- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2007

A rumor that a key member of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s schools team had his confirmation resolution yanked from the D.C. Council’s agenda tomorrow gained traction among political observers over the weekend.

The buzz is that the resolution to confirm Victor A. Reinoso, in line to become deputy mayor for education, may have been pulled by council Chairman Vincent C. Gray.

According to the council’s calendar for the week, posted online at www.dccouncil.washington.dc.us, the council votes tomorrow on resolutions to confirm Michelle A. Rhee, Mr. Fenty’s acting schools chancellor, and Allen Y. Lew, who is in line to become the executive director of the Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization.

Conspicuously absent from the agenda is the resolution to confirm Mr. Reinoso, whose nomination resolution was introduced at the same time as the other two. The omission led some to ask whether Mr. Gray pulled the resolution, meaning the council would not have another chance to vote on it until members return from their summer recess in September.

Calls and e-mails to Mr. Gray, at-large Democrat, and his spokeswoman were not returned.

Reached yesterday, Mr. Fenty’s staff seemed surprised by the question.

“As far as we know everything is set to move forward on Tuesday,” said Fenty spokeswoman Mafara Hobson.

Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, confirmed suspicions that something was amiss, but she said she did not know the status of the resolution.

“It’s up in the air whether it’s going to be pulled or not,” she said yesterday. Mrs. Cheh said that to her knowledge Mr. Gray planned to make a decision by today.

Mr. Reinoso, a former school board member, took responsibility for copying portions of Mr. Fenty’s schools plan from a school system plan in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. However, several council members said his nomination could be in trouble after he failed to impress them during his June 27 confirmation hearing.

Wide-open race

For the first time since 1999, there is a wide-open race for mayor of Baltimore, but some observers are suggesting that it may be open and shut.

The incumbent, Sheila Dixon, became mayor in January, promoted from the City Council presidency when Martin O’Malley was inaugurated as governor. Now, she faces seven challengers in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary — the only election that matters in a city where nearly 80 percent of registered voters are Democrats.

Miss Dixon, 53, has a chance to make history as the city’s first woman and second black elected mayor. In 1999, Mr. O’Malley, who is white, entered the race shortly before the filing deadline and easily beat two black candidates.

This time, no surprise candidate emerged before the deadline, which was last Monday night. That leaves City Council member Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., state Delegate Jill P. Carter and city schools administrator Andrey Bundley as Miss Dixon’s highest-profile challengers.

Also on the ballot in the primary are Delegate Frank M. Conaway Jr., community activist A. Robert Kaufman, businessman Mike Schaefer and Philip A. Brown Jr. Mr. Conaway, Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Brown have run unsuccessfully for mayor in the past, and Mr. Schaefer, who is not related to former mayor and governor William Donald Schaefer, has run twice for the U.S. Senate. Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Schaefer are white; the other six candidates are black.

A lone Republican, Elbert R. Henderson, awaits the winner of the Democratic primary. He received 12 percent of the vote against Mr. O’Malley in the 2004 general election.

“I still think it’s [Miss Dixon’s] race to lose,” said C. Vernon Gray, a Morgan State University political scientist. “She really has done an excellent job of governing despite all the crises she’s had.”

Among the problems Miss Dixon has confronted are the death of a fire department recruit during a live burn and what appeared to be a sweetheart pension deal for a former top police commander. She fired the head of the fire department’s training academy, and she pledged to make the pension process more transparent.

Those ordeals were minor compared with the endemic problems — violent crime and underperforming schools — that her challengers have made the focal point of their campaigns.

The city has weathered a grim escalation in gun crime. The city is on pace for 319 slayings for the year and the number of nonfatal shootings is up 31.6 percent.

“It’s unconscionable that this is happening and is allowed to continue,” said state Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Democrat who has represented a South Baltimore district since 1983. “Whoever the next mayor is, I hope they get in there and clean house.”

Miss Dixon asked police commanders to move away from zero tolerance in favor of targeted enforcement of the most dangerous criminals.

In an interview last week, Miss Dixon said she still has faith in her crime-fighting strategies. She has said that she favors long-term, systemic solutions over quick fixes.

“This didn’t happen overnight, and it’s unfair that people point the finger at me,” she said.

The mayor’s highest-profile challengers have criticized her leadership on crime. Mr. Mitchell called on Police Commissioner Leonard Hamm to resign, and Miss Carter said she would fire the commissioner.

“We’re a city that’s slipping back because of the crisis we have in crime going on right now,” Mr. Mitchell said. “You go from zero tolerance to community policing; you’re told to make arrests and not make arrests. There’s something wrong with that picture in terms of direction and leadership.”

Miss Dixon and Mr. Mitchell have been by far the highest-profile candidates. Neither is an accomplished orator, but each has shown an ability to connect with voters individually.

n This column is based in part on wire service reports.Miss Dixon meets regularly with community and church groups, and Mr. Mitchell was once a Sunday-morning fixture at the Baltimore Farmers’ Market, selling fresh-squeezed orange juice. (He shut down the juicing operation to focus on his campaign.)

Donald Norris, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said it was a no-brainer that candidates would run on pledges to reduce crime and fix schools. He said Miss Dixon had the inside track because she has proved to be a competent administrator.

“[The candidates’] policy positions are going to be 99 percent alike,” Mr. Norris said. “It’s going to come down to personality, and who makes the fewest mistakes.”

Energetic plans

With Maryland residents being charged significantly higher electricity rates, Gov. Martin O’Malley announced energy initiatives and goals last Monday in hopes of starting the state down a path to cut electricity usage by 15 percent by 2015.

Calling the goal “ambitious but obtainable,” the governor outlined initiatives that range from replacing incandescent light bulbs with more energy-compact fluorescent bulbs to incorporating efficiencies into government buildings.

“For example, we will take modest, simple steps to go green in maintenance and operations of existing state buildings, and in the construction of new state buildings we’ll set exacting energy-efficiency standards,” Mr. O’Malley said.

Standing before solar panels on top of a government building in Annapolis, he discussed the energy initiatives in the wake of a 50 percent increase last month in electricity rates for 1.1 million customers of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. Days after the increase went into effect, Mr. O’Malley announced that an additional $5 million would be available to poor Maryland residents to help pay electric bills.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said plans to make the state more energy-efficient is only part of the equation. He also urged Maryland residents to think more about how they use electricity.

“We are going to need everyone to do their part to reduce our per capita consumption in the state of Maryland by 15 percent by 2015,” he said.

If the state makes these overall reductions, he said, it could save $1.8 billion in overall energy costs.

The governor said the state likely will have to consider expanding nuclear power production. He said the Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant in Lusby is the lowest-cost generator of power in the state, and that the expansion of nuclear power will have to be balanced with environmental concerns.

Predictions show that the state faces rolling blackouts by 2010 without measures to increase power generation and deliver energy where it is needed, he said.

“To continue to do what we’re doing is unsustainable in the long term, so we are going as an administration to be throwing ourselves into these issues of sustainability,” he said.

The governor also announced the appointment of Hatim Jabaji as director of the Office of Energy Performance and Conservation in the Maryland Department of General Services. He will oversee initiatives to reduce the government’s power consumption.

Taking his swings

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III took batting practice and shagged fly balls with the Nationals before last Monday night’s game at RFK Stadium, although his performance won’t earn him a major-league contract any time soon.

The Virginia Republican swung at 10 pitches and hit only one ball out of the infield. “I’m 58, but I hit like a 55-year-old,” Mr. Davis said. “I can hit a lot better than that.”

The Nationals lost to the Cubs 7-2

Blogger sued

A blogger who repeatedly pokes fun at the Salisbury, Md., police chief is being sued for defamation.

Police Chief Allan Webster is suing Joe Albergo, 45, who runs the Salisbury News blog. On Mr. Albergo’s blog, he commonly criticizes the police chief, sometimes calling him “Chief Jack & Coke.”

“The chief of police wants a piece of me,” Mr. Albergo wrote on his blog in response to the lawsuit, which seeks $9,999 in damages.

The site discusses local matters in Salisbury and Wicomico County, and often includes pictures of Chief Webster. Although Mr. Albergo focuses on local politics, he warns readers, “Salisbury News does not warrant or represent that this information is current, complete and accurate.”

Jesse Hammock, an attorney for Chief Webster, said Mr. Albergo publishes false and defamatory statements about the chief.

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