Former D.C. mayor Vincent C. Gray eyeing comeback, associates say


Former D.C. mayor Vincent C. Gray eyeing comeback, associates say

By Paul Schwartzman, Washington Post, October 2

A year after voters rejected his reelection bid, former mayor Vincent C. Gray is considering mounting a campaign for the D.C. Council, according to four people familiar with his thinking.

Gray, whose 2010 mayoral campaign has been the subject of a long-standing federal investigation, is eyeing two potential races next year: the at-large seat occupied by Vincent B. Orange (D) and the Ward 7 seat held by Yvette M. Alexander (D), according to the associates, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about the matter.

Gray, 72, who resides in Ward 7, declined to comment when asked about returning to the city’s political arena 18 months after Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) defeated him in the Democratic primary.

However, an associate who has talked with the former mayor about the races said Gray has been buoyed by expressions of encouragement from people he meets in his daily travels. The associate described Gray (D) as having grown more serious about the possibility of running, and this person is also confident that the former mayor could raise enough money to mount a formidable campaign.

Prior to his election as mayor, Gray served as Ward 7’s representative on the council and then was elected chairman.

“This is the real deal,” the associate said. “The moment he announces, he will not have a single worry when it comes to fundraising.”

At the same time, a person familiar with Gray’s thinking said that the former mayor’s conversations about a possible campaign are informal at this stage and that he remains undecided about returning to public life. Gray, the person said, misses government work and has been flattered by supporters’ encouragement.

painfully slow corruption probe of Vincent Gray

Nominating petitions are set to be available in January, and the city’s Democratic primary is scheduled for June 14.

As a candidate, Gray probably would face questions about the unresolved federal investigation into the 2010 campaign, in which he defeated then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Soon after Gray took office, investigators began looking into whether he had orchestrated a scheme to illegally funnel more than $660,000 into his reelection bid. While Gray has never been charged and has denied wrongdoing, a half-dozen of his associates have pleaded guilty to an array of charges.

When he ran for reelection, Gray for several months led a field of Democratic candidates, including Bowser, vying to unseat him. But Bowser defeated him by more than 10,000 votes after then-U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. announced a few weeks before the Democratic primary that a business executive had implicated Gray in the creation of an illegal “shadow” campaign.

Machen resigned as U.S. attorney in April, though the probe into Gray’s 2010 campaign remains unresolved. Gray departed from office thinking he would have won reelection had it not been for the investigation, a sentiment shared by many of his most ardent supporters, some of whom hope he returns to politics.

“He needs to come back into the politics in the city,” said Barbara Morgan, a longtime activist in Ward 7. “Vince is a good person. The city persecuted Vince Gray, and the city owes him another chance.”

But the ongoing investigation is likely to remain an issue for voters who hesitated to support Gray during the mayoral race.

Barbara Savage, another Ward 7 activist, is a former Gray supporter who did not back his reelection campaign, in part because of the investigation. At this point, Savage said she does not know whether she could support him if he ran for the council.

“I don’t want to jump out there, and then I’m disappointed because the U.S. attorney drops a bombshell,” she said. Referring to the prosecutors, she also said: “I don’t think they have anything. I don’t think it’s fair to him. I don’t think it’s fair to people like myself.”

A person familiar with the Gray’s thinking said that his decision about a campaign is not dependent on prosecutors resolving their investigation. Gray ran for reelection as mayor under the same cloud.

If he runs for the Ward 7 seat, a district that encompasses neighborhoods including Deanwood and Hillcrest east of the Anacostia River, Gray probably would face Alexander, an incumbent whom he endorsed when she ran. Asked about a potential Gray challenge, Alexander said the field of candidates remains in flux and she is unsure who is running.

Gray won nearly 60 percent of the Ward 7 vote in the 2014 Democratic primary. In 2010, against Fenty, Gray won 82 percent of the vote in Ward 7.

As an at-large candidate, Gray would run citywide.

A onetime member of Gray’s cabinet, who has been in his presence at public events, said the former mayor has appeared to grow more interested in seeking office as the months have passed and as people have encouraged him to run. “At first he was ­non-responsive,” the former aide said. “And then he started saying he would consider it. It wasn’t like he was being polite. If he wasn’t going to do it, he’d tell you. He’s pretty direct that way.”

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Opposing sides lobby D.C. mayor on Exelon-Pepco deal

D.C. Politics

Opposing sides lobby D.C. mayor on Exelon-Pepco deal

Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) speaks at a rally against the Pepco-Exelon merger outside the Wilson building. (Aaron Davis/The Washington Post)

By Aaron C. Davis and Thomas Heath September 17 at 9:30 PM

An intense round of final lobbying spilled into public view Thursday with bullhorns, chants and admonitions from the city’s biggest names in business and politics over whether Exelon, a giant in nuclear energy, should be allowed to take over Pepco, the District’s century-old electric company.

And the target of all that lobbying was D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). In private meetings, a group of Bowser’s top deputies have in recent weeks agonized over whether a new round of concessions from the energy companies might allow the mayor to support the proposed $6.4 billion merger, administration officials said.

On one side, Bowser faces the District’s business and political establishments, which back the complicated deal. On the other side, environmentalists, community organizers and the city’s advocate for ratepayers have urged her to reject any last-minute, “backroom deal.”

“Don’t let Exelon buy Muriel Bowser,” environmentalists chanted Thursday in Freedom Plaza outside the John A. Wilson Building, which houses the mayor’s office.

regulator rejects proposed Exelon-Pepco merger

Opponents of the $6.4 billion Pepco-Exelon merger. (Aaron Davis/The Washington Post)

But a mile north, surrounded by dozens of city business and nonprofit leaders, former mayor Anthony A. Williams, a mentor for Bowser, held a news conference to publicly urge her to not “embarrass the city” and to find a path forward. “I’m an environmentalist,” he said, “and I don’t see what the big deal is.”

The increasingly forceful and public appeals Thursday amounted to 11th-hour lobbying for Bowser to either overturn or hold firm on the decision of the D.C. Public Service Commission, which last month denied Chicago-based Exelon’s proposed takeover of Pepco Holdings.

In ruling against the deal, the PSC said it was not in the best interest of ratepayers or a city that has committed to using more green energy. But Exelon and Pepco have vowed to appeal the ruling in a little over a week’s time.

If Bowser, who controls future appointments to the commission, throws her support behind a revamped deal, it would make it hard for those city regulators to reject it. Industry watchers say the mayor’s support would also increase the likelihood that Exelon and Pepco prevail in court despite remaining objections from the PSC. The companies have already secured support from federal regulators as well as the states of Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.

Bowser’s head of the office of legal counsel, Mark Tuohey, and her city administrator, Rashad Young, have been leading internal discussions about whether a revamped deal is possible, according to three administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations are private.

Bowser issued a statement last month saying that she supported the commission’s decision to reject the deal, but she left some wiggle room to reconsider, saying that she would be focused on what’s best for ratepayers and the city.

In a statement, Bowser spokesman Michael Czin said, “We continue to hear from both sides and our position hasn’t changed — any merger has to be in the best interest of District residents and taxpayers.”

Two people close to Bowser and familiar with the negotiations said Pepco has warned the mayor that rate increases may be necessary if a merger does not win approval. The mayor’s senior adviser, Beverly Perry, is a former Pepco vice president. Pepco stockholders would be paid a premium if the merger goes through. The administration has said Perry recused herself from the issue.

Karyl Leggio, a finance professor specializing in utilities at Loyola University’s Sellinger School of Business in Baltimore, said that if an amended, more generous deal is approved by the PSC, it could mean rate reductions for Pepco customers and probably improved service.

“If the deal doesn’t go through,” said Leggio, “whether Pepco as a stand-alone entity can improve the quality of service and keep rates low is an unknown question.”

Leggio said there appears to be a recent trend in which utilities have sweetened their offers to regulators after a first application to merge was refused.

Pepco has not made a rate request since before the acquisition was announced in April 2014, which probably means that the utility will be seeking considerable increases from regulators if the deal fails.

A spokesman for the three-member PSC said Pepco and Exelon have until Sept. 28 to file a request for reconsideration.

In a joint statement last month, the utilities said they plan to file a request.

“We remain convinced our merger proposal is in the public interest, and we will continue working to complete the merger,” the statement said.

The commission has 30 days to grant or deny the application, or not act at all. Not acting within its 30 days is a denial by the PSC.

If the reconsideration is denied, the utilities can make an appeal to the courts.

Outside the John A. Wilson Building on Thursday, more than 150 environmentalists, community activists, clergy and D.C. Council members urged Bowser to be a bulwark and employed her campaign mantra of trying to help more families reach the middle class as their defense for standing firm against the merger.

A top advocate for low-income tenants and another for families struggling in poverty outlined Exelon rate increases in cities where the energy giant has taken over smaller utilities.

“This will force more people out of Washington, D.C.,” said Jim McGrath, head of the Tenants Association.

Others pulled at Bowser’s commitment to fuel D.C. buildings on wind energy, which has won her accolades from the Obama administration.

“We just have two words for Mayor Bowser: Madam Mayor, stand firm,” said the Rev. Earl D. Trent, pastor of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church, which claims to be the first house of worship in the city to install solar panels on its roof. “Stand firm, do not settle for the quick fix. . . . Stand firm for clean, affordable energy. . . . We have a planet to take care of, we have a climate to take care of.”

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said she wanted to see more transparency and warned of shady politics afoot in the Wilson Building.

“Slithering around the District building and other parts of our government are Exelon and Pepco representatives who are trying to work out some deal that will steal from us the victory that we won on the merits before the Public Service Commission,” Cheh said.

She and more than a dozen other speakers railed against a recent Exelon-Pepco ad campaign that promised more jobs and better security for ratepayers as “lies.”

“We’re told we’re going to have more jobs; we’re going to have fewer jobs,” she said. “We are told we are going to . . . save money, don’t you believe it. We are going to pay higher rates.”

Williams, whom several in the crowd cast as a lobbyist for Exelon, said in an interview that he has not registered as a lobbyist and is not taking any money from Exelon or Pepco. He appeared with more than 30 heads of businesses and nonprofit groups, including the heads of the United Way of the National Capital Region and the Salvation Army. Nearly all of the civic leaders said Pepco had provided important philanthropic contributions that could be jeopardized if the deal is not approved. Exelon has committed to continuing Pepco’s community grants and donations for at least 10 years.

Williams pointed to his role as executive director of the pro-business Federal City Council and said the nonprofit group is taking a stand for what its members believe is best for the District, including on the score of the environment.

A Pepco left weakened by a failed merger attempt may struggle to meet shareholder expectations, he said, and lose the wherewithal to continue supporting environmental efforts.

“Bringing Exelon here is important for the District. It’s going to allow us to grow our economy and allow us to do the things we’ve talked about in terms of equity, business opportunities, environmental conservation and cleanup.”

Paul T. Ridzon, vice president of the utilities group with KeyBanc Capital Markets, recently upgraded Pepco Holdings to overweight, based on his belief that the D.C. regulator’s order against the proposed merger was not insurmountable.

If the merger does not go through, Ridzon said, “it’s a missed opportunity.”

Exelon “has a strong balance sheet. They could clearly fix some of the problems Pepco has been experiencing. They have a good track record in Chicago.”

Asked what would happen if the deal does not go through, Ridzon said one only has to look at what happened to the price of Pepco shares the day the PSC rejected the application.

They dropped 16 percent that day.

DISB Approves Rates for 2016 Health Plan Offerings on DC Health Link

For Immediate Release
Sept. 15, 2015
Contact: Kate Hartig, (202) 442-7753

DISB Approves Rates for 2016 Health Plan Offerings on DC Health Link

Department negotiates lower and more competitive rates for District residents and small businesses through its rate review process

Washington, D.C. – The D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) approved health insurance plan rates for the District of Columbia’s health insurance marketplace, DC Health Link, for plan year 2016.

As a result of DISB’s rate review process, all insurers offering plans on DC Health Link lowered their proposed rate increases – some by as much as 10 percent. The average increase in 2016 premiums across all insurers is 4.25% for individuals and 4.74% for small group plans. The most popular individual and small group plans from 2015 are increasing 4.3% and 4.1%, respectively.

“The 2016 approved rates are a reflection of DISB’s rigorous rate review process and the willingness of insurance companies to compete for District business,” said Acting Commissioner Stephen C. Taylor. “We are very appreciative of the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority for its invaluable input and assistance during this important process, and we remain committed to ensuring DC Health Link rates continue to be among the best in the country in terms of cost and value.”

The chart below shows changes in rates from the insurance companies’ proposed filings compared to the approved rates following DISB’s rate review process. (If you can’t see the chart below, please visit this link to view online.)

As insurers enter the third year of DC Health Link, they have refined their plan offerings based on market experience – from 301 plans in 2014, 227 in 2015 and 162 for 2016. For individuals, 26 plans will be available: Kaiser (11) and CareFirst (15). In the small business market, 136 plans will be available: CareFirst (53), United (41), Kaiser (24) and Aetna (18).

Open enrollment on DC Health Link begins Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 31, 2016. For more information about the approved 2016 health insurance plan rates including the rate filings and other charts, follow this link.

Wall Street Journal: Insurers Win Big Health-Rate Increases

Insurers Win Big Health-Rate Increases

Some state regulators say new costs justify hefty increases under the Affordable Care Act


Louise Radnofsky and

Stephanie Armour

Aug. 26, 2015 6:40 p.m. ET


At a July town hall in Nashville, Tenn., President Barack Obama played down fears of a spike in health insurance premiums in his signature health law’s third year.

“My expectation is that they’ll come in significantly lower than what’s being requested,” he said, saying Tennesseans had to work to ensure the state’s insurance commissioner “does their job in not just passively reviewing the rates, but really asking, ‘OK, what is it that you are looking for here? Why would you need very high premiums?’”

That commissioner, Julie Mix McPeak, answered on Friday by greenlighting the full 36.3% increase sought by the biggest health plan in the state, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. She said the insurer demonstrated the hefty increase for 2016 was needed to cover higher-than-expected claims from sick people who signed up for individual policies in the first two years of the Affordable Care Act.

Several regulators around the country agree with her, and have approved all or most of the big premium increases sought by the largest health plans in their states for the new sign-up season that begins Nov. 1.

Not all states have made their rate decisions, and some have approved relatively modest increases. A number of the states with lower average increases this year had higher rates to begin with. Some also fared better with enrollment under the law. Insurance premiums vary from state to state, for a number of reasons including regional disparities in the costs of care.

Still, the upsurge is likely to be a big talking point not only during the three-month enrollment season, but through the 2016 campaigns, where GOP opponents of the law are expected to use it as a defining issue against their Democratic rivals.

The law provides for government subsidies in the form of tax credits for some consumers who buy insurance on their own because they don’t have coverage through a job or government program such as Medicare. Those subsidies will blunt the impact of price increases for individuals who get them, but the tab is picked up by the federal government.

Earlier Coverage

White House spokeswoman Katie Hill said rate review processes, which were beefed up under the law, had helped lower proposed premiums “in a number of states.” She also said that under the health law, it was easier for customers to switch to a new insurer.

“Last year, more than half of re-enrolling customers on actively shopped and selected a new plan, something that wasn’t possible for many consumers prior to the ACA due to the risk of being charged a higher premium or denied coverage entirely due to a pre-existing condition,” she said.

Tennessee’s Ms. McPeak said she’s required to protect state residents by blocking unjustified increases but also guaranteeing that health plans stay financially sound. “Politics, and any opposition to the ACA, doesn’t have anything to do with it,” she said. “Do I wish they were lower? Absolutely, because I know what it means to consumers.”

Kentucky Insurance Commissioner Sharon Clark approved the 25.1% increase requested by the Kentucky Health Cooperative, the largest insurer on the state’s insurance exchange. Kentucky has taken a more supportive stance toward the health law, including operating its own insurance exchange rather than using the federal government’s

“We’re lucky” by comparison to Tennessee, Ms. Clark said.

Oregon’s Laura Cali allowed an average 25.6% increase for Moda Health Plan Inc., the biggest plan on that state’s exchange. In Ohio, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor approved a 14.5% increase from Medical Mutual. In Michigan, BlueCross BlueShield won approval for the average 11.4% increase from insurance director Patrick McPharlin.

In Idaho, insurance director Dean Cameron said that an average 23% increase by Blue Cross of Idaho Health Service Inc., was disappointing but “not unreasonable” and that he didn’t have the power to stop it.

The 2010 federal health law overhauled the way insurance is priced and sold, requiring companies to allow anyone to buy policies, regardless of their medical history and with only limited variation in premiums based on their age.

Many of the most popular plans in the country offered low rates for the first and second year of the law’s rollout, unsure what to expect but eager to snap up the new business. That was especially true in Tennessee, which had some of the lowest premiums in the U.S. initially.

Now, insurers have found that business has been more costly than expected. They’ve incurred steep losses, the American Academy of Actuaries said in a recent paper, and some programs designed to cushion them against high-risk enrollees are ending.

Some people will be able to switch plans and pay a modest increase from 2015, according to an analysis of proposed rates earlier this year by the consulting firm Avalere Health LLC.

For the Obama administration, that means a stepped-up campaign this fall to persuade people to return to and shop around in the coming open enrollment season.

The administration said late Tuesday it would automatically renew the coverage of people who signed up through the site last year and don’t come back to it by Dec. 15 this year.

The administration said that for the current year, about half of the site’s users returned. Of those, about half switched insurance providers and half opted to stay with the one they had.

States that were able to keep rate increases down breathed a sigh of relief this week. In Indiana, Anthem Inc.had asked for, and was granted, a 3.8% average increase. In Virginia, Anthem reduced an initial request of 13.2% to 8.6%. In Arkansas, BlueCross and BlueShield was approved for an average increase of 7.15%.

Write to Louise Radnofsky at louise.radnofsky and Stephanie Armour at stephanie.armour

DC Health Link Launches Universal Doctor Directory 1.0

DC Health Link Launches Universal Doctor Directory 1.0

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Spanish-language Doctor Directory enters beta testing.

Important tool helps customers easily find doctors and participating plans

Today, the DC Health Benefit Exchange Authority (HBX) announced the launch of the DC Health Link Universal Doctor Directory 1.0, and the introduction of a Spanish Language Beta version on DC Health Link’s Universal Doctor Directory makes it possible for customers to easily search for doctors – in English and Spanish

Bridj, a New Ride-Sharing Service, Takes on Buses in D.C.

Bridj, a New Ride-Sharing Service, Takes on Buses in D.C.

By Trey Sherman

Some D.C. commuters are ditching Metro for a new ride-sharing option. Bridj is a pop-up van service that is hailed with a smartphone app. News4 Transporation Reporter Adam Tuss took a ride and reports on how it works. (Published Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015)

Another new ride-sharing service has launched in D.C. to combat crowded streets and public transit — and this time, it’s taking on buses.

Bridj is an on-demand van service. It uses location-based technology to transport up to 14 people to and from downtown Washington D.C. during morning and evening commute hours. The ride costs between $2-$5 and comes with free Wi-Fi service.

Various transportation alternatives have caused a decline in Metro ridership over the past two years, while D.C’s population has been on the rise.

“I think it will be a better commute for folks,” Bridj’s marketing director Ryan Kelly said in an interview. “It’s a very different experience from Uber and Lyft because we aggregate people going in the same direction, which is how we are able to offer a lower price.”

Similar to existing transportation services, commuters drop a pin at their origin and destination. Bridj will then provide a list of ticket options that you can book for a single trip, or an entire week.

You enter your credit card information, reserve a seat and catch Bridj at the designated pickup spot along with other passengers traveling to a nearby area. You can track the vehicle’s arrival on a real-time map until it arrives. The van then takes all passengers to a central drop off location.

Bridj currently picks up and drops off in areas surrounding Cathedral Heights, Glover Park, Dupont Circle and downtown D.C. It added the Petworth, 16th Street Heights and Brightwood neighborhoods this week.

“D.C. offers even greater opportunities than Boston,” where the company is based, Kelly said. Boston and D.C. are currently the only cities Bridj serves.

Kelly praised D.C. for its density, mixture of business and residential districts, and percentage of residents without cars — 38 percent, the second highest in the U.S. only behind New York City.

Kelly said Bridj will focus on expanding within the District before venturing into Maryland and Virginia, “but there are neighborhoods where the value of Bridj would be extremely popular.”

Kelly mentioned Alexandria, Tysons Corner, and Falls Church as possible places for expansion, but made no promises.

Others in the D.C. area are encouraged to visit the website and add their commute to their system so Bridj knows where to expand next. There, you can also see an interactive map of commutes people have already put in the system.

And the company is sweetening its deal for its D.C. expansion: it’s offering new users the first 10 rides free with the code “nextstop."

Published at 4:47 PM EDT on Aug 4, 2015


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