<![CDATA[NBC4 Washington - First Read]]>Copyright 2016http://www.nbcwashington.com/blogs/first-read-dmv http://media.nbcnewyork.com/designimages/WASH+NBC4+BLUE.png NBC4 Washington http://www.nbcwashington.comen-usFri, 30 Sep 2016 06:18:56 -0400Fri, 30 Sep 2016 06:18:56 -0400NBC Owned Television Stations <![CDATA[Republican Former Virginia Senator Endorses Clinton]]> Wed, 28 Sep 2016 18:36:13 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/76258584.jpg

Hillary Clinton picked up another Republican endorsement, this time from former Virginia Sen. John Warner.

Warner, a Republican, appeared Wednesday morning with Democratic vice presidential nominee and current Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine in Alexandria, Virginia.

"I see in her today the same tenacity and understanding and desire to get in there and lead and maintain a strong military but in a respectful and dignified way," Warner said during an interview.

Warner served five terms in the Senate and has strong national security credentials. He is a former Navy secretary and Senate Armed Service Committee chairman.

Warner's endorsement strengthens Clinton's argument that she is better prepared to handle national security and foreign policy than rival Donald Trump.

During his comments, he criticized Trump for his comments on the military. 

"You just don't denigrate the uniforms of our country," he said. 

Warner and Clinton served together briefly in the Senate. He retired in 2009.

Clinton's campaign said this is Warner's first time endorsing a Democratic presidential nominee. She said she is honored Warner would trust her "with the weighty responsibility of being commander in chief."

Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck said Virginians have "a great deal of respect for John Warner and rightfully so," but he criticized Clinton and the endorsement. 

"One endorsement from a former Senator won't undo the failed Russian reset, the Iran nuclear deal, Libya, or her utterly reckless handling of classified information," Whitbeck said in a statement. "That horse is already out of the barn, and not even John Warner can close the door."

Trump's Virgina Chairman Corey Stewart called Warner "the old guard Washington establishment that both sides of the aisle are rejecting." 

However, a new survey shows Virginians agree with Warner on his endorsement, saying Clinton, not Trump, has the right temperament and experience to be president. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Jaffe: Why Is it So Easy to Kill in DC and Walk Away?]]> Tue, 27 Sep 2016 14:49:02 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/216*120/2016-09-25_0838.png

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

Mayor Muriel Bowser's old neighborhood was strung with yellow police tape Sunday night. If she hadn't moved a few months ago, she might have heard the gunshots that wounded a 93-year-old woman who lived on her block of Oglethorpe Street, in a northeast D.C. neighborhood.

In the same neighborhood, the day before, gunshots killed Marcellus Thomas, 22.

Police have no suspects for the shootings in the community where Bowser lived for 15 years. Another killer is on the loose in the nation’s capital, where getting away with murder is becoming the new normal.

Take Saturday night before last, when gunmen at a block party in an Anacostia neighborhood opened fire. They killed two men and wounded seven others, including an eight-year-old boy.

Once the news and mourning passed through our system, residents of the District were left with another grim reality: the killers were not apprehended.

"They are walking among us," said Phillip Pannell, a community activist who has begun counting the unsolved murders and crusading for justice.

From 2011 to 2015, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department reported 567 homicides. On average, about 77 percent of the murder cases were "cleared" -- though, as we'll see, that doesn't mean someone served jail time for them.

Through Sept. 27, there have been 104 murders in D.C., according to the Metropolitan Police Department website. Of those, about half are still open cases.

Any way you look at it, the District of Columbia can be a good place to get away with murder.

Consider a quartet of brazen killings that have made the news of late.

There’s Seth Rich, the 27-year-old from Nebraska who was shot dead on a hot July night in Bloomingdale. The beloved staffer with the Democratic National Committee was a block from his apartment when gunmen shot him in the back and left him mortally wounded. They are at large.

How about Charnice Milton: A community journalist, she was shot and killed as she got off a bus in May 2015, by a bullet cops believe was meant for someone else. There were at least a dozen witnesses and video. No arrests.

For diplomatic intrigue, we have Mikhail Lesin, once a Kremlin insider who fell out of favor with Russian leader Vladmir Putin. D.C. police found him in late 2015 in a Dupont Circle hotel room, dead from a heart attack, they said. Four months later medical examiners concluded he’d died of blunt force injuries to his head. No arrests.

Two cases I have personally covered prove that one can get away with murder in D.C.

Robert Wone was found stabbed to death in August 2006, in a bedroom of a Logan Circle row house. A well-respected lawyer, he was sleeping over at a home where the three residents were present. Police found Wone tucked into a bed under a clean, white sheet, with three neat knife marks on his chest. No one was charged with the murder nor convicted of any crime.

Last May three members of the Savapoulos family and their housekeeper were tortured and killed in their Massachusetts Heights mansion. Prosecutors charged one person, Daron Wint, with carrying out the crimes. He’s in custody, but prosecutors have postponed hearings twice. 

Prosecutors had said from the earliest days of the case that they believed Wint had help. In the affadavit for Wint's arrest warrant, a detective said that the crime "required the presence and assistance of more than one person."

Wint's next hearing is scheduled for Thursday. No one else has been arrested.

Why does it seem so easy to kill someone in the District and walk away?

Police will tout high "clearance" rates. According to the FBI, District cops cleared 80 percent of their murder cases or higher in the past five years, making the department one of the best in the nation. There is reason to doubt the numbers.

But clearance does not mean the killers were found, arrested and jailed.

"Hell, no," a retired cop told me.

Police "clear" a case when they make an arrest or identify a suspect. That does not mean that person was charged, convicted and served time. Prosecutors can decide not to prosecute, they might drop the case, or the alleged perpetrator might not get convicted. In many of those cleared cases the killers might remain at large.

Why are there so many murderers running around – like the Saturday night shooters in Anacostia or Seth Rich’s killers?

"Nobody trusts the police," a detective in the Logan Circle district tells me. "No one talks to us."

That’s especially true east of the Anacostia River, in police districts six and seven. Pannell, who’s assembled an exhibit of 143 unsolved murders in the District’s eastern wards since 2010, says residents believe they cannot talk to police without facing retribution from the killers.

"We have a community that's in collective fear of talking about the situation," he says. "They are afraid of getting killed, so they don’t say anything."

A patrol officer in the Seventh District adds: "Many of the surveillance cameras over here don’t work. And the community doesn’t trust us." (A police spokesman did not respond to a request for comment about the cameras.)

Police in Northwest neighborhoods have similar reactions.

The result?

"It emboldens the killers," Pannell said. "And people just become numb to it."

But there’s more than the propensity to avoid snitching that contributes to our high number of unsolved murders. I attribute it to the fear factor and the paucity of human intelligence. In rough communities where the majority of murders occur, residents fear bad guys more than they do the police. That balance of power has to shift.

Police can reverse that balance by increasing deployment of plain clothes vice squad officers. Assign more under cover cops. They can provide better intelligence to homicide detectives, and they can build the trust that residents require, before they cooperate with cops.

Once murderers realize they cannot be so brazen, the homicide rate will begin to fall, more killers will be brought to justice, and the fear in too many of our neighborhoods will begin to dissipate. At that point, getting away with murder in D.C. will not be so easy, in Mayor Bowser's old neighborhood – or her new one.

This story has been updated from an earlier version.

Photo Credit: NBC Washington ]]>
<![CDATA[A People's Journey to Political Power]]> Thu, 22 Sep 2016 19:02:00 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/obama+44th+president.jpg From emancipation to the Oval Office, see some of the monumental steps that culminated in the election of America’s first black president.

Photo Credit: Cheryl Thompson/NBCWashington]]>
<![CDATA[Officials in DC, Montgomery Co. to Discuss Paid Family Leave]]> Tue, 20 Sep 2016 08:19:04 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000016150885_1200x675_769233987572.jpg The debate over paid family leave will be discussed by officials in Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Maryland, Tuesday. News 4's Kristin Wright has more on what's being done. ]]> <![CDATA[Registration, Early Voting Info in DC, Va., Md.]]> Mon, 19 Sep 2016 16:25:40 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/240*120/20160919+Register+To+Vote.jpg

Deadlines are approaching for voter registration -- and, in some places, early voting is beginning.

Here's a guide to the voter registration and voting dates in our area:

Voter Registration

In the District of Columbia, online voter registrations must be completed by Oct. 11; mailed-in applications must be postmarked by Oct. 11. Registering in person at the D.C. Board of Elections can be done as late as Election Day itself, Nov. 8.

In Virginia, the voter registration deadline in Virginia is Oct. 17 for online, mailed and in-person applications.

In Maryland, Oct. 18 is the last day to turn in an application online or send it via mail to either the local or state board of elections.

It is also possible to register during the early voting period at an early voting center located in each county in Maryland. Early voting begins on Oct. 27 at 8 a.m. and ends on Nov. 3 at 8 p.m.

Early Voting

Early voting in D.C. starts Oct. 22 at One Judiciary Square and on Oct. 29 at several community centers throughout the District. Click here for a list, hours and wait times.

Virginia does not allow early voting, but you can vote as an absentee (see below for details).

In Maryland, early voting starts Oct. 27. Click here for more information and a list of early voting sites.

Absentee Voting

Like voting deadlines, absentee ballot deadlines differ slightly from state to state as well.

If voting via absentee ballot in D.C., the Board of Elections must receive the request to receive the ballot by no later than November 1 (you can also apply online). Then, your voted ballot must be received by Election Day. 

In Virginia, applications to receive an absentee ballots in the mail must be processed by Nov. 1 by 5 p.m. (you can apply online here). The deadline changes to Nov. 5 if requesting a ballot in person.

Absentee ballots must be received by Nov. 1 in Maryland as well (here's a link to the form you'll need). It is also possible to download an absentee ballot online, which must be done by Nov. 4.

In Maryland, you'll have to postmark your absentee ballot by election day, and it must be received by Nov. 18. You can also hand-deliver your voted ballot to your local board of elections by 8 p.m. on election day.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock / Joseph Sohm]]>
<![CDATA[Thousands of Fairfax County Voters Found Registered Elsewhere]]> Mon, 19 Sep 2016 15:59:00 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000016144729_1200x675_768730691844.jpg Fairfax County's general registrar discusses the interstate crosscheck program and how it affects the county this election year. Find more information on Fairfax County voting here.]]> <![CDATA[Former Gray Aide Sentenced to 3 Years Supervised Release]]> Fri, 16 Sep 2016 14:44:17 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/215*120/jeanneharris2.jpg

A former campaign aide to former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray was sentenced to one day in jail and 36 months of supervised release Friday for her role in the shadow campaign surrounding Gray’s 2010 run for mayor.

Jeanne Clarke Harris will not spend any time in jail, because she will be credited for one day already served.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly sentenced Harris to begin supervised release with 90 days in a halfway house followed by 180 days of home confinement. Harris will also have to pay a $1,000 fine.

Harris, 79, pleaded guilty in 2012 to conspiring with millionaire Jeffrey Thompson to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to help Gray defeat incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty.

Several other people who worked on Gray's campaign pleaded guilty to felonies.

Thompson admitted setting up a $660,000 slush fund that aided Gray's election as D.C. mayor in 2010. 

Gray denied wrongdoing and was not charged, but the scandal was a factor in his failure to win re-election.

Gray's case was dropped in December. He won the Democratic primary for the Ward 7 seat on the D.C. Council in June.

Photo Credit: NBCWashington]]>
<![CDATA[Congress Considers Family Friendly Bathrooms in Federal Buildings]]> Fri, 16 Sep 2016 05:22:36 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000016112911_1200x675_766361155646.jpg A key U.S. House committee approved changes to make federal buildings more family friendly. Scott MacFarlane reports.]]> <![CDATA[DC Police Chief Talks About Her Decision to Leave the Force]]> Fri, 16 Sep 2016 05:22:13 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000015974173_1200x675_756491331583.jpg D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier will leave her post in just about two weeks for a new job as head of security for the NFL. News4's Doreen Gentzler spoke with Chief Lanier about the move.]]> <![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Now 'Mouth-Off' Politics]]> Wed, 14 Sep 2016 14:00:57 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/GAVEL_GettyImages-144096770.jpg

There was a fierce exchange this past week about the state of our city's policing, judicial court system and politics. And we have not heard the last of it.

To recap: Departing Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy Lanier opened the door in an exit interview in which she declared the city's justice system "beyond broken. ...You can't police the city if the rest of the justice system is not accountable."

Some are mystified why Lanier would take such a disruptive shot as she walks out the door. Others say Lanier simply felt free to say what she was thinking.

Mayor Muriel Bowser had backed up the chief, repeating her complaint from a year ago that repeat violent criminals are not kept off the streets by prosecutors and judges (none of whom are, by the way, accountable to the city because they are all federal, presidential appointees).

It was too much for D.C. Superior Court Judge Lee F. Satterfield. He wrote an angry email (first disclosed by Washington Post columnist Colby King). Writing to Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Kevin Donahue, the chief judge dispensed with judicial restraint and decorum: "I for one am exhausted hearing [Bowser] mouth off politically about her hard working partners not being accountable to her as if they were the system would be better; and will start speaking out about it."

Satterfield accused the mayor of shirking her duty as official chair of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, having never attended one meeting of the independent agency that focuses on improving the judicial system.

Well, as of Monday, Bowser had not responded to the media clamoring for reaction.

But Deputy Mayor Donahue did.

In what was intended to be a private response to Satterfield (again made public by columnist King), the usually mild-mannered Donahue was as blunt as Satterfield had been. He said he respected the judge but that "the taunting tone of your email and clear intention that it becomes public fodder is disappointing."

Donahue said it was "offensive and condescending (perhaps even sexist) for you to characterize the Mayor's statements as 'mouthing off.'" Donahue said the mayor properly was answering questions from reporters about whether she thought the judicial system is imperfect.

And Donahue said the public is frustrated and fearful about crime, especially by violent repeat offenders, and said the mayor believes "all of us … must take responsibility" for those fears and frustrations. Donahue noted the mayor designates many officials to attend to a myriad of boards and commissions and that her appointees routinely attend the council that Satterfield referenced.

The mayor's office is furious that Satterfield allowed or orchestrated the email exchanges becoming public.

Will the classic war of words turn into something more meaningful? Will there be some public burying of the hatchet? Well, to continue the use of clichés, it's not over till it's over. And you ain't seen nothing yet.

Proving corruption. The District has had its share of political corruption. Every state and major city has.

But across the Potomac River, the case of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell has reset the table on prosecutions of public officials.

McDonnell himself is enjoying a great sigh of relief. Federal prosecutors decided last week not to seek a retrial of the Republican ex-governor after a unanimous Supreme Court ruling last summer overturning his conviction on public corruption. The court had said the prosecution failed to show McDonnell had taken a specific government act to aid his benefactor.

But now what? McDonnell says he'll seek to rebuild his life, one that most likely won’t include a return to active politics.

It's not just his critics who say his public life should be over. Del. Dave Albo, R-Fairfax, was a strong supporter of McDonnell when he was governor. If there is any doubt of McDonnell's public disgrace, Albo recently articulated a strong "court of public opinion."

Here is the direct Albo quote answering a question about McDonnell's future that we asked on the WAMU Politics Hour with Kojo Nnamdi:

"Bob is a very good friend of mine. I love the guy. I've often said that if something bad happened to my wife and I, and he wanted to take care of our kid, I'd do it. That’s how highly I respect him. But everybody makes mistakes. I think what he did was stupid, unethical, totally ridiculous and the dumbest thing I've ever seen."

■ McDonnell's revenge? Media reports suggest McDonnell alone incurred legal bills of about $10 million, not counting those for his wife, Maureen. (Her case is also being overturned.)

But Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Jeff Schapiro wrote this week that a little-known federal law allows former defendants who are not convicted and feel they were persecuted, not prosecuted, to sue to reclaim defense legal fees.

McDonnell all along vociferously said his prosecution was unwarranted, with federal prosecutors way out of line. But making a claim of unfair prosecution is a far reach itself.

In terms of impact, the Supreme Court ruling in the McDonnell case has one clear result. It will be much harder for prosecutors anywhere to bring political corruption cases without a clear-cut quid pro quo of wrongdoing.

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

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Jaffe: Gun-Toting Criminals Slip Through Broken System]]> Tue, 13 Sep 2016 08:45:09 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/shutterstock_369649358.jpg

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

Cathy Lanier tossed a bitter bouquet last week on her last days as D.C. police chief when she said our criminal justice system is "beyond broken." I agree. Take the case of Romeo Hayes.

It began on the night of Aug. 13, 2014. D.C. Detective Thurman Stallings couldn't sleep. A murder case on his desk beckoned. He woke his wife up about 2 a.m. and said he was heading into homicide headquarters. "Back by noon," he said. She wasn't surprised. He had 25 years on as a cop, loved his job and dedicated himself to getting killers off the street.

Behind the wheel of his green SUV, Stallings was stopped at a light near Alabama Avenue SE, when a small car pulled up to his left. The window dropped down; he saw the barrel of a Glock-17. Figuring he was being carjacked, he told the shooter: "Not tonight." Then he ducked.

The first bullet hit him in the arm. The car sped off. He gave chase.

Stallings cut the car off a few blocks away. When the car teed into his door, he saw the Glock come out of the passenger window and the flash of the muzzle. Bullets pierced his windshield. Three hit him in the chest. The car backed away and sped off again. Stallings saw police cars in his rear view mirror and managed to pull off into a side street.

A chopper airlifted him to Washington Hospital Center.

Romeo Hayes, then 28, had left the Opera Ultra Lounge at 14th and I streets NW with evil intent. Riding shotgun in a stolen car, he first squeezed off a few shots at a sedan, also driven by an off-duty cop, before turning his pistol on Stallings. Later that morning police arrested Hayes in Prince George's County when he tried to ditch the car. Prosecutors charged him with eight felonies, including assault with intent to kill and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.

You would expect judges to put Hayes away for a long, long time. Not quite. In March prosecutors allowed Hayes to take an Alford plea -- in which he acknowledged they had enough to convict him, but he was allowed to deny the allegations. The deal gave him a sentence of 10 years. So in 2026, a repeat offender with a penchant for randomly shooting at people could be back on the street.

I have had my differences with Chief Lanier, most recently on her dismantling of D.C.'s vice squads. But she's spot on with her thrashing of the criminal justice system. Apologists might blame violent crime on schools that fail to educate, lack of jobs, troubled families and more. All true, but they are missing the point. We know that a few career criminals are terrorizing our streets. We know gun crimes are on the rise in and around D.C. The criminal justice system fails to keep us safe.

Take Romeo Hayes. He has a rap sheet going back to his first arrest for armed car jacking in 2004. He's been arrested and charged in 14 cases in Prince George's County, many for possession of weapons. When he shot Stallings, a search warrant was out for failing to show up in court.

When I dug through case files, I found that prosecutors and judges kept letting Hayes slide. Lawyers stood by as he failed to show up in court. Judges never jailed him. In Prince George's County and the District, Romeo Hayes got the "okeedoke" from the law, so he kept racking up the gun crimes.

Lanier is correct when she fingers prosecutors and judges. She told the Washington Post that people want more police and more arrests, "but if we're arresting the same people over and over again, there's got to be some questions being asked."

Responding to her criticism, Chief Superior Court Judge Lee Satterfield told reporters at a press conference he "disagreed" but refused to elaborate. U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips defended the system.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser cut close to the bone when she pointed out that both prosecutors and judges are part of the federal government, as opposed to locally controlled systems in most major cities. "The prosecutors don't report to the people -- they don't report to me either. Judges and others don't."

When NBC4 reporter Mark Segraves asked if prosecutors and local judges should be elected, Bowser said, "I would rather have our criminal justice system accountable to the people who pay the taxes here and are affected by crime here."

That's not going to happen, so what can be done to fix the system and protect us from predators?

First, pressure D.C. councilmembers to pass tough laws to punish career criminals and stiffen jail time for gun crimes. As it is, too many councilmembers are weak-kneed and prone to blame society for bad behavior. That's especially true of at-large member David Grosso and Judiciary Chair Kenyan McDuffie. Nonsense. Treat drug offenders, but jail violent offenders.

Stop prosecutors from offering up plea deals to violent criminals like Romeo Hayes.

Monitor judges. I have sat in Superior Court time after time and watched judges give light sentences to people who used guns to rob or settle scores. They should serve hard time.

This is not about race. Violent men or women, regardless of skin color or class, must be taken off the streets.

By the way, Detective Thurmond Stallings is back on the streets. Doctors sent him home without removing the bullets. He's healed. He's on the homicide squad trying to arrest killers in our midst.

At least that part of the system is working.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock]]>
<![CDATA[Gov. Signs Executive Order to Start Schools After Labor Day]]> Wed, 31 Aug 2016 19:16:43 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/school-bus-generic2.jpg

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has signed an executive order that will require schools in the state to start after Labor Day.

Hogan made the announcement during a news conference in Ocean City, Maryland, Wednesday afternoon.

Hogan says the executive order will require schools in the state to start after Labor Day, beginning with the 2017-2018 school year. Schools must complete 180 days of class and end by June 15. 

“Starting Maryland public schools after Labor Day is not just a family issue – it’s an economic and public safety issue that draws clear, strong, bipartisan support among an overwhelming majority of Marylanders,” said Governor Hogan.

Supporters of starting school after Labor Day say extending summer vacation by between five and 10 days would increase family time and help small businesses that would benefit from a boost in tourism.

Hogan says nearly 75 percent of Maryland residents support starting school after Labor Day. Schools will be allowed to apply for a waiver, but they must provide a compelling reason for needing an earlier start date. 

According to a study by the Bureau of Revenue Estimates, a post-Labor Day school start could generate an additional $74.3 million in direct economic activity for the state.

But Hogan's executive order is drawing some criticism. 

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller said Wednesday shortly after Hogan's announcement that using an executive order is "legally questionable.'' 

Miller, a Democrat, says it would have been more appropriate for the Republican governor to push for legislation and work with education experts and local officials around the state. 

Miller also says the governor's announcement with Comptroller Peter Franchot by his side "appears like political gamesmanship.'' 

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Some Local Write-in Votes for President Might Not Be Counted]]> Wed, 31 Aug 2016 15:22:01 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/183*120/dc+md+virginia+voting+generic.jpg

If you vote for a write-in candidate for president on Election Day, the name likely won’t be read or formally tabulated by state election officials in Maryland or Virginia. Especially if your vote is for Mom or Mickey Mouse.

Unless a write-in presidential candidate formally registers his or her candidacy, a name written on the ballot likely will be ignored by the departments of elections in both states, according to a News4 review.

News4 sent a series of questions to election officials about their protocols for handling “write-in” votes in presidential elections. According to their responses, and News4’s review of election records and public election board meeting minutes, the states are unable to formally transcribe and tabulate the names of write-in votes.

Less than three months before Election Day, several high-ranking elected officials have publicly announced plans to write-in the name of a presidential choice, rather than choose among the major party candidates. In the Washington, D.C.-region, multiple high-ranking officials have declined to announce an endorsement of either major party candidate.

Maryland election officials said the state’s shift to paper ballots for the 2016 general election makes the formal tabulation of most write-in candidates untenable. Among the challenges is the quality of the handwriting.

A state election official told News4 the overall number of write-in votes will be tabulated, but the specific handwritten names would only be read by local vote canvassers, if those names are read at all.

Maryland State Board of Elections Assistant Administrator Donna Duncan said the electronic voting systems used in prior elections made it easier for election officials to collect the names of write-in candidates. With the return of the paper ballots, the state’s records would include a spreadsheet in which images of cast ballots are stored, Duncan said. Those images will include the handwritten names of write-in choices, but those choices will not be counted in Maryland unless the total number of write-in votes exceeds those won by all of the major party candidates.

In Virginia, a write-in option will appear on the first page of the ballot, according to state election officials.

“In Virginia, individual write-in votes are only counted if write-in votes constitute at least 5 percent of the total votes cast for the office,” an agency spokesman said. “For presidential write-ins to be counted, a candidate additionally would have to file a joint declaration of write-in intent with the department at least 10 days prior to Election Day.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Nixes Legal Path for Undocumented Immigrants]]> Thu, 01 Sep 2016 17:00:09 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/WRC_0000000015968122_1200x675_755976771728.jpg NBC News Senior Political Editor Mark Murray said there were four questions Trump needed to answer in his immigration speech -- and he did. The biggest: Trump ruled out any legal path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.]]> <![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: Sending 911 for 911!]]> Wed, 31 Aug 2016 05:33:03 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/911-Call-Generic-1.jpg

If you’ve ever milled around a gasoline station while your tank is filled, you’ve probably spotted a big red button near all the gas pumps.

In case of emergency, that button shuts off the gasoline to any and all tanks to limit damage.

We learned this week there is a button or switch like that in the bottom of the building in Southeast that houses the District’s Office of Unified Communications (known as the OUC).

Just before midnight on Saturday, according to District officials, an engineer inspecting a water leak hit the button or switch, killing the power to the entire operation of the OUC for nearly 90 minutes. Even when the power was restored, it took a while to get all the 911 and 311 equipment back up and running. It wasn’t until Monday morning that the reason for the shut-off was even clear.

The cutoff valve is in a secure room, but the engineer had access to it.

“When you come into the server room, there’s a lot of power coming in there,” said Chris Geldart, director of homeland security for the District. “A lot of sensitive equipment, a lot of danger for firefighters. So the [cutoff] box is there on purpose so that the firefighters have one place to go to shut down all of that power.”

Geldart, who won praise for the city’s snow response this past winter, said there were warning signs and protocols that maybe weren’t given enough attention. He said the city already has cut down the limited number of people who have access to that room and “instructions are where they need to be.”

As of our deadline, there were no reports of extremely serious calls that were missed as the system moved to an off-site backup. Geldart and Karima Holmes, director of the call center itself, said other safeguards are being put into place.

“This [event] caused our entire center to go down,” Holmes told us. “We want to make sure that button is pushed only when it’s needed to be pushed.”

■ Trump 911? Your Notebook mostly sticks to local politics in the District and occasionally Maryland and Virginia. But we are fascinated by the twists and turns of the Donald Trump presidential campaign.

As of this writing, Trump was to give a clarifying speech Wednesday in Arizona on his now-muddled immigration plans. He began his campaign by promising to deport 11 million undocumented people, saying they could come back only by applying legally.

This past weekend, Trump said he’d go after criminals among the immigrants first. He was far less clear about what happens to the others.

Your Notebook is borrowing a line from Trump and reminds everyone that Trump had said he could “shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue” and his supporters would not desert him. Well, we say that Trump has “shot” his hard-line immigration stand. What will his hard-line supporters do now?

■ A final word. It’s a truth that news directors at television stations often come and go. Some make new policies, some just fill the slot and some are never forgotten, for good and bad reasons.

And then there was Robert (Bob) Long. He died this week at George Washington University Hospital after a prolonged illness. Long was our news director at NBC4 from 1999 until 2003. Veteran anchor Jim Vance wrote the staff a note about our former news director and friend to Vance and many others even after he left. We’ll let Vance’s note to the staff wrap things up:

“One day a while ago, a guy who used to work here chose to celebrate yet another winning/dominant May [ratings book] in a note to the staff with the life cycle of the mayfly as metaphor. It was sparkling prose, ending, as did all the former and later such notes, with an invitation to Chadwicks, or Clydes or Matisse or wherever, to raise a drink to our success as our competition ‘drowned in their own hot tears of despair’.

“On another occasion, he likened our victory to Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps in his campaign against the Romans.

“Who writes stuff like that at the end of a book!? For those of us fortunate to have worked for him, the answer is, of course, Bob Long. There is no one who knew him, who doesn’t have a Bob Long story to tell. For his part, Bob had a thousand of his own, which he was happy to share with anyone who would listen. And who wouldn’t listen? The stories were fantastic, so much so that [former NBC4 weatherman] Bob Ryan and others are still trying to figure out which might be true.

“Such pondering is now moot. After a long and valiant struggle, Bob lay down his sword [Monday]. But if there’s anybody whose spirit will never die, it surely is his.”

Now that was Vance’s note. Vance ended his tribute with a call to raise a glass to Long on Monday night at Matisse. As Vance said, “We’re going to raise a drink or three in celebration of a life well lived. And, in gratitude that at some point, we were blessed to share the same space, breathe the same air, laugh, cuss, and maybe even tell a lie or two (maybe not) with Bob Long.”

And in case you missed it, your Notebook will add this: Long was a hell of a journalist.

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

<![CDATA[District Test Scores Show Improvement, Long Way Still to Go]]> Tue, 30 Aug 2016 19:10:38 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/20160830+Kaya+Henderson.jpg

School test scores in the District of Columbia show just over one-fourth of city students are on grade level for career or college -- a slight increase from the year before, and significantly better than several years ago.

Those results are from the city's standardized test, called PARCC, for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. It measures college and career readiness in math and English.



Despite the improvements, schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said much more needs to be done.

"If you are a crow, right, you think you're flying high because you're in a barnyard full of turkeys. Right?" said Henderson, who leaves her post next month after almost six years in charge of the District's schools. 

"But there are eagles soaring way above and that's where we need to get to."



Henderson's good-humored description didn't disguise the tough job in the schools for teachers and administrators in a city with most students eligbile for food and other aid.

"They are taking students and families that have been misserved and disserved and have been super far behind, and holding them to a very high standard," Henderson said.

That's a reality faced every day by Anita Berger, the principal for 13 years at Banneker High, where Henderson and Mayor Muriel Bowser held a press conference Tuesday to announce the test scores.

"I've seen a lot," Berger said, who joined Banneker as a teacher. "I've seen the city go from one end to the other end in terms of spectrum. I know where we've come from, but we still have a lot of work to do."

"Children will meet a standard, if in fact that standard is set," Berger said.

Charter schools, which account for nearly half the school age population, did better than traditional public schools.

"Well, I think overall we've seen the scores move in the right direction," said Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Bowser is beginning the search for a new chancellor. She said she's looking for someone to build on the initial progress of Henderson and the current school system.

<![CDATA[Jaffe: Bowser's All-Important Pick for School Chancellor ]]> Tue, 30 Aug 2016 09:33:28 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/213*120/041916+kaya+henderson.jpg

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

Mayor Muriel Bowser has scheduled the first community meeting Tuesday night to help her choose the next public school chancellor, arguably the most important pick she will make. It's not as consequential as a Supreme Court nomination, of course, but as close as we get in the city around the high court.

More than a few school activists believe the fix is in.

"It doesn’t look like there's a real search going on," said Mary Filardo, executive director of the 21st Century School Fund. "There seems to be a strong desire to stay the course."

That might not be the worst outcome. In the past decade -- since then-Mayor Adrian Fenty put DCPS under mayoral control -- the District’s public schools are much improved in measurable and immeasurable ways. More on that later.

Our rookie mayor suddenly has to fill two major leadership posts. Police Chief Cathy Lanier resigned a few weeks ago and leaves Sept. 17, after a decade. Kaya Henderson served seven years and splits by the end of the month.

I would argue Bowser’s choice to run the schools is much more important for the District's future. You need a cop when you need a cop; you need educators every day. Bowser’s choice to run the schools will reverberate beyond the schools. As the schools go, so goes the District's middle class.

"The fate of the schools will determine the fate of the city," said Matthew Frumin, a former DCPS parent who’s been a school advocate for years. "They are inextricably tied. Housing affordability is wrapped up in schools. Whether firemen and police officers and our work force can live in the city is dependent on the public schools."

Public schools have failed generations of African Americans. Who will prepare the net generations to succeed in the digital world?

To tweak James Carville’s line: "It's the schools, stupid."

School advocates measure the success of the leadership on how well it does at closing the achievement gap between white middle class students and less advantaged kids of color. To that I would add the "trust gap."

Can parents, regardless of their race or class, trust the schools to educate their children beyond fifth grade into middle and high school? As children approach the end of their elementary school years, parents weigh whether to send them to public, charter or private schools. Too many move out of the District, diluting the middle class and consigning D.C. to a city of transients.

In the 2015 school year the system lost more than 16 percent of its student body by the eighth grade, according to a study by the Chief Financial Officer, "especially between grades 5 and 6."

The Washington Post branded it the "sixth grade brain drain."

For the health of the District, closing that drain is as crucial as narrowing the achievement gap for the next school leader.

Who will be that next leader?

Filardo joined other activists in the Coalition for D.C. Public Schools and Communities in an Aug. 11 letter to the mayor suggesting five essential qualities for the next chancellor. Many were veiled criticisms of the last decade’s leadership: three years under Michelle Rhee and seven with her colleague Kaya Henderson.

The letter derided closing of schools “especially in wards east of the river.” Rhee and Henderson closed dozens of schools, because they were rotting and empty. It called for a well-rounded education for every student, which "will require a commitment to additional accountability measures beyond test scores and graduation rates." Rhee and Henderson were big on data.

I asked Filardo is she was pleased with Henderson’s stewardship over the past seven years.

"I know things could be worse," she responded. "But she was not qualified for the job. She learned on the job. It was amateur hour."

That’s harsh, even in the view of Frumin, one of the founders of the group that sponsored the letter. He said some of the advocates are "stepping on their goals."

"We've had ten years of one approach," he said. "What’s needed now is to truly step back and investigate what’s worked, who’s succeeded and who’s fallen behind, rather than congratulating ourselves and pointing at the good things.

"Not everything’s been successful," he adds. "We have to be methodical."

Agreed, but even the harshest critics have to admit the District’s public schools are vastly improved. Before Fenty took over in 2007, schools often failed to open on time because the buildings were unsafe. Parents stocked toilet paper and water bottles in their kids’ backpacks. On cold days my daughters wore coats all day because boilers failed. They had teachers who told them to put their heads down and rest -- in science class.

No more. There are new athletic fields and school buildings across the city, from Ballou High School in Congress Heights to Wilson High in Tenleytown. Plenty of terrible teachers were forced out. Was it pretty and without pain? No. But the school system is no longer failing to give students the opportunity to learn, in buildings that are safe and sound.

Henderson’s team has closed the achievement gap, but not enough for some activists. There is no quick fix. It might take another decade.

In the past decade, Rhee and Henderson and their teams have reversed the loss of students. From just over 45,000 in 2011, enrollment has increased a few hundred a year and is headed to 50,000. Henderson sent 400 8th and 11th graders to study abroad programs in Costa Rica, Ecuador, Spain, China and Europe. The plan to send 500 next summer. They have opened two new middle schools with plans to build more.

So what’s the mayor to do? If there was a time to be like her mentor, Adrian Fenty, now is the time.

Undertake a nationwide search. Be transparent. Use the opportunity to set out goals for the next decade. Shield the process from politics. To quote Michelle Rhee, with whom I collaborated on a book, put students first. Pick a strong leader who can withstand meddling from the council and your own bureaucracy.

Consistency counts. For decades before Fenty, school superintendents passed through the District like Redskin coaches: there were Becton and Ackerman, Vance and Smith, and Clifford Janey in the decade before Rhee. Having Kaya Henderson at the helm for seven years was a gift.

Frumin has fond memories of one thing Fenty and Rhee brought: intensity.

"Let's hope the new chancellor brings a new sense of urgency," he said, "based on the lessons we learned."

Bowser can fire up that sense of urgency.

If the search leads her to choose someone from Henderson’s team, let’s hope she has the strength to trust herself. In a system that’s moving in the right direction, change for the sake of change is unfair to students, and it might stall the city’s chance to grow a strong middle class.

No pressure. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sherwood's Notebook: A Trump Crowd Up Close]]> Thu, 25 Aug 2016 05:58:30 -0400 http://media.nbcwashington.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-594346194.jpg

Your Notebook traveled to Fredericksburg, Va., on Saturday for the Donald Trump rally at its Expo Center.

Fortunately, NBC4 cameraman/editor Evan Carr did all the driving. And fortunately, we were in the free-flowing toll lanes going and returning. Even on a Saturday, regular lanes on I-395 and I-95 were horrific displays of Northern Virginia’s biggest problem: traffic jams.

And also fortunately, the rally site in Fredericksburg was next door to a Wegmans grocery. Before covering the rally crowd, we had lunch at Wegmans. It was my first-ever Wegmans experience. Wandering around part of the store (too big to see it all), I understood why neighbors of the old Walter Reed site in the District are upset Wegmans has essentially pulled out of the planned redevelopment there.

The grocer told the Washington Business Journal and NBC4 last week that it couldn’t reach an agreement with developers of the site. But it also told NBC4 that the city’s new $15 minimum wage law, proposed regulations of part-time worker scheduling and possible paid family leave were factors in its decision.

Mayor Muriel Bowser told us Friday on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Politics Hour that she wasn’t giving up on Wegmans just yet. The Walter Reed site is about 66 acres of land where a whole new community is slated to be built. And now we are Wegmans supporters, too. Good luck, mayor!

Oh, wait. We were writing about the Trump rally.

It attracted several thousand people. The first person in line told us he arrived at 6:30 a.m. for the 6 p.m. rally.

While there have been many reports of angry Trump crowds cursing and yelling at the news media and its alleged bias, we had none of that on Saturday. Your Notebook, who was both outside and inside the rally and was wearing a media badge, encountered not one angry person. Not one.

We did meet many people who are concerned about the direction of their country and told us only Trump understands them. Whatever their political hopes and fears, it was nice to talk to politically involved people who seemed to appreciate being asked what they thought.

■ “Virginia is lost.” Despite Trump’s raucous rally, the polls show the Republican nominee more than 10 points behind Hillary Clinton in Virginia. She recently postponed her local television ads because she is ahead. Trump this weekend put up his first TV ads in four battleground states. Virginia was not one of them.

On Monday morning, conservative radio host and MSNBC political analyst Hugh Hewitt described the political playing field and said simply, “Virginia is lost.”

As we said on NBC4 Saturday, for this election Virginia may no longer be a battleground state.

■ Presidential outcomes. Many Democrats are (unwisely) talking landslide on Nov. 8. Here is a cool New York Times electoral map looking back to 1964: tinyurl.com/NYT-electoral-history.

■ Bongino’s #%!%#* world. Maryland voters may be interested in an extraordinary telephone call involving former Republican candidate Dan Bongino.

The former Secret Service agent and author, who lost races for the Senate and the House in Maryland, is in a Naples-area congressional seat primary in Florida this Tuesday.

When Politico reporter Marc Caputo called Bongino on Sunday about Bongino’s criticism of a newspaper story, the conversation quickly went downhill. Just know that The Current can’t print any of the salty words Bongino used.

If you want to listen yourself, you can visit tinyurl.com/bongino-youtube — but again, you are forewarned of its extremely foul language.

■ Progress at DCRA. Mayor Bowser spent much of last week hunkered down in what many see as the most frustrating agency in town, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

We don’t know what improvements Bowser will come up with, but the agency itself has some good news this week for anyone applying for or renewing a basic business license. You can do it online.

The mayor is due to appear at The Coupe in Columbia Heights on Thursday to promote the online application process.

Agency director Melinda Bolling told the Notebook on Monday, “The Portal is going to simplify the licensing process for businesses. By using the portal and skipping a trip to DCRA, business owners can spend the time saved to work with staff or customers — or just to take some time to recharge.”

During Thursday’s event, the restaurant/bar will renew its business license online.

The regulatory affairs department always draws a huge crowd at D.C. Council oversight hearings. The agency has supplanted the Department of Motor Vehicles and — almost — parking tickets as the major topic of scorn.

Anything that improves the experience there can mean only good things for individuals and businesses that provide services, jobs and tax revenue.

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

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>