D.C.’s attorney general seeks bigger budget

D.C.’s attorney general seeks bigger budget

By Aaron C. Davis, Washington Post, March 30

The District’s first elected attorney general says his office needs more money and staff to carry out the will of voters — and he has a novel proposal for how to pay for it.

When Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) releases her budget proposal Thursday, D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) wants her to include authorization for his office to retain up to $20 million annually from settlements and awards that have been received on behalf of District taxpayers.

Under current law, the attorney general must send all lawsuit-related revenue to the city’s general fund, to be used as the mayor and the D.C. Council see fit. Racine wants to use some of that money to reestablish a consumer protection fund and to pay for an additional 75 lawyers, support staff and technology to investigate and pursue companies and individuals suspected of defrauding city residents .

“In effect, the Attorney General’s office is now co-equal with the Office of the Mayor and the Council of the District of Columbia, and thus now stands as an essential check and balance in the District’s governmental structure,” says Racine’s budget request to Bowser, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.

Designating money for the attorney general’s office could help Racine raise his own political profile and deliver on campaign promises, including litigation to protect affordable housing.

It is unclear whether Bowser will go along with Racine’s plan, which could cut into revenue that is available to pay for her ­priorities.

Bowser spokesman Michael Czin declined to comment, saying the administration would not discuss budget decisions until Thursday. Mark Tuohey, director of the mayor’s office of legal counsel, said he could not address whether the mayor would fund the expansion but stressed that he and Racine can work collaboratively.

“Karl is growing the attorney general’s office quite considerably,” Tuohey said. “From my own standpoint, I’d like to see him have the resources he needs.”

Racine’s proposal paints a picture of a win-win scenario for his office and that of the mayor.

Bowser cannot include settlement or award money in her annual budgets because the revenue is speculative. Therefore, the funds that Racine seeks do not take away from other programs, the proposal says. Also, Racine argues that reinvesting money in his office increases the likelihood of greater payouts for the city in the future.

As evidence of the returns possible, Racine points in the budget proposal to a $2 million increase in the office’s litigation budget over the past two years, in part to take on Standard & Poor’s. Racine recently announced that the city would receive $21.5 million from a multi-state settlement over allegations that S&P’s ratings misled investors about the safety of financial securities before the 2008 financial crisis.

Another ongoing case, involving back taxes owed to the District by online hoteliers Expedia and Priceline, could bring in an estimated $90 million for the District, Racine says. That money alone could fund Racine’s budget request and still send $70 million to city coffers.

Racine has asked Bowser to include in her budget a provision spelling out that if the lawsuit against Expedia and Priceline is settled, about $16.5 million would go to the attorney general’s office. The single payout “will provide the new Consumer Protection Fund with the start-up funding OAG needs . . . to make this fund self-sustaining,” the budget proposal states.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said he would like to see the District’s attorney general become a leading advocate for consumer protection, on par with state attorneys general from New York and California. But he said the council may have to find another way to help fund the effort. The council last year earmarked most of the money expected from a potential settlement with Expedia and Priceline to go to future Metro capital costs, he said.

“It’s not completely on him” to find the funding, Mendelson said of Racine. “I hope the mayor will fund it, and I’m sure if she doesn’t, the council will take a look at it.”

Broadly, Racine’s budget plan notes that with an annual budget of about $55 million, his office is a net revenue generator for the city. With more money, it could do much more, the proposal says.

The proposal says Racine, who left a lucrative job as a white-collar defense lawyer, “wants to bring the private-sector philosophy of revenue generation” to the attorney general’s office.

Text: State of the District Address

Mayor Bowser’s State of the District Address

Below is Mayor Bowser’s State of the District Address as prepared for delivery

Good evening, fellow Washingtonians. I’m here tonight, humble and proud to be your Mayor.

It is an honor to have the opportunity to deliver the 2015 State of the District Address.

Today, I am pleased to report, that the District is strong… and growing stronger.

We are one of the strongest economies in the country. We are the economic engine of the region accounting for one quarter of the job market, and in the last year, over two-thirds of its private sector job growth;

We are the number one tech hot spot and among the top ten cities for venture capital investment. Forbes Magazine even says we’re the coolest;
Wall Street knows our city finances are strong, and this year, increased our bond rating;

We are a Top 5 U.S. Cities for New Construction; Top 10 Most Walkable City in the U.S.; #2 Fittest City (we’ll catch you, Minneapolis/St-Paul!); #1 in U.S. for attracting entrepreneurial founders of companies; and the #2 Best paying U.S. City for Women;

We are home to the best new restaurant in America, and we are a Top 5 Best U.S. City for a Vacation;

No wonder we’re also one of the fastest growing cities in the country.
Big cities – like the District of Columbia – have world-class schools, parks, and libraries. They are home to vibrant cultural institutions that highlight the arts and entertainment. We are making strides in these areas too.

But we all know that there is room to improve.

We face historic economic inequality with tragic rates of homelessness;

Too many of our residents can’t afford to continue to live in their own neighborhoods;

Our schools are not yet good enough and our transit system isn’t reliable and safe enough;

And as good as our finances are, heading into the next fiscal year, we face a $200 million budget gap.

We know that it’s tougher and tougher for many people to start down and stay on the pathway to the middle class.

When my parents bought a simple 3-bedroom home in 1960 in North Michigan Park, they could afford to do so on two modest government salaries.

Growing up in that middle class household meant that we had food in the fridge, new clothes to start the school year, and a bit of pocket money to go to the movies.

Growing up middle class meant that my siblings and I didn’t always get everything we wanted but we had everything we needed.

Back in 1960, when Joan and Joe bought their home, the average home in DC cost about $15,000. That was only three times the average family income.

Today, the median home value tops half a million dollars. That’s six times the average family income.

If we are going to remain a city that keeps and welcomes families, we must do more to create opportunity for them.

Creating opportunity means taking steps every day to improve the quality of life for the residents of the District of Columbia.

Creating opportunity means economic development that makes life easier, and more convenient while preserving the rich heritage that makes DC so unique.

And it means promoting the arts and those cultural institutions that will continue to make it so.

It means being able to take a walk or wait for a bus without concern for your safety. It also means access to modes of transportation that fit your needs.

And, it means neighborhoods that welcome all District residents, whether they have been here for five minutes or five generations.

Sometimes it means just getting out of the way so that small businesses can get to work.

But it always means creating pathways to the middle class.

Now, you may have heard me say the following two words, once or twice over the last year: “Fresh Start.”

Some have called it a catchy slogan while others have embraced it on social media. No matter what you think of it, I can assure you it is a promise I will fulfill.

I believe it is critical that we walk forward together proud of what we have accomplished and where we stand; yet step away from the shadows that haunt our past.

We achieve this and uphold the public’s trust by doing what we say we will do, being responsive to what residents need and always striving to be more transparent.

You have my commitment that my Administration understands that integrity is paramount, and we are forever grateful to those who came before us and committed to the residents who rely on us not just today but every day.

On the campaign trail last year, I told you that a Bowser administration would reflect your values and beliefs.

I told you that we—the 660,000 residents of District of Columbia—believe in education reforms that guarantee every child a quality seat—no matter her zip code or her parent’s tax bracket.

We believe in housing that is safe, clean, and affordable.

We believe in healthcare for all, in marriage equality, a sustainable DC, a level playing field for women, African-Americans, Latinos, and DC residents of every background and belief.

We believe that taxation without representation is fundamentally undemocratic. And that corruption at any level is unacceptable.
And we believe that the government has a duty to ensure a fair and equal pathway to the middle class.

Last year I promised you that as mayor I would wake up every day humbled, energized, and motivated to do the little things and the big things needed to pursue our shared beliefs and make the District the greatest city it can be.

To put it another way, what I promised you is that ours would be a government that would create opportunity and do so decisively.

And for the last 89 days, this government has been working doggedly to deliver on that promise.

I have walked the halls of Congress and the White House.

I entered into an agreement with the Prince George’s and Montgomery County Executives to focus on regional housing affordability and an end to homelessness.

I’ve travelled to Austin, Texas to sell our tech community and to New York City to achieve a better bond rating.

I’ve hosted the Mayors of Mexico City and Paris.

I’ve made BIG ASKS of billionaires and hosted foreign investors.

I’ve met with BIG LABOR, BIG UTILITIES, and BIG BUSINESS to make the pitch for DC JOBS for DC residents.

And as the Sports Capital, we will continue to meet with THE BIGGEST SPORTS GUYS (Right, Councilmember Evans?). They know that DC is Ready to host the 2018 MLB All Star game, and perhaps a Super Bowl one Sunday.

We will do all of this while keeping in mind that this is your city, and it is your government. We work for you.

You do not just get a seat at the table — it is your table.
John Dewey said “the cobbler may know how to fix the shoe, but only the wearer knows where it pinches.”

So when it came to cobbling together my first budget, I wanted to hear from you on the front end.

That is why we have hosted hundreds of residents from all 8 wards at our budget engagement forums.

More than 2,300 residents and employees gave us fresh ideas about how to spend their tax dollars to create opportunity. The budget I will submit to our friends at the Council will reflect your input and your priorities.

It will also reflect the looming $200 million budget gap that will require some tough decisions in order to pave the way to the middle class and allow those who need us most, to prosper.

Dr. King challenged us to develop: “a kind of dangerous unselfishness.”
We will do that by giving a little more to create and preserve affordable housing, to care for our homeless neighbors and to invest in a safe and reliable transportation system to get our residents to work and school and to keep the visitors coming.

We will do that by making “black lives matter” more than just a hashtag by taking concrete steps like investing in, and creating opportunity for, those students who are falling behind.

Creating opportunity, in particular for our youngest residents, is a driving focus of this administration.

That starts with our infants and toddlers and is why we launched the Early Learning Quality Improvement Network to ensure that those who care for our babies meet national standards.

We have the fastest improving urban school district in the nation. But, we need to increase the pace of reform.

Nowhere is that more necessary than in our middle schools.
That is why in next year’s DCPS budget, we will spend $15 million to support our middle school students with more extracurricular activities, summer programming, and international travel. And, we will create a state of the art middle-school in Petworth at McFarland.

Also, next fall, the school building that I attended as a kindergartner will re-open as Brookland Middle School.

And whether you go to McFarland, Murch or Maya Angelou, your child will ride free on the bus or rail because of our commitment to make it just a little easier on our families.

That’s also why beginning in school year 2015-2016, parents will have predictability and consistency, and a clear path from pre-K to graduation thanks to long-overdue boundary realignments.
We take these steps because we know that when children succeed, we all succeed.

For our older students, we have to turn the corner at UDC and align our Community College with the careers that will yield pathways to the middle class.

Last week I announced the creation of the LEAP Academy. The Academy is borne from a simple idea: train District residents to work in the District government.

The District employs hundreds of workers to maintain our buildings and keep our fleet vehicles road-ready. The Academy will serve as a conduit for motivated District residents to enter the workforce in a good, steady job and begin down the pathway to the middle class all the while providing you with first-class services.

Exposing youth to work prepares them for jobs as adults. That’s why I announced an additional $5 million in funding to expand the Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program to serve District youth ages 22 to 24.

Creating employment opportunities means rethinking our workforce development investments. Did you know that our creative economy generates over $19 billion to the local economy annually? We should be more creative in how we think about investing in the arts so that we are retaining and developing a creative work force that not only provides revenue and jobs, but sustains the District as a cultural capital.
We all know that the Streetcar has been long on promises but short on results. That changes now.

I promise you that we will get the Street Car along H Street and Benning Road line up and running.

Then we will extend the line to downtown Ward 7 so that Councilmember Alexander’s constituents along Benning Road can ride to Union Station and eventually all the way to Georgetown.

Earlier this month, we announced a new technology partnership with Howard University that will bolster efforts to support our growing technology and innovation sectors by addressing the needs of startups and entrepreneurs in the District.

We have also brokered a Labor Peace agreement between UNITE HERE, Local 25 and DC United that, when coupled with the related project labor agreements, will ensure that employees at the new soccer stadium will have jobs that put them on the path to the middle class.

Because we all know that when we stand with our brothers and sisters in labor so that they can succeed, we all will succeed.

You may not know this, John Boardman, but meeting Juanita King changed my life. I caught the bus with her. I cleaned rooms at the Marriott Marquis with her. It cemented within me the notion that every economic development dollar this government spends must lead to good-paying jobs.
In the coming year, we are committed to this goal:
We will look for new opportunities to get DC residents, including returning citizens, on the job. Whether it is by way of our largest infrastructure projects or by creating incentives to attract and retain businesses.

We will make first-time capital investments to reinvigorate upper Georgia Avenue at Walter Reed and to spur development at Hill East.

We will experiment with OUR RFP, a new endeavor to give the community the first opportunity to shape development. We will try it first right down the street at Parcel 42 in Shaw.

We will support vibrancy in historic Anacostia by reimagining and redeveloping the Gateway at MLK and Good Hope Road. Just this week, I announced our intention to redevelop a huge government owned parcel there.

And, we will ensure that our small businesses are given a fair shot to compete for work on all of this development.

Your government is hard at work to give everyone a fair shot.

We are active participants in President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative to narrow the achievement gap that is all too pervasive in America today.

Late last year, I invited a group of 100 boys to take the Audacity of Hope Challenge.

The participants were challenged to read President Obama’s book and to examine how they can each improve themselves by improving their communities.

Each time I meet with the participants, I am struck by their tenderness and desire to be engaged. They are not as tough as they think or as some others make them out to be. None of the participants are looking for a hand out; they are looking for a hand up.

And, earlier today I announced a partnership that will guarantee those 100 students year-round internships in businesses throughout the city.
Now that’s what I call a fresh start.

And tomorrow, I am excited to say that I will announce the first-ever Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity.

The Deputy Mayor will be charged with creating solutions to improve outcomes for residents who face challenges to entering the workforce or starting their own venture.

Because we know that when they succeed, we all succeed.

Being Mayor of my hometown is the greatest job in the world. We are a city on the move and we have great challenges. But some decisions have been easy:
Like standing up for marriage equality as we did by urging the Supreme Court to end marriage discrimination nationwide.

Like deciding not to send any District employees to Indiana.

Because we ALWAYS stand with the LGBT community, we won’t sit by as discrimination is veiled in misguided belief.

Just as we stand with DREAMers who deserve a chance to succeed.

We join hands with Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton to stand up to bullies – like Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland’s 1st District – who seek to undermine the will of District voters.

And Eleanor and I won’t stop standing shoulder to shoulder until we achieve statehood.

We will stand together for the District’s right to spend its dollars. As a Councilmember, I supported Phil Mendelson’s efforts for budget autonomy.

And as Mayor, I stand with him, the Council, and the 83% of voters who approved the referendum.

Because when we all stand together, we all succeed.

I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish together, and I am excited about what more we will do together to create opportunity for all 8 wards.

In one way or another, much of what we will do will be linked to my first budget, which I will deliver to the Council this week.

I’ve already mentioned that we are facing a budget deficit.

Simply put, we came into office with an estimated quarter billion dollar budget deficit for the next fiscal year. That deficit means that we will have to make tough decisions about which programs to fund, which to cut back, and whether to raise taxes.

I challenged my budget team to look for savings, to trim only those programs that could withstand it, and I tasked them to do more with less.
This is what we have in store.

This year, we are adding an additional $32 million for DCPS and Charter schools to keep pace with growing demand. Our public school system will enroll 2,000 more students this year than last.

We are also making capital investments in our DCPS schools so students can be comfortable, engaged, and inspired.

These investments will do much to improve educational outcomes for our students.

Unfortunately, the prospects of success for many students are poor. For instance, by fourth grade, nearly 50 percent of Black and Latino males are reading below grade level.

We know we have to do a better job at engaging these students and accelerating the pace of academic achievement so they have an equal chance of being successful in college, career and life. They aren’t failing themselves. We are failing them.

To address this failing, in my first month in office, Chancellor Kaya Henderson and I announced a $20 million initiative to empower young boys and men of color.

We will also launch an all-male public high school that will focus on the academic success of these young men.

Councilmembers David Grosso and Kenyan McDuffie were bold, courageous and right to recognize that eight years of education reform has moved our boys of color too slowly.

And Attorney General Karl Racine knows the importance of this effort and has those students’ backs – regardless of whether the challenge comes from within or beyond.

We need you involved as well. That’s why we launched 500 for 500 – an effort to recruit 500 residents to volunteer as a mentor through the DCPS Empowering Males of Color Initiative.

We are proud to say that 2/3 of the students have been matched with a mentor to improve their literacy skills and enhance their sense of self-efficacy.

And there is more we can and will do.

Last year, the Council approved—unanimously—the creation of the At-Risk student funding formula. Not an equal student funding formula, but a formula to give the schools with the most kids facing the most challenges the resources necessary so that they can succeed.

This year, Chancellor Henderson fully implemented the Council’s plan and the budget reflects that. If we are going to move the needle, we cannot poke holes in this funding.

Last year I introduced legislation that allows students to ride MetroBus for free which saves families with two kids $720 a year.

Those savings goes a long way to helping those families make rent, pay for a field trip, or even buy a family computer.

More families could benefit from Kids Ride Free if it were extended to Metro Rail and WE WILL CHANGE THAT.

Because when families succeed, we all succeed.

We know, too, that creating opportunities to attain pathways to the middle class means that we have to invest more in affordable housing.

The Housing Production Trust Fund is the District’s primary tool for creating and preserving affordable housing at a variety of income levels. I made a commitment last year that if elected mayor the Housing Production Trust Fund would be budgeted at $100 million each year. I am proud to say that we will deliver on that promise.

I know we will because the At Large Councilmember for Housing Anita Bonds is going to fight for it.

NKOTB – you know, the New Kids on the Block – Elissa Silverman, Brianne Nadeau, and Charles Allen are going to stand up for the $100 million for affordable housing.

Part of that effort will entail a genuine commitment to the New Communities Initiative. I spent a great deal of time as a Councilmember shining a light on the failings of that program; my focus is redoubled.

Today, the District’s Interagency Council on Homelessness finalized a plan to end homelessness by making it rare, brief, and non-recurring.

And, with the Council’s support of our homeless funding plan, we will deliver on another promise: ending family homelessness by 2018 and all homelessness by 2025. And we will close DC general once and for all.

But Brenda, Laura, Kristy and I cannot end homelessness alone. We need your help. Closing DC General means producing small, safe, attractive transitional housing throughout the District.

Long-time Boston Mayor Tom Menino used to say that “the true privilege of being Mayor is that I have the opportunity to be everyone’s neighbor.”

Tonight, I extend that privilege to each and every one of you, and I challenge you to be more inclusive of those who need a hand up.
Because we know that when they succeed, we all succeed.

We succeed, too when we take steps to ensure a healthy population. The way the District has embraced President Obama’s health care law is a model for the nation. Today, more than 93% of District residents are covered.

Thanks Obama.

Despite the coverage success, residents can be healthier. We succumb to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes at rates higher than the national average. I believe we can do better.

Preventative health should be a focus, too. So I am dedicating funds for the joyful food markets; a partnership with nonprofits and schools that distributes free fresh vegetables at pop-up markets in schools at the end of each month.

And when a resident needs a hospital – one should be close to their community. That’s why I am committed to investing in the only hospital East of the River. You should have access to a state of the art hospital that is close to where you live and work.

We want residents to led active lifestyles. I am committed to investing more in the Met Branch Trail, in recreation facilities, and in open spaces so that District residents of all ages have opportunities to pursue a healthy lifestyle in ways that are convenient for them.

To create opportunity requires us to make our streets safer.

The safety and well-being of District residents is my top priority and FEMS is at the frontlines of this effort.

Our fire and emergency services are not up to par.

We are undertaking a top to bottom review of FEMS and found that more calls were going unanswered, more than half of our ambulances were out of service, and equipment was rolled out without much training for our first responders. With the right leadership, we will change all that.

So, we searched across this country and found a professional, collaborative leader from Seattle, Washington who led a department with an international reputation for its fire-based EMS performance. I am certain that Chief Gregory Dean will work with our brave men and women who are our first responders to move the department forward in ways that will give you confidence, and comfort.

Chief Cathy Lanier and her team at MPD are working hard to do just that.
In the early 1990s, the number of homicides in the District regularly topped 400 a year. Street gangs and open air drug markets seemed to consume entire neighborhoods and the violence grew to epidemic proportions. This was the era when the District was known as the “Murder Capital of the World.”

From 2008 to 2012, we reduced homicides by more than half, to a level the District had not seen in nearly 50 years (88 homicides in 2012 vs. 186 homicides in 2008).

And for the past two years, the annual number has remained around 100, an almost unimaginable notion when compared to the 482 lives lost in 1991.

Since 2008, we have reduced overall violent crime (homicide, assault w/dangerous weapon, sex assault & robbery) by more than 18 percent.
When comparing the most recent four years to the first four years of the 1990s, we have had 1,446 fewer homicides. That’s not just a number. That represents 1,446 lives saved and innumerable families and loved ones spared unnecessary tragedy and loss. But that’s not enough. On homicide is too many.

This progress did not occur overnight. It took several years and a concerted effort to implement an effective policing strategy for combating violent crime and rebuilding the relationship between the police and members of the community.

Our progress on this front must continue, even in the face of the looming “retirement bubble” that will see us lose more officers each year than we can reasonably hire and train.

We will increase the number of officers on the streets this year by making sure that more officers are retained and the maximum numbers of officers are out on the streets, not sitting behind a desk.

Last October, the MPD launched a pilot program to test the use of body cameras. Today I’m here to say that the pilot is over and we will expand the use of body cameras to all MPD patrol officers in the next 18 months.
It’s the right thing to do for our officers and our residents.
Accountability is embedded in everything this administration does.

Accountability is why we are re-launching CapStat, a data driven approach to improving government efficiency and, ultimately, service delivery. It’s a model that we once employed to great success; it’s time to return to it.
We’ve already measured snow and trash removal efforts, and we know we need to make adjustments for next winter.

Since becoming mayor, I still haven’t found a way to make the snow not hit the ground, but after 24 deployments and 58,000 tons of salt spread, we have the frontline workers to thank for clearing the roads and hauling our waste in hazardous conditions.

When it became apparent that the weather made us fall too far behind on collections, I called in the leadership in management and labor and charted a path forward. We declared “All Hands on Deck” and with the help of our frontline workers – and a few private contractors – we hauled 1,090 tons of trash in a matter of days.

My commitment for the next season is that we will find efficiencies and borrow a few best practices and communicate with residents better about what we as a government will do and what we will rely on residents to do.

Our Office of the Chief Technology Officer will soon launch “OpenDC” a web-based portal that will permit third-party developers access to government data.

By doing so we encourage not just transparency, but also the development of innovative solutions to pressing District problems. Stay tuned for our first Hackathon in May.

We will celebrate innovation – not just the type that rewards you with love by swiping right or delivers a ride with a few taps. We will seek out innovation that makes life a little easier for a working mother trying to find social services or use public transit.

That’s the same reason why we are building out an office dedicated to public private partnerships that will lower the time and cost for procurements and give the District expertise and oversight of these complex projects so that public resources are used wisely.

These programs represent a modern, results-oriented approach to good government.

I’m convinced that by leveraging technology and business management strategies we can improve service delivery, and save money.

We know that we can do more to advance positive outcomes to those that are economically disadvantaged, especially east of the river.

Because when they succeed, we succeed.

Finally, before we close tonight, we must acknowledge that the job of keeping our streets safe is a shared responsibility.

When it comes to snow response, we gather nearly 20 agencies on calls at all hours of the night to devise our plan of attack, communicate about how we will work to together and decide whether schools and government can operate.

For too long, when an act of violence occurs that we know could lead to further acts, we have looked solely to the brave women and men of MPD to end the cycle of violence.

In my Administration, that approach will get a fresh start: the Community Stabilization Protocol.

The Protocol harnesses the energy and bandwidth of over a dozen agencies – from the MOCRS to the Department of Behavioral Health – to provide support to the families of victims – and sometimes suspects – and to engage the community in finding a solution.

In the hours after an incident, a multi-agency call is convened. Within 12 hours, a member of the Deputy City Administrator’s visits the family, and within 24 hours, a multi-agency team visits the family and neighbors. When necessary, a community meeting is held with 48 hours.

This approach is too new to hold up as a success but we are pleased with its progress thus far. Families of those affected by violence have been open to assistance, communities have been engaged in the solution, and law enforcement has been able to interrupt the cycle of violence.

I cannot stand before you tonight and claim to have all of the answers to eradicate our toughest problems like senseless violence, but I can commit to you that we as a government and as a city will experiment with new approaches to face them head on. And we will always seek solutions that engage and empower residents.

Tonight I have spoken about the work we have done already to fulfill promises made. And I’ve detailed how we will continue to create opportunity in the coming months.

And I’ve spoken about how this administration strives every day to be responsive, inclusive, and decisive.

I’ve spoken about how this government belongs to you, and about how we are opening its doors to allow you better access.

I want to come back to that point now as I conclude my remarks tonight.

Given our presence here at the historic Lincoln Theatre, and on the 150th anniversary of his assassination, it struck me as appropriate to
1. Invite you all to join Councilmember Vincent Orange and me on Freedom Plaza on April 16 for Emancipation Day
2. quote from the nation’s 16th President.

Abraham Lincoln once said “The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but cannot do at all, or cannot so well do, for themselves.”

You elected me to do what needs to be done to create opportunity for you and your family, to blaze a path to the middle class, to improve schools, make our streets safer, and our population healthier.

I cannot do it alone. We want your help – we need your help. We want you to engage and to make demands of us. We want to be held accountable.

I began tonight’s speech by recalling some other promises I previously made to each of you. I will conclude now by making one more.

Every day I wake up humbled and grateful that you have placed in me your trust to guide this great city into the future. I promise to live up to your expectations, to make yours a government that is open, accessible, transparent, and responsive to your needs and to create more pathways to the middle class.

Because when you succeed, we all succeed.

Thank you for being here tonight. And may God continue to bless the District of Columbia.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser pledges new era of government accountability

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser pledges new era of government accountability

By Aaron C. Davis, Washington Post, March 31 at 9:51 PM

In her first State of the District address, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser promised to work for a prosperous future for the city, with improvements to public education, housing and transportation. (DCN)

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser used her first citywide address to pledge a new era of transparency in local government, vowing to outfit all D.C. police officers with body cameras, consult honestly with residents on development projects and finish the beleaguered streetcar line while remaining open with the public about the system’s shortcomings.

“Accountability is embedded in everything this administration does,” Bowser (D) said in her State of the District speech Tuesday night. “Corruption at any level in our city is unacceptable.”

The focus on clean government stood in sharp contrast with last year’s address, when then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) was forced to confront new allegations of impropriety, taking the stage to proclaim: “I didn’t break the law.”

With Gray out of office, Bowser suggested that the District government has an increased ability — and an urgent need — to address economic inequality in the nation’s capital.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser delivers her first State of the District address at the Lincoln Theatre on March 31. (Bill O’Leary/Washington Post)

Bowser said her first budget, due to the D.C. Council on Thursday, would lay out a plan for funding her priorities, including matching the $100 million a year that Gray allocated at the end of his term for affordable housing.

Speaking from the stage of the Lincoln Theatre in the rapidly gentrifying U Street-corridor, Bowser said that the District is at an economic and cultural crossroads and that the city government has no option but to do better.

“We know that it’s tougher and tougher for many people to start down and stay on the pathway to the middle class,” she said, noting that in the 1960s, her parents were able to buy a home in the District on “two modest government salaries.” Now, she said, the median home value tops a half-million dollars.

“If we are going to remain a city that keeps and welcomes families, we must do more to create opportunity for them,” Bowser said.

Largely echoing campaign promises made last year, Bowser sketched a broad vision that included solving problems her predecessors have tried to fix to no avail: chronic homelessness, a raging economic divide and rapidly disappearing affordable housing.

The mayor vowed to use the streetcar line to connect the city’s economically depressed eastern reaches with its thriving downtown core, taking ownership of a project that is years overdue and tens of millions over budget — and that she repeatedly criticized as a candidate and a council member.

“We all know that it has been long on promises and short on results. That changes now,” Bowser said of the streetcar system.

Bowser touches on Indiana law during citywide address(0:39)

In her State of the State speech, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser addressed Indiana’s religious freedom law and her executive order banning city-funded travel to the state until it repeals the law, which opponents say is anti-gay. (DCN)

She promised to move forward with a scaled-back plan embraced by the council last year for about eight miles of rail, down from an original goal of 37 miles. The streetcar would run from east of the Anacostia River to Union Station and “eventually all the way to Georgetown.”

The mayor, who until last month had not said whether she would go forward with the streetcar at all, promised to be open about challenges the system might face — and about struggles her administration will encounter elsewhere.

She pledged to close the city’s dilapidated family homeless shelter on the campus of the former D.C. General Hospital “once and for all.” And she put dates to her goal of ending homelessness — 2018 for chronic family homelessness and 2025 for all homelessness.

Bowser said she supports funding a new hospital east of the Anacostia River, something she balked at when Gray proposed it last year.

Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., Bowser challenged city residents to develop “a kind of dangerous unselfishness” toward solutions to civic ills. The remark was partly an exhortation to accept the presence of small homeless shelters in six or more residential neighborhoods to make up for the nearly 300 D.C. General hospital rooms that currently house homeless families.

“We need your help,” Bowser said. “I challenge you to be more inclusive of those who need a hand up.” She did not mention that as a council member, she fought a plan to open such a shelter in her home ward, Ward 4, saying there were too many such shelters there.

Bowser took a high-profile swipe at Indiana’s controversial religious liberties law, which is being criticized as anti-gay. “We won’t stand by” she said, and support segregation. Aides said she would sign an executive order banning District-paid travel to that state.

Bowser also alluded to the racial tension that exploded last year in Ferguson, Mo., saying that in the District, she will work to make “ ‘black lives matter’ more than just a hashtag.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Bowser announced a partnership to establish 100 year-long internships for young black men.

In her speech, she also reiterated that she would pursue opening an all-male school for underprivileged boys. And she said she would reinvest in the city’s New Communities initiative, which aims to rejuvenate some of the city’s rundown public and subsidized housing.

The mayor also said the city would do more to ensure accountability and transparency in relations between residents and police.

Bowser said she would expand a $1 million pilot program begun last year and outfit every D.C. police officer with a body camera within 18 months. “It’s the right thing to do for our officers and our residents,” Bowser said.

She also promised to restore credibility to the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, including its troubled 911 dispatch system. She said she would work with the council to approve funding for free Metrorail rides for all city schoolchildren — an expansion of the free bus service that is offered now.

She warned that funding her priorities would require cuts elsewhere and said those would become apparent Thursday when her budget is released.

Johnnie Scott Rice, vice chairperson of the National Congress of Black Women, attended Bowser’s speech with her husband, a retired Metro employee. Both said they were hopeful. “I liked her promises,” Rice said. “Let’s hope she can keep them.”

Abigail Hauslohner contributed to this report.

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.

Wooed by Washington, now committed to D.C. in Mayor Muriel Bowser’s city hall

Wooed by Washington, now committed to D.C. in Mayor Muriel Bowser’s city hall

By Aaron C. Davis, Washington Post, March 23 at 6:52 PM

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser was accompanied by her community-relations director, Gregory Jackson Jr., at a news conference last week outside Ketcham Elementary School in Southwest to launch a resident outreach initiative. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

Eight years out of college, Gregory Jackson Jr. had ascended swiftly in the world of Washington politics — to swing-state director for President Obama in 2012, then to national field director for electing House Democrats.

But Jackson, 29, recently found himself seated across from Mayor-elect Muriel E. Bowser weighing a career move that would take him in the opposite direction of most aspiring D.C. politicos: to a job with city government.

Bowser’s offer was gritty and far from the glamour of national politics: director of community relations. The unofficial job description? Fielding a ceaseless stream of complaints about potholes, trash and broken traffic lights.

“I jumped on it,” Jackson said.

He wasn’t alone. Since January, a wave of federal bureaucrats and national political staffers has washed down Pennsylvania Avenue to the D.C. government’s headquarters. Among the pilgrims: Obama’s top expert on homelessness among veterans, a chief bureaucrat in the General Services Administration, a former assistant chief of the Small Business Administration, the executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus and the spokesman and two former staffers for the Democratic National Committee.

The members of this class share a feeling of discontent over the partisan brinkmanship and policy paralysis that have come to define Washington. But some are also quick to point out another motivation: improving a city they now view as their home town.

Bowser’s young administration — which largely took shape last week, when a slew of confirmations sailed through the D.C. Council — has become an emblem of a capital city in the midst of dramatic change. Just as growing numbers of Washingtonians see the city as their home — not just a career way station — so, too, has the city government become a destination of its own.

Bowser (D) said she went into many interviews ready with a pitch but often didn’t have to make too hard of a sell. For one federal applicant, the mayor said, she just listed everything else on her day’s agenda, including a new soccer stadium.

“You can only see the benefits of those efforts in such a short time at the local level,” Bowser said.

D.C. Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger answers questions during a news conference last month at the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center after Bowser announced her plans to address homelessness in the District. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)

From global to local

Laura Green Zeilinger, Bowser’s new point person on the District’s homeless crisis, may best embody the optimism that has driven some professionals from national posts to the John A. Wilson Building.

For most of the 20 years since Zeilinger arrived in D.C., the triathlete and former college rower was focused on the kind of global problems that draw so many to Washington. Living in a cramped apartment on Capitol Hill, Zeilinger spent the late 1990s working on reforming the pension system in Kazakhstan.

She has served in city government before, working her way through law school at American University. By Obama’s second term, she was climbing the ranks at the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. Last year, she was tapped to lead the council and the final leg of Obama’s five-year sprint to end chronic homelessness for some 58,000 veterans nationwide.

One day in December, Zeilinger sat in her office planning a briefing for 19 Cabinet secretaries and reviewing an announcement that New Orleans would become the first U.S. city to meet its benchmark. Then she got a call from Bowser.

Zeilinger said she struggled with the decision to leave a job unfinished. But she felt a special obligation and opportunity to tackle a problem in her own back yard.

“This is the work that I am most passionate about, and this has become my home,” said the Cleveland native, who lives with her husband and children in Tenleytown. “I’m raising a teenager, and I have a 10-year-old. I care deeply about this community and a chance to make a difference.”

She also viewed Bowser an attractive boss.

“People in this town are inspired by strong leadership, especially strong political leadership, which gives people the opportunity to feel like their work matters and they can make change,” Zeilinger said. “I think that we’ve got that in this mayor.”

Two blocks from the White House, Kevin Donahue was working at the glacial pace of progress in a massive federal bureaucracy when a call came in on his cellphone from a number he did not recognize. On the other end of the line was Bowser.

“I immediately said: ‘Yes. When can I come in and interview?’ ” said Donahue, who was still smarting from the powerlessness and paralysis he felt sitting in his Northeast home for days during the last federal government shutdown.

Donahue also felt increasingly distant from actual results. As head of the Performance Improvement Council at the General Services Administration, Donahue was responsible for getting 24 of the largest federal agencies to coordinate and implement “new cross-agency priority goals.”

“It was a wonderful job,” Donahue said. “But I learned there’s a reason why the federal government appears to move slowly. And that is because if you move too quickly when you have a 200,000-person organization, what you are trying to do is probably going to be incoherent to the rest of the organization and you are probably going to fail.”

On an emotional level, the slow progress was deeply frustrating — especially when “you may have the answer,” he said. “How hard is it to get people to start acting consistent with what the answer is?”

Donahue is now Bowser’s deputy mayor for public safety, and his focus is to find better ways for the fire department to respond to life-and-death calls, and for the city to use all of its resources to reduce homicides.

“You can see a problem in the morning, try to find an answer in the afternoon, and go explain it to the people you’re trying to help at a community meeting that evening,” Donahue said. “That may not happen every day, but it happens often enough that it’s a very satisfying experience.”

Where the heart is

Bowser is not the first to attract national managers into city government. Donahue and Zeilinger, for instance, also worked for Adrian M. Fenty when he was mayor. Vincent C. Gray’s chief of staff was Christopher Murphy, a former deputy director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But the class of arrivals from the federal government or Capitol Hill is larger this year than any in recent memory. And for some, one motivation was a very powerful, and in some cases very new, sense of seeing D.C. as home.

That is true for LaDavia Drane, the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus. Drane began her career in business law, worked as a congressional legislative director on Capitol Hill and then traveled the country for the Congressional Black Caucus. She always assumed that another job on Capitol Hill or a position at a K Street lobbying shop “was a much more likely next step.”

“I have to be honest,” said Drane, Bowser’s director of the newly created Office of Federal and Regional Affairs. “I’ve never been engaged in D.C. very much. . . . It’s very easy when you work for the federal government in D.C. to not feel like D.C. is home. You can still vote back home and still pay taxes back home.”

That changed for Drane about five years ago, when she and her husband bought a home in Ward 4, which Bowser represented on the D.C. Council. When the couple had a son last summer, they found themselves thinking about city schools and parks in ways they never had before.

“When I was on the Hill, I worked for my hometown congressman. There was something about working on things about my home town. . . . So this became a very logical transition — to my newfound home town. It was really just perfect.”

Jackson’s transition to local politics began with an intense experience two years ago. Walking home through the city’s Mount Vernon neighborhood, he and visiting cousins from North Carolina found themselves caught in the crossfire of a shootout. Jackson was struck in the leg.

“Luckily, I was the only one shot,” Jackson said, “but I really couldn’t believe that this happened in the place that was my city.” He began volunteering in his off hours, which he found fulfilling in ways that had begun to dissipate in his federal work.

When Jackson was shot, he was lobbying for Obama’s post-Newtown effort to pass stricter gun-control laws, through the president’s Organizing for Action group. The legislation failed the day before Jackson was shot.

His sense of purpose did not get much better when he moved over to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Continuing to work on campaigns after the last election felt hollow when so little could be done in a divided government.

“There has been very little if anything accomplished beyond executive orders,” he said. “I realized that for me to just continue in campaigns and politics would be to kind of divorce myself from where I started. I started because I believed we would have an impact.”

In January, Jackson’s name circulated among former Democratic National Committee staffers Michael Czin and Steven Walker, who had already come over to Bowser’s team as communications director and talent scout. They asked Jackson to consider meeting with the mayor about leading her effort to ramp up community relations to a 24-hour, rapid-response operation.

Bowser said luring national-caliber managers was an important goal for her administration.

“We went for interesting people, people I thought who had innovative ideas, people who I think have a lot of energy and people I’d like to work with,” she said.

An additional benefit, she said, is resetting the District’s image in a way that helps combat one of its largest challenges: slowing the exodus of the city’s higher achievers to Maryland or Virginia once they are ready to buy a home or have children.

A shifting population and upward enrollment in city schools offer encouraging signs for Bowser. But recent city statistics show that parents, especially middle- or high-income earners, remain as likely to leave the city in the first four years of parenting as they were a decade ago.

Jackson, for one, is ready to preach. He knows calls may be coming for him to join campaigns in 2016, but right now he is focused on D.C.

“Imagine,” he said, “if everyone put at least a quarter of the energy they put into national and federal politics into their local community and how much of a difference the city would be.”

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.

Biologics are revolutionizing care for some diseases, but they are very costly

Biologics are revolutionizing care for some diseases, but they are very costly

By Susan Berger, Washington Post, March 16

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described Mariah Leach’s age as 31, when she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She was 25. The article has been updated.

Mariah Leach felt at the top of her game six years ago. At age 25, she was pursuing a law degree and a master’s in environmental policy at the University of Colorado, earning straight A’s and playing water polo with the university’s club team. But then her toes began to hurt. A few weeks, later her knees swelled to the size of grapefruits.

The student health service told her she was anemic. Her hands began to hurt, which she assumed was from too much typing. After more tests, her doctors told her that she had rheumatoid arthritis, or RA. This autoimmune disease affects about 1.3 million U.S. adults and causes pain, swelling, stiffness and eventually deformity of and loss of function in the joints.

Leach began taking prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and prednisone to reduce her pain and swelling, followed by methotrexate, which doctors hoped would halt the progression of the disease. That chemotherapy drug, though, has significant side effects and works well for only about 30 percent of RA patients. Unfortunately, Leach wasn’t one of them.

So her doctors added a biologic, a class of drugs introduced 15 years ago that seems to help people whose immune system attacks the body instead of protecting it from disease. Almost immediately Leach began to feel better — less exhausted, less in pain. The biologic, she says, gave her her life back.

Biologics have been similarly life-changing for people with multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis, chronic pain and some forms of cancer. (A member of my family who has RA suffered for almost a year with terrible side effects from the standard drugs before moving to biologics.) Sales of these drugs have skyrocketed into the billions of dollars; television ads for Humira, Enbrel and Remicade are hard to miss.

Biologics are different from chemically derived drugs such as antibiotics: They are made from living organisms and require special handling in a controlled temperature while being produced.

Biologics are mostly available through specialty pharmacies. The drugs are primarily given by injection or infusion. They reduce inflammation but also suppress the immune system, which puts users at increased risk of infections and may increase the risk of some cancers, including lymphoma and skin cancer, liver failure and tuberculosis.

“Biologics have lots of different effects on the individual. They are efficacious, very helpful,” said Angus Worthing, a rheumatologist who teaches at Georgetown University Medical Center. “They get people back to work, back to their families, and they save lives.”

“We now have the ability to achieve remission of disease in more than half of our patients with rheumatoid arthritis, along with similar levels of response in other inflammatory diseases,” says Eric Ruderman, a professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine who specializes in RA.

But biologics are very pricey, sometimes costing thousands of dollars a month. While insurers typically cover the standard therapies for RA and other diseases after a patient provides the co-pay, the companies often require the patient to pay a percentage of the biologic treatment’s total cost rather than a fixed co-pay. (On March 6 the Food and Drug Administration opened the door to the sale of somewhat cheaper versions of biologics, called biosimilars, approving a biosimilar version of a drug that helps patients receiving chemotherapy fight off infection. Biosimilars are available in other countries and tend to sell for 20 to 30 percent less than the original product.)

Leach, who now lives in Colorado, was shocked by her first month’s bill for the biologic drug: She was responsible for nearly $1,000 a month out of pocket.

She eventually qualified for assistance from the drug company that reimbursed her most of what she had to lay out. But her drug coverage was capped at about $5,000 a year, a number she hit fairly quickly because of the biologics. She recalls one time when her husband went to pick up her eNbrel prescription and was told she had already hit the cap and he would have to shell out $700 to $800.

Some months, she was able to continue on the drug only because her doctor gave her some of his free samples.

Most insurance companies require a prior authorization for biologics, insisting that a patient and doctor show that less expensive drugs have failed. (In my relative’s case, that took several months of using methotrexate despite the severe gastrointestinal distress it caused.) And that authorization must be renewed every few months.

Brendan Buck, vice president of communication for the trade group American’s Health Insurance Plans, said prior authorizations are designed to make sure the patent is responding positively to a drug before it get regularly prescribed. Patients often want the drugs, which are being marketed to them through advertising, he said, but their serious side effects need to be monitored.

“We want to make sure — just because a patient is told by a drugmaker that [a certain drug] is right for them — that it is without negative consequences before renewing their prescription,” Buck said. “We have a shared incentive with the patient to get better as soon as they can. This process is consistent with that.”

Ruderman says it is reasonable to require patients to try methotrexate first because it is cheaper and it may work. But after that, he believes the decision about which drug or biologic to try should be left to the physician and patient and not decided by an insurer, which for a variety of reasons may have selected a biologic for their approved drug list that is not the best one for that specific patient.

In her six years on biologics, Leach said, getting the approval to refill her prescription has almost always been difficult, requiring repeated calls to her insurance company. Recently Leach’s rheumatologist switched her from Enbrel, which had stopped working, to another biologic, Orencia. And the process of obtaining prior authorization for that drug was even more onerous.

“All this system is doing is making me suffer longer, forcing me to fight for my medications when I am feeling my absolute worst. And something like this seems to happen every single time I call the specialty pharmacy,” Leach said.

Andrew Baskin, the quality performance national medical director for Aetna, Leach’s insurer, said her experience was unfortunate and not typical.

“We are a large company,” Baskin said. “Does everything work perfect 100 percent of the time? No. Does it work right 95 percent of the time? Yes. We try our best to avoid that — it’s not good for us or the patient.”

Yet even with the difficulties in coverage, biologics, doctors say, are clearly worth the effort for the right patient.

Kelly Mack, 37, of Washington was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 2. After years on methotrexate, she had some complications; in 2014, her doctor prescribed Enbrel. It took two months before she got authorization from her insurer to use the drug.

“I have severe damage and chronic pain,” she said. “I was excited to start” on a biologic.

Within two weeks, she felt much less pain. “My day-to-day is better,” Mack said. More important, she said, the drug has stopped the disease from getting worse.

Berger is a freelance journalist who writes about health issues. Follow her on Twitter: @Msjournalist.

Press Release: LOCAL BUSINESS ORGANIZATIONS URGE PRIVACY PROTECTION FOR EMPLOYERS AND THEIR EMPLOYEES WHO SECURED HEALTH INSURANCE THROUGH THE DC HEALTH LINK: “Request for Personal Information Undermines Employer Privacy”

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 16, 2015

CONTACT:Krystal Brumfield kbrumfield; (202) 365.6713

Pamela Nieto pnieto; (202) 340.5157

I-shi Patterson ishi; (202) 787.9863

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LOCAL BUSINESS ORGANIZATIONS URGE PRIVACY PROTECTION FOR EMPLOYERS AND THEIR EMPLOYEES WHO SECURED HEALTH INSURANCE THROUGH THE DC HEALTH LINK

"Request for Personal Information Undermines Employer Privacy"

(Washington, DC) The DC Chamber of Commerce (DCCC), Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GWHCC) and Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) sent a letter to U.S. Senator David Vitter, Chairman, and Senator Ben Cardin, Ranking Member, of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. The letter expressed concerns about the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship seeking information from employer applications Congress completed through DC Health Link.

"We are deeply concerned about the efforts to collect information from the employer application," wrote the President &CEO of the three groups, Harry Wingo of DCCC, Angela Franco of GWHCC and Kathy E. Hollinger of RAMW. "We believe that privacy protections are critical to offering benefits like health insurance. We protect the privacy of our employees and have the same expectation that our information as employers is protected."

The letter also states that privacy laws protect employers and do not distinguish between Congress and small businesses in this matter. The business groups urged the Senators to protect the privacy of employers and their employees in the District of Columbia and across the nation.

In recent weeks, Senator Vitter has called for DC officials to release the names of the human resources staff for the House and Senate who completed the DC Health Link employer application. And despite the Superior Court of the District of Columbia upholding the legality of Congressional enrollment in DC Health Link’s small business marketplace, Senator Vitter continues to claim that House and Senate staff committed fraud by completing the small business employer application because Congress is not a small business.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires Members of Congress and their designated staffs to obtain employer sponsored health insurance through an exchange. Through federal regulations, DC Health Link’s small business marketplace was designated as the exchange through which Congressional members and staff would obtain their health insurance. In a lawsuit challenging Congressional enrollment in the small business market, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia upheld the legality of Congress enrolling in DC Health Link’s small business marketplace.

ABOUT THE BUSINESS GROUPS: Together The DC Chamber of Commerce, The Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington represent more than 3,200 businesses in the metro DC area.

The DC Chamber of Commerce (DCCC) since 1938 has proudly served a diverse membership of businesses in the city – small, medium and large. The Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington (RAMW) is the regional trade association representing restaurants and the foodservice industry in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area. The Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GWHCC) supports the economic development of the Washington, DC metropolitan region by facilitating the success of Latino and other minority-owned businesses and the communities they serve. The three business chambers are in partnership with DC Health Link to educate and enroll the District’s small businesses in affordable quality health insurance and are DC Health Link customers as well.

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U.S. attorney leading inquiry of ex-D.C. mayor Gray to step down

U.S. attorney leading inquiry of ex-D.C. mayor Gray to step down

By Spencer S. Hsu, Keith L. Alexander and Mike DeBonis, Washington Post, March 16 at 1:55 PM

U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. announced Monday he will step down April 1 and return to private practice, ending his tenure as the longest-serving chief federal prosecutor for the District of Columbia in nearly four decades.

The Justice Department named Machen’s top assistant, Vincent H. Cohen Jr., as acting U.S. attorney.

In a written statement, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder warmly praised Machen’s “consummate judgment” and outstanding results in violent crime, national security and public corruption prosecutions.

Machen’s five-year tenure has been defined largely by his office’s prosecution of corruption cases involving District politics. But the top target, former mayor Vincent C. Gray, has not been charged after a years-long investigation that has led to multiple convictions against former campaign aides.

Ronald Machen, center, is seen in 2013 during an event in Northeast Washington. (Andre Chung/For The Washington Post)

Machen has stood before television cameras, insisting that Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign was corrupt, and prosecutors publicly accused Gray of knowledge of the wrongdoing.

Unless Gray is charged in the next two weeks, Machen will leave office with the case unresolved.

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), said without answers in the Gray probe, Machen’s legacy “will be forever marred.”

“It’s one thing to have somebody under investigation and pursue matters diligently, but it’s quite another, I think, to allow a cloud like that to exist for years,” said Cheh, who is also a professor of criminal and constitutional law at George Washington University.

“We looked for his office for some sort of clarity,” she said. “And all we got were unproven allegations, no charges.”

Machen made no mention of the Gray investigation in his announcement, but has told associates in the office — the largest U.S. attorney’s office in the country with more than 300 attorneys — that the inquiry is bigger than any single person. Colleagues said they expected little disruption in the case because Cohen has served as Machen’s point-person in coordinating the investigation.

Robert S. Bennett, Gray’s attorney, declined to comment on Machen’s resignation or the status of the campaign investigation. But he said Monday that he believes the probe should be ended without charges against the mayor.

“I am hopeful that this investigation will finally be closed because the mayor is innocent of all allegations of wrongdoing,” Bennett said.

Machen’s resignation is to take effect at a portentous time in the Gray investigation — exactly one year after Gray was defeated for re-election in a Democratic primary, days after Machen’s office announced a central figure in the case, businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson, would plead guilty to conspiracy charges. Prosecutors alleged that Thompson pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into an unreported “shadow campaign” with Gray’s knowledge.

At that time, Machen saying he expected Thompson’s plea to lay bare more about corruption in the mayor’s 2010 campaign and many others. “I promise you, we are not going away,” he said at the time.

Gray’s supporters blamed the Thompson charges as being primarily responsible for the former mayor’s April 1, 2014 loss to rival Muriel E. Bowser, who went on the claim the mayoralty.

In September, Machen’s deputies offered Gray a plea deal through Bennett, who refused the deal. But there have been no outward developments in the investigation since; several figures who have already pleaded guilty to crimes, including Thompson, have had their sentencings repeatedly delayed.

Machen’s move coincides with Holder’s expected departure this week, pending Senate confirmation of his successor, attorney general nominee Loretta B. Lynch. Associates said Machen’s decision was unrelated. Indeed, as early as 2012, Machen has denied rumors that he had expressed interest in returning to private practice.

“Ron has never been deterred by a difficult challenge, nor slowed in his pursuit of a safer, stronger Washington,” said Holder, a longtime mentor who was the District’s U.S. attorney who first hired Machen into the office in 1997. “I see in him now the exceptional qualities that I saw in him then: unassailable integrity, relentless determination, and a passion for law and justice.

Machen, 45, was nominated by President Obama and sworn in in February 2010. He surprised some by staying on for a second term. By April, Machen will have served longer as U.S. attorney in the District than anyone since 1979, when Earl J. Silbert, one of the original prosecutors of the Watergate scandal, stepped down.

Machen played wide receiver as a walk-on at Stanford University. Upon graduation, he contemplated going on scholarship to the University of Michigan’s law school. But his father told him not to settle for the prestigious Big Ten university, and he went to Harvard instead.

Machen worked from 1997 to 2001 as a federal prosecutor in the District, the only federal office that prosecutes local as well as federal crimes. He joined and made partner at the law firm now called WilmerHale, donating more than $4,000 to Obama’s campaigns and helping vet potential vice presidential candidates in 2008.

“After more than five years as United States Attorney, it is time for me to step down,” Machen said in a statement released after he met with senior staff earlier Monday. “I am proud of the work we have done together to achieve justice in the courthouse and to build bonds of trust with the community that we serve.”

Machen’s office pointed to national security and public corruption convictions as its top successes, as well as prosecutions of scores of violent offenders and recovery of $2 billion from financial firms in the wake of the 2009 economic downturn.

Examples in federal court include the conviction of four Blackwater Worldwide guards last fall in the Sept., 2017, shootings that left 31 unarmed Iraqis dead or wounded in Baghdad’s Nisour Square; of Julian Zapata Espinoza, the Mexican drug cartel commander who pleaded guilty in 2013 to ordering an ambush that killed U.S. immigration agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico two years earlier.

But controversy followed the office’s handling of some sensitive cases, including the prosecution of Donald Sachtleben, a former FBI bomb technician and contractor who in 2013 admitted leaking information about a disrupted terrorist bomb plot to the Associated Press.

Also in federal court, a case is pending against Ahmed Abu Khattala, a suspected ringleader of the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya that killed a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.

Among Machen’s most high-profile cases in U.S. Superior Court was the 2010 trial and conviction of Ingmar Guandique in the death of federal intern Chandra Levy. That case is being heard on appeal.

Machen also oversaw the convictions of the five men charged with the 2010 South Capitol Street shootings that left four people dead and six others injured. Six men were convicted in those shootings.

Most recently, he oversaw the plea deal of Modern Orthodox rabbi Barry Freundel who pleaded guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism last month. Freundel was charged with secretly videotaping dozens of nude women as they prepared for a ritual bath.

Machen’s office has also led community outreach and youth engagement initiatives, and launched units to address cold cases, potential wrongful convictions and cyber-crimes.

The Conviction Integrity Unit was a response to past mistakes — a string of uncovered DNA exonerations, most of them uncovered by the Public Defender Service, involving flawed FBI forensic work in decades-old cases. Machen’s office also has recently grappled with what it called mistakes by the District’s DNA lab, and moved to clean up cases tainted by an FBI agent working with a D.C. police narcotics task force who allegedly tampered with evidence.

In 2010, Machen created a cold case unit within the department, tasking some of his most senior homicide prosecutors to work on cases that were more than eight years old. The unit has solved 20 cases.

Kevin Wrege, Esq.

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

Washington, DC 20016

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