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Wednesday, november 21, 2012

The CurrenT

Current

the northwest

After Kwame and Harry whats next?


wame Brown might be thankful this week that maybe the worst is over for him. Yes, the former D.C. Council chairman still has to do six months of home detention with electronic monitoring. And yes, he has to do 480 hours of community service (20 hours a month) for the next two years of supervised release. But that all may be nothing compared to the humiliation of his brief time in custody of the courts last week. Brown first appeared in federal court, where he got the above sentence for his felony bank fraud conviction. He told Judge Richard Leon his forging of home refinance documents was stupid and wrong. Leon said Brown, as part of his punishment, would have to serve the rest of that same day in the custody of U.S. marshals. Little did we know, at the moment Judge Leon said it, what that would mean for Brown later in the day. Appearing before Judge Leon, Brown had been nattily attired in a dark suit, white shirt and tie. Brown always has liked to be sharply dressed. But a few hours later, when he appeared in D.C. Superior Court on a minor campaign finance violation, Brown was transformed. WTOP reporter Mark Segraves said Brown walked into the D.C. courtroom looking somewhat dazed and embarrassed. The marshals had taken his tie and his belt, a routine safety precaution for prisoners in custody. But Brown also was shackled shackled! in chains attached to his hands and his feet. Even some reporters in the room who had witheringly covered Browns downfall were aghast at the image. Court officials said Brown was treated exactly as others in the marshals custody when he was taken from the federal courthouse a few blocks to D.C. Superior Court. Brown is said to be truly remorseful for his crimes, his ruined political career and the embarrassment he has caused himself and his family. Whatever he does to rehabilitate his life, he should keep the image of those chains in his mind. For us, the sight recalled what U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said during an appearance on WAMUs Politics Hour a few months ago. He told us that if you spend one day in jail or prison, one day will be enough for the rest of your life. Hows Harry Thomas Jr.? Those who have been in touch with the former Ward 5 council member say he has been adjusting to prison life in Alabama, counseling with younger inmates and finding meaningful reflection time for himself. Thomas pleaded guilty to stealing about $400,000 in government grants that had been intended for youth sports programs. Instead, he spent that money on himself and others. He threw away his political career, too, and is serving a 38-month sentence. And now what? The sentencing of Brown has brought renewed attention to the longrunning investigation of Mayor Vincent Grays 2010 campaign. Several persons already have pleaded guilty to serious felony violations in connection with a $650,000 shadow campaign that helped elect Gray. U.S. Attorney Machen has said the Gray campaign efforts deceived the voters. Last Wednesday at Grays biweekly press conference, Washington Times reporter Tom Howell Jr. used the sentencing of Brown to ask the mayor about the probe into his political doings. The mayor generally turns aside such questions, saying his lawyer tells him not to respond. Still, Gray did respond when the reporter asked when the probe might be over. Well, I think theyll have to decide that for themselves, Tom, the mayor said. They are painstaking in their investigations of these issues. And when they get to a conclusion, Im sure well know it as will you. Tom tried again. How quickly would you like to see [it finished]? Mayor: Well, obviously, wed like to see it moved on. But again, I underscore that we recognize that these are painstaking, complicated investigations and when they get to a conclusion theyll get to it. Some lawyers monitoring the investigation say the key focus remains on Jeffrey Thompson, the businessman who court records show funded a shadow campaign to elect Gray as mayor. Thompson is battling the U.S. Attorneys Office over documents detailing contributions and expenses, but he has not been charged. Washington Post columnist Colby King last weekend hinted darkly that evidence of corruption in city politics not just with Mayor Gray is starting to pile up. So the waiting game continues, with all eyes on U.S. Attorney Machen and his investigators. Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4. es they would pay for. Without the missing information, we cannot evaluate whether her plan makes any financial sense, let alone whether it will improve the education of any of the thousands of students whose lives will be disrupted by these events. The chancellor expects the council and the public to believe that she can somehow magically translate unknown savings from school closings into material benefits for the receiving schools. If the council pretends to have any oversight over public education, they must hold the chancellor accountable for failing to present a school-closing plan that passes the simplest tests of transparency and accountability. The council can and must reject her plan by prohibiting the expenditure of any appropriated funds to implement it. Kesh Ladduwahetty
Forest Hills

davis kennedy/Publisher & Editor chris kain/Managing Editor

Laying out a strategy

Mayor Vincent Gray unveiled an ambitious economic development plan last week that aims to add 100,000 jobs and $1 billion in tax revenue to the citys economy within five years. While government-generated master plans can often be more gloss than substance, we were happy to see a detailed, targeted strategy emerge. That plan wisely pivots away from the U.S. government as the source of the citys growth. Existing and impending federal austerity measures make that path unsustainable though the document also outlines ways the city can fight for a greater share of federal dollars and real estate. In general, though, Mayor Grays plan targets technology, higher education, health care and real estate construction as drivers for further reductions in the citys unemployment rate, which has already decreased to a just-announced 8.5 percent from 11.3 percent in the summer of 2011. Particularly compelling are suggestions to develop a high-tech sector and leverage it to bring jobs and amenities to neighborhoods that now lack both. A tech hub at St. Elizabeths, the plan suggests, could re-create similar city-developed hubs such as Roosevelt Island in New York; meanwhile, a medical center at the McMillan Reservoir would advance both employment and medical research goals. Indeed, its hard to find a neighborhood or a sector thats left out of the plan. Artists get an invite to repurpose vacant properties; small businesses get help winning federal contracts; entrepreneurs could see a city-sponsored venture capital program; and neighborhoods in need of development could become candidates for federal offices. Its easy, however, to spot the prongs of the plan that will attract opposition. A proposal to waive the citys building-height limit in noncore neighborhoods is well worth considering, but certain to draw fire. And the plans swipe at enrollment caps at D.C. universities will be a nonstarter for neighbors who are already feeling squeezed by ever-expanding schools. D.C. has two main problems that feed each other in a never-ending cycle: a struggling education system and unemployment that clusters in a few wards. We think Mayor Grays creative proposals, developed with the help of local universities, will go a long way toward turning that vicious circle into a virtuous one.

TOM SHERWOODS

notebook

A giant step forward

Its hard to imagine a groundbreaking ceremony more eagerly anticipated than the one held last week for Cleveland Parks Cathedral Commons project at Wisconsin Avenue and Newark Street. While the project being undertaken by Giant Food and the Bozzuto Group does have its share of detractors, even most of the critics like the idea of a new store replacing the 59-year-old supermarket, whose cramped quarters and limited selection went along with the nostalgic midcentury sign. The new 56,000-square-foot grocery store will be a welcome sight when its finished about two years from now. The $130 million projects more controversial elements include the scale of the ancillary elements 137 apartment units, eight town houses and 72,000 square feet of additional commercial space. Some say that will result in an overly dense development, but backers contend the mix of uses makes the project economically viable and will add urban vitality to the Wisconsin Avenue corridor. Were relieved that after years of zoning and land-use battles over the site, construction is finally under way. The development should contribute to the citys coffers and provide welcome community-serving retail particularly the flagship supermarket that will provide a better place to work and a better place to shop, according to Giants Anthony Hucker. As Washington National Cathedral Canon Jan Naylor Cope said at the groundbreaking, the project even has an appropriate historical antecedent evoked by its name: medieval cathedrals surrounded by lively marketplaces.

letters to the editor


school closure plan lacks major details
At the D.C. Councils Nov. 15 hearing on school closings, Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson presented her plan to close 20 public schools. She made a seemingly plausible argument that council members appeared to accept at face value: D.C. Public Schools will close campuses to save money on building maintenance, then plow those savings into better educational programs. Unfortunately, the chancellor failed to translate her general argument into a real plan. Such a plan would show how the 3,739 students who now attend these 20 schools will receive a significantly better education in the schools to which they will be transferred.

She should be able to show that the education those thousands of children will receive in their new schools will be so superior as to justify their dislocation and the loss of their neighborhood schools. For all her fancy PowerPoint charts, Chancellor Henderson failed to present the key facts that D.C. Council and the community need to evaluate her plan. She did not provide the annual cost of keeping each school open. She did not provide an estimate of the net annual savings from closing each school. (According to the D.C. auditor, the previous round of school closures cost $17.7 million, before the write-down of reduced property values.) She did not provide the additional annual funds that will be directed to each receiving school, along with a description of the educational programs and resourc-