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October 22, 2014

Posts in "DC Mayor"

October 20, 2014

Late-Night Terrorism Drills Test D.C. Officials

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Homeland security officials staged a shooting similar to the 2013 Navy Yard tragedy. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Police in the District of Columbia responded to a staged suicide bombing shortly after 9 p.m. Sunday, on the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center site in Northwest Washington.

“Where’s everybody going? Can you help us?” a woman shrieked from a curb near the scene of the explosion.

The actress whimpered, putting on a dramatic display for observers from the FBI and other government agencies watching one act in the District’s full-scale overnight emergency preparedness drill from a nearby hilltop.

The cop who rescued the actress rushed back up to the doorstep of the brick building, avoiding the body of another faux victim who did not survive the blast. Within minutes, a firetruck pulled up and firefighters unrolled a hose, preparing to decontaminate the area in case the improvised explosive device turned out to be a chemical bomb.

“Anybody who can walk comes this way,” instructed one of the first responders near the fire truck, after getting a rundown on casualties and injuries from an officer. So far, police had found at least seven victims in the staged terror activity, including some amputees.

The dramatic exercise was staged to test the District’s public safety capabilities. The emergency responders and actors from this scene would be followed in the next few hours by the hazardous materials team, bomb squad and other specialized teams who would be reacting to multiple terrorists attacks for the training event.

Full story

October 17, 2014

Could Nov. 4 Results Render D.C.’s Budget Autonomy Case Moot?

gun presser017 071714 440x292 Could Nov. 4 Results Render D.C.s Budget Autonomy Case Moot?

Will Gray’s successor make budget autonomy suit moot? (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

More than 40 years after President Richard M. Nixon signed the Home Rule Act, legal experts in the District of Columbia are fighting about what the feds intended.

Federal appeals court judges listened to more than an hour of oral arguments Friday in the case pitting the District’s executive branch against its legislative branch. It’s round two of a legal battle launched in April.

U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Patricia A. Millett pressed a politically potent question for this time of year. Will the entire suit be “moot” after Nov. 4, when the city casts ballots for a new mayor and its first elected attorney general?

If the new administration chooses to comply with the local budget autonomy law signed by Mayor Vincent Gray in February 2013, and approved by 83 percent of voters two months later, there’s “at least a possibility that what we have right now [might] no longer be what the courts call a case or controversy,” said Walter Smith, executive director of DC Appleseed.

“The court could say, ‘Well, the case is over,’ dismiss the appeal and vacate the decision,” Smith said in an interview after the arguments. As the legal architect behind the charter amendment, he supports the D.C. Council’s appeal to require Gray and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt to comply with the law.

Budget autonomy referendum backers claim Congress provided a pathway for the District to amend the budget process via its charter. In court documents, lawyers for the D.C. Council cited House staff memos and notes from 1973 conference negotiations with the Senate to discern lawmaker’s intentions. They noted that in 1984, Congress made it easier to amend the charter.

D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan counters that Capitol Hill “put it off limits” for the council to to change its budget process. Nathan insisted the panel go “back to the merits” and uphold U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan’s May 19 ruling that the city does not have the right to spend its local revenues without seeking an annual appropriation from Congress. He wants “common sense” to prevail.

Both sides say they believe the District deserves budget autonomy, but the executive branch agrees with the House GOP and the Government Accountability Office: The city can’t cut its own purse strings.

Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser and independent candidate David Catania are both members of the D.C. Council, which voted unanimously to adopt the local budget autonomy law. Bowser, Catania and Carol Schwartz — another independent challenger for mayor and a former councilmember — have all expressed support for budget autonomy.

Paul Zukerberg, an attorney general contender, attended Friday’s arguments as a supporter of the D.C. Council. He told CQ Roll Call that, if elected, he would enforce the local budget autonomy law, but that might not be the end of the legal battle.

“There’s also a provision that would require the appointment of independent counsel for Jeff DeWitt or the mayor if they had different opinions,” Zukerberg said. “The CFO is independent so if he persisted there would still be an attorney representing him, so it wouldn’t necessarily mean the case is over.”

This hypothetical scenario is something Smith differed on. He said the CFO is still a member of the executive branch. A new attorney general’s opinion may be “binding on every District of Columbia official,” Smith said.

The appeals court has no set timeline to decide the appeal, but advocates of budget autonomy hope for a fresh start after Nov. 4.

DC Vote spokesman James Jones said he looks forward to having an elected attorney general who balances “the responsibility to uphold the law” with “viewing the people of the District as a client.”

Related:

D.C. Budget Autonomy Ruling Is Just the Beginning of Local Control Fight

D.C. Budget Autonomy Amicus Brief Takes Slap at Congress

D.C. Council to Mayor: See You in Court

D.C. Chief Financial Officer Warns Local Budget Autonomy Law Puts Home Rule at Risk

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October 10, 2014

Gray Signs D.C. Handgun Law to ‘Cure Alleged Constitutional Flaws’

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Gray signed the D.C. handgun licensing law to comply with federal ruling. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

With little fanfare, Mayor Vincent Gray signed legislation Thursday evening legalizing the concealed carry of handguns in the District of Columbia in response to a lawsuit brought against the city by Second Amendment advocates.

Under the terms of a stay in the Palmer v. District of Columbia ruling, District officials have until Oct. 22 to issue regulations related to the law, including how they will enforce a provision that outlaws carrying guns within 1,000 feet of any foreign dignitary or high-ranking federal official. The July 26 ruling briefly wiped the city’s ban on handguns from the books, something the House tried to do this summer with an appropriations rider.

“This law maintains our commitment to keeping guns out of the wrong hands and ensures the safety of all within the District of Columbia, while fully respecting the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier and D.C. Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said in a joint statement.

They say the law “cures the alleged constitutional flaws in the District’s licensing laws,” but the plaintiffs in the Palmer lawsuit are dissatisfied. Opponents say D.C. is flying in the face of the court by crafting policies that are too restrictive.

The law allows D.C. residents who own registered handguns and non-residents who have state-issued carry licenses to apply to the police for carry permits. Applicants would have to demonstrate the need for carrying a gun, and undergo more extensive training.

On Oct. 2, about a week after the D.C. Council grudgingly approved the emergency measure, attorney Alan Gura asked the court for a permanent injunction on the city’s handgun carry ban. Gura claims the city fails to treat carrying handguns as an individual right, and objects to multiple elements of the new law.

In addition to giving the police chief discretion over handgun licensing, the law establishes a “Concealed Pistol Licensing Review Board” and lays out basic rules for its operation. The mayor and attorney general would have the power to appoint three of its five members. Gura argues the board “is tilted entirely toward those with a government, law enforcement, and prosecutorial background.”

Gura makes multiple references throughout the 31-page memo to the court that city leaders are acting “hostile” to the idea of handgun carrying.

In an Oct. 8 hearing on police oversight, one councilmember took some by surprise by suggesting officers should not be armed.

“My staff won’t let me tell you that I think we oughta get rid of guns in the city and that police shouldn’t have guns, so I’m not gonna tell you that,” said David Grosso, an at-large independent, according to WNEW, which first reported the comment.

Proponents of the carry legislation point out that the bill is modeled after gun laws in New York, New Jersey and Maryland. They say each of those states’ licensing laws have withstood constitutional challenges in multiple federal appeals courts.

If the new permit law stays in place, officials say it is hard to estimate how many concealed carry permits will be issued.

“Since [District of Columbia v. Heller] allowed registration of handguns in 2008, I believe there’s about 6,000 previously registered firearm owners,” Lanier told reporters in September. She said she did not expect a large number of people to request the permits. “This is [one] of the lessons learned from Heller. I think everybody anticipated we’d be flooded with people trying to register the handguns in their home and we just didn’t see that. That never happened.”

While the District works out the details of its new regulations, carrying a gun in public remains a criminal offense.

Related Stories:

In D.C., Response to Judge’s Handgun Ruling Is Mixed and Muddled (Updated)

Norton to Congress: Hands Off D.C.’s New Gun Law

Scarce Prospects for Senate Shooting Down D.C. Gun Control

D.C. Council Considering Handgun Permit Bill

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By Hannah Hess Posted at 3:45 p.m.
DC Council, DC Mayor

Will Bowser Push Democrats on D.C. Statehood?

DC Vote 06 041607 440x287 Will Bowser Push Democrats on D.C. Statehood?

(CQ Roll Call File Photo)

National Democrats parachuted into local District of Columbia politics this week to bolster D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser’s campaign to succeed Mayor Vincent Gray, but neither President Barack Obama nor Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz made any promises to use their political capital on behalf of residents’ longtime goal.

Statehood proponents see the chief executive of the District of Columbia as instrumental to building the political alliances that can give their cause some national traction. When Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., wanted to talk statehood last month, he invited Gray to be part of the first panel and speak on behalf of the city’s residents. Gray gets to hobnob with the governors of Maryland and Virginia, the region’s congressional delegation and occasional administration officials, and the activists expect him to be on message.

“The role of the mayor is so important,” Kimberly Perry, executive director of DC Vote, said in a phone interview. Her organization has pressed this year’s mayoral candidates for their strategies for working with Congress and the president. “It’s so important at every opportunity that they get, whether they think it’s practical or not, they have got to raise the issues of D.C. autonomy,” Perry said. Full story

September 29, 2014

D.C. to White House: Don’t Fence Us Out

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Norton toured the White House perimeter on Monday morning to examine recent security changes. (Photo courtesy of Norton’s office)

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton didn’t like the lay of the land during a Monday stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue.

“On my visit to the White House perimeter this morning, I saw the ugly barriers that keep people a few feet from the fence, with signs affixed to the barriers that said ‘Police Line, Do Not Cross,’” the D.C. Democrat said in a statement released on the eve of a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Secret Service protocol.

Since Omar J. Gonzalez scaled the north fence on Sept. 19 and ran 70 yards to the unlocked front doors of the White House, the House GOP has been increasingly critical of the agency. New revelations reported by The Washington Post on Sunday, including that it took four days to realize gunfire had struck the White House in 2011, have raised fresh concern. Meanwhile, District officials fear new policies that could be detrimental to D.C. Full story

September 25, 2014

Yoga Community Argues ‘Yoga Tax’ Does Not Apply to Studios

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(Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The D.C. yoga community is working to convince lawmakers that the district’s so-called “yoga tax” does not actually apply to yoga studios.

The law states the 5.75 percent sales tax, which takes effect Oct. 1, will apply to membership of a health club, defined as a “facility for the purpose of physical exercise.” Yoga instructors are arguing that physical exercise is not the purpose of yoga, and therefore a yoga studio does not qualify as a health club and would not be subject to the tax.

Members of the yoga community made their case to representatives from the Office of Tax and Revenue last week and, on Tuesday, they launched an effort to lobby D.C. council members. Full story

September 24, 2014

D.C. Police Roll Out Body Cameras; None Planned for Capitol Police

graycam 330x330 D.C. Police Roll Out Body Cameras; None Planned for Capitol Police

Gray modeled camera-equipped glasses that are part of a D.C. police pilot program. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

Congress escalated its calls for more transparency in law enforcement in the wake of the Aug. 9 shooting of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., suggesting body cameras for police officers might improve public safety.

The District of Columbia government, however, has been looking at the technology for more than a year. Capitol Police have also been keeping tabs on the new technology.

Beginning Oct. 1, approximately 165 officers from the Metropolitan Police Department will be patrolling the District of Columbia outfitted with sleek recording devices that attach to their shoulders, head or chest. The pilot program has a $1 million budget and is expected to last six months. It involves officers from all seven police districts testing five camera models from three different vendors. Full story

September 22, 2014

D.C. Council Considering Handgun Permit Bill

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Gray worked with law enforcement and D.C. councilmembers to craft a new gun law. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call FIle Photo)

District of Columbia officials have grudgingly taken up the task of putting in place a handgun permit system in response to a July 26 federal court ruling that struck down the local ban on carrying pistols outside the home.

Last week, during a southeast Washington memorial ceremony marking the one year anniversary of the deadly Navy Yard shooting, Mayor Vincent Gray lamented the violence that ”happened right within the view of the Capitol Dome,” and called on Congress to come up with a solution.

“We have tough gun laws in the District of Columbia, which probably will have to be relaxed to some extent because of the Palmer case,” Gray said, referring to the decision by Judge Frederick Scullin Jr. in the case against the city. Gun control laws, he said, ”are now under attack by Second Amendment advocates who believe in putting the right of gun owners before community safety.” Full story

September 16, 2014

Navy Yard Memorial Event Marks Anniversary of Tragedy

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U.S. Navy Captain Michael Graham calls to let people know he is OK after he escaped building 197 following the Sept. 16, 2013, Navy Yard shooting. (Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

On the one-year anniversary of the tragic Navy Yard shooting in Southeast Washington, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, is inviting the Capitol Hill community and others to an evening ceremony honoring victims and survivors.

Among the 12 people gunned down by Aaron Alexis were three constituents from the Maryland Democrat’s district. All will be honored, along with the first responders and law enforcement involved in the response, during the 6 p.m. public ceremony at Canal Park, 1100 New Jersey Ave. SE, a green space near the Navy Yard gates.

“With so many Fifth District residents who serve in military and civilian roles at the Navy Yard — or know someone who does — many of us continue to keep our thoughts and prayers with the victims, survivors, and families of all of those affected,” Hoyer said in a statement.

In the immediate wake of the shooting, the congressman said he expected the event to renew discussion of gun control in Congress but was skeptical any action would be taken.

Twelve months later, lawmakers with oversight responsibilities in the Senate and House have probed into the security clearance background screening process that failed to identify Alexis as a potential threat. An independent panel appointed by the Department of Defense and a White House report have also delved into security clearance procedures.

President Barack Obama memorialized the rampage in a Tuesday statement and said the nation has continued to “improve security at our country’s bases and installations to protect our military and civilian personnel who help keep us safe.”

“One year ago, 12 Americans went to work to protect and strengthen the country they loved,” Obama stated. “Today, we must do the same — rejecting atrocities like these as the new normal and renewing our call for common-sense reforms that respect our traditions while reducing the gun violence that shatters too many American families every day.”

Navy Yard employees, some of the Navy’s top brass and Mayor Vincent Gray will also be in attendance for the Tuesday evening ceremony, organized by the group Near Southeast Community Partners.

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September 12, 2014

Cynics Be Damned: Krepp Endorses Norton … on Statehood Efforts

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Krepp is backing Norton on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call FIle Photo)

Ruthless campaigner Tim Krepp emailed supporters on Friday afternoon to say he wholeheartedly supports Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., and they should, too. Krepp hopes to defeat the congresswoman, who is running for her 13th term representing the District, in the November election, but he wants everyone to rally behind her on Monday. Norton will testify to a Senate panel on a cause near and dear to most Washingtonians: D.C. statehood.

“Heck, I’ll even link to her website,” the tour guide, author and former naval intelligence officer wrote in his email.

Krepp also gave considerable praise to citizen activist Josh Burch, and his group, Neighbors United for DC Statehood.

Burch mobilized much of the support on Capitol Hill, pestering staffers for meetings, and status updates on the hearing promised in June 2013 by  the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Thomas R. Carper, D-Del. The Brookland resident, who squeezes in time for lobbying around his full-time job for the D.C. government, has not been invited to testify.

Krepp is counting on Norton, Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson to make a solid case for why a 51st star should be added to the flag. Scholars on both sides of the issue will also be weighing in. An expanded witness list released Friday by the committee includes shadow Sens. Michael D. Brown and Paul Strauss, two men who effectively serve as pro bono statehood lobbyists to the Senate.

The “New Columbia Admission Act” would give D.C. voting representation in both chambers.

During a Friday appearance with WAMU’s Kojo Nmandi, Burch acknowledged that the bill is unlikely to go anywhere in the GOP-controlled House, but said the hearing would be key to getting members of Congress “on the record” about their positions.

“We need to know who are friends are publicly, and we need to know who our detractors are publicly,” Burch said, “because right now, without a vote on anything, everyone can just sort of hide behind the, ‘Oh, my boss hasn’t made a decision on this legislation.’ We need to know where public officials stand on this.”

Activists hope to pack the Dirksen committee room with statehood supporters. They encourage attendees to wear red to support the cause.

Krepp is dismissing cynicism, claiming it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy to assume statehood will never happen.

“If we declare victory after Monday’s hearing and go home, we’re going to be right back here in 2034 celebrating the first hearing in twenty years all over again,” he wrote. “We need to keep this momentum going and not let it drift away like we’ve done before. The key is sustained effort and civic involvement.”

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