The story of Julie Kroll, published in Washingtonian’s April 2014 issue, inspired you to make Lipstick & Liquor.
I first read about her in the Washington Post the day after police found her. The story took up two nondescript columns in the Metro section, and no photo was attached. While the senselessness of her death struck me on a deeply emotional level, the circumstances surrounding the events that led to her 13-day disappearance left me confused. I just couldn’t understand why a mother would leave her eight-year-old daughter in a strange neighborhood like that and stumble into the darkness with no jacket, no purse, no cell phone, and no ID on a brutally cold winter night. No one in her right mind would do that. And I couldn’t understand why the police didn’t immediately launch a massive search to find Julie when she was clearly in trouble. As I began digging, I realized Julie’s story mirrored the struggle many women face in the grips of alcoholism.
Research shows women are drinking more these days, especially when it comes to binge drinking. This can be traced to a number of cultural forces at play in society. Add to that a terrible stigma that’s attached to women who can’t control their drinking, especially mothers. It’s this stigma that keeps many of them from seeking treatment. There is also a psychological component that’s unique to women: the pressure to do it all and be perfect. I didn’t know much about alcohol addiction before this project. But after making this film, I’ve come to see how the disease can completely devastate women’s lives.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about women and alcohol abuse?
I was shocked at just how dramatic the health effects can be for women and how few women know what constitutes moderate drinking. Liver disease, brain damage, and breast cancer are just some of the medical issues that can result from excessive drinking. Women have what’s called a “telescoping,” or accelerated, course of alcohol dependence, which means they go from drinking moderately to problem drinking to needing treatment faster than men.
Why are some women more likely to hide alcohol abuse than men are?
Women face harsher judgment from family members, friends, colleagues, and society overall about drinking too much. We tend to back-slap men and forgive their drunk behavior as just being “one of the boys.” But when women behave badly because of alcohol, there’s a lot of shame involved. One of the experts I interviewed for the film had this to say: “Guilt is something you feel when you do something wrong, but shame is what you feel about who you are, and for many women, that shame is compounded every time they drink too much.” Women are concerned that if they admit they have a problem, they’ll be condemned, or worse. One of the women we profiled, Emily, told me there’s more sympathy if you’re labeled mentally ill than if you’re labeled an alcoholic.
Does contemporary culture encourage female alcohol abuse?
We have a culture that wholeheartedly embraces alcohol. Alcohol is glamorized and available in just about every social setting. With the rise of women both economically and politically, the taboos that once existed are no longer there. It used to be “un-ladylike” to drink too much, but now wine and alcohol companies are marketing directly to women with Skinny Girl cocktails, and wines such as Mommy’s Littler Helper among the growing list. There’s this idea that alcohol can help a woman unwind or cope with a stressful or painful situation. And drinking might actually “take the edge off” and put her in a good mood. But one drink turns to two and, if left unchecked, could end up three, four, or more in one night. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. I’m a moderate, social drinker who never really understood this.
So what constitutes low-risk drinking?
The National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines moderate or low-risk drinking for women as no more than three drinks in a single day and no more than seven drinks a week.
Your film also features the stories of other women in recovery. What’s the best way to encourage someone with a problem to seek help?
Before Lipstick & Liquor, I can truthfully admit, I was someone who had a tendency to silently judge women who couldn’t control their drinking, especially mothers. How could they endanger their children? Why can’t they stop drinking? Don’t they know better? Now I know better. Communicating honestly and compassionately with our families, friends, sisters, mothers, colleagues, and others when we know there’s a problem is an important first step. There’s too much silence and ignorance surrounding all this.
Have you seen this firsthand?
Recently, a woman in New York phoned to say she’d given a DVD of the film to a friend who had been fired from her job and was in denial about a serious drinking problem. After seeing the film, her friend was finally able to admit she needed help and is now in recovery. When I hear stories like that, I think about Julie. Out of her tragedy, so much good will come.
To learn more about Lipstick & Liquor: Secrets in the Suburbs, visit the film’s website.
Vince Gray is blaming his loss in yesterday’s Democratic mayoral primary on the short campaign season. His campaign manager, Chuck Thies, offered a different reason, one that was likely on voters’ minds as they went to the polls.
“One thing changed this election: Ron Machen,” he said about the US attorney for the District, who is investigating businessman’s Jeffrey Thompson’s bankrolling of an illicit shadow campaign on Gray’s behalf in 2010.
After Gray had conceded and left the mostly empty ballroom in the belly of the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, Thies stuck around for a while to talk to lingering reporters and help finish off the party’s supply of beer. While Thies said Gray is an “excellent sportsman” who will spend the next nine months focusing on his duties, he suggested Gray could have gotten the Democratic nomination had not Machen scheduled Thompson’s long-awaited guilty plea for March 10. In that plea, Thompson claimed he’d met with Gray in an aide's apartment to discuss the shadow campaign. Gray denies this.
Although Gray’s job-approval ratings remained relatively strong, polls taken throughout the primary showed that voters did not find him trustworthy, especially after “Stormy Monday,” as Thies calls the day of Thompson’s plea. Between sips of a Sierra Nevada, Thies said there had been an effort to vilify Gray, following up on his earlier claims that Gray was the target of a “coordinated smear campaign” by Machen’s office, Gray’s rivals, and the media covering the primary.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Thies continued to a dwindling clutch of reporters. “Do you think Vince Gray woke up one morning and said, ‘I’ve decided I’m going to become a crook’? This campaign: no controversy; 2010: controversy because some people failed him miserably. These are facts ignored by the journalists who have left.”
Steve Glaude, who took time off from his job as Gray’s director of community affairs to serve as the reelection campaign’s political director, agreed with Thies’s assessment.
“The media never stopped illuminating 2010,” Glaude said. “If they wrote about potholes and mentioned Mayor Gray, they did two or three paragraphs on 2010.”
Glaude believes that if the primary had been held a few weeks later, as Gray lamented in his concession speech, the mayor might have rebounded.
“I do think if we had had 20 to 30 more days, it may have mattered,” Glaude said. “I think the Thompson plea killed us.”
Four hours after polls close, Mayor Vince Gray finally appeared at his election-night party in ballroom at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill.
“Let me congratulate Councilmember Muriel Bowser for having won 44 percent of the vote,” he said.
While the sparse crowd is filled mostly with familiar faces from his administration, the first person Gray thanked was Marion Barry, the frail mayor-for-life who has been at the current mayor’s side for the last two weeks of the primary campaign.
Only 81,145 people voted in the mayoral primary, confirming the very low turnout seen across the District all day. Bowser received 35,899 votes, or 44.2 percent, to Gray’s 26,209, or about 32.3 percent. Tommy Wells finished a distant third, with 10,181 votes for 12.6 percent of the vote, while Jack Evans, who raised more money than anyone in the eight-person field, garnered just 4,039 votes for 5 percent. Busboys and Poets restaurateur Andy Shallal netted 2,657 votes for 3.3 percent.
Bowser, celebrating with supporters in Ward 8, was ready to declare victory an hour before the DC Board of Elections delivered the final tallies. “I’ve been a council member for darn near seven years, so I know a thing about running this government,” she said, responding to the Gray campaign’s closing attack that she lacks experience.
After conceding defeat, Gray started reflecting on his record. “I think work we’ve done the past three-and-a-half years has been nothing short of phenomenal,” he said. “If I am going to be in this job another nine months, I am going to work extremely hard.”
But Gray also blames his loss to the early primary.
“I hope that the city will change the date of the primary in the future,” he said. “This is really poor.” Barry concurred.
“This campaign hasn’t created much enthusiasm,” he said. Barry also said that Gray, who focused his campaign almost exclusively east of the Anacostia River in the closing days, could have spent more time campaigning in Bowser’s home turf of Ward 4.
“I told Chuck Thies that,” Barry said, referring to Gray’s campaign manager and self-declared election cop.
As much as Gray and his team want to blame an early-spring primary, Gray was dogged from the start by the federal investigation of his 2010 campaign, which was aided by $668,800 in unreported money from businessman Jeffrey Thompson. Since Thompson’s guilty plea on March 10, Gray has had to deal with allegations that he had first-hand knowledge of the scheme.
"We believe that corruption at city hall is unacceptable," Bowser said in her victory speech. "We should also acknowledge the lifetime of service of Mayor Vincent C. Gray."
Gray closed by acknowledging that DC may still get a competitive general election, with independent Council member David Catania running.
“I guess there will be a campaign upcoming,” he said. He adds that he wants his supporters to “work hard” to elect the next mayor, but he doesn’t say explicitly if that means Bowser.
As much as Gray wanted to focus on the three-plus years he’s been mayor and the months remaining in his term, his appointees were dour about his chances all evening.
“This is a wake,” a Gray appointee was overheard saying. “If this was a winner, this place would be packed.”
The light voting in today DC’s Democratic primary presents Mayor Vince Gray with his best shot for a second term—if he can get his “super voters” to the polls.
By midday on April 1, precincts citywide were reporting extremely low turnout in a close race with council member Muriel Bowser—so low that the winner may well be the candidate who can deliver voters in the final hours.
In other words, the outcome of the primary will come down to mechanics: Can Bowser’s team summon voters in the largely white precincts west of Rock Creek Park, or will Gray be able to “knock and drag” his African-American women—known as super voters—this evening?
With less than four hours to go before polls close, it’s clear that none of the four major candidates in the race stirred passion in voters. Many Washingtonians were against incumbent Gray because of allegations that he knew of corrupt contributions to his 2010 campaign. But the negative mindset rarely motivates voters to veer from their daily routines to get to a voting station.
From Chevy Chase in upper Northwest to Georgetown along the Potomac River to Congress Heights over the hills of Anacostia, precinct captains reported the lowest number of voters they had seen in years.
“Last election we had lines in the morning,” said Derek Santos, precinct captain in Precinct 141, at the Frank Reeves Municipal Center at 14th and U streets, Northwest. “We haven’t had a line all day, but there’s been no lull, either—more like a steady stream.”
By 1:30, 262 people had cast votes there, including special ballots that could be challenged. That’s about half of what poll workers had expected.
An hour later, in Georgetown, mayoral candidate Jack Evans jogged by Christ Episcopal Church at 31st and O streets, Northwest, with his golden retriever. If he had stopped to check the turnout at the church in his home turf of Ward 2, he would have found few voters. During the morning hours when voters are often lined up, one neighbor reported there were more political workers outside on the street than voters inside casting ballots. “Low turnout is good for me,” Evans said later in the day from Ward 7. “If the other candidates don’t get out their voters, that means I have a chance.”
Bowser had worked hard in hopes of turning out high numbers of supporters in the white wards west of Rock Creek Park. But at Precinct 51 at Lafayette Elementary School, turnout was low. The precinct is in Bowser’s Ward 4, but it’s west of the park. She needs strong majorities there to beat Gray.
But even deep in Gray’s territory—in largely African-American precincts east of the Anacostia River—no one seemed to be bothering to vote, according to reports during the day. Gray’s campaign manager, Chuck Thies, had predicted a low turnout. Fewer voters were supposed to give Gray an edge, since polls haves shown his base is more solid than Bowser’s. But if turnout is low across the District, either candidate could squeak out a victory.
Precinct 141 inside the Reeves Center is an ideal testing ground to gauge whether voting patterns have changed in the District. It lies at gentrification central. Condominiums are filling up with new residents along 14th Street. A Trader Joe’s just opened across U Street. But the precinct is home to middle-class African-American families as well as Latinos.
We will have to wait to see how they voted, but one result is already in: On this April 1 Democratic primary for mayor, voters made a joke of it.
Four years ago, Vince Gray won by sweeping neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River where Adrian Fenty, DC’s previous mayor, was deeply unpopular. He’s essentially trying the same strategy today, by passing out a letter in those neighborhoods reminding voters that Muriel Bowser, who is running neck-and-neck with him, is also Fenty’s heir apparent. It’s signed by someone even more popular than Gray in those same environs: Marion Barry.
“Vince is not selling a gimmicky ‘new plan’ like the other candidates who have no track record of real results for us,” Barry says in the letter. “We don’t need Muriel Bowser, who has never managed more than ten people in her life and is not ready to manage a $10 billion corporation called the DC government. The Post called her Adrian Fenty’s protégé. We’ve been there and done that.”
But even in the Ward 7 and 8 precincts on which Gray is staking his reelection, few people seem to be receiving Barry’s message. By 1:30, only 144 people had voted at Matthews Memorial Baptist Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, Southeast, where two weeks ago Barry publicly endorsed Gray.
The sidewalks outside the church are empty, save two Bowser supporters and two members of a union that endorsed Gray. “It’s been a slow grind,” says Bowser campaigner Alfonzo Holloway.
Voters are just as scarce at Union Temple Baptist Church in the heart of the Anacostia neighborhood, where the precinct captain, Robert Hairston, says 173 people voted through about 2:15 PM. Hairston expects maybe 300, or about 10 percent of the precinct, to cast ballots by the time polls close at 8.
“You’d think what we’ve seen in the news, people would get out to either get rid of [Gray] or support him,” Hairston says.
But Hairston, who has worked DC’s elections since 1998, says he is not surprised by the complacency in a mayoral election. Even in 2010, when the Democratic primary was held in September—as usual, until this year—turnout was also around 10 percent. Hairston says there are only two things that can motivate higher voter turnout in DC.
“If it’s not Barry or a presidential election, Washingtonians do not vote,” he says.
The predictions of low turnout seem to be proving out in the Democratic primary. At his Georgetown polling place, said candidate Jack Evans, he was the sole voter when he cast his ballot (presumably for himself) this morning. And the scene was only a bit more lifelike at St. Thomas’s Episcopal Church near Dupont Circle when Evans arrived to greet voters on their way in. A “few dozen” people had come through by 8:30 AM, according to the precinct captain.
“We’re looking good in [Ward] 2,” said Evans from his post outside, noting that it was his fourth stop out of 50 or 60 planned for the day.
Evans, Vince Gray, and Muriel Bowser made it a point to vote when polls opened at 7, but Tommy Wells didn’t vote until about 9:45, at Eastern Market. Eastern Market is a bit more hopping than the other polling places, with supporters of Wells, Gray, Bowser, and Andy Shallal greeting voters, but it’s still pretty empty. Shortly before 10, 287 people had cast ballots there, including Wells, who voted for his former chief-of-staff, Charles Allen, to succeed him as the Ward 6 representative, and for a reformer plank to take over the DC Democratic State Committee.
“I think part of it is because the Council did its best to depress turnout,” Wells said, noting that he failed multiple times to move the primary to the second week of June.
The most aggressive campaigner outside Eastern Market was Josh Hart, a Ward 6 resident running on the “The Rent Is Too Darn High” plank for the Democratic State Committee, the 63-member body that runs the local party. Hart and other critics of the current committee say members don’t make themselves transparent and focus more on getting tickets to presidential nominating conventions than local campaign ethics.
“It’s more the lack of doing anything,” Hart said. “We need to focus on DC issues, as well. I didn’t do this because I wanted a ticket to the Democratic National Convention.”
A few minutes after Wells departed, Bowser rolled up to Eastern Market, her sixth or seventh stop since she started campaigning at 5 AM. Bowser’s supporters planted Muriel for Mayor signs to block out as much of Wells’s signage as possible. Bowser dismissed the expectation that this will be a very low-participation primary.
“I think the turnout is going to be a lot of Bowser voters,” she said.
Saturday, 11:10 AM
Long after his motorcade is scheduled to arrive at Skyland Town Center in Ward 7, Mayor Vince Gray is still at a ribbon-cutting for the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, 12 minutes away in Fort Dupont. Steve Glaude, on leave from his job as the Gray administration’s director of community affairs so he can serve as the Gray campaign’s political director, runs back and forth across the Skyland parking lot, making sure the vehicles participating in the eventual caravan are outfitted with Gray logos. A sport-utility vehicle rigged with loudspeakers queues up a playlist composed of Chuck Brown, Pharrell, Stevie Wonder, and, of course, the latest radio ads for Gray’s re-election campaign. It looks the sky is about to open up.
In the race’s closing weeks, Gray has focused his campaign almost exclusively east of the river, largely with former mayor Marion Barry in tow. On the final, rain-drenched weekend of the campaign, the current mayor hits Ward 7, and the mayor-for-life rolls through Ward 8, following a playbook that trades computer-targeted canvassing for old-school sound trucks.
Gray finally arrives. Carl Williams, who works at Like That Barber Shop across Naylor Rd., SE, walks up to the mayor and asks him to drop in. Gray obliges and leads his entourage and media followers to the strip mall across the street. “Chuck Baby” is blasting from the sound truck.
“We got his back,” Williams says inside the barber shop as Gray works his way around every chair. “He got a good man supporting him—Marion Barry. He’s been good for the people. You gotta let him finish his work.”
After working through Like That, which is festooned with NFL memorabilia and photos of DC boxers Dusty Hernandez-Harrison and Lamont Peterson—both of whom get their hair cut there, Williams says—Gray goes a few doors down two Vision’s Hair Salon. The perfume-filled salon is less busy than the neighboring barber shop, but Gray, stuck at 27 percent in the polls with Muriel Bowser pulling even or ahead less than a week before the election, he’s desperate to churn up as much of his base east of the Anacostia River.
Twenty minutes later, Gray finally returns to the Skyland parking lot, climbs in the lead SUV, and the 10-vehicle motorcade, plus two more reporters’ cars, finally gets rolling.
The caravan stops in Stoddert Terrace, a rundown housing project in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood with a sweeping view of Northeast DC. While Gray makes door-to-door visits, the speakers blast a radio ad boasting about a recent $187 million increase in funding for low-income housing.
But some are not impressed by the mayor’s drop-in, or by any of his competitors either. “He didn’t do shit,” says a young man named Scott Thompson as he storms past the idling motorcade. “I ain’t voting for none of these people.”
On the other hand, few people are talking in Stoddert Terrace about the federal investigation into Gray’s 2010 campaign. “There’s a lot of misinformation,” says Brittney Wright, a 25-year-old DC government employee driving one of the cars in the motorcade. “He’s innocent until proven guilty. Muriel’s people ignore that fact.”
Instead, the conversations here are about economic hardship. Matthew Morton, an unemployed construction worker says Gray promised him work in 2010.
“Last two years I’ve been out of work,” Morton, 55, says. “Why should I vote for him?”
The next stop is the Benning Road Metro station, where Gray runs into a church group with members from DC and southern Maryland. Michael Barber, a pastor from Lexington, Maryland, leads a prayer as his parishioners lay their hands on the mayor’s shoulders and torso. “He’s done a fine, blessed job,” adds Sheldon Turner, a pastor at Grace Apostolic Church in Northeast.
Gray’s motorcade pulls into the parking lot of the Dorothy Height Neighborhood Library, an early-voting location for Ward 7. Pete Ross, a furniture magnate and convicted tax cheat who’s running for one of DC’s shadow senator positions, waits under a polka-dotted umbrella. As he walks toward Gray’s car, Ross, who spent $200,000 in his failed shadow senator campaign in 2012, says he plans to blow just as much this time.
“It’s a shadow campaign you can be proud of,” Ross tells the mayor, who smirks at the joke.
Gray heads into the library, where poll workers tell him he has to take off the sticker with his campaign logo before they ask him to stand for a few photographs. “I don’t distinguish campaigning from governing,” Gray says.
The caravan stops in another Lincoln Heights community, where Gray visits with Patricia Malloy, a member of the local advisory neighborhood commission. This mayoral election, the first since the Council moved the primary from September to April, has candidates bracing for an exceptionally low turnout. Only 14,000 people cast ballots during the early-voting period, compared with 22,000 in 2010.
A small electorate could help Gray, who is depending on the 27 or 28 percent of voters who decided they were for him from the start. Bowser’s chances hinge on a larger, motivated anti-incumbent groundswell.
“Regardless of what it is, he’s going to win,” Malloy says.
“Good answer,” says Gray.
Finally, the motorcade arrives at Denny’s on Benning Rd., NE, where Barry and his 17-car motorcade are waiting. Barry needs the help of two people as he gingerly sits down. Ten days after endorsing Gray, Barry is still reeling from his long hospital stay to fight off a blood infection, but he’s sharp-tounged as ever when it comes to assessing a race between his old friend Gray and Adrian Fenty protege Bowser.
“Muriel Bowser is Fenty 2,” Barry says. “Muriel would be a disaster. There’s no textbook for being mayor.”
Barry also can’t help but give himself credit for propping up the Gray campaign in the closing days. “There’s nothing but love for me,” he says. “I think everybody knows I’m a straight shooter. [Gray] has nothing but integrity.”
And for Barry, there’s nothing wrong with a strategy that focuses almost exclusively east of the Anacostia. “Washington is racially divided like most cities,” he says. “That’s not Gray’s fault. Not my fault. It’s the nature of society.”
Sunday, 11:56 AM
Jack Evans’s campaign office on 14th St., NW is a ghost town. “It’s almost snowing out there,” Evans says, walking in wearing duck boots, jeans, and a denim shirt. Evans sank to 6 percent in last week’s Washington Post poll, tied with first-time candidate Andy Shallal. Soda and snacks are piled up on tables, surrounded by thick reams of door hangers. His staff waits for volunteers to pick up canvassing packets.
Evans’s young campaign staff is there to believe there’s still a path to victory, but the candidate, who criticized Gray far less than any of the other challengers, seems to know he’s been defeated.
“I ran the campaign I wanted to run,” he says with a sigh. “Ran a real positive campaign. People told me, ‘You’d be the best mayor.’”
And in his latest agreement with Gray, Evans echoes the mayor’s criticism of Bowser.
“I don’t think she is ready,” Evans says, paraphrasing Gray’s advertising. “The mayor’s the mayor, and he’s doing a good job. What made Muriel the alternative? Was it the Washington Post?”
Evans says he has to run back to his office before he knocks on some doors himself. But he knows it’s nearly over.
“I don’t regret it,” he says. “I’d regret it if I was sitting here and had not run.”
The temperature outside has dropped into the mid-30s and the driving rain solidifying in to thick, heavy snow. But Bowser’s campaign is flush with canvassers. “How many hours?” Muriel Bowser asks her packed campaign headquarters on Georgia Ave., NW. “Fifty-two!” her supporters yell back, marking the amount of time until polls open on Tuesday.
Some present are volunteers, others signed up with the promise of $100 for a day’s work. Boxes from nearby Ledo Pizza are stacked high, while Bowser’s supporters get ready to head out with walk packets, leaflets, and photocopies of one of Bowser’s multiple Post endorsements.
Asked about the “Muriel’s Not Ready” cover that the Gray campaign put on every copy of Friday’s edition of the Washington Post Express, Bowser says, “Nobody can be surprised that a flailing campaign throws a Hail Mary.”
Bowser’s Lexus SUV pulls up to a neighborhood of detached houses in North Michigan Park in Northeast, not far from where Bowser grew up. The candidate walks down the quiet street through the fat snowflakes while a half-dozen canvassers dart between houses, calling her to sprint over when someone answers the door.
Nikki Kasparek, 31, tells Bowser she’s choosing between her and Wells, and is concerned about education as she and her wife try to start a family.
“Gray hasn’t been bad,” Kasparek says. “The scandal just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.”
“Anything other than Gray,” says Maegan Graham, 25. “I was through when that man passed out,” she says, referencing Medric Mills, who died in January when he had a heart attack outside a Northeast DC fire station and none of the on-duty fire fighters came to his aid.
Graham isn’t committed to any candidate other, but she’s emblematic of the anti-incumbent vote that Bowser’s team is trying to congeal.
“DC Council members select April 1 for the primary, now find themselves campaigning in the snow. Mother Nature, I like your style!” NewsChannel 8’s Bruce DePuyt writes in a snarky tweet.
“Doesn’t bother me none,” Bowser says on the way back to her office.
Tommy Wells, polling in third place, sits with a few supporters are in the basement of Fed Restaurant, an eatery and nightclub in Adams Morgan, for an event organized by a group called Unwined, which hosts politically themed happy hours. The snow and rain have finally stopped, but the place is deserted. One of the event’s organizers says over the pulsing music that it might be more happening in about an hour, and that Wells will probably stay until around 9:30.
But an hour and a half later, Wells is gone. “There wasn’t really much of a crowd,” the organizer says.
Q: If all I care about is getting Vince Gray out of office, since he might get indicted, do I have to vote for Muriel Bowser?
A: Bowser has broken out of the pack to pull even with Gray in the polls, though you might one day find yourself pining for Gray. He is better equipped than Bowser to manage the city, even from jail.
Q: Will anyone fix the schools?
A: Not anytime soon, since it’s taken 50 years to wreck them. Vince Gray has continued Adrian Fenty’s reforms, and he’s expanded early childhood eduction. None of the top Democratic candidates has kids in the public schools, so it’s all academic for them. In November’s general election, Independent David Catania will promise to improve schools—and he’s most focused.
Q: The city is doing better, in general: unemployment is down, redevelopment is up, population is rising. Does it really matter who’s mayor?
A: No, as long as it isn’t Marion Barry.
Q: I’m a commercial real estate developer, so I love Jack Evans—but am I just wasting my vote on him on Tuesday?
A: Yes, but if you love him, vote for him anyway. Evans can’t win, but his self-esteem would suffer if he gets fewer votes than Tommy Wells—or worse, Andy Shallal.
Q: I want to bicycle through a “livable, walkable city.” Does that mean I should vote for Tommy Wells?
A: Not necessarily. Former mayors Tony Williams and Adrian Fenty put the city on the bike- and pedestrian-friendly path. Gray has continued building bike lanes. No candidate is anti-bike, even if Wells might stripe more streets.
Q: Every time I walk home from the Metro, I worry about making it to my door without getting mugged. Which candidate will keep the streets safe?
A: The police union has endorsed Tommy Wells, but Jack Evans is the only candidate to advocate for more cops on the street.
Q: This campaign, perhaps because of the allegations hanging over Gray, has been lackluster, and it looks like voter turnout will be abysmally low. Is there anything amusing to take away from this election season?
A: Chuck Thies’s management of Gray’s reelection campaign often doubled as performance art. He got so upset with the Bowser campaign for calling Andy Shallal a “rich socialist” that he proclaimed he would be “policing this election.” Officer Thies’s enforcement actions included an attempted ban on nicknames after Gray admitted to calling businessman Jeffrey Thompson “Uncle Earl.” Prosecutors suggested that connected Gray to Thompson’s pumping illegal funds into Gray’s 2010 campaign. “When did using a nickname become evidence of breaking the law?” Thies said. “I’m afraid to use nicknames.”
Q: I am one of the few millennials registered to vote in DC. How can I make my vote count?
A: Tommy Wells has made a concerted play for the youth vote via social media. He’s holding his second town hall on Reddit, and he’s trolling for votes at bars such as the Coupe in Columbia Heights. The problem, however, is your fellow millennials: With fewer than 5,000 millennials expected to vote, your impact will be scant. But keep at it: Next election your vote might really count!
Q: Can I grab brunch at Busboys and Poets without it counting as a proxy vote for Andy Shallal?
A: With its heavy doses of fair-trade coffee and progressive values, eating at Busboys and Poets is always a political statement. But owner Andy Shallal is a businessman first, and he wants your cash more than your vote.
Q: I am a serious Nationals fan. Which candidate will look least bad throwing the first pitch on opening day?
A: Vince Gray, since he still plays in a softball league. But Jack Evans would hire a coach and throw a mean curve.
Q: I’m the mayor of a federal district that’s a national capital but not really a fully independent city—and many of my closest friends have been indicted for corrupting my last campaign. If I lose the primary, should I run as an Independent in the general election?
A: Why not? Facing indictment didn’t stop you from running in the primary.
Q: If I want Catania to win the general election, who do I vote for in the primary: Gray or Bowser?
A: Facing Gray, Catania can appeal to disgruntled Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. Bowser makes Catania’s win a longer shot: Picture Michelle Obama campaigning with Bowser. But Catania can still mount a strong campaign on his record, leadership qualities, and education reform.
The National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs through April 13, is big business for Washington's hotels, restaurants, and other service industries. It's also the peak season for the District's parking ticket apparatus, an annual phenomenon that never fails to irk pro-motorist concerns like AAA Mid-Atlantic, which is sounding the alarm for the estimated 1.5 million tourists expected to visit Washington during the festival.
"DC’s effort to add to the pink of the cherry blossoms,” says Lon Anderson, a spokesman for AAA, about the surge in parking tickets the District issues this time of year. According to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the auto club, DC authorities issue about 156,600 parking tickets during the 2013 Cherry Blossom Festival, or about 6,000 a day. The group expects about 144,000 to be written up this year.
Anderson says the city is scaring off its biggest rush of tourists harshly by enforcing so many expired meters and blocked fire hydrants.
“For me, the issue is how we treat our guests who come to Washington to have a good time,” he says. “They spend millions if not a billion dollars on our hotels, our restaurants. Parking tickets are not a good welcome mat.”
Washington is one of the more frustrating big cities for people looking to park their cars, but it’s not the worst. The personal finance website Nerdwallet rates it the nation’s seventh-worst for parking, taking into account the average daily garage rate of $19 and a car theft rate 60 percent higher than the national rate.
One of AAA’s chief laments is that unlike suburban communities like Bethesda and Silver Spring, the District does not have any municipal lots. And parking around the Mall is far from ample. A lot in East Potomac Park holds 320 cars, while garages at Union Station and the Ronald Reagan International Building have about 2,000 spaces each.
Anderson says the city should have its cherry blossom visitors park at RFK Stadium and run shuttle buses to the Tidal Basin, while the Department of Public Works employees who write parking tickets should be tasked with welcoming visitors and handing out directions to parking facilities.
Tourists do have alternatives to freaking out about where they’re going to park their vehicles, even if Anderson disagrees with the solutions. Many suburban Metro stations have attached parking garages, though Anderson dismisses that by saying most are filled up by 7:30 AM. There are also bike routes and Capital Bikeshare stations along the Mall, but Anderson says bike lanes are just a measure through which the District government is reducing curbside parking.
There are also several parking-related apps that smartphone-equipped tourists can use to ease their woes, such as SpotHero, which reserves parking spaces at participating garages, and Parkmobile, which replenishes those needy parking meters.
And as much as Anderson grouses about a shortage of parking, some transportation analysts say there’s actually a glut. Paul Goddin, an urban planner at Arlington’s Mobility Lab, writes that the United States contains three times as many parking spaces as people, and that 99 percent of them are free. Closer in, Mobility Lab also found that in Arlington, most parking garages hover between 20 percent and 80 percent filled, even in locations along Metro lines, suggesting that the Washington area might have too many parking spaces.
But if parking in Washington is as horrible as Anderson says, tourists should consider shunning the Cherry Blossom Festival altogether and head west toward Boise, Idaho, rated by Nerdwallet as the best big city for parking cars.