DAYBREAK DAILY: Mark Sickles no longer seeking Jim Moran's seat

ABC7 WEATHER: Sunny with gusting wind and highs in the mid 30s.

‘GOOD MORNING WASHINGTON’: Among the reports – Comprehensive coverage of wind damage and power outages across the area; much more, beginning at 4:30 a.m. M-F.

SICKLES BOWS OUT: Sees no path to victory, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Del. Mark D. Sickles, D-Fairfax, announced Wednesday night that he is dropping out of the running for the Northern Virginia congressional seat of retiring Rep. James P. Moran, D-8th.In a statement posted to the Blue Virginia blog, Sickles said he chose to bow out after reviewing an internal survey of likely voters in the party’s June primary. “I wish that I could report that there was a clear and viable path to victory for me,” Sickles wrote.

“. . .The departure of Sickles, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, leaves 10 Democrats seeking the nomination for what is likely a safe seat for the party, anchored in Alexandria and Arlington County. Last month, Sickles announced in a Washington Post opinion column that he is gay, becoming the second openly gay member of the state legislature.”

MR. MAYOR: Troubled water, per the Washington Post, “The withdrawal of a respected newspaper’s endorsement and the launch of a new mayoral campaign posed new challenges for Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s reelection bid two days after prosecutors implicated him in a far-reaching campaign-finance scandal. D.C. Council member David A. Catania, an independent who has won five citywide elections, filed papers to enter the November general election. And the Current newspapers, a respected chain of neighborhood weeklies, published an editorial Wednesday explaining that the scandal has “forced us to rethink” supporting the mayor.

“Meanwhile, Gray showed no signs of bowing out of the fast-approaching April 1 Democratic mayoral primary, resuming a normal schedule by celebrating the city’s continuing economic boom with a groundbreaking ceremony for a long-awaited redevelopment project involving Wal-Mart near his home in Southeast Washington. Gray also continued to push back against the allegations of businessman Jeffrey E. Thompson, who said — as part of a plea deal reached Monday with federal prosecutors — that Gray knew of a secret, off-the-books financial effort to help Gray win the mayoral election in 2010.”

MEANWHILE: Of a unique challenger, per City Paper, “Is Jeff Thompson lying, or is Mayor Vince Gray lying about him lying? Newest mayoral candidate David Catania isn't worried about the District's question of the moment. “I’m talking about my vision for the city, which doesn’t include serving as a human lie detector for Jeff Thompson or Vince Gray," Catania told reporters outside U Street's Reeves Center today after he ended three months of mayoral exploration by filing papers with the District's Office of Campaign Finance to run as an independent.

“Though the timing looks less than coincidental, Catania, who opened a campaign bank account five days before the Thompson plea deal became public, says his decision to announce this week wasn't influenced the court proceedings. He says he doesn't need to be facing a reeling Gray to win in November. Instead, Catania says he'll point to his 17-year D.C. Council record, including United Medical Center, medical marijuana, gay marriage, and, most recently, a raft of legislation as chairman of the Council's education committee.”

COLUMBIA MALL SHOOTINGS: Just the facts, per the Baltimore Sun, “The teenager who led a deadly January assault at The Mall in Columbia did not target his victims, but planned a killing spree inspired by the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, Howard County police revealed Wednesday. In a wide-ranging news conference that provided new details about the crime, police said Darion Marcus Aguilar was torn between violent impulses and efforts to treat his psychiatric problems. For months before the Jan. 25 incident, the 19-year-old had been frequenting websites that promoted violence and researching mass shootings on the Internet. At the same time, he was looking up suicide-help websites as he acknowledged hearing voices in his head.

“Although police said Aguilar was urged by a doctor to seek psychiatric help, the violent impulses took over. "I going to [expletive] kill you all in a couple of hours," he wrote in his journal. "I'm anxious. I hate you all so much. You are pathetic pieces of [expletive] who deserve to die. Worthless. You are all [expletive] worthless."

MEDICAID EXPANSION: Not bloody likely, per the Associated Press, “Virginia House Republican leaders said Wednesday the momentum is in their favor in the battle with Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Democratic lawmakers over whether to expand Medicaid eligibility. House Majority Leader Kirk Cox said growing public opinion agrees with the Republican position that lawmakers should pass a budget before debating Medicaid. "That is an argument we think we're going to win," Cox said at a small rally and news conference in Colonial Heights. "Momentum is certainly on our side."

“McAuliffe and Democratic lawmakers want a budget that includes accepting federal Medicaid funds in exchange for expanding publicly financed health insurance to as many as 400,000 additional residents. Expanding Medicaid coverage is a key part Affordable Care Act. The governor and his allies have argued Virginia cannot afford to forgo roughly $5 million a day in federal funds because of the Republican's political aversion to President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. They have expressed equal optimism that the House will agree to a Senate version of the budget that includes expanded Medicaid eligibility. The General Assembly adjourned Saturday without passing a roughly $96 billion two-year budget.”

DEALING DEAL: Or something like that, per the New York Times, “Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is endorsing a proposal that would reduce prison sentences for dealing drugs, the latest sign of the Obama administration’s retrenchment in the war on drugs. In January, the United States Sentencing Commission proposed changing federal guidelines to lessen the average sentence for drug dealers by about one year, to 51 months from 62 months. Mr. Holder is scheduled to testify before the commission on Thursday in support of the plan.

“With the support of several Republicans in Congress, the attorney general is separately pushing for the elimination of mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. In January, the Justice Department issued a call encouraging low-level criminals serving lengthy sentences on crack cocaine charges to apply for clemency. Since the late 1970s, the nation’s prison population has ballooned into the world’s largest. About one in every 100 adults is locked up.”

DOOMSDAY: Well, more or less, per the Los Angeles Times, “If a 9.0 earthquake were to strike along California's sparsely populated North Coast, it would have a catastrophic ripple effect. A giant tsunami created by the quake would wash away coastal towns, destroy U.S. 101 and cause $70 billion in damage over a large swath of the Pacific coast. More than 100 bridges would be lost, power lines toppled and coastal towns isolated. Residents would have as few as 15 minutes notice to flee to higher ground, and as many as 10,000 would perish.

“Scientists last year published this grim scenario for a massive rupture along the Cascadia fault system, which runs 700 miles off shore from Northern California to Vancouver Island. The Cascadia subduction zone is less known than the San Andreas fault, which scientists have long predicted will produce The Big One. But in recent years, scientists have come to believe that the Cascadia is far more dangerous than originally believed and have been giving the system more attention.”

UKRAINE: Strange doings – here, per The Hill, “Congress will fail to approve an aid package to Ukraine before a Sunday referendum in Crimea, where voters will decide whether to break away from Kiev’s government to join Vladimir Putin’s Russia. While a Senate panel on Wednesday approved legislation in a bipartisan vote, aides said differences between the House and Senate will prevent Congress from completing its work before lawmakers leave Washington on Friday for a weeklong recess.

“. . . President Obama at the beginning of last week said Congress should move $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine as its first course of business, and he reiterated the call on Wednesday while hosting Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk at the White House. “I would just ask both Democrats and Republicans, who I know are unified in their support of Ukraine, to move quickly to give us the support that we need so that we can give the Ukrainian people the support that they need,” Obama said. Yet the administration also backed the inclusion of reforms to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the Ukraine bill that slowed Congress’s work. The reforms are not included in the House bill, and are opposed by conservative lawmakers in both chambers.”

POLITICO PLAY: “Next month, the trustees who oversee America’s most distinguished journalistic award could face their toughest decision in at least four decades. The issue before the Pulitzer Prize Board: Does it honor reporting by the Washington Post and the Guardian based on stolen government documents that are arguably detrimental to the national security of the United States, and which were provided by a man who many see as a traitor? Or, does it pass over what is widely viewed as the single most significant story of the year — if not the decade — for the sake of playing it safe?

“The politically charged debate surrounding the National Security Agency’s widespread domestic surveillance program, and the man who revealed it, Edward Snowden, is certain to prompt intense discussion for the 19-member Board as it gathers to decide this year’s winners, according to past board members, veteran journalists and media watchdogs. The debate echoes the historic decision in 1972, when the Board awarded The New York Times for its reporting on Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers, they said.”

AMBULATORY: Of a plea, per Gazette.Net, “Prince George’s County ambulances are getting old and worn out from years of service, and fire officials are purchasing 11 new ambulances, but that number would need to double over the next two years to update the aging fleet. “While the purchase of 11 more ambulances for the next fiscal year is planned, overcoming the fleet aging issue requires purchasing perhaps twenty per year over the next two years to even out costs and downtime associated with aged units,” said Tony Bizjak, Prince George’s County Fire/EMS apparatus maintenance manager.

“Of the county’s 72 active ambulances, about two-thirds are 2006 or 2007 models — the result of a bulk purchase in 2005, Bizjak said. Those units are averaging about 150,000 miles and are getting close to meeting their engine’s total lifespan, which is about 350,000 miles when factoring in engine hours, Bizjak said. Engine hours are accumulated while an engine is active; odometer miles track how far a vehicle has traveled.”

SNOW DAYS: One way to cope, per the Frederick News-Post, “Frederick County's Board of Education will ask the Maryland State Department of Education for a two-day waiver from the 180-day instructional requirement, after a 4-2 vote Wednesday night. Eleven snow days have been called so far this school year during a harsh winter. If approved, the waiver would relieve Frederick County Public Schools from some of the days scheduled as makeup time.

“Board members Colleen Cusimano, Jean Smith, Zakir Bengali and Katie Groth voted in favor of the two-day waiver, while Joy Schaefer and April Miller voted against the request. Brad Young did not attend the meeting. "Many families have made plans for that spring break week, and I'm not sure how well our attendance is going to be anyway that week," Cusimano said. "It's just been a challenge in many ways, but if we could be forgiven for two days, it's less stress for our staff, our students to try and fit in that time."

MEANWHILE: Another way to cope, per the Virginian-Pilot, “Your spring break and Memorial Day plans are safe, but the school day just got longer. Virginia Beach students will make up the latest two snow days by going to school for an extra 20 minutes a day for about a month, school officials said.

“Schools shut down March 3 and 4 because of a storm that brought ice and snow to Hampton Roads, eliciting groans from a community weary of winter weather disruptions. With the new plan, the extended school day will be in place March 31 through May 8. Students and employees already have made up two of seven weather days, including one on a Saturday. Students will attend school on two more Saturdays, March 29 and April 26, which won't be 20 minutes longer. March 28, previously a staff day, is now a full school day.”

SPORTS, BRIEFLY: Wizards lose 98-85 against Charlotte.

TRENDING ON ABC7 FACEBOOK: “Thousands spent the night without power all around the Washington area. More than 5,000 BG&E customers are currently without power and Dominion is working to restore electricity to more than 7,500 customers.”

NEWSTALK: Among today’s guests (10 a.m., NewsChannel 8) is Washington Post reporter Mike DeBonis, who will be asked about the Jeff Thompson guilty plea and David Catania's mayoral bid -- and he previews our mayoral debate. Tonight at 7, join us as incumbent Vincent Gray faces off against Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans and Tommy Wells.

--Skip Wood

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