WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 13: District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee (R) and City Council Chairman Vincent Gray attend a news conference October 13, 2010 at Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. Rhee has announced her decision to down from her position and Mayor Adrian Fenty has picked Deputy Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson to become the interim chancellor. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Mayor Vincent Gray has told Attorney General Irv Nathan to return both of D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown’s SUVs, taking advantage of an escape clause in the leases. According to the Washington Examiner, Nathan “said it’s too early to know how much breaking the leases and returning the Navigators will cost the city.”
Great. Now we can move on to what Washington City Paper’s Alan Suderman rightly calls “the bigger scandal”: Gray’s hiring of fringe mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown “to be a ‘special assistant’ at a $110,000 a year with the Department of Health Care Finance,” despite his lack of any evident relevant experience.
Suderman writes that “Brown’s antics on the campaign trail last year included claiming former Mayor Adrian Fenty doesn’t like his parents, refusing to get out of a chair that wasn’t his at a mayoral debate, bothering cameramen who are trying to work, and threatening legal action against media outlets for not covering his campaign.” And when he was debating, he spent most of his time slamming Fenty and praising Gray.
Suderman writes: “No one at these forums took Brown’s candidacy seriously, including himself. His common refrain was: ‘If you don’t vote Brown, vote Gray.’” Suderman also found records of gun charges, an unlawful entry conviction, and a restraining order in Brown’s past.
So why did Gray hire this guy? At his Wednesday press conference, the mayor said, “We believe he has the requisite skills to do the job. Just like anybody else, if that proves not to be the case, he won’t be there.” When NBC Washington’s Tom Sherwood asked if cronyism was involved, Gray replied, “I don’t see it as cronyism, Tom. I see it as somebody who applied for the job and was qualified for the job and was hired.”
Gray also defended the hiring of the children of several top aides, rhetorically asking, “How do you give young people an opportunity to become the leaders of tomorrow?” What about opportunities for those without family ties to the mayor?
Elsewhere in the DMV:
* What happens to D.C. if the federal government shuts down? The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis writes that Congress “still needs to vote to approve city spending, and the House has not approved the financial services funding bill that city appropriations are rolled into.” Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said late Wednesday, “As the likelihood of a federal government shutdown increased after the House of Representatives last week passed a full-year continuing resolution, we have been making every effort to ensure that the District of Columbia government would continue to be able to spend its local funds if the federal government shuts down on March 4.”
Washington Business Journal adds that the local hospitality industry “could bear some financial burden, too, if government employees end up out of work (or out of their offices) for an extended period of time.” Capitol Hill restaurants “are watching the shutdown closely, though the impact would depend on how long offices were closed and people stay at home.”
* The Post reports interim At-Large D.C. Councilmember Sekou Biddle “has won one of the first major endorsements in the at-large D.C. Council race -- one that could give him a real advantage in the April 26 special election.” UNITE HERE Local 25, representing about 8,000 hotel and restaurant workers, endorsed Biddle, who faces nine rivals, in the contest.
Meanwhile, DCist talks with one of Biddle’s rivals, Ward 8 Democrat Jacque Patterson, a Williams Administration official and veteran advisory neighborhood commissioner. Discussing Council priorities, Patterson said, “The budgetary issues are the biggest thing across the board. It talks about what programs may be cut deepest, how much we’ll be funding education, what we can afford to cut and what we can’t.” He said improving government efficiency, and not big cuts or tax increases, is key to closing the gap.
Biddle, Patterson, and three other contenders -- Joshua Lopez, Vincent Orange, and Bryan Weaver -- debated Wednesday night at the Social Safeway on Wisconsin Avenue, the Georgetown Dish reports. Another major contender, Republican Pat Mara, was unable to attend due to D.C. State Board of Education business.
* The Examiner reports the District will appeal arbitrator Charles Feigenbaum’s decision “to reinstate and offer back pay to 77 teachers fired in 2008 from D.C. Public Schools.” Mayor Vincent Gray said, “It is the opinion of the attorney general that the arbitrator erred in requiring the District to provide back pay to teachers who were justifiably found not to be effective teachers.”
* Maryland’s same-sex marriage bill advanced on a preliminary vote of 25 to 22 Wednesday, indicating that final passage is likely today. Before that test vote, senators voted 30 to 17 to reject a proposed amendment that would have allowed religious-affiliated adoption agencies to refuse services to same-sex couples. Senators also voted 26 to 21 to change the name of the bill from the “Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act” to the “Civil Marriage Protection Act,” a minor symbolic victory for gay marriage opponents.
The Baltimore Sun says “though lawmakers had braced for a session that might run from the morning deep into the evening, opponents put forward only 11 amendments, and a vote on the bill came shortly before 1 p.m.” The House of Delegates plans to take up the bill in committee on Friday, and Gov. Martin O’Malley has said he would sign it into law.
But the Examiner says “many Prince George’s County senators said they will vote against same-sex matrimony Thursday despite unanimous support for the measure from their political brethren in Montgomery County.” The vote “will showcase a rare legislative break between the two jurisdictions.”
* The Post reports the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is taking on Rep. Frank Wolf “for his vote last week in favor of the GOP’s spending resolution, accusing the Northern Virginia lawmaker of betraying his constituents in the federal workforce.” Wolf’s district “includes thousands of federal employees” -- some of whom could lose their jobs if the $61 billion in spending cuts are approved.
* The Post reports the Virginia Senate “has postponed a major vote over abortion rights, as Democrats in the chamber hunt for votes to kill last-minute legislation that would regulate clinics where first trimester abortions are performed as hospitals.” With two Democrats expressing support for the bill, a tie is possible. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who supports the legislation, would break a tie.
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC