What Muriel Bowser has at stake in next year’s D.C. Council elections

What Muriel Bowser has at stake in next year’s D.C. Council elections

By Colbert I. King Opinion writer November 13

Her name won’t be on the ballot next year, but Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has more riding on the 2016 D.C. elections than anyone else in the city.

Bowser has high stakes in four key council candidates: Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4), Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and LaRuby May (D-Ward 8). If the mayor is to keep control of the city’s direction, these members must hold on to their seats. Otherwise, the political advantage shifts to a less-reliable majority. At this stage, odds are against all four of them winning. Chances are even that two will cross the finish line first. Only one can be called an odds-on favorite.

Colbert I. “Colby” King writes a column — sometimes about D.C., sometimes about politics — on that runs on Saturdays. In 2003, he won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. King joined the Post’s editorial board in 1990 and served as deputy editorial page editor from 2000 to 2007.

Bowser starts with two disadvantages. There’s not a thoroughbred in her stable. And she’s no longer in a position to fuel her horses with loads of energizing cash because the means of doing so, an independent political action committee called FreshPAC, is being shut down in response to withering criticism heard across the city.

Bowser doesn’t have much of a choice about the candidates she’s backing. Each Democratic incumbent on her slate is a proven ally and a sure-fire council vote when she needs it. She has no real options.

That wasn’t the case with FreshPAC. The mayor knew it was in the works. She was aware that it was out to raise $1 million to reelect supportive council members while targeting those who won’t get with the mayor’s program.

She appeared at fundraisers for FreshPAC. She defended its existence when it came under attack from council members, clean government groups and the media.

Bowser wittingly decided to get behind the creation of a richly funded political vehicle launched to reward friends and punish enemies, in the finest tradition of Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall.

That is likely to be an issue that will bleed into next year, and in ways that Bowser and her political crew never expected.

Inquiring minds want to know whether Bowser’s change of heart on the $6.4 billion Pepco-Exelon merger — from nay to yea — had anything to do with Pepco coming up with $25 million to help her administration build a new stadium for the city’s Major League Soccer team, D.C. United. Opponents of the deal have asked the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to look into Pepco’s sponsorship agreement with the city.

This inquiring mind also wants to know whether FreshPAC approached Pepco or Exelon for contributions during Bowser’s merger discussions with the utilities. I’m not the only inquisitive journalist.

Tom Sherwood, of WRC (Channel 4), beat me to it.

In response to Sherwood’s e-mail queries to Pepco regarding FreshPAC solicitations — which he granted me permission to use — Myra Oppel, Pepco’s vice president for communication, wrote that Pepco had not contributed to FreshPAC. Sherwood followed up by asking, “Was Pepco asked to make a contribution?” Oppel responded, “We have no further comment beyond our statement.”

Sherwood also asked FreshPAC whether it solicited contributions from Pepco or Exelon. On Oct. 20, he received this from Thorn Pozen, FreshPAC counsel: “We want to be as open as possible. Although I may not always be able to report on all internal conversations, requests, and/or discussions, including if such conversations have taken place, we’ll always report contributions in full compliance with the spirit and letter of the law. Here there were no contributions.”

Hardly a denial.

Any interest, D.C. inspector general, D.C. attorney general or D.C. ethics board? Or does the U.S. attorney have to do the job for the city?

Just asking.

Those questions linger as Bowser goes into the election year accompanied by her stable of incumbents.

No telling what impact the demise of FreshPAC will have on the candidacies of Orange and Alexander. They both need money, honey. FreshPAC would likely have been a chief source, especially since Jeffrey E. Thompson , the wealthy self-made (or is that D.C. government-made?) businessman who pleaded guilty to financing illicit off-the-books campaign schemes, is, well, out of service.

Orange and Alexander face a possible opponent in former mayor Vincent C. Gray (D). Their prospects of beating Gray are grim. Orange tried in the April 1 Democratic mayoral primary; although Gray lost, he outpolled Orange 31,613 to 1,946. Orange should hardly be itching for a rematch.

Alexander shouldn’t be hankering for a race with Gray, either. She’s sitting in the Ward 7 seat that Gray gave up to become council chairman. It’s his for the asking.

Odds are even that Todd retains his seat. But it will be done on the strength of his work on the council and strong constituent service that covers Ward 4 like a blanket.

May, in contrast, is not an odds-on favorite in Ward 8, because Bowser isn’t one there, either.

So 2016 is shaping up as Bowser’s year to win or lose, and her chances aren’t looking so good.

Divided D.C. Council takes aim at Mayor Bowser’s super PAC

Divided D.C. Council takes aim at Mayor Bowser’s super PAC

By Aaron C. Davis, Washington Post, October 20 at 8:53 PM

A majority of the D.C. Council on Tuesday signed on to legislation that would rein in a political action committee run by allies of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser.

Council members said a flood of more than $300,000 in contributions to the group in recent months, mostly by businesses seeking contracts with the city, threatened to corrupt a District government still reeling from an ongoing federal investigation into the last mayoral administration.

“Just what are we becoming here, Tammany Hall?” asked D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), who introduced the measure with David A. Grosso (I-At Large).

The legislation would close a loophole in city election law that allows a PAC to accept contributions of unlimited size during years in which the group is not actively working to elect a candidate. Ben Soto, treasurer of the pro-Bowser PAC and the mayor’s former campaign treasurer, told The Washington Post last week that he was beginning a fundraising drive to fill the PAC’s bank account with $1 million by the end of the year.

The money is already rolling in through contributions of up to 10 times the legal limit for a mayoral campaign. It would be used by the PAC next year to help reelect allies or unseat council members who do not see eye-to-eye with Bowser, Soto said.

On Tuesday, he pushed back against Cheh’s description of the PAC as anything like Tammany Hall, the notorious political machine that operated in New York City during the 19th and 20th centuries.

“I have a hard time with that when we are completely in compliance with the campaign finance regulations that she signed off on,” he said. “We consider ourselves smart and innovative and doing everything we can to support the mayor.”

Grosso was the only council member up for reelection next year who publicly supported the bill. The other six members who signed on as co-sponsors do not face reelection until 2018.

But Grosso occupies one of the council’s citywide seats that is reserved for non-Democrats, giving him some insulation from PAC spending in the heavily Democratic city. Grosso said he is still concerned that the mayor’s allies could use the money to fund a challenger but said he could not let the unlimited contributions continue.

“Unlimited donations undermine the voice for the people,” Grosso said. Limits “keep elected officials accountable to every individual and not just big donors.”

Whether his legislation could actually stop the pro-Bowser PAC remains unclear.

With only a narrow majority of the council in support, Grosso acknowledged that he and his allies could not pass emergency legislation to halt the fundraising drive of Bowser allies before the end of the year.

And if the council does pass the legislation, it is not clear its backers could override a mayoral veto.

Even if the restrictions were to become law, it is also far from certain that they would survive legal challenges in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have protected the right of corporations to make unlimited political contributions.

The legislation could also draw a wide range of opponents, ensnaring District political parties, labor unions and dozens of others who operate PACs to further their members’ causes, lawmakers and experts in election law said.

But Cheh said the damage from the pro-Bowser PAC necessitated council action.

The PAC, which supporters dubbed FreshPAC after Bowser’s campaign slogan of a “fresh start,” “is basically a kind of shakedown of those who are doing business or who want to do business in the District of Columbia,” said Cheh, a professor of constitutional law.

Cheh said the PAC risked tipping the city’s balance of power by intimidating council members to rubber stamp the mayor’s requests.

“The mayor’s supporters unabashedly say, unabashedly admit that they are going to use this tainted money to try to control the votes of the council,” she said.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and council member Anita Bonds (At Large), head of the D.C. Democratic Party, signed on in support of the legislation. Three of five new council members elected last year also publicly backed the measure: Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6). Silverman and Allen shunned corporate contributions during their campaigns.

Council members Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large), Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) did not support the measure. All face reelection next year.

Council members Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4), Bowser’s former campaign finance director, and LaRuby May (D-Ward 8), a Bowser campaign organizer east of the Anacostia River, also did not publicly support the measure. They, too, face election next year for full, four-year terms.

Bowser was returning from a conference in London on Tuesday and was unavailable for comment. In a statement, Bowser spokesman Michael Czin said: “We have not reviewed the legislation that would change the rules for PACs — and presumably state parties — for the first time in years. However, we have and will always abide by the rules.”

The legislation now goes before Judiciary Committee Chairman Kenyan R. McDuffie (D-Ward 5). McDuffie helped craft a rewrite of the city’s campaign finance regulations two years ago and left the long-standing allowance for unlimited fundraising in place for non-election years. The limit in election years is $5,000.

City attorneys at the time said they were concerned that eliminating the provision could draw court challenges.

McDuffie promised Grosso and Cheh that he would take up the legislation, the supporters said. But in a statement, he tried to strike a balance between the issues.

“While I recognize the potential for abuse of PACs, any further restrictions to PAC contributions must not run afoul of the decision in Citizens United and its progeny,” he said, referring to the 2010 Supreme Court case.

Health-care companies, developers, and a core group of supporters of Bowser and her mentor, former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, have pumped more than $300,000 into the PAC since it was launched in April, according to disclosures made last week.

Three Bowser appointees to powerful boards and commissions have contributed $10,000 apiece. A fourth has given $2,500, and a fifth is the PAC’s attorney.

Soto said the PAC would follow whatever the law states. If the council enacts restrictions and the courts uphold it, “we’ll abide by that,” he said. “We want to bring prosperity to all eight wards of the city — that’s our goal.”

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.

Do Bike Helmet Laws Do More Harm Than Good?

Do Bike Helmet Laws Do More Harm Than Good?

Some cycling advocates argue that helmet regulations can create long-term health problems

By

Rachel Bachman, Wall Street Journal

Oct. 12, 2015 11:13 a.m. ET

120 COMMENTS

Helmets help prevent head injuries, so laws requiring cyclists to wear them would seem obvious.

But many cycling advocates have taken a surprising position: They are pushing back against mandatory bike-helmet laws in the U.S. and elsewhere. They say mandatory helmet laws, particularly for adults, make cycling less convenient and seem less safe, thus hindering the larger public-health gains of more people riding bikes.

All-ages helmet laws might actually make cycling more dangerous, some cyclists say, by decreasing ridership. Research shows that the more cyclists there are on the road, the fewer crashes there are. Academics theorize that as drivers become used to seeing bikes on a street, they watch more closely for them.

ENLARGE

Cycling advocates say bike shares, such as New York’s Citi Bike, are safer than other types of riding because the bikes are slower and often used in bike lanes and areas with other cyclists. Photo: Allison Scott/The Wall Street Journal

Cycling advocates are quick to say they’re not anti-helmet. Instead, they’re opposed to helmet laws and their unintended consequences—especially amid the rise of bike-share programs.

“I wear a helmet every day. Everyone in our office wears a helmet every day,” says Colin Browne, communications coordinator for the Washington (D.C.) Area Bicyclist Association. “But as public policy, it’s not a good idea. It just limits the ease and accessibility of bicycling.”

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WABA argued that a mandatory, all-ages helmet law proposed in Maryland a few years ago would do more harm than good. The group cited a paper in the British Medical Journal that showed no noticeable drop in head injuries after enforcement of helmet laws in parts of Australia, Canada and New Zealand, but drops in cycling of between 20% and 44%. The study focused on the years leading up to and after the laws were passed. The Maryland bill died in committee.

California cyclists made similar arguments when pushing back against a proposed all-ages helmet law earlier this year. The helmet requirement never came up for a vote, and the bill was amended to focus on injury research.

ENLARGE

Seattle’s Pronto Cycle Share is a year old. County law requires cyclists of all ages to wear helmets, which bike-share officials acknowledge could have deterred some riders. Photo: Pronto Cycle Share

Mandatory bike-helmet bills also have stalled or failed in Hawaii, New Jersey and Mississippi in recent years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Dallas changed its helmet law in 2014 to exempt adults before a local bike-share program’s launch.

Some cyclists and academics say helmet laws discourage a convenient form of exercise in an era of inactivity. Sedentary lifestyles can have quieter but wider long-term effects than bike crashes, such as billions of dollars in health-care costs for chronic conditions, they say.

Piet de Jong, a professor in the department of applied finance and actuarial studies at Sydney’s Macquarie University, actually calculated the trade-off of mandatory helmet laws. In a 2012 paper in the journal Risk Analysis, he weighed the reduction of head injuries against increased morbidity due to foregone exercise from reduced cycling.

Dr. de Jong concluded that mandatory bike-helmet laws “have a net negative health impact.” That is in part because many people cycle to work or for errands, experts say. People tend to replace that type of cycling not with another physical activity such as a trip to the gym, but with a ride in a car.

ENLARGE

Helmet-law proponents say the possibility of fewer people riding is worth preventing debilitating or deadly injuries. Statistics vary, but several studies show that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of head or brain injury by about two-thirds or more. An analysis in the Journal of Pediatrics of a decade of data concluded that bicycle-related death rates were about 20% lower among children in states with helmet laws.

The helmet-law debate is complex enough that the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, which grew out of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association four decades ago and is still a part of it, disagrees with WABA’s stance on helmet laws. The institute supports the laws.

“They do, in fact, increase helmet use and increase the awareness that you should be thinking about a helmet before you get on a bicycle,” institute director Randy Swart says.

In total, 21 states and Washington, D.C., require bike-helmet use by young people—typically under age 16. About 50 cities or counties in the U.S. mandate bike-helmet use for all ages, according to the BHSI.

ENLARGE

Seattle’s Pronto Cycle Share has helmets at every station for checkout by annual members or $2 rental by short-term users. Few other bike-share programs rent helmets. Photo: Pronto Cycle Share

Cyclists make up less than 1% of U.S. commuters, but their ranks have surged in recent years. The dozens of bike-share programs now operating in U.S. cities have spurred more commuters and tourists to ride. The services let people rent bikes stationed in central locations for short trips.

“It is a burden on customers to have to bring their own helmet,” said Paul DeMaio, a former board member of the North American Bike Share Association, emphasizing that he was expressing his own opinion. “Bike sharing actually is a very safe mode of transport.”

Bike-share riders in the U.S. generally wear helmets at lower rates than other cyclists, research shows. Still, program advocates say bike-share travel is safer than other cycling because the bikes are heavier and slower and often are used in areas with relatively more cyclists.

In recent data from 10 bike-share cities in North America and London, 200 crashes have been reported out of more than 14 million trips, according to the North American Bikeshare Association. New York’s Citi Bike, with 7,400 bikes and more than 22 million trips since its 2013 launch, has had no reported deaths.

ENLARGE

Denver’s bike-share program launched in 2010. The area has no bike-helmet law, but many people wear helmets anyway. In this 2014 photo, U.S. Olympic freestyle skier Bobby Brown was photographed taking a promotional ride for charity. Photo: Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

Advocates point to statistics showing that in cities where more people bike as part of their commute—a common use of bike shares—cyclist fatality rates tend to be lower. Drivers are more likely to operate more slowly and carefully where they know bikers are common, advocates say.

A 2014 study in the American Journal of Public Health analyzed five bike-share cities. Data from the study showed a 28% decrease in overall bike-related injuries and a 14% decrease in bike-related head injuries in the year after bike-share programs launched. The study didn’t track helmet use, which injuries were incurred on bike-share bikes versus other bikes or overall ridership changes.

The figure from the study that made headlines wasn’t the injury decrease, but the fact that the share of total injuries that were head injuries increased to 50% from 42%. A contentious Internet debate ensued on bike safety and helmet laws.

Some Australians have pushed back against that nation’s decades-old, all-ages bike-helmet laws, arguing that they’re hurting a nation with rapidly growing obesity levels. Observers in Melbourne stationed at the same 64 locations and observation times before and after the 1990 enactment of a state law found a higher rate of helmet use—but also 29% fewer adults and 42% fewer children bicycling at all.

In the U.S., the Seattle area’s King County is among the most populous places affected by an all-ages bike-helmet law. Seattle’s year-old bike-share program, Pronto Cycle Share, has helmets at every station for checkout by annual members or $2 rental by short-term users.

ENLARGE

Boston’s bike-share program launched in 2011. Some cycling advocates say riding on bike-share bikes, which are slower and often have automatic lights, are safer than other types of riding. Photo: Wendy Maeda/Getty Images

Pronto has averaged about 24 trips per bike each month in Seattle. That is fewer than the 27 trips per bike each month in the first year of Denver’s B-cycle bike share, which also had 50 stations and 500 bikes, adjusting for Denver’s fewer operating months.

Seattle’s usage rate was significantly lower than the rates in the first years of bike shares in the San Francisco Bay Area (37 trips per bike a month) and Washington, D.C. (76 trips per bike a month).

Holly Houser, Pronto’s departing executive director, acknowledged that the helmet law “can be a deterrent, because there is a perception that if you have to wear a helmet to ride a bike, then biking is dangerous.”

But Seattle’s steep hills and patchwork bike infrastructure are stronger factors than the helmet law in putting off casual riders, she says. “You combine the topography with a lack of protected bike lanes, and helmets become that much more important,” Ms. Houser says.

One way to make cycling safer, many advocates say, is to create more bike-specific lanes and pathways—to decrease the chance of crashes in the first place.

Write to Rachel Bachman at rachel.bachman

Former D.C. mayor Vincent C. Gray eyeing comeback, associates say

Local

Former D.C. mayor Vincent C. Gray eyeing comeback, associates say

By Paul Schwartzman, Washington Post, October 2

A year after voters rejected his reelection bid, former mayor Vincent C. Gray is considering mounting a campaign for the D.C. Council, according to four people familiar with his thinking.

Gray, whose 2010 mayoral campaign has been the subject of a long-standing federal investigation, is eyeing two potential races next year: the at-large seat occupied by Vincent B. Orange (D) and the Ward 7 seat held by Yvette M. Alexander (D), according to the associates, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about the matter.

Gray, 72, who resides in Ward 7, declined to comment when asked about returning to the city’s political arena 18 months after Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) defeated him in the Democratic primary.

However, an associate who has talked with the former mayor about the races said Gray has been buoyed by expressions of encouragement from people he meets in his daily travels. The associate described Gray (D) as having grown more serious about the possibility of running, and this person is also confident that the former mayor could raise enough money to mount a formidable campaign.

Prior to his election as mayor, Gray served as Ward 7’s representative on the council and then was elected chairman.

“This is the real deal,” the associate said. “The moment he announces, he will not have a single worry when it comes to fundraising.”

At the same time, a person familiar with Gray’s thinking said that the former mayor’s conversations about a possible campaign are informal at this stage and that he remains undecided about returning to public life. Gray, the person said, misses government work and has been flattered by supporters’ encouragement.

[The
painfully slow corruption probe of Vincent Gray
]

Nominating petitions are set to be available in January, and the city’s Democratic primary is scheduled for June 14.

As a candidate, Gray probably would face questions about the unresolved federal investigation into the 2010 campaign, in which he defeated then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

Soon after Gray took office, investigators began looking into whether he had orchestrated a scheme to illegally funnel more than $660,000 into his reelection bid. While Gray has never been charged and has denied wrongdoing, a half-dozen of his associates have pleaded guilty to an array of charges.

When he ran for reelection, Gray for several months led a field of Democratic candidates, including Bowser, vying to unseat him. But Bowser defeated him by more than 10,000 votes after then-U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. announced a few weeks before the Democratic primary that a business executive had implicated Gray in the creation of an illegal “shadow” campaign.

Machen resigned as U.S. attorney in April, though the probe into Gray’s 2010 campaign remains unresolved. Gray departed from office thinking he would have won reelection had it not been for the investigation, a sentiment shared by many of his most ardent supporters, some of whom hope he returns to politics.

“He needs to come back into the politics in the city,” said Barbara Morgan, a longtime activist in Ward 7. “Vince is a good person. The city persecuted Vince Gray, and the city owes him another chance.”

But the ongoing investigation is likely to remain an issue for voters who hesitated to support Gray during the mayoral race.

Barbara Savage, another Ward 7 activist, is a former Gray supporter who did not back his reelection campaign, in part because of the investigation. At this point, Savage said she does not know whether she could support him if he ran for the council.

“I don’t want to jump out there, and then I’m disappointed because the U.S. attorney drops a bombshell,” she said. Referring to the prosecutors, she also said: “I don’t think they have anything. I don’t think it’s fair to him. I don’t think it’s fair to people like myself.”

A person familiar with the Gray’s thinking said that his decision about a campaign is not dependent on prosecutors resolving their investigation. Gray ran for reelection as mayor under the same cloud.

If he runs for the Ward 7 seat, a district that encompasses neighborhoods including Deanwood and Hillcrest east of the Anacostia River, Gray probably would face Alexander, an incumbent whom he endorsed when she ran. Asked about a potential Gray challenge, Alexander said the field of candidates remains in flux and she is unsure who is running.

Gray won nearly 60 percent of the Ward 7 vote in the 2014 Democratic primary. In 2010, against Fenty, Gray won 82 percent of the vote in Ward 7.

As an at-large candidate, Gray would run citywide.

A onetime member of Gray’s cabinet, who has been in his presence at public events, said the former mayor has appeared to grow more interested in seeking office as the months have passed and as people have encouraged him to run. “At first he was ­non-responsive,” the former aide said. “And then he started saying he would consider it. It wasn’t like he was being polite. If he wasn’t going to do it, he’d tell you. He’s pretty direct that way.”

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Opposing sides lobby D.C. mayor on Exelon-Pepco deal

D.C. Politics

Opposing sides lobby D.C. mayor on Exelon-Pepco deal

Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) speaks at a rally against the Pepco-Exelon merger outside the Wilson building. (Aaron Davis/The Washington Post)

By Aaron C. Davis and Thomas Heath September 17 at 9:30 PM

An intense round of final lobbying spilled into public view Thursday with bullhorns, chants and admonitions from the city’s biggest names in business and politics over whether Exelon, a giant in nuclear energy, should be allowed to take over Pepco, the District’s century-old electric company.

And the target of all that lobbying was D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D). In private meetings, a group of Bowser’s top deputies have in recent weeks agonized over whether a new round of concessions from the energy companies might allow the mayor to support the proposed $6.4 billion merger, administration officials said.

On one side, Bowser faces the District’s business and political establishments, which back the complicated deal. On the other side, environmentalists, community organizers and the city’s advocate for ratepayers have urged her to reject any last-minute, “backroom deal.”

“Don’t let Exelon buy Muriel Bowser,” environmentalists chanted Thursday in Freedom Plaza outside the John A. Wilson Building, which houses the mayor’s office.

[D.C.
regulator rejects proposed Exelon-Pepco merger
]

Opponents of the $6.4 billion Pepco-Exelon merger. (Aaron Davis/The Washington Post)

But a mile north, surrounded by dozens of city business and nonprofit leaders, former mayor Anthony A. Williams, a mentor for Bowser, held a news conference to publicly urge her to not “embarrass the city” and to find a path forward. “I’m an environmentalist,” he said, “and I don’t see what the big deal is.”

The increasingly forceful and public appeals Thursday amounted to 11th-hour lobbying for Bowser to either overturn or hold firm on the decision of the D.C. Public Service Commission, which last month denied Chicago-based Exelon’s proposed takeover of Pepco Holdings.

In ruling against the deal, the PSC said it was not in the best interest of ratepayers or a city that has committed to using more green energy. But Exelon and Pepco have vowed to appeal the ruling in a little over a week’s time.

If Bowser, who controls future appointments to the commission, throws her support behind a revamped deal, it would make it hard for those city regulators to reject it. Industry watchers say the mayor’s support would also increase the likelihood that Exelon and Pepco prevail in court despite remaining objections from the PSC. The companies have already secured support from federal regulators as well as the states of Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey.

Bowser’s head of the office of legal counsel, Mark Tuohey, and her city administrator, Rashad Young, have been leading internal discussions about whether a revamped deal is possible, according to three administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations are private.

Bowser issued a statement last month saying that she supported the commission’s decision to reject the deal, but she left some wiggle room to reconsider, saying that she would be focused on what’s best for ratepayers and the city.

In a statement, Bowser spokesman Michael Czin said, “We continue to hear from both sides and our position hasn’t changed — any merger has to be in the best interest of District residents and taxpayers.”

Two people close to Bowser and familiar with the negotiations said Pepco has warned the mayor that rate increases may be necessary if a merger does not win approval. The mayor’s senior adviser, Beverly Perry, is a former Pepco vice president. Pepco stockholders would be paid a premium if the merger goes through. The administration has said Perry recused herself from the issue.

Karyl Leggio, a finance professor specializing in utilities at Loyola University’s Sellinger School of Business in Baltimore, said that if an amended, more generous deal is approved by the PSC, it could mean rate reductions for Pepco customers and probably improved service.

“If the deal doesn’t go through,” said Leggio, “whether Pepco as a stand-alone entity can improve the quality of service and keep rates low is an unknown question.”

Leggio said there appears to be a recent trend in which utilities have sweetened their offers to regulators after a first application to merge was refused.

Pepco has not made a rate request since before the acquisition was announced in April 2014, which probably means that the utility will be seeking considerable increases from regulators if the deal fails.

A spokesman for the three-member PSC said Pepco and Exelon have until Sept. 28 to file a request for reconsideration.

In a joint statement last month, the utilities said they plan to file a request.

“We remain convinced our merger proposal is in the public interest, and we will continue working to complete the merger,” the statement said.

The commission has 30 days to grant or deny the application, or not act at all. Not acting within its 30 days is a denial by the PSC.

If the reconsideration is denied, the utilities can make an appeal to the courts.

Outside the John A. Wilson Building on Thursday, more than 150 environmentalists, community activists, clergy and D.C. Council members urged Bowser to be a bulwark and employed her campaign mantra of trying to help more families reach the middle class as their defense for standing firm against the merger.

A top advocate for low-income tenants and another for families struggling in poverty outlined Exelon rate increases in cities where the energy giant has taken over smaller utilities.

“This will force more people out of Washington, D.C.,” said Jim McGrath, head of the Tenants Association.

Others pulled at Bowser’s commitment to fuel D.C. buildings on wind energy, which has won her accolades from the Obama administration.

“We just have two words for Mayor Bowser: Madam Mayor, stand firm,” said the Rev. Earl D. Trent, pastor of the Florida Avenue Baptist Church, which claims to be the first house of worship in the city to install solar panels on its roof. “Stand firm, do not settle for the quick fix. . . . Stand firm for clean, affordable energy. . . . We have a planet to take care of, we have a climate to take care of.”

D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) said she wanted to see more transparency and warned of shady politics afoot in the Wilson Building.

“Slithering around the District building and other parts of our government are Exelon and Pepco representatives who are trying to work out some deal that will steal from us the victory that we won on the merits before the Public Service Commission,” Cheh said.

She and more than a dozen other speakers railed against a recent Exelon-Pepco ad campaign that promised more jobs and better security for ratepayers as “lies.”

“We’re told we’re going to have more jobs; we’re going to have fewer jobs,” she said. “We are told we are going to . . . save money, don’t you believe it. We are going to pay higher rates.”

Williams, whom several in the crowd cast as a lobbyist for Exelon, said in an interview that he has not registered as a lobbyist and is not taking any money from Exelon or Pepco. He appeared with more than 30 heads of businesses and nonprofit groups, including the heads of the United Way of the National Capital Region and the Salvation Army. Nearly all of the civic leaders said Pepco had provided important philanthropic contributions that could be jeopardized if the deal is not approved. Exelon has committed to continuing Pepco’s community grants and donations for at least 10 years.

Williams pointed to his role as executive director of the pro-business Federal City Council and said the nonprofit group is taking a stand for what its members believe is best for the District, including on the score of the environment.

A Pepco left weakened by a failed merger attempt may struggle to meet shareholder expectations, he said, and lose the wherewithal to continue supporting environmental efforts.

“Bringing Exelon here is important for the District. It’s going to allow us to grow our economy and allow us to do the things we’ve talked about in terms of equity, business opportunities, environmental conservation and cleanup.”

Paul T. Ridzon, vice president of the utilities group with KeyBanc Capital Markets, recently upgraded Pepco Holdings to overweight, based on his belief that the D.C. regulator’s order against the proposed merger was not insurmountable.

If the merger does not go through, Ridzon said, “it’s a missed opportunity.”

Exelon “has a strong balance sheet. They could clearly fix some of the problems Pepco has been experiencing. They have a good track record in Chicago.”

Asked what would happen if the deal does not go through, Ridzon said one only has to look at what happened to the price of Pepco shares the day the PSC rejected the application.

They dropped 16 percent that day.

DISB Approves Rates for 2016 Health Plan Offerings on DC Health Link

For Immediate Release
Sept. 15, 2015
Contact: Kate Hartig, (202) 442-7753
kathryn.hartig

DISB Approves Rates for 2016 Health Plan Offerings on DC Health Link

Department negotiates lower and more competitive rates for District residents and small businesses through its rate review process

Washington, D.C. – The D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) approved health insurance plan rates for the District of Columbia’s health insurance marketplace, DC Health Link, for plan year 2016.

As a result of DISB’s rate review process, all insurers offering plans on DC Health Link lowered their proposed rate increases – some by as much as 10 percent. The average increase in 2016 premiums across all insurers is 4.25% for individuals and 4.74% for small group plans. The most popular individual and small group plans from 2015 are increasing 4.3% and 4.1%, respectively.

“The 2016 approved rates are a reflection of DISB’s rigorous rate review process and the willingness of insurance companies to compete for District business,” said Acting Commissioner Stephen C. Taylor. “We are very appreciative of the D.C. Health Benefit Exchange Authority for its invaluable input and assistance during this important process, and we remain committed to ensuring DC Health Link rates continue to be among the best in the country in terms of cost and value.”

The chart below shows changes in rates from the insurance companies’ proposed filings compared to the approved rates following DISB’s rate review process. (If you can’t see the chart below, please visit this link to view online.)

As insurers enter the third year of DC Health Link, they have refined their plan offerings based on market experience – from 301 plans in 2014, 227 in 2015 and 162 for 2016. For individuals, 26 plans will be available: Kaiser (11) and CareFirst (15). In the small business market, 136 plans will be available: CareFirst (53), United (41), Kaiser (24) and Aetna (18).

Open enrollment on DC Health Link begins Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 31, 2016. For more information about the approved 2016 health insurance plan rates including the rate filings and other charts, follow this link.