Next time you’re at Georgetown’s Rugby Cafe, say ‘Hi’ to co-owner Lincoln Pilcher, a former rugby player and Ralph Lauren model. The Australian native’s string of rustic restaurants spans the country: LA’s Eveleigh is the new “it” spot; NYC’s Ruby’s is a “cool college kid hangout”, and the West Village’s Kingswood is “an equally fun big sister” to the Rugby Cafe. Pilcher’s empire is even expanding to the Middle East - a Little Ruby’s recently opened in Kuwait City. In 1999, 20-year-old Pilcher arrived in New York to model and shoot fashion photos. Last week, he shared beer and kangaroo with Australian Prime Minster Julia Gillard. This is Pilcher’s intriguing story. Humble Beginnings – “My partner [Nicholas Mathers], who is my partner in all the restaurants, he decided he was going to start a cafe. And I told him he was crazy because we couldn’t get any good coffee in New York and we were sick of drinking Starbucks,” says Pilcher in his cool, candid manner. “He went ahead and signed a lease and did all these things and I still thought he was crazy. Eventually I jumped on board with him and became a partner with him in Ruby’s, which we opened in 2004. It just snowballed from there. “We started with cupcakes, bizarrely enough—selling cupcakes and selling coffee—and then we went to paninis. Then someone said we should do pastas. We did pastas. Then at one stage we started cooking burgers off panini grills,” he says, summarizing the improvised first year and a half. “There wasn’t even an exhaust system at Ruby’s. “You’d come to Ruby’s and eat burgers, and leave smelling like the burger you ate.” “The Bedroom Effect” – “We exported the Sydney-style, the Melbourne-style cafe. Australia is a cafe society, it’s wake up, everyone meet in the morning and have panini and coffee,” says Pilcher, describing the ambience he and partners Mathers and Nick Hatsatouris sought to export. “We try to make it about the vibe. One of the big things we’ve done over the years is trying to create the bedroom effect, the whole lounge effect so you feel comfortable. It’s polished food in a relaxed environment.” Naming the Burgers – “The burger, that’s what’s really hit it off. The burger in New York is different from here. We change buns, we try to keep it alive. The Iggys burger, which is in the middle,” he says, referencing a chalkboard menu on the wall. “That’s the one that’s standardized. Every restaurant has that.” “The [burgers] at Ruby’s are all named after the beaches in Australia. So Bondi, which is the famous Bondi, and the Bronte. Then these [Rugby Cafe burgers] are all the famous rugby schools in Australia. Scots is where I went to school.” Pilcher’s Rugby Past – For seven years, Pilcher reveled in the nonstop, rough and tumble nature of the game. “It’s super tough.” Did he break anything? “Collarbones, split-open lips. You don’t wear pads, it’s intense but the game doesn’t stop, that’s why rugby’s such a great game.” “Rugby, yeah,” he says with a rueful smile. “That was when I was younger.” A Glamorous Modeling Lifestyle – Pilcher’s mother, a Pittsburgh native, was the editor of Australian Vogue for 28 years. Even as a young child Pilcher was always well dressed, often sporting Ralph Lauren. He started modeling as a pre-teen, landing a contract with Ford Models in his early twenties. “We had a great, great time, literally traveling the world and making enough money to go to the next place. It was a vagabond style of life but it was definitely fun. “We traveled around do to shows in Paris, Milan, New York; a lot of advertising, Abercombie and print magazine editorial.” They did let him smile, he assures me - his modeling career wasn’t about “pulling a Zoolander,” making the same face in every photo. “That movie kind of changed everything: ‘blue steel’ that’s it,” he snaps as he remembers the name for Ben Stiller’s pouty model pose. “Fun, fun, fun.” A big budget shoot for Australian GQ was particularly memorable. “We went to this amazing island. It was three guys and three girls,” he recalls. “We were there for four days. We shot for like an hour a day because we’d shoot sunrise and sunset. We were all surfers, we were surfing. Those were the kind of trips that I liked.” Ultimately the narrow focus of the industry wasn’t a comfortable fit. “You’re judged purely on one thing - what you look like - so it wasn’t really my thing.” On the Restaurant Business and Life in DC – The restaurant industry seems to be a better fit, though Pilcher does enjoy keeping up with some aspects of his former life. “Broken dishwashers and beer taps, that’s Monday through Friday, and then on the weekends you can do what you want to do,” he says. The former rugby player embraces an active lifestyle of tennis, running and surfing, but his true passion is high-end photography. “I still love taking pictures, it’s my hobby, it’s my passion,” he says, becoming energized by the turn in the conversation. “I have my studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for my pictures. It’s kind of like my little Warhol sanctuary to do what I want to do on the weekends.” His hobbies help to offset the more trying aspects of being a partner in such a successful set of restaurants. On negotiating with providers for his businesses, Pilcher notes that “Consistency is the biggest thing in restaurants. It’s the hardest thing to do. If you are consistent, you’ll be successful. “Avocados can be a dollar, all of a sudden there’s a flood then they’re $5 ... Fish is the worst. Providers call us and they say, ‘This has gone up to this much.’ Some of the theories I’ve gotten from providers over the years,” he marvels. “It’s like, ‘You’re pulling my leg. China’s buying it all and they're freezing it? That’s a good excuse. You just can’t get any fish and you want to charge me more for it.’” While negotiating with providers and finding alone time for his photography isn’t always easy, Pilcher clearly enjoys his new career. His favorite aspect of the restaurant business? “The interaction with people, making people feel happy and at home.” He gets to know his DC customers particularly well, he says. “Loyalty is the big thing down here.”
It’s springtime, and one’s idle thoughts turn to baseball. March 31 is opening day for the Washington Nationals. At 1:05pm, the Nats take on the Atlanta Braves in the season opener at Nationals Park. Since the Nationals started playing baseball in RFK stadium in April 2005, I have attended every opening game. Although I had never attended an opening game for any team before and had been to very few baseball games, I have come to look forward to baseball season. This year, the Nationals should be better. Having finished in last place every season since 2005, we are all hoping for some improvement. Certainly, the team has acquired a lot of talent during the offseason. The question is how improved our pitching rotation is. Little is heard anymore about the decision to bring a baseball team to Washington and to build a new stadium. The stadium has worked out better than anticipated. The District borrowed $584 million to build the stadium and identified other sources of revenue to pay off the loan: 1.) a 1% increase in the commercial utility tax; 2.) a tax on businesses with gross receipts of over $5 million; and 3.) revenue generated from the stadium itself, including rent and sales tax on concessions, tickets and apparel. Together, these taxes raised $14 million more than is necessary to pay the debt service. All contingency funds have been fully funded and the excess revenue will be used to pay off the bonds early. This stadium financing method is used as a model by other jurisdictions. Development around the stadium has occurred but has been slowed by the recession. Recently, with credit markets becoming more accessible, development is proceeding. I stated at the time that it would take ten years to build out the area. Keep in mind that it took that long to develop the area around the Verizon Center, a part of town which was much more commercially developed than the baseball stadium area. So as we look forward to another season, if you are a baseball fan, make sure to run over to a game after work or on a sunny weekend. Play ball.
Just around three months into his four-year terms, District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray is in trouble. Big trouble. Sulaimon Brown, a fringe candidate during last year’s mayoral campaign who often attacked incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty and urged people to vote for Gray if not for him, claimed that he had made a deal with the Gray campaign to continue his attacks on Fenty in exchange for a job in the administration and money. All this broke like a flood in a front page Washington Post story on Sunday. Brown charged that he had received money “in the thousands” from Gray campaign officials Lorraine Green, the Gray campaign chairman, and campaign consultant Howard Brooks by way of cash tucked into envelopes. The Post said it could not verify the payments of the money, which Brown said he had spent. The story is rife with all the elements of a major scandal—envelopes of cash, cell phone records (although not their contents) between Brown and Gray, Green and Brooks, and text messages from Brown talking about “agreements.” It also had one salient fact: Brown did get a job in the Gray Administration as a special assistant with the Department of Health Care Finance, from which he was fired after the vetting process. He is now on paid administrative leave. Gray in a press conference did two things: he denied any wrongdoing, but admitted “missteps had been made” in the vetting process. He also indicated he had never promised Brown a job or position, only a job interview. He also called for an independent investigation of the matter, at first by the interim DC District Attorney and the DC Council. Later he indicated that he would be happy for the DC Inspector General, as suggested by Council Chairman Kwame Brown, to investigate the matter. Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans wants the U.S. Attorney’s Office to do the investigation. The DC Office of Campaign Finance has already begun a probe. The whole thing seems shocking and unseemly. And it comes on the heels of hiring practices by Gray that have been roundly criticized for smacking of cronyism. In fact, Gray seems to be strangely diffident in his reactions, as if this was not a term-threatening or direct attack by Brown. He’s already called Gray, “an organized criminal.” Told about that charge by WRC4 reporter Tom Sherwood, Gray said, “he said that, did he?” He then laughed quietly and got into his car. But this is no laughing matter; it has the making of a political tragedy. Brown, with a dubious employment and political record, ran for mayor anyway. He claims his attacks—which included saying that Fenty did not respect his parents—gave Gray the election. At the Georgetowner Candidate Forum just prior to the election, Brown created a ruckus by insisting he had been invited to participate when he had not. When a reporter pointed out to him that his charges also made him a criminal, Brown insists that he’s willing to pay for what he did, although he hadn’t said a word about it until being forcibly removed from his short-lived office. The tragedy, of course, is how this will affect Gray, his administration, his agenda and the city as a whole. In two lengthy talks with Gray during and after the campaign, Gray gave the impression of a man who was proud to be a true city native, a son of Washington, growing up in its largely black communities, graduating from Dunbar High School, getting a degree from George Washington University. He’s a man who clearly values family and friendship. He was widely seen as an honest, good man of integrity, and his term as city council chairman was widely seen as successful, handling the hard-charging Fenty’s wide-ranging agenda and the controversies that ensued. That reputation has taken a hit with this political firestorm. It’s not that Brown’s charges should be believed at face value, especially those involving cash payments. More than one person has described Brown as a loose cannon, and that’s evidenced in these attacks and charges, and his previous behavior at forums. He received a little over 200 votes in the Democratic Party, so his claim that he swung the election for Gray is not very credible. Politically speaking, you can’t trust him. The surprising thing is that there was any sort of contact between the Gray camp and Brown at all. Here’s one thing to consider. Gray came to politics late in his life, and, and he’s not a natural by any means. He and his friends don’t appear to understand that in an economic climate where you’re asking people to make sacrifices, you don’t hire your friends at big salaries, or their children. The mayor is Caesar, but he has to be Caesar’s wife too, beyond reproach—especially if you ran on a platform of integrity. More than once, and from those who said it throughout the campaign, I’ve heard people sayit’s like the (Marion) Barry days. It’s not, but you can see why people feel at ease saying it. For many of his supporters this is a kick in the gut, and the effects will linger. “There are a lot of people who are kind of heartsick, beyond buyers remorse”, one Adams Morgan resident said. There can’t be a rush to judgment, but there must be a rush to honesty. I believe without any hesitation that Mayor Gray is a man of integrity, but a politician who gets elected can often lose his bearings under this kind of pressure. The mayor ought to be laying down the facts as he knows them, emphatically—with emotion and anger if appropriate—on the table to the public, and instituting the help of colleagues and friends. Trust is not like a credit card or a cell phone. You can’t get a new one if you lose it.
The Griffin Market has unfortunately closed it doors for what we are assuming will only be for be a very short period of time. This market is and has been part of the neighborhood for generations and holds a very special place in my heart, as I am the granddaughter of the original owners. My grandparents acquired this property back in the 1930s, and the market was my grandfather’s first place of business. My father and his brothers were born in the apartment upstairs, and grew up there for a time. So this is not just a building owned by an out-of-towner. My grandparents operated the market for many decades. They did eventually sell the business, but have always owned the real estate, and over the years have leased the space to a few different tenants, always with the notion of maintaining the original integrity of having a local, friendly neighborhood market. Upon the death of my grandmother in 2008, it was requested that I manage the asset on behalf of the Miller Family. The same lease has been in place since the 1980s and has simply been assigned over the years, but with very minimal rental increases. In June and July of 2010, the tenants exercised their option to extend the existing lease through 2018 in writing, but in February announced that they would be leaving and closed their doors. Under the current lease, the rental increase amounted to a total of $84 and not 40% percent, as previously stated. As far as plans for the building are concerned, we are in the process of replacing the windows as well as making minor allowable improvements to the exterior, all in conjunction with the Historic Preservation Society, and I believe we are in the final stages of that approval process. I am a 5th generation Washingtonian, having attended the National Cathedral School. Having grown up in the District and having heard my family talk about the city and Georgetown, and knowing how they grew up in the area makes this matter even more important to me and my family. This property represents a period in time when small business owners could prosper, and it is my goal as the manager to hold it in the same regard. Our family continues to live and operated businesses in and around the city and will continue to maintain a presence in the city. We will always call it home. I would like to take this opportunity to assure neighbors that we are actively working to find the perfect tenant for this space, and I’m sure the new tenant will welcome your business and support. It is extremely important for us as a family to maintain the integrity of this building, this neighborhood, this city and Griffin Market, and we thank everyone for their continued support.
Don’t mess with my health care!! Throw out Obamacare!!! A majority of the House of Representatives voted to do just that, carrying out, as they said, the people’s wishes. Polls indicate that half the country wants Congress to repeal Obama’s health care law. Remember when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were being chased by the guy in the white hat and weren’t sure who it was? One of them said, “Who are those guys?” Well, who are the people who want Obamacare repealed? Is it the 45 percent covered by employer health plans (down from 60 percent five years ago)? Is everyone covered by an employer-sponsored plan satisfied? Or are they nervous about losing what they have? Do the 30 percent covered by government health care oppose Obamacare? Or the 10 percent who have individual policies? Or the 15 percent who have no health insurance coverage? Do the 9 percent unemployed want Obamacare repealed? (The numbers don’t add to 100 percent because of overlap.) The Department of Labor recently reported that the number of self-employed grew from 9 to 14 million last year because many of the unemployed are trying to start their own businesses. That’s almost 10 percent of the workforce. Most are single-person businesses with no health care, no unemployment insurance and no workers compensation coverage. Do they want Obamacare repealed? The U.S. spends twice as much per person on health care than does any other nation in the world. Yet U.S. life expectancy – the ultimate measure of health care – ranks 37th in the world, right behind Cuba. Those poor people waiting in line for medical care in Canada, ranked 11th, outlive us by an average by 2.4 years. Government policies encourage the development of small businesses because they are the job generators, but government policies exempt small businesses providing employee health care. Am I missing something or is that schizophrenic? My company has approximately 25 employees, but we’re conveniently reminded that we are exempt because we have less than 50 employees. How does that help our employees or our company? We want them to have health insurance. It’s good for them and good for us. Several years ago, we got a quote for a group insurance plan. It was approximately $10,000 per year per employee, more than our profit, and about 33 percent of our entire payroll. Our agent suggested individual policies for each employee since that reduced the cost. We offered to cover 70 percent of everyone’s cost, but most couldn’t afford that and few bought it. We ultimately set up a plan where we set aside each employee’s benefit each month. When they need money to pay health care, we give it to them out of their fund. That worked until last week. Sadly, we have an employee facing a cancer scare. Medicaid will cover her after she’s incurred (and paid) $15,000 out of pocket. She’s having trouble getting an appointment with an oncologist because they want proof of a source of payment before they will see her. My son just turned 24. He is a self-employed artist and also works for a small, privately owned company in Washington, DC that cannot afford health care for its staff. He is now headed for grad school, which requires proof of health insurance upon admission. He was on his mother’s policy until last year when he was kicked off. Obamacare would let him stay on his mother’s policy until he’s 26—next July 1. It didn’t apply last July 1. So, we bought him an individual policy. My hips were replaced five years ago at a clinic that also operates a research facility with the FDA. In fact, my left hip is part of an FDA study. I was a “star” patient. Literally. I did everything required and more, and had such a good recovery that the clinic did a movie about me to show what a good outcome looks like. Even so, no insurance company will touch me. They are worried that I might be in a car wreck that will really mess up my hips and result in very high medical bills. (If I’m in a car wreck, my concern is more about other parts of my body, like my head and lungs and bleeding.) The North Carolina high risk pool will cover me after I pay $15,000 per year in premiums and deductibles. I can afford that, but most people can’t. Obamacare proposed an 8 percent payroll fee on employers who didn’t cover employees to help provide those workers with health coverage. We’d love that. It’s a lot better than the 33 percent cost of insurance. The irony of Obamacare is that it is essentially the Republican alternative proposed during the Clinton health care debate almost 20 years ago. It was fashioned after the Massachusetts law championed by Mitt Romney, a Republican governor and leading Presidential contender. Politics is funny. The minority’s idea is a good one until the other side adopts it as its own. Sometime next year, right before the 2012 election, Anthony Kennedy is likely to decide whether Obamacare should be kept or thrown out. He is the tie-breaker on the Supreme Court. He has the best health care government can buy, guaranteed for his entire life. He will decide whether my employee might have to battle cancer (and fear) without insurance, whether my son must buy his own insurance, and whether I’m insurable. We are truly a modern medical family. This is the system half of us want to preserve, right?
It has not been a good two weeks for the District. Two Sundays ago, District residents learned from the Washington Post that Kwame Brown, the Chairman of the City Council, was responsible for the city leasing two “fully loaded” 2011 Lincoln Navigator SUVs at $1600 and $1900 per month, respectively. As if it wasn’t enough that the cost was excessive in these difficult times, he also rejected the first SUV because the interior was the wrong color. The fact that the city already had a car for the Chairman made it even worse. The Post also ran a story stating that Mayor Vincent Gray had hired many senior staff at record salaries and had hired the children of some of his staff members. Also, the Mayor himself had a “fully loaded” 2010 Lincoln Navigator SUV leased for him by the Metropolitan Police Department at $1900 per month. As the week went on, the stories got worse. It was learned that the administration had hired Mr. Sulaimon Brown for $110,000 per year. The next day, when it was discovered that Mr. Brown had a checkered past, he was fired. This led to a press frenzy and allegations that the Mayor was hiding from reporters. Then, as if it couldn’t get any worse, it was disclosed that Dr. Allen Sessoms, President of the University of the District of Columbia, had spent thousands of dollars on travel and, you guessed it, had leased a “fully loaded” Lincoln Navigator SUV. Everyone in the city was taken aback by these events. At a time when the city is struggling to balance its budget and show Wall Street and the new Republican Congress that we are acting responsibly, these revelations have done nothing to bolster the District’s image. Mayor Gray, Chairman Brown and President Sessoms all need to address these issues head-on. In the case of Kwame Brown, the Attorney General is negotiating to return the two SUVs. Whatever cost the city incurs must be paid by Kwame Brown and not the taxpayers. If it means paying the city $17,000, so be it. Dr. Sessoms must also explain and justify his expenses or, as in the case of Kwame Brown, reimburse the University. Let’s hope that these events are one-time lapses in judgment and are not repeated. The District cannot afford to once again become the butt of late night television jokes. It took many of us too long to undo the damage the last time this happened.
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.
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 SteinDemocrats.org. Funds given in Jeff's name will be used to support community education activities and events during the annual Pride Season.
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!
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.