From Mathew Harkins. Email him at mharkins[AT]borderstan.com.
The following interview is with Francisco “Paco” Fimbres, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Engagement. A longtime resident of DC, Borderstan recently caught up with Fimbres to discuss why he makes his home here in DC, what changes he has seen occurring in our city and what it’s like working directly for Mayor Vincent Gray.
Borderstan: Are you still living in Foggy Bottom? Do you make it over to the Borderstan area often?
Fimbres: I have been living in the West End-Foggy Bottom area since 2009. It is an excellent neighborhood with a great diversity of people. Our ANC Commissioner Rebecca Coder is fantastic. We are very lucky to have her serve our SMD. Other great neighborhood assets are Gary Griffith and Asher Corson both very passionate about our neighborhood.
We have Trader Joes, Whole Foods, GWU Hospital, GU, Meiwah, RIS, Rasika and so many other great spots. However, I lived from 2007-2009 on 16th Street across from the JCC and miss the neighborhood tremendously. I am amazed and grateful for the transformation of the 17th to 14th Street corridor and the rebirth of Logan and Shaw. Amazing and exciting things are happening citywide.
My wife and I visit Borderstan often. Some of our favorite people and beloved friends live in Borderstan. Also Le Diplomate and Pearl Dive, two of our favorite venues, can be found in Borderstan.
Borderstan: What is it like working for Mayor Gray?
Fimbres: Honestly, it is a true honor and pleasure. I consider it a great responsibility and privilege to serve our city and fellow neighbors, while working for the Mayor of DC.
Vincent Gray is emotionally mature, deliberate and thoughtful in his decision making process; he is also charming, innovative, detailed oriented and has the right temperament for the job. No kidding, he is the first one in and the last one out at the office. On a human and personal level, I could not have asked for a better boss and Mayor; he is a truly decent and kind man. I don’t know if he will run for reelection, but Vince Gray has earned a second term. Just look around our city, we are moving forward in the right direction by leaps and bounds.
I also work daily with Stephen Glaude, the most important and key member of the Mayor’s cabinet in my personal opinion. Steve is the Mayor’s Community Affairs Director and my direct supervisor. Steve has all of the affinity group offices under his responsibility like OLA, African Affairs, Women’s Policy, Clean City, LGBT Affairs, Asian Pacific Islander Affairs and others. Steve has been a great mentor and teacher. I also enjoy working with Daryl Levine, Sedrick Muhammad, Sheila Bunn, Chris Murphy and Pedro Ribeiro all good people and solid professionals. The Mayor has assembled a great team of committed, dedicated and professional individuals. Still my two favorite ladies in the DC Government have to be Chief Lanier and Assistant Chief Groomes. Both are just awesome.
Borderstan: What exactly does your current role as Director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Engagement entail? And what is it that those who report to you do?
Fimbres: I direct, manage and coordinate all citywide neighborhood engagement efforts. We serve residents as their link between their Mayor and city government agencies. The Mayor’s Ward Liaisons are under my direct supervision and management, but again we are lucky to work in the same office space as our leaders Mayor Gray and Steve Glaude — they both lead by example. Essentially, we are the Mayor’s go-to folks for concerns, complaints, questions, neighborhood issues and challenges.
No issue is too small or too complex, we are committed to helping residents navigate through our government’s agencies and getting results in a timely, efficient and satisfactory fashion. We are results oriented and accountable to the residents directly, since they contact the Mayor and we act on his behalf to resolve their issues quickly. It is a 24/7 job that is not for the weak of heart, thin-skinned or passive public servant.
Demands and challenges across our city are great, but we pride ourselves on having the experience, background and will to get things done. We especially like to get difficult cases. However, there are times, when we cannot help or our agencies have exhausted their talents and resources to assist our fellow neighbors; this is when we suffer along with the residents. However, we have complete and uncompromising support from Mayor Gray and city agencies.
Ward Liaisons attend nightly, weekly, and monthly meetings/events. They represent the Mayor at graduations, funerals and special events. They attend Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) meetings, canvass neighborhoods, hold office hours, conduct neighborhood walk-throughs with the MPD and the Mayor and they have core team meetings with government agencies. We also serve as first responders during some emergencies. We share information with agencies for their action based on information provided while visiting their respective wards and neighborhood stakeholders.
Borderstan: You’ve been working in/with Ward 2 for some time. How have you seen the neighborhoods changing?
Fimbres: Yes, the changes have all been positive. We need to keep fighting together for a safe, clean, livable and economically vibrant city and ward. Mayor Gray, during his tenure, has been very attentive and engaged with Ward 2 residents and leaders, Councilman Jack Evans and his team have also played a pivotal role in the current conditions of Ward 2. Finally, a special shout out to all of those unsung and unpaid elected officials (ANCs), bloggers and other civic-minded stake holders, who live and work in W2.
Borderstan: What do you think is the biggest issue not being addressed right now in the city?
Fimbres: In my personal opinion, the biggest challenge for our city is that all of us, together and collectively, ensure that we not only reduce but also eliminate poverty, hunger and unemployment across the city’s eight wards. There are efforts past and current that have attempted to reduce/eradicate poverty, hunger, unemployment and homelessness, but have yet to truly accomplish this crucial objective for DC. Also we need to keep working on our education system. New, comfortable and beautiful buildings are important, but excellent teachers and committed/involved parents are essential.
We also need to achieve budget autonomy and full voting rights in Congress. This is important for our self-respect and dignity as a people. Another important matter is that we need to support and care for our children, youth and seniors. Finally more affordable housing needs to become available, so that our first responders, police and fire heroes can afford to live in the city they so passionately defend daily.
How can we be the nation’s capital and continue to see developing country issues in some parts of our city? We need more public-private partnerships. The for-profit sector needs to step it up and support non-profit organizations with more fervor.
Borderstan: You came to DC to attend American University in 1996 but you also left to work and travel overseas. What brought you back here? Why DC?
Fimbres: My family still works and resides between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego — but simply put, DC is home. This is where I met my wife and we would like to raise our children here. Therefore my commitment to DC is not only professional, but very personal. I would like to see DC one day be considered like Paris or another of the world’s unique capitals. What makes DC great is not only its rich history, beautiful architecture and current events, but it’s people, the native Washingtonians, and all of those who have moved here to live and work.
I was taught from a very young age, that there is no substitute for hard and intelligent work, but one must also aspire to be the best in their trade. My vocation in life first and foremost is to be an excellent husband and father, but my second is to be a great public servant – a true and sincere servant and leader. My life continues to be a work in progress and I am blessed to serve my fellow residents.
Borderstan: Having traveled and worked overseas, and having worked for a number of presidential campaigns, do you have national or international ambitions beyond DC? What is in the future for a Francisco Fimbres?
Fimbres: I am a firm believer that public service does not begin or end with an election, it starts at home and should transcend into one’s own community. At this time, I am content and honored to work in the City Government. I would like to continue serving Mayor Gray and my fellow residents across the city’s eight wards.
As for the future, time and circumstances will determine next steps. However, my love for DC and its people is great, my passion for public service ever present, and my need to serve well and effectively are all part of my make-up as a human being.
Having worked for two Mayors, I am blessed for these experiences. The great, tireless, passionate and committed people I have met in the city government, my ONE team, supervisors, mentors, neighborhood leaders and beyond inspire me to continue fighting for the residents of Washington, DC every day.
Therefore, I don’t foresee a future where public service is not part of my daily existence.
An earlier interview with another participant in local government, Andrew Huff, can be found here.
The opinions and views expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the city government.
The District has new liquor licensing laws, or Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) regulations.
In December, the DC Council met to to take the first vote on a controversial bill addressing liquor licensing for local businesses, and residents’ roles in the process. The legislation was approved by the Council on December 18, and this week, DC Mayor Vincent Gray singed the reforms into law.
Some highlights inthe bill:
- Liquor stores are now allowed to open and sell on Sundays.
- Grocery stores and pubs can now sell 64-ounce growlers of beer, DCist reports.
- The new bill guarantees that placards for new business applications will now additionally include a pre-determined and set date for the license protest hearing to accelerate the process, DC Hospitality reports.
- All ABC Board rulings must now be issued within a maximum 60 days, rather than the previous 90 days, DC Hospitality reports.
- The proximity requirement for “Gang of 5” members was eliminated. Any “Gang of 5” license protests are automatically dismissed if the applicant reaches an agreement with the applicable ANC. However, the provision for the “Gang of 5″ members protesting a liquor license application or renewal live within a 400-foot radius around an establishment was taken out of the bill. (See DC Liquor Board Reaffirms Hank’s Oyster Bar Decision and Poll: Most Readers Say 5 People Not Enough to Protest Liquor Licenses).
- In addition, “Voluntary Agreements” were replaced with the new title of “Settlement Agreements.” They are neither a requirement of licensing or an instrument by which to force concessions from licensees as part of that process. Instead, the Settle Agreements are an optional opportunity for parties to resolve a license protest.
“As a practical matter, the newly expedited and statutory timeframes for protest hearings and rulings removes the power of protest groups or ANCs to utilize the threat of delay to compel operating concessions,” said Mark Lee of DC Hospitality and a business columnist for the Washington Blade
For more information on the number of businesses in the area affected by the reforms, read DC Council Takes First Vote on Liquor Licensing Reform Bill.
From Cody Telep. Follow him on Twitter @codywt, email him at cody[AT]borderstan.com.
The D.C. Council rejected two proposals from Mayor Vincent Gray that would have provided funding to add 100 officers to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD; see coverage from The Washington Post and The Washington Examiner). Council Chairman Phil Mendelson had expressed his intention to vote down the measures prior to Tuesday’s legislative meeting.
Mayor Gray had requested hiring 48 officers by reallocating an extra $1.7 million in the budget. The other 52 officers would have been funded with money from traffic camera fines.
Mendelson felt the mayor was rushing the proposal and that current MPD force numbers are sufficient. He also encouraged MPD to continue to use civilianization as a means of putting more sworn officers on the street.
MPD Chief Cathy Lanier mentioned Borderstan neighborhoods in a letter to Mendelson on Monday asking him to reconsider his stance prior to Tuesday’s votes:
During the past year, we have conducted a comprehensive analysis of ongoing development throughout the city. The historical lessons we have learned from areas such as Chinatown and Columbia Heights suggest that several other areas of development will experience an upward trajectory in Workload — both calls for service and crime…Several other areas — including the H Street corridor, U Street and 14th Street NW, CityCenterDC, DuPont Circle, Adams Morgan, and the St. Elizabeth’s campus, to name a few — are undergoing substantial amounts of new or continued development. All of these areas will have a significant impact on police services. Our analysis has made it clear that due to the dense development, the areas will demand a different type of police deployment — more foot, bike, and Segway patrols, which are not able to cover as large of an area” (emphasis added).
Mendelson did agree to revisit the issue in 2013. Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) was the only councilmember to vote for the reallocation of funds to hire 48 officers. The Council unanimously rejected using traffic camera fine money to hire more cops.
On Thursday, September 27, The Washington Post hosted a public forum on the state of leadership in DC, on the heels of recent corruptions in City Council and a federal investigation surrounding Mayor Gray’s election campaign.
“Connecting the Dots in the District” was the latest in a series of “Behind the Headlines” programs sponsored by The Post. Panelists for the evening included Barbara Lang, president and CEO of the DC Chamber of Commerce; Kojo Nnamdi, host of The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU radio; Carol Schwartz, a former DC Councilmember; and Clinton Yates, Express editor and opinion writer for The Root DC.
Washington Post columnist Bob McCartney started off the discussion by asking the panelists for their thoughts on leadership and accountability.
Lang spoke about her thoughts on qualities of leadership. She highlighted the importance of integrity and being able to deliver results. Lang also emphasized how we, as the electing public, need to hold our city’s leaders responsible for what they promise.
Nnamdi received applause after calling for a “policy ombudsman,” and stressed that perception is everything in leadership, drawing an analogy to the recent NFL replacement referee controversy.
Schwartz recalled how during her terms on the Council there was an attitude that you need to “go along to get along” and not rock the boat if you want to survive. Schwartz also recounted how she was often the only councilmember who would meticulously report all the gifts she received while in office, and called for a change to this norm. By far the youngest on the panel, Yates spoke on DC’s current “culture of silence” and “old boy” network in District politics.
As McCartney turned the conversation to how we break the old political culture, Nnamdi noted that the one-party system allows someone to win without seriously being challenged in terms of intellect and integrity, and went on to suggest an open primary. It was at this point that some drama erupted in the auditorium. An attendee, who later identified himself as Robert Brannum, shouted “No, No, No” after Nnamdi’s comments on open primaries. Brannum also fired out comments as Yates decried the political culture in DC.
At the end of the panel discussion, attendee questions were read by McCartney. Many questions were submitted on the topic of The Washington Post‘s reporting of malfeasance in DC government. Some suggested The Post was not doing enough given their resources (one question cited how often The City Paper often uncovers scandals despite their small budget). Others were outraged that The Washington Post constantly targets the same officials and regurgitates the same stories for weeks.
More information on the “Behind the Headlines” series is available on The Post‘s website.
From Alden Leonard. Contact him at alden[AT]borderstan.com and follow him @aldenleonard on Twitter.
Last week The Washington Post released a poll showing troubling signs for Vincent Gray’ political prospects. The poll revealed that 54 percent of residents — including 48 percent of African-American voters, a vital part of Gray’s political base — no longer trust the mayor and wish he would resign. Only 25% said he is running an ethical administration.
Gray pushed back against the poll, saying on Thursday that his achievements as mayor are being unfairly obscured by the dust-up surrounding his 2010 campaign. Since allegations of illegal conduct surfaced last week, Gray and his aides have pointed to lower unemployment and homicide rates as signs that Gray has been a vigilant and effective servant of his city, regardless of what may have happened during his campaign.
Despite these efforts to change the narrative, the poll shows voters aren’t buying the snake oil. Gray’s current approval rating is at 29%, the office’s lowest since Marion Barry’s slip to 28% in 1989.
By contrast, The Post reports that former Mayor Adrian Fenty’s approval rating stands at 59%. And, although Fenty said he won’t seek elected office again in DC, Gray hasn’t said he will either. Gray defeated Fenty in the 2010 Democratic mayoral primary by a margin of 54% to 44%. However, the Dupont, Logan and U Street areas of DC voted overwhelmingly for Fenty over Gray in the September 2010 primary. Fenty carried 9 out of 10 local precincts, winning six with more than 70% of the vote.
“I’m thinking about my job every day,” said Gray.
From Alden Leonard. Contact him at alden[AT]borderstan.com and follow him @aldenleonard on Twitter.
Drunk driving laws could change in the city. Last week, Mayor Vincent Gray unveiled a new proposal to stiffen DC’s drunk driving laws, and the worst offenders could have an increase in their minimum jail sentences.
The Examiner reports that the measure, currently pending before City Council, would boost sentences for drivers with a blood-alcohol content of 0.20 or higher to at least 10 days in jail. Currently, District law requires five days for such an infraction. For drivers who blow a 0.25 or above, the penalty under Gray’s plan would jump to a minimum of 15 days in jail. Gray’s proposal would also increase fines for less serious instances of impaired driving.
It is estimated that these new measures would affect nearly half of individuals arrested for drunken driving.
Gray’s spokesman called the initiative “part of a broader effort to reduce traffic issues … and … to make it safe to come into the District.”
From Alden Leonard. Contact him at alden[AT]borderstan.com and follow him @aldenleonard on Twitter.
Last week, Mayor Vincent Gray’s office announced the launch of DC’s new smart-phone application, DC311 See Click Fix. The app allows citizens to use their iPhone or Android mobile device to make service requests, including complaints about trash, potholes, graffiti and illegal dumping. (Potholes in the District? Never.)
The DC Government’s 311 Service Center is already available online. Residents can report such issues and problems that also include sidewalk repairs, broken parking meters, dead trees and burned-out street lights –there are more than 80 different services requests to pick from.
Gray touts the free app as a step towards making good on his promise to improve the District’s responsiveness in providing services to its residents. “We continue to ensure that the District is a safe and beautiful place for all of our residents and visitors by giving them a tool for real-time collaboration with our government,” Gray said in a statement.
Like the website service, the free app uses GPS technology to pinpoint the location of the reported problem and funnels the request into a central database for action by the city. The 311 service then e-mails the user a receipt of the request to tracks its progress, providing transparency to what could otherwise be a murky, slow process. You are able to check the status of your request to see what progress has been made.
The 311 app is powered by SeeClickFix, this free download allows citizens to report service requests from their iPhone or Android mobile devices. A note to Droid-powered phone owners: If you have noticed that the app marketplace icon has disappeared from your phone, you need to go through their new app device, Google Play.
Meat Week Arrives in District
The Washington Post reports that yesterday was the beginning of DC’s Meat Week, a seven-day smoked meat festival taking place at area barbeque joints, including tonight at Chinatown’s Hill Country. The festival happens in more than 20 cities worldwide and events see anywhere from 50 to 100 participants, a testament to the communal nature of the cuisine: as the Post reminds us, you don’t make barbeque for one, you make it for 20. Even so, the popular portmanteau “carnivorgy” is probably doing the festival more harm than good. Get the complete schedule of DC Meat Week.
Gray Proposes Uniform Taxi Colors
Mayor Vincent Gray proposed Friday for DC taxicabs to adopt a uniform color scheme. According to the Washington Examiner, Gray intends for the city’s taxis to match its Circulator and Metro buses.
The proposal is part of a larger push for taxi reform currently pending before the City Council. In a recent survey, DC residents chose yellow as their cab color of choice, but ultimately the scheme will be decided by the Taxi Cab Commission. District pols including Gray, Kwame Brown and Mary Cheh openly favor a scheme of red and white, the colors of the DC flag.
DC Homeless Count Underway
District housing advocates are conducting a count of the city’s homeless residents this week, reports WAMU. Volunteers will scour the city’s back alleys and park benches in an effort to quantify and learn more about the city’s homeless population.
Advocates commend DC for its recent strides in the fight against homelessness, but remind us that the economic environment could undo much of that progress. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development uses data collected from the count to appropriate funds for DC homeless programs. Last year’s total was 6,546 homeless people living in the District; new numbers will be available this spring.
From Mike Kohn. Got some news for Mike? Drop him an email or find him on Twitter @mike_kohn.
More Mexico in our Midst?
Apparently the opening of El Centro DF wasn’t enough for our neighborhood. A tip from U Street Girl tells us that we’re soon to have a taco stand nearby at 9th and U Streets NW. Set to be called “El Rey,” expect a garden and a place large enough to hold about 150 people. Not a whole lot of news on the new place, but hey, having new restaurants seems like a good idea, sí?
Jury Deliberating for Dupont Trial
The jury will soon decide the fate of Jorida Davidson, who stands on trial after being accused of voluntary manslaughter as part of a hit-and-run. According to DCist, Davidson hit Kiela Ryan with her SUV in Dupont Circle and then fled the scene last October. Ryan had been celebrating her 25th birthday and was trying to get out of her own car when Davidson struck her. While prosecutors claim Davidson was just plain drunk, the defense holds that her post-traumatic stress disorder from growing up in war-torn Albania flared up just after hitting Ryan and caused her to run. We’ll see what the jury says about this one.
From Michelle Lancaster. You read me to find out what you missed, so please tell me what I missed. You may mock me @michlancaster on Twitter.
St. Paddy’s Day and March Madness
Nah, I don’t think you missed it. Hopefully you avoided the green beer, culturally insensitive, but delicious car bombs and irritating Irish people by incorrectly spelling it “St. Patty’s Day” (as our editor did yesterday before fixing it at the behest of an irate reader). Get in the spirit with festive animal photos from the Zoo, brought to you by DCist. You may be missing work today, and I know you didn’t do much yesterday as the NCAA basketball tournament kicked off. Don’t worry — if your bracket is already toast, at least know you can make Morehead State jokes instead.
Elementary Students Exposed to Cocaine
The students at Thomson Elementary weren’t feeling well, and went to the nurse. It was discovered then, TBD reports, that several students had either ingested or sniffed cocaine. School officials are investigating, but it appears a child brought it into school.