Speakers Table

Council shuffle: a deeper look...

July 21, 2011

By exerting his authority as Chairman of the D.C. Council to assign and reorganize committee chairs last week, Kwame Brown set off a firestorm of media backlash, most of which centered around speculation that it was a thinly veiled act of retribution against Councilmember Tommy Wells. Yet Wells had no support from his 11 colleagues, and the media would have us believe that members acted only out of fear. 

Politics is a rough and tumble universe, not for the faint of heart or those without conviction of thought and deed.  Most likely what we witnessed was a shift of power to members who support the maligned Chairman – not all that unusual as political posturing goes. It seems that several Councilmembers involved in the switch received coveted assignments in return for their vote.  But to view Wells as a victim does a disservice to Mary Cheh, his replacement. The move is hardly a death knell for livable, walkable communities and urbanists.

But what if the news of the day focused on the not-so-sexy achievements that take place daily inside the Wilson Building?  One might not be so quick to chastise Chairman Brown for establishing his leadership. Set aside the scandals, missteps, or alleged wrongdoing (yes, Councilmembers should be held accountable for their political and personal actions, and those suspected of self-aggrandizement will be taken to task if allegations of wrongdoing are found to be true) and consider what has been accomplished beyond the titillating headlines. 

Under Brown’s leadership, the Council has, in the midst of the gloomiest economic forecast in many years, delivered a balanced budget on time and without devastating hits to social welfare programs or unnecessary new taxes.  This Council period resulted in more than 300 pieces of legislation being passed – a sure sign that the city’s business is being taken care of.

Now, Brown has taken on stewardship of three critical government agencies – Public Schools, General Services, and Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development – and he deserves the opportunity to test his mettle in these areas before being written off.  So far, his legislative track record stands strongly in favor of preparing D.C. residents for work through vocational education and literacy programs, and putting residents to work through workforce development and job creation initiatives. He has opened the dialogue on ethical standards for the Council, and although detractors have criticized his legislation for not going far enough, he’s not turned a deaf ear to suggestions on how it can be improved.

From this perspective, the legislative branch is hardly dysfunctional. Perception is everything only if you are myopic. It’s time to ask what is really going on here and take a deeper look at the outcomes for residents, businesses, and visitors. Is Washington’s fate tied to the personalities or failings of those holding office? I think not. With one of the most educated electorates in the nation, we are capable of making our own judgments – but first we must arm ourselves with all the information.

 -- by Irma Esparza Diggs

Irma Esparza Diggs was chief of staff to then At-large Councilmember Kwame R. Brown and managed his campaign for Council Chairman.



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This is art by those who have lived it

July 11, 2011

In and around the nooks and crannies of D.C., art is everywhere -- from Dupont Circle’s “First Friday” (every 1st Friday of the summer months), to galleries, sidewalk sales, and of course, the many museums.  Until recently, however, only a few thought of visiting the Lisner-Louise-Dickson-Hurt  Home (LLDH).

Tucked away off Military Road in Friendship Heights, is one of the District’s finest institutions. LLDH is an exclusive home for indigent and modest-income senior residents.  It provides not only a home for seniors but also health and life-services. To cut corners, they could stop there. But they have gone full speed ahead.  With vision and drive, the organization and generous donors persist in keeping a special in-house program thriving: the Resident Art Program.

Jackie Kelly (Photo by: Walter Grio) Jackie Kelly

Founded in 2007 by Bonnie Grover, Lisner’s Resident Art Program sought to provide residents with a new, engaging activity. Polly King Evans, the program’s first teacher, helped participants’ find their inner creativity by teaching the art of expression and communication through various mediums, colors and technique.

Today, one can see examples of the program’s success throughout the city; both Sushi Ko restaurants (Chevy Chase and Glover Park) display numerous pieces as well as the Capital Breast Care Center.

Mary Jones (Photo by: Walter Grio) Mary Jones

The residents and their talent have generated such a creative stir that a number of fellow local artists gathered together in support of the home’s 3rd annual art show and sale held this past spring.  F. Stone Roberts developed a documentary for the program which ran throughout the evening. Singer-songwriter Sheena Alexis performed in the drawing room.  Walter Grio, Don Patron and Megan Harrington lent their talents to create a collage of sorts for each artist.  Grio, founder of “Shoot for Change”, took every participant’s portrait, which was then used by Patron to show his perception of the individuals in watercolor.  Harrington wrapped it up by interviewing each participant and writing a short essay about her subjects and their masterpieces.

Jeanne Robinson working on artwork (Photo by: Walter Grio) Jeanne Robinson working on artwork

If you missed the show last spring, don’t fret yet.  We’ll cross our fingers for an encore next year.  In the meantime, you can visit Sushi Ko, The Capital Breast Care Center or stop by Lisner.  It’s probably on your way somewhere sometime and well worth it!  Call ahead to Debbie Lyle, executive assistant to the CEO and development coordinator, at 202.966.6667, ext 3373 or email her at dlyle@lldhhome.org, OR, join the “Meet and Greet” on July 26, 2011 at Sushi Ko  at 5455 Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase, MD.

Article by Katherine Hoffman

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Kwame Brown must temporarily step aside

July 7, 2011

Last month, Ward Five Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. relinquished his chairmanship of the Council’s Economic Development Committee.  The action came two days after D.C. Attorney General Irv Nathan revealed scathing allegations about Thomas’s use of more than $300,000 in taxpayer money to fund a luxury SUV, golf outings, hotel stays and other personal extravagances.

Chuck Thies (Photo by: Chuck Thies) Chuck Thies
Just yesterday, the DC Board of Elections and Ethics struck out against Council Chair Kwame Brown with serious allegations of election misconduct.  What began as an audit of Brown’s 2008 at-large Council reelection campaign by the BOEE has snowballed in a matter under review by the U.S. Attorney.  The well documented allegations include: failure to report 210 contributions totaling $102,000; failure to report 53 expenditures totaling $169,000; an undisclosed bank account on which Brown’s brother, Che, was a signatory; inability to substantiate $174,000 paid to a company owned by Brown’s brother, and more.

In the face of these allegations and the very serious District and federal investigations, it is time for Brown to take a page out of Thomas’s book and cede his authority as Council Chair until the allegations are cleared up. While we presume innocence, Brown is in a highly influential position. He has taken control of the Committee on Economic Development, he chairs the Committee on Education and holds sway over virtually all legislative matters conducted by the Council.  Wielding such power while at the same time under investigation by local and federal authorities is inappropriate.
With a simple stroke of the pen Brown can hand over his authority as Chair of the Council to the current president pro tempore, Ward Three Councilmember Mary Cheh.   Brown needn’t resign and forgo his vote or his paycheck.  However, this powerful action would show that he puts the integrity and of the body ahead of his personal, political stature.  If vindicated, the role and responsibilities of Chair will be awaiting his return
Brown hasn’t helped his own cause. Office of Campaign Finance officials have noted the Brown campaign’s unwillingness to provide requested records. This stonewalling an investigation is conduct unbecoming of an elected official.  Also, Brown has offered no plausible explanation for the allegations. Statements made by Brown have been contradictory and his oft-used “administrative errors” excuse is flimsy, at best. Indeed, Togo West, Jr., chairman of the BOEE said, “We think there's criminal activity here,” to justify his vote to refer Brown’s case to federal authorities,

If Brown doesn’t immediately announce his willingness to temporarily step aside, the Councilmembers who earlier had leaned on Thomas to give up his chairmanship must do the same with Brown. While taking on Brown – viewed by some as petulant – comes with it inherent risks, it is the right thing to do.
Voters didn’t elect the Council to simply pass laws and spend money; Councilmembers were elected to lead and rise to challenges.  This is one such challenge (and really, seeking to temporarily clip Brown’s wings is hardly an act tantamount to a profile in courage, given the nature of the charges and investigations facing him).

In all likelihood, though, Brown will dig in his heels. Pressure from his Council peers may be necessary, as it was in the Councilmember Thomas case.  But this last resort will, if necessary, force Brown to do what he has failed to do so far: promote and protect the integrity of the D.C. Council.


Chuck Thies is co-host of WPFW's "DC Politics" show and a resident of Mt. Pleasant. 

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