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The project will cost an estimated $200 million over the next two years. By Benjamin Freed
DC officials joined Donald Trump and his family in breaking ground at the Old Post Office. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

In case DC needed reminding that Donald Trump and his family are remodeling one of the city’s most iconic buildings into a posh hotel, the real-estate clan had bells ring over Pennsylvania Avenue when they performed a ceremonial groundbreaking at the Old Post Office. A group of bells stationed in the building’s soaring tower clanged away as the Trumps and city officials stuck gold-colored novelty shovels into a dirt-filled box to mark the start of the Old Post Office’s conversion from dilapidated landmark into luxe destination.

“We will produce one of the great hotels anywhere in the world in the most exciting location—between Congress and the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue,” said Trump, in his typical understated style. “I promise you this will be a truly great—not only hotel, but economic development project.”

The General Services Administration, which manages federal property, awarded the Old Post Office to the Trump Organization last fall. The Trumps plan to spend $200 million over the next two years to convert the 1899 Romanesque Revival pavilion and tower—at 315 feet, DC’s third-tallest structure—into one of their glitzy hotels.

Before picking up their shovels, though, the superlative-happy Trumps and other speakers at the ceremony enjoyed some mutual appreciation. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said the hotel project will turn “some ugly duckling” into DC’s “first truly luxury hotel.” (Presumably, her remarks were not within earshot of the District’s two Ritz-Carltons, Four Seasons, or the Willard, which is just up the street from the Old Post Office.)

Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, did most of the speaking for her family, returning the praise back on city officials, especially Mayor Vince Gray. “Mayor Gray, you are amazing,” she said.

Pomp aside, Gray said one of the biggest potential benefits of the Trump project is its role in a broader revival of Pennsylvania Avenue as a retail and entertainment destination. The National Capital Planning Commission, the federal agency that oversees the District’s layout, recently launched a program to study the future of the famous corridor, which, while heavy on government buildings and other landmarks, is light on stores and restaurants.

In an interview with Washingtonian, Ivanka Trump said construction will begin within the next week, with a big acceleration by Labor Day.

“You’ll really start to see it in the next month and half,” she said. District officials expect the hotel conversion to create about 700 construction jobs and 300 permanent jobs, with $100 million in additional tax revenue for city coffers over the first ten years. Trump also said her family’s company has already started tinkering with a few parts of the building as its last tenants have left.

“Some of the restoration work we’ve done is amazing,” she said.

The hotel, when finished, will contain 270 rooms that the Trumps say will be bigger than any other hotel in town, averaging more than 600 square feet. The hotel will also include ballrooms, restaurants, meeting spaces, and a spa, all of which the Trumps describe as “extraordinary,” “opulent,” and “super-luxury.”

And there will be more bells. “The next time we’ll hear these bells ringing is when we’re all inside the cortile celebrating the opening,” Ivanka Trump said.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 03:33 PM/ET, 07/23/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Davis is wanted in connection with an incident that took place June 2 in Adams Morgan. By Benjamin Freed
Fred Davis at training camp in August 2011. Photograph by Flickr user Keith Allison.

Former Washington tight end Fred Davis is wanted by Metropolitan Police Department on a domestic violence charge, a police spokesman confirms to Washingtonian. Davis, 28, is accused of simple assault in an incident that occurred during the early hours of June 2 on 18th Street, Northwest, in Adams Morgan.

The assault allegation marks another episode in Davis’s turblent, six-year career in Washington. Davis, who suited up in burgundy and gold from 2008 to 2013, was suspended indefinitely by the NFL in February for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. A day later, he was arrested by Fairfax County Police for drunk driving, although a judge dismissed the charge for lack of evidence.

Davis also has a history of domestic assault. A DC Superior Court judge ruled last September that there was a “preponderance of evidence” that Davis assaulted a woman at a DC nightclub in 2011. Davis was ordered to pay his accuser nearly $20,000 after a civil trial.

DC police are asking for the public’s assistance in locating Davis, who lives in Leesburg, offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information that leads to Davis’s arrest and conviction. At six-foot-three and about 250 pounds, he should be hard to miss.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 12:59 PM/ET, 07/23/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
He married Pari Williamson in 2010. By Luke Mullins, Carol Ross Joynt

Pari and Quinn Bradlee. Photograph courtesy of New York Social Diary.

The son of Washington’s most prominent media couple is getting divorced from the yoga instructor he married four years ago.

Quinn Bradlee, the son of legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and hostess and writer Sally Quinn, married Pari Williamson at the National Cathedral in 2010. According to Politics Daily, the couple met in 2009 through one of Pari’s yoga students, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.

From the start, the couple was thrust into the spotlight. Sally Quinn triggered an uproar when she used her Post column to deflect rumors that she had deliberately rescheduled Quinn and Pari’s wedding to conflict with the wedding of Ben Bradlee’s granddaughter by an earlier marriage. (After the item ran, the Post stripped Quinn of her column in print editions, according to the Washington City Paper.)

At age 14, Quinn was diagnosed with velo-cardio-facial syndrome, a rare condition that triggers a range of neurological and physical anomalies. In 2009, he published a memoir titled A Different Life: Growing Up Learning Disabled and Other Adventures, and he was an associate producer of the 2010 HBO documentary I Can’t Do This But I Can Do That: A Film for Families about Learning Differences.

Although the legal paperwork has not been filed, Sally Quinn confirmed the divorce to Washingtonian, but she refused to answer questions regarding the circumstances of the split. “Quinn and Pari remain very close friends,” Sally says. “We love Pari very much and we still consider her a member of our family.”

In a voicemail message, Pari declined to comment.

Find Luke Mullins on Twitter at @lmullinsdc, and find Carol Ross Joynt at @caroljoynt.

Posted at 08:00 AM/ET, 07/23/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Representative Andy Harris is about to find out what it’s actually like to be DC’s local legislature. By Benjamin Freed
Harris. Photograph via Facebook.

A few weeks ago, Representative Andy Harris—the Maryland Republican who’s trying to strike down the District’s newly enacted marijuana decriminalization law—told WAMU that for people who live “in the federal enclave, then Congress is your local legislature.”

But now a group of DC activists, miffed by Harris’s outright dismissal of the DC Council, intend to make him pay for that remark by taking their municipal complaints to his Capitol Hill office. DC Vote, a group that lobbies for statehood, is asking its members to visit Harris in the Longworth House Office Building with their concerns about potholes, rats, building permits, parking tickets, and other things that DC residents ask their legislators on the council to deal with on a daily basis.

“Since Harris clearly takes our well-being to heart, let’s bring our community concerns to him,” the group says in a press release. “Be creative! Feel free to bring props, but keep in mind that firearms, explosives, and other dangerous materials are prohibited.”

District activists have been trying to mess with Harris since about a month ago when he introduced his amendment that prohibits the District from spending any money on enforcing the decriminalization law—but the 57-year-old anesthesiologist has yet to flinch. His remark about Congress being DC’s local legislature came about a week into a boycott of the Eastern Shore, which sits in his district. So far, Maryland’s coastal communities don’t appear to be feeling any sudden economic hardships, while Harris has taken several opportunities to remind his critics about his medical degree.

DC Vote is asking supporters to gather outside Harris’s office (1533 Longworth) at 11 AM Thursday. His aides did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 05:16 PM/ET, 07/22/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Obama says he supports statehood, a claim his actions haven’t always backed up. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph by Flickr user Ted Eytan.

President Obama pleased many District residents today by publicly stating his support for statehood for the nation’s capital.

“I’m in DC, so I’m for it,” Obama, an Illinois resident who’s worked in Washington for the past decade, said Monday during an event at the Walker-Jones Education Campus in Northwest. “Folks in DC pay taxes like everybody else. They contribute to the overall well-being of the country like everybody else. There has been a long movement to get DC statehood, and I’ve been for it for quite some time.”

That’s an encouraging statement, but Obama’s record as President isn’t exactly one that shows longtime support for the District’s goal of self-determination. Obama has been rather squishy on the topic over the years, famously trading away DC in 2011 to get a budget deal with House Speaker John Boehner, who insisted on banning the city from funding abortions for low-income women. The president’s concession—“John, I will give you DC abortion.”—is a sore memory for many District residents.

Obama has made many statements since then in support of DC’s goals of budget autonomy and voting seats in Congress, including last week when he threatened to veto a House-passed appropriations bill that contains an amendment aimed at canceling the city’s newly enacted marijuana decriminalization law. The White House also slapped District-issued “Taxation Without Representation” license plates on the presidential limousines last year. But some statehood activists still feel Obama has fallen short.

“Those are both parts of statehood but not the whole thing,” says Josh Burch, who runs a group called Neighbors United for DC Statehood. “Statehood is the only thing that protects us from our enemies and our friends. Barack Obama is our friend, but he’s willing to sell us out.”

In fairness to the President, Burch says there are plenty of members of Congress who voice support for DC statehood but still vote for measures that limit the city’s autonomy, such as Democratic Representatives Jared Polis and Timothy Walz, who cosponsored a statehood bill but also voted last week for an amendment that seeks to overturn local gun laws.

“This problem is not unique to Barack Obama,” Burch says. “It’s something our entire national leadership is willing to be a party to.” Still, Burch says he’s happy to hear the President’s newly vocal support statehood, even if his record is lacking.

One possible reason Obama’s affinity for DC is growing: He might stick around town for a few years after his second term ends so his younger daughter, Sasha, can finish up high school here, as he told ABC News last fall.

“It’ll personalize him to the city,” Burch says. “We’re not just a city with good sandwich joints. Talk is sweet, action is better, and thus far his actions haven’t been that supportive of us.”

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed

Posted at 04:35 PM/ET, 07/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The decision comes after recent bar crawls ended in fights and public nudity. By Benjamin Freed, Maddy Berner
Photograph via Shutterstock.

Bar crawls are something of a civic tradition in Arlington, with events drawing hundreds or thousands of young drinkers looking to get besotted as they skip from tavern to tavern. But a few recent crawls that ended in chaos prompted the Arlington County Board to clamp down on the festivities.

At its meeting Saturday, the five-member board voted to make bar crawl organizers responsible for any additional police costs that their events incur. Several bar crawls have led to fights, public disorderliness, and arrests. A St. Patrick’s Day event that drew about 5,000 revelers ended with 17 brawls, ten people caught urinating in public, and 25 people arrested.

The board gave Arlington County Police an additional $42,000 for bar crawl-related costs after the St. Patrick’s Day chaos, but the hits kept coming. During a Clarendon bar crawl last month, a young man disrobed, jumped into a car to escape police, and, after hitting several parked vehicles, was tasered and restrained by officers. Soon afterward, the Arlington board began to look into regulating county nightlife.

In voting Saturday, board members updated Arlington’s policy on “special events,” which would include the bar crawls that can attract as many as 500 mostly young drinkers, clogging sidewalks and straining the county police department’s ability to monitor them. Besides requiring organizers to cover any county-provided services (such as police and trash pickup), the new law requires them to obtain special-event permits, which would allow the county to regulate how many similar events occur in the area each year and provide enough crowd-control and cleanup help.

Even with the crackdown, the board still acknowledged the role bar crawls play in Arlington, which is home to more than 75,000 people between 20 and 34 years old, one of the highest concentration of so-called “millennials” in the country.

“They are the creative class, and they’re having a good time,” Jay Fisette, the board’s chairman, said before the vote. “These are people that help drive our economy.”

Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius tells Washingtonian the county has been working closely with Arlington businesses, and that they have been receptive to the possible changes. These businesses realize that a safe environment is better for them, too, she says.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 12:00 PM/ET, 07/21/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
A press secretary was allegedly carrying a nine-millimeter pistol when he came into work today, police say. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph via Shutterstock.

Capitol Police arrested a House staffer Friday morning for carrying a nine-millimeter handgun and magazine into a congressional office building.

Ryan Shucard, the press secretary for Pennsylvania Republican Tom Marino, was arrested at about 9:15 AM when the Smith & Wesson pistol turned up as he attempted to pass through security on his way to work at the Cannon House Office Building, according to a police statement. People entering buildings on the Capitol campus, including badge-carrying employees, are required to pass through airport-style metal detectors.

Shucard is charged with carrying a pistol without a license, which is a felony, and is being held at the Capitol Police’s headquarters. Under DC’s gun laws, which are some of the strictest in the nation, carrying a gun outside one’s home or place of business is punishable by up to five years in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.

Marino’s chief of staff, Bill Tighe, says Shucard, who lives in Virginia, was placed on an unpaid leave of absence. But Tighe adds that Capitol Police have informed Marino's office that Shucard might have brought the gun to work by mistake.

"They have said to us they have no reason to believe it's anything but an accident," Tighe tells Washingtonian.

Shucard’s arrest bears some similarities to a 2007 incident in which Phillip Thompson, an aide to then-Senator Jim Webb, was arrested after carrying a gun to work. Prosecutors dropped their charges against Thompson after Webb told them Thompson “inadvertently” brought the gun into the Capitol.

Posted at 12:20 PM/ET, 07/18/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Representative Thomas Massie also offered flimsy evidence about why he's trying to get rid of the District's gun-control statutes. By Benjamin Freed
Representative Thomas Massie, far left, looks on as Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton trashes him. Photograph by Benjamin Freed.

Representative Thomas Massie readily admits his amendment gutting DC’s gun laws, which is attached to an appropriations bill the House approved Wednesday, has no chance of becoming actual law. The Kentucky Republican is counting on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and the upper chamber’s Democratic majority to ignore his tack-on when they take up the bill. But Massie’s putting up his fight to put more guns on District streets because he doesn’t want it to go unsaid that he didn’t stick his neck out for the Second Amendment every chance he got.

“I am universally for gun rights,” he said. “Universally I’m for freedom and I’m for freedom across the country. I don’t want this to be a referendum on home rule.”

Curious, then, that these comments came minutes after he crashed a press conference staged Thursday by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC Mayor Vince Gray, and Assistant Metropolitan Police Department Chief Alfred Durham to condemn what city officials see as yet another Capitol Hill incursion into how the District governs itself. As they see it, Massie’s amendment, which would stop DC from spending any money to enforce its gun laws, is very much an attempt to trample on home rule.

Norton, with Massie standing politely among a gaggle of reporters, led off by mocking him for writing legislation that affects the District instead of his own constituents.

“Guess what I’ve just done for the people of Kentucky?” said Norton, doing her best Massie impersonation. Norton also said she spoke with a “high-ranking” White House official about working with Reid to make sure nothing similar to Massie’s amendment hits the Senate. Massie’s fellow Kentuckian, Senator Rand Paul, made his own attempt to overturn DC gun laws snuffed out last week, although he might not be done trying to futz with the District’s firearm regulations. DC’s gun laws, which allow people to own handguns and rifles as long as the guns stay inside their owners’ homes, are frequently cited as the strictest in the nation.

Durham said Massie’s amendment creates a “clear and present danger” to city residents. “It’s just ludicrous,” he said.

Norton and Gray said that even with Massie’s congressional trolling headed toward a likely parliamentary death, they’re not letting their guard down.

Upon leaving Norton’s press conference to head to the floor for votes, Massie insisted there’s a direct link between expanded gun rights and reduced crime rates. His evidence: the fact that violent crime is down since 2008, when the Supreme Court overturned the city’s longstanding ban on handgun ownership in District of Columbia v. Heller.

Aside from the supposed correlation, Massie offered no evidence that the Heller ruling actually made DC safer. Durham shrugged it off, saying that “crime is down because of the efforts of the Metropolitan Police Department.”

Massie's office art features Tony the Tiger.

 

Massie wouldn’t budge on his claim, though. “I have a spreadsheet I can give you,” he said in his office, where a carton of Frosted Flakes with his photograph next to stripey breakfast mascot Tony the Tiger is given pride of place in a glass box in the foyer. But when asked for more proof, he dismissed the gaggle, announcing  it was time to drive home to Kentucky for the weekend.

Massie’s office later supplied the spreadsheet (by Twitter) with MPD stats showing a drop violent crime between 2007 and 2011, but neither he nor his staff offered any contextual relationship between the numbers and Heller

Posted at 04:35 PM/ET, 07/17/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
All your questions about the District's new rules about weed, answered. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph via Shutterstock.

The District’s marijuana decriminalization law finally takes effect at midnight tonight. Instead of being cuffed and hauled off to jail, adults found in possession of one ounce of pot or less will pay a $25 fine. But don’t spark up just yet. Here’s what you need to know about DC’s new cannabis rules.

What caused DC to get on the marijuana reform bandwagon?

A report issued last summer by the American Civil Liberties Union showed deep racial disparities in the rates at which white and black people are arrested for marijuana offenses. In the District, the ACLU found, blacks are arrested more than eight times as often as whites, even though there’s not much difference in the rate at which people use the stuff. The report motivated DC Council members Tommy Wells and Marion Barry to introduce a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana; it passed the Council and was signed into law by Mayor Vince Gray in March.

So why did we have to wait four months?

All legislation passed by the DC Council is subject to a congressional review period, usually of 30 days of Congress being in session. But for laws that affect the District’s criminal code, such as this one, Congress gets 60 days.

What does the law actually do?

Police officers who catch people carrying an ounce or less will now reach for their ticket books instead of handcuffs. Cops will ask violators for their name and address, and while they can’t ask for proof, you can’t refuse to identify yourself or you could be arrested. The police can’t use the odor of marijuana or possession of less than an ounce as a pretext to investigate individuals for other offenses or to request a search warrant. The only exception is if a driver appears to be intoxicated.

Possession of more than an ounce remains illegal, as does public consumption and selling; decriminalization is not the same as legalization. (Giving your tiny stash to another person without payment is allowed, though.)

Does this mean we can carry our weed anywhere in the city?

Not quite. Decriminalization only applies to land under the District’s local jurisdiction. The 21.6 percent of DC controlled by the federal government—the Mall, Rock Creek Park, all those federal office buildings—still fall under federal law. Park Police, US Capitol Police, and other federal law enforcement agencies will still arrest people for possession of any amount of marijuana and turn them over to the US attorney for the District for prosecution. Metro says its Transit Police will follow the city’s lead in stations within the District boundaries.

Okay, I get it. But do the cops?

The Metropolitan Police Department is distributing materials to its officers informing them of the new rules. Besides a lengthy special order, the MPD is also giving officers wallet-sized cards outlining the decriminalization law to distribute to residents. The department plans to add the same information to its website later this week

“The department has developed and implemented training for all members, and has shared this with prosecutors and DC Housing Authority,” MPD spokeswoman Gwendolyn Crump writes in an e-mail. “As of midnight, Wednesday night, no member can make or approve an arrest for marijuana possession without having first taken this training.”

There may be some unease in the rank-and-file, though. Delroy Burton, the chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police, tells the Washington Post officers might be confused. “Our officers are going to have to go out there and enforce a convoluted mess,” Burton says.

Marijuana reform activists appear to have more confidence in police officers than their union leader.

“This isn’t rocket science by any stretch of the imagination,” says Bob Capecchi, a deputy director with the Marijuana Policy Project. “I’ve got enough faith in MPD officers they can look at fact sheets and see the new law.”

Statistics cited in the original ACLU report that kicked off the decriminalization push suggest that the District could be primed for a real drop in the number of drug offenses. Seema Sadanandan, the program director at the ACLU’s Washington chapter, says that of the 5,393 marijuana-related arrests made here in 2010, possession was the sole charge in 54 percent.

So that’s decriminalization. What about legalization?

“One popular misconception we have often heard in the community is that the District has legalized the possession or use of marijuana,” Crump writes “This is absolutely not true!”

But legalization could come soon. Pro-pot activists are waiting to see if a petition legalizing possession, consumption, and home cultivation collected enough signatures to make the ballot in November. If it did, it’s likely to pass, considering 63 percent of DC voters supported the notion in a poll earlier this year.

Council member David Grosso wants to go even further, and is pushing legislation that would create in the District a taxable, retail marijuana market similar to Colorado and Washington state.

But isn’t Congress trying to stop this?

The House on Wednesday afternoon passed an appropriations bill containing a rider sponsored by Representative Andy Harris, Republican of Maryland, that would prohibit the District from executing the decriminalization law. But as noted many times already, Harris’s amendment stands very little chance of survival. It’s unlikely to be copied in the Senate’s companion spending act, and President Obama has already signaled his intention to veto the House’s bill if it reaches his desk.

Posted at 04:38 PM/ET, 07/16/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Further misadventures for folks in possession of a District ID. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph by trekandshoot via Shutterstock.

District residents encountering situations in which they’re required to present photo identification are having a rough week.

Not long after New Hampshire was forced to remind its alcoholic beverage vendors that driver’s licenses issued by the DC Department of Motor Vehicles are just as valid as those issued by any state came another story about a District resident being held up because someone did not accept his license as being issued by a US jurisdiction.

Justin Gray, a Washington correspondent for the Cox Media Group, was trying to get through airport security in Orlando, Florida, on Saturday when a Transportation Security Administration screener asked for his license. Gray presented his ID and was blocked from going on to the gate. As Gray explained on Twitter, the agent claimed to have “never heard of the ‘District of Columbia’” and demanded a passport.

Gray was eventually allowed to board after talking to a TSA supervisor. Yesterday, after Gray’s story started garnering attention, TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein reminded people of the District’s status:

Still, Gray is far from the only DC resident who’s encountered TSA employees who need to bone up on civics. The agency was forced to make the same capitulation in February when a District resident was briefly stopped from boarding a plane in Arizona (also sometimes known as the Florida of the West).

Posted at 12:00 PM/ET, 07/16/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()