- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 15, 2011

Testimony from Mayor Vincent C. Gray before a U.S. House oversight committee Thursday produced a glimmer of hope for D.C. budget autonomy and portrayed the city as staid and responsible.

But a different portrait of the District emerged after many of the TV cameras left the Rayburn House Office Building.

Natwar M. Gandhi, the District’s chief financial officer, called the District a “vibrant, hip city” in an exchange with Rep. Elijah Cummings that began with dry talk of rising property values and snowballed into an extolment of the city’s other offerings.

“Did you say ‘hip city’?” asked Mr. Cummings, Maryland Democrat. “I thought I was hearing things.”

“People are flocking to the District,” Mr. Gandhi said, noting exciting nightlife in places such as Gallery Place.

“That is our Times Square, sir. That is our Times Square,” he told the congressman.

Mr. Cummings said he was familiar with the area because that’s where he goes to the movies.

The District’s finance chief also noted that the city is home to the Folger Shakespeare Library and world-class theaters.

“I can go on and on,” he said.

Just stay home

A long-awaited joint effort announced last week between Metro and Google will make it easier for people to plan a trip to the District.

The service integrates rail, subway and bus schedules from different lines along the East Coast to help users make their travel schedules. Some regional transit systems already were participating in the service, called Google Transit, but Metro had withheld access to its bus and rail information.

“This will be the southern anchor of the Northeast Corridor,” Metro General Manager Richard Sarles said in announcing the information-sharing agreement.

An avid New York Yankees fan, he said he’s been using the new feature to plan out theoretical visits to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and Boston’s Fenway Park.

But Mr. Sarles clearly went too far when he invited a certain segment of out-of-towners to consider a D.C. visit.

“If people in Philadelphia want to come down and watch the Nationals play, there’s a trip to do it,” he said.

Reversed course

Don’t ever let politicians say the press doesn’t affect their decisions.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley issued an order last week restoring more than $1 million in scholarships to the state budget, reversing a cut he proposed back in January.

What caused the Democrat’s sudden change of heart? A heart-tugging report in the Baltimore Sun that said the affected students — 350 graduating high school seniors in the state’s Distinguished Scholars program — already had been told they would receive the money, only to have it pulled from under them.

The program awards $3,000 a year for four years to exemplary in-state students to attend a Maryland college.

The Sun profiled a Baltimore County student who said she turned down Ivy League offers to accept the award and stay in state but was now second-guessing her choice as she scrambled to find replacement aid.

Within hours of the report, Mr. O’Malley had the funds restored.

He said he was unaware that recipients already had been selected, and his representatives confirmed that he became aware only after hearing about the story in the Sun.

“It was never our intention to impact prior awards,” Mr. O’Malley said in a statement.

Meredith Somers, David Hill and Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report