The Jack Evans Report, March 24

May 23, 2011

 

-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.

Media Sanctuary


In an economy where small luxuries win the day, George’s at the Four Seasons salon lands high on the list of places to go that cost that extra dollar but are worth every penny. Just ask some of George’s well known clientele, including Nancy Pelosi, Norah O’Donnell, Jamie Gangel, Kathleen Matthews and Chris Matthews (men go too), Maureen Dowd, Desiree Rogers and so many more. Or ask Rick, who schedules appointments. He’ll take care of you along with everyone else who works there.

Why would a national media consultant be writing about a Georgetown hair salon? Because it’s Georgetown’s best kept secret — a mecca for headliners and legends from near and far for all people. And when you walk in, regardless of who you are, they make you feel like a star and you walk out looking like one.

I came across George’s when I needed my hair touched up for a black tie party, having just moved back here from NY and Los Angeles. Omer Cevirme, known for his signature blow dries (He’s made Washingtonian’s Best list a few times), blew my hair to sleek perfection. I met my husband later that night and the rest is hair history. Omer did my hair for my wedding at National Cathedral and has for every special occasion since, including baby christenings, showers, and birthdays to come. I just feel fabulous when I leave, along with so many of George’s loyal followers.

But when I ask George, for whom the salon is named, to comment, he says no, it’s all about the talented people who work with him, the Omers of the world who make people like you look and feel so good. George Ozturk and his wife Deniz run things with a few of their handsome sons (they have five sons and three are in the business) and have been open since 1986. George says People and W magazines have hounded him for interviews but he’s not budging an inch. In this town of so many names, George’s understated way is comforting. He’ll never confirm or deny his list of clientele. What happens at George’s stays at George’s.

A few more important tips: Minh gives the best pedicure in town, I swear. Good luck getting an appointment — she’s booked solid, but try. Her colleagues are good too. And Carl Ray, who does make-up like you read about in glamour magazines, gives that extra touch that might win you that award you were talking about. He’s always booked for weddings, black ties or something at the White House. A few years ago, I walked in and there was Rory Kennedy, having a touch up at Carl’s booth before the premiere of her film on Helen Thomas. She looked fabulous by the way. Shh.

All in all, George’s is a place where Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and just plain moms (and dads), share one beautiful thing: our comfort and our vanity. At your fingertips, you’ve got Washington’s best blow dries and color treatments of a lifetime, the best manicures, pedicures and a make-up job that might give you that extra ratings point or vote you were searching for. In the end, my favorite part about George’s is that everybody is somebody when you are there, and when you walk out, you feel that way.

George at the Four Seasons Salon is located at in the Four Seasons Hotel at 2828 Pennsylvania Ave. Contact the salon at 202-342-1942.

All Things Media is a monthly column. Contact claire@clairemedia.com with comments.
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The Jack Evans Report, June 30


 

-Over the last week, I have received lots of correspondence from constituents regarding the surplus disposition of the Hurt Home in Georgetown — particularly with respect to the proposed size of the redevelopment, as well as its potential impact on neighborhood parking, both of which are concerns I share.

This is a matter being actively considered by the council, as surplus property dispositions must be approved legislatively, and thus your input is both timely and welcome. A vote on this matter is not likely to be held until July 13, if then. But first, a bit of a history of the Hurt Home.

Built circa 1897, it is believed that the Hurt Home was originally used as an assisted living facility for the blind. The District obtained the property in 1987 from the Henry and Annie Hurt Home for the Blind and the Aid Association for the Blind of the District of Columbia, two non-profit organizations. Most recently, the building housed the Devereux Children’s Center, a residential and psychiatric program for foster children.

For the last five years, the Hurt Home has been vacant. In 2009, D.C. made the decision to sell it, as it did not suit any current District function and would have been prohibitively expensive to renovate or maintain in its current form. In June 2009, the District issued a solicitation for proposed uses of the property and by September, only one submission was received.

The proposal by the Argos Group, which included 35 apartment units, was presented to both the ANC and the Citizens Association of Georgetown during the fall, and a project award was made in April 2010. The District held a surplus/disposition meeting at Jelleff on June 9 and the council’s government operations and economic development committees convened a joint hearing on June 16 for public input on the matter. That hearing will be continued on July 1 at 3 p.m. in Room 123 of the Wilson building. If you would like to testify at that hearing, or submit testimony for the record, please contact Priscilla Ford at 727-6684 or pford@dccouncil.us.

I am concerned that the current plan contains too many proposed units, which would contribute to an increase in the demand for parking in the neighborhood. I am committed to working with the community as well as the developer to make this a more reasonable proposal and address the community’s concerns.

Should the city council decide to approve the surplus and dispose of the property from its inventory, the selected developer would then begin the process of presenting proposed plans to the ANC and Old Georgetown Board for the necessary approvals to obtain permits for the project. This part of the process, as well as any Planned Unit Development (PUD), would also include opportunities for public comment and discussion about the project. I am hopeful the proposal can be improved considerably before it gets to that point. A reuse of this property would be great and very much welcome, but I would like to see it occur in the best possible way for the neighborhood.

The author is a city councilmember representing District Ward 2.

Jack Evans Report


 

-As we’re suffering through Washington’s worst heat wave of the year, take a moment to check in with your elderly or ill neighbors who might need a little assistance. Weather like this can effect even the healthiest of us.

This promises to be a long, entertaining summer in terms of Washington’s number one spectator sport, politics. With heated contests for mayor, council chair, two at-large seats and four ward council seats, there will be no shortage of candidate forums, neighborhood rallies and straw polls.

The best thing that any Washingtonian can go do is get out there and participate. Attend a neighborhood forum and ask the candidates about what’s on your mind — from education to crime, from the economy and jobs to improving city services. I truly believe each of us has something to contribute to this important dialogue about the future of our city. So in addition to our new pitcher Stephen Strasburg heating up the mound at Nationals Park and the Washington Kastles gracing downtown with World Team Tennis this month, we have plenty in the sport of politics to look forward to!

The responsibility of governance will return soon enough in the fall and we have many challenges ahead. We may even have to revisit the FY 2011 budget, due to declining revenue projections. It’s anyone’s guess, but looking at states and localities around the country, one can’t but watch and continue to wonder. Jurisdictions are trimming back, instituting employee reductions, mandating furlough days and retrenching some programs. Some states are even borrowing from pension funds to meet current expenses and issuing IOUs to taxpayers for tax refunds the states cannot afford to send. I am grateful D.C. has managed to do better than others, but I do have to chuckle a bit when I read these stories about other states — who’s calling for control boards for THESE folks?

President Obama and some in Congress have been talking about additional stimulus spending, particularly to keep state employees and teachers on the job. While there are merits to this, it would also add to the federal deficit most likely, in itself another problem. Ultimately I think that may be a short term fix at best, which I’d rather avoid. We’ve managed to avoid a severe day of reckoning here in D.C. through a variety of means — some of which I don’t support — such as spending reserves and other one-time measures. Ultimately, given the unlikely return of the “irrational exuberance” in the boom economy of a few years ago, we will have to align the District’s budget to actual sources of revenue, which can be tweaked here and there, without the use of one-time gimmicks and fixes. In short, while our most recent revenue estimate is flat — which is good news in itself — we still have yet to address some of the fundamental, structural problems with matching the size of the government to our revenue sources.

Finishing up, I want to take a brief moment to remember my staffer Desi Deschaine on the upcoming one-year anniversary of his death. We have truly missed Desi as part of our office and part of our lives, and I know those of you who were touched by him do as well. Here’s remembering you, Desi — you remain in our hearts and minds.

Jack Evans Report


 

-I’m feeling a little more optimistic these days and wondering if we are turning a corner, at least in one respect, with regard to the economy. For the first time in the last couple of years, I can see how some development projects important to Ward 2 could move forward. The key in all instances has been this: access to capital is opening up and people are looking for places to invest. Fortunately, I think D.C. has rebuilt and maintained a good reputation over the past decade as a good place to invest. Not just because of the relative economic stability that comes with the presence of the federal government, but also that we, as citizens, have brought the city back to life. We are no longer the financial and physical wreck we once were a decade ago, and if I have anything to do with it, we will never, ever return to those days. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still challenges ahead, of course.

I think the economy is warming up a bit, and what that means is investment capital is loosening and looking for a place to go. D.C. needs to be in the position to say, like a kid perhaps, “Pick me, pick me!” We are doing all we can to make this happen and having conversations about projects large and small across the city and ward.

Of particular interest are the Market at O Street project in Shaw and the new Convention Center hotel on Ninth Street. Both of these projects, after several financial delays, appear to be back on track and moving. I particularly appreciate the hard work of Roadside Development in moving the O Street project forward. Imagine trying to finance a development that contains a new Giant grocery store, a hotel, condos, senior housing, an underground garage, and other retail. The financing for each of these components, in case you didn’t know, can be quite different. You can secure financing for the grocery store, but there was a serious downturn in financing hotels for quite some time. The complexity of the financing of this project cannot be underestimated, so I am especially glad we’ll see a groundbreaking in earnest in early September. Bravo! This truly is a lynchpin project in the heart of Shaw that I believe will help spur other positive investment.

The new Convention Center hotel, likewise, is making headway after a period of stalling. The District stepped up to the plate to help provide bond financing for the project, but a dispute between JBG and Marriott on some other issues delayed moving forward on the matter. Like any number of other disputes, you just have to get the parties to keep talking, and I salute the work of Attorney General Peter Nickles in getting the two parties to settle so we can move forward on issuing the bonds, with groundbreaking commencing shortly thereafter. This project too will serve as a catalyst on the west side of the Convention Center and will help serve as an anchor to further investment along Ninth Street in Shaw.

The District government, of course, has very little influence on the national economy, as one might expect. But, where we can make a difference is in two ways: by stepping up to the plate as needed and providing financial assistance to close gaps and move projects forward in tough economic times and by keeping our nose to the grindstone and not giving up on projects we know will be a success, such as these two. There have been many challenges standing in the way of both of these projects — political, economic, logistical, etc. — but I have found that if you keep focused, you will be prepared to move forward when things are looking up again. And at this juncture, I think things are looking up.

Where has the time gone?

May 18, 2011

On April 30, I celebrated my 20th anniversary of being elected to City Council representing Ward 2, and on Friday, May 13, I will celebrate my 20th anniversary of being sworn in, which makes me the longest serving current councilmember. When I finish this term I will be the longest serving councilmember in history; it’s a good time for reflection.

The first Ward 2 Councilmember was John Wilson, who took office in January 1975 and served until December 31, 1990. He was sworn in January 2, 1991 as Chairman of the Council, creating a vacancy, which had 15 candidates in the special election. I won the election with 2,926 votes, 360 more than Jim Zais. Bill Cochran and Clarene Martin each received 1,050 votes.

Sharon Pratt had just been elected Mayor and had taken office in January 1991. The finances of the city were not bleak and two weeks before my swearing in, there were three days of riots in Mt. Pleasant after a rookie police officer shot an Salvadoran man.

Things in the District went from bad to worse. Mayor Pratt, Chairman Wilson and the Council did not have a good working relationship, which meant legislation was hard-pressed to get passed. Then in 1993, Chairman Wilson hung himself in the basement on his Washington home, rocking both the political arena and citizens who had found hope in his leadership. By 1994, the District’s finances had further deteriorated and Mayor Pratt approval ratings declined drastically. The Mayor’s election in 1994 saw the return of Marion Barry as mayor. By the end of 1995, Congress imposed a Control Board, which gave Congress the power to override all financial decisions made by the mayor and city council.

They were turbulent days. The turning point came in 1996, when we saw a resurgence of life come to D.C. With Mayor Williams’ election in 1998, he joined Chairman Linda Cropp, with myself as finance and revenue chairman and chief financial officer Natwar Gandhi to lead the city in a comeback in both business and population. As I look back, I remember great challenges and great progress. Our city stands today as one of the most dynamic in the country, with strong finances and a AAA bond rating, a measure of how financially stable an institution is.

I was 37 years old, single and living in a condo in Dupont Circle when I was first elected. My mother died on Mother’s Day in 1993 and my Dad in 1996. I married Noel, my first wife, in 1994 and moved to 32nd Street in Georgetown. We got a dog in 1995 and then had triplets in 1996. We moved to P Street in Georgetown and I was reelected in five subsequent elections.

In 2003, Noel died of cancer. Kayla died in 2007, a year after getting another dog. I married Michele, the woman I am still married to, in September 2010 and am running for re-election in 2012. I just celebrated my 40th high school reunion.

Life as a city council member does not always lend itself to working eight hours a day or normalcy in the traditional sense, but I wouldn’t trade any of it. My identity as a politician and family man has defined my life. There is still much work to be done and I look forward to a great future.

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.