Posted at 10:04 PM ET, 03/23/2008

The D.C. Wire Has Moved

Please visit the D.C. Wire at its new address.

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Posted at 03:56 PM ET, 08/21/2007

Spinning the Schools

So you're new Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and your reputation, the mayor's political future and, indeed, the success of more than 50,000 students are riding on your ability to fix the public schools. What are you going to do to ensure you look good?

You bring in the professional spinners.

That's what Rhee did this week when she hired New Future Communications to a three-month contract to overhaul the school system's communications office.

As with the system at large, reforming the communications office will be no easy feat. In past years, that department has developed a reputation as a sluggish, defensive bunker where requests for information go to die.

Shortly after Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) downgraded the Board of Education and took control of the system in June, he dispatched an aide, Mafara Hobson, to assist Rhee. But now Rhee has added a more sophisticated layer of expertise to her publicity arm.

New Future, based in Washington, is the creation of Jamal Simmons, a national political media consultant who has worked on the campaigns of Wesley Clark and Al Gore. He was Gore's Florida spokesman during the recount battle of the 2000 election.

Simmons also happens to be a former classmate of Rhee's during their days at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government a decade ago.

Simmons said in a recent interview that he was friendly with Rhee during their graduate student days but had not spoken with her in years. When Fenty hired her in June, Simmons said, he emailed her to congratulate her and offer his company's assistance. It didn't take long for her to come calling.

"We were hired to provide strategic counsel and daily support to the chancellor," Simmons said. "Part of that helping is to figure out how to reorganize the communications department and to make sure we accomplish the goals of the new administrator.

"A big issue here is how to continue to show people progress is being made along the way. The mayor has been pretty clear and the chancellor has been clear that they want to keep the public updated on what is happening."

Notably, New Future has never worked for a school system before, mostly focusing on politics.

Continue reading this post »

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Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 02/ 2/2007

Fenty: BlackBerrys Gone Wild

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Mayor Fenty has vowed to hold the line when it comes to the growth of government. He has pledged not to raise taxes and to eliminate waste and inefficiency. In short, he wants to do more with less.

Except when it comes to personal digital assistants, that is. Don't look now but Fenty has taken to sporting three BlackBerry devices on his belt.

Fenty has long been known for his devotion to the "berry", as his staff has nicknamed the device. He was often spotted thumbing messages to aides and constituents during D.C. Council meeetings as the Ward 4 rep, and those quick responses are credited with helping him win the mayor's office.

During the campaign, Fenty added a second BlackBerry to handle all campaign functions, while keeping his council device for city business. He made a commercial featuring him on the device, and the board of trade gave him a birthday card shaped like a pda.

Now, Fenty has added a third berry-- one is reserved for mayoral duties, one for personal stuff and one to maintain immediate conntact with his police chief nominee Cathy Lanier in case of emergencies.

Aides report that Fenty will get yet another one-- his fourth-- in a few weeks, this one loaded down with pretty much every piece of information about the city possible -- maps, housing data, public works info -- so that he can pull it up wherever he is (and call whomever he needs to get something done). No word yet as to whether others will try to keep pace. (second item)

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Posted at 04:13 PM ET, 02/ 1/2007

Worst Practices

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Let's hope Mayor Fenty, who has openly copped to borrowing ideas from other mayors, doesn't copy this one from his buddy Gavin Newsom.

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Posted at 12:44 PM ET, 02/ 1/2007

When the Mayor Had Hair

We wondered how much attention the folks at The Politico, the new Capitol Hill publication, would give our own local D.C. government officials and were happy to see Mayor Fenty featured today. Amy Doolittle, our former competitor when she was at the Washington Times, writes of the days when Fenty was a "breakdancing wannabe" and even has a youthful picture of Fenty from the days when he was a bit more, um, hirsute.

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Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 02/ 1/2007

Fenty's $4,000 Bike?

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Mayor Adrian Fenty's people recently handed me a copy of the city's new D.C. Bicycle Map hot off the presses. Developed by the city's Dept. of Transportation, the map details in red ink the bike lanes on city streets, off-street trail biking and sidewalks. There's also a message from the mayor, which reads in part: "I ride my bike to stay in shape and complete in triathlons."

The most striking feature, though, is a picture of Fenty on his bike. Fenty is wearing a skin tight yellow muscle shirt and black spandex shorts, a white bike helmet and sleek wrap-around sunglasses. The caption says the picture is from the 2006 Nation's Triathlon.

Fenty's bona fides as a marathoner and triathlete are well-established. I regularly hear from people about how fast Fenty is (he runs sub-8-minute miles in training and even faster in races). WTOP reporter Mark Segraves has run with Fenty and admits to falling behind after two miles (though to be fair to Segraves, he had to carry recording equipment with him). A colleague at the Post saw Fenty running just after 6 a.m. with a headlamp on, leading a chain of runners up a hill in Northwest in the darkness.

I did a Google search to try to find more information about Fenty's performance in the Nation's Triathlon, which was actually a duathlon(*), with the swim portion cancelled due to bad weather. Fenty's split times on this site were incomplete, a fact he attributes to the fact that he and his dad mistakenly wore two different computer time-keeping chips that somehow confused the computer. Fenty's final time of 2:03:46 was good for 101st place, while his father Phil finished in 2:37:56, good for 293rd place. (Fenty's father is pictured behind him in the photo on the city's Bike Map).

A final note: Fenty isn't riding your ordinary streetbike. He's riding a Cannondale racing bike. He wouldn't disclose how much the bike cost, though he acknlowedged it was "expensive." I'd say. Check out this typical model at more than $4,000.

I have a copy of the photo of Fenty in the triathlon, but I am trying to figure out the copyright restrictions, since the picture is owned by the Nation's Triathlon (the city paid $35 for the right to use it on the Bike Map). I will post the photo here soon if I am legally able.

(* This word has been corrected thanks to alert readers who note that "biathlon" is a cross-country skiing, shooting event, while "duathlon" is the biking/running event Fenty competed in. As a former sports writer, the author should have known better.)

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Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 01/31/2007

Council Payroll Problems

Sharona Morgan, a D.C. Council employee for 15 years, said she was taken aback this month when the her government check was withdrawn from her checking account.
Morgan, director of constituent services for council member Carol Schwartz (R-At-Large) for almost 12 years, submitted her resignation on Dec. 29 and left the job the same day. She started as director of constituent services for David A. Catania (I-At Large) on Jan. 22.
According to a letter from a Chevy Chase Bank official, Morgan's $1,916.15 payroll check was deposited directly into her account on Jan. 12, 2007. Four days later the payment was reversed.
Morgan said the council's personnel office had told her that she was paid for an extra week that she did not work, and would be immediately reissued a check for the time she worked during that pay period. Morgan said she was not given a letter explaining the process.
Two weeks later, Morgan said she feels like she doesn't have any recourse to ensure that she is paid for the hours she worked. Morgan contacted the D.C. Department of Employment Services Wage-Hour Office, but was told it doesn't handle District government employees disputes. They must go to their union or the council's personnel and payroll offices.
Morgan, who does not belong to a union, said she has worked for two former council members -- Wilhelmina Rolark and Bill Lightfoot. When she previously left a job, the government never deducted money from her account, she said.
Schwartz's office declined to comment on Morgan's payroll issue because it is a personnel matter.
"I don't know how this happened but I've never had any problems in the past, even through furloughs, I've always received my money" Morgan said. "I resent being late on my mortgage and possibly causing damage to my credit report."
Council officials familiar with Morgan's complaint said that the city had no recourse but to stop payment on the payroll check. The officials who also would not speak on the record because it is a personnel issue, said Morgan will be paid during the next payroll cycle.
"People are paid for the hours worked and when a check is issued for an overpayment then we retrieve the check and a new one is reissued," an official said.
Morgan said the delay is getting her paycheck is an unfair penalty for quitting a job.
"I'm upset because I didn't get paid for a week I worked for," she said. "They offset my bank account and caused trauma. I feel it was unnecessary."

-- Reported by Yolanda Woodlee

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Posted at 10:24 AM ET, 01/30/2007

D.C. Council Adds Education Hearing

Breaking news from the John Wilson Building this morning: Council Chairman Vince Gray has added a seventh public hearing on Mayor Fenty's school takeover legislation. It will be Feb. 20 at 1 p.m., and open to the general public.

Today, school system officials and education experts are testifying in the second hearing, a week after Fenty led off the opening hearing by defending his 48-page plan. Before today's hearing began, Gray announced that 80 people already have signed up for the Feb. 7 hearing open to the public; he said no more may testify that day and added the seventh hearing.

In addition to these hearings, students and dropouts may testify Feb. 10; the council will hear testimony about Fenty's proposal to create a new school construction authority on Feb. 13; and Fenty will testify again Feb. 27.

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Posted at 02:01 PM ET, 01/29/2007

Media-savvy Fenty Trumps School Board

The D.C. Board of Education had prepared for weeks to make today's big announcement: Its long-awaited plan to accelerate school reform--and fend off a school system takeover by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Reporters were informed last week that the board would hold an emergency meeting at 10 this morning at McKinley Technology High School in Northeast, where the plan would be unveiled.

But late last night, reporters got another urgent bulletin--this one from the Fenty team, which announced that the mayor would be holding his own news conference with police chief nominee Cathy Lanier to talk about the rash of murders over the weekend. The "availability" would be today at, wouldn't you know it, 10 a.m! Across town in Southeast.

What was a reporter to do? For most newsrooms, the Fenty duties were farmed out to the crime reporters, while the school board meeting were covered by the education reporters. Those who cover the mayor's office had to pick (full disclosure: I went to the school board announcement). While both events were well-attended by the media, only Fenty's drew live television coverage. The Post's Web site, washingtonpost.com, has posted a clip of Fenty's presser, but not of the school board's.

Carrie Brooks, Fenty's spokeswoman, said the timing was simply a coincidence, and she brushed off suggestions that the media-savvy Fenty was using his event to steal the thunder from school board President Robert C. Bobb.

Fenty did not know about Bobb's press conference until Bobb briefed him on the school board's plans at about 9:20 this morning, Brooks said. By then, it was too late for the mayor to call off his production, which in addition to Lanier included others such as an FBI official.

Some reporters found that explanation a bit hollow, considering the media and schools activists knew about the board's plans by the middle of last week thanks to numerous emails from the board.

Seems the communication between the various branches of District government could use some of the streamlining that both Fenty and Bobb have been talking about.

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Posted at 12:59 PM ET, 01/23/2007

Fenty's Education Team

D'Wanna Lee, acting executive secretary for the D.C. Board of Education, has joined the staff of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). Lee, who has worked for the school board since July 2005 mainly as a policy analyst, began Monday as a special assistant to former school board member Victor A. Reinoso, Fenty's deputy mayor for education.

Fenty, who is seeking control of the school system, already has numerous school activist and education policy experts on his staff: Jackie Pinkney-Hackett, a school activist who lost her bid to unseat school board member William Lockridge (District 4), is working on Reinoso's staff as director of the Office of Parent and Community Involvement; Bonnie J. Cain, a school activist, is special assistant to Reinoso; Abigail Smith, of EdAction, which fielded school board candidates, is special assistant to Reinoso.

Also Tameria Lewis, previously a staffer for the council's education committee, now works for Fenty's legislative director JoAnne Ginsberg, a former school board member; and Eric Lerum, another former staff for the council's education committee, is Reinoso's chief of staff.

-- reported by V. Dion Haynes

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Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 01/22/2007

Where Was Cropp?

cropppic Dignitaries galore showed up for the Jan. 3 swearing-in of Mayor Fenty and Council Chairman Vincent Gray. There was outgoing mayor Anthony Williams, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.).
The noticeable absence: Outgoing council chairman Linda Cropp.
People looking for the 15-year council veteran among the sea of more than 1,000 people at the Washington Convention Center had no luck.
So why wasn't she there?
"I wasn't invited," Cropp, who lost to Fenty in the mayor's race, said in a brief interview last week at a farewell event for outgoing council members at the Embassy Suites hotel.
Cropp, Fenty (who was leaving his Ward 4 council seat), Vincent B. Orange Sr. (Ward 5) and Kathy Patterson (Ward 3) were feted. Sharon Ambrose (Ward 6) also was honored, although she did not attend. The event was called, "Honoring a Legacy of Service."
"There really isn't a role for the chair. There is for the mayor," Cropp said, referring to the fact that Williams performed the ceremonial passing of the D.C. seal to Fenty during the ceremony
Both Fenty and Gray prompted the crowd of about 150 people to applaud Cropp's career in politics.
Cropp received a watercolor painting of the John A. Wilson Building. "Thank you so much, Madame Chair," she said, teasing Gray who has been addressed as such by council members who have not broken the habit of addressing Cropp.
The other council members received prints of the same painting. Gray pulled out the stops on the event, which featured samplings of soups, a mashed potato bar, cooks stir frying vegetables and an open bar of premium liquors.
"Brother Gray, you sure know how to throw a party," Orange said. "I probably shouldn't say this, but I was extremely happy to see carpet on the floor."
Orange was referring to the concrete-floor faux pas of Fenty's inaugural ball. Women in stilettos complained of the damage to their feet.

-- Reported by Nikita Stewart

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