Vincent Gray campaign aide Thomas Gore pleads guilty to election violations

Vincent Gray campaign aide Thomas Gore pleads guilty to election violations

By Del Quentin Wilber, Washington Post, Updated: Tuesday, May 22, 1:47 PM

A key finance official on Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s 2010 campaign admitted in federal court Tuesday that he helped to secretly finance the campaign of a minor candidate to bolster his boss’s prospects and then destroyed a ledger detailing the payoffs.

Thomas W. Gore pleaded guilty to three D.C. election law misdemeanors and a federal charge of obstruction of justice, and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in their wide of Gray’s mayoral campaign.

Gore, a longtime confidant of Gray, is the first person to admit wrongdoing in the ongoing federal investigation, and he faces 12 to 18 months in prison under sentencing guidelines. No sentencing date has been set, and depending on Gore’s cooperation, prosecutors might seek to further reduce his sentence.

Wearing a dark suit and tie, the 56-year-old Gore was subdued during a lengthy hearing, answering, “Yes, your honor” and “I understand” to questions posed by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

“How do you plead?” the judge asked at the end of the 90-minute hearing.

“Guilty,” Gore replied.

Although federal prosecutors did not name Gray (D) or his campaign in court records, Kollar-Kotelly pointedly asked Gore to identify what was described in the plea documents as “Candidate A” and “Campaign A.” Hesitating, Gore finally said, “the campaign for Vincent Gray.”

Surrounded by friends and family as he left the District’s federal court, Gore declined to comment. His attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., said Gore “pleaded guilty because he wanted to accept responsibility for his role in this endeavor and he thought it was the right thing to do. He wanted to acknowledge his missteps.” Cooke added that he expected others to be charged in the investigation.

A friend of the mayor’s for two decades, Gore was treasurer of Gray’s 2004 D.C. Council run and his successful bid two years later to become the body’s chairman. As assistant treasurer of Gray’s mayoral campaign, he handled the day-to-day finances, Justice Department prosecutors said.

To enhance Gray’s chances during the Democratic primary, Gore and others on the campaign began scheming as early as June 2010 to keep minor candidate Sulaimon Brown in the race so he could continue to assail incumbent mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) on the campaign trail. Their solution, prosecutors said, was to funnel “excessive or unattributed” campaign cash to Brown through money orders.

In June and July of that year, Gore used excess campaign funds to purchase $660 in money orders from stores near the campaign’s headquarters. He then gave the money orders to a member of the campaign who is identified only in court papers as “Person A.” However, people familiar with the investigation but not allowed to speak publicly said that person was Howard L. Brooks, a consultant who was paid $44,000 by the Gray campaign. Brooks, who was also a longtime golfing buddy of Gore, has not been charged.

To disguise where the money originated, Person A signed the names of family members on four of the money orders and had a relative sign the name of a friend on a fifth one. Person A then delivered the payments to Brown, who deposited them in his campaign bank account, prosecutors said.

Gray defeated Fenty in the primary and cruised to a general election victory in November. The Washington Post reported in March 2011 that Brown claimed to have received cash and money orders from the Gray campaign to stay in the race and disparage Fenty. In exchange, Brown claimed, he was given a $110,000 job in the Gray administration. Gray has denied Brown’s allegations, which sparked the federal probe that has since become an inquiry into alleged campaign-finance abuses.

After reading The Post story, which prosecutors referred to in court papers as “media reports,” Gore shredded a spiral-bound ledger that recorded the illicit payoffs, court records show.

He also admitted that he lied to federal investigators months later when he told them he had never kept a ledger and had not told anyone about the notebook. In fact, prosecutors said, he discussed the ledger and admitted destroying it in a conversation with Brooks.

Gore told the judge Tuesday that his comments about shredding the ledger were captured on “a wire.” At the time, Brooks was cooperating with federal authorities and wore a recording device to that meeting with Gore, according to people familiar with the probe.

Brooks could not be reached Tuesday, and his attorney, Glenn F. Ivey, declined to comment.

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

Vincent Gray urged to look beyond Natwar Gandhi in CFO search

Posted at 10:56 AM ET, 05/22/2012

Vincent Gray urged to look beyond Natwar Gandhi in CFO search

By Mike DeBonis

Gandhi’s term expires in less than six weeks. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Come July 1, Natwar M. Gandhi’s second five-year term as the District’s chief financial officer will expire. In a high-stakes decision that’s mostly flown under the political radar, it falls to Mayor Vincent C. Gray(D) to reappoint Gandhi or find another candidate. A former D.C. Council member and a prominent civic activist are now urging him to open a nationwide search.

Bill Lightfoot and Marie Drissel have penned a letter asking Gray to consider other candidates for the CFO job. Lightfoot is a trial lawyer who served on the council from 1989 to 1997 and remains active in city politics; Drissel is a veteran Kalorama activist who led the recent opposition to Internet gambling legislation. They cite a series of well-publicized missteps under Gandhi’s watch, including the 2007 discovery of the $50 million Harriette Walters embezzlement scheme, in justifying a broader search.

“Taking into account the fiscal and economic challenges facing the CFO’s office, as well as several troubling cases of fraud and theft of public monies, we urge you to launch a national search for a CFO (which should include Dr. Gandhi) and hire the best possible candidate to steward the District’s finances,” Lightfoot and Drissel write.

Gray has thus far demurred on questions about Gandhi’s tenure, promising to address the matter after the D.C. Council passes the city budget for 2013. An initial budget vote happened last week; a final vote will take place early next month. Gray has generally had good relations with Gandhi dating back to his four years as council chairman, though the two recently clashed over the accuracy of Gandhi’s revenue estimates.

With less than six weeks remaining in Gandhi’s term, it is nearly impossible that a thorough search could be completed before it expires. Under city law, a CFO “may continue to serve beyond his term until a successor takes office.” But it’s unclear whether Gandhi — first appointed to fill out the remainder of resignee Valerie Holt’s term — would agree to remain if Gray decided to undertake a search that would be interpreted as a vote of no confidence.

Spokesmen for Gandhi and Gray both declined to comment on the letter. In recent weeks, the Washington Post editorial board and Washington Harry Jaffe have written in support of Gandhi; he also retains powerful friends on the council and on Capitol Hill.

The CFO’s office was established in the wake of the 1995 federal takeover of the District government and operates almost as a fourth branch of government. While the CFO is selected by the mayor and confirmed by the D.C. Council, he or she cannot be fired except for cause. The office retains near total control over the city’s financial matters, including tax collection, revenue and spending estimation, borrowing, lottery sales and more.

The letter in full:

Mayor Gray,

On June 30th, the job of the District’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO) will come up for renewal. Our next CFO will hold this five-year position until 2017. Taking into account the fiscal and economic challenges facing the CFO’s office, as well as several troubling cases of fraud and theft of public monies, we urge you to launch a national search for a CFO (which should include Dr. Gandhi) and hire the best possible candidate to steward the District’s finances.

Largely through the legacy of the Control Board and Congress, our CFO is, quite literally, in charge of all the District’s financial operations — from the Office of Tax and Revenue to the Treasury to all D.C. agency finances. The CFO writes the city’s fiscal analyses, estimates our projected revenues, and serves as our financial liaison to Congress, Wall Street, and the federal government. In addition, the CFO oversees D.C. Lottery, including its staff, marketing, and operations. Any office with this level of financial power will undoubtedly attract those who wish to take advantage for personal gain. The CFO’s office experienced financial scandals, theft, and contracting improprieties, including:

Former CFO General Counsel Saamir Kaiser steals approximately $250,000 from the Tobacco Settlement Fund.

Prior to the theft, a background check revealed that Kaiser was not a lawyer, despite having been hired as counsel. Regardless, he was retained in the CFO’s office, allowing him access to the funds he ultimately stole.

Despite paying millions, the District still does not have an integrated, computerized tax system.

The $67 million Integrated Tax System that the CFO hired Accenture LLC to develop and implement, ultimately cost us $140 million and had to be scrapped altogether. D.C. still lacks an integrated, computerized tax system. The real property system was installed in 1992, is piecemeal, flawed and should have been competitively bid years ago prior to the Harriette Walters theft.

The D.C. Real Property Administration office is victim to the largest theft of public monies in U.S. history.

Harriette Walters stole at least $50 million from the Real Property Tax Administration (where she worked as a manager) by taking advantage of the office’s blind spots and lack of oversight, especially the lack of an integrated computerized system. Not long after, tax office clerk [Mary Ayers-Zander] stole another $414,000. To date, it remains unclear whether proper financial security measures have been implemented.

DC loses $100 million by failing to collect recordation taxes.

In 2007, the CFO’s office suspended the collection of recordation taxes (taxes resulting from the refinancing of commercial properties) without public notice or consultation. This unilateral action continues to cost the District valuable funds.

Geneva Capital loses D.C. investment funds.

In 2003, Geneva Capital lost over $21 million in funds earmarked for the D.C. Charter School Credit Enhancement Fund. The CFO’s office hired Geneva, despite being warned by authorities that it had no operating history and planned to use our funds to buy a company the SEC identified as “wracked by fraud.”

Fake D.C. Lottery tickets are printed and cashed in a fraud scheme.

In 2006, the D.C. Lottery became the only U.S. lottery system to have its system breached. Persons (possibly even Lottery employees) printed fake lottery tickets and cashed them ($85,000 in a single day). No one was ever caught or prosecuted.

D.C. Lottery contracting procedures lack transparency.

Two botched contracting rounds for the lottery contract (worth an estimated $120 million) have raised significant questions about how our lottery is operated. Our Inspector General concluded that one bidder was improperly denied the award, while another was awarded the contract despite providing false and misleading assertions.

Jeff Thompson wastes millions of our healthcare dollars.

Despite audits showing oversight and management deficiencies that cost D.C. [millions] of dollars, Jeff Thompson was repeatedly awarded [Medicaid managed-care] contracts. Until the FBI raided his home and office while investigating Thompson for allegedly breaking campaign finance laws, Thompson headed the D.C. Chartered Health Plan, a $355 million per year program that provides health care to low-income residents.

Taken altogether, these events have cost the District at least $300 million and much more in terms of our reputation and image as a city.

Dr. Natwar Gandhi has served as Deputy CFO for 3 years, CFO for 12 years, and has been vital to turning around our finances and hastening our fiscal growth. However, as we step into this 21st century, we must have the security measures, fiscal oversight, and technical systems that will preserve and protect our funds for our citizens today and in the future. We must bar the door to fraud and misuse of public funds for good. We urge you and the City Council to use the regulatory provisions that will allow Dr. Gandhi to stay in place while we undertake a national CFO search to fill this most critical financial position for our city.

Marie Drissel

William Lightfoot

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

Thomas Gore, Vincent Gray campaign aide, charged in ongoing federal probe

Thomas Gore, Vincent Gray campaign aide, charged in ongoing federal probe

By Nikita Stewart and Del Quentin Wilber, Published, Washington Post: May 21

A close friend of Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s was charged Monday with destroying records and making illegal campaign contributions, becoming the first person incriminated in a wide-ranging federal investigation of Gray’s 2010 campaign.

The charges involve minor D.C. election law violations, but the accusations are likely to increase scrutiny of Gray’s election efforts and his term as mayor. The allegations first surfaced in March 2011, just months into Gray’s term, and have dogged him and the city since.

Reached in Las Vegas, where he is working to attract business to the District, Gray declined to comment. His office referred all calls to the mayor’s criminal defense lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, who said: “It’s a pending investigation. I don’t have any comment.”

The allegations involve one of Gray’s longtime friends and associates, Thomas W. Gore, who acted as the 2010 campaign’s assistant treasurer.

Monday’s charges came in a “criminal information,” which can be filed only with the defendant’s consent and signals a plea deal is near. Gore is expected to appear in the District’s federal court Tuesday at a “plea agreement hearing,” according to the court’s Web site. His attorney said Gore is cooperating in the criminal investigation.

Gore, 56, is accused by federal prosecutors of providing a rival candidate $535 in illegal campaign contributions in June or July of 2010 and then destroying a spiral-bound notebook that documented the payoffs. The donations were made through money orders “in the name of another person,” prosecutors said.

Court papers allege that Gore got rid of the notebook “on or about” the day The Washington Post published an article saying that minor mayoral candidate Sulaimon Brown claimed that he had received money orders from Gray’s campaign in exchange for attacks against incumbent Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Gray later defeated Fenty in the tightly contested Democratic primary and coasted to a general-election victory.

Gore has been charged with three D.C. election law misdemeanors and one federal charge of destroying records.

Although he could face up to 20 years in prison on the obstruction charge and a maximum penalty of six months in jail on each of the D.C. offenses, Gore is likely to serve far less prison time under federal sentencing guidelines. His attorney, Frederick D. Cooke Jr., declined to say whether his client intended to plead guilty but said, “We’re answering questions. We’re participating in a cooperative fashion. That’s all we can do.”

Gore, who did not return calls for comment, has been a friend of Gray’s for two decades and served as the treasurer of his 2004 run for a seat on the D.C. Council and his successful 2006 campaign to become the body’s chairman. In the 2010 mayoral race, he played a less prominent role because Gray and others were concerned about the perception of a conflict of interest — Gore is the former president and executive director of a nonprofit group that has received city assistance in the past.

Although Gore did not hold the title of campaign treasurer — that job belonged to one of Gray’s neighbors — he acted in that capacity and kept a tight grip on its purse strings, campaign workers have said.

On Monday morning, Gore attended a meeting of advocates working on youth-employment issues but left the meeting early, said Lori Kaplan, executive director of the Latin American Youth Center and a longtime friend.

Gore, a native Washingtonian, has been active in a consortium of youth advocates and has worked on issues involving child welfare, juvenile justice and foster care, Kaplan said.

“He has years of history doing youth and family work in this town,” Kaplan said. “These are not glamorous jobs. He’s just been really committed to this work.”

Eugene Kinlow Sr., a longtime D.C. community activist, said the charges against Gore stung because his friend has been “a pillar of the community.”

“He’s just the greatest guy,” Kinlow said. “That’s his heart. The community. . . . I know he was trying to help the mayor, but like they say, no good deed goes unpunished.”

The charges drew muted reaction at the John A. Wilson Building, in part because federal authorities have subpoenaed a number of D.C. Council offices for records related to a broadening campaign-finance investigation. But council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) called the allegations “very disturbing,” and council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said the obstruction charge was “very serious.”

Cheh, who supported Gray’s campaign and teaches criminal law at the George Washington University law school, said the charges may signal that authorities are chasing “somebody more important” than Gore.

“Whether it’s other campaign officials, whether it goes up all the way to the mayor, I don’t know. But I do know that it’s a very significant event in the investigation,” she added.

Former federal prosecutors said it was too early to say where the investigation might be headed. But they noted that the charges are a significant milestone because they represent the first public indication that federal authorities are serious about the allegations that surfaced in March 2011 when Brown, the former candidate, told The Post that he accepted money orders and cash from the Gray campaign for attacks against Fenty. In exchange, he claimed to have been given a $110,000 job in the Gray administration. Gray countered that he never asked Brown to attack Fenty, although he acknowledged that Brown was promised a job interview.

Although court papers identified the person who received Gore’s money orders only as ”Candidate B,” sources familiar with the investigation said the recipient was Brown.

Last year, Brown alleged that the payments were made by Lorraine A. Green, the campaign’s chairwoman, and by Howard Brooks, a campaign staffer.

The contributions were made in the names of Brooks’s son, cousin-in-law and his son’s girlfriend. Both the son’s girlfriend and the cousin told The Post that they did not know Brown and did not make the contributions. Brooks’s son, Peyton, received immunity early in the investigation.

Thomas C. Green, an attorney for Lorraine Green, said, “My client has cooperated completely with the investigation, which I believe to be at an end so far as it involves her.” Glenn Ivey, an attorney for Brooks, declined to comment.

That investigation sparked by Brown’s disclosure has since broadened into an inquiry of campaign finance and ties linking a prominent D.C. contractor to local political leaders.

In March, federal agents raided the home and offices of that contractor, Jeffrey Thompson, on the same day they searched the home and office of a public relations executive involved in the Gray election effort. Former Gray campaign workers and volunteers have also been questioned by federal authorities about an off-the-books “shadow campaign” that focused on getting out the vote.

Staff writers Tim Craig, Mike DeBonis and Danielle Douglas contributed to this report. Douglas reported from Las Vegas.

Vincent Gray: Riders need fairness from taxi industry

Posted at 02:37 PM ET, 05/08/2012

Vincent Gray: Riders need fairness from taxi industry

By Nikita Stewart, Washington Post

Mayor Vincent C. Gray said his administration is looking at increasing the number of inspectors to monitor numerous violations by taxi drivers against riders at night at Union Station, which were recently detailed in a Washington Post story.

(Rachel Karas – The Washington Post)In an interview Tuesday, Gray (D) said his administration has worked hard on compromises to help taxi drivers by lifting the $19 cap on fares, instituting a gas surcharge and recently increasing the mileage rate.

“We’re trying to be fair to the industry but also want to be fair to customers,” he said.

The Washington Post found that drivers, who were not under the watch of inspectors, were picking and choosing passengers and requiring strangers to pile into one cab — all violations.

Gray said taxi cab commissioner Ron Linton has already proposed increasing the number of hack inspectors. Meanwhile, the commission is also working on long-term changes, such as uniformity in color of the cabs and the installation of credit card machines in taxis.

Catania defends health care for illegal immigrants as Gray signals opposition

Catania defends health care for illegal immigrants as Gray signals opposition

May 05, 2012 — 7:43 PM, Alan Blinder, Examiner Staff Writer

A D.C. councilman’s plan to allocate an extra $20 million to health care for illegal immigrants — a move that defied Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2013 budget proposal — has drawn sharp criticism from the mayor’s office and set the stage for what could become a pitched battle between the city’s legislative and executive branches.

"We are seriously worried that the [at-large Councilman David] Catania plan takes critical money from one program and shuffles it to another program," Gray spokesman Pedro Ribeiro told The Washington Examiner. "He hasn’t found any new money. He’s just creating holes in other places."

In an internal memorandum obtained by The Examiner, city officials said Catania’s plan "selectively grabs ‘savings’ from line items in the Department of Health Care Finance’s budget."

But Catania said that wasn’t true.

"We have enough resources to provide decent health care to everyone who lives here," Catania said. "I believe very strongly that we ought not to treat immigrants differently than other residents of our city."

On Thursday, the council’s health committee, which Catania chairs, announced it had found enough money to provide hospital care to participants in the DC Healthcare Alliance, a city health insurance offering that mostly caters to illegal immigrants who aren’t eligible to participate in federal programs.

The panel said it balanced the program’s new budget by, in part, controlling personnel costs and correcting estimates for enrollment.

Confronted with another budget shortfall, Gray had proposed slashing the program’s funding and transferring more of the costs of caring for illegal immigrants to the federal government. But that plan, which Gray unveiled in March, drew quick criticism from Catania, along with a vow to restore the dollars.

Even though the council came under harsh criticism last week for failing to approve a plan to pay District workers for furlough days they were forced to take in 2011, one union leader said the decision to move forward with the health care funding didn’t bother him.

"I’m never going to pit employees and their concerns against other legitimate concerns," said Geo Johnson, the executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ affiliate in the District. "I don’t advocate that at all."

Potomac River’s and Anacostia River’s cleanup makes progress, but much work remains

Potomac River’s and Anacostia River’s cleanup makes progress, but much work remains

By Megan Buerger, Published: May 2

It’s Saturday morning on the Anacostia River, and the sun is filtering through the trees on Kingman Island. In the distance, a pair of deer splash across a large, lush cove. Six turtles tumble, one by one, from a sun-soaked log into the river below.

“This is exactly what you think of when you think of Ward 7,” said a sarcastic Brent Bolin, director of advocacy for the Anacostia Watershed Society, who is steering the boat through Kenilworth Marsh. “The sad thing is, there are people living less than a mile away who have no idea this is here.”

That’s because for many years, the Anacostia was one of the most polluted rivers in the country. Meanwhile, its larger neighbor, the Potomac, was the focus of a major ongoing cleanup.

This could slowly be changing. Inlets such as Kenilworth Marsh are starting to show signs of revival. With the rise of nearby high-profile development projects such as Nationals Park and luxury apartments by the Navy Yard, the neglected Anacostia riverfront is getting attention.

But environmentalists stress that because the region’s waterways are connected — the Anacostia flows into the Potomac, which flows into the Chesapeake Bay — a holistic approach to cleaning them is necessary. If one river is neglected, the region suffers.

“The greatest concentration of PCBs [polychlorinated biphenyls], a serious poisonous toxicant in the Potomac, is the spot where the Anacostia enters it,” said Ed Merrifield, head of the Potomac Riverkeeper group. “So if you care about one, you care about the other.”

Experts agree that both rivers need serious work. That’s why every year around this time, hundreds of cleanup sitesalong the Potomac and Anacostia rivers host thousands of Washington area volunteers in honor of Earth Day. They weed the wetlands, pick up litter and compile a bizarre list of found items that in recent years have included toilets, a Studebaker and a newspaper vending box for the long-shuttered Washington Star.

River cleanups are important because they connect residents to resources in their back yard, said Kellie Bolinder, executive director of the Earth Conservation Corps. First-time volunteers are often stunned at how beautiful the Anacostia is, and they are inspired to help restore it, she said.

There are several arguments as to why the Anacostia has been so neglected, primarily that it doesn’t supply drinking water, but the prevailing theory is that the communities surrounding the river — wards 6, 7 and 8 — have been forced to bear the brunt of the District’s waste.

“America has a shameful history of putting our pollution on poor minorities, and there’s no other way to say it,” said Mike Bolinder, head of the Anacostia Riverkeeper group. “You can slice and dice it any way you want, but the Potomac got cleaned up first because it isn’t near poor minorities and toxic landfills.”

Experts on both rivers acknowledge that cleanups have helped usher in progress, but they’re quick to caution residents about celebrating too soon.

“Cleanups treat the symptoms of a much larger problem,” said Lori Arguelles, executive director of the Alice Ferguson Foundation, which promotes environmental education. “Without addressing the infrastructure problems that led us here, we’ll be holding cleanups a thousand years from now.”

D.C. taxi fare hike starts Saturday

D.C. taxi fare hike starts Saturday

By Rachel S. Karas, Washington Post, Published: April 20

Whether taking a cab to the Hill or past the Beltway, residents and visitors alike may be surprised to find that their wallets are a little lighter.

Beginning Saturday, the taxi mileage rate will increase to $2.16 per mile from $1.50. Taxis will still charge a base fare of $3.

Some cabdrivers said they are concerned that the new D.C. Taxicab Commission regulations will affect not their profits but their passengers. John, a driver who asked to remain anonymous to protect his job, said the fare increase takes away the incentive for picking up large groups of passengers or those with suit­cases.

Under the new regulations, a $1-per-passenger fee may be charged for the second, third and fourth members of a group riding in a van. The maximum additional passenger fee is $3 per trip, which John said would leave groups of five or six customers on the curb.

“They have this idea of making D.C. taxis like New York taxis,” John said. “There’s no comparison.”

Taxis will now charge 50 cents per piece of luggage that the driver places in the trunk. Brief­cases, purses, bags of groceries and other items of similar size are not considered luggage, according to the commission.

Some drivers see fare increases as a reality of urban transportation.

“I think it’s good,” cabdriver Paul Bankett said. “Things are going to change anyway with progress.. . . People just have to learn to deal with things like this.”

One resident who identified herself only as Margie suggested that the commission needed to do a better job of explaining the price changes to the public to help avoid sticker shock.

Although several people said the change might be good for driving people toward the use of public transportation, former D.C. resident Sarah Connolly said public transportation is not always a viable option on weekends, when track work and crowds make the Metro more difficult to use.

Connolly, who visits on weekends, said the increase probably would not affect her travel in the city.

“I usually just take [cabs] pretty short distances,” she said. “It might not make a difference.”

Commission members have brought up using the fare increase to improve cab services, such as installing mandatory credit-card-payment systems. While some people said being able to use credit cards would make cabs more convenient, others said the funds shouldn’t come from passengers’ pockets.

“The credit card companies should pay for it since they’re the ones making the business,” said Ash Kamath, who was in Washington on business. “It shouldn’t be the taxicabs or the government; that’s subsidizing.”

Kamath said he uses D.C. taxis at least three or four times a week but will be less inclined to hail them at the increased rate. Instead, he said, he would “absolutely” turn to public transportation if not pressed for time.

Not all cabs will be charging the higher fares at once, commission Chairman Ron Linton said. Taxi companies that applied for recertification by the city’s deadline received committee-approved security seals and can be preprogrammed so the new fares take effect Saturday, he said.

Drivers whose cabs were not recertified on time did not receive seals early and will have to go to one of eight authorized shops for recalibration after the fare increase takes effect.

Taxis will not be ticketed for failing to recalibrate until after May 31, Linton said. Until then, taxis that have not been recertified may run their meter at $1.50 per mile.

Most drivers are waiting to see whether the increase in price per mile makes up for losing other fees, such as the $1.50 charge for dismissing a cab hailed by phone, the $2 “personal service” of a cabdriver, $2 for carrying “trunks or similar-sized large articles” and $1 for carrying small animals not enclosed in a carrier.

“They made a mistake. . . . I don’t see this as an advantage,” said John, the cabdriver. “Everyone in the region charges for extra passengers; everyone in the region charges for luggage.”

Want a giant D.C. government health care contract?

Posted at 05:54 PM ET, 04/24/2012

Want a giant D.C. government health care contract?

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

Thompson’s days in the health care business could be numbered. (C-SPAN)

The D.C. Department of Health Care Finance today issued a solicitation for new contractors to manage the care of the 165,000 city residents in publicly financed health programs.

This is notable for two reasons: First, the sheer amount of money at stake is enormous. Upwards of $600 million in local and federal funds will be spent via these contracts. Second, it means Jeffrey E. Thompson’s days in the health care business might officially be numbered.

Recall that Health Care Finance Director Wayne Turnage told a D.C. Council panel last week that it would be “unlikely” that Thompson’s Chartered Health Plan would hold on to its contract as long as he remains its owner.

The current managed-care contracts are set to expire in May 2013.

Thompson has been under a microscope since federal agents raided his home and offices last month, revealing his role in an ongoing probe of campaign finance in the city.

Chartered’s CEO has told the city he’s seeking to purchase the company from Thompson, and now the clock starts ticking on consummating a deal.

If Thompson can’t unload the company before the solicitation expires — a complicated process that includes approval from insurance regulators — Chartered’s value would be questionable, considering the D.C. managed-care contract is its sole source of business. (For a more detailed overview of the considerations at stake, check out Ben Fischer’s Friday piece in the Washington Business Journal.)

The solicitation lists a deadline date of May 18 for the submission of proposals, but Turnage said Tuesday that date would likely be extended “to better manage the selection process internally.”

The question is, besides Chartered and the city’s other current contractor, UnitedHealthcare, who will respond? Turnage said last week at least three bidders, including health care firms with a “national profile,” had expressed some interest.

Gray to unveil D.C. sustainability plan

Gray to unveil D.C. sustainability plan

By Tim Craig, Washington Post, Published: April 23

The District could add 250,000 residents over the next two decades under a new vision for the city that Mayor Vincent C. Gray will unveil Tuesday, which includes vast long-term changes for how residents travel, eat and enjoy the outdoors.

In 20 years, nearly everyone would get around by foot, bicycle, new streetcar lines, bus or Metro. Homes and apartment buildings would feature compost piles and adhere to more aggressive recycling standards. Roofs would be green, and the city government would monitor fossil fuel consumption.

When residents want to eat, they wouldn’t have to walk more than a few blocks to find fresh fruits and vegetables. And if they want to catch their own food, residents would be able to wade into the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, throw out a line, and reel in a striped bass or white perch because waterways would be “swimmable and fishable.”

“We are deadly serious about this,” said Harriet Tregoning, the city’s planning director. “We have all these people who are moving to Washington. . . . We can take this opportunity and redefine our city in some important ways.”

After a six-month review that included 125 meetings and more than 700 community participants, Gray (D) has finalized what he calls a “Vision for a Sustainable D.C.” by 2032.

The plan includes short-, mid- and long-term policy goals that Gray hopes will guide his and future administrations. However, the proposal does not include funding sources for goals that could cost billions of dollars to implement, making some of them dependent on aid from an already cash-strapped federal government.

“It’s a statement of where the mayor thinks the city’s values and direction should go,” said Robert H. Nelson, a professor of environmental policy at the University of Maryland. “But whenever anything comes up that is actually going to cost money, this statement is not likely to have a huge impact in terms of the debate. . . . Anything that has a 20-year goal becomes more symbolic.”

Although some ideas seem improbable — such as being waste-free within 20 years — administration officials said the plan would help local officials conceptualize the future of the city. Some changes could begin immediately.

“They may seem far-fetched given our history as a city, but not so much if you look at what other cities around the world are doing,” said Christophe Tulou, head of the D.C. Department of the Environment. “The goal is to have D.C. be visionary in as many areas as possible and, when you add it all up, for D.C. to be the greenest, healthiest, most livable city in the U.S.”

According to the report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, the administration is hoping to require “energy audits” of all buildings “periodically and at the point of sale” within a few years to gauge their usage. Also in the short term, online tools or forums would allow residents to calculate energy usage.

The short-term efforts to highlight energy use would set the stage for potential long-term strategies for pricing fossil-fuel reliance. The plan calls for a 50 percent reduction in emissions and energy consumption in 20 years, and envisions a 500 percent increase in green jobs.

In the area of transportation, the plan calls for 80 miles of bicycle lanes within a few years, about one-fourth more than exist today.

In another short-term goal, the city plans to reexamine its parking rules to continue to urge residents to use mass transit while ensuring an adequate supply of on-street parking. By 2032, after the city’s proposed 37-mile streetcar network is completed, officials are optimistic that 75 percent of all trips will take place on foot, bicycle or on public transportation, according to the report.

Changes in transportation would be needed because planners envision a dramatic increase in the city’s population.

Tregoning said the goal of adding 250,000 new residents is designed to build on what has “been a solid decade of population growth.” Last year, the Census Bureau found the District was the fastest-growing “state” in the nation after its population grew by 2.7­ percent in a little more than a year, boosting the city’s population to nearly 618,000.

Gray’s sustainability report envisions those growth rates continuing for another two decades, but demographers are skeptical.

“I think it’s likely to grow a bit more. Whether it’s sustainable over the next 20 years is hard to say,” said Peter Tatian, a senior research associate in the Urban Institute, adding that potential federal budget cuts and a lack of affordable housing could quickly dampen growth expectations.

Regardless, Gray’s plan envisions a far different city in the coming decades.

The plan calls for boosting the city’s tree canopy from 35 percent to about 40 percent, requiring the planting of thousands of trees. Eventually, a “three-track” trash-collection process including composting would be created to try to achieve 100 percent waste diversion.

The city’s waste-diversion rate is 23 percent, compared to San Francisco’s 70 percent, officials said.

To slash obesity rates in half by 2032, the city would place a renewed focus on enticing residents into physical activity and redouble efforts to combat lead poisoning.

Conceivably, in the long-term, city officials hope that activity could entail more recreation on the cleaned-up Potomac and Anacostia rivers.

One of the plan’s most ambitious planks calls for those rivers and Rock Creek to be “swimmable and fishable” by 2032.

Tulou said the District and Maryland are making great strides toward that goal, including stringent new stormwater run-off standards in the city and a recently launched $2.6 billion project to build two new tunnels to prevent sewage from spilling into local waterways. Last year, Baltimore officials announced an initiative to make the Inner Harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020.

“All of the pieces of the process are falling into place,” Tulou said. “It’s not an easy lift in terms of commitments and investments, but we are well underway. . . . If it hasn’t rained in a while, you can safely swim in the Anacostia and Potomac already.”

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

Why D.C. budget autonomy remains doomed

Why D.C. budget autonomy remains doomed

By Mike DeBonis, Washington Post

Mayor Vincent Gray’s dream of budget autonomy for the District remains mired in abortion politics. (Ricky Carioti – WASHINGTON POST) There’s a lot of optimism right now that the District could score a big Capitol Hill win, with support building for changes that would allow the District to spend its money without active congressional approval.

An earlier attempt at budget autonomy legislation was derailed when it got caught up in the abortion issue, with House Republicans adding language that would permanently ban the public funding of abortions for low-income women in the city. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and other city leaders rejected the compromise.

Now Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the powerful chairman of the House Oversight Committee, is saying he wants to move the abortion question separately, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has committed to introducing a Senate version of the bill. That led Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) to give a half-hour floor speech Thursday heralding an impending new day in District self-governance.

But city leaders shouldn’t get their hopes too far up, because antiabortion forces are not going to be giving the city a pass.

A top official for the National Right to Life Committee, the best-organized antiabortion lobby on the Hill, said the group’s position is that abortion and the District budget are inextricably linked. Thus it opposes any budget autonomy bill that doesn’t include a ban on publicly funded abortions.

Douglas Johnson, the committee’s legislative director, said in an interview Thursday that his group is prepared to “score” any House floor vote on a budget autonomy bill that does not include strong abortion language — “at a minimum, a permanent prohibition on taxpayer-funded abortions in the federal district,” he said.

That means, unless Gray & Co. brook the compromise they previously rejected, they’ll have to get at least a couple dozen of the 235 current members currently boasting perfect antiabortion scores to sacrifice their perfection.

That is, to risk a profound understatement, rather unlikely.

And even if strong abortion language were added to the bill, Johnson said, “we would not say we support the bill, we would not oppose the bill.”

Long story short, unless local officials do a 180 on the abortion compromise, the dream of budget autonomy will have to wait for another Congress.

By Mike DeBonis | 03:20 PM ET, 04/20/2012

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