<![CDATA[NBC4 Washington - First Read]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcwashington.com/blogs/first-read-dmv http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/WASH+NBC4+BLUE.png NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com en-us Mon, 05 Oct 2015 11:22:55 -0400 Mon, 05 Oct 2015 11:22:55 -0400 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[New Md. Laws: DUI Penalties, Criminal Records, Divorces]]> Thu, 01 Oct 2015 07:10:20 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Maryland+Flag+shutterstock_131273360.jpg

Drunk drivers involved in deadly crashes in Maryland will face tougher penalties starting Thursday.

Offenders with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or higher will have their license suspended for six months for their first offense and one year for a second offense. 

If a driver's BAC is .15 or higher, the new penalty will impose a one year license suspension for their first offense. The driver will lose their license completely if it's a second offense. 

Several other laws approved in Maryland's last legislative session will also take effect Thursday. Here are some things to know about them:


People with certain nonviolent misdemeanor criminal records will have their records blocked from public view under certain conditions after three years. The law is aimed at helping people with criminal records get jobs. It applies to people who have served their sentences, including probation and parole, and who have maintained clean records.


State highway officials will be able to increase the state's speed limit from 65 to 70 miles per hour on specified highways.


Maryland social service agencies will be able to keep children in foster care if there is severe abuse by biological parents or if parents do not protect their children from serious mistreatment. The law is named for Anaya Williams, a 21-month-old Frederick girl who officials say died in a beating by her father after she was returned to her parents under a federal law that generally requires state social service agencies to try to reunite families.


Couples in failing marriages won't be required to have a one-year separation to get a divorce, if they do not have any minor children in common and reach a settlement agreement that resolves all issues related to a dissolved marriage, such as alimony and distribution of property.


An update to the Maryland Public Information Act takes effect. A five-member compliance board will address fee disputes, and an ombudsman will handle disagreements between government agencies and members of the public attempting to access records.


People can file petitions to have crimes expunged from their records if the act on which the conviction was based is no longer a crime.


The Maryland State Police will be required to develop an alert program to find missing drivers in hit-and-run incidents that result in serious injury.


The state is repealing a requirement for handgun manufacturers to provide gun dealers with shell casings of bullets fired from handguns.


Maryland correctional officer applicants will be required to pass a polygraph exam.


State prohibitions against sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace will be extended to interns.

Photo Credit: e X p o s e/Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Consultant for Gray Indicted on Failure to File Income Tax Charges]]> Tue, 29 Sep 2015 18:58:46 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Reuben+O+Charles+II.jpg

A federal grand jury indicted D.C. businessman Reuben Charles Tuesday on two counts of failing to file his federal income taxes for 2010 and 2011.

It’s the eighth indictment in the long-running investigation into the “shadow campaign” that helped elect Vincent Gray as mayor of the district in 2010.

Charles, 46, was a major fundraiser for the campaign and at one point was in line to be Gray’s chief of staff.

Gray has not been charged and has denied any wrongdoing.

Photo Credit: NBCWashington]]>
<![CDATA[Md. Gov With Cancer Gets Pope's Blessing]]> Thu, 24 Sep 2015 15:39:08 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Hogan-Pope-Francis-sm.jpg

In the midst of his cancer treatment, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan received a blessing from Pope Francis on Thursday on behalf of all patients with the illness when they met Thursday.

"It was an incredible honor to meet His Holiness Pope Francis today in Washington and receive his blessings on behalf of all cancer patients," Hogan said in a statement. "My faith, like the faith of countless other patients like me, gives me strength to defeat this disease, and continue to be the best public steward I can be for the people of this great state."

Hogan said he was inspired by the pope's words this week, writing, "He said that 'Service is never ideological, for we do not serve ideas, we serve people.' Working to make people's lives better is something I can understand and will continue to put to work in my administration as well as my life."

On Facebook earlier this week, Hogan extended a welcome to Pope Francis, which included a photo showing the pope and the Obama family meeting a group of children after he landed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Tuesday. Francis is on a six-day trip through the U.S. The first leg of his trip, in Washington, D.C., wraps up Thursday.

Hogan was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in June.

"I won't just beat this disease, I will fight it and beat it and be a stronger governor when we get to the other side," he said when he announced the diagnosis.

Hogan has said that 95 percent of his cancer is gone after small surgeries, spinal taps and 20 chemotherapy sessions, according to NBC News.

Photo Credit: Larry Hogan
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<![CDATA[Sen. Kaine Anticipates Pope's Address]]> Thu, 24 Sep 2015 09:00:20 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/2015-09-24_0829.jpg Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a former Jesuit missionary, said he's very excited to hear Pope Francis' address to Congress on Thursday morning. Kaine was in Latin America in the 1980s when Pope Francis was coming up in the priesthood.]]> <![CDATA[Van Hollen: Federal Shutdown Would Have Devastating Impact]]> Tue, 22 Sep 2015 22:43:00 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000011999662_1200x675_530560067830.jpg Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., warns about the devastating impact a government shutdown would have at the National Institutes of Health.]]> <![CDATA[Presidents and Popes: Historic Meetings]]> Wed, 23 Sep 2015 09:53:35 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20150921_Presidents_Popes_Thumb.jpg This week's historic visit is only the third time a pope has visited the White House, but many other presidents met with the Holy Father outside the White House through the years.]]> <![CDATA[Gov. McAuliffe Invited to White House Welcome of Pope Francis]]> Tue, 22 Sep 2015 22:05:01 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000011998098_1200x675_530440771671.jpg Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is invited to the White House to welcome Pope Francis to the U.S.]]> <![CDATA[GOP Candidates Vie for Big Moments in Debate]]> Thu, 17 Sep 2015 18:00:20 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000011941138_1200x675_527514691919.jpg During Wednesday night's debate, GOP candidates displayed a wide range of opinions on some of the big issues, such as immigration, Planned Parenthood and the Iran deal. They also competed for scene-stealing moments in order to stand out from a crowded field.]]> <![CDATA[Scenes From #JusticeSummer's Arrival in D.C.]]> Tue, 15 Sep 2015 18:14:56 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/215*120/2015-09-15_1808.jpg

Earlier Tuesday, a huge crowd crossed the Memorial Bridge into D.C., nearing the end of the Journey for Justice that begin in Selma, Alabama. The group is pushing for reforms to education, voting rights and economic inequality, and will meet with lawmakers on the Hill Wednesday.

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Photo Credit: News4
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<![CDATA[Alexandria Bans Confederate Flag on City Land]]> Wed, 09 Sep 2015 08:59:41 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/090815+Alexandria+City+Council.jpg

The Confederate flag will no longer fly twice a year on city property.

Alexandria City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to ban the flying of the flag on Robert E. Lee's birthday in January and Confederate Memorial Day in May. Mayor Bill Euille said in July he wanted to reconsider the flying of the flag on these dates.

The council also voted to discuss Confederate memorials and streets named after leaders.

The ban on the flying of the flag goes into effect immediately.

<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: 'Fear Itself' Circa 2015]]> Wed, 09 Sep 2015 06:28:30 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/railroad+tracks+generic1.jpg

On the eve of Labor Day this past week, the security bureaucracy of the nation was in full multimodal mode.


As millions began their holiday travel, national Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson appeared at Union Station with Transportation Security Administration officials to discuss rail travel in America.

"You'll see patrols by TSA's Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Teams," the secretary said in prepared remarks issued to the media.

Now, doesn't that make you feel better?

Read it again: "Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response Teams." Your Notebook is not a government badger, but leave it to bureaucrats in or out of government to come up with mouthful titles, task forces and teams.

And just what exactly is this TSA VIPRT?

It turns out it is a combination of "Federal Air Marshals, Behavior Detection Officers and explosive experts." It also includes dogs trained in explosive device detection.

Since President Bill Clinton back in the '90s allowed the closing of ordinary traffic to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, your Notebook has questioned the concept of closing down things to "protect" them. In the instance of the White House, the road was closed, but the fence -- and attentiveness of U.S. Secret Service officers -- were later found wanting. Now the fence has ugly spikes, and there are plans to increase its height.

Secretary Johnson was at Union Station because securicrats have yet to figure out how to protect thousands of miles of train tracks and stations. The reality is that even if security pass-throughs like those at airports were installed, trains are vulnerable anywhere down the tracks that crisscross America. The physical and psychological costs of imposing security checkpoints in every station is mind-numbing.

Homeland Security has a nationwide "Operation RAILSAFE" program. Labor Day was the fifth such designation this year for this program, which is similar to "National Special Security Event" designations for the Super Bowl, inaugurals and other big events.

But even Secretary Johnson knows the futility of casting a wide net for every danger in an open society. As he launched the rail safety program for the Labor Day holiday, he noted that his great-grandfather was a Pullman porter for 44 years.

"I have great confidence in the safety of rail travel," Johnson's prepared speech said. "I am boarding the Acela right after this press conference."

Let's face it. We have an open country, even with the explosion of supposed "security" protections of guards posted at most every government or office door, electronic cards to pass through doors or hallways, and more cameras and metal detectors than you reasonably can count.

Again, bottom line, no matter how much we close down, how much we spend, we can only prepare for terrorism, not eliminate it. We just have to be careful not to eliminate the freedoms we supposedly are protecting.

■ Here in the real world. Even as our disquiet continues over rampant "security theater" -- that's what law enforcement calls public displays of security essentially to make people only feel safe -- we are aware of what hard-working security folks face.

Just this past week, the TSA released its latest list of prohibited items seized at the nation's airports.

The list included 35 firearms, of which 27 were loaded (with eight of those having a round in the chamber). One of the guns was found in a carry-on bag. One of the guns was a loaded .45-caliber firearm discovered at Reagan National just last week.

Concealed knives and other lethal weapons routinely are found. In Jacksonville, Fla., one traveler had a knife in his carry-on bag. The TSA report said he was allowed to leave the checkpoint to put the knife in his parked car. He returned and the knife was found again, this time taped to a fishing lure in an apparent attempt to conceal it.

You can't teach every clueless person about what not to pack. You can't close off every international terrorist or domestic violence opportunity. And you can't believe that costly bureaucratic displays of "security theater" are in fact making you safer.

Your Notebook's simple mantra: Be alert, but don't live your life afraid. Now, get ready for a real security shutdown of the nation's capital as Pope Francis comes to town.


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

<![CDATA["I Need Help": Loudoun Supervisor Resigns After Arrest]]> Mon, 07 Sep 2015 13:20:24 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Shawn+Williams.jpg

Former Loudoun County Supervisor Shawn Williams announced Monday he is seeking help for alcohol abuse, following his arrest for allegedly pushing his way into a neighbor's home and assaulting the resident.

Williams, 44, resigned from the Loudoun County board Sunday in the wake of his arrest.

On Monday, he released a statement saying that it has "become painfully clear" that he needs help dealing with alcohol abuse. 

Williams was arrested around 1 a.m. Sunday, after Loudoun County sheriff's deputies were called to an Ashburn home on Wingfoot Court. He was taken to the Loudoun County Adult Detention Center and charged with two misdemeanors of simple assault and unlawful entry.

Loudoun County Board Chairman Scott York issued a statement Sunday morning, seeking Williams' immediate resignation from the Board of Supervisors.

"While the Board does not have the authority to remove him from office, I am asking Supervisor Williams to resign his position on the Board of Supervisors effectively immediately," York said. "I am grateful to Supervisor Williams for his service to the county and to the Broad Run District, and my thoughts are with him and his family at this difficult time."

A statement from the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors later confirmed Williams had resigned. The board said the process of naming a replacement will happen as quickly as possible.

Williams released a statement Monday apologizing to his family, family and constituents "for this disappointment."

The statement continued:

"On Saturday night after a long neighborhood party, I confronted my good friend and neighbor after he gave me what I know was intended as friendly advice. I want to specifically apologize to him and his family for my actions. This poor decision highlights a personal shortcoming that can no longer be denied or compartmentalized. It has become painfully clear I need help with my alcohol abuse and I am getting professional help. Please keep my family in your thoughts and prayers at this time."

This is not the first time that the Republican former supervisor has been arrested. Williams dropped out of the race for board chairman earlier this year, when past drunken driving charges and allegations of domestic violence against a former girlfriend surfaced.

Photo Credit: Loudoun County Sheriff's Office]]>
<![CDATA[Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille Announces Write-In Campaign]]> Sun, 06 Sep 2015 20:26:31 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000011801924_1200x675_520410691505.jpg Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille said, "I will not go quietly into the night." He is running as a write-in candidate for a fifth term after losing the Democratic primary in June.]]> <![CDATA[Hogan Notes Larger-Than-Expected Budget Balance]]> Fri, 04 Sep 2015 07:39:20 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/AP365239982635_MdGov.jpg

Gov. Larry Hogan says Maryland ended the fiscal year with a higher-than-expected budget balance.

Hogan says the state's fund balance is about $295 million.

The Republican says about $84 million of that is from reversions from state agencies. That's $54 million more than previously expected.

Hogan says it's due to more careful management of state spending.

Maryland also benefited from about $214 million in higher-than-anticipated state revenues.

The governor noted the money needs to be used prudently. He says the state still has a $1.7 billion structural deficit over the next four years.  

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: No Justice, No Peace ]]> Wed, 02 Sep 2015 07:17:05 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/208*120/2015-08-27_13111.png

At Mayor Muriel Bowser’s anti-crime meeting in Ward 8 last week, the mayor did two things.

She either lost control of her public meeting to rowdy protesters, or she endured disruptions to show that she’s not backing down in the face of public protests over her crime-fighting efforts.

Maybe it was a little of both.

When protesters began shouting the slogan “Black Lives Matter” and other chants, Bowser at first tried to ignore the distraction, then sought to reason with the protesters, and then tried to talk over them.

“Who’s with me?” the mayor herself chanted at one point. “Who’s with me? Who’s with me?”

Hundreds of residents — including a good portion of Bowser’s staff and appointees — stood up and applauded to drown out the protests.

“I will not be shouted down, because I’m telling the truth,” Bowser said defiantly.

Part of the problem is that an angry and frustrated public is looking for short-term answers to long-term problems. That’s not possible, but the city has to respond to the outbreak in violence.

If you like the mayor, you like that she waded into a public auditorium and gave a 25-minute speech. She detailed the things she’s done and will do to address the homicide spike, one that has doubled the homicides east of the Anacostia River compared to last year. (Elsewhere in the city, violent crime is up about 8 percent, according to some counts.)

Wherever the killings occur, the city has exceeded the 104 in all of last year with four months still on the calendar for 2015.

As Monday arrived, the disgruntled police union announced the results of its “no confidence” vote in Police Chief Cathy Lanier. It said of 1,150 officers who responded, 95 percent voted no confidence.

But there are about 3,600 officers eligible to vote, so less than one-third bothered. What does that say?

D.C. police specifically have a legitimate complaint about wages and the last contract — in which they got no retroactive pay after seven years! But the “no confidence” may well bolster Lanier.
If the chief — who again was strongly backed by the mayor on Monday — is unpopular, it doesn’t show in her acceptance around town.

As for Bowser, the general public in the city could have seen the mayor last week and seen that she’s in control even if there’s no clear reason why homicides have shot up. But looked at another way, the mayor appeared politically desperate to show that she’s in control even when the violent crime situation appears to be out of control.

She recalled the onslaught of crime that roiled the city in the 1980s and 1990s. “We are nowhere near the bad old days of the ’90s, and we’re not going back there either,” she declared.
One labor leader in the audience, who supports Bowser, declined to be interviewed by NBC4. But he angrily told us off-camera that the news media has created a city in fear with its sensational crime reporting.

But, if we could take a different view, it’s not “sensational” reporting by the media when people are shot dead on city streets, or stabbed to death on a Metro train. The events themselves are sensational.

Some activists complain of a racial bias, that the homicide spike really wasn’t recognized by the media and others until whites were among the victims. On the WAMU Politics Hour last Friday, Chief Lanier acknowledged the racial element, but with a different twist. She said her officers investigate each murder thoroughly but the news media doesn’t cover each murder with the same intensity — leaving many African-Americans and others to believe their lives in fact don’t matter.

■ Now back to the mayor. In a lengthy list, she touted any number of community and police actions she has taken in this summer of violence. She cited the summer jobs program that included people as old as 24 rather than the earlier cutoff of 21. She said nearly 200 more police are patrolling streets on overtime, with a total of 235 officers now working 12-hour shifts and focusing on narcotics, gangs and illegal guns. There’s also an effort to use civilians rather than officers to perform administrative duties.

One Bowser plan got particular attention from the protesters. It’s her proposed idea to allow parole officials or police to potentially search the homes of parolees to check for illegal guns whenever the probation officers make visits to supervise those on release for violent offenses. It’s unclear that plan will pass the D.C. Council, but it certainly riled the protesters.

Bowser specifically addressed some reports that most anyone’s home might be entered. “To basically search anyone, anytime, anywhere; that is blatantly false,” she said.

The auditorium clearly favored the mayor, but her administration clearly invited sympathetic people inside. The protesters came in, too. The coming weeks and months will tell more about the city’s response than the shouting and clapping we heard last week.

■ What to do? Washington Post columnists Colbert I. King and Courtland Milloy both addressed the homicides this past week. Both acknowledged long-term problems and racial disparities have contributed to the violence, but both said citizens and communities must step up to stem the violence no matter its long-term causes.

“When it comes to the causes of homicide among black people,” Milloy wrote, “there’s something a lot of black people are saying among themselves: It’s not all due to institutional racism. Few dare say it publicly, lest some animus-filled, right-wing conservatives hail you as their kind of black.

“But the subject must be broached, especially now that homicides are spiking like mad in urban areas throughout the nation. If racist cops are part of an institutional threat to black people, there are also black men and women dying at the hands of people who look like them. It is the enemy within.

Call out one, you have to call out the other.”

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

<![CDATA[D.C. Councilmember Gives Out Free Nats Tickets]]> Wed, 02 Sep 2015 06:08:01 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/topSports-nats-468949524.jpg

A D.C. councilmember is offering residents in his Ward free tickets to a Washington Nationals game. 

Jack Evans is giving residents in Ward 2 tickets to Thursday's game against the Atlanta Braves. 

The tickets will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis. Only two tickets will be given to each resident. 

If you're interested in attending the game, call Evans' office at 202-724-8058 or email Amorde Brabham at abrabham@dccouncil.us.

Tickets must be picked up at Evans' office by 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Over 1K D.C. Officers Vote 'No Confidence' in Lanier]]> Mon, 31 Aug 2015 20:34:33 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/062515+D.C.+Police+Chief+Cathy+Lanier.jpg

More than 1,000 police officers in D.C. say they have "no confidence" in Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

The D.C. Police Union released the result of the weekend vote Monday morning.

Of the 1,150 officers responding to the online survey, 97.5 percent said they have "no confidence" in Lanier's ability to manage the Metropolitan Police Department and keep the public safe. The union represents more than 3,600 officers. 

"We‘ve been told that the status quo is working and we‘ve been forced into a corner of lackluster, feckless, inefficient enforcement," the union said in a press release issued Monday morning. 

The union says the "no-confidence" vote is a symbolic gesture. 

"I am not interested in responding to or commenting on the anonymous online survey conducted by the Fraternal Order of Police, but I will defend the work of the members of this agency," Lanier said in a statement Monday.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser released a statement Monday, expressing her confidence in Lanier.

"After 25 years of policing DC streets, deploying officers and strategies, and building a force of highly qualified officers and leaders, in the good times and the tough times, too, I have every confidence in Chief Lanier,” Bowser said. 

Both dismissed the survey, noting fewer than a third of the of the officers participated.

The union vote follows a recent spike in crime, particularly homicides. The D.C. homicide rate is up 43 percent in 2015 thus far, compared with the same period in 2014. To date, 105 people have been killed. D.C. police made 61 murder arrests so far this year while closing 44 of this year's 105 murder cases, police said.

The vote also follows the latest "All Hands On Deck" initiative, which aimed to limit a recent spike in crime by flooding the streets of D.C. with officers. Extra officers were deployed in cruisers, on bikes and on foot in all seven police districts from 3 p.m. Friday until 6 a.m. Sunday.

Despite 16 violent assaults and two homicides, D.C. officials called the initiative a success.

"According to our morning report today, MPD took 34 illegal guns off the streets of Washington, D.C., this weekend alone and reduced violent crime by 39 percent compared to the same weekend last year," Lanier said.

Property crime was down 52 percent and overall crime was down 49 percent compared to the same weekend last year, police said.

Lanier said the initiative may have influenced the vote with so many officers called in.

"I realize that officers don’t like their schedules disrupted and I try to minimize it, but when we have violent crime we have to make the sacrifices that we all swore we would make when we took this job," Lanier said in a statement released Sunday.

All Metropolitan Police Department officers were pulled from vacation, desk duty and other details Friday through Sunday for an "All Hands on Deck" response to crime.

Mayor Bowser's strategy to prevent crime also includes putting more services like job training and daycare in neighborhoods hit hardest.

"Starting next week, the city will be reopening part of Malcolm X Elementary School in Ward 8 to bring government services to the community," said Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue, who promised more of these pop-up resource centers in neighborhoods most affected by the increase in violence.

Lanier started the All Hands on Deck initiative in 2007 in response to a summertime spike in crime, the department's website says. MPD has declared more than 30 All Hands on Deck periods of about 48 hours each since then, with an average decline in violent crime of about 10 percent during each period, Lanier said.

Lanier and the union have become increasingly at odds over a solution for the recent spike in crime. Rank-and-file officers are questioning the dismantling of vice units and taking issue with fixed posts that prevent officers from leaving designated areas.

"Over the past eight years we've had some very high-profile incidents where the chief's integrity has been called into question," union head Delroy Burton told WAMU. "The most frustrating thing right now for our members, though, is that we have an uptick in crime and they're being deployed in such a way that makes it extremely difficult for them to provide good police service."

<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Everything Just Feels So Shaky]]> Wed, 26 Aug 2015 07:42:18 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/dc-flag-shutterstock_206336772.jpg

There are some big things:

The worldwide stock market. Public safety here and many other areas. Transit systems here, in New York and elsewhere. Politics? Take your pick. Hillary’s campaign or Trump’s GOP surprise rise? Sports. The woeful ’Skins or the start-and-stop Nats? 

And, there are some little things:

Summer is over. Noisy leaf blowers are revving up. And vodka sales are falling (but prices aren’t).

The list is not exhaustive, but you get the point. It seems like there is a surfeit of bad news.

We were feeling wrung out from all this until we went to the National Zoo on Monday for NBC4 to check out the new panda cubs that were born over the weekend.

Excited visitors to the Zoo were bummed that they couldn’t see the new pandas except on a video stream. But just being close to the panda yards was almost good enough for some.

Zoo director Dennis Kelly told News4 it’s a sensitive time for the pandas, weighing only a few ounces and needing 24/7 attention and care.

“They’re struggling for food, they’re struggling for warmth,” Kelly told us near where 2-year-old Bao Bao was distracting the panda-hungry crowds. “And [mother Mei Xiang] is used to only raising one so we’re swapping them out. They’re doing OK, but it is a critical time.”

We were joined by Lynn Mento, who is just finishing her first month as executive director of the Friends of the National Zoo.

“You’re kind of like the pandas — you’re brand-new!” we told her. “Not a twin, but brand-new, yes,” she laughed.

We told her that if we were one of the elephants in the adjacent exhibit, we’d be jealous of all the panda attention. She acknowledged the imbalance, but said all the animals are important; it’s just that the pandas have become the face of the Zoo.

“There’s something so special about the pandas,” she said. “In fact, we are the only free zoo in the nation that has pandas.”

■ So when should you visit? If the new panda cubs survive the first few weeks, it still may be a while before you can see them other than on the panda cam. Go to the Zoo, but lower expectations.

“Actually, coming outside is three or four months away,” Kelly told us. “These cubs are so tiny right now. Their eyes aren’t open. They have no fur. They’ll grow quickly. But just like Bao Bao, they won’t be out for three or four months.”

■ And their names? It’s a tradition that cubs are not given names for several weeks, in part because they are so fragile at birth. But soon enough, if all goes well, the Zoo will announce a way for the public to help name the two cubs.

“We will come up with a fun, good way to name these cubs,” Kelly told us. “And you’ll hear about that in the next few weeks.”

We’ve written almost a whole column without writing “pandemonium.” But that’s what it’ll be when the line starts forming to see the new pandas. You might get a head start by joining FONZ. It has 35,000 households supporting private efforts at the Zoo, and it’s always looking for more.

■ Schools are open. Monday was another good day for the District besides the pandas.
Only minor glitches were being reported as nearly 50,000 public school students reported to class for the new year. It’s the highest enrollment in the past four years. The city also opened four new schools.

On Friday, D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson had appeared on the WAMU Politics Hour. As usual, she was excited about the new school year. But she also was mindful of the spike in violence that has unnerved so many in the city. She said school administrators and security personnel were briefed on community violence and were encouraged to be vigilant to keep the violence out of schools.

But more importantly, she said the school system was going to focus on positive things happening at the schools. There are new academic programs and new after-school activities. The system continues to improve school facilities. There still is uncertainty on what new private firm will provide school lunches and snacks, but the current operator has said it would not leave the system in the lurch.

Whatever its troubles, there is no doubt that the D.C. school system is not the place it was when Michelle Rhee took over in 2007. A lot has changed, and more change — a lot more — is needed. But Henderson and others say the city is on the right track. It’ll be up to the parents and guardians of our children to affirm that as the year unfolds.

■ What about D.C? A group called “The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation” is advocating that the section of 16th Street in front of the reopened Cuban Embassy be renamed in honor of slain human rights activist Oswaldo Paya.

We mean no disrespect to Paya, or the advocates. But many of the 650,000 people who live in the District of Columbia would like to suspend ceremonial renaming of streets until the citizens of this nation’s capital are given the basic rights of all other U.S. citizens. No more, no less. No more, no less.

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