Pope John Paul II and the Spirit of the Age

It’s hard to understand how one man – even one as powerful as a sitting pontiff – could play such a pivotal role in the peaceful collapse of a key communist bloc country at the epicenter of a decades-long Cold War. George Weigel’s “The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II – The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy,” built largely on newly released Soviet and Polish state documents, reveals just how out-sized that role was.

Weigel shows how one brave religious leader – both of the Church and the wider world — brought forth a simple, persistent message championing the dignity of man and the power of conscience. That message lite the fire that ended an empire.

Stalin once sarcastically asked, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” It turns out, quite a few.

To quote Noonan in her fine retrospective glimpse below, “Santo Subito. Make him a saint. And by the way, expect crowds.”

Make Him a Saint

How Pope John Paul II worked a political miracle.


One of the greatest moments in the history of faith was also one of the greatest moments in modern political history. It happened in June 1979.

Just eight months before, after dusk on Oct. 16, 1978, a cardinal had stepped out onto the loggia of St. Peter’s Basilica to say those towering, august words, "Habemus papem"—"We have a pope." The cardinal pronounced the new pontiff’s name in Latin. Not everyone understood or could hear him, and the name sounded odd. For 456 years the church had been electing Italian popes. This didn’t sound Italian. The crowd was perplexed.

Then the new pope came out—burly, light-haired, broad cheekbones. He looked Slavic. He looked like a Pole! It was Karol Wojtylwa, the cardinal from Krakow. It was a breakthrough choice—so unexpected and unprecedented—and you knew as you watched that a whole new world was beginning. This was a former manual laborer who wore brown scruffy shoes, who was young (58) and vibrant (a hiker and kayaker). He was a writer, an intellectual who’d come up during the heroic era of the European priesthood, when to be a priest in a communist-controlled nation was to put not only your freedom at risk but your life.

Poland went wild with joy; Krakow took to the streets. The reaction was world-wide. They had vigils in the Polish neighborhoods of Chicago, and block parties in Boston.


And here is the great moment of faith that became a great moment of history. John Paul II, naturally, wanted to return as pope to visit his homeland. This put the communist government in Warsaw in a bind. If they didn’t invite him, they’d look defensive and weak. If they did, he might spark an uprising that would trigger a Soviet invasion.

They invited John Paul to come on a "religious pilgrimage." On June 2, 1979, he arrived at an airport outside Warsaw, walked down the steps of the plane, and kissed the tarmac. The government feared tens of thousands would line the streets for the motorcade into town.

More than a million came.

In a mass in the Old City, John Paul gave a great sermon. Why, he asked, had God lifted a Pole to the papacy? Why had Poland suffered for centuries under political oppression? Perhaps because Poland is "the land of a particularly responsible witness." The Poles had been chosen to give witness, with humility, to the cross and the Resurrection. He asked the crowd if they accepted such an obligation.

"We want God," they roared. "We want God!" This from a nation occupied by an atheist state.

John Paul said the great work of God is man, and the great redeemer of man is Christ. Therefore, "Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude. . . . The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man!"

It was brilliant. He wasn’t asking for a revolution or an uprising, he wasn’t directly challenging the government. He just pointed out that God himself sees one unity in Europe, not an East and a West divided but one continent. And so must we all.

But it was what happened a week later, at the Blonie field outside Krakow, that led directly to 1989, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. That was the event that made political history.

It was June 10, near the end of the trip. Everyone was tired. There was to be a last outdoor mass. The government had not allowed it to be publicized. But words spread, and two million people came, maybe three million. It was the biggest gathering in Polish history. Here John Paul took on communism more directly. He exhorted the crowd to receive the Holy Spirit. "I speak . . . for St. Paul: Do not quench the Spirit. . . . I speak again for St. Paul: Do not grieve the Spirit of God!"

"You must be strong, my brothers and sisters. You must be strong with the strength that faith gives. . . . You need this strength today more than any other period in our history. . . . You must be strong with love, which is stronger than death. . . . Never lose your spiritual freedom."

The mass was stirring, with crowds saying, again, "We want God!" But here is the thing. Everyone at that mass went home and put on state-controlled television to see the coverage of the great event. They knew millions had been there, they knew what was said, they knew everyone there was part of a spiritual uprising. But state-run TV had nothing. State-run TV had a few people in the mud and a picture of the pope.

Everyone looked at the propaganda of the state, at its lack of truthfulness and its disrespect for reality, and they thought: It’s all lies. Everything the government says is a lie. The government itself is a lie.

The Solidarity movement took on new power. The Communist Party lost authority; the Polish government in time tottered, and by 1989 the Soviet Union itself was tottering.

Twenty-three years later, in an interview, the Solidarity leader Lech Walessa told me of how John Paul galvanized the movement for freedom: "We knew . . . communism could not be reformed. But we knew the minute he touched the foundations of communism, it would collapse."


John Paul went on to a fruitful papacy of historic length, 26 years. He travelled more than a million miles to 149 countries. He didn’t bring the world to the church, he brought the church to the world. He was shot and almost killed in 1981, survived and went to Rome’s Rebibbia Prison to make sure his would-be assassin, Mehmet Ali Agca, understood he’d been forgiven. And at the end, sick with Parkinson’s, he did what statesmen don’t do: He made his suffering public, as if to say, "We who are imperfect, who are not beautiful, who are in pain—we too are part of the human race, and worthy of God’s love." He insisted on the humanity of the weak, the wounded, the unborn.

And when he died, there was the miracle of the crowds. John Paul had been old and dying for a long time, and the Vatican knew he’d been forgotten. They didn’t plan for crowds.

But when he died, people came running. They dropped what they were doing and filled the streets of Rome, they got on trains and plans and Rome was engulfed.

Four million people came.

They travelled from every country in Europe and beyond, they had nowhere to sleep, they filled the streets carrying candles.

There had never been anything like it. Old Rome had seen its popes come and go, but the crowds came and wouldn’t leave until he was buried. And when his coffin was carried out and shown to them, they roared.

"Santo Subito!" they said. Make him a saint.

And now this weekend he will be beatified, a step toward sainthood. He will become Blessed John Paul the Second, and nobody will misunderstand his name.

Some will speak of mistakes and sins in his papacy, and they are right. But saints are first of all human, and their lives are always flawed, full of contradictions, and marked by stark failures. Yet they are individuals of heroic virtue. As he was.

Santo Subito. Make him a saint. And by the way, expect crowds.

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

Washington Post: Gray Fires DC Taxicab Commission Chair

Posted at 08:01 PM ET, 04/28/2011

Leon Swain’s firing fulfilled Gray promise to cab industry

By Mike DeBonis

After nearly four years chairing the D.C. Taxicab Commission, Leon J. Swain Jr. was quietly dismissed Tuesday.

During his tenure, Swain led the city regulatory body through two dramatic events — the deployment of time-and-distance meters in city cabs, replacing the much-hated zone system, and a federal bribery investigation, for which he wore a recording device to gather evidence that led to some 40 arrests.

But it appears Swain couldn’t survive the demands of big-city politicking.

How it went down is pretty simple. Swain got an e-mail on Tuesday morning asking him to come down to the John A. Wilson Building for a late afternoon meeting with City Administrator Allen Y. Lew.

When he arrived, “He had this long look on his face, and I knew what was going to happen,” Swain said of Lew. “He said, ‘It’s never been easy to do this. …’”

Why it went down is another matter. Lew didn’t give Swain a reason for his dismissal. Tony Robinson, Lew’s spokesman, declined to elaborate.

Swain, of course, has his theories. One involves his participation on the United Medical Center board — serving, in fact, as its chairman until he resigned under pressure from Mayor Vincent C. Gray earlier this year.

But he’s more convinced that his ouster was a political payoff to taxicab owners — particularly Ethiopian-American operators — who had supported Gray’s campaign last year.

“They told me to my face: ‘We paid to get rid of you,’” Swain said. “Maybe they’re still mad about me doing the sting.” He added that he had recent encounters with two Gray aides who referenced the taxi industry’s support when discussing policy matters.

Larry Frankel, a cab driver and organizer who leads the Small Business Association of D.C. Taxicab Drivers, confirms that Gray delivered a personal pledge to fire Swain.

”We’re glad that the mayor finally completed a promise he made to us,” he said Thursday.

Swain’s firing was one of three promises that Gray made to taxi industry representatives during his campaign, Frankel said. The others were to institute a gasoline surcharge — which Gray did last month — and to appoint three industry representatives to the eight-member Taxicab Commission, as required by law. “We’re waiting for him to that,” he added.

Swain earned the industry’s ire in large part, Frankel said, by “persecuting” drivers through a new corps of hack inspectors, who were empowered for the first time under Swain to pull cabs over and issue tickets.

”They physically pulled cab drivers out of their seats and put them across the hood like some sort of criminal,” Frankel said, adding that immigrant drivers, particular, were given “an incredible amount of violations that really weren’t substantiated.”

”It seemed to be a private police force that Mr. Swain was in charge of,” he added. “This man was not easily reined in. He was a renegade or a maverick.”

Swain suggested a more proximate cause for his ouster: Last week, he revealed at a D.C. Council hearing that he had given a list of city-licensed cab drivers and limo operators to the Office of Tax and Revenue, which would in turn hand it to the Internal Revenue Service, which had requested such a list last year. Also last week, he sent notice to taxicab companies that they had until late May to comply with licensing provisions, including a new requirement to submit copies of their income tax records.

Cab drivers and owners, like others businessmen who deal largely in cash, have long been monitored closely by authorities wary of income tax evasion.

Frankel said the drivers he represents, who are interested in running an honest industry, actually supported Swain’s tax crackdown. “But maybe some of the companies and individuals he went after could have had some political pull.” he said. “That could have been.”

The firing did not come as a surprise to Swain, who said that D.C. Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) told him early this year that he was going to be replaced with Novell B. Sullivan, who chaired the Taxicab Commission during Barry’s fourth mayoral term.

Barry said that Swain’s recollection was “not accurate” and that he had urged Gray keep Swain but ceased his support after Swain initially refused to step down from the United Medical Center board.

As for Sullivan, Barry said he told Gray that “Novell Sullivan worked his butt off for the mayor [during the campaign] and would be suitable for some position in the administration.”

Should Sullivan get Gray’s nod, Swain said, “I would be there to testify why he should not be placed on the commission.”

Swain said he is concerned that the FBI probe into the city taxi industry, which is ongoing, might be impeded by his departure — for instance, some sensitive files remain in his office, he said. But he has no regrets about how he handled the job.

”I have my integrity,” Swain said. “I don’t you can find one incident where I did anything wrong. … I believe in two things: God and the rule of law, and I never wavered between them. Maybe if I wavered, I’d still have the job.”

By Mike DeBonis | 08:01 PM ET, 04/28/2011

Kevin Wrege, Esq.

Founder & President

Pulse Issues & Advocacy LLC

Office: 202-625-1787

Mobile: 202-253-4929

4410 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150

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Washington Post: Will Orange Win Further Divide Fractured Council?

Orange’s win may add to likelihood of stalemates on D.C. Council

By Tim Craig and and Mike DeBonis, Wednesday, April 27, 9:01 PM

Vincent B. Orange’s election Tuesday to an at-large seat on the D.C. Council could lead to a prolonged period of uncertainty among its members, reflecting a broader divide over the direction of the District.

As recently as six months ago, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) led the 13-member council, rallying its members on some of the most ambitious legislation in the nation, including measures to approve the bag tax and same-sex marriage. But under the leadership of Kwame R. Brown (D), the council has experienced rifts as members investigate the mayor’s hiring practices and manage criticism of a politically wounded chairman.

Without a strong leader and with political sentiment shifting, some observers fear that legislating could be paralyzed by infighting.

“These are challenging times ahead for getting things done,” said Max J. Brown, a D.C. businessman who handled council relations for former mayor Anthony A. Williams. “I think there’s going to be a lot of chess playing in the next few years on the council. When there are lot of chess players, you often end up with a stalemate.”

Brown noted that 72 percent of the vote went to candidates other than Orange, an indication that there are some shifting views in the city. “People are interested in a new way of doing business on the council.”

The D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics is expected to certify the election May 10, after which Orange will be sworn in for a 19-month term.

Orange previously served from 1999 to 2007 representing Ward 5, but he returns to a council with a different array of personalities — including a chairman whom he ran against last year and often criticized.

In an interview Wednesday, Orange said he will let Brown “take the lead to see how he forms the relationship.”

“I’m just looking to see where there is common ground,” added Orange, who raised questions about personal finances and later complained to campaign finance authorities about Brown’s 2008 fundraising, which led to a probe that found serious irregularities in his filings.

Orange, however, indicated that the relationship could be slow to improve. He said he felt snubbed by Brown, whom he said had not called him as of Wednesday afternoon.

“I would have thought he would have called and said, ‘Congratulations — what does your schedule look like? Can we get together and see how we could proceed?’ ” said Orange, who is filling what had been Brown’s at-large seat.

Brown called Orange shortly after his comments.

Brown has had a tenuous grasp on the council. His relationships with Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), David A. Catania (I-At Large), Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and, to a lesser extent, Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) have been strained.

Council members Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) and Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) have maintained closer ties to Brown, but both have spoken out publicly against his request for a city-leased Lincoln Navigator a few days after his election.

And with some council members saying relationships between some members are becoming toxic, it could be a rocky few months inside the John A. Wilson Building.

“I think the relationships on the council at present are developing,” Evans said. “We have only been there three months, and people are looking at the different personalities, coalitions and seeing where everything shapes up.”

Orange said he hopes to be the consensus builder on the council, noting that he has close ties to Evans as well as more-liberal members with majority-black constituencies.

“I see it as I have a golden opportunity to be the bridge, since I am not in anyone’s camp,” Orange said.

Although Orange’s victory ran along racial lines, with wins in predominantly African American wards 4, 5, 7 and 8 and losses in the city’s other four wards, he ran a campaign that bucked the city’s black leadership.

Orange successfully tapped into both the black and white communities’ disappointment in Brown and Gray, both saddled by recent controversies, to beat eight candidates, including D.C. Council member Sekou Biddle (D), who had been appointed to the at-large seat until Tuesday’s special election.

Orange had promised to root out “waste, fraud and abuse,” a message he said crosses all lines. But his win ultimately centered on his ability to win over African American voters, which several of the candidates did not aggressively pursue.

Republican Patrick Mara, who is white and described himself as fiscally conservative but socially progressive, won wards 2, 3 and 6. Orange won many of those areas last year in his race against Brown.

Mendelson said the results show that Northwest residents are anxious.

“Anyone who dismisses what is going on is going to be in trouble” politically, said Mendelson, adding that Northwest residents are tired of “government as usual.”

Orange has long taken an interest in economic development. On the campaign trail, he regularly touted his role in forging a deal to bring a Home Depot and Giant supermarket to Rhode Island Avenue NE — the first major retail development that area had seen in decades.

But Orange’s successor as Ward 5’s council member, Harry Thomas Jr., now chairs the council’s economic development committee. Orange defeated his father, Harry Thomas Sr., by fewer than 400 votes in the 1998 Democratic primary.

In an interview, Thomas downplayed any potential for tension between him and his soon-to-be colleague. “I firmly believe he will work with every one of us in good measure,” Thomas said.

Sharon Ambrose, a former Ward 6 council member who served alongside Orange, said that he is “more sophisticated” on development issues than Brown or Thomas. “He understands business and economic development and how to do deals,” she said. “I suspect that Vincent has big plans.”

Ambrose suggested that Orange will take an interest in advancing major projects in his home ward, including the redevelopment of the McMillan Sand Filtration site at North Capitol Street and Michigan Avenue NW. Those are projects, she said, that Thomas will also be looking to shepherd.

“I think it’s going to be a tussle,” she said.

But Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said that Orange is deft enough to navigate the council’s political thickets.

“Vincent Orange has been on the council before,” Barry said. “He knows the rules of the council. I think he and Kwame are man enough to rise above their personal differences from the campaign.”

Barry, who supports increasing income taxes to maintain social programs in the pending 2012 budget, said he was not concerned that Orange opposed that idea during the campaign. Orange’s vote stands to give tax-increase opponents, which include Brown, enough votes to eliminate it.

“We’ll just have to hustle votes,” Barry said.

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

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

insurancenewsnet.com: Specialty Insurers Seeking to Market in Exchanges

Specialty Health Insurers Want Access to Health Exchanges

Copyright: (c) 2011 A.M. Best Company, Inc.
Source: A.M. Best Company, Inc.

The National Association of Specialty Health Organizations is calling on state and federal officials to consider insurance for vision care, dental, physical therapy and other services when drafting rules for health insurance exchanges for small businesses and individuals.

The Affordable Care Act did not specifically address these services, with some exceptions for dentistry and eye care for children, so specialty providers want to ensure they have a role in the exchanges now being formed. The association sought to bring attention to its members’ services, including hearing, pharmacy benefit management, behavioral health, chiropractic and radiology management, in a letter to members of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ Health Insurance and Managed Care Exchanges Subgroup.

"First and foremost, we want to be a part of the exchange," said NASHO Executive Director Julian Roberts. "This was completely left out of consideration when they wrote the health care act."

Plans offered by NASHO members are sometimes purchased as stand-alone products and sometimes through partnerships with comprehensive insurance plans, Roberts said. What NASHO proposed in a white paper provided to the NAIC is a means for specialty plans to be offered to individuals and small groups purchasing through the exchanges as a seamless option.

"It’s about choice and access," Roberts said. "We don’t want to be forced on anyone."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is working to determine what services will be considered "essential health benefits" that must be included in insurance plans participating in state insurance exchanges. Some HHS officials have estimated that preliminary proposals may be coming soon, but members of the NAIC, who have been advising HHS on regulatory language, are not expecting formal regulations until late this year or early 2012 (BestWire, April 4, 2011).

The Affordable Care Act defines essential benefits as including some level of care and services in the following categories: "ambulatory patient services; emergency services; hospitalization; maternity and newborn care; mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment; prescription drugs; rehabilitative and rehabilitative services and devices; laboratory services; preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management; and pediatric services, including oral and vision care."

NASHO has reached out to federal officials, as well, in part with a goal to make sure specialty insurance products are accessible to more consumers. Provisions for vision care, for example, will be deemed "essential" for children, but not for adults.

"It’s our preference that our members can get benefit coverage for the entire family," Roberts said.

The exchanges for small groups and individuals are not scheduled to launch until 2014, but HHS will determine state plans’ fitness for compliance with the ACA in early 2013. State governments, particularly legislatures that meet infrequently, are currently making decisions on this issue. The NAIC has eight groups working to develop guidance and supporting documents for states, which are expected to take a variety of approaches (BestWire, April 4, 2011).

(By Sean P. Carr, Washington Bureau Manager: sean.carr)

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

Updated DC Council Budget Schedule (With Attachement!)

See attached Council budget schedule, updated on 4/25/11. Changes are in red.

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

Update Budget Schedule 4.25.11.pdf

Updated DC Council Budget Schedule

See attached Council budget schedule, updated on 4/25/11.

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

Washington Post: Orange Tops Mara, Biddle in DC At-Large Council Race

Orange beats Mara, Biddle in special election for at-large seat on D.C. Council

By Tim Craig, Nikita Stewart and Mike DeBonis, Wednesday, April 27, 12:15 AM

Democrat Vincent B. Orange defeated Republican Patrick Mara in a special election Tuesday for the at-large D.C. Council seat being held by Sekou Biddle, who trailed in third place.

According to unofficial returns from the city’s 143 precincts, Orange led eight other candidates with about 28 percent of the vote in a race to fill the seat that Kwame R. Brown (D) gave up when he was elected council chairman last year.

Mara received about 26 percent of the vote, while Biddle — whom the D.C. Democratic Committee appointed in January to temporarily fill the seat — garnered about 20 percent.

Democrat Bryan Weaver, 40, a former Ward 1 advisory neighborhood commissioner, received about 13 percent, while Josh Lopez, 27, also a Democrat, finished fifth, with 7.1 percent. The four other candidates — Tom Brown and Dorothy Douglas, both Democrats; Alan Page of the D.C. Statehood Green Party; and independent Arkan Haile — together received less than 5 percent.

If Orange’s margin holds after final absentee and provisional ballots are counted in 10 days, his victory would be a setback for Brown and Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who both endorsed Biddle, 39, but were unable to extensively campaign for him this spring as they tried to contain ethical controversies at City Hall.

In an interview after declaring victory before 11 p.m., Orange said his win was a rejection of the city’s leadership. “Georgetown, downtown, Ward 7, Ward 8. They said: ‘You need to back off. We want Orange.’ ”

Orange led even though Mara, 36, who represented Republicans’ best chance in years to win a seat on the 13-member council, carried many majority-white precincts in Capitol Hill and Upper Northwest, where turnout appeared higher than in many other areas.

Mara, who conceded defeat about 11 p.m. Tuesday, thanked his supporters, saying, “We just came up a little bit short.

“Honestly, there were a lot of good candidates in the race, and take away one of these candidates, we probably could have pulled it off,” Mara, a Ward 1 school board member, told The Washington Post. “At the end of the day, it appears Biddle took votes from me.”

Biddle, who noted that he was in the race before Mara, said: “I’m disappointed by the outcome. I’m certainly proud of the effort I, my campaign team and volunteers put in running an energetic first [council] campaign.”

Orange, 54, had little opposition in majority-black neighborhoods in Northeast and Southeast, where his support proved too much for Mara or Biddle to overcome.

He performed surprisingly well in Ward 4, where many upper-income African Americans live and which is home territory to Biddle.

Orange, an accountant and lawyer who lost to Brown in the race for council chairman last year, campaigned as an experienced lawmaker who would help the council balance the budget while being a check on some of the chairman’s influence.

But Orange, who represented Ward 5 on the council from 1999 to 2007, will be returning to a body on which he appears to have few friends. In addition to Gray and Brown, six other council members endorsed Biddle. Several council members expressed reservations about Orange returning.

When last on the council, Orange positioned himself as a bit of a rebel, unsuccessfully suing then-Chairman Linda W. Cropp when she decided that his council committee did not have authority over the National Parks Project.

On Tuesday, several residents said they voted for Orange because they thought he was experienced and they didn’t know enough about the other candidates.

“Rest of these guys, it’s their first time out,” said George Poynter, 87, who voted at Patterson Elementary School in Washington Highlands, in Ward 8. “We’d be right back where we started.”

Yet Orange struggled to win over voters in neighborhoods in the western part of the city, resulting in an electoral split similar to last year’s mayoral race, in which Gray unseated Adrian M. Fenty (D).

In Chevy Chase, in Ward 4, Leila Gordon said she voted for Biddle in part because she feared Orange’s return to the council.

“I think Mr. Orange is part of the problem with D.C.,” she said after voting at the Chevy Chase Community Center. “I am not confident he has the best interests of the city at heart.”

As expected during a special election, turnout was light despite the 80-degree temperatures and mostly sunny weather. But turnout — about 9.5 percent — exceeded that of an at-large council special election in 1997, when 7.5 percent of the electorate voted. More than 43,000 cast ballots in this election, while only about 25,000 voted in the 1997 election.

The low turnout resulted in an unpredictable contest that gave new voters or those affiliated with a minor party an opportunity to make a strong showing in a heavily Democratic city.

Mara, who unsuccessfully ran for the council in 2008, appeared to have the best chance at beating a field that included six Democrats, an independent and a member of the D.C. Statehood Green Party.

Matt Stone, 39, said that Democrats have too much influence and that he was concerned about how the city is being run. “He seems like he would be a good check on the Democratic council,” Stone said of Mara.

But Mara was competing for many of the same voters that Biddle, a former Ward 4 school board member, and Democrats Weaver and Lopez competed for in Northwest.

In Chevy Chase — a neighborhood crucial to Mara and Biddle — some voters said they were displeased with the direction of city government but divided over whether they wanted a Republican on the council.

Jill Watson, 63, said she considered voting for Mara but decided to support Biddle. “It was between Biddle and Mara, but I will do almost anything to keep from voting Republican,” she said.

City residents also voted Tuesday for representatives to the school board. In Ward 4, D. Kamili Anderson had a 258-vote lead over Andrew Moss, and with all precincts reporting in Ward 8, Trayon White Sr. had a 169-vote lead over Philip Pannell.

Health Plan Week: Will ACOs Allow Hospitals to Replace Health Insurers?

Very interesting take on Accountable Care Organizations and how the movement could ultimately supplant the role of health carriers…

From Health Plan Week

ACOs Will Be Led by Hospital Systems, But Health Insurers Could Help Define Them

- April 11, 2011 – Volume 21 Issue 13

Accountable care organizations (ACOs) — and their potential impact on health insurers and care delivery — dominated presentations and hallway coffee-break conversations at the annual World Health Care Congress just outside of Washington, D.C. Several speakers admitted they were still muddling through the 429-page document that HHS released April 7 (HPW 4/4/11, p. 1). But most agreed that while insurers will need to change the way they pay for care, they will have a role to play in ACOs.

While some health insurance executives view ACOs as little more than the flavor of the day, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island CEO Jim Purcell isn’t one of them. “I think it is a big deal,” he told attendees at an April 4 session. “You cannot un-ring the bell at this point. I don’t care what the Republicans do or don’t do to the [reform] law. The issue of changing health care delivery through ACOs is out, and the game is being played.”

Purcell told attendees that some hospital system executives foresee health insurers becoming irrelevant within the next 10 years. While he said he disagrees with that prediction, he contended that it is critical that health insurers move to change how they operate.

“What happens if a large hospital system gets the whole integrated practice unit from primary care to hospice? How much longer do you think your health plan is going to be relevant unless you figure out how to deal with that?” Purcell asked attendees. One possible approach for health insurers is to become the administrative piece of the ACO. He noted that many hospital systems tried to launch their own insurance entities in the early days of managed care, but “with a few exceptions, most have not been very good.”

Hospitals Must Rethink Their Model

While health insurers could have a difficult time changing the way they pay for services under an ACO, hospital systems — where revenue has always been driven by the number of beds filled and tests performed — may find it even more challenging.

“It is almost impossible for hospitals to rethink that it’s not about revenue generated by illness, but really about building out wellness and preventive service,” Sam Nussbaum, M.D., chief medical officer and vice president of clinical health policy at WellPoint, Inc., said during a separate panel discussion. “But it will be hospitals that will dominate the [ACO] landscape.”

And that is precisely what seems to worry health insurers the most, particularly if dominant hospital systems create dominant ACOs that give them greater price-setting muscle. And health insurers could face more cost shifting if the ACO model of care fails to expand beyond Medicare.

“It’s very hard for me to see anyone other than hospitals running” ACOs, said Robert Galvin, M.D., CEO of Equity Healthcare and former director of global health at General Electric Co. “I think what you’re going to get is a lot of consolidation and a lot of pricing power [for hospital systems]. I don’t see the ACO regulations creating this; I see them adding fuel to the fire.”

In a separate session, H. Scott Sarran, M.D., chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois, voiced a similar concern and suggested that “an almost unstoppable wave of provider acquisition by hospitals” would create oligopolies where four or five systems would control nearly all of the market.

While Purcell agreed that hospital systems were eager to add primary care doctors, he joked that physicians in his market distrust hospitals more than they distrust health insurers.

Primary Care Teams Could Be Effective

Purcell argued that ACOs should be built around primary care doctors, but agreed that most ACOs will be organized around the hospital system model because hospitals have executives, money and resources that physician-led organizations lack. Moreover, hospital systems already employ large numbers of primary care doctors and specialists.

However, he said a patient-centered medical home that uses nurse practitioners and physician assistants to handle routine office visits would allow primary care physicians to “spend their time at the top of their [medical] license” working with patients whose health they can help dramatically improve.

Such a model, he told attendees, would require health plans to alter the way they pay for care and might include tiered payments tied to outcomes. They also would need to supply the medical homes with data on quality care, outcomes and costs.

Sarran agreed that the medical home model could allow primary care physicians to be used more effectively. “We have such a shortage of primary care that we have to evolve to paying for a team,” he said. “Otherwise, there aren’t enough primary care doctors to go around.” Rather than just paying higher rates to doctors so they can spend more time with each patient, compensation should be aimed at an entire team of caregivers.

Nussbaum said his company has 11 patient-centered medical home programs. While the pilots have demonstrated cost reductions, early results also have shown reductions in hospital readmission rates and improved care among diabetes and heart disease patients.

City Paper (Early) Handicapping of the 2012 DC Council Elections!

Endless Campaign: Another D.C. Council Election Soon!

Posted by Alan Suderman on Apr. 20, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Every time LL is tempted to predict an election winner, he thinks of Examiner columnist Harry Jaffe’s declaration last year in March that then-Council Chairman Vince Gray was on a “suicide mission” in his bid to unseat former Mayor Adrian Fenty. If the mission was suicide, it was a failure; Gray beat Fenty, you may recall, by 10 points.

Nevertheless, LL has a hard time seeing how Vincent Orange doesn’t win next week’s special election for the at-large seat vacated by the new council chairman, Kwame “Fully Loaded” Brown. The rest of the strongest candidates—Sekou Biddle, Pat Mara, Bryan Weaver, and Josh Lopez—all seem to have been competing to see who is the most independent of a scandal-tinged city government, or who misses former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee the most, or who will be the best pick for the residents west of Rock Creek Park. Orange, meanwhile, has been free to court large swaths of the city virtually uncontested, including voters in Wards 5, 7, and 8 who didn’t care for Rhee and helped Gray beat Fenty by such a large margin. Add in the fact that Orange enjoys a huge cash advantage for a get-out-the-vote effort and has the highest name recognition as a former Ward 5 councilmember (and a citywide candidate last fall), and you can see why Orange is the betting man’s pick.

That’s as close as LL will come to a prediction, and it should be noted that LL is often wrong. It’s expected that few people will actually vote, meaning anything can happen. Mara, a Republican, would have a good day if only (only?!?) a third of the District’s registered GOP voters came to the polls. Lopez, a campaign aide to Fenty who led last fall’s unsuccessful write-in effort, could cobble together enough Fenty die-hards along with new Hispanic voters to win. Biddle’s got campaign guru Tom Lindenfeld, whose record in District elections isn’t too shabby, on staff. And maybe, just maybe, Washington City Paper’s endorsement of Bryan Weaver will be enough to propel him over the top. (Stop laughing!)

Regardless of who wins, it’ll be a short victory party.

The new councilmember, believe it or not, will have to turn around and start campaigning again shortly for a primary race that’s less than a year away. (The general election will still be in November, so if Mara wins, he probably won’t have to worry about an early primary. His worry would be more existential: Mara would be a Republican on the ballot when District voters head to the polls to re-elect President Barack Obama in 2012.)

And for those candidates who don’t win but want another chance to touch the golden ring, they won’t have much time for rest, either.

“I’m here to stay… I’m in it for the long run,” says Lopez, when asked what his plans are should he not win Tuesday’s election. (Though he was quick to add that he thinks he’s got enough voters to win, and isn’t making plans past next week.)

The D.C. Council recently set next year’s primary for April 3, responding to a federal law designed to make it easier for overseas absentee voters to cast ballots. And while you, sweet reader, probably haven’t thought much about an election that’s 11 months away, rest assured that plenty of people in and out of the Wilson Building have already used up plenty of brainpower mapping out the road ahead.

“I’m not waiting around,” says Ward 2’s longtime councilmember, Jack Evans. Evans filed re-election paperwork with the Office of Campaign Finance last week, the first candidate to do so.

Besides Evans and the at-large winner, Ward 4’s Muriel Bowser, Ward 7’s Yvette Alexander, Ward 8’s Marion Barry, and At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown will all be up again. And while LL isn’t keen on predicting winners, he’s not shy about predicting which races will be noteworthy and which won’t.

In that regard, expect some fireworks in Wards 4 and 7, where there are loud voices of discontent over the current leadership. And expect Evans, Barry, and Brown (who will probably be sprinting to the Board of Elections and Ethics to change his party affiliation back to Democrat should Mara win) to face marginal competition.

Six months ago, Bowser looked to be in a heap of trouble after her political patron, Fenty, lost his home ward by 19 points. But what a difference a few scandals over Navigators and nepotism make. Bowser’s status as a Fentyite looks a whole lot better these days as the steady stream of bad news has taken a toll on Gray and Brown’s popularity. That’s not to say Bowser won’t be in for a fight in Ward 4, which has been in some political flux as new residents arrived in recent years; her critics says she’s just as out of touch with her constituents’ needs as Fenty was.

“She hasn’t responded to the constituents’ requests,” says Baruti Jahi, who ran against Bowser in 2008 and says he’s “more than likely” to challenge her again. (Jahi, who has a Ph.D. in public policy from Howard University, is writing a novel set in 2018 that centers around District politics and has the working title Split Masks.)

Besides concerns over Bowser’s constituent services, Jahi says he sees plenty of opportunity to tap into the discontent brewing in Ward 4 over Bowser’s support for a Walmart on Georgia Avenue. “We’re still checking the landscape, and it looks pretty good,” he says.

Bowser is sticking to the standard incumbent’s script. “We’re preparing to run a hard, aggressive race,” she says.

Over in Ward 7, Alexander faces the same kind of lament that she’s out of touch with her constituents, who include some of the poorest in the city. A group of residents recently asked the Office of Campaign Finance to investigate if Alexander was misusing her constituent services fund, after a series of Washington Times articles found that much of that fund was being used for rent and large phone bills.

Then there’s the perception that Alexander doesn’t have much substance to her, says politically active Ward 7 resident Lisa Shaw. “She looks good, but when she opens her mouth, we almost cringe at what comes out,” Shaw says.

Alexander, who was Gray’s handpicked successor in the ward, says she’s going to highlight her advocacy of requiring District government jobs to be held by District residents on the campaign trail, and she’s ready for any and all challengers.

“I love competition, and I love Ward 7, so bring it on,” Alexander says.

But so far, LL can’t find anyone who’s planning on challenging Alexander. Well, save for one guy.

“If nobody’s going to run, I’m gonna run,” says Peaceoholics co-founder and avowed Alexander enemy Ron Moten.

Whoever decides to get in, they better make up their minds quickly. Bowser raised and spent more than $435,000 in her 2008 campaign. Alexander raised and spent more than $225,000. Which means beating either one of them could take a lot of cash.

The standard playbook for knocking off incumbents in recent years was perfected by Fenty and Kwame Brown when they first won seats on the council: Get in front of voters more than a year before an election. But that isn’t an option now that the primary has moved to early April, because visibility campaigns can’t easily be waged in winter (unless, of course, a candidate thinks voters want someone banging on their door when it’s dark outside at 5:30 p.m.)

“You really kick off with the summer, as opposed to end with the summer,” Evans says.

So go ahead and vote this Tuesday. Just don’t be surprised if you find a candidate for next year’s election at your door when you get home.

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

GOP Lawmakers in Congress Press Mayor Gray on Abortion Issues

The attached letter from Senate and House Republicans advises Mayor Gray to "immediately" cease and desist using local funds to cover abortions. The lawmakers also request “detailed information" about what steps Gray is taking to make sure no public funds are being used to fund abortions. The correspondence is evidence of the widening split between the District’s leadership and Republicans in Congress on this and other issues, including school choice/vouchers, that could further complicate District efforts to obtain the full rights of statehood.

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

Letter to Gray from GOP members of Congress.pdf


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