- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 24, 2011

It’s no secret that the best time to drop bad news in Washington is a Friday afternoon when people have turned their attention to the weekend.

It’s even better when the Friday afternoon is in the dead of summer and those people left in town are concentrating on beating triple-digit temperatures and heat indices more appropriate to the planet Mercury.

So we were surprised when D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s team chose the waning minutes of happy hour Friday to deliver via email to reporters the good news about the mayor’s first 200 days in office.

The mayor’s team boasts modest accomplishments such as more school and police funding and a balanced budget in a 12-page glossy handout containing 17 color photos of Mr. Gray from his first six months in office.

Couldn’t there be a better time to boast of achievements? For instance, at the mayor’s weekly news briefing?

Turns out that may have been the plan.

An agenda item for Mr. Gray’s regular Wednesday press briefing contained this item: “First 150 Days Accomplishments.”

Unfortunately, the item was yanked from the final agenda and the mayor was forced to answer questions at the briefing about new reports that emerged last week about campaign finance irregularities during his campaign.

Or maybe the initial plan had just been to overlook 50 days or so.

Common sense

An impressive-looking draft report was issued last week recommending changes that would improve governance at Metro.

Released by a panel called the Governance Work Group - created by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and D.C. Mayor Vincent V. Gray - the announcement highlights suggestions for serious strategic changes under thumbnail icons of the flags of Virginia, Maryland and the District.

The announcement includes proposals that the Metro Board implement member qualifications and impose term limits. It calls for the board to establish a multiyear strategic plan, budget development and a performance-measurement process “to focus the message being sent to WMATA management by the Board.”

But we were more interested in some of the suggestions found deeper in the 17-page report.

The report suggests that the board focus its attention on high-level policy debates, that it institute a uniformed compensation policy for board members and that the members are required to show up for meetings.

But our favorite: a recommendation that the transit system’s board members actually ride the system’s trains and buses.

Remembering history

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell sent a strongly worded letter last week to state party leaders urging the General Assembly to finish up its special session on redistricting and fill judicial vacancies - laying the blame at the feet of the Democrat-led Senate.

On Friday, the aforementioned Democrats responded, saying both parties have been in continuing discussions about the matter throughout the spring and summer.

“We take our constitutional responsibility very seriously,” said Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat. “We have been negotiating with House Republicans and would like to see this issue resolved in a way that works for all Virginians. Obviously, we are eager to have a full contingent of judges on the Virginia Supreme Court.”

But it was the comments on the issue from state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, Bath Democrat and Mr. McDonnell’s rival in the 2009 gubernatorial campaign, that resonated most. Mr. Deeds urged us to research the issue, pointing out that 10 years ago the General Assembly’s special redistricting session was left open for all of 2001.

Indeed, that year’s special session was convened Feb. 24, 2001, and was not officially gaveled to a close until February 2002 - after that year’s regularly scheduled General Assembly session began.

So noted, Mr. Deeds.

Friendly audience

Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley couldn’t help but do a little bragging last week while in Prince George’s County to announce plans for a new regional hospital.

Mr. O'Malley, a Democrat, touted the state’s commitment to improving medical care in the county, mentioning the $15 million in general funds and $4 million for improvements that the state will give to the county’s hospitals this year, as well as the $40 million it will give the county for school construction.

“I don’t know what that last one has to do with anything,” Mr. O'Malley said, to laughs from the many county and state officials in attendance. “But we’ll take credit for it.”

Prince George’s was one of several larger counties designated in this year’s General Assembly to receive millions for school construction, thanks to an increase in the state’s alcohol sales tax.

The distribution of the funds upset many legislators from smaller counties in Western Maryland, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, who received significantly less.

The governor might choose to gloss over the subject next time he visits Frederick or Ocean City.

Movie man

It’s Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s favorite show and it might film a few episodes in the District.

“What is ‘Jeopardy’?”

“That’s right, you’re back on the plus side!”

The D.C. Office of Motion Picture and Television Development says Mr. Gray made progress in luring film and production crews to the District during his visit to Los Angeles, including interest from Alex Trebek’s popular quiz show (which has filmed at DAR Constitution Hall twice before).

The agency said the following projects could pop up on D.C. streets in the coming years:

• “House of Cards,” a political thriller starring Kevin Spacey that will be filmed in 2012, has shown interest in the District.

• “Veep,” an HBO comedy about Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the vice president, filmed some of its pilot in the District in late March. It has filmed primarily in Baltimore, but it is “strongly considering” a few days back in the District.

• “NCIS,” a CBS series about criminal investigations involving the Navy and Marine Corps, is interested in filming in the District three or four times a year if the city can create an incentives program.

• “Bourne Identity 4: The Bourne Legacy,” the latest installment in the popular series starring Matt Damon, is expected to shoot scenes in the District in fall or winter of this year.

• “Argo: Escape from Tehran,” a film based on the true story of how the CIA used a fake movie project to get hostages out of Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis, plans to shoot some scenes in the District this fall or winter.

The city’s motion picture agency said the potential deals were secured based on talks with several studio executives with whom Mr. Gray was scheduled to meet Thursday.

Maybe next it’s worth a day trip to Mumbai to see what Mr. Gray can bring home from Bollywood.

• Tom Howell Jr., David Hill and David Sherfinski contributed to this report.



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