Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Nation’s Capital Deserves “One DC”, Now, More than Ever!

Leaders call on DC residents to demand fairness and respect for Mayor Vince Gray.

As DC business, labor, and faith leaders, we take issue with the tone and underlying motivations of those attacking District Mayor Vincent Gray and his 2010 Mayoral campaign.

Many understand that this story has its roots in an earlier election, the 2006 Adrian Fenty for Mayor campaign.

Fenty excited a cross-section of the District based upon his can-do, must-do attitude, his willingness to roll up his sleeves and take his message to every DC neighborhood, and his solidly progressive legislative record, such as standing up for low income residents.

The Fenty ’06 campaign inspired many of us to invest into building what became the Fenty machine.  On election night, our coalition helped Fenty win every voting precinct in the District.  Yet, sadly, almost immediately after the election, we began to realize that we had created a political Frankenstein.

First, was Fenty’s decision to strip power from the elected school board.  Next, Fenty placed DCPS under his direct control and hired Michelle Rhee as Chancellor.

Over the next three years, the Fenty-Rhee team would close schools, violate labor rights, and disenfranchise parents, under the guise of education reform, without much evidence of academic improvement.

Then came the pay-to-play system of awarding government contracts, the summary firing of DC employees, and the intimidation of those who dared to differ with or toe the Fenty political line.

One example of the infamous Fenty arrogance was his refusal to meet with the late civil rights leader Dorothy Height and author Maya Angelou, seen as slap in the face of all women, particularly women of color.

By late 2009, the once-beloved Fenty managed to alienate and diss nearly every group in the District.

In response, the diverse coalition that elected Fenty began looking for a new horse, an anti-Fenty.

It took months to convince Vince Gray to run against Fenty, his cronies, and their $3-5 million war-chest. Gray’s decision to take on Fenty was a political gamble of the highest order.

In 2010, Gray was ending his first term as DC Council Chair.  Because of Gray’s mastery of DC’s $10 billion operation and traits of conciliation, deliberation, and collaboration was positioned for easy reelection.

When Vince Gray decided to enter the mayoral race, he had just five months to hire staff, develop position papers, design campaign messages, give speeches, recruit volunteers, secure endorsements, and raise money all sufficient enough to defeat perhaps the most organized disciplined political machine in DC history.

On election night, the Mayor’s campaign of mostly volunteers won Fenty’s own Ward and every other, save, one, Ward 3.

So upset by Fenty’s defeat, his supporters ran, albeit unsuccessfully, a Black Republican against Mary Cheh, their council rep, as pay-back for her principled decision to back Gray over Fenty. After the primary election, Gray immediately extended olive branches to the Fenty camp in the spirit of healing, party unity. Yet, the bitterness among team Fenty and his loyalists was so intense, they waged an unheard of write-in general election campaign against Gray.

When the elections were over, Gray worked to win over his former foes.  He invited many Fenty supporters to his transition team and retained numerous Fenty officials such as Chief Cathy Lanier and Michelle Rhee’s number two, Kaya Henderson. Gray even elevated a key Fenty hire Alan Lew to serve as the City Administrator.

At the start of the Gray Administration, it surprised many that the most well-paid District employees were Fenty appointees. Yet, for those who knew Vince Gray, the fact he would match his words with his deeds to create One City, was of no surprise.

What is surprising was the intense sense of entitlement of Fenty backers.  Instead of accepting the Mayor’s overtures of friendship, many Fenty friends were intent on thwarting and even un-doing the people’s will. The recent calls for the Mayor to resign by David Catania and Muriel Bowser, two of Fenty’s biggest Council allies are illustrative of this political opportunism.

In the end, we believe the Mayor’s track record, in its totality, should be the basis for how he should be judged.  His record includes, education reform policies that respect teachers, parents, and other stakeholders, including Charter Schools.  Initiatives to ensure that sustainable development reaches every DC neighborhood.  Launching a health insurance exchange, as a model for health reform implementation.  Improved labor-management relations.

And least we forget, last year the Mayor put his own body and liberty on the line by getting arrested for DC Statehood and dignity, garnering international attention and  support for DC rights.

Today, our Mayor, the District and the rest of the nation need DC residents to unite and demand respect and fairness for Mayor Gray.   Now, more than ever, the people of the District deserve “One DC.”

Signed by,

Geo Johnson, JD, AFSCME Council 20; Averette Mhoon Parker, MD; DC Muslim Democratic Caucus; Talib I. Karim, Esq., TEC Law Group; and Rosalind M. Parker, Esq.

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Health Reform Prevails in Supreme Court, Just One Step for People of Color and Poor

By Talib I. Karim, Health & Technology Writer

The Supreme Court’s decision on the President’s signature health reform law considered the Brown v. Board of Education of today. (Photo/courtesy Supreme Court Collection).

Astute students of history recall the exact date when Brown v. Board of Education was decided.  Thursday, June 28, 2012 may also be etched into history as the day the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in what some consider the Brown case of this era, National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.

In the Sebelius case, the nation’s high court preserved, almost completely, President Obama’s signature legislative achievement, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Summary

The Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare” (as described by critics) was designed by Congress to expand health insurance coverage to over 30 million in the US and decrease health care costs.  To achieve these goals, Congress included a provision in the law requiring taxpayers to obtain a “minimum” level of health insurance coverage.  Those who failed to secure health coverage and were not exempt were mandated, by 2014, to begin paying a penalty to the IRS, similar to tax penalties.

In 2010, right after the President signed the reforms into law, the Affordable Care Act was challenged in court by groups, including the National Federation of Independent Businesses.  Earlier this year, the challenges made their way to Supreme Court, which set aside an unprecedented three days of oral arguments to review the health law.

By a 5-4 decision, the Court made several findings in the case.  First, the Court upheld its prerogative to review the individual mandate, bypassing a reconstruction-era requirement, the Anti-Injunction Act, which prevents a tax-related issue from being reviewed by the Court until the tax is accessed.  Next, Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by the Court’s four traditionally conservative members (Justices Kennedy, Scalia, Thomas, and Alito), ruled that the individual mandate could not be sustained under the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.  Initially, this ruling caused some media outlets to incorrectly report that the entire law was struck down.

However, the Chief Justice and the liberal wing of the Court (Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) sided together in ruling that the individual mandate could be upheld, nonetheless under the long established Constitutional power of Congress to “lay and collect Taxes.”

Finally, the Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act could not penalize states who refused to expand Medicaid by cutting off all federal Medicaid funding.  This, the Court’s majority held, was an impermissible “threat” against the rights of states.

Brown vs Sebelius

In comparing the Brown and Sebelius cases, the NAACP’s Hillary Shelton sees distinctions and similarities. Shelton notes that “Brown concerned a fight over equal education, and whether segregated schools were legal so long as they were equal.”  Brown was argued by Thurgood Marshall, then the NAACP Legal Defense and Education President, who would go on to become the first African American US Solicitor General and Supreme Court Justice.

Shelton observed that “The thing Americans needed to be successful in the 1950s was good education…today…its good health care. Further, Shelton pointed out that while Brown sought to protect mostly African Americans, the current ruling seeks to ensure working class and poor people of all races have the right to equal health care.

Impact on Doctors and Patients of Color

Congresswoman Donna Christian-Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands, a physician, and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus’s health reform task force, said the ruling “means a lot for people of color.”  Specifically, the Court’s decision protects numerous programs and initiatives such as placing minority health officers in each major health agency to ensure that people of color’s needs are being met, noted Christensen.

Dr. Cedric Bright, National Medical Association President, called the health reform ruling “a great victory,” yet observed that many health providers still don’t understand how the law impacts them and their patients.  “Health providers need to know how to participate in an Affordable Care Organization (ACO); how they can get funds for electronic medical records; and the benefits of using preventative health care.”  Dr. Bright recommends that as a next step, the Obama administration should sponsor seminars to educate health providers on implementing the Affordable Care Act.

The director of the DC Department of Health, Dr. Mohammad Akhter, views the case as a win for District’s residents and its budget.  “[The ruling] means that the 30,000 DC residents moved on to Medicaid can stay.  It would have a huge budget impact had [the law] not been upheld.”  Dr. Akhter points to several new community health centers in the District built using tobacco settlement money, but which depend upon the Affordable Care Act funding to remain operational and thriving.

However, Drs. Christensen, Bright, and Akter, all view the Affordable Care Act as just one step in a long march towards the end goal…quality, affordable health care for all.

The writer can be reached at tkarim@teclawgroup.com.