Voting in Virginia

May 23, 2011

 

-After the BP oil spill disaster, some citizens are demanding change and action from the government. Today, Virginia residents have the chance to use their voices and express their opinions by voting in the 2010 midterm elections. Voters can participate in the congressional primaries and in elections for a number of local and statewide offices. Polls opened at 6 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m. So hurry home from work and vote! A polling address can be located all over the state.

The Georgetowner’s David Roffman Honored for His Work


 

-David Roffman, a local journalist, philanthropist and former co-owner of The Georgetowner will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Georgetown Business Association on Wednesday, June 16. The award will be presented at a celebratory luncheon at the City Tavern Club, located at 3206 M St. from 11:30 a.m. until 2:00 p.m.

The event will be hosted by former presidents of the GBA including Tom Bryan, Judy Horman, Billy Martin, Paul Cohn, Linda Greenan and Brad Altman. Tickets are $50 for members and $65 for non-members.

That’s A Wrap: DC’s Film Festivals


On June 22 there will be a little taste of Kazakhstan in Washington. Perhaps a little Korea or India better suits your taste? If you are looking for something a little rushed, there is a 48 Hour challenge, or if you just have a few minutes, some DC Shorts.

For those in the know, these don’t refer to restaurants or urban athletics but an underappreciated trend in the cultural life of our city. While nobody was watching, except for those who attended them, Washington has become something of a film festival mecca.

Each year, according to Jon Gann, organizer of the seven-year-old DC Shorts — in which all entries have to be under 10 minutes — there are approximately 75 film festivals in the D.C. area. Nobody seems to quite know many exactly because there are new ones all the time. “I get calls every week from someone saying, “I want to start a film festival. How do I do it?” He credits the cheap accessibility of technology, film schools pumping out people on a mission to make their great opus, and a thirst for something other than the latest canned Hollywood profit enterprise.

And it is not just film festivals. There are regular screenings and documentary award gatherings like the CINE Awards, Emmys, and Kennedy Center Honors awards. Perhaps the most prestigious U.S. documentary festival, Silverdocs, takes place in Silver Spring each summer, and the world’s largest documentary conference, RealScreen, takes over a downtown hotel each spring.

And all this in a town that traditionally “frowns on people who wear black,” jokes Lauren Cardillo, an independent film maker and one of the folks behind the CINE Awards. Award-winning documentary makers Sean and Andrea Nix Fine (Sundance-winning “War Dance”) see it as the difference between watching a movie at home and going to the film screening — where the audience has a richer experience and the ability to interact with the moviemakers themselves. “For us it is also an amazing experience to watch people react to our work.”

Susan Barocas, who heads the DCJCC’s 16-year-old Jewish Film Festival, which had 60 films last year, also says it provides an alternative route to get movies seen as the distribution network has consolidated, squeezing out the small filmmaker.

Credit is due to National Geographic and Discovery, which about two decades ago laid the foundation to make D.C. a hive for independent filmmakers. Yet, to quote comedian Rodney Dangerfield, we still get no respect when it comes to filmmaking, even though D.C. is closing in rapidly on L.A. and New York in festival stature.

Filmmaker Sean Fine says that when he is asked at festivals elsewhere where he is from, people seem reluctant to believe that D.C. could be a hub for filmmakers. But if L.A. has its Hollywood, and New York its Tribeca, DC has its Potomac, and these days lots of great little movies run through it.

The next time you see an eclectic mob strolling out of an embassy wearing a pensive smile, nod knowingly. Or wait for the next showing — another film is likely already being cued up.

Don’t miss these festivals coming up in Washington:

DC Shorts festival (September 9-16) — www.dcshorts.com
Truly independent short films, created by new and established filmmakers with a special focus on films by Washington D.C.-based directors and writers.

ReelAffirmations (October 14-23) — www.reelaffirmations.org
Films focusing on the GLBTQ experience.

Arabian Sights Film Festival (October 9-18) — www.filmfestdc.org/arabiansights
Offering the newest and most provocative films from the Arab world (an offshoot of the D.C. International Film Festival).

Washington Jewish Film Festival (December 2-12) — www.wjff.org
New and award-winning films from around the world, telling unexpected stories on the Jewish experience and debunking stereotypes.

Capital Irish Film Festival (December 2-12) — www.irishfilmdc.org
Featuring the work of contemporary Irish directors. Produced by Solas Nua.

Amos Gelb is the director for the George Washington University’s Semester in Washington Journalism program. Contact him at gelb@gwu.edu.
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Streetcars Nixed, Resurrected


When it comes to talk of the District’s streetcars, you better not blink.

DCist reported at noon today that the city council voted to effectively halt the massive downtown streetcar project by stripping from it $49 million in funding designated in the 2011 budget. However, less than four hours later, WeLoveDC reported the council immediately backpedaled after a deluge of angry phone calls and emails from irate constituents, eventually reinstating the project.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Fenty, who was once an outspoken supporter of the streetcar network, suddenly seemed to desert what seemed like his pet transportation project, saying debate over how to best power the cars had yet to be resolved, along with the question of whether the infrastructure would connect with Union Station. The council’s original vote would have shelved the project until 2014. Several million dollars and over 37 miles of track have already been invested in the system.

The streetcar scheme still isn’t out of the woods, yet, though. After the uproar, the council immediately reinstated only $10 million of the original budget, with a projected $37 million forthcoming.

Still, talk about democracy in action.

The Jack Evans Report, February 24


It began to snow. And then it snowed and snowed. It stopped then it started again. The record snowfall of 2010.

I used to talk nostalgically to my three children about the blizzards of 1979, 1983, 1996, and 2003. Now they have lived through the biggest one of all. They got to relive the famous Fred Maroon photo of Wisconsin Avenue taken on February 19, 1979.

First, some observations and facts. The snow started late Friday night. At 6 p.m., it was still coming. By 11 p.m., it was real snow. It snowed until 10 p.m. Saturday night. It was a steady, heavy snowfall. The city had been preparing for several days and our fleet of 250+ vehicles, as well as our contractors, were out in force.

The plan is to always clear the main streets first so that emergency vehicles and public transportation can get through. As soon as they are done, the City hits the residential streets. However, no sooner did the main streets get plowed than they filled right back up with snow. By Saturday night, we had two feet of snow everywhere.

It took all of Sunday and Monday to get the main streets plowed and then it snowed again. Beginning Monday night and through Tuesday, another 20 inches fell. Same story. By then the main streets were again covered and residential streets had up to three feet of snow on them.

The point being that it was not possible to stay ahead of these storms because of their duration and consistency. Being from upstate Pennsylvania, I have experienced this many times as a youth. This partially answers why the residential streets were not plowed early on.

Several persons asked why my street, P Street, was plowed. P Street is one of the three main bus/emergency vehicle routes into Georgetown (the others being M Street and Wisconsin Avenue) and is always plowed in the initial stages of a storm.

On Wednesday, the big clean up began. I was personally in contact with Mayor Fenty, DDOT Director Gabe Klein, and DPW Director Bill Howland through this entire period. Also, thanks to Ron Lewis, ANC Chairperson, and ANC Commissioners Ed Solomon, Bill Starrels, and Tom Birch for their constant help.

The mayor and I walked the streets of Ward 2 Wednesday through Saturday identifying potentially problematic areas. By Saturday, Feb. 13, almost every street in the ward had been plowed in some fashion. In Georgetown, because the streets are so narrow and have cars parked on both sides, it was a particular challenge and necessitated smaller equipment.

I want to thank everyone for their patience and participation. And it is not over yet.

The author is a city councilmember representing District Ward 2.

The Jack Evans Report, March 10


 

-By now homeowners in the District will have received their annual property tax assessment from the Office of Tax and Revenue. The Chief Financial Officer (CFO) tells us that overall the value of residential properties has declined between 3 and 4 percent, and commercial properties have declined by just over 10 percent. The CFO has also recently released his February revenue estimate report, which will show a decline for FY 2011 of about $71 million for property taxes — largely stemming from the decline in commercial property values.

To me, this is no great surprise. Given the state of the economy I fully expected commercial property to start showing a decline in value. An interesting observation from residential property is that the decline is largely on the east side of the city — where foreclosures have been highest — and that values in Ward 2 have remained fairly stable.

One policy hitting a number of taxpayers this year is the institution of what’s called the 40 percent “floor” on residential property taxes. This proposal was submitted by the mayor as part of his FY 2010 budget last spring and was adopted by the council. What is the 40 percent “floor?” It basically states that a taxpayer must pay property taxes on at least 40 percent of the assessed value on their home, and no lower. I spoke up against this proposal — in fact, I noted in the budget report of the Committee on Finance and Revenue that this proposal could have some negative consequences on tax bills — particularly for seniors. Now that the bills have come out, we are indeed seeing that. As part of our budget oversight hearings this spring, I will be asking the Office of Tax and Revenue for further data on this matter and its impact, and I’d appreciate you sharing your experiences and observations with me as well. We have heard from residents whose property tax bills have essentially doubled — which back when I passed the 10 percent cap was something I wished to avoid. So, your input is welcome.

All this being said, with the downturn in commercial property values — which is a situation that I think will continue for a few years – we need to be especially careful in our budgeting for FY 2011 and onward. Property speculation, both residential and commercial, led to the bubble which collapsed along with Wall Street in the fall of 2008. I do not think we will return any time soon to the days of quarterly revenue increases that we can use to continue to expand our government and pay the bills. In short, we have to create a post-bubble budget that lives within our means. The most important part of that exercise is restraining growth. Dr. Gandhi, our Chief Financial Officer, also let us know that to continue the current functions of the D.C. government from FY 2010 to FY 2011 there is a growth of over $400 million, even if we add no new programs or spending. So are there hard choices ahead? Yes there are, but I think between the mayor, the council, and the CFO we are ready to make those difficult decisions.

The author is a city councilmember representing District Ward 2.

The Jack Evans Report, March 24


 

-Last week, we lost two giants of Ward 2.

While most people have probably heard the news, I want to take a minute still to recognize and remember the lives of Charles Bermpohl and Miles Groves.

Charlie is best known around town for his seven-year stint at The Current, covering the ins and outs of Georgetown. He loved reporting. He loved his job. That’s more than many of us can say and for that we should count him lucky.

One look at Charlie and you knew right away that he was a reporter. Why? Because he looked like one. The Columbo trench coat, the fedora, the pad and pencil — the quintessential reporter.

Anyone who knew him knew that he was much more than your regular newspaper man. He was insightful, fair-minded, he asked good questions, and most importantly — he cared. He used these attributes, which I don’t see in most reporters these days, to get at the heart and truth of a story. With the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle, this doesn’t come as easily as it used to.

50 years of reporting in New York, Florida, and the District means that we aren’t the only ones missing Charlie today.

For those who would like to pay tribute to Charlie, an “Irish wake” will be held in his honor on April 24 from 2 to 4 p.m. at McLean Gardens Ballroom.

Miles Groves lived downtown since the mid-1990s and through the founding of the Downtown Neighborhood Association four years ago, is credited for bringing together downtown residents and business owners on key issues that affected the neighborhood.

Miles was instrumental in several projects and initiatives in and around Downtown. From negotiating ABRA agreements to fighting crime to addressing a broad range of quality of life issues, his accomplishments were many. Miles not only witnessed the transformation of Chinatown and the downtown, but was instrumental in making the neighborhood what it is today. For this, we are all grateful.

Community members, leaders, and activists will gather on March 24 at 6:30 p.m. at the Calvary Baptist Church to honor Miles and his great contributions to the District and downtown.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and the countless number of District residents who were touched by the lives and work of Charlie and Miles.

They are truly missed.

The author is a city councilmember representing District Ward 2.

The Jack Evans Report, April 7


 

-Recently, Mayor Fenty released his FY 2011 budget plan to the council and the public. The budget proposes $5.27 billion in local funds, which is a decrease of 2.78 percent from FY 2010, and addresses the spending and revenue gap of $523 million between FY 2010 and FY 2011.

At first glance, the mayor’s budget continues to make investments in schools, both public and charter, funds the health care safety net — which faces greater utilization during an economic downturn — by improving the way we pay for these services, funds 4,069 uniformed officers as part of the Metropolitan Police Department and continues infrastructure improvements.

The mayor’s budget proposes to close the gap in various ways — eliminating 385 full-time employees, renegotiating various contracts, freezing salary increases, controlling spending by instituting cuts at District agencies, hiking a number of fines and fees and using $97 million in unallocated fund balances to balance the budget. More details of the mayor’s plan will be available once all the budget volumes and the FY 2011 Budget Support Act legislation are released.

I greatly appreciate the hard work it took for the mayor, his staff, and the chief financial officer to prepare and present this budget to the Council, particularly given the magnitude of the budget gap we face from FY 2010 to FY 2011. I am particularly glad the mayor avoided tax increases while protecting much of our public education, health care delivery, and public safety functions. But there are many details yet for the council to review through our public hearing process this spring, and invariably changes will be made.

I am concerned about using unallocated fund balances to help balance the budget, and we’re all awaiting full details on cuts to various agencies. Over the next two months, I will be working with Chairman Gray and my colleagues to come up with a final plan which is in the best interest of everyone in the District. However, I do think the mayor has made a good start and in what is a very, very challenging set of economic circumstances.

The council has just 56 days to review and vote on the proposed budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The proposed budget submitted by the mayor is available at www.budget.dc.gov.

The Committee on Finance and Revenue, which I chair, will hold its fiscal year 2011 budget and financial plan hearing on April 28 at 10 a.m. in the council chambers. To sign up to testify, contact Sarina Loy at sloy@dccouncil.us or 202-724-8058.

The author is a city councilmember representing District Ward 2.

The Jack Evans Report, May 5


 

-The anticipation at the Verizon Center last Wednesday night could not have been greater. The Washington Capitals, our great hockey team with the best record in the National Hockey League, was playing in Game 7 of the first round of the playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Caps, after losing the first game at home, ran off three straight wins and led the series 3-1. They then lost one at home and one in Montreal. We all knew the Caps were the better team and looked forward to a great victory at home. It was not to be and we lost 2-1. Thus another disappointing end for a Washington team, a city that hasn’t had a championship in the big four since the Redskins won the Super Bowl in 1992.

Washington has now gone longer than any other city without a championship in a major sport. (As an aside, kudos to Mark Ein of the Kastles and D.C. United — both teams have brought championships home to the District.)

So where is the future of Washington sports headed? Actually, to a very promising place.

The Capitals will be back next year just as good and hopefully advance to the finals. The Redskins appear to have a good coach, a new quarterback, and a new outlook. We will all have our fingers crossed come September. The Wizards franchise may have a future. Ted Leonsis (of Caps fame) now owns them and we hope he can bring his winning ways to our lackluster basketball team. Good luck, Ted.

Finally, have you been to a Nats baseball game this year? Go. The team has a winning record and is off to its best start since their first season in 2005. It’s probably too early to tell but we may be in for an exciting summer.

So here’s to the future of Washington professional sports. The day will come when we again bring home a championship.

The author is a city councilmember representing District Ward 2.

The Jack Evans Report, May 19


 

-Next week on Wednesday, May 26, the D.C. council will vote on the fiscal year 2011 budget. The District’s next fiscal year runs from October 1, 2010 through September 30, 2011. The current budget was prepared by the mayor beginning in October 2009 and submitted to the council on April 1, 2010.

By law, the council has two months to hold hearings and pass a budget. It is then sent to the mayor for his veto or approval. If approved, it is then sent to Congress for their approval by October 1, 2010.

Because of the slowdown in the economy, the city’s revenues are no longer increasing and, as such, reductions need to be made in our spending. The mayor’s FY 2011 budget is balanced and relies on significant spending cuts and increases in a number of fees and penalties. It also relies on spending additional money from our fund balance, i.e. our savings account.

I have analyzed the mayor’s budget carefully and have the following observations.

The cuts he recommends are painful but necessary. The amount the city spends has increased significantly the past 10 years and now it is time to reduce spending. Tough choices need to be made.

The fee and penalty increases are problematic. Our residents and businesses are tired of being nickeled and dimed to death. People don’t want to pay this government any more money. Thus the proposal to increase parking meter fees and charge more for basic licenses, etc. should be reversed.

Finally, spending more from our savings account to fund agency operations is bad policy. In 2007 our fund balance was $1.6 billion. It is currently $920 million and would be $600 million in 2012. The city would have spent $1 billion of its savings, which will really hurt our position in the credit market.

If the council does not accept the mayor’s increases in fees and does not wish to spend from the savings account, it must identify additional funds to balance the budget. In addition, many members of the council want to add back the mayor’s cuts and unrealistically fund new programs. This also takes new money.

Several council members want to raise taxes to pay for this spending. Nothing could be worse for the city. Increasing taxes in a recession is bad policy because it allows the spending to keep increasing, forcing us to increase taxes again the next year. The proposals put forward include, among other things, a raised income tax, new taxes on tax-free bonds, and extending the sales tax to services. Given that the District is ranked 51st in tax burdens, it is very counter-productive.

I will continue to work hard to balance our budget without further burdening our residents and small businesses.

The author is a city councilmember representing District Ward 2.