If Senator Rand Paul wants to lead the club of congressional interlopers who like to mess around with the District’s laws, he could at least take a statistics course first. Paul, the Kentucky Republican and Tea Party icon, is trying to amend a hunting and fishing bill with a provision that would gut DC’s stringent gun laws.
Paul wants to get rid of the District’s firearm registration requirements and the ban on semiautomatic handguns—measures he says are necessary because, he claims, DC sports the highest murder rate in the nation. From the text of his amendment:
“The District of Columbia has the highest per capita murder rate in the nation, which may be attributed in part to local laws prohibiting possession of firearms by law-abiding persons who would otherwise be able to defend themselves and their loved ones in their own homes and businesses.”
A crucial caveat here: DC has the highest homicide rate when measured against states, with 13.9 per 100,000 residents, according to the FBI’s uniform crime reporting for 2012. But the District, as it bears reminding Paul, is a city, not a state, and should be compared against other cities. The junior senator from Kentucky just made the same mistake as those websites that churn out silly rankings like “US States Most and Least Likely to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse.” (For the record, DC is 49th. Take that, Mississippi and New Jersey!)
As far as cities are concerned, that same FBI crime report puts the District’s homicide rate at eighth among cities with a population of at least 500,000. That’s not great, and it’s worth taking that ranking with the knowledge that homicides this year are up 49 percent over the same point in 2013.
But this is more about Paul attempting to burnish his political cred by foisting his whims on the District. His amendment is similar to one raised last year in the House by Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican with visions of taking over the House Oversight Committee, a perk of which is being DC’s congressional overlord. Advocates for DC legislative autonomy and statehood sound sick of these antics.
“Can you believe we’re here again?” says Kimberly Perry, the executive director of the pro-statehood group DC Vote. “I mostly want people to know Senator Paul continues to ignore his small-government principles. It’s not only offensive, it’s hypocritical and completely out of touch with local concerns.”
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is also exasperated, noting that this is not Paul’s first foray into needling the District. In a statement, her office slams Paul for sinking a 2012 bill that would have granted DC budget autonomy from Congress with an amendment that would have blocked the District government from paying for abortions for low-income women.
A federal judge ruled in May that the District’s current gun laws, including the ban on owners carrying handguns outside their homes, are constitutional. Paul’s amendment also seeks to overturn it.
The amendment will likely disappear, perhaps along with the Sportsmen’s Act he attached it to, a relatively inoffensive measure to relax fishing and hunting restrictions on federal lands. According to Politico, Paul isn’t the only senator floating controversy-stoking amendments, making it possible that the Sportsmen’s Act will suffer death by a thousand parliamentary procedures.
Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy wants to remind everyone that he doesn’t like cyclists. In his most breathless anti-bike screed yet, running in Wednesday’s issue, Milloy goes off on “bike ninjas” and “biker terrorists” so severely, he even suggests the influx of two-wheeled pedalers is so insufferable, it might be worth a hefty chunk of change for the cathartic experience of running one of them off the road with a car.
“It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine,” Milloy writes.
Do the District’s cyclists need to start worrying that the drivers with whom they share the city’s roadways might be Post readers who take Milloy’s column as a call to rage? It’s tough to say, but probably not. That’s not to say Milloy’s column isn’t shocking, insulting, and a little dangerous. Beside the suggestion that drivers swerve to the right and send the nearest cyclist flying to the curb, Milloy also wonders why more pedestrians haven’t shoved broomsticks into oncoming cyclists’ spokes.
The Post’s Metro columnists are on a bit of a run of bike rants this week, though. On Tuesday, Milloy’s colleague John Kelly scolded cyclists who ride on the sidewalks, especially downtown, where it’s actually illegal, though rarely enforced. And riding on the sidewalk in downtown DC, clogged with workers and tourists, is legitimately obnoxious and worthy of public brow-furrowing. Kelly suggests the best response to a sidewalk rider who tries to weave through knots of pedestrians is a polite request to get on the road. Sometimes it works; sometimes cyclists respond, as Kelly recounts, with a “profanity-laced tirade.” In those latter cases, it’s uncontroversial to say the person on the bike is in the wrong.
But what set off Milloy a day after his fellow columnist shook his fedora at badly behaved bike riders? Not a run-in with an actual cyclist, but a post on the smart-growth blog Greater Greater Washington featuring a video of “bike escalator” in a Norwegian city that helps cyclists get up an extremely steep hill for a fee. In his post, Greater Greater Washington editor David Alpert wonders if the same technology could be installed along the portion of 15th Street, Northwest, that climbs up the side of Meridian Hill Park.
“That’s nerve,” Milloy writes in response.
In an e-mail, Alpert tells Washingtonian he was not making a concrete suggestion to the District Department of Transportation, which is extending the 15th Street cycle track up the hill. “I was just pointing out an interesting piece of technology in another city which relates to the issues our readers had discussed,” he writes.
Don’t count on the District installing bike escalators any time soon. But Milloy could probably brush up on his knowledge of the city’s existing bike infrastructure. Besides a passing reference to the fact that of DC’s 74 miles of bike lanes, none are in Ward 8, Milloy’s factual references are limited.
If Milloy wanted to successfully diagnose the District’s bike policies as something that hurts communities east of the Anacostia River, he’d channel his rage not toward the cyclists, but toward the city officials who have not invested any new bike infrastructure in Ward 8, where the obesity rate tops 44 percent, according to the DC Department of Health.
Milloy would rather grasp about with his strange, bloody thoughts when it comes to DC’s expanding legion of terrifying bicycle owners, but this column’s deepest problem is not an incitement to commit random acts of vehicular assault. Instead, it’s a scatterbrained jumble of half-cooked thoughts that play off the often execrable “bikes-versus-cars” trope without ever arriving at a salient conclusion. A rimshot against the Washington Area Bicyclist Association here, a dig at the fact that bikes are slower than cars there. Forget about traumatic brain injuries—Milloy’s column is going to cause more traumatic wastes of time. It’s a brazen example of concern-trolling that says nothing more than, “Hey, I don’t like a thing!” A suggestion that it’s societally acceptable to clip a cyclist with a 3,000-pound car is a great way to spice it up and drive up online reads.
But the line about bumping cyclists with cars, while ridiculous, is still insulting, and does actually happen in real life.
“If we’re talking about causing actual harm, we need to be protecting bicyclists and pedestrians from bullying motorists and not vice versa,” says Evan Wilder, a photogapher who was knocked to the ground on Rhode Island Avenue, Northeast, in August 2011 by a pickup-truck driver who barked at him before clipping him with the flatbed. Wilder’s encounter, which he captured on video, helped spur the legislation that led to the $500 penalty Milloy is so eager to pay now. Perhaps more jarring, and hopefully just a sick conincidence, is that Milloy's column lands on the sixth anniversary of the death of Alice Swanson, a cyclist who was killed by a garbage truck at Connecticut Avenue and R Street, Northwest, in 2008. (The truck's driver is currently behind bars on an immigration charge, but was never charged directly for his role in Swanson's death.)
But Milloy should take note: The driver who struck Wilder, former Metropolitan Police Department officer John Diehl, didn’t just pay a fine. He also pleaded guilty to property destruction and leaving the scene of a collision, and was sentenced to community service and anger management counseling.
That’s why Milloy’s clarion call today is so ridiculous. Does he want to risk being named as a co-conspirator in all these hit-and-runs he’s suggesting? What about potential personal-injury lawsuits? Is Milloy really prepared to spend all his spare time giving depositions in tort cases?
Of course not. Cyclists should be responsible, observant of traffic laws, and polite and visible toward the drivers with whom they share the road, but Milloy is just engaging in the worst kind of bitchy, rambling clickbait. Need final proof he’s not worth taking seriously? He even swipes at the Kermit the Frog. Milloy notes that WABA volunteers will be handing out treats to people who bike to NoMa for tonight’s outdoor screening of The Muppets.
“There’ll be kids and bikes and Muppets, as if Kermit is supposed to make us forget about the biker terrorists out to rule the road,” he writes.
When a columnist starts taking shots at the Muppets, it might be time to click on something else. Then again, perhaps Milloy has a point. This footage of renegade cyclists is absolutely mortifying:
Now you see him; now you don’t.
A month after he filed papers to join the race to become DC’s first elected attorney general and head up an office with more than 700 employees, Mark H. Tuohey has abandoned his bid.
Tuohey, a well-known white-collar defense attorney, said he was stepping aside because Karl Racine, also a prominent DC lawyer, had indicated he would seek the post.
“Karl has all the qualifications,” Tuohey told Washingtonian. “I want to support someone of his caliber.”
Racine, 51, a corporate defense attorney did not respond to phone and e-mail requests for comment, though he has told associates he intends to run.
Tuohey said he had approached Racine a year ago to encourage him to pursue the job, but Racine declined. When Tuohey spoke to him recently, however, Racine said he would enter the race.
If Racine does file papers to run, he will join Paul Zukerberg and Edward “Smitty” Smith, both local attorneys.
Despite a 2010 ballot referendum calling for a vote in 2014, the DC council postponed the election, keeping the attorney general an appointed post. Zukerberg single-handedly challenged the council’s action through the courts, until an appeals panel agreed that the vote must take place this year.
Zukerberg, 56, is a defense lawyer and activist who helped start the movement to decriminalize marijuana possession in DC. In 2013, he ran for an at-large council seat in and came in fifth, with 2 percent of the vote.
Smith, 34, is a DC native who graduated from Harvard Law School and joined the 2008 Obama presidential campaign before working as a lawyer in federal agencies.
Karl Racine would come to the office with the most experience. He was managing partner of the Venable law firm’s DC office for many years, before stepping back to focus on white-collar cases. Born in Haiti, Racine got his undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and his law degree from the University of Virginia.
Racine worked as a DC public defender, but he has had little connection with local politics.
It’s becoming late in the game for anyone who wants to enter the attorney general race. The deadline for collecting 3,000 valid signatures on nominating petitions is August 6 for the November general election.
When the Silver Line starts running July 26, it’ll finally be relatively easy to get to one of the finest galleries in the Smithsonian’s vast collection. Along with the Silver Line, a new Fairfax County bus route will connect the Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center with the rest of the grid.
The new bus route will run between the Wiehle-Reston East station at the end of the Silver Line and the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly every 20 minutes, the Smithsonian says in a press release. The Smithsonian bills it as a long-overdue connection between the Air and Space Museum on the Mall and the Udvar-Hazy Center, which houses artifacts such as a Concorde supersonic jet, a Lockheed SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft, the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and the space shuttle Discovery. (There’s also an Imax movie theater that shows first-run Hollywood fare in true Imax dimensions, unlike the somewhat phony “Imax experience” screens in DC multiplexes.)
Getting to the Udvar-Hazy Center from points closer won’t exactly become a quick trip, though. The bus ride between the Wiehle-Reston East station and the museum takes 42 minutes.
The DC Cannabis Campaign has turned in more than 57,000 signatures in favor of putting a cannabis legalization referendum on November’s ballot—more than twice the signatures from registered voters required by law to get the referendum on the November 4 ballot. While the DC Board of Elections will take the next several weeks to review and validate the signatures, Adam Eidinger, who heads the group, says he is confident DCCC will have no trouble clearing the minimum.
For Eidinger, it will be a come-from-behind win. As late as the end of May, the campaign had barely collected 5,300 validated signatures. Eidinger jokes that he considered trying to steal local Democratic Party operative Tom Lindenfeld away from Muriel Bowser’s primary campaign.
“Every day we put people on the streets,” says Eidinger, who began sending out paid and volunteer canvassers in February.
Initiative 71, as the legalization question would appear on ballots, makes possession or use of up to two ounces of pot legal, but stops well short of creating the kind of retail weed industry blazing up in Colorado. It would also allow adult residents to keep as many as six marijuana plants at home, three of them flowering with buds. People would be allowed to share their cultivated pot with each other, but without payment.
Eidinger expects that the review could disqualify a high percentage of signers—chiefly DC residents whose listed addresses don’t match their voter registrations, or non-District residents. But without a concerted challenge from a marijuana opponent, Eidinger says, certification is a near guarantee.
“We hope the only challenger is Andy Harris,” says Eidinger, referring to the congressman from Maryland who has attached an amendment blocking DC’s marijuana decriminalization law to a House appropriations bill.
With the signatures handed over to the board of elections, Eidinger is preparing to campaign for the initiative itself. Although its success is likely—a Washington Post poll earlier this year found that 63 percent of DC voters support legal marijuana—the Cannabis Campaign is already printing literature for the fall, but which supporters can put to immediate use. At the Board of Elections today, Eidinger and his fellow activists passed out color leaflets printed on perforated card stock, with each panel designed to be detached and used as filter tips for joints.
The Sotheby’s auction this fall of more than 2,000 items from the estate of the late Rachel “Bunny” Mellon—art and other treasures valued at more than $100 million—could be the auction of the decade. Mellon, who died in March at age 103 at her home in Upperville, Virginia, and her husband Paul, who died in 1999, were renowned collectors of paintings, sculpture, manuscripts, jewelry, and French, English, and American furniture. His family founded the National Gallery of Art.
The announcement was vague about what items will be sold and the exact date of the sale, saying only it will be a “series of auctions this fall in New York.” The New York Times said it will be in November and will include items from Mellon homes in Upperville, New York, Cape Cod, Antigua, and Paris. A number of their paintings, by some of the world’s most celebrated artists, already were bequeathed to the NGA and other art museums.
Proceeds from the sale will go to the Gerald B. Lambert Foundation, set up by Bunny Mellon in honor of her father, who was president of the Gillette razor company and a founder of Warner-Lambert, which initially marketed Listerine, invented by her grandfather. The foundation supports Oak Spring Garden Library, her esteemed horticultural collection that is endowed to endure on the Mellons’ Upperville estate.
With Metro’s new fiscal year beginning this week, the balance on your SmarTrip card is getting a bit lighter. Included in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s fiscal 2015 budget are across-the-board fare hikes, affecting everything from day passes to bus rides to parking lots. The increases took effect Sunday.
Here’s a rundown of the new Metro rates:
- Fares will increase an average of three percent, or about 10 cents a trip.
- Short trips of 3 miles or less will increase from $1.70 to $1.75 during off-peak and from $2.10 to $2.15 during rush hour.
- The maximum fare during rush hours will increase from $5.75 to $5.90. The off-peak maximum will increase from $3.50 to $3.60.
- Using a paper fare card still comes with a $1 surcharge.
- Passes will increase to the following prices:
- Unlimited one-day pass $14.50
- Unlimited seven-day pass $59.25
- Unlimited 28-day pass $237.00
- Seven-day “short trip” pass $36.00
- Regular fares are now $1.75 for any form of payment. Previously, it cost $1.60 for SmarTrip card users and $1.80 when paying cash.
- Express buses are now $4, up from $3.65, and airport buses went from $6 to $7.
- Senior fares are 85 cents, up from 80 cents.
- Seven-day bus passes now cost $17.50, up from $16.
- Parking rates are now 10 cents more at all Metro-operated facilities.
DC Council member and mayoral candidate David Catania marched into the Capitol Hill office of Representative Andy Harris Friday morning, demanding to know why the Maryland Republican is so keen on derailing DC’s marijuana decriminalization law. It’s possible it was more campaign stunt than policy plea: With the House out of session, Harris was back home on the Eastern Shore, with only a skeleton crew left to handle Catania.
But after Catania’s visit, Harris’s staff issued an email statement in response to the Catania’s visit.
“When David Catania announced his candidacy for DC mayor, he said, ‘We need to talk about how our kids are ready to succeed.’,” Harris’s statement reads. “Really? Was he serious? Passing marijuana decriminalization bills for teenagers is not the way to lower DC’s shamefully high rate of drug abuse among teenagers.”
But Harris’s office didn’t stop there. A couple hours after Catania’s visit, Harris’s press secretary, Erin Montgomery, e-mailed reporters again, claiming that decriminalization won’t unclog the judicial system, as some advocates say. Harris’s office checked to see how many people DC currently has locked up for marijuana-related offenses.
“As of yesterday, there were 0.5 percent of persons (less than 1 percent) at DC [Department of Corrections] incarcerated on marijuana-related offenses, none of which were purely possession-related offenses,” Montgomery wrote. “The offenses for which they were incarcerated were possession with intent to distribute or distribution.”
But the DC Council took up marijuana decriminalization last year because of a massive racial disparity in arrests and prosecutions, not incarcerations, a fact that makes a one-day head-count of the city jail a flimsy statistic at best.
Nearly 75 percent of people convicted of a single count of marijuana possession in DC last year were given probation instead of jail time, according to the DC Sentencing and Criminal Code Revision Commission. But those verdicts still leave dark marks on citizen’s records that can lead to lifelong difficulties in education, housing, and employment prospects. And, with blacks being arrested for possession as much as eight times as often as whites despite no racial difference in the rate of marijuana use, the socioeconomic rationale for decriminalization is even clearer.
In a phone interview about Harris’s statement, Montgomery retreated to her boss’s accustomed medical argument about pot and kids instead. “As a physician, father, and lawmaker he’s going to protect children,” Montgomery says. She says Harris has not discussed the decriminalization measure with any DC law enforcement officials.
In his statement, Harris also called Catania’s visit a “campaign prop,” but according to Catania’s chief of staff, Brendan Williams-Kief, Catania is not the only one strutting for the cameras here. Harris, says Williams-Kief, is trying to whip up his own campaign to take over the Republican Study Committee, an influential group of socially conservative lawmakers in need of a new chairman with its previous leader, Representative Steve Scalise, becoming House majority whip.
“If there’s any kind of stunt going on, it’s Representative Harris jumping on a red-meat issue as he’s seeking a leadership post,” Williams-Kief says.
Messing with DC seems to be a prerequisite for the study committee chair. One of his rivals for the post is Representative Louie Gohmert, a mouthy Texan who in 2011 introduced a bill that would have permitted members of Congress to carry concealed handguns around town.
If so, Harris has his leadership campaign off to a good start: In trying to gut the decriminalization law, he’s earned the enmity of WAMU host Kojo Nnamdi, who singled out Harris in a preview of today’s installment of The Politics Hour.
“We welcome Representative Andy Harris, not to the show, but to the ranks of bottom-feeding, low-life, dictatorial, bullying, outside interlopers,” Nnamdi said.
Lump that in with Council member David Grosso calling him an “idiot” earlier this week, and Harris might have Gohmert beat.
A ruling Friday from the federal Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit could have a big effect on the District’s tourism industry by tossing out the city’s 110-year-old regulations over tour guides. The District’s system for testing and licensing tour guides through a 100-question multiple-choice examination is unconstitutional, a three-judge panel wrote, agreeing with the operators of a Segway tour company that the test violates tour guides’ First Amendment rights.
Bill Main and Tonia Edwards, a husband-and-wife team who have operated the popular Segs in the City tours since 2003, sued the city in 2010, saying the test—which quizzes applicants on their knowledge of DC history—restricts what tour guides can tell their customers and protects older tour guides from new competition.
The tour-guide regulations were first implemented in 1904, when Congress ordered that anyone seeking to make a profit off visitors be licensed to protect tourists from swindlers. The exam was last revised in 2010 to include more contemporary details, but remained more a test of historical knowledge than of the rules and regulations a respectable tour guide must follow.
A lower court that first heard the lawsuit sided with the District, but the Court of Appeals, just one rung below the Supreme Court, overturned that decision. In her opinion, Judge Janice Rogers Brown writes that rote memorization of geography and history offers little real protection against scam artists.
“How does memorization of addresses and other, pettifogging data about the District’s points of interest protect tourists from being swindled or harassed by charlatans?” Brown writes. “Why would a licensed tour guide be any less likely to treat tourists unfairly and unsafely by abandoning them in some far-flung spot or charging additional amounts for return passage?—surely, success on the District’s history exam cannot be thought to impart both knowledge and virtue. The District never bothers to engage with these and other basic inquiries.”
The District has not said whether it intends to appeal the ruling. While the city’s tour guides might find some relief in not having to pay a licensing fee and take a test, some of them still see the upside of tour-guide licensing, and not just because it offers a paper guarantee against hornswoggling.
“A license can do several good things,” says Tim Krepp, who conducts bus and walking tours around town. “It’s an identifying marker. The Washington Monument will give out six tickets to families but 50 tickets to licensed tour guides.”
Krepp does not like the test DC requires tour guides to complete, but he disagrees with Segs and the City’s argument that it violates the First Amendment. “I found no constraint of my free speech by my licensing,” he says.
Instead, Krepp says, if DC is going to quiz its tour guides, it should look at New York, where he is also licensed. While New York’s tour-guide test has geography and history components, it also asks about practical things like bus routing.
“I’m not talking about how tall the Washington Monument is,” Krepp says. “What I am talking about is moving a bus around town. Do you know how to turn up 17th Street at the right time? I wish the regulation was more focused on that.”
The DC Council will hold the first of many public hearings today on the proposed new home for DC United, to be built on Buzzard’s Point along the Anacostia River. The stadium would require a complicated set of land swaps and $150 million in public funds, and would mean trading the city’s Reeves Government Center for property at the proposed stadium site—a heavy lift for a mayor at the height of his powers.
But with just months left in his term, Mayor Vince Gray, who wants the soccer stadium as part of his legacy, has exhausted his influence—and his lobbying, according to council members and staff, has often turned into tirades.
“Because of the way he’s acting, he’s completely irrelevant,” one council staffer involved in the stadium deal says. “He’s the least graceful loser I’ve seen in my life.”
“He’s angry and feels disrespected,” another staffer said.
Gray lost the Democratic primary to Ward 4 Council member Muriel Bowser on April 1. That leaves him nine months in office to run the government and try to get the soccer stadium deal approved.
“Every week that goes by, his influence wanes,” a longtime council lobbyist says.
Meanwhile, agency heads are leaving the Gray administration. At this point the mayor has lost three cabinet heads and one deputy mayor, which will make it more difficult to run the government.
Pedro Ribeiro, the mayor’s spokesman, disputes the idea that Gray’s ability to secure the stadium is waning. “If he’s so powerless, why not say so on the record? That’s a clear indication he’s not as lame a duck as they would have you believe.”
Today’s council hearing will be the first of many on the proposed stadium for DC United, the District’s pro soccer team. Many aspects of the deal have not been nailed down. The council has dedicated $200,000 for a study of the deal.
Neither Bowser nor at-large council member David Catania, who’s challenging her in the November general election, have said they will support the proposed stadium.