Hours after being implicated in a Philadelphia political corruption scheme, DC political strategist Tom Lindenfeld found himself cast out of Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser's inner circle.
Bowser, who touts her patience and loyalty with people, cut her ties with Lindenfeld not long after he was identified as fitting the description of a political consultant who served as the bagman in a plot to hide an illegal $1 million loan. Such a role would be a big turn for a longtime DC political operative who relished walloping Mayor Vince Gray over the scandal surrounding his 2010 campaign and was enlisted by the Washington Post to write a high-dudgeon editorial about cleaning up municipal politics. But it appears a campaign that Lindenfeld advised in Philadelphia did not always follow his published advice.
According to documents entered in federal court Wednesday in Philadelphia, ten-term US Representative Chaka Fattah’s 2007 mayoral campaign did not disclose $1 million borrowed from a benefactor believed to be Al Lord, the former chief executive of student-loan giant Sallie Mae. The guilty plea for Fattah aide Greg Naylor states that he and his boss attempted to pay off the $1 million and other campaign loans by funneling federal grant money through nonprofit organizations and political consulting firms.
Naylor’s plea document lists “Person B,” described as “a founder and partner in a Washington, D.C. political consulting firm,” serving as the courier. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News reported Wednesday that this characterization fits Lindenfeld, who consulted for Fattah’s 2007 race. According to plea, this individual and his company took the money around April 2007, when Fattah’s campaign looked doomed. Person B spent about $600,000 on Fattah’s behalf, including $200,000 in “walking-around money.” ("Walking-around money" is not alien to Lindenfeld's DC campaigns. Bowser's finance reports list hundreds of people who were paid up to $200 for canvassing the District in the days leading up to this year's Democratic primary on April 1.)
Person B returned the $400,000 balance after Fattah lost the 2007 election, but soon after, the source of the loan called in the other $600,000, which was not included in the campaign’s outstanding debt. With Fattah’s illicit benefactor pleading “acute financial difficulty,” prosecutors say Fattah arranged for a nonprofit organization to transfer money it received from the Sallie Mae Fund and federal grant programs to a company run by another individual identified only as “Person C.” That person’s and Person B formed a “strategic partnership” in January 2008, with the Sallie Mae and federal money first going from the nonprofit group to Person C’s company, and then onto Person B’s company, which resembles Lindenfeld's LSG Strategies, before finally being paid back to the original donor.
It was a stressful, high-stakes scheme, according an e-mail from Person B to Person C with the subject line, “You are killing me.”
“I made a commitment based on yours to me,” Person B wrote in the January 30, 2008 message. “Please don’t drag this out. I have a lot on the line.”
The transfer went through the following day, but the scheme started to unravel two months later, when the Justice Department started auditing the grant it issued to the nonprofit. Naylor’s guilty plea states that Person B’s District-based political consulting firm never did any work to justify a $600,000 payment from Person C’s outfit. Fattah is currently running for his 11th House term.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.
It’s no surprise that DC Attorney General Irvin Nathan has little respect for Paul Zukerberg, one of the five candidates running for his job in the November election. Nathan, who, like previous attorney generals, was appointed to his post by the mayor, argued in court earlier this year to stop the 2014 attorney general election from going forward. Zukerberg, who had sued to force the election to go forward, beat him.
In an exchange that followed in the Huffington Post, Nathan wrote that Zukerberg’s brutal critique of past attorneys general's failings “suggests he is not worthy of the position he seeks.”
We also know Nathan is close to Karl Racine, a well-known attorney for a large law firm who’s challenging Zukerberg.
But according to three staff members in the Office of the Attorney General, Nathan has now sought to have a hand in a race he never wanted. During a staff meeting on July 9, a day before Racine formally announced he was running, witnesses say Nathan used a staff meeting to endorse Racine.
“He praised and recommended Karl Racine,” one of the three employees told Washingtonian, “and he asked us to support him.” None of the three staffers would talk on the record for fear of retribution.
If the statements are true, Nathan may have violated the District’s Hatch Act, which prohibits public officials from using their authority to influence elections while on the job.
Questioned about whether Nathan endorsed Racine, his office said in a statement Nathan noted that Racine’s “entrance into the race was a positive sign for the District and for the office’s interest in continued quality management due to Mr. Racine’s qualifications and experience managing a large law firm.”
Nathan's comments appear to have been a crucial part of the July 9 meeting and not an offhand remark during a political discussion. On June 27, Nathan sent an email to the OAG staff that he would hold two meetings on July 9 to discuss the election and its “implications for this office.” There are no audio or video recordings of the meetings.
The District's Hatch Act, rewritten last year as part of a broader ethics measure, hasn't been tested. But it bars a public official from using his “official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.”
Nathan’s aides said it was “perfectly appropriate” for him to make his comments about Racine. They added that it would be inaccurate to say Nathan “has endorsed any candidate or encouraged staff members to support any particular candidate.”
However, one aide admitted that staffers might have drawn the wrong inference from Nathan’s glowing comments about Racine. Nathan was not available to comment.
Dan Snyder has a new distraction for fans of his NFL team: he's already working on the franchise's next venue after it leaves FedEx Field in Landover.
In an interview with Comcast SportsNet (one of the team's official media partners) released Wednesday night, Snyder says that the team is consulting with architects and considering locations about where it could play next.
"Whether it's Washington, DC, whether it's another stadium in Maryland, whether it's Virginia, we've started the process," Snyder says.
Snyder's declaration is likely to give officials in those three jurisdictions dreams of stadium-related revenue rolling through their heads, but DC and Maryland are likely to make an issue over the team's name. The DC Council voted overwhelmingly last November to brand the team's name, a dictionary-defined slur against Native Americans, as "racist and derogatory," and Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley said recently the team should change its name. (Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown, who's favored to win this year's gubernatorial election, spoke out against the team's name in February.) If the name still is a deal-breaker for Snyder by the time he's ready to start construction, that could give a leg-up to Virginia, where Governor Terry McAuliffe always avoids taking a position on the matter.
The bigger issue at play, though, is that Snyder is trying to ditch a professional sports stadium that's only 17 years old, and one that his team is under contract to play at for another 13 seasons. Even if FedEx field is bland and boring, Maryland taxpayers who put up $70.5 million to cover 28 percent of the $250 million construction cost might not appreciate the team bailing early. And there's almost no chance Snyder would build the next stadium entirely out of his own pocket. Of the 19 NFL stadiums built since FedEx opened in 1997, only one—the New York Giants' and Jets' MetLife Stadium—was built entirely with team money.
But in the interview that aired Wednesday, Snyder, who bought the team in 1999, seems intent on dumping FedEx Field as soon as he can.
"I'd like to see it sooner than later, but we love FedEx Field," he says. "It's a great place to feature our home games, but it's 17 years old now. I think it's time for us to start looking and we're doing it."
What Snyder says he'd really like is a stadium that combines the raucousness of RFK Stadium with hopefully more modern amenities than what the 53-year-old coliseum currently offers DC United fans.
"I said that I think the lower bowl sections are going to want to rock the stadium like the old days," referring to the sections of RFK that bounce around like a rickety carnival ride even at sparsely attended DC United soccer games. Hopefully Snyder (or whoever winds up paying for a new stadium) will invest in upgraded struts and hydraulics.
But wait. There's more to Snyder's flight of fancy. Not only does he want a new stadium, he wants to host a Super Bowl, too.
"I think this region, not only this town, this region deserves a Super Bowl," he says in the interview. "It's the biggest sporting event in the globe. It's the nation's capital, it's a no-brainer."
Former George Washington University President Stephen Trachtenberg stepped in it Tuesday when he joined NPR’s The Diane Rehm Show for a discussion about fraternities and sororities on college campuses. The conversation turned to the role frats play in sexual assault cases and rape culture, and in defending Greek life, Trachtenberg backed into one of the more execrable recommendations about reducing college sexual assault.
As transcribed by Jezebel, Trachtenberg, now a professor of public service at the Foggy Bottom college, suggested that campus rapes will stop if female students are simply told to drink less.
Dr. Trachtenberg: My experience is that students that are in fraternities have higher grades on average than unaffiliated students. Uh, they get involved in philanthropic activities of one sort or another providing great numbers of hours of service and fundraising on behalf of good causes. They have the opportunity to get leadership training provided by the fraternities. They get other kinds of training as well. Combatting sexual misconduct, values-based—
Rehm: And you don’t see them participating in sexual misconduct?
Dr. Trachtenberg: No no! I think it turns out that there are good and bad in fraternities and out of fraternities. What we’re focusing here on is a general situation. I think what we’re doing is creating a false correlation. For example, we point out that the women don’t drink, don’t have sorority parties which have alcohol. They don’t have to. They go to the parties at the fraternities. So it’s not as if the women aren’t drinking. They are, in fact.
Without making the victims responsible for what happens, one of the groups that have to be trained not to drink in excess are women. They need to be in a position to punch the guys in the nose if they misbehave. And so part of the problem is you have men who take advantage of women who drink too much and there are women who drink too much. And we need to educate our daughters and our children in that regard.
Trachtenberg’s prescription has been spouted off before, from widely circulated thinkpieces to finger-wagging police departments, and it always lands with a well-earned thud. Drinking to the point of incoherence or unconciousness is unhealthy, but it doesn’t transfer responsibility for a violent crime from the perpetrator to the victim.
But if this is the opinion of a former high-profile academic administrator like Trachtenberg, who’s surprised the the US Education Department is currently investigating 76 colleges and universities for poorly handled investigations of sexual assault cases? GW isn’t on that list (Catholic University and the University of Virginia are), but Trachtenberg’s comments on Diane Rehm don’t really restore any confidence.
Wendi Harris Kaufman, a well-known and beloved author who created and nurtured many facets of the DC literary community, died last night at her Northern Virginia home. Kaufman lost a long battle with cancer, her husband texted a few close friends with the news.
Kaufman's career as a writer had deep roots in this area. She received her MFA from George Mason University, where she met and began working for critic Alan Cheuse's NPR show The Sound of Writing. On that staff was another young GMU MFA graduate, Dallas Hudgens of Falls Church and publisher of Relegation Books and its university offshoot, GMU's MFA-driven Stillhouse Press. "Wendi wanted to start a writing group and asked me if I wanted to be a part of it. Along with three other friends, we've been meeting regularly--and with many laughs--for 20 years," said Hudgens by telephone this morning.
Hudgens noted that Wendi truly "created a community in this area. She was such a good friend to everyone, a giving friend, one who could be an adviser, a protector, and a spark simultaneously."
This year, Hudgens had the opportunity to give back to Wendi Kaufman: The newly founded Stillhouse Press will release Kaufman's Helen on 86th Street and Other Stories. "In her writing," says Hudgens, "I saw the same caring spirit that Wendi shared with her fellow writers, focused on her characters. Her compassion and humor shone in her life and writing."
The September 13 GMU launch event for Stillhouse Press is one that "we really want to be a celebration of Wendy's life and her work," Hudgens emphasizes. The book is available for pre-order.
David Kaufman, Wendi's husband, and her family ask that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to Life With Cancer.
Washington is one of the battlegrounds in the war for the ride-sharing market where Uber has deployed some of its more aggressive tactics to beat back rivals like Lyft, according to company documents revealed Tuesday.
According to The Verge, Uber used a company to hire “brand ambassadors” in big cities across the country to flip drivers associated with Lyft to its own UberX service, equipping operatives with pre-paid phones (also called “burners”) and credit cards to avoid detection by Lyft. The contractors would then talk up their Lyft drivers en route to their destinations, in hopes of getting them to switch sides and earn a $750 commission.
The bulk of the activity, which Uber calls “Operation SLOG,” appears to have taken place in New York, but The Verge reports that the driver-recrutiment enterprise is quickly expanding to other major cities where Uber and Lyft are clawing at each other, including Washington. Details about the scheme come two weeks after Lyft accused Uber of having its employees order more than 5,500 rides only to cancel them moments later in an attempt to disrupt Lyft's operations.
In a conveniently timed gesture at transparency, Uber published a blog post of its own describing Operation SLOG, which it says is an acronym for “Supplying Long-term Operations Growth.” (The word "slog" is also defined in dictionaries as hitting one's opponent forcefully over an extended period of time.)
“With millions of riders and ever-increasing demand for more rides in even more cities, we are always working hard to recruit new drivers onto the platform,” the company says. (The post announcing the operation is topped by a photo of a friendly looking dude in a vest and aviator sunglasses standing in front of a Prius, which is more disarming than, say, a rabble of Uber employees hunched over a battlefield map.)
The company also makes a slight nod to the pushy measures The Verge’s report accuses it of taking. Under a header titled “Marketing 101,” Uber says engaging the competition’s driver corps is part of the game, but insists it doesn’t go as far as clogging Lyft’s system with phony ride requests that get canceled minutes after being booked.
“We can’t successfully recruit drivers without talking to them—and that means taking a ride,” the post reads. “We’re all about more and better economic opportunity for drivers. We never use marketing tactics that prevent a driver from making their living—and that includes never intentionally canceling rides.”
An Uber spokesman referred Washingtonian back to the Operation SLOG blog post when asked about The Verge’s story.
What Muriel Bowser says:
“I don’t run away from people asking questions.”
What she means: Watch me run away from questions to deprive my opponent of the microphone.
“I appreciated a very genuine handshake that [Vince Gray] offered to me this morning.”
What she means: The mayor and I revile each other.
“If you’re not married at 42, people think there’s something wrong with you. I date all the time. I am private, that’s for sure.”
What she means: No, I am not gay.
“I don’t think everything has to change in the government”
What she means: Hey, black voters who turned out my political mentor: I’m no Adrian Fenty.
“You’re not mayor until you are mayor.”
What she means: Quit worrying about my not seeming “mayoral.”
What David Catania says:
“It’s past time for the candidates of this race to engage in a public discussion about the future or our city.”
What he means: Help! Until Bowser agrees to debate, I got no game.
“A label alone never puts food on the table . . . never educates children, and it doesn’t provide health care.”
What he means: Because I’m running against a Democrat in one of the nation’s bluest cities, my only prayer is to convince DC voters to abandon their party.
“People understand that even if they don’t necessarily agree with me all the time . . . I roll up my sleeves and I’m serious about getting solutions.”
What he means: My hard work makes up for my embarrassing lack of civility.
“Let me be clear—I will not be seeking reelection as a member of the council. I am running for mayor of the District of Columbia.”
What he means: After 17 years, I couldn’t stand another term on the DC Council.
“The [Democratic] primary was about who shouldn’t be mayor, not who should be.”
What he means: I really wanted to run against Vince Gray.
What Carol Schwartz says “I just want you to take me a little bit more seriously.”
What Carol Schwartz means . . . Before I disappear again to Rehoboth.
This article appears in the September 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Allstate is back with its annual ranking of US cities by the quality of their motorists, and once again, Washington’s drivers are rated among the nation’s worst. Out of the country’s 200 largest cities, DC was ranked 198th for the second consecutive year, besting only Boston and dead-last Worcester, Massachusetts.
The most important metric in Allstate’s report is the frequency at which drivers get into accidents, and DC’s drivers experience collisions once every 5.1 years, nearly twice as often as the average American driver. But while the District is plainly full of bad drivers, don’t expect the suburbs to get away dent-free. Alexandria came in 193rd place, with drivers crashing their cars once every 5.9 years.
Allstate says there’s no getting around our local drivers’ crummy reputations. The insurance company also weighted its 200 subject cities according to population, density, and weather conditions—Washington did not rank higher than 196th in any scenario.
The East Coast’s major cities are uniformly terrible at driving, too, with Baltimore ranked 195th, Philadelphia 192nd, Atlanta 179th, and New York 155th.
For a safe time on the road, Allstate recommends Fort Collins, Colorado, where drivers go more than 14 years between collisions.
As for DC’s piddly ranking, 198th is pathetic, but its better than where we used to be. Washington occupied the bottom rung for most of the Allstate report’s history before finally being displaced by Worcester and Boston last year. Help the city's reputation improve even more by not reading this in your car.
Read Allstate's full report below. You'll have to scroll down to find Washington.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.
For more than 40 years, the Washingtonian of the Year awards have been the highest honor our community bestows on people who make Washington a better place.
If you know someone who is giving his or her time and talent to improve our community, e-mail us your nomination at email@example.com or mail it to us at Washingtonians of the Year, Washingtonian, 1828 L St., NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036.
Please send all nominations by September 30, 2014. The full list of last year's honorees is available online.
Kids in DC and Maryland are trudging back to school today, but for their peers in Virginia, summer vacation is still going. The Commonwealth’s students don’t start class until next week, thanks to the state’s powerful amusement-park lobby.
Virginia prohibits city and county school districts from starting class before Labor Day, thanks to a 1986 law designed to give an extra week’s worth of busy crowds to the state’s tourism industry, especially theme parks like Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens. Despite many attempts by some legislators to allow local school systems to set their own calendars, the law survives, largely thanks to regular donations from amusement park operators, giving the statute its nickname of the “Kings Dominion Law.”
Between 2001 and 2013, Kings Dominion gave $226,544 to candidates and political action committees around the state, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. The park is equally generous with free admission. Over the same period, it gave at least 324 free tickets—current face value $54—to lawmakers. (The actual number is much higher, as several finance reports did not disclose how many free tickets the park gave.) The roller-coaster lobby was even more prolific before Anheuser-Busch sold Busch Gardens. Between 2001 and 2009, when it dumped the Williamsburg amusement park, the beer giant gave nearly $1 million to Virginia lawmakers, political parties, and campaign funds, along with its share of free tickets.
Aside from the occasional waiver—schools that miss an average of at least eight days a year can start before Labor Day—the “Kings Dominion Law” appears to be safe from any legislative attempts to allow districts to set their own calendars. (Update: Schools in Winchester city, and Frederick, Clarke, and Fauquier counties got waivers and started last week.) A bill that would have overturned the 1986 act died in the state Senate last year, while one in the House of Delegates has been stuck in committee since February. Even if the bill is recusitated when lawmakers reconvene, it's unlikely to win the signature of Governor Terry McAuliffe, who sounds like a friend of Big Tilt-a-Whirl.
“As a general rule, I do not support going [to school] before Labor Day, but I clearly would be open to looking at specific circumstances,” McAuliffe told the Roanoke Times in January. “A lot of people have talked to me, a lot of folks who have made massive investments in our tourism business.”
Kings Dominion’s parent company, Ohio-based Cedar Fair, isn’t among McAuliffe’s donors, but he’s still got plenty of reason to be sympathetic to the park’s cause. His 2013 campaign took in about $134,000 from amusement parks, sports teams, and other recreational ventures, according to donor records.
Meanwhile, kids in Virginia can take it easy until September 2. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the waning days of summer vacation—doing something on the water, biking and hiking, catching up on old episodes of The Simpsons—though state law clearly prefers they spend it at the amusement park. At least the line for the Intimidator 305 should be pretty short this week.
Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.