Two Weeks In a Nutshell…Or a Bombshell

March 7, 2011

When the world teems with upheaval, oddities get overlooked. The revolution in Cairo has been an uprising to unnerve every man in the Middle East holding the title of king, ruler, president [for life], or prime minister. Still, even amidst the revolution, I noticed a few other things that puzzled me, ticked me off, or seemed worthy of comment So here ‘goes:

I read Sally Jenkins’ column about the wretched excess of the Super Bowl in Dallas and didn’t feel so alone any more, just even more appalled. $900 for a parking spot? $20 for a margarita made in Dallas? This must be a Texan version of hard times, by way of Marie Antoinette.

There was a perfectly terrific football game buried in a horrible half-time show and an all-day television extravaganza, which included Fox News roughneck Bill O’Reilly interviewing President Obama. I guess I haven’t been watching: when did this get to be a tradition?

There was way too much pontificating going on in the commercials, the commentary, and all the mouths churning a mile a minute. More than a football game? Really? This was America? Really?

Would it be too much to ask for pop star Christina Aguilera to remember the lyrics to the Star Spangle Banner? Sure you love your country, yadda yadda yadda. But if you can remember to add a pelvic bump to every song lyric you ever sang, you can surely do the Spangled.

On the other hand, there were the Black Eyed Peas and a few thousand radioactive extras, reminding us again of the mystery of Fergie, who, unlike Christina, did remember her lyrics. But on the other hand, she can’t sing. How much did this little party cost?

I don’t care about the commercials, or the little Darth Vader kid, and so on. Commercials are the times in my life when I go to the bathroom, even if I don’t have to.

Speaking of Dallas, as in “only in Dallas”: A Dallas city councilman who had heard Michael Vick, the renewed, re-invented, redeemed MVP of the NFL, speak to a group of youngsters, was so moved that he offered Vick the key to the city. One cowboy fan apparently complained that you shouldn’t be giving a key to the city to an Eagle.

I could care less about that. Just one thing, you strange people of Dallas: if you want to give Michael Vick the key to the city that’s fine. Just don’t give him the key to the kennel.

Speaking of football, we have a little freedom of the press issue becoming very pressing in our own fair city. Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, got all bent out of shape about a City Paper cover story which basically, but factually, ridiculed the owner of the Skins, a team which he’s managed to mess up so thoroughly that naming all the coaches and free agents of the Snyder era could become a difficult trivia question.

Snyder is so mad that he’s threatening to sue the paper, asking for an apology and demanding that the writer be fired. Whoa, Nellie. He’s made wild accusations of anti-Semitism, picking on his wife, and so on. No doubt the details have been on the local talk shows, so we won’t go into them.

We have just one thing to say: Are you kidding me?

Snyder’s attorney basically has suggested that since the victimized Snyder has such deep pockets he can practically bankrupt the City Paper, which is not the Washington Post.

I’ve got an idea. There must be some lawyer with time on his hands in this city of lawyers who can take this case on pro bono. The publicity value alone would be priceless. And the case is bound to be a slam-dunk. Nobody has yet won a libel suit for suggesting that an idiot is, well, an idiot.
And if you don’t like this, Mr. Snyder, sue me. Please.

Moving on to Cairo: I have no advice to offer Mr. Obama. I think he’s done the best that can be done in a painfully tricky diplomatic situation, while probably biting his tongue so that he won’t blurt out “don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out!” to Mr. Mubarak.

So far, most of his political foes in this country have kept quiet, realizing that it is the President’s job to conduct foreign policy, not the Tea Party.

Everyone except, of course, for Sarah Palin, who shoots and knits at the same time. She said that she was not happy with Obama’s handling of the crisis, and said that it was one of those 3 a.m. calls that went straight to the answering machine. Other than that, she said a few words—freedom, liberty, Bristol—and offered no suggestions on what to do, since she cannot see Cairo from her back yard.

Speaking of Palin, she is apparently, according to some reports, attempting to trademark her name. A similar effort was conducted by her daughter Bristol. Ah, the eternal conflict between self-interest and self-interest.
Every time I start writing about Palin, I can’t stop. Time to go to rehab.

The Jack Evans Report

February 22, 2011

As many of you are likely aware, my longtime friend and Committee Clerk, Jeff Coudriet, recently lost his fight with cancer. Ward 2 and the entire city have experienced a great loss.

Jeff served as my Clerk for the Committee on Finance and Revenue and knew the District’s budget and financial workings like no other. It was exemplary of this character that he always took the time to share this knowledge with others—new Council staff, members of the media, and anyone else who might be interested in the workings of the District.

Over a decade of public service to Washington also took Jeff to the Alcoholic Beverage Regulatory Administration and the office of Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose. He served as President of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, and as a board member of the Logan Circle Community Association. Jeff stayed just as busy outside of the Wilson building as he did while at work, and we are all better off for it.

Jeff was a part of a special group of dedicated Ward 2 residents who worked so hard to make our neighborhoods and our city great. He was one of the most positive, uplifting, and inspiring people I have ever known or worked with. I valued his loyalty, his support, and above all his friendship.

As we go through our daily lives, drone on through deadlines, and move from function to function, I know that when my spirit begins to sag, I can recall those things that made Jeff so special—intelligence, charm, enthusiasm, and love of life—and feel rejuvenated. Anyone who knew Jeff at all knew that he was one who strived to leave the world better than he found it.

It is impossible to put into words the contributions Jeff made to our city and its residents and the loss we are all feeling now that he is gone. My staff and I extend our condolences to Jeff’s family and friends, and deeply mourn his passing.

Donations in Jeff’s memory can be made to the Jeff Coudriet Memorial Community Education Fund, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, 1929 18th Street, NW, PMB 2000, Washington, DC, 20009 or online at Funds given in Jeff’s name will be used to support community education activities and events during the annual Pride Season.

The Jack Evans Report

February 9, 2011

On Thursday, February 10, District of Columbia officials will make their annual trip to Wall Street. Every February, the Mayor, the Chairman, myself as head of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, and Chief Financial Officer Nat Ghandi visit the three bond rating agencies: Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch Ratings. The purpose of the meeting is to present the District’s financial situation, which helps the rating agencies determine our bond rating. Our bond rating is important for two reasons: it determines the amount of interest the District pays when borrowing money and it acts as a report card on our overall financial health.

At the beginning of our fiscal year on October 1, the District is authorized to borrow approximately $350 million for cash-flow purposes. Over the course of the year, as our collections come in, the money is repaid. Our big collection dates are January 15 (fourth quarter payments), March 15 (first half of property taxes), April 15 (income taxes), and September 15 (second half of property taxes).

Our bond rating determines the interest we pay on the money that we borrow – the higher the rating, the lower the interest. For example, in the early- to mid-1990s, as the District’s finances deteriorated, the bond rating fell to a “B,” greatly increasing the interest we paid. By 1995, our finances were so bad that we couldn’t borrow money at all, which was the primary reason for the Control Board. It was only when the Control Board came into existence in April of 1995 that the District could once again borrow money.

After the District met several criteria, the Control Board went dormant on September 30, 2001. But what many people don’t know is that it can be reactivated if any one of the following seven events occurs:

1. Requisitioning by the Mayor of advances from the Treasury.
2. Failure to provide sufficient revenue to the debt service reserve fund.
3. Default on borrowing.
4. Failure to meet payroll.
5. Existence of cash deficit at the end of any quarter.
6. Failure to make required payments to pensions.
7. Failure to make required payments to entity under interstate compact.

The Mayor and the Council must remain focused to ensure that none of these seven “deadly sins” occurs.
Over the years, our bond rating has increased from “junk bond” status to an “A+” on our General Obligation bonds and the highest rating of “AAA” on our income tax bonds. The District’s finances remain strong and we have a good story to tell when we visit the rating agencies on Wall Street. Wish us well!

Jack Evans Report

January 26, 2011

Every ten years, all Colleges and Universities in the District of Columbia must file a Campus Plan with the DC Zoning Commission. For Georgetown University, their next ten-year plan was due before December 31, 2010, and they officially filed it on December 30.

The original proposal presented to the community included plans for an increase in student enrollment from 2009 levels. It did not provide any additional housing on the traditional campus. The plan proposed converting the University-owned property on what is known as the “1789 Block” into mixed-use buildings, constructing an 83-foot tall smokestack to replace a 10-foot tall chimney, and adding 700 parking spaces to accommodate additional traffic to the campus and hospital.

Although the Campus Plan filed by the University removed the development proposal for the 1789 block and the construction of the new smokestack, which were non-starters to begin with, the plan filed did not include any language to address the off-campus student population.

The single most important issue raised by the community is increasing on-campus student housing, specifically behind the gates at 37th and O Streets, NW, with the goal of having all students housed on campus. Even if students who live off-campus in our neighborhood are well behaved, it is too much of a strain on residents. When you have houses and tenants that are not well behaved, the burden becomes impossible.

I was very disappointed with the plan filed, and I have strongly urged Georgetown University to rethink their campus plan filing and produce a plan that houses 100% of undergraduate students on campus.

Reading Tea Leaves at TBD

January 13, 2011

The announcement of Jim Brady’s departure from TBD is not just the old “different direction” story. It is akin to Roger Ailes leaving FOX, Aaron Sorkin leaving the West Wing, or Steve Jobs leaving Apple. TBD, Brady’s visionary idea for the next great media thing, was a truly online local news organization that leveraged all those much-ballyhooed elements of new media — blogs, linking, social media etc. It really was a different concept.

Brady was not just the head of TBD but its guiding light. Previously the online editor for the Washington Post, he made his reputation by nurturing the old media dinosaur into a viable new media incarnation but moved on when new management took a left instead of the right he was trying to steer. Brady is an unrecognized pioneer of modern media.

Then Robert Albritton, backer of Politico and arguably the most imaginative and inventive media executive working in the American media business, had the foresight and brilliance to buy into Brady’s idea for TBD about two years ago, putting his money where everybody else’s mouth is.

So here is what rings hollow about Brady’s departure. Brady was said to be a technology guy, while Albritton wanted to focus on content generation.

But Brady actually is that rarest of beings: the content guy who is equally as comfortable with its technology. Was it simply a personality conflict, a financial equation, or Albritton’s looking for a right when Brady was going left? Was it literally a rejection of Brady’s vision by the paymaster? It’s all possible
and just business.

But I would suggest that this is now a critical moment for the new TBD idea, which was a truly new concept in online-driven, locally focused journalism in a sustainable form. Just as Politico is the personification
of its leaders John Harris and Jim VandeHei, TBD was Jim Brady. Albritton seems more than committed to growing his newest adventure, but TBD runs the risk of so many other new media incarnations today: To start with a promise and an idea but evolve into something not much different from traditional legacy media, just with fewer unions for bosses to worry about.

Mr. Potter Goes to Washington

Friday, November 19. 12:02 a.m.

Harry! Harry! Harry!

Yes, for those of you who missed it somehow amid minor distractions like the persistently faltering economy, overpriced coffee, and the possible end of your mortgage deduction, last night at exactly 12:01 a.m., the last but one installment of the Harry Potter blockbuster-novel-turned-blockbuster- movie franchise hit all 14 screens at the Georgetown Loews Cineplex.

Well, to be exact, it hit at 12:19 because there are 18 minutes of previews at the start of the two hour and 40 minute runtime.

“All Things Media” couldn’t let the biggest media happening of the year happen without some kind of… thing.

So filing this under the “we stayed up so you didn’t have to” (with apologies for malaproping the Post’s tv columnist’s favorite line), the entire staff of All Things Media gallantly waded into the crowds lining K Street under the Whitehurst Freeway.

It was to be mayhem. Dancing in the street. Quiddich on K. I unfortunately am young enough to remember the original Rocky Horror Picture Show. And to have at least seen the footage of the Beatles at Shea Stadium.

So there was to be pandemonium at 11:30 between Wisconsin and 31.

Nope. Nothing. No crowds. No dancing. No broomsticks.

“Sorry, we started letting them in around 8:30, said a cinema employee, let’s call him “Mr. we can’t speak officially, you will have call headquarters No. 1.”

“It would have been too much. 3,000 people in 14 screens. And we have another showing at 3.30am.” How is that one doing, I asked. “Just sold out one, got another filling and we will keep opening as they come.”

But what about the dancing in the street? the crowds? My story?

“Sorry. They started lining up around 5:30pm.” said No.1, “But you are welcome to hang out if you want. This is about as much mayhem as we will get.”

Mayhem indeed ensued. It is tough to keep a large popcorn and two sodas balanced when someone eight inches shorter than you is drawing a mascara Potter scar on your forehead. There was indeed one sighting of a broom and a dressing gown, but the lone wearer looked like he was regretting his one-man effort to get into the spirit.

“The biggest issue for us is keeping up with the popcorn,” said “Mr. we can’t speak officially, you will have call headquarters No. 2.”, before trying to defer my questions to higher authority.

Now, if you had some house elves…problem solved.

Instead it was just college kids, a smattering of high schoolers and one or two adults who were bringing the ones they did not trust out alone. All far too orderly. Something of which the minister of magic would have approved (for those unread of All Things Potter, that is not a good thing).

Upon leaving, there was one last glimmer of hope. Or ember, I should say. Two college students were smoking on a bench as time wore down to H-Hour (as in Harry Hour). Were they so determined to get into the spirit that they came without tickets just to be there?

“Nah. We are about to head in. Didn’t feel like fighting the crowds.”

The Jack Evans Report

January 12, 2011

Happy New Year!

After all the election events of last year, we are settling into the New Year at the John A. Wilson building and the beginning of Council Period 19. We have a new Mayor, Vince Gray, and a new Council Chairman, Kwame Brown. Everyone is eager to get to work on the challenges facing the city. Chief among these challenges is the need to live within our means while we preserve core government functions.

For Council Period 19, I will continue on as Chairperson of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, which is responsible for matters relating to taxation and revenue, as well as general obligation bond acts, revenue anticipation notes, industrial revenue bonds, and new to the Committee, the Convention Center and Sports Authority. The committee has oversight over the following agencies:

Office of the Chief Financial Officer
Office of Financial Management
Office of Financial Operations
Office of Finance and Treasury
Office of Tax and Revenue
District of Columbia Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board
Washington Convention and Sports Authority
Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals
Destination DC (Washington, DC Convention & Tourism Corporation)
Multistate Tax Commission

Joining me on the Committee will be Councilmembers David Catania, Michael Brown, Muriel Bowser and Marion Barry. I will also continue to serve as a Member of the Committee on Economic Development, the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. Other Committee assignments were made to various Councilmembers.

In what is a once-a -ecade ritual, I will co-chair, along with Councilmember Michael Brown, the Council’s Subcommittee on Redistricting, which is responsible for developing a realignment and reapportionment of the District’s political subdivisions based on the 2010 Census.

I’m excited and ready to get to work in Council Period 19. We have some important and tough decisions ahead, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue to move our city forward.

Jack Evans Report

December 14, 2010

The Council reconsidered the FY 2011 budget this past week to address the $175 million revenue shortfall and “spending pressures,” which came to light earlier this fall, and approved a revised plan 11-2. It was a process filled with difficult choices, made somewhat more difficult by the very short time frame in which we had to act; the Mayor had only transmitted his plan to us just before Thanksgiving. As such, it was always my thought that we probably could not do much more than rearrange some of those priorities and then move forward, which is precisely what ended up happening.

The Council did not adopt any new taxes at this time (in keeping with the Mayor’s proposal), however I believe this and many other issues will be on the table this spring, when the new Mayor, Vincent Gray, submits his FY 2012 budget plan to the Council. Fiscal Year 2012 will be the far bigger challenge, and Mayor-Elect Gray has stated quite clearly he would like to take some time to thoroughly scrub all agency spending to find efficiencies, re-think priorities, and find cuts prior to considering tax increases. I believe this thorough approach is necessary as well; we cannot and should not casually raise taxes without taking a fine toothed comb to government spending and programs. So, further challenges are ahead this spring. Prior to that, the Council will hold its annual oversight hearings in February and March; it will be vital for each Committee to scrutinize every line of every agency budget in great detail.

Turning to happier thoughts – Happy Holidays to you and yours! This is always a wonderful time to spend with friends and family and be thankful for all the blessings we enjoy. Worth noting every year – be careful not to leave your shopping bags or anything of value visible in your car. Also, with the rash of street robberies we’ve seen in the city, with people getting their iPhones and other tech devices snatched right out of their hands, always be aware of your surroundings, particularly at night. You can catch up on your emails later; it’s much more important that you get to your destination safe and sound.

This is our last newsletter for the year. Happy New Year, and we will see you again in January!

DC Voting Rights Making Strides

December 8, 2010

We have heard it before: “DC voting rights is dead.” That is what people said after the House failed to take up a bill in 2006 and after Senators filibustered in 2007. After each of those setbacks, we regrouped and push forward. Not only did we keep the DC Voting Rights Act alive, we also secured more votes for the bill each time we “resurrected” it from the ashes.

Now a Washington Post article argues that, in light of Republican control of the House in the next Congress, the ‘window on voting rights has closed’ for the next ten years. Defeatist sentiments like these were wrong before and they are wrong now.

If recent elections have taught us anything, it is that such bold blanket predictions of the political future are almost always incorrect. None of us know what lies in store for the next two years, much less the next ten.

DC Vote, working with our allies in Congress and the DC government, will look for new opportunities to advance voting rights. We will not give up just because the fight is getting harder.

But, our fight is about more than voting rights. It is about obtaining full democracy and full citizenship for DC residents.

While DC did not obtain a full vote in the House, we made many other significant advances. For the first time in a long time, this Congress passed DC’s budget bills without riders limiting DC’s Home Rule authority. That success is a direct result of the collective work of the DC democracy movement.

Yes, we will have a harder time with the next Congress. Some Republicans have promised to roll back the Home Rule gains we have made. Let’s continue working together to retain DC’s local democracy and advance pro-democracy legislation.

Chadwicks: A Sense of Home in a Busy City

Chadwicks is a true neighborhood saloon, with the tradition, clientele, and warmth to prove it. It’s the type of local restaurant that chains attempt to emulate with manufactured charm. Yet, upon walking through Chadwicks’ doors, you gain a sense that it’s the real deal. From the homemade paper snowflakes dangling merrily above the bar, to its welcoming wait staff, the restaurant exudes the affable atmosphere one looks for in such an establishment.

Since 1967, when Chadwicks first opened, Georgetown has transformed into a bustling college town—home to affluent politicians and busy streets crowded with restaurants and designer clothing stores. Despite the frenzied evolution, Chadwicks has remained frozen in time, a beloved reminder of the past.

Tom Russo, owner of the Georgetown institution, is a proud part of its rich history. He first worked there during his undergraduate studies at Georgetown University. Russo’s face broke into a nostalgic grin as he revealed, “I’m a Hoya,” and it was easy to imagine him as a Chadwicks regular during his college years.

Beginning as a bus boy, Russo climbed his way through the ranks. After completing business school, he returned to his old haunt and eventually became a partner in 1986. As he puts it, he simply “fell in love with a girl, fell in love with the city, and stayed here.”

Over the years, Russo has watched the Georgetown neighborhood grow, but he remains at ease in his second home because, as he says, “Chadwicks is a place I would like to hang out in.”

In the last 25 years, competition has exploded in Georgetown. Russo laments how DC tourists often avoid local restaurants in favor chain names they recognize. Were it not for Chadwicks’ loyal patronage, it would be unable to compete. Fortunately, the familiar environment attracts plenty of locals, who order the same burger they’ve been enjoying for years.

Whereas restaurant chains rely on a center of operations located in some far-flung city, Chadwicks lacks these bureaucratic hang-ups. The saloon’s strength lies in its ability to provide the same quality and service it has for years. This constancy is not lost on Georgetowners, who can appreciate seasoned charm.

Chadwicks serves an assortment of classic American food, and is well known for its burger. Russo relates how lost souls wander in for the first time in 40 years to inquire if it still serves its famous clam chowder (The answer is a resounding yes, by the way.). Running from 4 to 7 on weekdays, the bar’s Happy Hour specials are favorites with professionals and students alike. What’s more, every Saturday and Sunday Chadwicks features a champagne breakfast, where the bubbly is unlimited, and the burritos are massive.

For the entire hour I sat with Russo, he greeted every lunch guest by name. His manner is impressively genuine as he asks each one, “How are you?”

The restaurant has no robotic hostess uttering her practiced, impersonal greeting. Guests here are met with a sincerity that Russo notes, “makes them feel at home.” It’s that sensation of being warmly received, of a homecoming, that makes Chadwicks unique. [gallery ids="99575,104858" nav="thumbs"]