The Nearly Forgotten Electorates

July 26, 2011

In the increased intensity of interest surrounding the District’s mayoral race, the casualties have been the attention paid to the other electoral races in the city.

Chief among them is the race for the chairman’s seat left open by Gray’s mayoral bid. When Gray finally announced, the political air was full of rumors about who would run, and a lot of the buzz was about Jack Evans, the Ward 2 Councilman who is also the longest-serving member of the council and a one-time mayoral candidate. The other speculation was Kwame Brown, who is in the midst of his second term as at-large councilman. Other names floated around included Michael Brown, the independent at large council member, and Phil Mendelson, now running to keep his Democratic at-large seat in a confusing race. Evans in fact had flat out said he was going to run if Gray ran for mayor.

Nobody much mentioned Vincent Orange, twice elected to the Ward 5 Council seat which he held until he decided to run for mayor four years ago (and lost decisively in a crowded field).

But when the dust settled there were no Evans, no Mendelson, and no Michael Brown. There was just Kwame Brown and Vincent Orange.

Evans quickly announced, without explanation, that he had decided not to run. Kwame Brown was effectively alone in the race until, after some time, Vincent Orange decided to step into the mix. “I would not have run if Jack had run,” Orange said. “Once I knew he wouldn’t – well, I just decided to enter the race. One of the things the job needs is experience, and I think I’m the guy best qualified.”

But for Orange, it’s been an uphill battle. “I know how the council works; I was on the council for eight years. I know the people, the process, the workings of the committees, the way things work,” he said. “And one of the things we have now is a bit of an imbalance, and that’s got to change. We have a powerful executive, and a council that hasn’t been a true partner. I would push for an equal partnership – in education especially. I’m for reform, but we have to be a part of it.”

The other thing for Orange, who has an up-from-poverty background (that he will detail for you with great intensity and feeling), is that he insists Kwame Brown simply isn’t ready. “He doesn’t have the know-how, the experience. You’ve got to have an experienced leader in that job. You can’t have somebody that everybody backs because he’s a nice guy. Sure, he’s a nice guy. Everybody thinks so. That doesn’t make you qualified to be chairman of the city council. It’s the second most important job in local government.”

There’s that, and the fact that in the summer, after Kwame Brown had piled up a significant package of endorsements – including all of his fellow council members – it was reported that he had amassed a considerable credit card debt while spending money on upwardly mobile items, including a boat he named “Bulletproof”. The resulting media furor gave Orange the opportunity to chastise Brown as not being fit to represent the city on Wall Street. But it has not helped much.

Neither, it appears has a Washington Post endorsement, or a recent endorsement by the City Paper. More importantly, it turned out, was a Washington Post poll which showed that Brown was winning easily, by as much as 20% or more.

Still, Brown isn’t taking anything for granted. And he says he’s learned his lesson from his financial woes, which he’s taken care of. “I made mistakes,” he said. “It happens to people when they get into a certain position – a certain level. You learn from things like that, you really do. Not going to happen again, I can tell you that.”

Orange has scoffed at the council endorsements. “It’s a club,” he said. “When you’re in, that’s what happens. When you’re not, you’re not.”

However, Brown has a different take on the situation. “The council members trust me,” he says. “It’s not about committee assignments or things like that. They think I can do the job, and I intend to prove that.”

Here’s the thing. Brown IS easy to like. And he makes a strong case when he talks about his own native DC background, his rise in the community, in business, and on the council. “The chairman has to be able to work with the mayor,” he said. “I think I’ll be able to work well with the mayor – if Gray wins or if Fenty wins. Chairman Gray and I have already established a strong working relationship on the council, and I’m about the same age as the mayor [Fenty]; I’ve got the same kind of concerns and energy, so I think we can talk together pretty well. We understand each other.”

On the council, Brown comes across as a guy who can bridge the gaps between the wards — his two young sons go to public school in the neighborhood, his wife is a school teacher, and he knows what’s going on in the wards where Fenty is meeting anger and resistance from voters. His appeal, in spite of his financial controversies (there have recently been campaign fund issues) is broad throughout the district.
He’s also been effective — witness his leadership in the School Modernization Act and, equally impressive, in the reform of the District’s domestic violence laws.

Brown currently chairs the Committee on Economic Development.
Still, it’s fair to say that the city has had a history of effective, and often memorable, council chairpersons from Sterling Tucker Dave Clark, to John Wilson, to Cropp and Gray.

Dark Clouds Overhead

July 13, 2011

A snaky, hunchbacked Richard opens Shakespeare’s “Richard III” every time with the intonation “Now is the winter of our discontent.”

At least it’s winter in not-so-merry old England. Now is the summer of our discontent, and disconnect. Not to mention it’s really, really hot and dry.

Now the world, we ourselves in this city, and across the country, sit under a cloud, waiting. The summer is full of irresolution, of something’s-going-to-happen-but-not-in-a-good-way, of portents and omens. In ancient Rome right about now, they would have slaughtered a goat and looked at its liver for signs.

All we can do is wait:

To see what happens with the investigations that are now working their way through the heart of the city government while its leadership—mainly Mayor Vincent Gray—remain silent on the outcome. Gray, City and Council Chairman Kwame Brown are both under a cloud awaiting results of various investigations, a process that seems long, tedious and full of the kind of suspense that can hold the city’s policies and politics hostage.

Meanwhile, the dark, dark cloud of the great 2011 Raising-the-Debt-Ceiling crisis, an exercise in political jockeying that would be fascinating except for the fact that the continuing irresolution is frightening to each and every one of us. Although you could hardly tell by the way the administration, the House of Representatives and Senate and all politicians, elected officials and who knows, interns, are going about the business of solving the crisis.

Out there in the great wide world, the stormy Middle Eastern spring which saw authoritarian regimes fall with dramatic and startling suddenness (Tunisia, and goodbye Mubarek’s Egypt) and others tremble at their core (Libya, Syria, Bahrain,Yemen), has turned into a sultry, violence-driven, and irresolute summer of uncertainty and fear. That particular cloud, which also encompasses other nations and spreads out to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Israel and the other oil states, not to mention Iran, could turn into a flood-carrying cloudburst at any time.

Irresolution—that helpless feeling that something big is going to happen, hinted at by the nervous flapping of bird wings before a tsunami or earthquake—is the temper of our times in this city. It’s the atmosphere of the times and the talk and silence of the town and the bird food of the chattering classes in the media because here we are, living in the midst of history. It’s a dark cloud that hangs over our local city government, over the meeting rooms at the White House and Capitol Hill, over nervous Embassy Row. But it’s already burst over Minneapolis, St. Paul where they’re living the results of government bankruptcy and insolvency, where the government, and all that it oversees, handles and processes, has shut down.

The investigations were sparked what seems like centuries ago by a very minor candidate in the field of the 2010 mayoral race which saw Gray defeat incumbent Adrian Fenty. That would be Sulaimon Brown, who, after getting fired from a job given to him by the administration, charged that Gray aides had paid him to stay in the race and continue his attacks on Fenty. Nothing has been the same since for Gray, who had swept into office with a “one city” dream and a reputation for high integrity – a reputation which has taken some hits.

The story is by now familiar and yet madly resists resolution. The city government and the city council are plagued not only by Gray’s troubles, but by those of Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. and more importantly by chairman Kwame Brown, whose 2008 campaign finances and activities are now being probed by the Feds. A council investigation climaxed in a circus-like testimony by Sulaimon Brown, decked out in dark glasses and insisting that the mayor is a crook, a litany he’s repeated all over the city. A recent Washington Post has shown that only 47 percent of D.C. Democrats have a favorable opinion of Gray, down from 60 percent, and that his unfavorables have jumped by 24 percent. Meanwhile, a grand jury is looking at the Gray campaign’s activities, including the Brown charges. In addition, there’s at least one website calling for Gray’s recall out there.

All of this has resulted a feeling of both foreboding and lethargy in the government. No doubt, there are folks out there planning their 2014 campaigns for mayor. While there is grumbling, gossiping and chatter in the neighborhoods, there is mostly silence at the top. The mayor has studiously avoided talking to the press or made any compelling statement on the whole mess.

The cloud, in short, stays put, stays dark.

The debt ceiling cloud remains also, amid some dire predictions that the country may default on its debt if the ceiling isn’t raised, which it has been for decades, almost routinely. The battle is taking place in negotiations between President Obama, the house leadership and the senate leadership. It’s a political battle in which the GOP, sensing opportunity, wants huge budget cuts in the trillions for next to nothing, not even closing tax loopholes for the wealthy and for corporations.

The GOP stalwarts, especially die-harder Mitch McConnell in the Senate cry “tax hike” and “job killer.” Obama hands out deadlines. The president and House Leader John Boehner came very close to reaching a startling comprehensive agreement which included major cuts AND tax hikes, which freaked out the Tea Party stalwarts in both houses, causing Boehner to give it up. Maybe its time to golf again.

The background, of course, for all concerned, is the 2012 election and a hostile intransigence that hard to figure.

It’s a black cloud, looming, coming soon to an unemployment line (up to 9.2 percent) near you.

In the Middle East, you can see the fear and irresolution. If Syria, which has always thought to be one of the more solid repressive regimes in the region, can tremble—in spite of government forces firing on demonstrators—then anything can happen. It’s an ongoing process – Yemen very nearly fell to opponents, the Egyptian revolution has given way to further demonstrations, the situation in Libya has turned into a bloody and unresolved civil war which has sucked in NATO and the Obama administration.

What does energy look like in California?

Nestled in the heart of California’s Central Valley, and located in Fresno County, is the City of Mendota. Mendota bears the designation of “Cantaloupe Center of the World”, as agriculture is an important part of the City’s economy. The City of Mendota origins lie in the railroad industry. In 1891, Mendota thrived as a Southern Pacific Railroad storage and switching facility site. The first post office opened in 1892, and the City incorporated in 1942. Mendota has grown progressively, with agriculture always at the heart of the City. The city suffers from chronic unemployment, averaging 20 percent. In 2009, a drought combined with a recession caused unemployment to surge above 40 percent. The unemployment peaked at 45 percent in 2011 and has started to head downward. Mendota stands behind its strong heritage and community pride.

Mendota stands at the crossroads of its past and a green energy future. Mendota is developing into a leading community in Fresno County, and industries across the globe are keeping an eye on the projects underway there. One of those industries is what has made California a champion in the world, Green Energy Technology.

I know some of you have heard me talk about Mendota BioEnergy LLC and their Advanced Bionenergy Beet Center before in previous articles. Just this week, I sat down with two instrumental people from the development team: Jim Tischer, project coordinator and Leon Woods, regulatory affairs. They walked me through the development process step by step. Then, they spent time with me explaining what makes Mendota’s “Energy” Beet Advanced Bioenergy Center different from what the rest of the U.S. knows as Ethanol.

Mendota Bioenergy LLC will test the feasibility of converting sugar beets and such agricultural waste as almond orchard prunings into several kinds of transportation fuel, green electricity and other green products.

An Energy Commission grant will support the pre-development work for the design and construction of the Advanced Bioenergy Center in Mendota. This work includes exploring the project’s technical feasibility, its economic viability and its life-cycle environmental impacts. Mendota Bioenergy will analyze the sustainability of the plan, assess the properties of sugar beets and other feedstock materials, and then develop technology to convert the biomass into useful products.

If the project proves to be feasible, the Center could convert 840,000 tons of sugar beets and 80,000 tons of farm bio waste into 33.5 million gallons of ethanol each year; 1.6 mm (more) standard cubic feet of biomethane for making compressed natural gas; 6.3 megawatts of certified green electricity; and high-nutrient compost and liquid fertilizer. The project could provide a major industrial boost to this agricultural area, a designated Enterprise Zone.

The Advanced Bioenergy Center will use four different technologies to produce its products, including advanced ethanol production, anaerobic digestion, biomass gasification, and water recycling and wastewater treatment. The project is expected to reclaim one million gallons of treated wastewater a day from the City of Mendota Wastewater Treatment Plant that will be used for biorefinery operations. It will also provide nearly 119 million additional gallons of water each year to be used for on-farm irrigation and landscaping purposes.

The project will benefit Medota in a number of ways. The project could create approximately 250 direct and 50 indirect construction jobs in the Fresno County agricultural community of Mendota, along with 50 long-term jobs at the biorefinery, and an additional 50 jobs for feedstock operations. Approximately 160 new laborers and agricultural workers will be needed to support additional sugar beet production on 80 area farms.

The ethanol and CNG produced would replace 23 million gallons of gasoline each year, cutting greenhouse gas emissions from petroleum by 45 percent for ethanol and 86 percent for CNG.
Cogeneration will be used to produce steam and green-energy that will be reintegrated as process energy into the biorefinery process.

Additional benefits will include decreased air quality impacts associated with the burning of agricultural waste, and production of high-grade soil amendments that can replace fossil based fertilizers.

Other such projects that I know of in other states are also being developed around a model similar to Mendota’s “Energy” Beet Biorefinery. One thing in these projects have in common is their ability to make this non-food crop America’s answer to Brazil’s super successful sugarcane ethanol industry. Only time will tell, but from what the experts say so far, this is going to be a big advancement in America catching up to the rest of the world in Advance Biofuels. This can only help us in our goal to make America energy independent from OPEC’s monopoly on the “Strategic Commodity” we call oil.

These farmers and businessman in California aren’t about to let the economy dictate their future, they are making the future economy of California and the nation the old fashion way with hard work and smart solutions. Solutions that are clean, green and beneficial to us all.

You Can’t Hide the Elephant in the Room

June 15, 2011

National politics has its attendant scandals, farces, tragedies and controversies; we give you Wiener, Schwarzenegger, Edwards, Palin and Gingrich, in various ways.

But there’s nothing quite like the permanent dark cloud that seems to have settled over the workings of the government of the District of Columbia and the early months of the administration of newly-elected mayor Vincent Gray.

No matter that the council and the mayor seem to have settled their differences over the Fiscal 2011-2012 budget, or that redistricting seems to have moved on apace, or that almost out of sight, some things are getting done on the council.

Ever since the inauguration of Gray as mayor, and of new council members and a new council chairman, the charge aired by unsuccessful mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown that he was paid by Gray aides and promised a job in the Gray administration have cast a pall over the city. The ongoing scandal, already the subject of several council hearings, continues to periodically erupt with pronouncements by the volatile Brown, charging that “the mayor is a crook”.

When Brown showed up in dark specs recently to testify at the latest council hearing, bringing with him copies of money orders and causing a circus-like atmosphere at the hearings, it only served to remind people of the scandal, which is under investigation by various bodies, and other controversies plaguing other council members.

It never quite goes away, this dispiriting reminder of a DC government which is beholden to the federal government but wants statehood and voting rights, yet is unable to shake off the myriad controversies that are disrupting its work.

For instance, a May 23 Washington Post headline read: “ Disillusioned, some backers of D.C. mayor call for reset; It’s going to be a long four years’ one says; At meet of campaign workers, Gray apologizes to those felt sidelined.” Not so long afterward on June 7 came this: “Council told ‘mayor is a crook.’ Sulaimon Brown ties Gray to alleged payoff,” and “Officials clash with witness in hearing filled with twists and bemusement.” Two days after that, “Scandals cloud Gray’s agenda,” “D.C. Mayor Faces Media,” and “City is reliving ‘80s-era problems some say.’”

The mayor’s problems have been accompanied by numerous other squabbles: most recently, council member Harray Thomas Jr. has been accused of misusing public funds, strongly reminiscent of council chairman Kwame Brown’s problems with luxury vehicles and campaign fund issues. Meantime, tapes have emerged purporting to show Ward One Councilman Jim Graham’s chief of staff—who resigned last year over bribery charges — taking bribes.

Everywhere you go, the mayors’ critics say that Gray is creating an atmosphere similar to the one that existed during Mayor Marion Barry’s last two terms—one in which he ended up in jail, the other which resulted in the district being put under a control board.

While some suggest that Brown is beginning to sound credible, it’s hard to believe that what he says happened actually happened. You have to ask why anyone would pay Brown for something he was already doing, which was disrupting candidate forums with blistering attacks on Fenty and telling attendees to vote for Gray if not for him. Yet, the bottom line right now is two-fold: one of Gray’s aides whom Brown implicated in the transfer of moneys refuses to testify on Fifth Amendment grounds, and Brown did actually get a $100,000 job in the administration from which he was fired. “He got the job,” is a frequent refrain and conversation stopper when you start to talk to people about the situation in the district.

The mayor, who has already fired his chief of staff (and not replaced her), has so far been extremely reluctant to talk about the scandal surrounding him, preferring to talk about budget issues, redistricting and other matters.

The silence appears strange and damaging to some. It’s hard to imagine that the mayor would have a direct hand in any of the charges leveled against him. His reputation for integrity, until recent charges, seemed strong. But silence lets Sulaimon Brown go everywhere and say “The Mayor is a crook,” without the mayor saying anything at all. It might behoove the mayor not so much to answer the charges, per se, but to talk at length about what’s going on, what happened and what didn’t happen in terms of what he knows, his feelings and plan of action. It might be time for him to get out in front of the talk and the buzzing, even though one official said “that train’s left the station.”

Gray’s dream for One City is just that now: a figment, because the city is once again as divided as it has ever been along racial and political lines. It’s pretty clear that with the mayoral scandal on top of all the other problems of members of the council—that the council itself is in disarray.

That’s no way to run a city: a mayor under a cloud, a city council distracted by controversy. Somebody on the council, or Mr. Mayor, won’t you please speak up and take the bull by the horns. Somebody, somebody, say something.

Jack Evans Report

June 13, 2011

Redistricting is a difficult job and this year has been no exception. I want to acknowledge the efforts of my fellow subcommittee members, Councilmembers Michael Brown and Phil Mendelson, as well as the other members of the Council who participated in the process. Most of all, I want to thank the residents who reached out to us by phone and email, as well as by testifying at our three public hearings and speaking at the many community meetings we attended.

The 2011 Census reported the District’s overall population to be 601,723 people. When divided equally among the eight Wards, this results in an average population of 75,215 residents per Ward. Federal law allows a deviation in Ward population of plus or minus 5 percent, which gave us a range of 71,455 – 78,976 residents within which to work. The District’s population increased by 29,664, or 5.2 percent, between 2000 and 2010. It is worth noting that this increase nearly returns the District to its 1990 census population of 606,900 people.

The 2010 Census showed that compared to 2000, Wards 1 through 7 gained population, while Ward 8 lost 215 residents, or 0.3 percent of its population. After the 2010 Census, we learned that Ward 2 exceeded the allowable population range by 939 people, while Ward 7 was below the allowable minimum by 386 residents and Ward 8 was below by 742. All the other Wards remained within the required population range.

The Subcommittee on Redistricting released an initial draft redistricting plan last week and followed that with an additional subcommittee hearing, our third since the process began, which lasted until after 1:00am. In response to this hearing, we were able to issue a revised plan that accommodated a number of the concerns raised. Most notably for Ward 2, we were able to reunite the Penn Quarter neighborhood while also further reuniting the Shaw neighborhood in Ward 6 and restoring the “chimney” toward the northeast corner of Shaw that had been slated to return to Ward 5, which was originally an attempt to reunite a census tract.

The most significant change in the revised plan was to keep many residents of the eastern part of Capitol Hill in Ward 6, pursuant their wishes. The full Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of the revised plan at first reading, with a 12-1 vote, which speaks to the fact that we did the best we could on the subcommittee in balancing competing interests as we redrew the Ward boundaries. A final vote on the Ward redistricting will take place on June 21.

The final step in redistricting is to review the Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and Single Member District (SMD) boundary lines, which we will begin after the second vote on the redistricting plan. Please contact my office if you would like to be involved in the Ward 2 task force or wish to weigh in on any potential changes – I welcome your input.

The Memorial Days of Our Day

June 8, 2011

I imagine that every Memorial Day, especially here in Washington, where we live in the same moonlight and sunshine that falls on Arlington National Cemetery, is the same.

The President comes to say the right things, to lay wreaths, to honor our soldiers. There is a parade, there are speeches, and the Rolling Thunder roars into town. Grizzled Viet Nam vets come again to the memorial wall, tattooed, their wives and families with them, and still hold their breaths at the sight of a familiar name among the 55,000 engraved in the marble.

You can imagine this happening in towns small and large, any town worthy of a city hall and a statue, all over America. This memorializing, this home stand before the long hot summer, accompanied by furling flags, salutes, picnics, noisy cars and furniture sales. These are the customs of our land.

And we are at war, our soldiers in harm’s way, as they put it. The harm now is from roadside bombs, suicide bombers, rifle and mortar fire, the random explosions of fire from across the way.

And since 1983 or so, every Memorial Day is a little different, the picnic smoke, the music of taps, the memories of other years, because the list of the fallen grows every day.

In a commendable service, The Washington Post began an occasional section called “Faces of the Fallen,” which lists the soldiers with their pictures and particulars, and it always runs on Memorial Day. And so the day is different, as the war in Iraq rolls on and continues to do so. These faces are immediate, not terribly long gone, fallen not on the wayside but in places they never imagined to be growing up.

They have military faces in the way military photographs and IDs are taken, dogtags with eyes and ears and a stare. They are from all over, representative of the way we are now, so much more diverse than before, with many Hispanic names among the dead, and the faces and names of women, too.

Looking at the faces, the clichés gurgle up like water in a desert, a kind of relief. To name them is to create an echo: Senft and Locht and Pape, and Ortiz and Holder and Gassen and Harris, Middleton and Buenagua, Ramsey and Robinson, Flannery and Chihuahua, Carver and Carroll, Luff and Finch Lancaster and Cruz and Crouse, Simonetta and Villacis Gandy and Jones.

And to friends, they are Jason and James, Kelly and Ethan, Chad and Austin, Devon and Ardenjoseph, Austin and Buddy, Sean and Amy and Omar and Conrado.

And they come from places that in some other life we all imagined living in America, from Conway, NC, from Marina, CA, from Hutto, TX, from Hagerstown, MD, from Redwood City, from West Palm Beach, from Pittsburgh, from Princeton, from Tell City Indiana, from Derry New Hampshire and Akron Ohio.

And they died, were “killed while conducting combat operations,” from makeshift bombs at the hands of suicide bombers and other service-related causes.

And they are the reason why all the Memorial Days of our day are different.

Information and names are taken from the Washington Post’s “Faces of the Fallen” section, which ran on Memorial Day, May 30, 2011.

The Battle of the City Budget

June 2, 2011

They argued about it some and they fussed about it some, but in the end the much anticipated city council debate over Mayor Vincent Gray’s controversial proposal to raise the DC income tax on earners over $200,000 didn’t really have much of a chance.

Ward 2 City Councilman Jack Evans had said as much a couple of weeks ago, when he described the proposal as “dead” and “not going to happen,” along with several other parts of the mayor’s budget proposal that attempted to bridge an estimated $300 million budget gap for the Fiscal Budget 2011-2012.

While some new tax proposals were part of the 2011-2012 budgets recently, given a preliminary approval by the city council, the income tax raise 0.4 percentage increase (which was expected to raise an additional $18.7 million) did not survive the vote.

With Council Chairman Kwame Brown opposed to the measure along with most of the rest of the council, the council approved the budget minus the income tax raise. Still, several council members—at large councilmen Phil Mendelson and Michael Brown among them—noted that it seemed unfair that a resident making $40,000 was taxed at the same rate as someone making over $200,000. Evans, who voted against the increase, agreed that the council should address the imbalance of the individual rates at some future date.

The council also dropped the mayor’s proposal to initiate a tax on theater tickets, which was heavily lobbied against by local performance arts groups, including the Helen Hayes Awards.

While some of the debate became a little intense, there seemed to be less of a sense of urgency on the budget and its shortfall, with much talk of expected additional revenues that were not specifically identified.

Additional taxes—instead of the income tax increase—were expected to restore funds for homeless shelters, affordable houses and other social services, which had been scheduled for big hits under Mayor Gray’s budget proposals. The vote hearing was heavily attended by housing and homeless advocated and activists from all over the city.

Chairman Brown appeared to be a key figure in the debates. Not only did he vote against the income tax hike and the theater tax hike, but proposed other tax measures to offset the cuts, including a complicated, obscure but very real plan to tax non-D.C. municipal bond. Those are bonds for other jurisdictions held as income by DC residents, including seniors living on fixed incomes. The proposals appeared confusing to many in attendance, and its passage remains in doubt.

A proposal to tax drivers using parking garages appears to remain in the budget, on which the council will hold a final vote

Noticeable in the running commentary on individual issues during the morning discussion of the debate was the profuse praise for Chairman Brown, who has been seen by many observers in the city as being in a weakened leadership position. Agree or disagree, almost every council member praised Brown for his work and effort on the budget and working with the council as a whole and individual members.

Some of the social programs for which funds were found were in Ward 2, which Evans represents. “I worked closely with the Washington Interfaith Network, and fought hard for preservation of the Housing Protection Trust Fund, the Community Benefits Fund and the Neighborhood Investment Fund, “ Evans said. “I am grateful to my Council colleagues for recognizing their importance to my Ward and the city.”

The budget at $11 billion plus, is the largest in the city’s history.

Michael Brown, Councilman at large, said, “I understand the need to balance the budget. But I still feel that when there is considerable pain felt throughout the city because of the economy and the deficit, then it should be shared equally. And the tax rates are not shared equally. It just doesn’t seem right that someone, say, who makes $400,000, should only pay the same rate as someone making $40,000.”

Several council members questioned the bond taxes. Ward One Councilman Jim Graham, who advocated strongly for not cutting programs for “those who have the least,” including the homeless, said that such legislation was passed in other years but never implemented, “So I don’t see any point in doing it again.”

Phil Mendelson also questioned the feasibility of implementing such a tax. “Where’s the infrastructure to do that?” he said. “However, I’m glad we chose to defend and support critical services for the homeless and those in need.” Evans also questioned the tax on the interest on municipal bonds.

Is Health Care a Moral Issue?

May 5, 2011

“We have a moral obligation to the country to do this.”

So said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), chairman of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, as he proposed enormous cuts in federal spending by radically overhauling the health care system. His plan, delivered last week, projects saving the federal government $4 trillion by reshaping and reducing health care benefits for the elderly, poor, and disabled.

What exactly is the moral obligation? Reducing the debt or providing health care? This may be the most pressing moral issue “we the people” face over the next forty years. Do we have a moral obligation to cut spending or raise taxes (or not raise taxes)? Or, do we have a moral obligation to provide health care to our elderly, the poor, and the disabled?

Clearly health care is a moral issue. As a nation, we have enormous moral disagreements on critical health care issues from conception to life-sustaining stem cell research to death.

For the past sixty years, we have debated whether health care is a moral issue, that is, whether we as a nation have a moral obligation to provide health care to everyone or whether each individual is responsible for his or her own health care. Except for the United States, every democracy on earth believes it has a moral obligation to provide health care to its entire citizenry.

As health care costs rise unabated, the line between cost and care is becoming blurred. Medical expenses are the cause of 50% of all personal bankruptcies in recent years. (Ironically, bankruptcy was a “moral” issue a generation ago. Today, bankruptcy is an economic option with virtually no moral implications.) As a nation, we are beginning to approach a similar precipice.

Mr. Ryan deserves enormous credit for making a bold proposal. As promised, his proposal reduces federal expenditures. On the other hand, it doesn’t save any money. It merely shifts $4 trillion of costs over the next ten years from the federal government to state governments and to the elderly, poor, and disabled.
By replacing Medicare with a stipend and instructions to “buy your own insurance,” most of the elderly will have less health care. The theory is that tens of millions of retirees will rise up together and negotiate better rates with the insurance companies. Somehow IBM, GE, Microsoft, AT&T, state and city governments, sprawling university systems and non-profits, and other huge organizations negotiating on behalf of tens of thousands of employees can’t do that, but the elderly can and will.

Even though the average annual cost of Medicare per person is approximately $11,000, the proposed stipend is about $8,000. Can private for-profit insurance companies which have administrative costs of 20% or more learn to be more efficient that the non-profit Medicare system with its 3% administrative cost burden? (On a personal note, I’m 61, healthy, eat right, and am active. However, because of hip replacement surgery five years ago, I’m not insurable. A state-sponsored “high risk pool” will cover me for approximately $17,000 per year with annual increases in the years ahead.)

If you were born before 1958, you’ll still get Medicare. If born after 1957, you get a stipend that covers about 75% of your projected health insurance cost. Although the Ryan proposal provides that the stipend increase with inflation, health care costs are rising at triple the inflation rate. Under the Ryan plan, the average retiree would have to spend almost half of his or her retirement income on health care. Retirees better become great negotiators.

Mr. Ryan proposes block grants to the states to cover the federal government’s share of Medicaid costs. Over ten years, he proposes decreasing federal Medicaid spending by $1.7 trillion (that’s a “t” for trillion, not a “b” for billion), or 39%. State governments are struggling to meet their share of Medicaid today. How are they going to absorb more, especially $1.7 trillion more? Clearly, they can’t. The message to the poor and disabled is: fend for yourselves!

Real death panels will emerge. Not the fiction used to scare people into opposing the recently passed health reform law. Instead, if families can’t afford health care, they will choose between death and . . . well, whatever other choices may exist.

The Ryan plan pits old against young, rich against poor, those who vote against those who don’t, and those who make political contributions against those who don’t. This isn’t a fair fight. Apparently, the “We” in “We the people” does not mean all of us.

April 26, Voting for At-Large DC Councilmember

April 28, 2011

Election day for the at-large city council seat, vacated by Kwame Brown upon taking the position of Council Chairman, is tomorrow, April 26. If you talk to people about the at-large council election, many of them will tell you this is one of the most important council elections in DC’s history. Whoever wins may well be the deciding vote on many critical issues.

Currently, the council is swarming with division—Chairman Kwame Brown is seen as being in big trouble, and Mayor Gray’s office is muddled with difficulties which have yet to resolve themselves, and his influence over council matters is currently seen as sharply reduced.

Into this mess have stepped a number of candidates for the at-large council chair, including one on the council now, familiar faces, fresh faces and able candidates.

Here is a rundown of the frontrunner candidates in the campaign—Vincent Orange, Sekou Biddle, Patrick Mara and Bryan Weaver—from their professional history to their accomplishments and goals for the city’s future. Please explore the candidate’s own web pages for more comprehensive information on their specific platforms on key issues such as education reform, the city’s budget, sustainable energy and green innovations, development, and government regulation and oversight. Whatever your decision, be sure to vote tomorrow and have a say in the future of this city.

Vincent Orange

Orange was defeated in the bid for Council Chairman by Kwame Brown in the previous election, but this longtime city servant has a great deal to offer the District. Trained as a CPA and attorney, Vincent spent years working for local businesses and non-profits including the National Children’s Center, Inc. He served two previous terms on the City Council as Ward 5 Chairman, spearheading efforts to bring much-needed development to underserved communities. He is a champion of school reform, inner city development through partnerships with local business and sustainable energy innovations to reduce energy costs.

His history with the city, as well has his fundamental and holistic understanding of its needs, is what The Georgetowner believes this city needs right now.

For more information visit ([]

Sekou Biddle

Currently serving as interim councilor, Biddle was supported in his selection by the Democratic Committee to be interim councilman by Mayor Gray and Council Chairman Brown. He comes from the same school reform background that helped form Michelle Rhee and her successor as Chancellor Kaya Henderson. However you feel about his selection as interim council member, it’s given him a leg up in terms of dealing with present council members, the kind of experience only Orange has.

He was born and raised in Columbia Heights and has spent his professional career devoted to improving public schools, through Teach for America, Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) DC, and other inner city teaching programs, with almost two decades of experience in urban public education reform.

Biddle is a member of the Council’s committees on Housing and Workforce Development, Aging and Community Affairs and Libraries, Parks and Recreation.

For more information visit ([]

Patrick Mara

Mara, the lone Republican candidate, has been endorsed by the Washington Post as a strong candidate to offer an independent voice to the DC council.

Mara, with his young(ish) Irish charm, got some political seasoning when he ran against Carol Schwartz (a GOP stalwart, albeit of the liberal sort for years) and beat her in a primary, only to lose the general election to the newly minted Independent Michael Brown a few years back. We assume Mara has learned a thing or two from that experience, and he stayed in the fray, winning election to the school board. Mara considers himself socially liberal, having supported gay marriage rights and needle exchange programs (shed by the GOP), while being financially conservative.

Having begun his career on the staff of the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Mara is also a past contractor at the Department of Energy and NREL where he specialized in renewable energy and green transportation projects.

For more information visit ([]

Bryan Weaver

Weaver is a longtime Ward 1 community activist who has spent plenty of time on his local Adams Morgan ANC board. He has worked on coalition building in local and national politics, promoting liveable and affordable urban neighborhoods, crime prevention, education, community and economic empowerment, affordable housing issues and nonprofit work geared toward youth leadership development. He is a true believer in the economic and cultural diversity of Washington D.C.

Weaver began got his start in politics as an aide to the late Senator Paul Wellstone and as an aide to Reverend Jesse Jackson.

For more information visit ([]

Vote For Vincent Orange on April 26th

April 25, 2011

The Georgetowner Newspaper endorses Vincent Orange for the at-large city council seat because he will bring experience, maturity,
independence and citywide knowledge
to the table.From his previous experience on the District Council, Vincent Orange knows how to put together a budget (balanced in his time on the council) and knows the law (he cannot claim any silly “mistakes”). He is in favor of a balanced budget without raising taxes, and he is keen oneducation. We admire his life story and his family.After the latest highly-publicized embarrassments
for the District’s leaders, can an experienced candidate bring a breath of fresh air to the District government?
We think so, and we believe Orange is the one best suited for the job.While we acknowledge the others running
for the seat, such as interim interim at-large councilman Sekou Biddle and candidate Patrick Mara (endorsed by the Washington Post), and feel they have much to offer in future public service to the District of Columbia, we find Orange to be the best overall pick for the city at this timeOrange is about getting jobs into the District; observe the future opportunities
of the new city center and development on the Anacostia waterfront.
He respects and listens to all citizens from MacArthur Boulevard and Western Avenue to Martin Luther
King Boulevard and Good Hope Road. He knows Washington, D.C., well—including Georgetown.He is a responsible, sensible man during an urgent time that calls for accountability, common sense and common sense solutions. He deserves
to become our new councilman-
at-large, fighting for greater representation before the powers that be and representing you every day.Whatever candidate you choose to support, make sure to cast your vote on April 26 for at-large Councilman