Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Sad Farewell To My Neighbor Deborah Gist and our State Superintendent of Education

As many people have heard, DC has lost not only a great State Superintendent of Education, but a great person. The good news, if there is any, her home on Capitol Hill is NOT FOR SALE.

Thanks Deb for your hard work and you will be missed greatly.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

1 Bedroom Apartment on Capitol Hill: 214 13th Street, SE

Address: 214 13th Street, SE Unit #1

Enjoy this spacious one-bedroom apartment with wood-burning fireplace, exposed brick floors, washer/dryer, new kitchen cabinets, new appliances, granite countertops, updated bathroom, and central air. $1525 monthly, utilities not included.

1.5 blocks from Lincoln Park
3 blocks from Potomac Ave Metro, Safeway and Harris Teeter
4 blocks from Eastern Market and Eastern Market Metro

No pets.
Street parking only.

Available Now
$40 application fee (per person)
$1525 security deposit

Contact: Christopher Pierce

CHRS 52nd Annual Mother’s Day

The Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) will host its 52nd Annual House and Garden Tour on May 9 and 10, 2009. Highlighting the Barrack’s Row neighborhood, the Tour is planned to include homes and gardens south of Pennsylvania Avenue between 1st and 15th Streets, SE. The event will include a candle light tour of homes from 4pm-8pm on Saturday, May 9 and will continue from 11am-5pm on Mother’s Day, Sunday May 10. An extra hour has been added to the Saturday night tour in order to allow plenty of time for participants to appreciate The Home of the Commandants’ at Marine Barracks Washington, which will be open to Tour goers on Saturday only. The stately Commandant’s house, completed in 1806, is the oldest continuously occupied public building in Washington, D.C. Its location (at present-day 801 G St., SE) was chosen personally by President Jefferson and Lieutenant Colonel William Ward Burrows, the second Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.

CHRS is working closely with the Barrack’s Row Main Street merchants and other community groups to produce a tour full of historic features, intriguing histories, great gardens, and remarkable interior designs and decorations. More information, including a full list of houses and ticket locations will be available on the CHRS website ( early in the Spring.

CHRS is the oldest and largest civic organization on Capitol Hill. Founded in 1955, this volunteer driven group is dedicated to preserving the historic residential character of the nation’s Capitol. 52 years ago, CHRS started the house and garden tour tradition to highlight Capitol Hill landmarks and to raise funds to support projects to preserve the neighborhood’s historic character and to enhance its livability through efforts in planning, zoning, traffic management, and public safety

The Pay Dirt

Jock Friedly's LegiStorm Makes Hill Salaries Easy To Search -- and Debate

By Manuel Roig-FranziaWashington Post Staff WriterThursday, April 2, 2009; C01

Go ahead. Hate him.

Jock Friedly couldn't care less. This is a man who counts being burned in effigy among his career highlights. So he's hardly going to be bothered by all these congressional staffers who think he's pretty much the Devil incarnate.

Friedly became the scourge of Capitol Hill by creating, a Web site that makes it super-easy to look up the annual salaries and financial disclosures of congressional staffers. All this stuff is public information, mind you. But it used to be a pain to find: Hike up to Capitol Hill, descend into the bowels of a House office building and thumb through books filled with tiny type.

Friedly brought it all into mouse-click range. His site offers a trove to keep the snoopiest snoop occupied for hours -- bank accounts, investment portfolios, trust funds, even information about spouses. Wondering why so-and-so cruises to work in a Beemer? Aha, that's why: His wife's a big-shot partner at a law firm. It's all there in the reports.

Often, the site is one of the first things that pops up in a Google search of a staffer. It's enough to make many of them -- especially the most senior and highest-paid -- supremely cranky.
Jeff Loveng, chief of staff to Pennsylvania Republican congressman Bill Shuster, shot off an e-mail to Friedly calling him a "peeping Tom."

"I hope you savor this time in your life where you feel you have other people at your mercy while you conduct your witch hunt," wrote Loveng, who worries about identity theft and pesky sales calls from stockbrokers.

Others have taken the preferred Capitol Hill route -- trashing Friedly anonymously because their bosses frown on them speaking publicly about, well, almost anything. Internet chat rooms swell with outrage.

Friedly chuckles about all the fuss he's wrought with the site he's nicknamed "transparency's sidekick." In person, the scourge does not appear particularly menacing. He's a self-effacing, youngish-looking 40-year-old with thick, somewhat dowdy glasses, a nascent bald spot at the crown of his head and soft features. Nothing about him screams "bird of prey."

He's matter-of-fact, and utterly unmoved, by all these people who despise him and his site.
"I've never found it to be a problem to be a hated person," Friedly said one recent afternoon. "I'm perfectly happy when people are yelling at me."

The Salary Question

Going to work for the government has always involved trade-offs. When the public is your boss, it gets to ask annoying questions, like "How much do you make?" Still, that doesn't stop some public employees from viewing their salaries as a kind of taboo.

Every few months, it seems, there's another blowup about someone publishing salary databases. It happened in 2007 when the Lansing State Journal posted the salaries of more than 53,000 Michigan state employees; it happened again last year when there were howls of complaint after the Houston Chronicle published the salaries of municipal employees. Now there's the hubbub about naming the recipients of bonuses from AIG.

Here in our cozy company town of Washington, there usually isn't much mystery about government salaries. Most of the hundreds of thousands of people who work for government agencies are paid on a standard scale. If the guy down the street is, say, a GS-7 (Step 2), he's going to get $42,584 a year. The GS-14 (Step 4) gets $112,995.

But on the Hill it's different. Members of Congress decide how much to pay their staffs, and there can be big, big variances. A couple of quick searches on LegiStorm show, for instance, that Loveng made $154,553 in fiscal 2008. Paul Protic is a chief of staff, too -- he works for Republican Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri. But he made $138,267. And Amy Brinkmeyer Asselbaye, the chief of staff to Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie of Hawaii, got $126,500.
It's the big differentials in salaries that make the people who revile LegiStorm also kind of addicted to it.

"Quite frankly, I don't know many of my friends and colleagues who haven't looked up plenty of our colleagues on the site," a House committee staffer said. "They want to compare and contrast."

Secrets He Won't Keep

Friedly came to Washington more than a decade and a half ago with big plans: He was going to knock heads, ferret out corruption, kick some butt. He'd gotten a taste for muckraking while working as an editor at the Stanford University newspaper. His big coup was uncovering what he described as a group of Marxists bent on recruiting college students to undermine the government.

The Marxists were the ones who burned him in effigy. That was much more thrilling than his physics classes. He left Stanford in 1990 without a degree but received his physics degree from the university two years later.

In Washington, Friedly's career path meandered along in fits and starts. He had the "crazy notion" of writing a book about abuse of congressional investigatory powers. But that never happened.

He worked as a researcher for investigative whiz Seymour Hersh, then moved over to The Hill newspaper where he was a reporter from 1996 to 1999. His first story led to an angry call from a press secretary, he said.

"He was screaming at me," Friedly happily recalled. "Calling me every name in the book."
It was during those days that Friedly became entranced by the underbelly of Capitol Hill, the reams of paper filled with dots waiting to be connected. It appealed to the student scientist in him. He had hypotheses and he wanted to prove them.

"A lot of people have said there are no secrets in Washington -- I beg to differ," he said. "The stuff that's buried in documents in this town is incredible."

So incredible, he thought, that there might be some money in it.

Online Storms Brewing

Demonstrating exquisitely awful timing, Friedly set out on his own not long before the dot-com bubble burst in 2000. He talked a group of investors into ponying up money for a Web site that would aggregate government documents. His old mentor, Hersh, put in a small amount "as an act of friendship" and recommended Friedly to others. Like Friedly's book plan, the business fizzled. His backers lost everything they invested, Friedly said.

He decided to try again, this time without investors. Over the next six years, he built five Web sites, each with a niche in the government document game. He has an advertising-supported site that offers free patent information (, one that collects and sells arcane Pentagon reports ( and ad-supported sites that offer free government energy abstracts and science grant information ( and

He houses the whole operation in an old brick school building that has been converted into hipster lofts on the urban-pioneering fringe of Capitol Hill in Northeast Washington. He has four employees; to save money, he farms out the programming work to Romania and the data-entry chores to a firm in Cambodia that employs land-mine victims. Friedly says he does not pay himself a salary, but he does receive any profit generated by his companies. He declines to reveal his profit-and-loss figures, saying they're not public record and could be used against him by competitors.

Friedly lives around the corner from his office in a classic brick rowhouse with his wife, Deborah Gist, 42, the state superintendent of education for the District. In the spirit of LegiStorm, we feel compelled to say that her annual salary is $134,805. (Gist resigned yesterday to become commissioner of education in Rhode Island. Friedly says that when she moves, he'll split his time between Providence and D.C.)

Gist and Friedly met in 2002. Friedly was "talking to himself" in front of an elevator, Gist recalled, furious about some injustice or inefficiency he'd uncovered.

Somehow, she was charmed by that. They married in 2005, becoming one of Washington's quirkier power couples. They climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with an Ellen DeGeneres banner -- Gist's a huge fan -- and she was invited onto the show. This Valentine's Day, Gist -- as part of a cancer fundraiser -- let 112 men and women kiss her in one minute, setting a world record (pending official word from the Guinness Book people). At least her husband was one of them.
Gist has tried to be patient with Friedly's sometimes quixotic business ventures, knowing he has "always had this conviction around transparency in government."

For a time, she called LegiStorm "his hobby."

"It was more about conviction than a business strategy," she said.

Friedly now makes a living with his sites, but it's LegiStorm -- which he says lost several hundred thousand dollars last year -- that he loves. LegiStorm is free but generates a tiny amount of revenue from Google ads, and he hopes to eventually introduce services by paid subscription.

LegiStorm launched in fall 2006 and was immediately dubbed "salary porn" by the blogger Wonkette, who described Friedly's creation as both "useful and terrifying." Within months, the site was being referenced by reporters across the country. The Wichita Eagle cited LegiStorm when it published the salaries of Republican Sen. Pat Roberts's chief of staff, Jackie Cottrell, whom the paper reported as making $155,000; and Republican Sen. Sam Brownback's then chief of staff, Rob Wasinger, who was getting $145,000. The headline was "Congressional staff can make big bucks." A New York Post headline read "N.Y. Pols' D.C. Aides in 150G+ Salary Club."

Salary figures began popping up in newspapers even when the staffer being mentioned wasn't the main subject of the article. In 2007, the Mobile Press-Register's "Political Skinny" column wrote about a communications director jumping from one Alabama senator's office to another. The staffer refused to disclose his salary, so the Register published the salary of the woman he was replacing -- Shannon Hines -- who was making more than $160,000 at the time. Hines, now working on the Senate banking committee, was willing to discuss the disclosure but was banned from doing so by Jonathan Graffeo, a spokesman for the committee's top Republican, Alabama's Richard Shelby. (Indeed, Capitol Hill can be a curious place. Graffeo -- who made $94,877 in fiscal 2008, according to LegiStorm -- gets to boss around Hines, who made $165,125.)
There was such a clamor over LegiStorm that Mississippi Republican Rep. Roger Wicker -- who is now a senator -- made a failed attempt to pass a bill that would remove congressional salaries from publicly disclosed reports.

"Having your salary bandied about the world is an intrusion that doesn't serve a public purpose," Wicker, who now earns the standard $174,000 congressional salary, said, according to the Associated Press.

Friedly expanded his site in 2008 to include financial disclosure statements. (He also is now posting information about foreign gifts, privately financed travel and earmarks requested by individual members of Congress.) Last spring, after weeks of complaints, Friedly accepted the House's offer to cover the $3,000 cost of removing signatures and home addresses from disclosure forms posted on LegiStorm. In a few instances, Friedly has agreed to take down some sensitive information about congressional staffers who might be in danger, such as victims of stalkers.

But, in general, he isn't inclined to cut the people on Capitol Hill much slack. In his view, Washington is a place of sleazy deals, cronyism and greed. His site, he believes, can play a role in policing them.

"Washington dirties people," he said. "They come to Capitol Hill wide-eyed and wanting to do the public good. Washington changes them."

One afternoon not so long ago, Friedly and some of his employees recalled, the wife of a congressional staffer broke down in tears in the LegiStorm office. She begged Friedly to remove her husband's financial disclosure statement from the site, horrified that their neighbors would figure out that they were "the millionaires next door" despite their modest lifestyles.

Friedly listened. He considered her argument.

Then he pronounced judgment.

The answer was "no."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

~Transportation Department’s new chief engineer makes her home on the Hill

By Joshua Gray

As the newly appointed chief engineer for the D.C. Department of Transportation, Kathleen Penney has risen to the ranks of those who need insulation from the press. A public-relations minder hovers on the sidelines throughout our exchange, held in the blandly efficient Reeves Municipal Center on U Street NW.
In spite of the public-relations veil, Penney is largely unaffected, casual and candid — as much a long-time Hill resident and parent of two school-age children as an upper-echelon government functionary.
From her new post, Penney is well positioned to preside over major projects that could spell real change to D.C.’s roads. She cited the planned renovation of the 11th Street bridges — a key element in the District’s Near Southeast waterfront development scheme — as the front-and-center issue confronting her office. But these dry facts of city planning could be part of anyone’s curriculum vitae. It’s Penney’s back story that sets her apart.
Kathleen and Tim Penney arrived in the District in 1998 by way of California, Colorado and other points west. As employees of the Federal Highway Administration, they’d moved often, and Kathleen, a Vermont native, was glad to get back to theEast Coast.They bought a house on the Hill and then another in near Southeast when they outgrew the first. They had two kids and put them in local schools. And they became part of a neighborhood in a way that they never had before.
“The thing that’s different about the Hill, more than any place else we’ve ever lived, is the people,” says Penney. “They’re really interested in the community. The Hill has people that are committed to maybe a bigger calling.”
As a parent on the Hill, Penney touches a lot of the usual school-age bases — she’s a soccer mom and hovers on the sidelines of girls basketball. Though she hasn’t been a serious runner in years, she and her kids still do the 3K in The Capitol Hill Classic every year. And cyclists have reason to be optimistic about D.C.’s transportation plans — Penney bikes to work every day, year-round, rain or shine.
“It’s the only way to get around the Hill,” she laughs.
Serving as Transportation Department’s deputy chief engineer since 2004, Penney participated in a number of pivotal projects. Her grace under pressure was tested close to home when fire devastated Eastern Market last April. Penney’s efforts were key in the construction of the temporary hall and other facilities for long-established merchants and vendors.
“There was so much work to be done so quickly, the city administrator and the mayor wanted … to get going full speed,” she said.
Also close to home is the 11th Street Bridge project, and Penney’s excitement about it is obvious.
“I’m a civil engineer by training,” she says. “My interest from the beginning was in bridges. I really came to DDOT to pursue my dream of doing major bridges. It’s been a tremendous challenge. It’s also been just a blast.”
In this unguarded declaration, Penney gives assurance that the Transportation Department’s engineering reins are in good hands. A disinterested policy wonk could never talk about “a dream of doing major bridges.”
Only a real, live, transportation-obsessed engineering geek could say that in all seriousness.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

~10 Tips for Renters Looking For A Place On Capitol Hill

These are 10 good tips for any one looking to rent an apartment on Capitol Hill:
  1. Not everyone can live on top of Eastern Market or Barracks Row, so remember that if you can walk to those areas in 15 minutes it's okay.
  2. If you are looking for a one bedroom at $900-$1000 a month with utilities included, it doesn't exist.
  3. Seek help from an agent at Long & Foster Capitol Hill office.
  4. Walk around the neighborhood, to get an idea of where you don't want to live.
  5. Don't exclude areas, just because they are in the NE part of Capitol Hill.
  6. If you need to have someone co-sign, let the agent know that up front.
  7. Ask the agent if they have a property they may be willing to rent.
  8. Ask the agent if they know of any other agents willing that have rental properties.
  9. Be prepared to put down the security deposit immediately to hold a place.
  10. Don't forget the early bird catches the worm. Be the first to contact the owner when the property comes on the market

~For a renter, Capitol Hill is a tough market for many reasons.

For a renter, Capitol Hill is a tough market for many reasons.
  • There is a short supply of rentals because many homes are being bought by owners who plan on occupying the property.
  • Small number of apartment buildings on Capitol Hill compared to other parts of the city.
    Many apartment buildings were converted to condos.
  • Extreme Rent control laws that don't allow for open competition between tenants.
  • Many current tenants live in prime locations and pay way below market rent. I
  • Increased number of Senators, Reps & Capitol Hill staffers want to live within walking distance to the capitol.
  • Growth & Development of Capitol Hill is attracting more people to live in the area.
  • If the current president rented on Capitol Hill, then its safe enough for others to live there, so people that preferred other parts of the city are now looking at Capitol Hill as an option