A nail-biter in D.C.’s Ward 8 council race could take a week to resolve

A nail-biter in D.C.’s Ward 8 council race could take a week to resolve

By Abigail Hauslohner and Aaron C. Davis, Washington Post, April 29 at 10:02 PM

Two D.C. Council hopefuls are waiting to learn the outcome of a special election that was too close to call Tuesday night — and that could result in a setback for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s agenda.

On Wednesday morning, ­LaRuby May, Bowser’s pick for the Ward 8 council seat, was leading her closest opponent by just 152 votes. The D.C. Board of Elections said that more than 1,000 special ballots remained uncounted and that a final tally was probably a week away.

Tuesday’s special elections to determine successors to Bowser, in Ward 4, and to the late Marion Barry, in Ward 8, were widely seen as a test of the new mayor’s power and influence in District politics.

In Ward 4, a little-known Bowser political aide, Brandon Todd, easily won the seat she vacated on the council. But in Ward 8, May, another former staffer, was clinging to her narrow lead over Trayon White, a Barry protege.

White’s remaining within striking distance of May signaled that anti-Bowser sentiment may live on in a ward where thousands supported then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray, the only candidate in last year’s Democratic mayoral primary who lived east of the Anacostia River.

In Ward 8, Gray beat Bowser by 26 percentage points. And although he campaigned there for her later, Barry also opposed Bowser in that contest.

Even if May prevails, the close race to replace Barry appeared likely to limit how much Bowser could lean on May in the next year for votes that may be controversial in the ward. With only a year and a half remaining in Barry’s term, the race for the full term will begin in earnest in less than a year, giving May little time to distinguish herself.

Denise Toliver, a spokeswoman for the Board of Elections, said the special ballots — commonly known as “provisional” ballots elsewhere — account for voters who cast ballots on the same day they registered, residents who completed a change of address form, or people who voted in the wrong precinct.

Some of those voters will now have to validate their ballots at the Board of Elections for their votes to be counted. “Some people did same-day registration, and they had no proof of residency, so they have 10 days to come in to show their proof of residency,” Toliver said.

Leaving the Board of Elections on Wednesday morning, White said his team was already looking into ways to bring supporters back to validate their ballots. He also called for fairness in the final count, and he warned of a recount if the provisional ballots break in May’s favor.

“We want to go in good faith, but we know that D.C. has not been a place where you can go in good faith, at least in politics,” White said, saying he fears interference in the counting to help his competitor, May, a close ally of Bowser.

“We are going against the mayor’s mafia, and good faith is not going to be good enough.”

Ward 8 residents who voted for White said the 30-year-old, who grew up in the ward, was able to connect with young people, particularly young men, better than other candidates. It’s unclear how many young people, particularly first-time voters, turned out to vote for White on Tuesday. But if he was able to mobilize a sufficient number of people with no prior voting history, it could mean victory for White after the special ballots are counted.

“We really went into every crack and crevice to get people to the polls — real grass-roots work,” White said. “I know we have a lot of votes still out there.”

May, meanwhile, sent a message to her supporters, urging them to “stick with [her] in this extra period and together we will bring the victory home.” Responding to White’s suggestion that the counting process might not be entirely fair, May said, “I have every bit of confidence that the process will be fair and transparent.”

Validating the special ballots will keep the pressure on both campaigns over the next week. Anyone a campaign transported from a nursing home, a low-income housing complex or even a homeless shelter who did not have proper identification to register will have to be found again and driven back to the election office to have that person’s vote counted.

To pull ahead of May, White will need roughly 65 percent of the special ballots to break his way.

White said election officials told him Wednesday morning that they were working to release a batch of provisional ballots by next Tuesday and to have a final tally by May 8.

He said elections officials would not allow his campaign to observe the counting of special ballots.

The board has until May 14 to certify the election results.

In Ward 4, Todd, Bowser’s former constituent-services director and chief campaign fundraiser, led his nearest competitor by nearly 2 to 1 in unofficial results.

But in Ward 8, in a crowded field of 11 candidates, White emerged as the anti-
establishment vote, siphoning support from other candidates — including Barry’s son, Marion Christopher Barry, and Sheila Bunn, who had worked as a top aide to Gray.

Both Todd and May jumped to early leads in the special election with the help of hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from Bowser donors and endorsements from her political allies.

The two became targets of criticism from competitors over their relationships with Bowser, and they spent considerable time in the campaign’s closing weeks assuring voters that they would be independent voices on the council.

Speaking Tuesday night, May promised to work “overtime” to finish the job to win Barry’s vacant seat.The death in November of Barry, a D.C. legend and four-term mayor, marked the end of an era for Washington politics — especially for the District’s poorest neighborhoods in Ward 8, where Barry held the council seat for a combined 15 years.

Still, May and Todd welcomed Bowser’s public support in the campaign’s closing days.

Bowser headlined get-out-the-vote events with Todd and May during the first day of early voting in each ward.

And on Tuesday, a grinning Bowser arrived at May’s campaign office at 7 a.m., just as a dawn rally for dozens of supporters wrapped up with chants of May’s campaign slogan: “So Eight may rise!”

May, a Bowser field director during her run for mayor last year, outspent White 16 to 1, and her campaign featured multiple surprise appearances by the mayor, including two on Election Day.

Perry Stein, Victoria St. Martin and Mary Pat Flaherty contributed to this report.

Bowser protege Brandon Todd wins Ward 4 seat; Ward 8 too close to call

Bowser protege Brandon Todd wins Ward 4 seat; Ward 8 too close to call

By Aaron C. Davis and Abigail Hauslohner April 28 at 9:58 PM

A little-known political aide to D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has won the seat she left vacant on the D.C. Council, while another Bowser operative held a razor-thin lead Tuesday night in the contest to succeed the late Marion Barry.

With all precincts reporting, Brandon Todd, Bowser’s former constituent-services director and chief campaign fundraiser, led his nearest competitor by nearly 2-to-1 in unofficial results. Some absentee and provisional ballots remained uncounted, but there were not enough to sway the overwhelming outcome.

In Ward 8, LaRuby May, a Bowser field director during her run for mayor last year, narrowly led Trayon White, a former State Board of Education member and Barry protege.

In a crowded field of 11 candidates, White emerged as the anti-establishment vote, siphoning support from other candidates — including Barry’s son, Marion Christopher Barry, and Sheila Bunn, a former top aid to former mayor Vincent C. Gray.

With hundreds of absentee and provisional ballots likely still outstanding, May led White by a scant 152 votes out of more than 6,200 ballots cast. Elections officials said the Ward 8 race remained too close to call Tuesday night.

Ward 8 residents cast their votes in a special election to fill Marion Barry’s council seat. With hundreds of absentee ballots still outstanding, officials said the race was too close to call Tuesday night. (Erin Schaff/For The Washington Post)

At his election night party, White, who was outspent 16-to-1 by May, credited his late campaign surge to “everyday voters who turned out to support our vision. We put people first, and they supported us,” White said. He called on the public to watch carefully as final ballots are tallied. “We know there are a lot of absentee ballots out. I just hope we don’t get cheated,” White said. “There has been a lot of interference in this race by the mayor.”

Speaking at May’s party, held at the site of her own primary victory party a year ago, Bowser declared May “winning” and implored her supporters to also watch the final count carefully. “We’ve got to fight to make sure that every one of her votes is counted.”

Hanging in the balance was Bowser’s ability to gain two political confidants on the D.C. Council, potentially tipping close votes in her favor.

Early in her first term, Bowser could use the firepower. She has asked the council to grant her office clear authority to provide legal reviews of land deals, contracts and legislation. Doing so could consolidate power in her office — and away from the city’s first elected attorney general, Karl A. Racine.

Bowser has also asked the council for the authority to hire and fire several agency directors who are now confirmed by the council. In the past, divided councils have balked at giving a mayor that authority.

At May’s election night party, supporters lamented the night ending without a conclusion.

“It means we have a lot of people who don’t believe in change,” said Linwood Bunch, a campaign worker. Trayon White “cannot save Ward 8, but she can. We have people here who want to work . . . and others who want to stay stagnated.”

One May campaign volunteer, who declined to give his full name, said that the final count would say a lot about the reach of Bowser’s power, especially in Ward 8, which she lost by 26 percentage points during last year’s Democratic primary and where many voters remain suspicious of politicians from elsewhere in the city.

“This is going to tell how the power is wired — if Muriel Bowser has the power she wants, if it flows all the way from Ward 8 to Ward 4,” said the volunteer, who said only that his name was Robert. “All the people across the city are waiting to see who’s in charge — who’s really in charge. Is Muriel Bowser able to make a king? If she pulls off an election in two wards, people will be lining up to kiss her hand, whether they like it or not.”

The off-year, special election drew more than 75 percent of the turnout of last year’s mayoral primary, eclipsing most predictions.

Interest in the race to fill the seat left open by Bowser (D) in the District’s northern Ward 4, however, was more anemic. Overall turnout there was 17 percent, or less than half the number who voted in the mayoral primary a year ago.

Campaigning Tuesday, Todd called the experience humbling. “You actually see your name on a ballot, and you’re voting for yourself. It’s been a very humbling experience just to know that people are putting their trust in you and casting their vote for you to go downtown and make a difference in their lives.”

Todd won on a promise to continue the course charted by Bowser, and he embraced his close relationship with the mayor, saying he was the only candidate in the field who would be able to pick up the phone and discuss the ward’s needs directly with her.

Renee Bowser, a labor attorney who is no relation to the mayor, came in second with about 22 percent of the vote to Todd’s 42 percent. Leon T. Andrews Jr., a senior fellow with the National League of Cities, came in third with 15 percent.

Both Todd and May jumped out to early leads in the special election with the help of hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from Bowser donors and endorsements from her political allies. The two became targets of criticism from competitors over their relationships with Bowser and spent considerable time in the campaign’s closing weeks assuring voters that they would be independent voices on the council.

Still, May and Todd welcomed Bowser’s public support in the campaign’s closing days.

Bowser headlined get-out-the-vote events with both Todd and May during the first day of early voting in each ward.

And on Election Day, a grinning Bowser arrived at May’s campaign office at 7 a.m., just as a dawn rally for dozens of supporters wrapped up with chants of May’s campaign slogan: “So Eight may rise!”

Speaking Tuesday night, LaRuby promised to work “overtime” to finish the job to win Barry’s vacant seat.The death in November of Barry, the D.C. legend and four-term mayor, marked the end of an era for Washington politics — especially for the District’s poorest neighborhoods in Ward 8, where Barry held the council seat for a combined 15 years.

Barry never tapped a clear successor, leaving the race to replace him wide open.

The younger Barry, known to many as Christopher, began using his full given name of Marion Christopher Barry shortly before he launched his bid for his father’s seat last fall.

The younger Barry ran a troubled campaign, with little money. He also was involved in an incident at a downtown bank in which he broke a security camera. Charges are pending.

In a statement late Tuesday, Barry suggested that he would launch a second campaign for the next full term for the Ward 8 seat. Barry’s term expires in about 18 months.

“This time, money spoke. Next time, the people will speak,” Barry said. “My campaign for my father’s seat in Ward 8 begins tomorrow.”

The new council members could be sworn in as early as May 14, the day the city’s Board of Elections is to certify the election results.

Victoria St. Martin contributed to this report.

Bowser Pick Wins in Ward 4; Ward 8 Heads to a Likely Recount

Bowser Pick Wins in Ward 4; Ward 8 Heads to a Likely Recount

Posted by Will Sommer, Washington City Paper, on Apr. 28, 2015 at 11:42 pm

Muriel Bowser could potentially add two new allies to the D.C. Council after special elections today, depending on the results of a tight race in Ward 8.

Brandon Todd predicted Tuesday morning that he would "win big," and he did. Pushed by Bowser’s support to replace her in her old Council seat and wielding the fundraising advantage that came with the endorsement, Todd received 44.42 percent of the vote running against twelve other candidates on the ballot. (See all the election results on a map here).

Renee Bowser came in second with 21.57 percent, followed by Leon T. Andrews, Jr. with 15.02 percent, and Vince Gray-endorsed Dwayne M. Toliver with 12.27 percent.

In Ward 8, though, Bowser’s candidate hasn’t won yet. With all precincts counted, Green Team candidate LaRuby May has 1,711 votes, 26.94 percent of the vote. That puts her 152 votes ahead of street organizer Trayon "WardEight" White, who received 1,559 votes and 24.55 percent of the vote.

That number could change (although probably not enough in White’s favor to put him ahead) thanks to a reported 163 outstanding absentee ballots. With May more than two percent ahead of White, the results aren’t close enough yet to trigger an automatic recount, but White tells LL that he’ll pay for a recount no matter how the absentee ballots break out.

The close results come in part from a more competitive field of second-tier candidates. Former Gray staffer Sheila Bunn came in third with 10.63 percent of the vote, while Eugene D. Kinlow received 10.2 percent. Ward Eight Democrats president Natalie Williams won 9.53 percent. Marion C. Barry, running to replace late father Marion Barry in the seat, came in sixth with 7.24 percent of the vote.

The mood of uncertainty prevailed at May’s election party at the Old Congress Heights School. Taking the mic, Bowser announced that May was "winning," meaning that she hasn’t won yet. Bowser asked the crowd, which repeatedly yelled the May campaign motto "So Eight May Rise," to make sure that the D.C. Board of Elections counts all of May’s votes.

May shrugged off the lack of decisive victory and seemed to welcome the delayed results.

"You know what happens when you work harder?" May said. "Sometimes, you’ve gotta do overtime."

Outside White’s party at Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE, a defiant crowd of supporters surrounded their candidate and claimed that Bowser would fix the election count. Jauhar Abraham, a former candidate who dropped out to endorse White, urged White to head to DCBOE’s headquarters tonight to monitor the votes.

"It’s so close," Abraham said. "They work for Muriel."

White wouldn’t say that he wishes more candidates—including Barry, who likely drew votes away from White—had dropped out to support him. But he reveled in his relative success against the Bowser-backed May campaign, which had raised nearly $270,000 as of April 20 to his roughly $17,000.

"We ran a campaign with nothing against a half-a-million dollar money machine," said White, exaggerating May’s totals some.

Whoever wins, they won’t have long to enjoy the seat. It’s up for another election next year. Should the recount go against him, White has already decided to run again.

After 20 years, could it be deja vu in race to replace Marion Barry?

After 20 years, could it be deja vu in race to replace Marion Barry?

By Aaron C. Davis, Washington Post, April 26 at 5:08 PM

Twenty years ago, when Marion S. Barry Jr. ascended to the mayor’s office and left his D.C. Council seat vacant, the free-for-all to replace him was far from settled the night of the election. After the ballots were counted, Barry’s chosen successor led by a single vote.

Barry’s death last fall left his council seat vacant yet again. And with a dozen candidates and an even more chaotic race unfolding since, the question looming over Tuesday’s special election is whether the city is in for another long night.

“Everyone is just waiting to see if Marion, the father, can from the grave, help the son,” said longtime Ward 8 political activist Philip Pannell. “And, oh God, yes. There’s a good chance we have no idea on election night.”

Support for Marion Christopher Barry, the political neophyte but namesake of the legendary four-term D.C. mayor, remains one of the greatest unknowns in the contest’s final days. He — along with Barry protege Trayon White; a Barry spokeswoman, Natalie Williams; and nine other candidates in Ward 8 — has promised to carry on Barry’s populist legacy in the city’s economically depressed neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

But as in Ward 4, where another special election will be held on Tuesday, every candidate on the ballot will also be running in the shadow of another mayor — the District’s current one, Muriel E. Bowser.

Two of Bowser’s closest political confidants — Brandon Todd, her former campaign finance chief, running in Ward 4, and LaRuby May, her Ward 8 political director last fall — have amassed record fundraising totals and laundry lists of endorsements.

Both have emerged as the candidates to beat. And concerns that Bowser could have two ultra-close allies on the council — and enough sway to seal close votes — have emerged as the central tension in both ward elections.

“It’s the concern you hear over and over from voters,” said Drew Schneider, a blogger in Petworth who has maintained the most comprehensive Web site tracking the Ward 4 race. “Everyone has sent me all of the questions submitted by residents at the various forums. I have stacks and stacks of notecards, and a third to a half are all about the . . . relationship with the mayor.”

In Ward 4, Todd has embraced his close ties with Bowser, saying he is the only one who can pick up the phone and call the mayor to get things done. Competitors Leon T. Andrews Jr., Dwayne Toliver and Renee L. Bowser (no relation to the mayor) have emerged as a top tier of anti-Bowser alternatives, but they could be in danger of splitting the vote.

In Ward 8, May has more cautiously addressed her relationship with Bowser, but she has drawn increasingly fierce attacks for that connection from voting rights activist Eugene D. Kinlow and Sheila Bunn, who was former mayor Vincent C. Gray’s deputy chief of staff.

Because it is an off-election year, political strategists say they will be surprised if more than 15 percent of voters turn out in Ward 8 and a quarter of voters in Ward 4.

That means the winning candidate, especially in Ward 8, could easily win with a small fraction of the ward’s registered voters.

Pannell said that no matter the outcome, the election is likely to reinvigorate interest in a bill now pending in the D.C. Council to hold instant runoff elections between top vote-getters.

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.

GOP Congress Takes Issue with DC Contraceptives Bill

House Republicans take issue with another D.C. law

By Aaron C. Davis April 20 at 8:34 PM

After months of fiery rhetoric and even a threat to jail the mayor, conservative House Republicans on Tuesday are poised to take yet another swipe at the District’s liberal leaders by trying to throw out a new law.

For the first time in 23 years, a powerful House committee has scheduled a vote to upend a D.C. law that bans employers from discriminating based on reproductive health decisions. Some conservatives have interpreted the bill to mean that employers in the District, including religious organizations, could eventually be required to provide coverage for contraception and abortions.

The odds that Congress will overturn the law remain slim. The 30-day review period for Congress to take action is more than half over, meaning both the House and Senate would have to repeal by May 2. President Obama would also have to sign off on doing so.

A more likely scenario is that the effort to repeal spills into the next federal budget battle, when Congress has the power to undo D.C. laws by restricting the city’s ability to spend its own money to carry them out.

The District may be in for a “rough go” during this year’s budget process with Republicans in charge, said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), the city’s nonvoting member of Congress.

The city has fought back for decades against Republican efforts to impose socially conservative policy on the federal district. A city needle exchange program, another for medical marijuana and funding for abortions have been repeated flash points. More recently, congressional Republicans and city leaders sparred fiercely over the city’s decision to move forward with legalizing marijuana.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) introduced the latest measure last month — just days before he announced his candidacy for president.

Several other Republicans have since vowed to upend the measure. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) called a committee vote to rebuke a D.C. law for the first time since 1992.

In a statement from Utah on Monday, Chaffetz said he saw no choice but to take a first step toward repealing the D.C. law. He said D.C. leaders had failed to carve out an appropriate exemption for religious organizations to continue to set their own employment policies.

“As a result, the House Oversight Committee must take immediate action to prevent this flawed legislation from being law,” Chaffetz said.

Surrounded by women’s rights groups and a pro-choice Catholic group, Norton blasted the congressional interference at a news conference Monday.

Norton said Republicans were abandoning their “much professed” love of states’ rights when it suited them to score points with conservative religious constituents.

“We need to tell the country what the Congress is trying to do to a local jurisdiction here in the District of Columbia,” Norton said. “Inevitably it will be seen as a resumption of the Republican war on women.”

The D.C. measure at issue is the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act. Passed last year by the D.C. Council and signed into law in January by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), the measure broadens the definition of discrimination to include an employee’s reproductive health decisions. Under the law, employers cannot discriminate against employees who seek contraception or family planning services. They also cannot act when they know an employee has used medical treatments to either initiate or terminate a pregnancy.

In testimony before the D.C. Council last fall, a spokesman for Catholics for Choice said the group knows of instances in the District in which employees have been discriminated against for such issues but did not cite specific examples.

Casey Mattox, senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, which opposed the law, said it was drafted in a way that could also require religious organizations to pay for abortions and other reproductive services that employers object to on moral grounds.

The council passed a temporary fix to the bill to make clear that religious organizations would not be responsible for such medical care, but Mattox and other critics say the fix was insufficient.

“We are certainly happy to have Congress moving forward to correct what is grossly illegal and unconstitutional and . . . bring some sanity to D.C. government,” said Mattox. “If not stopped the effect would be to eventually force employers, including pro-life organizations like the March for Life, to pay for abortions.”

Michael Czin, a Bowser spokesman, said that characterization is false and said critics have clouded the central issue, which is to prevent discrimination.

“The Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and family members based on private reproductive health decisions. This legislation isn’t controversial. It’s common sense,” Czin said in an e-mail.

“There are numerous issues that deserve Congress’s immediate attention, from fixing our broken immigration system to investing in our nation’s ailing infrastructure. Meddling in D.C.’s affairs shouldn’t be one of them.”

Some Republicans have pointed to a Supreme Court decision last year to show that Congress would be within its rights to disapprove the D.C. measure. In that case, the court ruled that family-owned businesses do not have to offer their employees contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act if doing so conflicts with owners’ religious beliefs.

Mattox said that if Congress moves forward with killing the measure, it would keep D.C. taxpayers “from being on the receiving end of a large legal bill.”

Bowser is scheduled to be on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, but on the Senate side of the building, where prospects for what’s known as a disapproval resolution are considerably dimmer. The upper chamber’s Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee has not taken action on the resolution.

Another measure that remains alive in both committees would upend a separate D.C. law that lifts the exemption for religiously affiliated educational institutions from the city’s gay nondiscrimination law. Ending the exemption could require universities in the city to fund LGBT groups.

Under the District’s congressional charter, disapproval resolutions are “highly privileged” and can be brought quickly to a floor vote once passed in committee. But with only two weeks remaining in which to act, Republican leaders in both chambers eager to spend floor time on national issues like Iran and trade, and with the near certainty that Obama would veto any disapproval measure, the more likely route for congressional intervention is through the appropriations process.

Last month, an influential group of House conservatives, the Republican Study Committee, wrote to the chairman of the appropriations subcommittee handling the city budget, Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), advocating that Congress “wield its constitutional ‘power of the purse’ to prevent infringement of the fundamental constitutional protections for District-based employers and institutions.” It pushed for the committee to cut funding for both the reproductive and gay rights laws.

Aaron Davis covers D.C. government and politics for The Post and wants to hear your story about how D.C. works — or how it doesn’t.

EEOC files discrimination suit against Maryland Insurance Administration

EEOC files discrimination suit against Maryland Insurance Administration

By Ovetta Wiggins, Washington Post, April 20 at 6:40 PM

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is suing a Maryland insurance regulatory agency over allegations that it paid female employees less than their male counterparts.

The EEOC filed a lawsuit against the Maryland Insurance Administration in U.S. District Court in Baltimore last week on behalf of three women who work as investigators or enforcement officers in the agency’s Baltimore office.

“It’s not just unfair when women are paid less than men when they do substantially equal work under similar working conditions — it’s a blatant violation of federal law,” Debra M. Lawrence, an EEOC regional attorney, said in a statement. “The EEOC is committed to ensuring that all employees, both public sector and private sector employees, receive the equal pay they deserve.”

The Maryland Insurance Administration, which is an independent state agency, “strongly” denies the allegations, spokeswoman Vivian D. Laxton said.

“The case will be vigorously defended,” she said in an e-mail.

The agency regulates the insurance industry, enforces insurance laws and investigates complaints that state residents have about their insurance coverage.

“It’s ironic and disturbing that a state law enforcement agency would pay female investigators and enforcement officers less than their male colleagues simply because of their gender,” Spencer H. Lewis Jr., the EEOC’s Philadelphia district director, said in a statement.

According to the EEOC complaint, the Maryland Insurance Administration has paid Alexandra Cordaro, Mary Jo Rogers and Marlene Green less than their male colleagues since December 2009. The lawsuit alleges that other women have also been discriminated against.

The complaint accuses the agency of violating the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits sex-based wage discrimination between men and women who perform jobs that require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions.

The EEOC is asking a jury to order the agency to stop paying wages based on gender, to create and carry out policies and programs that provide equal employment opportunities for women, and to pay back wages and damages to the defendants.

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.

Medicare assigns poor-to-middling scores to Washington area’s hospitals

Medicare assigns poor-to-middling scores to Washington area’s hospitals

By Jordan Rau, Kaiser Health News, April 19 at 7:47 PM

Few Washington-area hospitals won recognition as the federal government handed out its first star ratings based on patients’ appraisals.

Nationally, only 7 percent of the hospitals Medicare evaluated were awarded the maximum of five stars in the government’s attempt to make comparing hospitals more like shopping for refrigerators or picking movies. None of the top scorers were in the Washington area.

Throughout the country, many leading hospitals received three stars, while comparatively obscure local hospitals and others that specialized in lucrative surgeries frequently received the most stars.

Evaluating hospitals is becoming increasingly important as more insurance plans offer patients limited ­choices. Medicare already uses stars to rate nursing homes, dialysis centers and private Medicare Advantage insurance plans. While Medicare publishes more than 100 quality measures about hospitals on its Hospital Compare Web site, many are hard to decipher, and there is little evidence consumers use the site very much.

Many in the hospital industry fear Medicare’s five-star scale won’t accurately reflect quality and may place too much weight on patient reviews, which are just one measurement of hospital quality. Medicare also reports the results of hospital care, such as how many died or got infections during their stay, but those are not yet assigned star ratings.

“We want to expand this to other areas like clinical outcomes and safety over time, but we thought patient experience would be very understandable to consumers, so we started there,” Patrick Conway, chief medical officer for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in an interview.

Medicare’s new summary star rating, posted on Hospital Compare, is based on 11 facets of patient experience, including how well doctors and nurses communicated, how well patients believed their pain was addressed, and whether they would recommend the hospital to others.

In the District, Medicare gave a single star, its lowest rating, to United Medical Center in Southeast. Others did only marginally better: Medicare gave two stars to George Washington University Hospital, Howard University Hospital, MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Providence Hospital in Northeast and Sibley Memorial Hospital in Northwest. MedStar Georgetown University Hospital got three stars, the highest of any in the city.

In Montgomery County, two stars were awarded to Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney, and Adventist HealthCare’s Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park and Shady Grove Medical Center in Rockville.

In Prince George’s County, Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham received two stars. Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, Fort Washington Medical Center, MedStar Southern Maryland Hospital Center in Clinton and Laurel Regional Hospital each got one star.

In Northern Virginia, Reston Hospital Center, Novant Health Prince William Medical Center in Manassas, Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center in Woodbridge and the Inova Health System’s hospitals each received three stars, except for Inova Alexandria, which received two. Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington County was the only four-star hospital in the Washington area.

In assigning stars, Medicare compared hospital against each other, essentially grading on a curve. It noted that “a 1-star rating does not mean that you will receive poor care from a hospital” and that “we suggest that you use the star rating along with other quality information when making decisions about choosing a hospital.”

Some hospital officials doubt that the differences are that significant. “A one-point difference can change you from a two-star to a three-star hospital,” said Lisa Allen, chief patient experience officer for Johns Hopkins Medicine, which operates Sibley and Suburban among others (including Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins Hospital, which received four stars). “I’m not sure they’ve designed it to truly differentiate a hospital that provides a great experience from one that doesn’t.”

Deneen Richmond, an executive at Inova, said the star ratings should encompass more than one aspect of a hospital. “I’m a Consumer Reports junkie, and I look at TripAdvisor whenever I’m out of town, but the difference is those ratings are comprehensive and take in multiple dimensions, whether it’s for a restaurant or a hotel,” she said.

The American Hospital Association also issued a caution to patients, saying: “There’s a risk of oversimplifying the complexity of quality care or misinterpreting what is important to a particular patient, especially since patients seek care for many different reasons.”

Nationally, Medicare awarded the top rating of five stars to 251 hospitals, about 7 percent of all the hospitals it judged, a Kaiser Health News analysis found. Many are small specialty hospitals that focus on lucrative elective operations such as spine, heart or knee surgeries. They have traditionally received more positive patient reviews than have general hospitals, where a diversity of sicknesses and chaotic emergency rooms make it more likely patients will have a bad experience.

A few five-star hospitals are part of well-respected systems, such as the Mayo Clinic’s hospitals in Phoenix, Jacksonville, Fla., and New Prague, Minn. Mayo’s flagship hospital in Rochester, Minn., received four stars.

Medicare awarded three stars to some of the nation’s most esteemed hospitals, including ­Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, New York-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, and Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

The government gave its lowest rating of one star to 101 hospitals, or 3 percent.

On average, hospitals scored highest in Maine, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Thirty-four states had zero one-star hospitals.

Hospitals in Maryland, Nevada, New York, New Jersey, Florida, California and the District scored lowest on average. Thirteen states did not have a single five-star hospital.

In total, Medicare assigned star ratings to 3,553 hospitals based on the experiences of patients who were admitted between July 2013 and June 2014. Medicare gave out four stars to 1,205 hospitals, or 34 percent of those it evaluated. In addition, 1,414 hospitals, or 40 percent, received three stars, and 582 hospitals, or 16 percent, received two stars. Medicare did not assign stars to 1,102 hospitals, primarily because not enough patients completed surveys during that period.

Kaiser Health News is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.