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!
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 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"]
-If somebody tried to launch a new version of that old quiz show, “Truth or Consequences,” it might be a tough sell. In public life—whether it’s the media, entertainment, education or politics—there’s precious little of either. In fact, if there were some modern day rehash, its title would more likely be akin to: “If you tell the truth, there will be consequences”. The absence of consequences is everywhere: David Hasselhoff had his drunken babbling aired on television and flunked out of “Dancing with the Stars” in the first round. The consequence: He received his own TV show. The wife of the Prince George’s County Executive was arrested (with her hubby) for corruption in public, but was allowed to keep her seat on the city council—lacking a particularly keen awareness of the consequences. Speaking of Dancing With the Stars: Bristol Palin managed to make it to the finals of the same show, in spite of the fact that she finished on or near the bottom of the judges’ voting every time out. Her fans, including conservative dance fools who wanted to punish liberals, voted over and over again—sort of the hundred-vote do over. These days, it would seem, if you lose you can still win. The young Palin said that she wanted to show up all the “haters out there,” apparently aiming to dance the dance of vengeance. She lost in the finals. In a nearby school system, school officials not only tried to eliminate the letter grade F but also wanted to create a policy in which students, who were caught cheating on tests, were allowed to take the test over. Fortunately, someone (It may have been the school board, parents, or the superintendent who started the whole thing.) ix-nayed the idea. Finally, there was a consequence for promoting no consequences. That’s the truth. But please don’t blame me. I don’t want to suffer the consequences of whatever I may have done.
-Right-wing politicians have stepped up their assault on government spending. But the latest salvo on the war on government came from an unexpected source: President Obama. His preemptive proposal to freeze non-military federal pay undermines the local economy while achieving little politically. Home to more than 15 percent of federal workers, D.C. would receive about $750 million less by freezing about 400,000 salaries. This area has suffered less than many other cities despite having the third highest cost of living. Washington—with the most highly educated residents nationwide—draws many people who pursue dreams of public service over better-paid private sector work. Still, the two-year pay freeze could be worthwhile were it moving us much closer to financial stability or progressive bipartisanship. But it seems to represent only a step back from a message to help the middle class. The financial impact will be negligible, at $2.5 billion in annual savings. Compare that to what we would save by not extending Bush tax cuts for just the wealthiest two percent ($700 billion over 10 years), cutting a few percent of over $500 billion dollars in defense spending or canceling any of several multi-billion dollar weapons programs. Without the context of a larger effort, the freeze on our country’s largest employer lacks heft. Nor will it bring bipartisanship. “Can we all just get along?” Rodney King famously asked, after his brutal beating by the Los Angeles police led to citywide riots. President Obama similarly wants cooperation. But major concessions on health care and climate change didn’t bring Republican support, and the freeze proposal drew a one-two punch: Republicans refused to act on legislation before addressing tax cuts, then voted to block them unless $1 million earners were included. Clearly the answer to Rodney King’s question for President Obama is: “We just can’t.” Republicans have sold a broad, misguided message of antigovernment, anti-business and anti-growth to Congress and backed it up with their legislative votes. Now they say, in so many words, that our job-killing city is unfairly rich at the expense of the middle class. Corporations brought money to the Tea Party and to conservative candidates to amplify such a message. Massive and growing corporate donations are aimed at promoting an unfair and unsustainable status quo: sacrificing a middle-class ravaged by recession, stagnating wages, and high fees to corporations and the rich. At his best, Obama championed the priorities of most Americans. His emphasis on the commonality of federal government and middle class interests energized his campaign and his presidency. Soaring rhetoric on common sense injustices in health care and financial services resonated with the American population, as did calls for investment in clean energy and infrastructure. And while the legislative process has been messy and marked by premature concessions, he’s racked up significant wins for most Americans through the stimulus, health care and financial reform. But his efforts drew the ire of cash cow corporations highly dependent on old products and technologies. Rather than investing in development of the next generation of sustainable, innovative and globally competitive products, these companies spend little in research, stockpile cash and rack up profits. These profits have come increasingly from deceptive or illegal practices, such as violating safety regulations, downplaying health risks, and presenting consumers with comprehensive solutions and then later surprising them with extra hundreds of dollars on monthly bills. The result is a middle-class wracked by foreclosures, obesity, shrinking savings and retirement, and rising poverty levels. Despite a broad anti-government message polling well, most Americans support initiatives like health care protections, limited credit card fees, and continued unemployment benefits. Obama should return to his impassioned rhetoric emphasizing the consistency of federal government and middle class interests. He should champion the heroes in the government (including the 45 percent in public health care) and other federal accomplishments. He should point out clear failures and shortsightedness of corporations and offer regulation and investment to improve it. He should hold fast on tax cuts, forcing Republicans to explain why they support millionaires over popular measures like extending unemployment insurance and continuing START. “You lose nothing when fighting for a cause,” said Muhammad Ali. “In my mind, the losers are those who don’t have a cause they care about.” The president would do well to heed this legendary fighter’s advice. Obama should abandon a proposal wrong for our city and our country, and once again embrace the message of our government and the middle class.
Like many jurisdictions around the country, the District again faces both a decline in tax revenue due to the economy and a number of “spending pressures” that need to be addressed. Just prior to the Thanksgiving break, Mayor Fenty submitted his proposed gap-closing plan for FY 2011, which began on October 1. In addition to this plan, the Mayor also immediately placed a freeze on payroll, hiring and new procurements at the start of the fiscal year. As an exercise in financial management, it behooves all of us to make these important budget decisions early in the fiscal year in order to achieve the highest level of annual savings possible. The Mayor’s plan can be accessed online at: tinyurl.com/27n3cr9. The Council held a public hearing on the Mayor’s proposal on November 30, which lasted well into the evening. Chairman Gray (now Mayor-Elect) has also held informal conversations with Council members, which will lead to his own plan, a revision of the Mayor’s plan, on which the Council will vote on December 7. The budget gap we face in FY 2011 is a relatively manageable $188 million. I am, by and large, supportive of the Mayor’s approach, although there are cuts I have concerns about as every member does. To some extent, it would be foolhardy to restore some of these spending cuts now only to have to address them again in April. At that time, Mayor Gray will submit his FY 2012 budget to the Council, and these programs will likely be on the chopping block all over again to address what will be a $350 million shortfall in FY 2012. Several principles are guiding my thoughts on our budget deliberations: 1.) We cannot continue to live beyond our means, which means not raiding our much-depleted fund balances. 2.) We need to plan for what I think will be continued austerity and a weak recovery from the recession. 3.) We need to focus our resources on the core functions of government. During the “boom years” of the 2000s, before the financial crash, we added all kinds of new spending and programs to the District budget. We need to take a good hard look at these programs and ask ourselves whether they are absolutely necessary. The challenges seem daunting on their face, but I believe we can successfully address them in this round. I do think the FY 2012 budget will be a far bigger challenge, but Mayor Gray will have a few months (rather than a few weeks) to look at programs citywide in a systematic way. But for the moment, I think we are moving in a prudent fashion to address our immediate problems in FY 2011.
-Georgetown resident John Hlinko, founder of the Adrian Fenty write-in-campaign for mayor on Facebook, offered an objection to my take on the write-in campaign, including my opinion that the effort appeared to be “peculiarly un-democratic” (“The Fenty Write-in: A Democratic Success Story,” from the November 16 issue). I don’t mind people objecting to my analysis and opinion—it’s an opinion page after all. And I only mildly mind that opinion being called “Orwellian” or that I saw the write-in as some sort of attempted coup complete with tanks. But there’s one hyperbolic description too many in his rebuttal: that’s the claim that “it’s hard to see how this was anything but profoundly democratic” (His words). Let’s also admit that while the primary was not the final or general election, it was indeed a democratically conducted election, meant to choose the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer in the general election, and the principal candidates were Mayor Fenty and Chairman Gray. The fact that DC is a heavily Democratic city has historically made the primary winner the winner of the general election. To use a fine democratic American phrase, Mr. Gray won fair and square, for a variety of reasons, most of which were documented in the Washington Post and other media, and they were born out in the result. The election was not a verdict on education reform. It was a verdict on Mr. Fenty’s political and leadership style, and the autocratic way that education reform was processed. That’s what primaries are: an electoral method to choose candidates to represent political parties in a larger election. I don’t have an objection to people offering up write-in candidates, or candidates unhappy with the results of primaries attempting to do the same. Nobody likes to lose, by twenty votes or by thousands. It’s been done before. Up in Alaska, one candidate lost the Republican primary for a senate race, took on the Tea Party-backed candidate in a write-in and won in the end. Joe Lieberman, ousted in a Democratic Party primary in Connecticut by an anti-war candidate, ran as an independent and won. And several years ago, Mayor Anthony Williams was forced to run as a write-in candidate due to a technical foul up by his campaign. Two years ago, Carol Schwartz, the lone Republican on the DC City Council, was undone in the primary by a young GOP candidate backed by the local business community and ran a write-in campaign and lost. Michael Brown—the one on the council—ran as an Independent, even though he’s been a heart-and-soul Democrat from practically his first breath, and he won. But write-in campaigns are usually run by candidates themselves, not their supporters. Mr. Fenty repeatedly said he was backing Mr. Gray in the general election, even if those assertions were not made with any great passion. It is not productive or very reasonable to vote for someone who is not even running. The write-in supporters often claimed that while they liked Mr. Gray, they feared he would not continue the education reform efforts begun in dramatic fashion by Mr. Fenty and School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who resigned before the general election. In effect they, like Mr. Fenty and Chancellor Rhee and national media types, were claiming that Mr. Fenty was a victim of an anti-school reform effort, and they were trying to save reform, which apparently only Mr. Fenty would pursue with enough rigor, energy and vigor. This was, to begin with, a misreading of Mr. Gray, who has repeatedly insisted he will continue reform, that there would be no going back. What was undemocratic about the write-in, to my reading of it, is that it cavalierly disrespected the primary vote results and those voters who supported Mr. Gray. If the primary election and the Washington Post polls that preceded it showed anything, it was that DC was a city dramatically divided by race, class and wealth. What exactly did the write-in accomplish? The write-in effort proved to be very effective indeed, racking up solid numbers in the very same white and affluent Wards 3 and 2 which had given Mr. Fenty a solid advantage in the primary. In short, the write-in exposed again the racial and economic divides in the city. But there was never a chance that the effort would actually succeed in coming up with a win for Mr. Fenty. That was always a fantasy. Elections are about consequences, winners and losers, as well as risks. This write-in accomplished nothing that was constructive, or anything resembling clarity. It muddied the outcome, suggested that the primary result was somehow illegitimate or beside the point. Far from being “profoundly democratic,” it ended up being an exercise in electoral peevishness.
Earlier this week, Mayor-Elect Gray had a press conference and briefing about the upcoming challenges the District faces in readdressing our FY 2011 budget (and beyond) in the face of continued decline in revenues. I felt reassured by his comments, specifically his pledge not to use shortsighted budget gimmicks to close the gap. I believe he is also very aware of the tax burden faced by our residents and small businesses and recognizes that we cannot balance the budget on their backs. Raising taxes and failing to curtail spending is a recipe for disaster—and you would find next year we would be back in the same place, at which point taxes would likely be raised next year and the year after that. Fundamentally, we need to restructure what we’re doing. We have difficult decisions ahead, particularly with respect to rightsizing the government to fit our revenue base. We will need to look at what core functions of the government we cannot do without, and look even harder at those things which are perhaps not as necessary. With two-thirds of our spending attributed to public safety, education and human services, we have to keep everything on the table when considering cuts. Looking at deficits of $188 million in FY 2011 and $345 million in FY 2012, we have simply run out of other options. We must curtail spending now. As the Mayor-Elect rightly pointed out, we have been overspending our revenue for each of the past four years, and this year we will no longer have fund balance or federal stimulus monies to paper over the problem. I will be making a number of recommendations to help close the budget gap, including across-the-board freezes and cuts as needed in both personnel and procurement expenses. I will also be looking long and hard at spending on discretionary items—those things which we want to do, but which in tough times such as these may not be possible. With election season over, it is time for all of us to step up to the plate and make the difficult decisions we were elected to make. We no longer have the option of waiting until next year, and residents and business owners in the District are counting on us. Let me end on this note: while Thanksgiving is but one day of the year, I have to say I am truly thankful everyday. Thankful for my family and friends. Thankful for my colleagues and staff. Thankful to have the opportunity to make a difference every day in what I do. So don’t let the week go by without a little reflection and hopefully a nice meal with family and friends too!
The Washington Wizards came back from a 15 point fourth-quarter deficit and defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in an overtime thriller at the Verizon Center in Washington DC on November 23, 2010. See our slideshow of exclusive action photos of the game. (All photos by Jeff Malet / www.maletphoto.com) [gallery ids="99563,104709,104714,104719,104724,104729,104734,104739,104744,104749,104754,104759,104764,104769,104774,104779,104704,104699,104694,104800,104796,104639,104792,104788,104644,104649,104654,104659,104664,104669,104674,104679,104684,104689,104784" nav="thumbs"]
-This letter is in response to Gary Tischler’s editorial of November 3rd, “Congrats to Gray: Election Day and Beyond.” As a Georgetowner myself, and as the founder of the Facebook page Mr. Tischler referenced, “Run, Fenty, Run”, which helped jumpstart the write-in campaign, I thought it would make sense to address some of the points Mr. Tischler made regarding that effort. Overall, there are a lot of good points made in the piece, and we too have joined in congratulating Mayor-Elect Gray on his November 2nd victory. We’ve posted it right on the page, and even offered Gray use of the page to reach our supporters. My only quarrel with Mr. Tischler’s piece was with the section apparently ghost-written by George Orwell: “It is a peculiarly undemocratic approach that says: We won’t accept the election results that we don’t like and we’re going to try and change them.” It’s hard to know where to begin with this sentence. First, when this was written (as Mr. Tischler notes), the election for mayor hadn’t actually happened yet. The September election was a primary to choose party nominees. The November 2nd election was when the mayor was chosen. That’s why they called it an “election.” Call me old fashioned, call me sentimental, but I kind of like the quirky American tradition of waiting for the actual vote before declaring a winner. The truly confusing part, however, is the claim that this effort was somehow “undemocratic.” Which part was undemocratic? The part where we tried to get more votes in the actual election? The part where we tried to run a campaign for our preferred choice for mayor? The part where volunteers stood out for 10, 12, 14 hours or more, trying to convince other voters to consider writing him in as well? Now, in fairness, I was out of town for a few days, so I apologize if I missed the part where write-in supporters rolled out the tanks and declared a coup. And if they made Fenty “Generalissimo for life” in my absence, well, my bad. But otherwise, it’s hard to see how this was anything but profoundly democratic. A group of grassroots supporters rallied behind their preferred candidate, and, with almost no budget, miraculously convinced 23% of voters to write in the name of that candidate. No, Fenty wasn’t on the ballot, and wasn’t running. But that’s the whole point of having a write in. If a voter thinks the best choice for that office is not on the ballot, he or she writes in the person they think is best, even if that person would need to be “drafted” to accept the office. The vast majority of people written in on Election Day are in fact not running. Was it a long shot? Absolutely. Was it a pain in the neck for Mayor-elect Gray, and even Mayor Fenty himself? Almost certainly. Was it undemocratic? Well, since when is democracy “undemocratic?”