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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

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The Northwest

Current

Davis Kennedy/Publisher & Editor Chris Kain/Managing Editor

For at-large council

The timing of this year’s local primary — five months earlier than the traditional date in September — may be limiting the public’s awareness of the choices on Election Day. But the Democratic ballot includes a key D.C. Council contest that is worthy of attention. At-large D.C. Council member Vincent Orange, a former Ward 5 representative who won his citywide seat last year in a special election, is seeking a full term against several challengers, including appealing contenders Sekou Biddle and Peter Shapiro. Mr. Orange has made some good strides in his time on the council. We’re pleased with his efforts as chair of the Committee on Small and Local Business Development. It is difficult for small businesses to complete the reams of paperwork necessary to operate here, and Mr. Orange has worked to get bureaucrats to simplify things. But we have concerns about some aspects of his fundraising. Both the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service recently raided the home and offices of one donor, Jeffrey Thompson, whose firm, DC Chartered Health Plan Inc., holds a city contract worth $300 million annually. Mr. Thompson, whose network has reportedly given more than $100,000 to Mr. Orange’s campaigns over the years, has been connected with a series of money order donations to last year’s campaign that Mr. Orange now calls “suspicious and questionable.” Mr. Orange said Mr. Thompson helped him raise the money provided through the orders, which may exceed campaign donation limits. We’re disappointed that Mr. Orange’s campaign managers accepted these funds. Mr. Orange, a certified public accountant, should certainly know better. Another major contributor to Mr. Orange is Joe Mamo, whose Capitol Petroleum Group owns more than 60 percent of the gas stations in the District while also supplying gas to many D.C. stations. The result of this near-monopoly is higher gas prices. Mr. Orange voted against recent legislation proposed by Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh that would have broken Mr. Mamo’s hold on the local industry. Notwithstanding any issue of his intent, whenever a council member takes action that helps a major contributor, it raises uncomfortable questions. Challenger Sekou Biddle also received contributions from Mr. Mamo, but he favors Ms. Cheh’s bill. Given the poor reputation of the council these days, we believe it is essential to elect candidates for whom there isn’t even the appearance of a conflict of interest. Thus, although we usually agree with him on legislative and policy issues, we cannot endorse Mr. Orange. Mr. Biddle and Mr. Shapiro, like the incumbent, both demonstrate an excellent grasp of the issues facing the District. Mr. Biddle held the at-large seat on an interim basis after Kwame Brown was elected to chair the council. Before that, Mr. Biddle served as an elected member of our State Board of Education. Mr. Shapiro grew up in the District and then moved to Prince George’s County, where he served on the Brentwood Town Council and as a two-term member of the Prince George’s County Council, which he chaired for two years. In considering the two candidates, two key points stand out. Mr. Shapiro, who lacks experience in District affairs, told us that should it be necessary to raise revenue, he favors raising taxes on the wealthy. While wise on a national level, raising such rates locally could push some wealthy people to move to Virginia, where income taxes are considerably lower than here. Mr. Biddle, on the other hand, told us he favors a detailed study of the effect of tax rates by the newly appointed tax commission. He also supports replenishing the city’s reserve funds. In addition, one of the biggest challenges facing the District is the struggles of our public schools. Mr. Biddle previously worked for KIPP, one of the most successful charter schools in the country. He has a particularly strong understanding of education issues. We are thus pleased to endorse Sekou Biddle for election in the Democratic primary.

The Current

‘March Madness’ …

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e’re not talking about the dismal misfortunes of our regional teams in this year’s college basketball tournament. We’re talking about a flurry of subpoenas from U.S. Attorney Robert Machen that went out last week. Nearly every council member got one, and more may be arriving any day to any campaign — win or lose — undertaken in the city since 2003. The subpoenas, first reported by NBC4, may be an important gamechanging moment in the wide-ranging federal criminal investigation into campaign corruption. The subpoenas are looking for more than just detailed campaign finance records. They ask for any documents relating “meetings, planning documents, attendance records, invitations and RSVPs” associated with businessman Jeffrey Thompson and a list of his associates. “This is big. This is going after campaigns back to 2003,” said one council staff member, who described a tense and nervous political atmosphere in the John A. Wilson Building downtown. The number and scope of subpoenas suggested to some that prosecutors are advancing their investigation, looking for evidence to confirm what some witnesses plan to tell the grand jury. But it also suggests that a great deal of paperwork still must be done, an indication than any formal charges or other decisions could be weeks or many months away. On Monday, Mayor Vincent Gray showed a little of his own frustration with the year-old probe and the stunning subpoenas. News4 also had reported from unnamed sources that Gray personally accepted as much as $100,000 in contributions from Thompson. When reporters indicated on Monday that they were about to ask more questions on the subject, Gray essentially called a timeout. He shooed the cameras away and said he would no longer comment in any way on the investigation. Robert Bennett is Gray’s lawyer. And like most defense attorneys, he doesn’t want his client commenting on every development in the investigation. Gray says he’ll stick to his simple statement that he called for the investigation and wants it done as thoroughly and as quickly as possible. It’s hard to believe that Sulaimon Brown’s complaints a year ago have led to this extensive probe into fundraising, money orders, unreported cash and other aspects of campaign finances. Brown became almost a sideshow to the main event last fall. And

now, with the subpoenas, we’re about to head into the criminal probe’s version of the Final Four. But we’re not there just yet. March Madness continues. ■ Our economy. The Washington region withstood the 2008 recession pretty well, thanks in large part to massive federal government spending. But that could change. The Greater Washington Board of Trade hosted George Mason University professor Stephen Fuller last week. He’s an expert go-to guy when it comes to understanding the local economy. “Our region’s economy has lost steam and the slowdown is attributable to dysfunction on Capitol Hill,” Fuller noted in a report released by the Board of Trade. He said the region needs to reduce its dependence on federal spending and employment, no matter who might win the White House or control Congress. At the Board of Trade event, Fuller predicted “very little economic growth in the region over the next decade.” The report said only three of 13 job sectors that Fuller studied were projected to experience job growth in the near future: business and professional services, leisure and hospitality, and health and education. ■ Mazel tov! We close the column this week by noting a historic first at Adas Israel Congregation this past weekend. Founded in 1869, Adas Israel has been home to a wide range of historic events and viewpoints. Visitors have included President Ulysses S. Grant, who attended the 1876 dedication of the old site at 3rd and G streets NW, Martin Luther King Jr., Golda Meir and so many famous others. And now, as Rabbi Gil Steinlauf said on Sunday to applause, the long historic list includes “Michael and Alan.” On Sunday, Michael Rodgers and Alan Roth — partners for 17 years — became the first same-sex couple to be married at Adas Israel in its 143 years. In addition to being historic, the marriage ceremony was warm, funny and heartfelt for the many guests (including your Notebook) who came from around the region and the nation to applaud. During the vows, the couple stood in the center of the traditional chupah, open on all four sides as a show of openness and friendship to all who approach. “You are not isolated or alone,” Rabbi Steinlauf declared. “Your family, your community” are here, too, he said, “and [it’s] a joy for me.” Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

TOM SHERWOOD’s

Notebook

Letters to the Editor Traffic cameras help boost public safety

I’m writing to compliment the Forest Hills advisory neighborhood commission for its March 12 resolution in support of traffic cameras to reduce red light and speed limit violations. Lisa Sutter, the photo enforcement person for the Metropolitan Police Department, stated that a goal of the program is fewer pedestrian fatalities. Success is measured by a reduction in tickets given. That means successful use of cameras does not produce maximum revenues because success is higher compliance. Lisa said drivers receiving tickets can view their driving video on a D.C. website. She also

explained that three people review ticket videos to ensure minimal ticket mistakes. My view is that cameras enforce laws but also ask us to be generous with our friends and neighbors by adding a couple of minutes to our travel times. My compliments to the commission. Jan Buresh Forest Hills

D.C. needs reform for disability parking

As someone with limited mobility who holds a handicapped placard, I applaud the city’s effort to clear a space for us with red meters (I wish they had made them bright blue like the official color of the parking spaces in most lots, but I’m not complaining). I do not object to having to pay

for parking. It is privilege enough to have a convenient, reserved space and to have a little longer to run my errands since I’m not as nimble as I used to be. But I don’t see how the red meters are going to curb the scofflaws. For many, the privilege of parking conveniently is just as important as parking for free. Just cruise through any shopping center parking lot in hopes of finding a space when even the handicapped spaces are filled. Then, watch as a young parent with sprightly kids in tow comes skipping out of a shop and climbs into an SUV that is made legal with Grandma’s tag. The misuse of handicapped bathroom stalls when plenty of regular ones are not in use is another one of my gripes, but we will leave that for another day. Eleanor Oliver Cleveland Park


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