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Machen Should be Censured for Misconduct

December 15, 2015

Ronald C. Machen Jr., formerly U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, is now at the Wilmer Hale law firm likely on his way to a long million-dollar-a-year career. This is his reward for a nearly four-year investigation of D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray’s 2010 campaign that never found any wrongdoing by Mayor Gray.

Now that the investigation has been ended by the current U.S. Attorney for the District, Channing D. Phillips, with the statement “Based on a thorough review of the available evidence and applicable law, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has concluded that the admissible evidence is likely insufficient to obtain and sustain a criminal conviction against any other individuals,” we must ask whether Machen will receive some penalty for interfering with an election. He certainly deserves to be cited for this or it sends the wrong message to U.S. Attorneys across the nation as to what is acceptable practice.

Although the investigation into Gray’s 2010 election campaign is now over, Gray has no statement from the Department of Justice saying he is innocent and that is something he should have. For four years the investigation was a cloud over his head and the heads of the citizens of the District. Many of us were constantly amazed at Gray’s ability to lead the city, and lead it well, while the investigation was ongoing with members of the Council calling for his resignation and the Washington Post leading a drumbeat of attacks against him. Under Gray’s leadership the city prospered and continued to move forward.

We will never know whether Gray would have won reelection had Machen not held a news conference one week before early voting started and stated as fact information he got from an admitted felon, Jeffrey Thompson, saying, “Gray brought a one-page handout to a meeting with Thompson detailing how $425,000 would be spent for a ‘get-out-the-vote’ effort, coordinated with the official Gray campaign. Gray presented the document to Thompson, and Thompson agreed. According to court documents, Gray thanked him and called him ‘Uncle.’”

Making the statement when he did was clearly an abuse of his office. Now with the investigation dropped, Machen is facing no penalty and Gray is left to wonder ‘what if.’ That is patently unfair.

I always have and continue to believe in the decency of Vincent Gray. I have worked with him for years and he has always stood for what is good in people. On the other hand my opinion of the Justice Department has gone down seeing how they worked to ruin the reputation of a decent man and interfered in an election without proof of wrongdoing. Another person who will never know what the results of the primary election would have been without Machen’s interference is Mayor Muriel Bowser and I am sure she would have rather won without it.

The people of the District are being well served by Bowser. She has stepped up to the plate and continued many of Gray’s programs, adding many of her own, and built a good administration continuing to move the District forward. We continue to make progress in areas like education and improving the environment, among others. We see how one administration builds on the work of past ones. Two of Mayor Bowser’s leading cabinet members first began to serve the people of the District in the Fenty administration.

I have no idea what Vincent Gray will do now. There are many ways Gray can serve the people of the District and the nation. One is to run for office but there are others as he is a seasoned and well-respected non-profit executive and has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. Whatever he chooses to do it is clear from the past he will do it well and do it with all his heart.

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Kiss Me Kate: A Dazzling Production at the Shakespeare Theatre

November 24, 2015

Monday night in the Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Hall I got to see and hear what everyone hopes for when they go to see a Broadway show. Incredible sets, great choreography, great acting, dancing and singing by talented actors all brought together by a young brilliant director. One couldn’t ask for more.

Clyde Alves as Bill and Robyn Hurder as Lois (Photo by: Scott Suchman) Clyde Alves as Bill and Robyn Hurder as Lois

Kiss Me Kate, based on William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shew is considered by many to be the best score Cole Porter ever wrote and together with writers’ Sam and Bella Spewack they produced a masterpiece. Michael Kahn, the theater’s artistic director said, “All I can say to the multitudes who have suggested this show to me over the past 29 years is that we waited until the moment was right: until we knew we could do a production that could satisfy us, with a cast that could work wonders with the material. And of course the right director.”  That has come together in this production as close to perfection as you will ever find.

The choreographer Michele Lynch has found the perfect collaboration with the director and the dance numbers are stunning. Music direction by Doug Peck is wonderful and the set design by James Noone and costume design by Alejo Vietti show off the actors and bring you into both plays, the one onstage and the one behind the scenes, seamlessly in a way that is sure to win them awards.

Let me apologize up-front to any of the twenty-six cast members and members of the production team I don’t mention here; they are all fantastic and only lack of space stops me from singling each of them out. Director Alan Paul, who previously directed Man of La Mancha and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at the Shakespeare outdoes himself here. He has assembled a cast that can do it all; sing, dance and act. He then directs them with finesse to perfection. This is a production that should head to Broadway.

The company of Kiss Me, Kate, directed by Alan Paul (Photo by: Scott Suchman) The company of Kiss Me, Kate, directed by Alan Paul

That the cast needs to do it all becomes apparent early. Kiss Me Kate is about a show within a show. The backstage antics of the cast while the show is going on and the actors need to play both parts; their character in the play and themselves as actors interacting with each other backstage. The laughs get bigger when the writers required them to confuse the play and backstage action. 

The songs by Cole Porter let the actors shine. Christine Sherrill as Katherine/Lilli Vanessi and Douglas Sills as Petruchio/Fred Graham are superb and can make you laugh and cry on Que. You want them to end up together. Robyn Hurder as Bianca/Lois Lane is breathtaking and gets thunderous applause after every number she dances and belts out. Clyde Alves as Lucentio/Bill Calhoun is wonderful and his dancing is mesmerizing. Hurder and Alves are actually husband and wife in real life.

Again with twenty-six cast members it’s hard to single any out but Brandon Bieber as Hortensio/Second Suitor is a talented singer and dancer with an aura about him can’t be missed. Con O’Shea-Creal is also a standout and Carl Draper, both because he is the tallest member of the cast and a great talent, has you watching him.

This is a show that has been staged often before but I would suggest never this well. Once you see it you will want to go back again and again because you leave the theater with a smile on your face, humming the songs, and thinking the world is really a great place.

We live in difficult times. A night at the Harman to see Kiss Me Kate will let you forget for just a moment. The show will play through January 3rd and is a perfect holiday gift for all your friends and loved ones.

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Champion Swimmer Diana Nyad Supports the Grassroot Project

October 22, 2015

Founder and President Tyler Spencer began the Grassroot Project, a 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization, in 2009. Tyler is an amazing young man who had the idea for the organization after working for two summers in South Africa on sport-based HIV prevention programs in DeBeers/GrassrootSoccer diamond mining communities.

He realized how important such a program would be in D.C. which was seeing epidemic rates of HIV/AIDS. I was lucky to meet him as he was beginning the program and to see it grow. Spencer put off going to Harvard for a year to work on the program. He has since won a Rhodes scholarship and is finishing his doctoral degree at Oxford. But he has always kept his commitment to the Grassroot Project. Ryan Pettengill, who spent 19 years in the field of health promotion and sport management, is now doing a great job as Executive Director.

Diana Nyad (Photo by: Peter Rosenstein) Diana Nyad

The idea is to use sports to educate at-risk youth in the community about HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. The curriculum focuses on creating a fun, friendly and safe environment in which youth learn healthy life styles. The programs allow kids to share their feelings and beliefs, increase knowledge, and develop healthy attitudes and behaviors pertaining to HIV/AIDS through the use of interactive games and activities. By using the vehicle of sports to influence social change, student athletes use the curriculum to combat the high rate of HIV/AIDS in D.C

The organization is designed and managed completely by NCAA Division I varsity athletes and volunteer athletes from Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University and University of Maryland. They work at more than 40 sites across the city, through partnerships with public and charter schools, Boys & Girls Clubs, MetroTeenAIDS, Latin American Youth Center (LAYC), and DC SCORES.

On Wednesday evening at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Georgetown champion long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad held a book party for her new book, ‘Find a Way’ to raise funds for the organization. She was brought to the organization by board member Stephen Whisnant, Founder and Managing Director of Stephen Whisnant Strategies.

Nyad first gained national attention in 1975 when at twenty-six she swam around Manhattan Island. A world champion distance swimmer Nyad gave up that career at age thirty. She thought her dream to swim from Cuba to Key West was over. Nyad is an inspirational speaker. She talked about her life and how after nearly 30 years of retirement from swimming at age sixty she resurrected that dream. She had spent years working in the media covering sporting events around the world including the Olympics. When her mother died at age eighty-two she thought if she possibly had only twenty-two years left to live she better fight to reach her dream. She succeeded in 2013 at the age of sixty-four on her fifth attempt.

Diana Nyad’s new book ‘Find a Way’ is available on Amazon and click Grassroot Project to learn more about this amazing organization. 

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