Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Michael A Brown


For DC Council: Elissa Silverman

DC voters will choose an at-large member of the DC Council in a special election on April 23. While there has been fairly little coverage of the race or candidates' positions, the choice voters make in this likely low-turnout election will have a major impact on many important issues to District residents. We believe that Elissa Silverman is the best choice.

Image from the candidate's website.

We believe that our leaders should devote much of our city's monetary prosperity to two goals: economic growth that furthers that prosperity, and efforts to truly help those most in financial need to ensure they are not left behind. Ms. Silverman has a very strong track record in this area.

DC has unfortunately had a recent string of elected officials who have instead funneled money to people with connections to those in power in the city government. Their influence ultimately enriches those in power. Ms. Silverman has a clear commitment to reforming government ethics from her work advancing DC's Initiative 70, the recent proposed ballot initiative.

Ms. Silverman embraces transit, mixed-use zoning, and the need especially to safeguard pedestrians now that the city is more walkable every year. She emphasizes the need to encourage more housing units for families as many of the young people who have moved to the District begin families and want to remain in the District's walkable, bikeable and transit-oriented neighborhoods.

Thanks to her journalism background, Ms. Silverman has demonstrated that she can ask very penetrating questions on policy details. When talking with editors about issues such as the zoning update, for instance, she probed much more deeply into the effects and tradeoffs than other candidates or even many advocates.

She has said that she wants to turn this skill toward oversight of District agencies such as DCRA; this would be an invaluable asset to residents who find agencies often papering over inefficiency. She has advocated reforming DCRA to make it easier for District residents to open businesses as well.

Matthew Frumin scored very well on Let's Choose DC, most often slightly ahead of Ms. Silverman and sometimes slightly behind. Mr. Frumin has made very valuable contributions to the District through his civic efforts, such as building coalitions on the Tenleytown ANC. However, we feel he still faces significant challenges to connecting with voters outside of upper Northwest. This will not only be a prerequisite to win but a necessary component to being an at-large councilmember.

Mr. Frumin also has less detailed knowledge of the District government's operations and major policies outside of a few areas of strength such as education. While being an expert is not mandatory for a new council candidate, with Ms. Silverman in the race, her greater expertise is a strong asset. The winner of this race will have to instantly start participating in budget negotiations and then continue to operate on the council while almost immediately running for re-election in the April 2014 primary.

We hope Mr. Frumin will continue participating on the citywide stage in other ways following the campaign, and has strong potential to be a top-tier candidate in a future at-large race once he has built more connections and experience working with neighborhood leaders citywide.

Patrick Mara has garnered some significant support in DC based on his recent races and repeated endorsements from the Washington Post. David Alpert also endorsed Mr. Mara in his previous race (against Michael Brown, who is running again this year). However, he has not shown the depth that one would expect from a repeated candidate, and did not answer several Let's Choose DC questions.

The Washington Post's endorsement last week largely centered around his views on cutting taxes and school reform. We don't disagree with charter schools or school reform by any means, but feel that education in the District needs more analysis into what actually works instead of blind ideology. Mr. Mara has made education a centerpiece of his campaign, but when pressed, hasn't been able to actually put forth compelling insights on the matter.

Michael Brown has a strong commitment to helping the less fortunate, such as his stalwart defense of affordable housing which was very welcome on the council. However, Mr. Brown has repeatedly made clear that he is skeptical of a growing city and is very quick to side with the residents most afraid of change, such as with his response on the DC zoning update at Let's Choose DC or his letter of "concern" almost a year ago.

Mr. Brown was the only candidate to oppose several avenues of ethics reform on that question on Let's Choose. Financial mismanagement problems such as unpaid rent continue to dog Mr. Brown, as did malfeasance by his previous campaign treasurer, even though there has not been any evidence that he himself violated campaign finance laws.

Anita Bonds has not chosen to engage with our community by only responding to one Let's Choose DC question. While we didn't want to prejudge her longtime ties to much of DC's machine power structure, she has not availed herself of opportunities to demonstrate her independence from that machine or policy reasons to support her. She also initially promised to serve as a full-time councilmember, but has since backed off that commitment.

Perry Redd and Paul Zukerberg have valuable perspectives to contribute, and we also agree with Mr. Zukerberg's core message that excessive prosecution of minor drug offenses creates a dangerous environment with too many young people having criminal records at huge expense to taxpayers. We hope both will continue to participate in civic discourse and that the DC Council will take up marijuana decriminalization soon.

Voters considering themselves "urbanists," "progressives," or just "reformers" have seen their votes split in several recent elections, including the last two for at-large council. A number of civic and business leaders have lined up behind Ms. Silverman, including respected top Fenty administration officials like Neil Albert and Victor Reinoso, and we hope that all residents will do the same and elect her to the DC Council on April 23.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington, written by one or more contributors. Active regular contributors and editors voted on endorsements, and any endorsement reflects a strong majority or greater in favor of endorsing the candidate.

Disclosures: Elissa Silverman also submitted 4 guest articles to Greater Greater Washington in 2011 and 2012. We had also specifically invited Patrick Mara (after previous campaigns) and Matthew Frumin (before the current campaign) to submit guest posts, in keeping with our general policy of encouraging guest posts from many people active in local affairs. Also, Ken Archer, who serves as Silverman's treasurer, is a Greater Greater Washington editor. He did not vote in the internal poll or write any of this endorsement.


Frumin, Silverman again top Let's Choose on zoning

The results are now up on Let's Choose DC for the 9th question, on the zoning update. For the 7th question in a row on Let's Choose DC, Matthew Frumin and Elissa Silverman shared the number one and two spots.

The question was about the zoning update, an issue we've discussed here perhaps more than any other. Both Frumin and Silverman expressed support for at least many elements of the proposals, but also insisted that they want to be sure to protect established residents' interests in some ways as well.

There's nothing wrong with striking a balance, but the question ultimately boils down to who will stand up strongly for a growing and inclusive city when the really tough votes arise on the Council.

It's clear Michael Brown won't. He wrote in his response, "I have frequently taken the side of the surrounding neighborhoods and stood with the residents to oppose certain aspects of the growth plans." And he said at a Ward 8 forum, "And my beliefs are trying to make sure, as a third generation Washingtonian, making sure this city stays the way I remember it."

We don't really know about Mara or Bonds. Neither has replied to requests to take a stand, and Mara gave a very vague answer on the issue when I asked him about the issue at a meeting.

What can we conclude?

On a Greater Greater Washington note and not a Let's Choose note, for urbanists trying to pick a candidate to vote for on April 23, it seems you have fairly clearly spoken that the choice lies between these two.

When I envisioned Let's Choose DC, my hope (but not necessarily that of Martin at DCist and Dan at PoPville) was that a completely neutral, non-endorsing process might help people coalesce around one candidate on their own. As it's turned out, that coalescing did happen, but thus far around two candidates rather than one.

Patrick Mara (who I endorsed 4 years ago) stopped participating several weeks back, and missed several previous questions as well. Plus, when he did participate, his ratings in the voting were never very strong (placing 8th on question 2 and 4th and 3rd on the others where he responded).

Paul Zukerberg and Perry Redd have reliably kept participating, and while they racked up lower totals, they took advantage of an opportunity to help more residents understand their views. Anita Bonds only sent in a response once time, and scored low. Michael Brown has participated a few times, but to almost universally low marks.

Is our community split down the middle between Frumin and Silverman, or do most of us simply like both of them? Who If you're undecided between Frumin and Silverman, what would help you make up your mind?

Update: The original version of this post mixed some of my own commentary with Let's Choose information in a way that could have been confusing or mislead people about the political intent of the site. I've rearranged it to split the two.


Brown bombs on ethics; Silverman edges Frumin

Only 2.5% of voters gave Michael Brown positive marks for his response on ethics this week on Let's Choose DC (a partnership of Greater Greater Washington, DCist, and PoPville). Elissa Silverman took the top spot in your judgment, with Matthew Frumin second.

We asked the candidates to give their positions on 6 ethics proposals:

  • Ban or limit outside employment
  • Eliminate or constrain constituent service funds
  • Ban corporate contributions to campaigns
  • Ban "bundling" from multiple entities controlled by same person
  • Ban contributions by contractors and/or lobbyists who do business with DC
  • Forbid free or discounted legal services, travel gifts, sports tickets for councilmembers
Silverman touted her work on Initiative 70 pushing to enshrine the third of these into law. She, Frumin, Patrick Mara, John Settles, and Michael Brown all also endorsed public financing of elections. Paul Zukerberg explicitly opposed it; while we don't know why voters chose as they did, perhaps most of you disagreed and that contributed to his 6th place finish.

Michael Brown, meanwhile, opposed banning outside employment and changes to constituent service funds. He also did not address the proposals involving monetary or in-kind campaign contributions. As a consequence, 47% of you said he did not answer the question while giving him the lowest finish of any candidate on any question thus far on Let's Choose DC.

This week, we're asking about school truancy. See the responses and vote now!


Frumin, Settles, Silverman rise to the top on public safety

It's a photo finish for the at-large DC Council candidates' visions for how to address crime. The voting at Let's Choose DC ended in a near-tie between Matt Frumin and John Settles, with Elissa Silverman a very close third.

Results for question 2, on education. Click for full infographic.

DC voters rated the responses of nine candidates to this question:

Chief Lanier and Mayor Gray have made a lot of the drop in homicides, but other crimesassaults, robberiesremain stubbornly high. How should DC police deal with those challenges, and do you have an opinion on how many officers MPD needs?
Let's Choose DC is presented by Greater Greater Washington, DCist, and PoPville and is open to all DC residents. Nine candidates provided responses. Five are still eligible for the April 23 ballot, while four have either dropped out of the race or did not file petitions by the deadline yesterday.

Mr. Frumin, Mr. Settles, and Ms. Silverman all had over 60% of participating voters rate their responses as persuasive or very persuasive. Mr. Frumin and Mr. Settles were almost perfectly tied; 65.43% of voters gave Mr. Frumin's response a positive rating, while 65.38% did so for Mr. Settles (62.63% did for Ms. Silverman).

Mr. Frumin also barely edged out Mr. Settles in percentage of voters rating his response "very persuasive," 20.2% to 19.9%. Ms. Silverman, meanwhile, got the highest proportion of votes for "very persuasive," 22.1%.

Three other candidatesAnita Bonds, Michael Brown, and Perry Redddid file petitions to appear on the ballot, but did not give us answers to the crime question.

Mr. Redd has, however, joined in starting with question 3, on education, and you can read his response and those of the other 5 participating candidates still in the race. That includes the answer from Paul Zukerberg, which we did not have when the answers went live on Tuesday because, frankly, I messed up; I accidentally mis-copied and pasted the candidates' email addresses, and never sent Mr. Zukerberg the question.

He kindly rushed an answer to us, so even if you have already voted, please consider reading and rating his answer so we can fairly weigh his answer in the results for that question, which will come out next week.

If you haven't yet voted on the education question, please start voting today! You can vote until midnight Monday, at which point we'll have responses to question 4, on the District's growth.


On Lets Choose DC, you chose Silverman, Frumin, Brooks

The results are in for the first question on Let's Choose DC, and with over 2,500 votes cast, DC voters rated Elissa Silverman tops for her vision for DC, followed by Matthew Frumin and Diallo Brooks.

Click to see the full infographic of results.

Nine candidates provided answers to our question, while interim Councilmember Anita Bonds and former Councilmember Michael Brown did not participate. The question was:

The District has changed a lot since 1993, and will likely change much more by 2033. What are 2-3 changes you hope to see by 2033, and how will electing you to the DC Council help bring them about?

In addition to rating how persuasive you found each of the candidates' answers, we asked you whether they seemed to answer the question or not. Silverman, Frumin, Brooks, John Settles, and Pedro Rubio all scored well here. Patrick Mara and Jon Gann got more "neutral" ratings, while Paul Zukerberg and AJ Cooper got lower marks.

Cooper also dropped out of the race yesterday and endorsed Silverman.

You can still vote on Question 2, where the candidates talk about their ideas for fighting crime. Voting on that question closes Monday, and we'll post the results later next week. On Tuesday, we will have the candidates' responses to question 3, about education.


Endorsements for DC citywide races and ballot questions

While the Democratic primary most often determines office-holders in the District of Columbia, there is a serious race on the November ballot for a seat on the DC Council, alongside a number of other races.

Photo by afagen on Flickr.

In the District, we endorse David Grosso for Council at-large, Phil Mendelson for chairman, Nate Bennett-Fleming for shadow representative, and yes votes on the 3 charter amendments.

Greater Greater Washington makes endorsements through a poll of contributors, and we only weigh in when there is a clear consensus for one candidate or position as well as a clear feeling that making an endorsement is worthwhile. The contributors decided not to endorse in ward races, State Board of Education, or shadow senator this year.

Voters will also have the opportunity to choose ANC commissioners, a position which often carries significant influence over neighborhood affairs. There are many great candidates across the city, including Greater Greater Washington editor Jaime Fearer in Trinidad's district 5D07.

DC Council at-large: We recommend voting for David Grosso.

Congress' grant of home rule to the District included a provision that limited how many candidates can be members of the same party, which in practice means that one at-large seat every 2 years goes to one individual who is not formally affiliated with the Democratic Party. We hope voters choose David Grosso over incumbent Michael A. Brown.

More than anything, the DC Council needs stable, ethical leadership at this time. Mr. Grosso has embraced openness and transparency by disclosing any corporate interests that have donated to his campaign. By contrast, whether any laws were broken or not, Mr. Brown's record is marred by a series of personal missteps and questionably ethical political actions.

Michael Brown has been a staunch supporter of many important policies for affordable housing, workforce development and other poverty-related issues. However, when it comes to building healthy and walkable urban places, Mr. Brown simply does not seem to understand the issues beyond a narrow and out-of-date suburban mindset. He pushed for a Redskins training facility on Reservation 13, sent a letter echoing many alarmist and often false fears about the zoning update, wants to spend public money on municipal parking, and more.

Mary Brooks Beatty, the Republican candidate, has proven even worse, voicing the tired "war on cars" theme during a recent debate. After nominating an avowedly pro-urban candidate 4 years ago, it's too bad the DC GOP's standard-bearer is so out of touch with the changing District.

Mr. Grosso, meanwhile, supports better bicycle infrastructure, removing minimum parking requirements, and also wants to shore up funding for affordable housing. Tommy Wells, the DC Council's most ardent voice for smart growth, has thrown his weight behind Grosso, as has the DC chapter of the Sierra Club.

District voters have the opportunity to cast 2 votes. For Mr. Grosso to win, he will have to place in the top 2; most expect that Vincent Orange, the Democratic nominee, will gain the most votes, and that the 2nd will come down to Mr. Grosso or Mr. Brown.

There are also a number of other candidates running, several of whom have promise, such as AJ Cooper, our 2nd highest vote-getter in our contributor poll, but none received a clear consensus required for a formal endorsement. However, voters can certainly use a 2nd vote for one of these other candidates without fear of upsetting their top choice's chances to win.

DC Council chairman: We recommend voting for Phil Mendelson.

Mr. Mendelson is well suited to bring order and credibility to a damaged DC Council. His record of ethics is impeccable, and he is well-positioned to get the council working together collaboratively instead of fracturing into warring factions as it did under former Chairman Kwame Brown.

Some council staffers say that Mr. Mendelson will need to work on shifting his attention to the big picture issues rather than the narrow, often nitpicking hyper-attention to detail he has become known for. He also continues to lean toward sympathy with those who don't want to see the District change or grow much at all. Zoning is not the council's purview, and since becoming chairman he has stayed away from taking a position on such issues that won't come before that body. However, voters need to keep careful watch on this issue.

Shadow representative: We recommend voting for Nate Bennett-Fleming.

The shadow representative is an unpaid position whose purpose is to lobby for District voting rights. Current shadow representative Mike Panetta is not seeking reelection, and we hope District voters will choose Nate Bennett-Fleming.

Mr. Bennett-Fleming brings a youthful energy to District politics. He is able to work and talk with people from all over the cityrich and poor, young and old, black and white, advantaged and disadvantaged. The shadow representative is a relatively thankless position, but it needs someone with the vigor to stir things up and push for equal representation. Mr. Bennett-Fleming's political science background and law degree will also help him know what can work and what can't, instead of pushing for absolutely unworkable ideas.

Ballot questions: We recommend voting FOR all 3 charter amendments.

The proposed charter amendments will officially empower the DC Council to expel a member for gross misconduct, and disqualify any candidates with a felony conviction while in office from serving as councilmember or mayor.

Each of these takes a small step toward improving the laws around ethics in DC. They leave many ethics issues unresolved, and most DC leaders have been reluctant to take the stronger steps necessary to bring more substantial ethical reform to city politics, but these are a step in the right direction.

Update: The original version of the endorsement said that 2 charter amendments disqualify any candidate with a felony conviction from holding office. In fact, they only disqualify candidates who have gotten that felony conviction while in office, which makes the amendments even less meaningful as ethics reforms, but still worth voting for.

These are the official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington, written by one or more contributors. Active contributors and editors discussed endorsements, and any endorsement reflects a strong consensus in favor of endorsing for or against each issue or candidate.


Zoning update opponents keep spreading misinformation

The group calling itself "Neighbors for Neighborhoods," which recently circulated an alarmist flyer about DC's zoning update that is almost entirely false, strikes again. A recent email to Cleveland Park residents makes a new set of wild and almost entirely incorrect claims.

Photo by mueredecine on Flickr.

At-large councilmember Michael Brown met with opponents and then sent a letter to the Zoning Commission, where he worried about "the groundswell of anxiety" about the proposals.

There is a simple way to avoid mass hysteria around the zoning update. The people organizing to fight it need to actually bother to understand it. Not every resident will absorb every detail, but they can learn from others who do.

Unfortunately, instead of educating neighbors, the people sending alarmist emails to certain neighborhood listservs are instead spreading misinformation and then complaining that residents are confused.

Email spreads myths

The latest email makes 4 charges:

Attack 1: Under proposed new commercial and residential zoning rules, increased building height + density, lot occupancy, and use could fundamentally degrade your home's environment and value.
False. No zones allow taller buildings than they do today. No zone's lot occupancy will change at all. The only change to lot occupancy removes an incentive to fill in courtyards and side yards, thereby leading to less density rather than more.

No floor-area ratios (FAR), the standard measure of density, increase in any zones outside downtown. None of the height limits in any zones outside downtown will increase. There's a small change to how to measure heights, which will more often make the height rules more restrictive than the reverse.

Opponents seem to have assumed that the zoning update is massively upzoning their neighborhoods, and speaking on that basis, even though it is not.

Plus, this statement seems designed to alarm rather than inform. Who says "your home" will have its value degrade? One of the changes which is genuine, allowing accessory dwellings, will likely increase the value of most homes because people will be able to rent out a garage, bringing in income, which they can't do today.

Attack 2: Redevelopment on or adjacent to a bus linedesignated a "transit zone"could substantially exceed building allowed today.
Again, false. "Transit" zones only vary from non-transit zones in 2 ways, neither of which allows larger buildings and one of which is more restrictive. Also, single-family house zones, the ones "Neighbors For Neighborhoods" is trying to agitate, won't be "transit zones" even if they are right next to transit.

In non-SFH zones near transit, new buildings will not have minimum parking requirements, but there will be stricter limits on driveways. If a commercial or mixed-use property backs onto an alley, in a transit zone it will have to use the alley for any driveway instead of a curb cut in the front. That's because around transit lines, the design of the buildings should better accommodate pedestrian traffic.

Attack 3: New code standards would be "matter of right", i.e. implementing new rules would require no review nor allow citizen comment.
This sounds like something a person would say who doesn't understand any zoning laws, anywhere. Any zoning code allows some things "matter of right," other things after a hearing (in DC, by "special exception"), and some things not at all unless a zoning board grants a "variance" after a more rigorous and difficult process.

The new zoning code continues this. A few things which need special exceptions do become matter of right, such as an accessory dwelling. A few things which require variances become special exceptions. But rather than argue against any specific changes on policy grounds, this email tries to frighten residents by implying that all building would suddenly happen without any public review.

Attack 4: Overlays designed to protect some communities from inappropriate development or uses would be removed.
Entirely false. Overlays will not exist in the new code as such, but all of the rules of the overlays remain. Right now, up to 3 separate and sometimes conflicting sets of rules can apply to a single piece of land. For example, my house is in an R-5-B (row house) zone under the Dupont Circle overlay. To understand my zoning, I have to look in 2 places, which have different standards.

Under the new code, I will live in an AT-4-B zone. All of the rules of the Dupont Circle overlay are part of AT-4-B. People not in the Dupont Circle overlay instead will have their property zoned AT-3-B. The advantage of this system is that a property owner only needs to look in one place for the rules about setbacks, FAR, and so on, instead of two or more.

For example, one end of my block is in an SP-1 zone. A building owner recently proposed a new exterior stair which I originally thought violated zoning, since the SP-1 zoning requires a 12-foot rear yard setback and "egress stairs" can only break into the rear setback by 4 feet. As it turns out, that's because the Dupont Circle overlay is more permissive with rear yards in SP-1 zones, but that wasn't clear enough when I looked at the SP-1 text in the old zoning code.

When I read the new zoning code, it was far more clear. The area will be an MT-2-A zone, where the Dupont Circle overlay rules apply. In the text for MT-2-A, it listed the different rear yard measurement standard right there with the other information for MT-2-A. There was no need to remember to look in 2 places; it's all in one.

The Office of Planning has posted a table listing all of the current zones and overlays and what designation each will get in the new code. The authors of the alarmist email, who claim OP hasn't provided enough information, must not have looked at that table.

Brown repeats myths

Councilmember Michael Brown's letter, sadly, falls for much of the same misinformation. The letter warns against nonexistent goals of the zoning rewrite and repeats opponents' charge that a 5-year process with hundreds of community meetings, and most of a year or more left to run, is "moving too fast."

He says, "A one-size-fits all approach doesn't seem right for our city, with its rich history of unique neighborhoods, but that seems to be the direction we are heading." The draft zoning code has 94 different zones and myriad different paragraphs that customize rules for each neighborhood. It's hard to seriously conclude that this is any kind of "one-size-fits-all" approach.

Brown writes that "The code should not be used as a blunt instrument to drive unsupported social change," but doesn't specify how a zoning update which takes great pains to change very little in single-family neighborhoods is either a "blunt instrument" or one driving "unsupported social change."

Below is the full text of the email, which went to the Cleveland Park Citizens' Association listserv.

CPCA members might be interested in a new group addressing the comprehensive changes proposed for the DC Zoning Code which the Zoning Commission will adopt later this year or early next year.

Neighbors for Neighborhoods (N4Ndc) is organizing to alert DC residents to the need to respond to the proposed new regulations. Beginning with chapters in Chevy Chase DC, 16th Street Heights, AU Park and the Queens Chapel area, N4Ndc is forming new chapters in all neighborhoods. N4Ndc is a multi-neighborhood effort to make positive zoning changes for DC residents citywide.

Fathoming details of the proposed new Code requires persistence, fortitude and imagination, but here are some generalities:

  • Under proposed new commercial and residential zoning rules, increased building height + density, lot occupancy, and use could fundamentally degrade your home's environment and value.
  • Redevelopment on or adjacent to a bus linedesignated a "transit zone"could substantially exceed building allowed today.
  • New code standards would be "matter of right", i.e. implementing new rules would require no review nor allow citizen comment.
  • Overlays designed to protect some communities from inappropriate development or uses would be removed.
While N4Ndc is building awareness of potential zoning changes in DC's diverse neighborhoods, individual residents are encouraged to inform the Office Planning and public officials of particular concerns. N4Ndc can help you pinpoint your concerns and tell you where to direct your emails. Do not expect CPCA nor any other group to represent your specific concerns: you have the power of the pen, and you possess the right to speak up.

Recently, At-Large City Councilmember Michael Brown has aligned with N4Ndc's goals in a letter to the Zoning Commission. He urged that more outreach is necessary before the new regulations are adopted. He said, "This code has to 'make sense' to the public before adoption, not after [and] should not be used as a blunt instrument to drive unsupported social change. And we should not take for granted the hard-earned tranquility of our residents." He warned particularly about allowing Accessory Housing Units in all residential neighborhoods and expressed concerns about greater development in "transit zones."

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