Truth-tellers, liars and equivocators

Archive for September 2010

Ehrlich, O'Malley and utilities: What is the 'Real Record?'

September 30, 2010 - 10:49 AM

Republican Bob Ehrlich put out a largely accurate ad last week, slamming incumbent Democratic Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley for promising to stop an electricity rate hike when he lacked the means to do so. The Democrat insists that wasn't the whole story about his record in fighting rate hikes by Baltimore Gas & Electric, and said the Republican was highlighting his own failures. O'Malley put out this ad---called "Real Record"--- in response, 

So just how real is the record O'Malley presents in the ad?

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O'Malley learns the limits of his powers

September 28, 2010 - 03:45 PM

In the United States, the powers of chief executives are limited. This is, in some ways, the entire point of our nation's existence.

So governors aren't just able to arbitrarily set the prices for goods and services. Cars can't just cost three bucks if the governor wishes it so, and beans can't just cost seven cents.

Beginning in 1999, when the General Assembly voted to deregulate the electricity market, Maryland applied this same standard to electric power. A Public Service Commission, with five members appointed by the governor, would be empowered to approve rate hikes. But what they could do to control rates was quite limited, based on the market rate for electricity.

Seven years later, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley was running for governor, and repeatedly attacked the Republican incumbent, Bob Ehrlich, for offering a tepid response to a proposed 72 percent rate increase by Baltimore Gas & Electric. Ehrlich's hands were basically tied — the governor didn't have the power to stop increases.

O'Malley won the election, and guess what happened? Utility rates went up.

Now there's a role reversal going on: Ehrlich is trying to get back his old job from incumbent O'Malley, and the utility-related attacks are going in the opposite direction. A TV ad Ehrlich released last week revisits the utility episode. But does it paint an accurate picture?

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D.C. education reform: Is it all about the children?

September 27, 2010 - 06:01 AM

When it comes to education reform in the District, presumptive D.C. mayor-elect Vince Gray and public schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee are only trying to do what’s best for the children. Or the teachers union. Or the D.C. Council. Or themselves.

But mostly the children. Or so they say.

"Yesterday's election results were devastating, devastating,” said Rhee, when asked about the Gray's victory after the Democratic primary in September (she later clarified her remarks.) ”Not for me, because I'll be fine, and not even for Fenty because he'll be fine, but devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C."

Gray, speaking during in the wake of his primary win, said: “I want to do what is best for the children of our city.”

His spokeswoman bemoaned the suffering of the children, who were probably keeping close tabs on this year’s contest, in between swapping Silly Bandz and mourning the loss of their chocolate milk.

"It is unfortunate that the children have been thrown in the middle the political fray," spokeswoman Traci Hughes said. "Chairman Gray has made it very clear from the very beginning: He will continue education reform. It's his top priority already and he will put children first.”

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Redskins fact check: Dick Stockton, Charles Davis, and Jim Mora, Jr. for Week 3 versus the Rams

September 26, 2010 - 05:55 PM

The Facts Machine is back for Week 3, and we're fact checking and live-blogging the Fox announcers during the Redskins' game against the Rams.

7:23 p.m. — After some confusion over what exactly the Redskins' record was, we have a ballgame.

7:13 p.m. — Sam is trying to rationalize. He points out the Rams' two losses were by a combined six points. "The Redskins ran in to a buzzsaw tonight."

7:11 p.m. — Sonny: "I'm going to read a stat for you, Sam. You won't like it ... If they lose, the Redskins will have lost 11 of the last 12 road games." Sam: "That's terrible ... You got any good news for me?" Sonny: "I just read what they give me."

7:11 p.m. — Sonny is very disappointed in the Skins' lack of urgency.

7:04 p.m. — I'm switching to Sonny and Sam. I miss them too much.

6:39 p.m. — Am I missing the stupidity? Or is this just a really competent group of announcers?

5:55 p.m. — Why would anyone listen to these guys as opposed to Sonny and Sam?

4:55 p.m. — Davis: "It's not like when a rookie touches the ball, an angel gets its wings." What?

4:40 p.m. — Stockton just started drawing a parallel between Gano sending his opening kickoff out-of-bounds (which gave the Rams excellent field position) and sending that punt out-of-bounds (which gave the Rams poor field position). Luckily, he stopped himself before finishing an inane comparison.

4:30 p.m. — Mike Sellers just made a catch while wearing gloves. I believe this disproves Sam Huff's thesis from last week. Also, Davis praised Sellers' receiving ability. He apparently missed Sellers' season-long case of the drops.

4:23 p.m. — I was about to write about how Mora had been rather quiet so far. Stockton just revealed why: His microphone isn't working.

4:22 p.m. — Feeling a temptation to switch to Sonny and Sam. I really want to know how they're dealing with this performance.

4:06 p.m. — And we're off!

3:57 p.m. — In a bit of news somewhat related to the Redskins, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley forgot who the Redskins' quarterback was during an appearance in Prince George's County this weekend. A helpful union member told him it was Donovan McNabb.

The former Baltimore mayor, who roots for the Ravens, did get in this zinger regarding his opponent, Republican former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, and tax increases: "He says hike more than Joe Flacco." There was much knee-slapping.

3:51 p.m. — We're going to give Sonny and Sam a break this week, and experience the game the way most of our readers will: on television. Unfortunately, TBD Headquarters lacks couches, a big screen HDTV and beer, so it won't be exactly the same.

Our announcers this week are Dick Stockton, Charles Davis and Jim Mora, Jr. (That's the former Seahawks coach, not the former Colts coach, just to clear up any lingering confusion.)

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Does O'Malley's tune include a lot of tax increases?

September 24, 2010 - 02:11 PM
O'Malley's March
Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley performs in 2002 with his band, O'Malley's March. The band has been on hiatus since O'Malley was elected governor.

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's Republican critics have never been shy about mocking the governor for serving as the the lead singer and guitarist of O'Malley's March, a Celtic rock band.

The band has slowed down since their frontman ascended to the governor's office, but that didn't prevent former Gov. Bob Ehrlich's campaign from releasing a humorous web-only video outlining O'Malley's "greatest hits." While it never directly mentions the governor's side project, it still uses footage of O'Malley strumming an acoustic guitar and turns the governor's musical talents against him.

Most of the "hits" are taxes O'Malley and the General Assembly raised during a 2007 special session designed to close a $1.4 billion deficit. O'Malley and state legislators hoped the increases, along with spending cuts and the authorization of a referendum on legalizing slot machines in Maryland, would close the state's persistent deficit. O'Malley has alleged Ehrlich's big-spending ways created the gap.

So is the incumbent really responsible for all these "hits?"

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Democratic ad links Ehrlich to big business

September 24, 2010 - 05:00 AM

Since the millions raised by former Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) and incumbent Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) won't buy enough ads targeted at undecided Maryland voters, out-of-state interest groups are now blanketing the state with television ads.

After the Republican Governors Association debuted a new ad Tuesday slamming O'Malley, the Democratic Governors Association launched its own ad labeling Ehrlich as a shrill for big business. (The ad says it's paid for by Citizens for Strength and Security, which is funded partially by the DGA.)

The ad draws a variety of links between Ehrlich and businesses, but the Republican has never run from his business-friendly reputation, and it's a centerpiece of his campaign to win back his seat. The DGA's ad casts that reputation in a less flattering light than Ehrlich would prefer.

This ad excites The Facts Machine because it brings up some new topics — TARP, electricity rates, the Ehrlichs' ties to Comcast — and all this talk about budgets was getting pretty boring.

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Fact check: O'Malley's latest attempts to educate

September 23, 2010 - 05:00 AM

Governor Martin O’Malley’s latest campaign ad starts with him in his childhood neighborhood in Rockville, reminding the swing voters in Montgomery County that the former Baltimore mayor and councilmember has roots in the D.C. region. (This is his first TV ad in the Washington market.)

In the ad, O’Malley goes on to tout his education record, and talk about Maryland's outstanding public schools. "It's a tradition here in Maryland," the governor declares.

Here’s what O'Malley claims he's done for Maryland schools, and what the truth reveals:

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Republican Governors Association attacks O'Malley, doesn't have all their facts straight

September 21, 2010 - 11:43 AM
Gov. Martin O'Malley, shown here being questioned by reporters alongside Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, is being attacked by the Republican Governor's Association in a new ad. (Photo: Associated Press)

While both Maryland gubernatorial candidates have been flooding Baltimore-area airwaves for weeks with TV ads, the Washington market has been left out of the fun until now. Both Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley’s campaign and the Republican Governors Association debuted ads today that are airing in the Washington market.

The RGA’s ad is a full frontal attack on the governor. The ad, titled "Backwards," has an accompanying website, and argues the governor’s policies have caused an economic catastrophe in the Old Line State.

(We're having trouble embedding the ad, so you'll have to click on the link above to watch it.)

Let’s break down the ad’s claims.

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Did a crackdown on illegal immigrants in Prince William lead to a drop in crime?

September 20, 2010 - 03:21 PM
Corey Stewart
Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart, front, has led a crackdown on illegal immigration. (Photo: Associated Press)

There’s a not-so-subtle competition between different jurisdictions in the greater D.C. area. The District and its suburban counties are often set up in zero-sum games. Either Lockheed Martin brings its hundreds of jobs and millions in construction to Prince George’s, or it brings it to Alexandria. Either the double-income, highly educated family moves to Montgomery, or it decides to settle in Loudon.

So while there are certain things every politician in the region wants — an improved Metro system, for example — it’s difficult for them to avoid hyping their jurisdiction at the expense of another.

Corey Stewart (R), the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, fell into this trap while appearing on WAMU’s The Politics Hour Friday. Stewart, who is leading the Virginia Rule of Law campaign to implement an Arizona-esque immigration law in Virginia, and has led a push to crack down on illegal immigration in Prince William, was comparing crime in Prince William to crime in Montgomery County, Md., which is friendlier to illegal immigrants. (Quotes come from this transcript.)

"The University of Virginia and its report that goes out in November, its final report is going to show that illegal aliens ... did in fact flee Prince William County," Stewart said. "As they did, our violent crime rate did fall by 37 percent."

"Violent crime rates, however, have been falling around the region," host Kojo Nnamdi countered. "To what extent do you attribute that to the police work that's led to that, on the one hand, or to the fleeing of illegal immigrants, on the other?"

"There has been a long-term trend toward a declining crime rate across the nation," Stewart said in return. "In fact, Loudoun and Fairfax Counties did have slight reductions in their crime rates over the same period of time, but they did not plummet like they did in Prince William County. In fact, the one jurisdiction that stood out from Prince William County and said, we're going to take the exact opposite approach on illegal immigration, in fact, we welcome illegal immigration, was Montgomery County, Md. And over the past three years, their violent crime rate has actually gone up by 3 percent. So, you know, it's difficult to say for certain what causes what but I don't think it's a coincidence that our crime rate plummeted like that."

Is Stewart right? Has a wave of sanctuary-seeking immigrants driven crime to new heights in Montgomery? Has cracking down on those lacking a green card kept the residents of Prince William safer?

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Redskins fact check: Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff for Week 2 versus the Texans

September 19, 2010 - 03:53 PM

The Facts Machine took a run at fact checking the announcers during the Redskins' loss Sunday against the Houston Texas. I listened to the radio broadcasters — Hall-of-Famers Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff, with Larry Michael doing play-by-play. Here are the results:

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Connolly's constituents do spend more cash

September 16, 2010 - 04:30 PM

Earlier this week, President Barack Obama held a rally down in Fairfax County. The visit by the leader of the free world was probably a benefit to the area’s first-term congressman, Rep. Gerry Connolly (D), who is prepared to march in lock-step with the president's agenda. Right?

Wait? Connolly and Obama disagree on something? I thought with primary season over, we could get past these intra-party divisions. Sigh.

Connolly is facing a tough challenge from businessman Keith Fimian, who he beat in 2008 to take over for retiring Rep. Thomas Davis (R) in Virginia’s 11th District, which includes all of Fairfax City and parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties. As of 2006, the 11th District was the nation’s wealthiest.

That probably has something to do with why Connolly is opposing the president's proposal to roll back the Bush tax cuts on families making more than $250,000 a year or individuals with incomes above $200,000 a year. (The cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of the year. The president wants to extend the cuts for lower- and middle-income earners while letting these cuts expire.) On the day of Obama's visit, he distanced himself from the proposal.

“Our economic recovery has slowed down and we are at a fragile point. … The top 5 percent of income earners account for 30 percent of consumer spending,” Connolly told the Fairfax Connection.

He was more explicit when talking to WUSA, saying: "Now is not the time to be raising taxes on any income group."

Other Democrats who want to delay or stop the rollback of the Bush tax cuts have made the same claim about how the rich are spending a lot more than the rest of us. Is it true?

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A voter's guide to cronyism in the 2010 D.C. mayoral election

September 14, 2010 - 07:02 AM

As you head in to the voting booth today, you’ll want to select a candidate who will be a good steward of your tax dollars. Or if you’re smart and politically well-connected, you’ll want a candidate who will be a poor steward of other people’s tax dollars, so you can exploit District government for fun and profit. Either way, welcome to TBD’s 2010 D.C. Mayoral Election Voter’s Guide to Cronyism. Here, in alphabetic order, are the people and things you should know about in determining which mayoral candidate is less beholden to special interests.

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An inquiry into whether or not Adrian Malik Fenty, mayor of the District of Columbia, is a jerk

September 13, 2010 - 01:51 PM
Perhaps the mayor is pondering the question of the season. (Photo: Jay Westcott)

In a Washington Post piece on Mayor Adrian Fenty last month, columnist Robert McCartney showcased a knack for euphemism: “Fenty is in trouble because he is widely seen as a self-absorbed autocrat who is unresponsive to citizens.”

Other commentators have opted for greater word economy when assessing the mayor. Back in February, Petula Dvorak, a colleague of McCartney’s, accused Fenty of “acting like a jerk.” Washington Post reporter Mike DeBonis, then writing in the Washington City Paper, called “Fenty the Jerk” the “leitmotif” of D.C. politics in 2009. That same publication issued a midsummer cover story titled “Is Adrian Fenty a Jerk?” It’s an aspersion that gets tossed around a fair amount on the street as well.

The jerk parade draws its inspiration from a whole file of Fenty incidents, including some in which he shunned the press; others in which he shunned regular folks; and yet others where he shunned famous people. Pile on that the general Fenty approach to governance — i.e., get it done fast, don’t worry about ruffling feathers — and a firm narrative begins to take root.

It’s a narrative that gives fits to the Facts Machine. The Facts Machine, as its name might suggest, doesn’t enjoy character evaluations. It subsists on hard data, like budget figures, committee votes, affidavits, departmental investigations, IG findings, and executive summaries.

Notwithstanding its specialty in empirical stuff, the Facts Machine feels obligated to evaluate the widespread contention that Adrian Fenty is a jerk. That’s because it’s an issue on which this mayoral campaign, now in its final gasp, pivots. This conventional wisdom needs a patdown, and the Facts Machine proposes to accomplish it by infusing this most unscientific of terms with a bit of rigor.

To determine whether Fenty is a jerk, the Facts Machine is defining “jerk” in the following way:

“A person regarded as disagreeable, contemptible, etc., esp. as the result of foolish or mean behavior.”

That definition comes to us from Webster’s New World College Dictionary Fourth Edition. The fact that we’re even discussing this shows that Fenty is “regarded as disagreeable [and] contemptible.” So let’s just consider that part done.

All that’s left is to determine if the mayor engages in “foolish or mean behavior.” That evaluation starts with the most fundamental question relating to a public official: accessibility.

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Is Vince Gray going to fire Cathy Lanier?

September 10, 2010 - 05:00 PM
Lanier could stick around regardless of who wins Tuesday's primary. (Photo: Associated Press)

People love D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier.

Her approval rating is 80 percent, the best of any government official in the District. Unlike Mayor Fenty's other high-profile pick, Michelle Rhee, Lanier's statistical successes (reducing most types of crime and bringing homicides to a four-decade low) have translated into broad public support.

There's one group that's certainly part of the 20 percent. The Fraternal Order of Police Labor Commitee for the Metropolitan Police Department, led by Kris Baumann, has questioned whether, in fact, crime is down, called for investigations into the department's handling of sexual assault cases, and generally been a thorn in Lanier's side.

The FOP, along with most of the District's other unions, has endorsed Vince Gray for mayor.

It's a simple exercise in the transitive property. The FOP dislikes Lanier. The FOP likes Gray. Therefore, Gray dislikes Lanier.

In the past two weeks, the Fenty campaign has pushed this idea. At the Washington Post debate last week, Fenty suggested Gray would fire Lanier because Baumann backs the council chairman. And today on TBD NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt, Fenty friend and supporter Ron Moten made the same suggestion during his Mo-Down with Gray Senior Adviser Mo Elleithee.


Gray, meanwhile, has applied the same stance to Lanier that he has applied to Rhee. He won't make any personnel decisions until after the election, when he has a chance to sit down with department and agency heads.

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Live tweeting The Politics Program's Fenty/Gray interview

September 10, 2010 - 10:28 AM

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Is it illegal to buy a vote in D.C.?

September 9, 2010 - 01:59 PM

UPDATE, 6:03 p.m. — Kenneth McGhie, the general counsel for the elections board, agrees the key word is "bribery." But he's using a different definition than Cheh and Tokaji.

McGhie is looking at the District's criminal code. Here's how it defines bribery:

(a) A person commits the offense of bribery if that person:

(1) Corruptly offers, gives, or agrees to give anything of value, directly or indirectly, to a public servant; or

(2) Corruptly solicits, demands, accepts, or agrees to accept anything of value, directly or indirectly, as a public servant;

in return for an agreement or understanding that an official act of the public servant will be influenced thereby or that the public servant will violate an official duty, or that the public servant will commit, aid in committing, or will collude in or allow any fraud against the District of Columbia.

The key words here are now "public servant." Under District criminal code — which is different from the Model Penal Code Zvenyach cited — you can't bribe a regular voter, only a public servant. McGhie assumes the language in the Corrupt Elections Act was intended to prevent the corruption of election officials.

McGhie points out the only definition that really matters is the definition the U.S. Attorney's office (who would prosecute vote-buyers) chooses to use.

"They're the ones with the final say," McGhie said. "They're not going to care about the model code. They're not going to care about what I say."

For right now, the two interpretations seem equal. And until the U.S. Attorney's office weighs in, we don't have a final rule. Temporarily, we're giving the Gray campaign's statement that vote-buying is illegal a grade of 50/50.

UPDATE, 4:33 p.m. — We contacted the office of Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who sponsored the vote buying ban this summer, for some clarification. Cheh, a constitutional law professor at The George Washington University, has endorsed Gray.

Daniel Zvenyach, her chief of staff, just e-mailed us back. Here's (part of) what he had to say:

The Model Penal Code covers “bribery” as follows: “offers, confers or agrees to confer upon another, or solicits, accepts or agrees to accept from another any pecuniary benefit as consideration for the recipient's decision, opinion, recommendation, vote or other exercise of discretion as a public servant, party official or voter.” So, if you construed the statute to track that definition, the District law would read as follows: “Any person who shall ... be guilty of offering, conferring, or agreeing to confer any pecuniary benefit as consideration for the recipient's vote of any voter…” That’s actually pretty close.

Then there’s 1-1001.12, which says that “No one shall interfere with the registration or voting of another person, except as it may be reasonably necessary in the performance of a duty imposed by law.” You could make a case that paying someone to vote “interferes” with the voting of another person (or the related right not to vote). Then there may be restrictions imposed under the District’s general fraud statutes, but I don’t profess expertise in that area.

Bottom line is that District law might independently prohibit the paying for votes. The District would do well, though, to pass a local version of the federal law to remove any doubt.

Basically, Zvenyach said, Cheh wanted the explicit language banning vote buying in the law as a way to clarify its intentions.

UPDATE, 4:23 p.m. — We just talked to Daniel Tokaji, an election law professor at The Ohio State University. He agreed the existing District law was pretty vague.

"The statute you've given me isn't a model of clarity," Tokaji said, adding that he hadn't studied District election law in-depth.

Still, he thought the use of the word "bribery" was important in the law, and noted that it wasn't defined. Its use, he said, implied to him that if it someone was given a financial benefit in exchange for voting for a particular candidate, it would be illegal. Simply paying someone to vote, without requiring that they cast their ballot for one candidate, wouldn't fall under the law.

This interpretation would make the alleged behavior of the Fenty campaign illegal.

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The Facts Machine on TBD TV: Gray's mistakes and the Tea Party

September 7, 2010 - 06:26 PM

Gray's mistakes and misunderstandings

September 7, 2010 - 10:05 AM

Vince Gray made a mistake when he didn't own up to any mistakes.

Last week, Gray participated in a mayoral primary debate on Fox5. In response to a question from moderator Steve Chenevey about what mistakes he had made while serving on the D.C. Council, Gray declared: "I am very proud of the record we have on the council. I have searched myself to see if there's more that I could have done to work with the mayor. I believe we have reached out as effectively as we possibly can."

Incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty retorted: "If I understand the chairman's answer to your question about whether he's made mistakes, he's saying no, he hasn't made mistakes. He certainly did [not] acknowledge any, and to be honest with you, that may be the greatest mistake of all of them."

Later in the debate, when the candidates were given the opportunity to question one another, Fenty again asked the frontrunner what mistakes he had made, specifically citing Gray's decision to cut streetcar funding in the wee hours of the night. Gray, who chairs the council, responded by outlining his support for streetcars. ("I've been to Portland, Oregon, twice.")

Fenty asked again if Gray would answer the question. Chenevey said no.

The Fenty campaign pounced, distributing a list of Gray's "mistakes" to reporters, most focusing on Gray's tenure as the director of human services during the early 1990s. The Gray campaign has pushed back against those attacks.

Still, Gray has six years on the council under his belt, and has cast hundreds of votes as council chair and while representing Ward 7. Does he really not regret any of them?

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Fenty made jobs money wait its turn

September 3, 2010 - 11:00 AM

If there's a policy area Vince Gray has hammered Adrian Fenty on, it's jobs. He routinely declares that he's the only candidate with a jobs and economic development plan, and talks about the historic unemployment rates east of the river.

During Wednesday's debate, Gray repeated something we've heard him say several times before: that the Fenty administration had failed to spend $4.6 million in adult job training funds allocated by the D.C. council.

The money was intended to either provide grants to outside groups that run job training programs, or to bolster existing programs within the Department of Employment Services, which is managing the money.

So the money was there, and the mayor just decided not to spend it, even though unemployment hit 12 percent in January?

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What can Brown do for Barry? Give him a committee chairmanship.

September 2, 2010 - 12:00 PM

Adrian Fenty isn't the only one who can use Marion Barry as a weapon.

Fenty, the incumbent mayor, has tried to use Barry's support for mayoral candidate Vince Gray as a way to tar Gray with the corruption and dysfunction of District government in the 1990s.

Now it's Vincent Orange's turn to do the same. Orange is the colorful and eccentric former Ward 5 councilmember. After a failed campaign for mayor in 2006, Orange spent some time watching city politics from the sidelines. This year, he jumped back in, challenging At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown in the race for council chair. 

On TBD NewsTalk yesterday, Orange showcased his take on the link-your-opponent-to-Barry tack. He said that if Brown were elected chair, he'd "make Marion Barry the chair of the economic development committee." Brown, for his part, was a bit more ambivalent, and without committing to anything, floated the idea of giving Barry the chairmanship of a special committee with limited staffing and funding. This prompted a charge of waffling from Orange.

"You can check the record, go back through the fact checks," Orange said.

So what has Brown, who has been endorsed by most of his council colleagues, promised the Ward 8 councilmember?

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