<![CDATA[NBC4 Washington - First Read]]> Copyright 2015 http://www.nbcwashington.com/blogs/first-read-dmv http://media.nbcbayarea.com/designimages/WASH+NBC4+BLUE.png NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.com en-us Tue, 26 May 2015 22:00:34 -0400 Tue, 26 May 2015 22:00:34 -0400 NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Parking Changes Could Come to Several D.C. Neighborhoods]]> Tue, 26 May 2015 21:15:27 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/shutterstock_180586001.jpg

Parking is about to get more expensive in the district — but it remains to be seen whether it's the cost of on-street parking or private lots that will go up.

The D.C. Council will decide Wednesday between Mayor Muriel Bowser's proposal to raise some taxes or the council chairman's plan to extend hours for parking meters. Either option will make it more expensive to park in the district.

Bowser wants to raise the sales tax to six percent just like it is in Maryland and Northern Virginia. She also wants to raise the tax on parking lots and garages.

"We believe that we have put together a fair and balanced budget that addresses the priorities of the residents of the District of Columbia," Bowser said.

Several members of the D.C. Council are against raising taxes. Instead of raising sales and parking taxes, on Tuesday, Chairman Phil Mendelson proposed extending the hours parking meters are in effect in areas like Adams Morgan, Georgetown and the downtown business district.

Mendelson also wants to increase the cost of all parking tickets issued in D.C. by $5.

"Our revenues are growing by hundreds of millions of dollars a year; we don't need to be raising taxes and in fact the recommendation that the council's considering doesn't require us to raise taxes," Mendelson said.

The council will vote Wednesday on which proposal becomes law. Fiscal watchdogs say either choice is good news for the district's less fortunate.

"More money for things that are important to D.C. residents, like affordable housing, homeless services and assistance to crime victims, that's all great news," said Ed Lazeer of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.

Parking changes are coming to the following neighborhoods:

  • Adams Morgan
  • Georgetown Historic District
  • Penn Quarter/Chinatown
  • U Street NW Corridor
  • Downtown Central Business District
  • Maine Avenue and Water Street SW
  • The National Mall
  • Wisconsin Avenue NW (from Van Ness Street to Western Avenue)



Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Militarized Policing Takes a Hit]]> Wed, 20 May 2015 05:38:34 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/topNews-obama-militarization-police.jpg

Is it an Army Ranger maneuvering down the street, or your neighborhood police officer?

Is it a Marine assault task force, or the county sheriff’s office?

Since the late 1990s, it’s been difficult to tell the difference between America’s armed forces and what are supposed to be local police departments.

But that’s changing.

President Barack Obama announced on Monday that the Department of Defense would scale back its freewheeling program of selling billions of dollars of surplus military assault weapons for pennies on the dollar to local law enforcement officers.

The list of newly banned sales includes “tanks and other tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vehicles, firearms and ammunition measuring .50-caliber and larger, grenade launchers and bayonets,” according to NBC News.

Local law enforcement groups that participate in the remaining program must also adopt community policing programs that require regular interaction between officers and the public. The New York Times reported that $160 million in federal funds will help local police adopt those community-friendly policies.

The decision to scale back the police militarization came from the president’s task force on police and community relations. That task force was headed by Philadelphia Commissioner Charles Ramsey, who formerly led D.C. police.

The report in part says, “The substantial risk of misusing or overusing these items, which are seen as militaristic in nature, could significantly undermine community trust and may encourage tactics and behaviors that are inconsistent with the premise of civilian law enforcement.”

The Department of Defense program (DOD 1033) began operating in 1997 after it was created with the National Defense Authorization of 1990. In part, it was to wean the overstuffed military equipment stockpiles and to give more firepower to local police fighting the War on Drugs. As Newsweek magazine said at the time, if police were going to be fighting a war, then the police needed to be armed for it.

A report said that as of 2014 there were 8,000 law enforcement agencies signed up to buy equipment and that nearly $6 billion in off-price sales had been recorded.

The militarization of police, some feel, began to fall out of favor with the civil unrest in Ferguson, Mo. Whatever the tipping point, police officers face real problems in combating crime, potential terrorism or domestic violence like the biker shootout in Waco, Texas.

But day to day, they also are members of our communities. They are sworn to uphold the law, not to occupy the streets. Community policing needs to mean something, even in — or most especially in — “bad neighborhoods.”

The police and all citizens should welcome a more realistic look at how we arm our police officer neighbors.

■ Initial praise. In suburban Maryland, the president’s decision to curb police militarization won immediate praise from Montgomery County Rep. Chris Van Hollen, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

With the Baltimore riot fresh in everyone’s mind, Van Hollen released a statement on Monday.
“President Obama’s decision to limit military-style equipment for local police forces is a productive step toward community oriented policing,” Van Hollen said. “We must address the fear and distrust of law enforcement that exists in too many of our communities.”

Van Hollen is a co-sponsor of a bill in Congress (the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act) that goes even further.

The American Civil Liberties Union also issued its support. Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel in the ACLU’s Washington office, said the president’s move is “a critical step towards rebuilding trust between police and the people they are pledged to serve.”

The ACLU released a recent report “War Comes Home” detailing the military sales.

■ Bad call. The Notebook last week wrote pretty glowingly of the city’s sports teams, only to see the Wizards and Caps flame out of playoff berths. Maryland State Sen. Richard Madaleno of Montgomery County took a moment on the WAMU “Politics Hour” last Friday to blame us for the collapse.

Fortunately the Nationals didn’t disappoint, compiling a 5-2 record during their recent West Coast road trip. And Monday, right fielder Bryce Harper was named the National League Player of the Week for the second week in a row. That’s a back-to-back feat achieved by only 10 players since the weekly award began in 1974.

Just for the record, Harper went 12 for 23 in the week to have an out-of-sight batting average of .522. He accounted for three home runs, one triple, two doubles, nine walks, two stolen bases and 10 runs.

So, we weren’t a jinx to everyone.


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



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[D.C. Considers New Definition of "Assaulting a Police Officer"]]> Tue, 19 May 2015 23:32:40 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000010544641_1200x675_447852099874.jpg

In the district, what it means to assault a police officer may soon change.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier announced that she agrees the broadly written law should be changed to reflect real, physical assaults. According to a new report by WAMU’s Patrick Madden, infractions as minor as wiggling while handcuffed or yelling at an officer can constitute an assault charge.

D.C. Council member Mary Cheh will propose a bill to precisely define what assaulting an officer means. It’s a welcome move to fellow politicians and even members of the police union who say the current law is hard on them as well.

“For example, in Maryland, I could charge you with resisting arrest,” said D.C. Police Union member Delroy Burton. “In D.C., I have to charge you with assaulting a police officer.”

Madden’s report details the arrests for “assault on a police officer” from 2012-2014. The report finds that the charge was used as much for crowd control as it was for actual crimes. According to Madden’s report, many “assault” cases involved minimal physical contact and were never prosecuted.

Council hearings on changing the law could be held soon.

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<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: D.C. Sports and That 'Skins Name]]> Thu, 14 May 2015 09:51:38 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/shutterstock_231981787.jpg

There have been explosive cheers in town recently for the Washington Wizards, the Capitals, D.C. United and the Nationals. In one Nats game last week, Bryce Harper hit three home runs; maybe it's a taste of what's to come from his career.

Unfortunately, the Capitals lost Game 7 in overtime to the Rangers on Wednesday night. And John Wall's wrist injury is complicating the Wizards' route to the Eastern Conference finals. But overall, it's good news for D.C. sports.

"Our hockey team, our basketball team, our soccer team, our baseball team -- all located in the city -- are all doing great," says Ward 2 D.C. Council member Jack Evans, who commented before the Caps' collapse on Sunday.

The only real sour spot? The Washington Redskins play in the suburbs.

Ever since Mayor Tony Williams took office in 1999, Evans and other city leaders have been trying to get the football team to return to the District, ideally with a domed stadium located on the site of the old RFK -- and paid for by the team, not taxpayers. Williams talked strategy about bringing in the team throughout his tenure, as did Adrian Fenty.

Then-Mayor Vincent Gray also backed bringing the 'Skins to the city, but he aggressively joined the campaign to force the team to change its name. Gray got to the point where he would not even say "Redskins."

Mayor Muriel Bowser is aware of the name controversy, but she also sees a billion-dollar business that belongs in the city. She made a strategic decision to send a message to the team by sparingly using the "Redskins" name in her quotes.

"We know that the perfect location for the Redskins is where they played for decades very successfully," she told NBC4 last week. "We have the infrastructure sitting on top of a Metro station" at the RFK site. She also made similar comments to WMAL radio last week and again on Monday to NBC4's Mark Segraves.

Both Bowser and Evans say any new stadium would coexist with lots of land turned over to local development for long-sought retail, grocery stores, playgrounds and open space for residents who live near RFK.

"We have the ability to make it more than a sports stadium," Bowser told us. "The surrounding neighborhoods want more play spaces, more active areas for children and families."

Many of those residents are skeptical they can benefit from the team's arrival. Ward 6 D.C. Council member Charles Allen, who represents the area, flatly told NBC4, "I do not support the team coming back to RFK." Allen suggested he might support the team at a different location "with the right plan."

But at a minimum, D.C. leaders feel they're back in the game. Team sources have indicated that Prince George's County may have trouble keeping the team with the FedEx Field lease expiring in a few years. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has bragged that the team would be relocating to Loudoun County.

Evans scoffs at the transportation problems in Prince George's that would be replicated in Loudoun. "There's no better site than RFK in the metropolitan region," Evans said. "And everybody knows it."

■ MLB "security" barriers. Major League Baseball should leave the playing of games on the field.

At Nats Park and elsewhere, MLB is requiring the use of metal detectors. That's even though there is no credible -- or even sorta credible -- evidence that ballparks are any more a terrorist target than are any other site of mass gathering. We were outside the center field gate on Opening Day. The Nats get a pat on the back (not a "pat down") for having tried to usher fans quickly through the new metal detectors. Still, a crowd of several hundred, maybe more than a thousand, fans were queued up just outside the gates. Well, we thought ominously, what a perfect place for a terrorist to set off a bomb.

That kind of horrible incident would have impact whether it was inside or outside the gate. So what good are the metal detectors here?

The same is true, as we've written, about the thousands of families that line up at Orlando's airport security stations. The crowds are brimming with parents, children and stuffed Mickeys and Minnies. There's no security for this captive crowd, where anyone intending harm can just walk up.

These scenes of potential destruction and horror and death are replicated all over our free country. And that's the point. Security bureaucrats are spending trillions of dollars on buzzers and barriers and bomb-sniffing equipment in a Sisyphean frenzy to make Americans "feel" safe. But no matter how many security barriers they roll uphill, it never will be enough.

Washington Post writer Alexandra Petri recently derided the MLB initiative, noting that it was also possible "that someone could fire a blow dart at me RIGHT NOW and I should stop typing to duck under the desk."

More seriously, she quoted "security theater" critic Bruce Schneier on the ballpark idea.

"As a security measure, the new devices are laughable," Schneier writes. "The ballpark metal detectors are much more lax than the ones at an airport checkpoint. They aren't very sensitive -- people with phones and keys in their pockets are sailing through -- and there are no X-ray machines."

There are too many places in America where crowds gather in significant numbers: subway stations, shopping malls, theaters, museums, houses of worship, schools and colleges, train track crossings, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Security bureaucracy, security theater, security scare tactics -- whatever you call it, it's not the way to live lives in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

■ The real fear. We always feel the need to point out the real fear of all these security folks, no matter where they are. That fear is that something terrible will happen and some member of Congress or some department head will ask the most dreaded of questions: "Why didn't you...?" Whatever the incident, there's always something that could have been done or shouldn't have been done.

There is no foolproof defense against any of that second-guessing. None.

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



Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[D.C. Mayor Saying "Redskins" Again]]> Tue, 12 May 2015 09:22:33 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/461046870.jpg

Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser is changing her tune in an effort to bring the Redskins back to Washington.

Last year, as a D.C. Council member, Bowser signed a council resolution calling for the team to change its name, which many consider a racial slur.

In the past, she had said a name change should be part of any talks about bringing the team back to D.C

But the mayor recently started using the name in TV and radio interviews.

“We know the perfect location for the Redskins is where they played for decades very successfully,” Bowser said.

Bowser is not disputing reports that she's talking with the team about moving back to Washington.

Multiple sources, including a senior Bowser administration official, told News4 the mayor has been advised to start using the name as a way to show good faith with owner Dan Snyder.

The Redskins played their last game at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium in Washington, D.C., in 1996. The next year, the team moved to Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in Landover, Maryland. The stadium was later renamed FedExField.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[LaRuby May Unofficial Winner of Ward 8 Seat]]> Sat, 09 May 2015 14:31:04 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/voting-dfw-generic-01.jpg

D.C. election officials declared LaRuby May the unofficial winner of the race for Ward 8 on D.C. Council -- by a two-digit margin.

The latest numbers, updated on the D.C. Board of Election's web site Friday afternoon, say May won by just 79 votes over Trayon White.

White said he will ask for a recount, the Associated Press reported.

The election was April 28; a Ward 4 seat was also up for election. Brandon Todd won that race, but but Ward 8 remained too close to call until Friday, when all absentee and special ballots were counted. 

Now, two precincts in each ward will be manually audited before the election is certified. 

There were 13 candidates running to replace Marion Barry as the representative from Ward 8, including his son, Marion Christopher Barry. Christopher Barry came in 6th.

Barry died in office in November. It's been 17 years since a special election needed to be held because of a council member's death.

The Ward 4 seat was vacated when Muriel Bowser was elected mayor.

Click here for the Board of Election's current vote counts.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Spring Buds and Duds…]]> Wed, 06 May 2015 09:39:21 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/193*120/2015-05-06_0937.png

It’s spring and a lot of things are blooming in Washington — except democracy.

Three DC Vote activists were arrested last Thursday after they unfurled a D.C. flag in the balcony of the House of Representatives and shouted “D.C. Vote!”

The three were protesting the House vote to rescind local legislation that would extend protections to workers whose employers might discriminate against them for using birth control or other reproductive health care.

Never mind that the Senate was unlikely to (and didn’t) pass it before a deadline on Monday; it was an intrusion into local home rule because D.C. is denied full voting rights in Congress.

The demonstrators — Rosalind Conn Cohen, Michael S. Bolton and James L. Jones — were charged with disruption of Congress. DC Vote issued a statement saying city residents “will not sit quietly by and allow Congress to overturn laws by our locally elected legislature. … We are outraged by the action, but have no way to register our ‘no’ vote in Congress but through protest.”

Late last week, the White House released a statement condemning the House vote. Even if the measure passed the Senate, officials said, President Barack Obama would be advised to veto it. In addition to concerns about discrimination against employees, the White House said the measure “also would have the unacceptable effect of undermining the will of the people of the District of Columbia citizens.”

■ Blooming economy. The breathless pace of development and growth in the District has slowed somewhat, but the city’s economic engines keep churning.

A new report from Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt says there were 15,900 more jobs in the District in February compared to February a year ago, a growth of 2.1 percent. About 1,300 of those jobs were in the leisure and hospitality sectors. Even the federal government here gained 1,000 jobs compared to a year ago.

This February, there were 297 condos sold, a 3 percent decline from a year ago. But median prices for condos rose 12.6 percent. (The median for single-family homes rose 6.3 percent.)

And jobless claims fell 6 percent compared to a year ago, a sign of better employment.

■ $$$ and the national parks. America’s national parks may be hurting for budget money themselves, but they do a lot for the economies where they are located.

Across the capital region, the National Park Service accounted for 38 million visitors in 2014 and helped contribute $1.4 billion to the region’s economy. An agency report said it generated 14,957 jobs.

In a news release, regional director Bob Vogel said the Park Service returns $10 to the economy for every $1 it invests in the area. The study was a peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber, along with economist Lynne Koontz of the Park Service.

■ $$$ and Metro. A key House committee has sliced $75 million from the annual appropriation to help fund the Metro system in the region. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., told Roll Call and other media that his transportation subcommittee was getting a lot of heat for the cut. He emphasized that it’s early in the budget process and the cuts might change.

The entire Washington area delegation — including new Republican member Barbara Comstock of Virginia — issued a joint statement condemning the cut.

“More than half of Metro’s rush hour passengers are federal workers, and the federal government cannot operate without Metro,” D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton noted.

Under a long-standing regional agreement reached in 2009, the federal government has contributed $150 million a year to Metro, and Maryland, Virginia and the District each contribute $50 million a year. “Providing anything less than the federal commitment of $150 million would jeopardize rider safety,” the regional members of Congress said in their statement.

■ A final word. Sad news came this week with the death from pneumonia of Skip Coburn, whose life exemplified my frequent saying that “local Washington is only as good as the people active in it.” Coburn was 70. A requiem Mass was held this past Saturday.

For the past 12 years, Dick Edward “Skip” Coburn was executive director of the D.C. Nightlife Association, explaining to reporters and countless citizen groups the ins and outs of that business. He did it with passion, good humor and informed advocacy. He came to D.C. advocacy after a 24-year Air Force career, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

Coburn formerly worked for Ward 6 D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose. “Those who knew Skip,” Ambrose wrote in the Hill Rag, “know he was something of a character. Often his enthusiasm for an idea or a project was so intense it led to hours of research and investigation and reams of paper spilling out of printers and copiers to be shared with whomever he could buttonhole.”


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

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<![CDATA[Director of D.C.'s 911 Call Center Steps Down]]> Tue, 05 May 2015 20:02:43 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/dc-flag-shutterstock_206336772.jpg

The director of D.C.'s 911 call center has stepped down after sources tell News4 she was forced to resigned.

Jennifer Greene and the Office of Unified Communications has been under intense scrutiny following several high profiled missteps, including slow response times during the smoke incident at L'Enfant Plaza and the choking death of toddler who was not sent the closest paramedic.

The unsuccessful roll-out of a new computer tablet system also led to delayed response times.

"I’m very glad the mayor is looking at some of these agencies and cleaning them out, because we need, in her words, a fresh start in some of these agencies," Councilwoman Mary Cheh said. 

Sources tell News4's Mark Segraves that the last straw was Greene's testimony last week that the call center is unable to meet the national standard for response times.

"[T]hat’s really the last call that somebody may make," Cheh added. "So we need to do what we need to do, and it includes changing the leadership."

Green, who previously served as a commander with the Metropolitan Police Department, was promoted to director of the Office of Unified Communications by former mayor Vincent Gray.

Chris Geldart, the director of D.C.'s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA), will oversee the 911 call center until a replacement is found. He will also continue to head HSEMA.

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<![CDATA[Va. AG: Abortion Clinics Can Be Exempted From New Standards]]> Mon, 04 May 2015 14:31:38 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/shutterstock_226623193.jpg

Virginia Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring says new strict building standards should not be applied retroactively to existing abortion clinics, contradicting advice given by his Republican predecessor.

 

Herring issued an opinion Monday to the state health commissioner. The standards would treat abortion clinics as hospitals and cover issues such as hallway widths and closet sizes. Herring says applying them would essentially shut down abortion services in the state.

Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's office said the opposite in 2012.

State officials say that of the 18 clinics operating in Virginia, five meet the code for new hospitals and 13 are operating under a variance.

Abortion rights supporters say the building requirements were designed to put existing clinics out of business. Abortion opponents say they are intended to protect women's health.



Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Carson, Fiorina Announce Run for President]]> Mon, 04 May 2015 12:43:15 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/2015-05-04_1240.jpg Ben Carson added his name to the race for president Monday morning, just hours after former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina did so herself. They are both Republicans and are both considered underdogs. Carrie Dann, a politcal writer for NBC News, joins us with the strength and weaknesses of these new candidates.]]> <![CDATA[Ward 8 Too Close to Call]]> Fri, 08 May 2015 17:48:33 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/voting-dfw-generic-01.jpg

The special election for the D.C. Council's Ward 8 seat appears to be too close to call, but Marion C. Barry, the son of former Mayor Marion Barry who held the seat until he died in November, is out with just 7 percent of the vote, News4's Tom Sherwood reports.

LaRuby May has 26.94 percent of the vote to 24.55 percent for Trayon White, but there's just 152 votes separating them with 163 absentee ballots and some special ballots still to be counted.

In Ward 4, Brandon Todd won easily with 42.42 percent of the vote to fill the seat vacated by now-Mayor Muriel Bowser. That's almost twice his closest opponent, Renee L. Bowser (no relation to the mayor), who has 21.57 percent of the vote.

Barry's son was one of 12 candidates trying to replace him on the council. The elder Barry represented the poorest section of the city for the last 10 years of his life, and he remained beloved in the majority-black ward even though his citywide popularity never recovered after his 1990 drug arrest.

It's been 17 years since a special election needed to be held because of a council member's death.

Twelve candidates also ran for Bowser's seat, which opened once she won the mayoral election in November.

Ward 4 candidates:

  • Acqunetta Anderson
  • Leon T. Andrews Jr.
  • Ron Austin
  • Renee L. Bowser
  • Gwenellen Corley-Bowman
  • Judi Jones
  • Edwin W. Powell
  • Glova Scott
  • Douglass Sloan
  • Bobvala Tengen
  • Brandon Todd
  • Dwayne M. Toliver

 Ward 8 candidates:

  • Jauhar Abraham
  • Marion C. Barry
  • Sheila Bunn
  • Greta Fuller
  • Eugene D. Kinlow
  • LaRuby May
  • Anthony Muhammad
  • "S.S." Sandra Seegars
  • Keita Vanterpool
  • Leonard Watson Sr.
  • Trayon "WardEight" White
  • Natalie Williams



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ward 8 Race Still Too Close to Call]]> Wed, 29 Apr 2015 13:25:21 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000010312668_1200x675_436404291557.jpg Brandon Todd is the winner of the D.C. Council's Ward 4 seat in Tuesday's special election, but as of midday Wednesday, the winner in Ward 8 has yet to be determined.]]> <![CDATA[Demonstrators Outside Supreme Court for Same-Sex Marriage Debate]]> Tue, 28 Apr 2015 20:38:42 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000010301230_1200x675_436039235885.jpg News4's Chris Gordon talks to local residents who converged on the U.S. Supreme Court as justices heard historic arguments over same-sex marriage.]]> <![CDATA[Republican Firehouse Primaries]]> Mon, 27 Apr 2015 11:37:02 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000010260210_1200x675_434082371981.jpg A look at candidates in the race for the Republican nomination for Prince William County chairman of the board of supervisors and the candidates for the supervisor seat from the Sully District in Fairfax County.]]> <![CDATA[Gov. Hogan to Sign Police Oversight Bills Into Law]]> Fri, 24 Apr 2015 20:18:27 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/AP131584863180.jpg

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced he will sign nine bills dealing with law enforcement oversight and tort liabilities into law next week.

The bills include a requirement for police to provide state officials with information about deaths of people in police custody and a bill to let officers record conversations with body-worn digital recorders, according to a statement from the governor's office. 

Police in Baltimore have been scrutinized after Freddie Gray died as a result of injuries he sustained in police custody April 12.

Under HB 954, law enforcement agencies will have to provide the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention with information about people who have died in police custody and officers who die in the line of duty.

SB 482 and HB 533 will enable police to record "oral communication" with a "body-worn digital recording device" or "electronic control device." The bill will also create a commission to study body camera use by police.

SB 321 requires police in Baltimore City and Baltimore County to create special units trained to deal with individuals with mental health and substance abuse issues.

Other bills increase the number of police "subject to review" by the Baltimore City Civilian Review Board and require police to provide demographic information about traffic stops.

HB 113 and 114 increase liability limits for civil claims against local governments and the state government.

Gov. Hogan is scheduled to sign the bills into law in a ceremony Tuesday, his office said.



Photo Credit: Associated Press]]>
<![CDATA[DC Mayor’s Proposal to Limit AG’s Powers on Hold]]> Wed, 22 Apr 2015 23:24:26 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/461046870.jpg

A showdown between the mayor of the District of Columbia and the first-ever elected attorney general has been averted for now.

At issue is Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposal in her new budget to water down some of the new attorney general’s powers, particularly when it comes to reviewing government contracts.

After a five-hour council roundtable on the dispute Wednesday, D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie issued a statement saying the matter needs more public discussion and it appears the mayor and attorney general agree.

"The mayor is happy to have more public debate on the matter and separate the proposed changes to the AG’s powers from budget negotiations," Bowser spokesman Michael Czin said.

While Bowser is not withdrawing her proposal, the council is expected to remove it from the budget and hold more public hearings on the issue in the coming months.

Attorney General Karl Racine not only opposed Bowser’s proposal, he also would like to see his office given more power and a larger budget.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Former D.C. Councilman Goes to Work at Strip Club]]> Fri, 17 Apr 2015 09:56:09 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/Jim+Graham+041615.jpg

Former D.C. Council member Jim Graham appears to have found his new career path by joining the adult entertainment industy at a Washington nightclub.

Graham was hired as a special events director for a northwest D.C. nightclub, The House. Club owner Darrell Allen said Graham will be in charge of two nights for the club, Sunday nights for nude male dancing for gay men and Thursday nights for nude male dancing for women.

Graham said they are exploring nude female dancing for women.

“I cast about for various things, and I’ve decided to go into the adult entertainment industry,” he said.

“Jim worked super hard for 16 years in government for the people,” friend and political consultant Chuck Thies said. “I think it’s high time that he had some fun.”

Graham, who has been out of office since January after losing the Democratic primary to Brianne Nadeau a year ago, already volunteers for drug abuse and homeless issues.

“I wanted something that was fun, and quite honestly, I want to make a buck or two,” Graham said.



Photo Credit: NBC Washington]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: And They’re Off…!]]> Wed, 15 Apr 2015 06:31:40 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/dc-flag-shutterstock_206336772.jpg

Just how big is the District of Columbia budget for 2016?

$12,900,000,000.

Or you can simply write it as $12.9 billion.

Over the next six weeks or so, you’re going to hear a lot about how Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council members are sparring over streetcars, school construction, sales taxes, parking garage taxes, reserve funds and any number of other fiscal issues.

But remember this: Despite the huge budget of nearly $13 billion, the council and mayor likely will fight over only a few hundred million here or there, if that.

The fact is, final city and state budgets most often reflect what is originally proposed. Legislative members try to shoehorn pet projects or correct egregious spending. But it’s pretty much the mayor’s or governor’s budget.

Here in the District, about 35 percent of the entire budget goes for human services, the largest segment of city spending. The next highest is education, at 17 percent, followed by public safety at 10 percent, public works at 6 percent and economic development at 4 percent. The remainder goes to government overhead and other miscellaneous spending.

The city’s many commercial parking garages often have been a target for extra money. For a long time the tax was 12 percent of the parking fee. Mayor Vincent Gray raised it to 18 percent three years ago. Now, Bowser is suggesting 22 percent to raise an additional $10 million to put toward Metro funding.

Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans has more commercial parking garages in his downtown-to-Georgetown ward than any other council member. At the first council hearing on the overall budget Monday, Evans spoke out against this tax.

“Twenty-two percent is a very high tax,” he said. “Maryland and Virginia do not have a parking tax. They’re at zero.” Evans went on to note that about one-third of garage parkers are District residents, so it’s a tax on them as well as suburban commuters. “And frankly [it’s something] I don’t think we need to do,” Evans said.

Chairman Phil Mendelson appeared almost furious at the Bowser proposals to raise the sales tax from 5.75 percent to 6 percent, the same as that of Maryland and Virginia. And he objected to Bowser’s plan to dip into some reserve funds to help close a $193 million projected deficit. The chairman said raising taxes was not the message Bowser took to Wall Street recently to discuss bond ratings on city debt.

“When we met with Wall Street last month, we emphasized that we did not need to dip into reserve funds or raise taxes,” Mendelson said. “And yet the budget before us does not [follow] this. It does dip into the fund balance. It does raise taxes.”

Mendelson complained that Bowser calls her budget “balanced,” but he said, “Next year we will be spending faster than the money is coming in.”

Every mayor has had to sit through these council budget hearings. Every council member praises the mayor for appearing and then launches into what isn’t in the budget that the member wants. Bowser throughout was gracious and polite even when the criticism seemed endless.

It was a surprise to see Bowser’s elderly parents come into the council chamber. If they were there to soften Bowser’s performance, or restrain council comments, it didn’t work.

Late in the day Monday, the budget hearing shifted to Bowser’s surprise move to take control of a half-dozen city jobs that now have set terms, like the medical examiner and chief contracting officer. Instead of filling the positions for specific, independent terms, those appointees would serve at the will of the mayor, making them more politically sensitive. Council member Cheh pretty much called it a power grab buried in the budget.

And council members are expressing concern that Bowser is attempting to dilute the power of elected Attorney General Karl Racine by essentially gutting his ability to rule on the legal sufficiency of her contacts. The mayor instead would shift that power to her own legal counsel. On Friday, Racine said on WAMU’s Politics Hour that he would not have run for the office under the terms Bowser is trying to set.

The mayor’s office says all of this is overblown. But these issues and the budget disputes may also highlight another element that could hamper Bowser. Like her mentor, former Mayor Adrian Fenty, Bowser built few personal relationships with the council members she served alongside.

The mayor doesn’t have to like the council members, or kowtow to them. But their lingering perceptions of her as someone who just wants to get her way could spell trouble.

Still, expect the mayor to prevail on all but a handful of issues in this $12.9 billion budget. That’s the way the system works.

■ Notebook note. We’re off to see Cuba on a fact-finding mission. (What’s the best rum on the island, among other things?) We hope to be back in this space May 6.


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

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<![CDATA[New Tax Proposed on E-Cigs in Montgomery Co.]]> Tue, 14 Apr 2015 18:38:17 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/454246108.jpg

People using e-cigarettes in Montgomery County may soon be forced to pay a little more.

The county council introduced a bill Tuesday that calls for a tax on e-cigarettes, vaporizers and related paraphernalia that would match the current tax on tobacco.

E-cigarettes and vaporizers are two versions of the same thing: They heat a flavored liquid electronically, creating a cloud of vapor that looks like smoke. It hasn't replaced tobacco, but it's growing in popularity.

"Cigarettes are taxed at $2 per pack. Smokeless and other tobacco products are taxed at 30 percent as an excise tax. So we picked the same level for e-cigarettes," said council member Tom Hucker, who sponsored the bill. All other council members co-sponsored it, with one exception.

If the tax passes — and it's believed that it will be — the bill will go into effect July 1.

Daryl Mauhay, who uses a vaporizer, said he wouldn't vape less frequently if a higher tax were enacted.

"No," he said. "Because I love vaping and stuff; that's why."

Others say they may purchase the product and paraphernalia outside of Montgomery County.

One other regulation will launch June 1, when Montgomery County makes it illegal to use e-cigarettes or vape in public places where smoking tobacco is prohibited.

That law bans e-cigars, e-hookahs, e-pipes and vape pens from anywhere where smoking traditional cigarettes is banned. It also bans retail outlets from selling certain liquid nicotine or liquid nicotine containers unless they're in packaging that makes it difficult for children to get into.

Only a few states have extended their tobacco laws to cover e-cigarettes. New Jersey, North Dakota and Utah have specifically prohibited the use of e-cigarettes in public places and work places, the council said.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Early Voting Begins for D.C. Council Special Election]]> Tue, 14 Apr 2015 06:16:05 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/voting-dfw-generic-01.jpg

Early voting is underway to fill two seats on D.C. Council.

There is a crowded field to fill Muriel Bowser's Ward 4 seat and the late Marion Barry's Ward 8 seat.

Early voting for the 2015 special election began Monday at One Judiciary Square. The building will be closed Thursday for Emancipation Day. On Saturday, three additional early voting locations will open.

Early voting will close April 25, just days before the April 28 special election.

Click here to find an early voting location near you.



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[DC Streetcar Funding Questioned During Mayor's Council Hearing]]> Mon, 13 Apr 2015 23:09:06 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000010119742_1200x675_427435075662.jpg D.C. council members say Mayor Muriel Bowser's new budget slashes funding for the city's new streetcar system even more. News4's Tom Sherwood reports.]]> <![CDATA[Baker Endorses Rep. Chris Van Hollen]]> Wed, 08 Apr 2015 12:54:11 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/2015-04-08_1327.jpg Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker has endorsed U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen in his run for U.S. Senate.]]> <![CDATA[Baker Endorses Rep. Chris Van Hollen]]> Wed, 08 Apr 2015 22:40:05 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/6451107_W6PVANCEDNCRUSHERNBAKERPKG_722x406_37580813.jpg

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker has endorsed U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen in his run for U.S. Senate.

Baker announced his endorsement Wednesday at a news conference at the Colmar Manor Community Center in Prince George’s County.

Baker's choice is a little controversial as his own constituent, U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, is also running for Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski's soon-to-be open seat.

Van Hollen and Baker served in the Maryland House of Delegates at the same time in the 1990s, and Baker says that time together weighed heavily in his decision.

Van Hollen currently represents Maryland's 8th District, which includes portions of Montgomery County and stretches north to portions of Frederick and Carroll counties. Edwards currently represents Maryland's 4th District, which covers parts of Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.

Both Van Hollen and Edwards announced their plans to run days after Mikulski said she would retire.

If Edwards won the Senate seat, she would become the first black senator from Maryland in U.S. history. But Baker said race didn't play a role in his decision, adding that his decision was rooted in the candidate that could provide leadership and get things done for county residents.

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<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Guns, Azaleas and Nats]]> Wed, 08 Apr 2015 06:05:47 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/85862027.jpg

It’s spring and all kinds of things are blooming.

Last week we wrote in jest about giving in to the gun guys and opening a gun shop on Capitol Hill. That was in response to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s proposal to scrap city gun laws in favor of more lenient federal rules.

Well, we don’t think the city will get around to opening a gun shop in defiance of Congress, but a retail gun store in the nation’s capital is not entirely out of the question.

Last Friday on the WAMU “Politics Hour,” Police Chief Cathy Lanier noted that the sky has not fallen since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 threw out the city’s ban on handguns and a federal court last year said the District could regulate but not ban concealed-carry weapons.

“Everybody fears the sky is falling” with some gun legalization, Lanier said, “but the numbers are not that high.”

She said about 4,000 people have opted for a license to have a handgun in the home. She said only about 25 people have obtained concealed carry permits while she has denied another 25.

“It’s not this surge of people coming in, that we’re going to see like thousands of concealed carry permits. It’s just not happening,” Lanier said.

In the past, the chief has stood with other city officials and mayors when they have opposed relaxed handgun laws in the District. She’s had to manage the change.

But could the city one day have a retail gun shop like we proposed? “Would it be OK with you if the city were to open a retail gun store?” we asked.

“Well,” Lanier began, “if we have concealed carry regulations — and I am very comfortable with concealed carry permits that I have issued, very comfortable — if there was a regulated way for people to purchase them in the District, you know, I don’t have any issue with that.”

NBC4 reported the chief’s remarks, but her breakthrough comment that a retail gun store could open here got surprisingly little media reaction.

■ Visit the Arboretum! We’re all excited again this season for the cherry blossom trees that just now are breaking out in blooms. But a short distance from the Tidal Basin sits the underused, underappreciated and underfunded United States National Arboretum.

Some of the best good news this year came this past week. The Arboretum, which had been open only four days a week, will again be open seven days a week beginning this Friday. (Sequestration cuts had severely limited funds for the full-time operation.)

“I’m thrilled that it’s happening in time for spring,” said consultant and fan Janice Kaplan. “Not only because the azaleas are a springtime event, but this year we also have the eagles [nesting]. It’s an added reason. It’s a good development for the residents of Washington and people who visit our nation’s capital from all over the world.”

If you haven’t been to the Arboretum, you should go. You can even buy surplus Kanuma bonsai soil that’s only available this Saturday (no credit cards!). But the real reason to go is that the Arboretum off New York Avenue NE is 446 acres of sprawling woodlands and fields with nearly 10 miles of winding roadways.

Kaplan noted that the Friends of the National Arboretum group has been working hard to get the facility reopened seven days a week. “Funding has come through now,” she told the Notebook, “but residents need to realize that it will take both public and private funds to support the Arboretum in the future.”

The future is now. Go see it. And we haven’t even mentioned the historic U.S. Capitol columns that stand majestically in one of the open fields. And if you’re interested in volunteering or otherwise helping, email usna.volunteers@ars.usda.gov. The Friends group’s website is fona.org.

■ Go Nats and neighborhood. It was a difficult TV task on Monday, spending the day outside Nationals Park and talking to fans headed into opening day against the New York Mets. Difficult, but we managed to get through the long hours of pleasant, cool, sunshine-filled weather to report for NBC4. Don’t pity us too much.

The Nats kind of threw away the game, with three unearned runs for the Mets. But as we labored outside the center field gate, we noted that while the team has its ups and downs, land area around the ballpark is doing nothing but going up and up and up.

Just since the end of last season, a 50,000-square-foot Harris Teeter has opened (your Notebook shops there), as has a 28,000-square-foot Vida health club, along with another 219 units of new housing around the Yards Park area.

Those stats come from Michael Stevens, who heads the Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District. He’s got more.

“More important for the fans, we’ve seen nine new restaurants open,” Stevens said. “What [the fans] are going to see are a lot of cranes as well. We currently have nine residential projects under construction. That total is 1,850 residential units under construction.”

Stevens has lived through the seemingly lean years that struck with the recession, just about the time Nationals Park opened. But the progress has been slow and steady and is about to bloom even more.

“This is our second wave of massive development,” he said. And with all that’s underway now, Stevens says there is enough planned development to last another 15 years.

And you can watch a lot of today’s projects rush to be ready in 2018 when Nats Park hosts its first All-Star Game. That game was announced on Monday, too. The only bad thing that happened this past Monday was the Nats lost. But the city isn’t losing.


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



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Rand Paul: Officially in the Race for 2016]]> Tue, 07 Apr 2015 13:00:14 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000010048707_1200x675_424219203746.jpg NBC Political Editor Mark Murray analyzes Rand Paul's potential benefits and challenges as he runs as a Libertarian for 2016.]]> <![CDATA[Budget Targets Md., Va. Residents Who Shop, Park in D.C.]]> Thu, 02 Apr 2015 22:38:40 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/0116-bowser.jpg

Tax increases and cuts to higher education are part of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser's $12.9 billion budget proposal, which includes more money for homeless services, school modernization and the streetcar program.

Bowser’s first budget proposal would raise the sales tax from 5.75 percent to 6 percent, equal to the sales tax in Maryland and Virginia, and raise the tax on parking lots and garages by 4 percent. Bowser said she wants to raise those taxes rather than income taxes, which would only affect D.C. residents.

“It’s one of those taxes that allows us to spread the base of the tax to many more people,” she said.

Bowser’s budget includes cuts to the University of the District of Columbia and Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals.

“We have to dedicate $100 million every year to affordable housing and we have to close D.C. General and we have to end homelessness,” she said. “And the additional revenue will allow us to do that.”

Bowser included $1.3 billion for modernization of eight public schools

The budget provides more money to put more police on the street as well as more fire trucks and ambulances. There is $5 million to equip police officers with body cameras.

Bowser’s budget also provides funding for Metro as well as $335 million for the streetcar system.

The budget must be approved by the D.C. Council before any taxes go up or programs are cut, and that could prove to be a challenge for the new mayor.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to be raising taxes when the economy is good,” D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said.

“I’m always averse to raising taxes,” Council member Jack Evans said.

Bowser said she has to raise taxes to give residents what they want.

“While I wish we didn’t have to do it, it allows us to do the new things that residents say to me, ‘Fix the homeless problem,’” Bowser said.

Fiscal watchdogs who advocate for more funding for social programs are optimistic

“The good news is the mayor took a difficult situation and came out with a budget that invests more in education and a lot more in affordable housing and starting to address our serious homeless crisis,” said Ed Lazer of D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.

Bowser did not rule out the possibility that budget cuts could mean layoffs and said layoffs at public school headquarters are likely.

“We don’t know if any current workers will be affected, but we announced some weeks ago the chancellor is moving to reduce the number of employees in the central office,” she said.

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<![CDATA[D.C. Economy Booming 20 Years After Control Board]]> Tue, 31 Mar 2015 20:20:21 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000009975541_1200x675_420929603515.jpg The booming economy in the district today is a far cry from the city's near bankruptcy 20 years ago, when Congress created a controverisal control board that took over city finances. News4's Tom Sherwood takes a new look at that troubled era with former Mayor Tony Williams.]]>