Cuneyt Dil
Aug 10, 2022 - Politics

Town Talker: Mayor Bowser's FOIA record

Illustration of the Lincoln Memorial with his hand up to his ear, listening to gossip.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Bulletin for Mayor Bowser: FOIA denials have soared to an 11-year high under your leadership.

Why it matters: Freedom of Information Act requests give the public access to government documents, which can expose malfeasance and shine a light on doings at City Hall. 

By the numbers: The Bowser administration denied in whole 9.5% of FOIA requests filed last year, per my count from annual reports

  • As it happens, Bowser is in company with her Green Team mentor, former Mayor Adrian Fenty, who had an 11.8% FOIA denial rate in 2009. 

Keeping them honest: In 2014, Bowser ran on improving government transparency. But like most pols who get into office, that pledge hasn't always held up. 

Reporters are constantly stonewalled in public records requests. Upon my persistent inquiries about one FOIA request this past spring, the mayor's associate general counsel Tenette Smith told me via email that “we have received an unprecedented number of requests.” 

Fact check: This made me curious to see just how many requests were pouring in.

  • So I filed a FOIA request for a list of each FOIA request filed year to date. (Very meta, I know.)

That was on April 27. By law, the government has 15 business days to respond to a request.

  • I’m still waiting for proof of the “unprecedented number of requests.”

For what it’s worth: The number of FOIA requests for D.C. government fell between 2019 and 2021 by 1,181 queries, according to the annual reports. We don’t know the 2022 numbers yet.

🥊 FOIA Fight: The Washington Post wants to depose Muriel Bowser in its lawsuit involving WhatsApp.

Flashback: In June 2021, the Post sued the city government for access to Bowser’s emails and WhatsApp communications in the days before and after the Capitol insurrection. 

  • My investigative report found WhatsApp was widely used in the Bowser administration, potentially imperiling public records. Council members subsequently passed a law to strengthen the FOIA law. 

The Post lawsuit has dragged on. The city says in filings that such 1/6 communications don’t exist, but D.C. Superior Court Judge Yvonne Williams allowed the case to move forward.

What’s next: The District is resisting having the Post’s lawyers depose the mayor.

  • The Post “fails to show that a deposition of the Mayor in this case would not be overly burdensome and unwarranted,” Attorney General Karl Racine wrote in the District’s defense in a June 23 filing.

Town Talker is a weekly column on local politics and power. Send tips: [email protected]

Cuneyt Dil
Jul 27, 2022 - Politics

Town Talker: Marc Elrich and David Blair tied in Montgomery County ... again

Marc Elrich and David Blair, side-by-side headshots
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (left) and businessman David Blair. Photos: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images and Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The race for Montgomery County executive is a nail-biter reminiscent of four years ago.

Why it matters: The election to lead the county of 1.05 million people was dominated by how to rejuvenate its economy, which has lost pace with the rest of the region.

Town Talker: Meet D.C.’s new worst foe in Congress

Andrew Clyde laces combat boots on steps of U.S. Capitol
Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Andrew Clyde, a Republican junior member of Congress from Georgia, is now D.C.’s biggest nemesis on the Hill.

Why it matters: Republicans winning control of Congress could bring back the dark ages for local D.C. power — right as Muriel Bowser will be sworn in for a third mayoral term.

Cuneyt Dil
Jul 13, 2022 - News

Town Talker: Affluent but in decline, Montgomery County to pick future

Headshots of Marc Elrich, Hans Riemer, and David Blair
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, At-large County Council member Hans Riemer, and businessman David Blair. Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images; Cheryl Diaz Meyer/The Washington Post via Getty Images; Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Affluent and vast, you wouldn’t necessarily think of Montgomery County as withering.

Driving the news: New, glitzy Bethesda towers and urban-ish redevelopment along Rockville Pike have punched up the sprawling Washington suburb that's home to more than a million people.

Cuneyt Dil
Jul 6, 2022 - News

Town Talker: Kenyan McDuffie seeks four more years

Illustration of the Wilson building in Washington with lines radiating from it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

In D.C., politicians rarely call it quits.

Council member Kenyan McDuffie suffered a setback after being kicked off the primary ballot for attorney general. But the Ward 5 lawmaker is back seeking four more years, this time as an at-large council member.

Why it matters: McDuffie is now taking on independent at-large council member Elissa Silverman. That likely sets up another proxy fight between progressive forces who power the current officeholder and a catch-all coalition — D.C. organizers not as far to the left, the business community, perhaps even the Green Team — who would like McDuffie to oust Silverman.

Cuneyt Dil
Jun 29, 2022 - Sports

Town Talker: Ted Leonsis, would-be king of Washington sports?

Illustration of sports symbols as medals.
Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

It’s been two months since the Lerner family began exploring a sale of the Washington Nationals.

What I’m hearing: Ted Leonsis is very much interested, per several sources. Out-of-town fat cats are buzzing around.

  • And no, Jeff Bezos is not part of the process.
Cuneyt Dil
Jun 23, 2022 - Politics

Town Talker: The D.C. primary's other winners and losers

Muriel Bowser amongst celebrating supporters
Photo: Astrid Riecken/The Washington Post via Getty Images

👋🏼 It’s Cuneyt here, with a special Town Talker column about the winners and losers in Tuesday’s Dem primary.

The winners

1. The Green Team

Come the end of her presumed third term, Mayor Bowser’s political network — led by ex-mayor Adrian Fenty before her — will have been in charge of the District for 16 out of the last 20 years.

Cuneyt Dil
Updated Jun 22, 2022 - News

Progressives gain seats on D.C. Council

Illustration of the Wilson building in Washington with lines radiating from it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

D.C. voters on Tuesday backed D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson over a left-leaning challenger. But progressives gained two other seats on the Council.

Why it matters: The victories for the progressive candidates are likely to pit the council against Mendelson and Mayor Bowser even more often than before. The latter two are typically seen as fiscal moderates in the Democratic city.

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