Community Palette

Cutting Taxes Isn't Always a Good Idea

June 26, 2012

Cutting taxes often doesn’t boost the economy and definitely doesn’t boost trust in politicians. It can be bad when done to pander to lobbyists clamoring for cuts benefitting only a few. On the national level we spent the last decade cutting taxes for the rich and for many businesses and no rational person can claim our economy is better for it. In the District, some claim we pay exorbitant taxes, which are bad for business and growth. The facts contradict that as we have huge gains in population — percentage-wise bigger than any state in the country — and an economic boom that has seen billions of dollars pour into the city.

Before calling for lower business taxes, we should survey our business owners to see which of them live in the District and how many of their employees live here. We may find many of them live outside the District and pay no income tax here. We are prohibited by Congress from charging a commuter tax, so even if you receive income here but live in Virginia or Maryland, we can’t collect taxes from you. Studies have shown that we only tax about 66 percent of the income actually earned in the District.

We should restructure some business regulations to assist small businesses, while being mindful that regulations have nothing to do with politicians being guilty of crimes. Harry Thomas, Jr. was a thief and Kwame Brown committed mortgage fraud. Neither crime had anything to do with the tax structure or the regulatory system. A regulation I support changing is the so-called “voluntary agreement,” which is often a coerced agreement. Currently five people can stop a bar or restaurant from opening or cause thousands of dollars in legal fees before they do, to fight over issues like seating capacity. That isn’t Democracy when a few people can dictate to an entire community.

In D.C., we have 14 elected officials with any real power; the school board and ANCs are basically advisory. Thirteen Council members and the mayor have power but even they can be held hostage to both budgetary and legislative review by the Congress. Everything those 14 officials do is scrutinized by a robust press corps often fighting over who can break the next real or supposed scandal. That gets a lead spot on the broadcast or the front page. Reporting good news may get 30 seconds somewhere in the broadcast or a column buried in the Metro section. There are so many local reporters, most of whom do a great job, that each of our elected officials can be covered 24 hours a day by more than one person.

It’s crucial to remember that despite political scandals, the District is the envy of most cities and states with regard to our finances, population growth, improving environment, economic growth and technology in government. That doesn’t excuse any politician from punishment for a crime they may commit and I applaud the U.S. Attorney for moving forward with his investigations. What it does show is that the crimes of our politicians won’t bring our city down.

We are one of the greenest cities in the nation; one of only seven jurisdictions with marriage equality; and we have ever expanding bike lanes. We are moving forward with school reform and have a robust Charter School system. We are the No. 1 city in the nation to do business in according to MarketWatch and the No. 1 city in the nation that college graduates want to move to. In the area of healthcare we have the fewest uninsured children of any state and the second lowest number of uninsured adults. We have had balanced budgets for the past 14 years as required by law and have more than a billion dollars in our reserve fund. We have more than $3 billion in current economic activity with cranes going up all across the city and nearly $11 billion more in the economic pipeline.

We need to rid ourselves of any crooked politician but not convince ourselves that our politicians are any better or worse than those in the rest of the nation. In November, the voters of the District will have the proverbial chance to “throw the bums out” or re-elect those they feel are responsible for the great shape our city is in. I urge people to choose carefully and not get caught up in the false hype about how bad our city is. We have good and bad politicians and a lot of great people that go to work for our government everyday putting in a long and honest day’s work. Let us not tar everyone with the same brush because of some who are dishonest.

This article appeared in The Washington Blade, June 20, 2012


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Pastry Chef Peter Brett is My Choice for a RAMMY

June 13, 2012

All my friends know I would pass on the main course if I could start a meal with dessert. But alas diet often precludes that. That makes it all the more important that when I do have dessert it has to be special. And special is what you get from Chef Peter Brett at the Blue Duck Tavern at the Park Hyatt Washington. Chef Brett is nominated for a Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington RAMMY award.

Chef Brett combines a love of art with his passion for baking. He serves in a duel role as both the Pastry Chef for Blue Duck Tavern and catering at the hotel. When I asked about this he talked about enjoying the chance to create his memorable desserts for both an upscale urban tavern and a high end boutique hotel. He said of the desserts he likes to create, “I love the challenge of combining seasonal, local ingredients with classic techniques. The old recipes are so good, and have stood the test of time. It is great fun putting a new spin on an old American favorite."

He trained with the best being a graduate of Boston University's School of Fine Arts and L'Academie de Cuisine's Pastry Arts Program, where he studied under White House Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier. He has twice created special desserts for the James Beard House in New York City.

Blue Duck Tavern Signature Apple Pie (Photo by: Blue Duck Tavern) Blue Duck Tavern Signature Apple Pie

Chef Brettis well known in the Washington, having created memorable wedding cakes and desserts for venues such as the Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Willard Hotel, and Wolfgang Puck's The Source. He has been recognized for his work numerous times including being named Manager of the Year by the Hotel Association of Washington in 2003, and nominated for Pastry Chef of the Year by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington in 2004.

The art of dessert is more than just taste, it takes creativity. His work has been featured in Pastry Art & Design Magazine, the Washington Post Magazine, Chocolatier Magazine, Washingtonian Magazine, Food Arts Magazine, I Do Magazine, and several Time-Life Books. One of his wedding cakes is actually featured on the 2012 United States Postal Service Wedding stamp. 

His philosophy of dessert is to combine seasonal ingredients with careful technique. He aims for three to four flavors and textures on the plate, balancing sweet and tart, warm andcool, crunchy and creamy. "I like to complement flavors and textures, such as a warm chocolate cake with roasted banana ice cream and peanut brittle garnish, or I take the same flavor or ingredient and highlight it several different ways, such as fresh raspberries on a raspberry curd tart with raspberry sorbet. Flavor and texture are the starting points for me. The presentation is driven by the dessert."

For those who want to try a Chef Brett specialty at home he suggests his CLASSIC BISTRO POT DE CRÈME.

For six 4-oz servings you need;

8 oz semisweet chocolate,  6  egg yolks, 2 cups heavy cream, 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 t vanilla extract. Chop the chocolate into rough 1/2 inch pieces, or use good quality chocolate chips. Place the chocolate in a small bowl and set aside. Separate the eggs and place the yolks in another small bowl. You can freeze the whites for another use. Heat the cream and sugar in a small saucepan on medium heat until tiny bubbles appear at the edge of the pan. Gradually whisk half the hot cream into the yolks. Pour the yolk mixture back into the pan with the rest of the hot cream, stirring constantly over medium-low heat, cook until thickened and steaming, a minute or two. Do not boil.

 Immediately pour the hot mixture over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate melts, and stir in the vanilla. Pass the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a small pitcher or quart glass measuring cup. Divide evenly among six ramekins and chill two hours or more. Best served the day it is made.




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The PRIDE Parade

June 10, 2012

Mayor Vincent Gray (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Mayor Vincent Gray

I lost count of how many PRIDE parades I have been too. The first were small ones that trailed around Dupont in the afternoon and ended up with a festival behind the Francis Pool on what is colloquially called ‘P’ Street Beach, the big stretch of lawn on 23rd and P Street. I do remember my first when I hid behind a tree in the circle afraid that my picture would appear in the Washington Post because I wasn’t yet ‘out’.

Things have changed over the years for both me and PRIDE. Today I am ‘out’ and proud of who I am and the parade is a long late afternoon/evening affair with dozens of contingents and floats, bands and politicians that meanders through Dupont over to Logan Circle. The festival is now on Sunday and attracts 250,000 people to Pennsylvania Avenue, sometimes called the nation’s Main Street.

Since Anthony Williams first term as Mayor I have walked with the Mayoral contingent all but two years. As we set off from 22nd and P Street at about 4:30pm the first thing I noticed was that the crowds appeared to be bigger than ever. Maybe it was the earlier start or the great weather but it was a little overwhelming to see the diversity; Black, White, Latino and Asian, gay, straight and transgender, young and old who walked and watched in the heat for hours to celebrate PRIDE with the LGBT community.

Eleanor Holmes Norton (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Eleanor Holmes Norton

The energy one gets from the crowd is exceptional. As the Mayor’s contingent walked up P Street approaching Dupont Circle it was overwhelming, and for me emotional, to see the huge crowds and hear the cheers cascade around Circle. The cheers were for the Mayor who people understand truly believes in working towards and celebrating diversity. The LGBT community has never had a Mayor who worked so closely with them everyday in their fight for equality. But the cheers were also for the city; recognition that despite all its current issues, events like this can bring out 10s’ of thousands of people to celebrate together.

The District of Columbia has always been a progressive city. Our residents and our politicians have been overwhelmingly supportive of equal rights and with a recognition that government has a big role in helping those that need a hand and an opportunity to reach their full potential. We have the 2nd lowest number of people without healthcare in the nation and the lowest number of children without healthcare. Our human rights laws are the envy of many and in 2010 we made marriage-equality a reality in the District.

The feeling of camaraderie and excitement that was displayed along the parade route is a big part of why so many people are continuing to move into the District. They all know what a great place it is to live, work, recreate and party.

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