, a violation of federal law, Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki said.

It wasn't clear whether they had attorneys.

Those arrested included DCMJ co-founder Adam Eidinger. He also was arrested with seven others Thursday during a pot giveaway near the Capitol.

Before the arrests, speakers shared emotional stories about marijuana. One woman said it saved her little girl’s life.

“My daughter went from 50 to 60 seizure a day, sometimes 12-15 minutes long,” she said. “Since she's been medicating with marijuana she is now 91 percent seizure-free.”

Others tried to make the case that it's less harmful than tobacco and alcohol.

But many think marijuana is a gateway drug to dangerous substances and argue it shouldn't be used by anyone, especially children.

Photo Credit: Meagan Fitzgerald, NBCWashington]]>
<![CDATA[CraneWatch: Four of the Biggest Developments in DC Right Now]]> Mon, 24 Apr 2017 18:48:54 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170424+Parks+at+Walter+Reed.jpg

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ceremonially broke ground Monday on a massive residential, office and retail project at the former northwest Washington campus of Walter Reed Army Hospital.

"The Parks at Walter Reed" is planned to offer 2,100 housing units -- more than 400 of which are designated as affordable housing -- as well as a new grocery store, a 200-room hotel, a walk-in medical center run by Howard University and two schools. 

It's a massive project, which the city says will create 6,000 jobs. But it's far from the only project that has sent construction cranes into the city skyline.

Here are four more huge projects, some in early stages, others well underway. More on these projects and others can be found on the city's website.

UNDERWAY: Capitol Crossing 

In a city as densely developed as D.C., sometimes the only way to find more ground for buildings is to build it. In the $1.3 billion Capitol Crossing project, private developers plan to extend the ground covering over the Third Street Tunnel downtown.

That will allow for the development of five new, energy- and water-efficient buildings. About 150 residential units are planned, with at least 50 reserved for affordable housing (in this case, that's defined as homes for people making 80 percent of the area's median income).

In preparation for the project, developers opened a new I-395 on-ramp Monday. And two historic religious buildings -- the Adas Israel Synagogue and the Holy Rosary Church -- are being moved and preserved nearby.


A mile of the Potomac's Washington channel waterfront in southeast D.C. is being redeveloped into a new living, retail and cultural destination called The Wharf.

The first of 30 restaurants will open soon, along with a new hotel. A concert venue called The Anthem is under construction and will have seats for up to 6,000 people.

At The Wharf, 30 percent of the housing is planned to be affordable, with half of that affordable to households earning 60 percent of the area's median income and another half affordable to households earning 30 percent of median income. The developers are trying to contract goods and services from Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8 and hire 51 percent of workers from the District.

BEGUN: St. Elizabeth's East

On the campus of former mental hospital St. Elizabeth's in Congress Heights, Events D.C. is building a 5,000-seat sports arena for the WNBA's Washington Mystics and the training center for the Washington Wizards. The facility will also serve as an entertainment venue.

Bowser broke ground for the development in February 2016. Some in the community are concerned about gentrification, but the project also includes the the R.I.S.E. Demonstration center, which offers meeting space and technnology to local organizations as well as training and education programs. 

BEGUN: McMillan Reservoir Sand Filtration Site 

The city held a ceremonial groundbreaking late last year on a $720 million project to develop a housing, retail and recreation space at the site of the former McMillian Reservoir, which purified the city's water until 1986.

The site, at the intersection of North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue in northwest D.C., is expected to include 12 acres of public, open and green space, including an eight-acre partk and a community center with a pool.

Some neighborhood grounds have opposed the redevelopment, saying more of the land should be preserved for parks.

Of the development's 655 housing units planned, 134 are earmarked as affordable.

<![CDATA[DC Driver's Licenses to Add 'Washington, DC' to Top]]> Wed, 19 Apr 2017 10:38:04 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/4fa5cef4b1ced.preview-300.jpg

You might notice a big change the next time you have to renew your DC driver's license.

Starting in June, the DMV will go back to placing "Washington, D.C." along the top of all licenses, WAMU reports. Right now, licenses have "District of Columbia" at the top. The goal of the change is to cut back on confusion.

In recent years, several D.C. license holders have reported experiencing trouble at airport security or at liquor stores in other states. 

In 2014, a D.C. woman flying home from Arizona was questioned as to whether her D.C. driver's license was a valid form of identification. Luckily, the confusion was short-lived, and the woman made it home without any delays.

Justin Gray, a Cox Media Group reporter, experienced a similar situation a few months later.

Gray was heading back to D.C. when, he says, a Transportation Security Administration agent didn't recognize his license.

A quirky law in New Hampshire also prevents people with D.C.-issued driver's licenses from buying alcohol.

Photo Credit: Vernon Ogrodnek / Press of AC]]>
<![CDATA[Eight-Foot Statue of Marion Barry Taking Shape]]> Thu, 20 Apr 2017 19:22:51 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/042017+marion+barry+statue+mockup.jpg

An 8-foot statue of "Mayor for Life" Marion Barry is taking shape. It's set to be erected outside the John A. Wilson Building in downtown D.C. News4's Tom Sherwood spoke with the sculptor, Steven Weitzman, on what he wanted to show.

Photo Credit: NBC Washington]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Chickens and Cats, Oh My ]]> Wed, 19 Apr 2017 05:26:29 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/chicken-generic722.jpg

Ivanka Trump is a chicken.

So is Tina Fey.

And Margaret Thatcher.

And Chelsea Clinton.

Yes, they are all chickens — real chickens. They are the named pets of lawyers Winkie Crigler and Tim Harr. The couple lives in American University Park, and last week the D.C. Department of Health left a notice on their front door that their chicken coop was illegal. It gave them 48 hours to get the chickens out of the city or risk impoundment and other legal actions and fines.

The couple did what lawyers do: They went to court. The health officials have backed off, but only because Mayor Muriel Bowser separately has pending legislation that would clarify the city’s animal laws to specifically ban chickens.

“A chicken is not a domesticated animal,” explained City Administrator Rashad Young as we grilled him Friday on Kojo Nnamdi’s WAMU Politics Hour. “Chickens are one of the number one causes of salmonella, particularly when they are kept as pets in urban environments.”

Crigler, who is professionally immersed in the student loan crisis, scoffs at that argument. Just up the street from her is Janney Elementary School, which has a big chicken coop right on its kid-filled playground. “You wouldn’t let elementary school children be around chickens if they’re really a danger,” she told us on NBC4. “You just have to wash your hands and follow basic health procedures.”

The couple and their celebrity-named chickens are not alone. WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle reported last week on another couple, Allison Sheedy and Daniel McInnis, in a legal fight with health officials who moved against their chickens.

“They are docile, innocuous and adorable animals, and having fresh eggs in your backyard is absolutely amazing,” Sheedy told the radio station. “They don’t take very much effort to take care for, and it’s been a great hobby for our [four] children.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health told WAMU that the agency’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation. Robert Marus, the spokesperson for D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, told Austermuhle that his office was still reviewing the matter for an upcoming hearing.

McInnis said his family would rather be left alone, telling WAMU, “We don’t want to fight city hall. We don’t want to waste the judiciary’s time. We don’t want to harass the Department of Health. We think and hope they will agree with our legal position once they look at it.”

Now, we couldn’t resist asking Crigler one last, delicate question.

“Does there come a time,” we gingerly asked, “at the end of their days that you cook them?”

“No! Tom. They’re pets,” she exclaimed in horror. “They have names!”

■ Round up the cats? If you think the chickens have the feathers flying, wait until all the cat people realize the mayor’s pending legislation also would, for the first time, require cats to be licensed, just like dogs. Again, City Administrator Young says it’s a health issue.

We await the cat owner response. You’ll not want to miss any public hearing on chickens and cats. If at all possible, we won’t.

■ Cats on a leash? Hearing the cat license story, friend of the Notebook’s Garrett Peck reminded us of Adlai Stevenson, governor of Illinois and presidential candidate in the 1950s. As governor, Stevenson was called upon to veto a bill that would have required cats to be on a leash when outdoors.

In a lengthy statement accompanying the veto, Stevenson said he could not agree “that a cat visiting a neighbor’s yard or crossing the highways is a public nuisance.” To escort a cat on a leash, he observed, “is against the nature of a cat.” He ended by saying that “Illinois and its local governing bodies already have enough to do without trying to control feline delinquency.”

■ More Brandon Todd. The Ward 4 council member is already under fire for botching his 2015 campaign for the D.C. Council to succeed his mentor, Mayor Muriel Bowser. Now comes a second story by The Washington Post’s Aaron C. Davis, pointing out Todd’s 2016 re-election campaign was no better. The Post reports Todd charged about $25,000 in campaign expenses to a private credit card that was not registered with the Office of Campaign Finance. Todd personally benefited by gaining about 45,000 frequent flyer miles, among other perks. The campaign also failed to properly identify hundreds of donors.

On WAMU’s Politics Hour last Friday, Todd promised to clarify all of these issues in the coming days. We’ll see if he does.

■ More “blooming” news! Our roller-coaster weather disrupted the annual blooming of the city’s cherry trees. Unusually warm temperatures in February and cold snaps in March conspired to muddle nature’s annual extravaganza.

But don’t despair; there looms another cherry tree festival. You just have to go later this month to New York’s Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It only has 174 trees. But a New York Times article on Sunday said the two-day festival (April 29 and 30 this year) draws about 70,000 people and claims “it is the biggest event in an American public garden.”

Hmmmm. We guess the Tidal Basin and National Mall area don’t qualify as a “garden” with their 3,000 trees and a million visitors over several festival weeks. Also, the New York festival charges $30 for adults and $15 for children over 12. Still, the Brooklyn event is beautiful.

And a final note on this subject. There were 20 minutes of spectacular fireworks along the Southwest Waterfront on Saturday night, one of the capping events to the D.C. festival. Don’t miss it next year when part of the new Wharf area will be open to the public.

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

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[DC Police Chief to Announce Boundary Shakeup]]> Tue, 18 Apr 2017 18:07:00 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/012317+peter+newsham.jpg

A major shakeup will change how D.C. police officers are assigned throughout the District, D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham is expected to announce Wednesday.

In addition, a longtime and popular assistant police chief is retiring.

The shakeup will reduce the District's regional command centers from three to two. The move will reduce levels of command bureaucracy and allow more officers to be shifted toward direct crime duties in higher crime areas of the city.

Overall crime throughout the District is mostly down, but homicides and other violent crime are a continuing concern.

The shakeup comes in part because Assistant Chief Diane Groomes will announce her retirement Wednesday. Groomes has overseen all seven police district patrol assignments. One city official said it's a job no one else could fill.

Groomes was in the running to become chief, but lost out to Newsham. She is now retiring to take over private security for the $2 billion Wharf project rising on the Southwest waterfront.

Groomes said she looked forward to taking on the new job. 

"What The Wharf team is building here is unprecedented, and it will be my job to ensure the well-being of residents, businesses and visitors that come to our neighborhood," she said in a statement issued by The Wharf.

Mayor Muriel Bowser nominated Newsham as chief last fall; he's expected to be easily confirmed by the council in early May. Newsham's anti-crime tactics will affect Bowser's run for reelection next year.

<![CDATA[Local Musician Makes Plans to Grow Medical Marijuana in Md.]]> Fri, 14 Apr 2017 18:55:33 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/91997111-marijuana-generic.jpg

A man who has been playing in D.C.-area bands since 1969 is planning to play in Maryland’s medical marijuana industry.

Johnny Castle, who is currently a member of the Nighthawks and the Thrillbillys, is also part of a group that’s been given preliminary approval to grow and sell medical marijuana. He calls it a good alternative to chemical drugs.

“If it helps with people that have seizures, why not?” he said. “Let’s get it going. If it’ll help anybody, I think it’s a good thing.”

Castle teamed up with Carey Millsetin and others to form Free State Wellness, one of the groups the state gave preliminary licenses. The group is converting a warehouse in Howard County into their grow facility.

“If the commission processes our final documents and gives us our license to go live in June, we could have product within three months,” Millstein said.

Maryland has taken longer to implement medical marijuana than most states that have legalized it. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley signed medical marijuana into law three years ago.

Recently, it hit a roadblock when minority companies that were not awarded licenses to grow or sell went to court. Some members of the Maryland state legislature hoped to correct that, but the General Assembly never brought it to a vote.

“Minority ownership, I think they should absolutely have, and I was dismayed to see the Maryland legislature snoozed on a chance to fix that,” Castle said.

Despite the pending court case, groups like Free State Wellness and the State Cannabis Commission are moving forward.

As of Friday morning, 250 physicians, 44 caregivers and 1,231 patients had registered with the state to participate in medical marijuana.

Amy Mellen is one of the patients eager to be able to use medical marijuana instead of the heavy prescriptions her doctor gives her now.

“They're working diligently to try and get this medicine available now, and all we can do is tell them we need it, we need it,” she said. “We are suffering, these patients are suffering.”

As for Castle, he knows he won’t always be on the road touring with a band and he’d like to help patients.

“I’m a people person, so I’d like to be at the front of the house and help people get their meds,” he said. “That would be cool.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[DC Mayor Wants to Lease Apartment Buildings for Homeless]]> Fri, 14 Apr 2017 10:47:30 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/120616+muriel+bowser+at+trump+tower.jpg

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser plans to start leasing apartment buildings in the District to house homeless families. 

For several years, the District has been paying tens of millions of dollars to house hundreds of homeless families in motels, mostly along New York Avenue. 

On Friday, the Bowser Administration began accepting bids from landlords who are willing to lease entire buildings to the District for up to three years. The Bowser Administration is targeting buildings with 25 to 50 units, located one to two blocks from metro stations across D.C.

It's part of Bowser's plan to close the D.C. General homeless shelter. 

The Bowser Administration is currently building temporary shelters for homeless families in all 8 wards. That plan has been met with considerable resistance from councilmembers and residents. 

"We are in our second year of implementation of Homeward DC, our strategic plan to end homelessness and we have made tremendous progress. There were 17 percent fewer families in emergency shelter in January of 2017 compared to January 2016,” said DHS Director Laura Zeilinger.

The latest plan to rent entire apartment buildings is being called bridge housing, a temporary place for families to live until permanent homes can be found.

"This bridge housing will be a more effective and efficient means of serving families needing a temporary placement during a housing crisis while we continue to implement the strategies in our strategic plan and reduce our reliance on motel rooms," Zeilinger said. 

Photo Credit: NBC Washington]]>
<![CDATA[Mayor to Introduce Bill to Protect Sex Assault Victims]]> Thu, 13 Apr 2017 10:22:59 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Muriel-Bowser-AP_816174278725.jpg

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser is making a new push to help protect sexual assault victims in the District.

The new legislation, which Bowser is set to introduce Thursday, will expand treatment, support and legal options for all victims, including children.

The bill would also -- for the first time -- make it a crime for a person to remove clothes from a victim without consent.

If the bill is signed into law, prosecutors would also have to give a reason why specific cases are not prosecuted.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: DC Councilmember Todd, Entangled...]]> Wed, 12 Apr 2017 05:29:58 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170410+Brandon+Todd.jpg

Ward 4 D.C. Council member Brandon Todd has a political mess on his hands. Somebody’s been bad at accounting for tens of thousands of dollars in a campaign report.

A new audit from the Office of Campaign Finance is withering. The audit charges Todd’s campaign — for the 2015 special election he won to replace Muriel Bowser on the council, not his most recent re-election bid — didn’t properly document more than $69,000 in credit card deposits and failed to clear the record even after being asked.

The audit said the campaign — which totaled about $400,000 — understated receipts in some cases and overstated them in others. It charges that some expenditures were not reported and key financial summaries were misstated.

Politically, the audit is bad for Todd and his mentor, Mayor Muriel Bowser. Bowser picked Todd to run to replace her in Ward 4. Todd’s campaign essentially was the same "Green Machine" that elected Bowser mayor. Businessman Ben Soto is treasurer for both Todd and Bowser.

On Monday, Todd spoke to News4. "Well, Tom, I take that audit — any audit — very seriously for my 2015 campaign account," he said. "We have begun to provide the Office of Campaign Finance with the documents they requested, and I am confident this will be resolved very quickly.”

The auditors said the campaign has been slow to document responses to the audit.

Asked about Todd’s campaign troubles, Mayor Bowser on Monday told News4 she was confident Todd would clear it up. And she stood by Soto when we asked if he would be her treasurer in the upcoming reelection campaign.

"Certainly. Ben has been my treasurer for five campaigns," she said. "And I am very confident in the work he has done for us.”

■ Gray more “in” than “out.” Now it is obvious, if not official: Vincent Gray is a candidate for mayor next year until he says he isn’t.

At the initial budget hearing last week and his speech on the state of his Ward 7 council district, the former mayor was in campaign mode.

There may be no formal campaign announcement for many more months, but Gray walks, talks and acts like a 2018 candidate against incumbent Mayor Bowser.

“I have no plans at this stage to run. ... Anything could change, of course,” he told us last week after he and Bowser clashed over health care east of the Anacostia River. Gray said “at this stage” three times. And, he smiled slyly.

A few days later, he gave his Ward 7 speech. Before the speech, The Washington Post’s Paul Schwartzman reported, aides passed out a 30-page brochure laying out Gray’s views on a host of citywide issues. The brochure also includes a half dozen pictures of, you guessed it, Gray.

In tone and ambition, Schwartzman wrote, “Gray’s ‘State of Ward 7’ address Thursday had the tenor of a politician unwilling to discourage chatter he’s eying a rematch against [Bowser], who defeated him in 2014.”

The former mayor is still seething over his re-election loss in 2014, when then-U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen publicly left the impression 30 days before the primary that Gray was about to be indicted any day. Gray had been leading Bowser and a handful of other candidates. But after Machen’s action, opposition to Gray coalesced around Bowser and carried her to victory.

Machen later left office without indicting Gray; no charges were ever brought against him, although more than a half dozen people involved did plead guilty. “He cost me the election,” Gray says of Machen. Despite the polite public comments, those who have spoken with Gray in private say he curses Machen and resents how Bowser benefited.

Gray has a free shot at running for mayor. He would not have to give up his Ward 7 seat to run.

Bowser is expected to formally announce her re-election bid as early as this fall. We asked her last week if she were prepared for a Gray challenge. “I’m ready to run. Period,” Bowser replied.

■ And Karl Racine? Watching on the sidelines of this face-off is the current attorney general, Karl Racine. He has been making the rounds assessing his own campaign for mayor. He told us on the WAMU Politics Hour that he likely would decide this summer whether to seek re-election as attorney general, return to private life, or seek “some other office.” To translate for him, that’s the mayor’s office.

■ A final word. Former Ward 6 D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose, 77, was praised for her commitment to the District during funeral services last week. She had a lifetime of civic involvement in schools, community and citywide issues.

She won a seat on the council in 1997 and served 10 years.

We first met Ambrose when she was chief of staff to then-Council member Betty Ann Kane. As a Washington Post reporter back then, we sat across from her in Kane’s office as Ambrose encouraged us to actually read any pending legislation and check not only who was sponsoring it but who might be behind it.

Still good advice.

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

<![CDATA[Beer Battle Brewing In Maryland]]> Tue, 11 Apr 2017 22:26:53 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170411+Peter+Franchot.jpg

While touring a brewery in Frederick, Maryland, State Comptroller Peter Franchot announced he would seek a total rewrite of the state's beer laws to support craft breweries. And he says he will involve beer-drinking citizens in writing the new law, as well. News4's Tom Sherwood reports this could help small craft breweries.

<![CDATA[DC Councilmember Denies Wrongdoing After Scathing Audit]]> Mon, 10 Apr 2017 18:48:43 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20170410+Brandon+Todd.jpg

A D.C. councilmember denied any wrongdoing Monday after a scathing audit disclosed he is unable to account for more than $100,000 in campaign spending. 

Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd took office after a special election to fill now-Mayor Muriel Bowser's Council seat in 2015. He was hand-picked to succeed Bowser, and is considered to be closer to the mayor than any of the other 12 councilmembers.

News of the audit was first reported by The Washington Post. Among the audit’s claims: that Todd's campaign committee failed to report 131 contributions totalling more than $34,000. And the audit claims that the committee made six deposits, totalling more than $21,000, without proper documentation.

Another claim: That as much as $69,000 in credit card deposits lacked the proper documentation.

Campaign committees are required to keep detailed financial records and provide them to the District's Office of Campaign Finance. 

The committee was told of these and other discrepancies at the end of March last year, and amended its filings. But the committee still did not include all the needed documentation, according to a copy of the audit report. 

Now, the city's Office of Campaign finance has referred the audit to lawyers for possible disciplinary action. 

But Todd, who also served as campaign finance director for Bowser's campaign for mayor, said he believed his discrepancies can be cleared up.

"I take that audit, any audit, very seriously," Todd said. "We have begun to provide the Office of Campaign Finance with the documentation they've requested. I am confident that this will be resolved very quickly."

When asked if there had been any instance in which his campaign finances have been mixed up with his personal finances, Todd responded, "No."

Bowser said she expects Todd to clear up any discrepancies.

She and Todd share the same campaign treasurer, and Bowser also said Tuesday that she stands by the treasurer's work on her campaigns.

<![CDATA[Medical Marijuana Licensing Starts Monday in Maryland]]> Mon, 10 Apr 2017 17:13:06 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/91997111-marijuana-generic.jpg

Many patients and caregivers in Maryland can now sign up for medical marijuana licenses.

Monday marks the first day that people in the state can apply for licenses through the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC). Registration is open starting at 9 a.m. to people whose last names start with the letters A through L.

No final licenses have been issued yet. Once a patient is registered with the state, they must see a doctor also registered with the state who can provide written certification for the patient to buy medical marijuana from a state-license dispensary. Qualifying medical conditions include severe pain, seizures and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the MMCC website.

Registration will be open to people whose last names start with the letters M through Z at 9 a.m. April 17. Then, registration will be open to all starting April 24.

Maryland's medical marijuana program has suffered setbacks and delays since the state's first law was approved in 2013.

While Maryland has issued pre-approval to growers and dispensaries, no marijuana is being grown in the state yet. A court case over how those grow and dispense licenses were issued is pending.

The state had projected that medical marijuana would be available to patients by the end of this summer.

For more information, see the MMCC website.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Jaffe Report: Bowser's 2018 Budget Lacks Message, Shorts Schools]]> Fri, 07 Apr 2017 13:27:31 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/shutterstock_356921582.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.

Decoding the numbers in Mayor Muriel Bowser's 2018 budget and the message they send, I have to wonder whether she's planning to run for a second term.

Budgets are political documents. They allow a city's chief executive to fulfill promises, to reward constituencies, to shape her vision, to bind voters to her.

Washingtonians hoping to see into Bowser's political soul will come away saying -- "Meh."

"It fails to deliver a message," says a veteran political observer. "And it doesn't appeal to or motivate a particular voting block."

For a middling message, let's start with the sales pitch she uses to introduce her budget: "A roadmap to inclusive prosperity."

Whazzat mean?

We all get what Bowser's trying to say. The District is a city distinctly divided by race and class. The mostly white "haves" live in the city's western enclaves, and the predominantly African American "have nots" inhabit the far east neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. Wealthy young folks are encroaching on traditional black communities, which are getting diluted one by one as gentrification corrodes their neighborhoods. Anacostia is next.

Meanwhile, the District is drowning in dough. As I have noted in past columns, the chief financial officer reports surpluses every quarter. So deep are D.C.'s pockets that the city ended last year with a $222 million additional surplus in its general fund balance.

Bowser applied some of those funds toward affordable housing, some to homelessness, and some to public safety, but in small doses, according to progressive groups led by the Fiscal Policy institute.

"Instead of devoting our money to housing, schools, and other services," fiscal policy center Ed Lazere said in a statement, "the budget puts tax cuts first."

Bowser's "roadmap" sets a course paved with $100 million in tax cuts, primarily for the middle class. Granted, the tax relief was recommended by a commission, and the D.C. council supports it.

Tax cuts might be politically popular in red states such as Idaho and Kansas, perhaps even in the purple state to our south. Being the bluest of the blue, District voters support leaders who offer solutions to longstanding problems.

"Mayor for Life" Marion Barry seduced voters by serving up hope and pride -- together with contracts and city jobs. Bowser's mentor Adrian Fenty bravely took over D.C.'s public schools that had been failing to educate generations of urban kids. He fixed many schools and set the system on a course of reform.

Bowser could serve the District and herself by fully funding the schools. Instead, she shortchanged students.

"Enrollment is going up," says Catherine Bellinger, director of D.C.'s Democrats for Education Reform, "but the mayor's office sees that as a problem. They don't see that fully funding the schools will keep people in the District and support the tax base."

As James Carville might say: "It's the schools, stupid."

Make the schools work well for students and families so graduates can earn a living, finance housing, stay healthy and raise a family -- end poverty, dare I conclude.

Bowser appointed a commission that recommended increasing per-pupil spending by 3.5 percent. Advocates were hoping for more than 2 percent. Bowser's budget recommends 1.5 percent.

In her submission letter, Bowser says her budget "makes the largest investment in public education in the history of the District of Columbia." That's largely due to $1.3 billion for construction and higher costs for rising enrollment.

Her newly installed D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Antwan Wilson says the funding will "continue to serve students at a level that is comparable to previous years," as opposed to breaking new ground.

Economist and DCPS parent Emily Mechner studied past budgets and found that school funding is not keeping up with inflation.

"The point is, per student spending has been falling in real terms," Mechner says by email, "and the reality for many schools reflects this, because our staffing has been shrinking. The proposed FY18 budget continues this very bad trend, and even accelerates it slightly."

Cards on the table: I joined the board of Reading Partners, a nonprofit that sends volunteers into public schools armed with a precise curriculum proven to improve young students' ability to read. Bowser has volunteered as a Reading Partner, so I was surprised to learn that her budget zeroed out an early literacy program that devoted funds to the program.

The political message Bowser sends in these line items is that helping third graders read is not a priority, compared to giving tax breaks. That's neither good politics nor good governance, and it sure won't help her get elected to a second term, if that's her aim.

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