Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Davis Kennedy/Publisher & Editor Chris Kain/Managing Editor
For Ward 4 council
Ward 4 D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser is facing five opponents in the April 3 primary. Of the challengers, we think Renee Bowser, Baruti Jahi and Max Skolnik are most worthy of serious consideration. Renee Bowser struck us as a capable contender, but we have a serious disagreement with her over income taxes. She strongly favors increasing taxes on the wealthy, while we fear doing so would probably reduce the city’s revenue, with some residents fleeing the District for Virginia or other states with lower tax burdens. Renee Bowser also told us she favors prohibiting corporations from making political donations, but that she would not extend that ban to unions. We feel strongly that if corporation contributions are eliminated, union donations should be banned as well. In terms of Mr. Jahi, we believe he would be a particularly aggressive council member — and perhaps overly so. We also think he is excessively Ward 4-centric when it comes to development issues, ignoring the benefits that growth elsewhere in the city can provide, through taxes and jobs, to his ward’s residents. Mr. Jahi acknowledges that charter schools do not receive as much funding as regular public schools, but he supports prioritizing the traditional schools. We think some charters do a better job than the public school system and should be encouraged. When it comes to Mr. Skolnik, we agree with him that funding vocational education and magnet programs is worthwhile, but again, we disagree on tax issues: Mr. Skolnik believes the city should increase income taxes for wealthy residents. Muriel Bowser, on the other hand, says the newly reconstituted D.C. Tax Revision Commission should conduct a rigorous study on the results of increasing taxes on the wealthy before city leaders consider changing the rates. The incumbent also wants the commission to study business tax rates, which many claim are too high to compete with neighboring jurisdictions. Ms. Bowser also does an excellent job of making herself available at public meetings to hear about problems affecting local residents — far more consistently than other ward council members with whom we are familiar. And she has the wisdom to realize that she cannot get everything she wants in a piece of legislation: She knows that politics is the art of the possible. Recently, we were impressed with her effort in shepherding ethics legislation through the council. The resulting measure was far from perfect, but it was a good start. She recognizes its deficiencies as well, saying she plans to work on supplemental efforts. Some of her opponents have complained that Ward 4, so far, has not received its full share of school modernization funding. But Ms. Bowser steadfastly opposes mayoral proposals to delay the start of renovations at Roosevelt and Coolidge high schools. And she pushed for the funding necessary to renovate Takoma Education Campus two years ahead of schedule — a fiscally sound response to the devastating fire there in December 2010. The ward has also seen tremendous investment in its parks, recreation centers and libraries over the past several years. The work included the opening of a $10 million recreation facility at Riggs LaSalle — a project that, as her campaign website notes, she first pushed for when she was an advisory neighborhood commissioner. Finally, on a hot-button Ward 4 issue, we would have preferred a bit more clarity from the incumbent on issues surrounding Walmart’s arrival to the ward — which all five of her challengers oppose. Though we do not have strong objection to the store, and in fact envision some benefits from its opening, we wish the council had held hearings on the subject to give a formal voice to the concerns of critics. Still, given Muriel Bowser’s track record, strong abilities and impressive commitment to local residents, we urge voters to give her four more years on the council.
A new budget spring … ? Advocates for more spending on social services in the city are stepping up appeals to the mayor and council, with a protest held Monday. Although your Notebook was sidelined by a bad knee, media reports described a “one city” appeal that was quite different from the $600,000-plus extravaganza Mayor Vincent Gray held a few weeks ago. The D.C. Fair Budget Coalition drew about 100 or so folks to the steps of the John A. Wilson Building for its “One City (in Crisis) Summit.” The organization represents about five-dozen social service providers and affiliated organizations. DCist, a newsy blog, noted that several D.C. Council members stopped by the event. It quoted Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham as cautioning that the 2013 budget proposals expected soon are not going to be brimming with new money. Graham noted that Mayor Gray has made a career of social services, but that his background won’t necessarily translate into spending initiatives or program-saving maneuvers. “We’re always concerned until we see the product,” DCist quoted Graham as saying. The coalition cites some pretty grim statistics: • 1 in 10 residents are unemployed. • 1 in 5 residents are on the waiting list for public and/or subsidized housing. • 1 in 3 residents over 16 are functionally illiterate. • 1 in 3 children are living in poverty. And a few folks pointed out that even the mayor’s super-sized event highlighted affordable housing, a key issue for the coalition. (Gray’s office has stepped up announcements about new housing in response to his summit.) Despite the budget surplus of $240 million last fiscal year and about $70 million in higher revenue being reported now, the fiscal future is still cloudy. Chief financial officer Natwar Gandhi has opined that the 2013 budget needs to include about $160 million in spending cuts or new revenue. When the mayor wrote a letter mildly suggesting that maybe Gandhi’s revenue projections were too conservative, Gandhi responded with a 10-page explanation that basically said, “Nope.” The blunt rejection surprised some who noted that Gandhi is up for reappointment this summer. While some council members — at-large member David Catania in particular — want Gandhi replaced, the mayor more recently has been hinting that he may well reappoint him. It may not be much of a choice for Gray. The mayor is under a serious legal cloud, with federal prosecutors pressing an investigation into his 2010 campaign. Meanwhile, Gandhi may have his faults, but he retains a strong reputation on Wall Street with the bond agencies that are critical to the city’s financial well-being. You might be asking a simple question: If the city has a $240 million surplus from last year, why not just spend it on the critical needs next year? The short answer is that the city promised the credit rating agencies that it would rebuild its reserve fund balance, which dropped precipitously during the city budgets guided by Adrian Fenty. It had been as high as $1.5 billion, but has fallen into the $600 million range. It’s a lot of money almost any way you look at it, except when it comes to fiscal pru-
dence. But that won’t keep social service advocates from pressing city leaders to find the money or raise revenue. The mayor’s budget is due in about 10 days. The battles are just beginning. ■ A sporting chance. One of those battles will have echoes from the city’s decisions in the past two decades to build the sprawling convention center and the Nats ballpark and to spend more than $100 million in city funds to make downtown land ready for the Verizon Center. NBC4 has reported on the Mayor Gray’s private negotiations to bring the Redskins training facility and hall of fame to the development site adjacent to the old RFK Memorial Stadium. And we’ve reported on continuing efforts to build a soccer stadium adjacent to the ballpark near the foot of the South Capitol Street Bridge. Capitol Hill East neighbors and activists already are screaming that the ’Skins training facility would eat up too much valuable land that could be used for other, more neighborhood-friendly development. Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells essentially has said he sees no way the ’Skins operation would fit into plans for the site known as Reservation 13. He and others say the acres that would be needed for training facilities — which are sparsely used part of the year — would be better suited to year-round development and riverside amenities. The mayor and Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans, who has been the major force in corralling support for the city’s other big projects, have their work cut out for them when they make a trip soon to Capitol Hill to address neighborhood concerns. The mayor’s office says the ’Skins can be a catalyst for development, an instant attraction and magnet for other businesses. The preliminary proposal includes a team-oriented hotel that would draw visitors, outof-town teams and others during the season. However, given the way the ’Skins have been playing, the season is only eight home games, with playoff dates only a hope. Meanwhile, it seems most everyone, including Wells, is inclined to support a soccer stadium. The site under consideration the last two years has been in Southwest across South Capitol Street from Nationals Park. But the big if — a really big if — is whether the team ownership can come to the table with financing. Owners surely can’t expect the District to build a soccer field through city money and tax-increment financing. They have looked all over the metro region, and in Baltimore, for a possible deal. But it won’t be one-sided wherever it is. The advocates for more social service spending will raise hell if the city bends to any degree to support sports venues over social service budgets. When then-Mayor Tony Williams got approval for the ballpark, it came with promises to spend revenues on social services. Some question whether that actually happened the way it was envisioned, which brings us back to the appeals of the D.C. Fair Budget Coalition. Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.
Letters to the Editor Coverage helped resolve lease mess
Thank you for covering so thoroughly the city’s ill-advised plan to award a sole-source contract to Keenan Development
Ventures to build a fire station on part of the former Walter Reed campus [“City halts sole-source talks for lease of Walter Reed site,” March 7]. The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development simply didn’t properly vet Keenan’s claim to the property and was willing to spend a lot of taxpayer
money (we don’t know how much) unnecessarily. It’s clear to me that Elizabeth Wiener’s articles spurred the city to act responsibly and end the contract negotiations. Again, I’d like to thank The Current for its coverage! Sara Green Chair, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4B