DAYBREAK DAILY: Opponents accuse Anthony Brown of ducking third debate

ABC7 WEATHER: Partly sunny with highs in the upper 70s as rain moves out of the area.

‘GOOD MORNING WASHINGTON’: Among the reports – Comprehensive coverage of the widespread flooding, including evacuations in Laurel; much more, beginning at 4:30 a.m. M-F.

DEBATING A DEBATE: Brown taking heat from opponents, per the Baltimore Sun, “A Valentine's Day agreement among the Democrats running for governor to cooperate on setting up debates collapsed Wednesday as his rivals accused front-runner Anthony G. Brown of ducking a third televised encounter.

“The lieutenant governor's campaign insisted that the current schedule — two debates on statewide television and one on a Baltimore radio station — adhered to the original plan. But in a rare joint statement, the campaigns of Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler and Del. Heather R. Mizeur said Brown had agreed to more — and that voters deserved more. For Democrats trying to make a choice in the June 24 primary, the result is a limited number of opportunities to see their party's candidates sharing a stage.

"These formal and negotiated debates are the only ones where they're really going to be on the stage together and will interact," said political scientist Todd Eberly of St. Mary's College. He said the notion of having a debate exclusively on radio in 2014 "is absolutely and completely ridiculous. It would be more appropriate to have the debate on Twitter." The campaign to succeed two-term Democrat Martin O'Malley is already characterized by a lack of interest, resulting in a vast number of undecided voters, according to recent polls.”

SAME-SEX FILINGS: Of tax returns, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Gay rights advocates are urging Gov. Terry McAuliffe to allow same-sex couples to file joint tax returns in Virginia. “It’s something that we’re looking at,” McAuliffe said during his monthly appearance on WTOP radio Wednesday. “I’ve asked my Secretary of Finance Ric Brown to look at this issue. What I have continuously said, I want Virginia to be open and welcoming to everyone,” McAuliffe said.

“Advocates made their case Wednesday, weeks before a federal appeals court will hear arguments in a lawsuit aimed at overturning Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage. Virginia’s current tax policy, which requires married lesbian and gay couples to file their state income tax returns as individuals, is not only burdensome and confusing, but discriminatory, gay rights groups say.”

D.C. SCHOOLS FOOD FIGHT: Lawsuit stirs the pot, per the Washington Post, “The former head of food services for the District’s public schools, who was fired after clashing with Chancellor Kaya Henderson last year, alleges in a lawsuit filed Wednesday that the school system was overcharged, billed for spoiled produce and shorted millions of dollars by its largest food vendor.

“Jeffrey Mills said in an interview this week that problems with the system’s food services contract are symptoms of the school administration’s weak oversight and mismanagement. “This is not just a food issue; this is an education issue,” said Mills, whose lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleges that he was fired in January 2013 for raising alarms about the contract and seeks back pay and other damages. “If the money is being wasted, that’s money not being spent on other school programs.”

WE’VE GOT YOUR BACK: Of a fighter pilot, per the Virginian-Pilot, “U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and an Illinois congressman expressed outrage in a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that an F-22 fighter pilot's career has been stalled for two years after he publicly complained about legitimate safety issues with the plane. "This cannot stand," Warner and U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger wrote in the letter to Hagel, arguing that the treatment of Capt. Joshua Wilson is sending the message that military leaders will retaliate against service members who speak out about wrongdoing.

“. . . Wilson and Maj. Jeremy Gordon, both Virginia Air National Guard pilots assigned to Langley Air Force Base, told CBS's "60 Minutes" program in the spring of 2012 that the F-22 Raptor had a defective oxygen system that was endangering pilots. They had expressed similar concerns to military superiors before the broadcast. Their public comments sparked a strong Pentagon reaction, helping provoke the Air Force to spend tens of millions to address the problem. But neither pilot has been back in the Raptor since early 2012.”

UKRAINE: The latest, per the New York Times, “It is by now a well-established pattern. Armed, masked men in their 20s to 40s storm a public building of high symbolic value in a city somewhere in eastern Ukraine, evict anyone still there, seize weapons and ammunition, throw up barricades and proclaim themselves the rulers of a “people’s republic.” It is not clear who is in charge or how the militias are organized.

“. . .Day by day, in the areas surrounding the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, pro-Russian forces have defied all efforts by the central government to re-establish its authority, and on Wednesday, Ukraine’s acting president conceded what had long been obvious: The government’s police and security officials had lost control.”

TELEVISION TALKS: No, really, per the Los Angeles Times, “AT&T Inc. and DirecTV are in exploratory talks about a potential sale of the satellite broadcaster to the telecommunications giant. The board of directors from both companies have been briefed on the potential deal, said a person with knowledge of the talks who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter. The talks were described as preliminary, and no deal was certain.”

FEDEX SHOOTING: An update, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “He was shot in the stomach from less than 3 feet away and underwent two emergency surgeries the same day. Out of the six people shot at a Cobb County FedEx facility, Christopher Sparkman’s condition was the most critical.

“But one day after being shot while working as a security guard, Sparkman has continued to improve, surgeon Barry Renz said Wednesday. Renz said he expects Sparkman, 28, of Canton, to make a full recovery. Sparkman, a newlywed and Army veteran, was the first person shot Tuesday morning by Geddy Kramer, according to police. Kramer then shot five others before killing himself.”

DONALD STERLING: Yeah, never saw this coming, per the New York Daily News, “Donald Sterling won’t go down without a fight, according to an NBA executive who is close to the disgraced owner of the Clippers, and will sue the league if the other 29 owners vote to force him to sell. The wheels are in motion to remove Sterling, a process that the executive said Wednesday night would lead to a lawsuit by the disgraced owner, possibly tying up the future of the team for years.

“He is not going to sell the team,” the executive said. Members of the owners’ advisory and finance committee, which includes Miami Heat owner Micky Arison, planned to hold a meeting Thursday to discuss the next steps in forcing Sterling to sell the team he has owned for 33 years. Seventy-five percent of the league’s 29 other teams would have to vote in favor of such a move.”

MINIMUM WAGE: GOP blocks an increase, per The Hill, “Senate Democrats vowed to repeatedly bring minimum wage legislation to the floor, after Republicans on Wednesday blocked a measure to raise the wage to $10.10. In a 54-42 tally, Democrats fell well short of the 60 votes necessary to end debate. Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) was the only Republican senator to vote with Democrats.

“The failure was expected, however, and the White House and Senate Democrats made it clear they want to begin a public drum beat on the issue ahead of the November elections. “This is not the only time you will see the Senate vote on the minimum wage bill this year. We’ll be back again and again, and we’ll keep trying until we get this to the president’s desk,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chairman of the Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee and the bill’s sponsor.”

POLITICO PLAY: “John Boehner teased them last week for whining about the fact that they couldn’t tackle a tough topic like immigration reform. But conservative immigration foes have yet to let go of the speaker’s remarks about them.

“In the aftermath, they are stepping up their efforts to thwart any plan that might be afoot among House leadership to jam reform through the House by the end of this year. A group of conservatives plans to meet and strategize this week, and are scouring bills searching for offending language that might somehow slip through their gates.”

DERBY DAY: Of a favorite, per the (Louisville) Courier-Journal, “California Chrome -- made the heavy favorite at 5-2 odds for Saturday's Kentucky Derby -- will break out of the gate from post position 5 for the 104th running of America's most important race.

“. . . Mike Battaglia, who has been making the Churchill Downs and Kentucky Derby morning line for 40 years, had no trouble establishing the Santa Anita Derby winner what he called "a pretty strong favorite in a 20-horse field." That's a tribute to the chestnut colt, with his distinctive blaze and four white socks, having won his past four races by a combined 24 lengths.”

DEMOCRATS FOR CATANIA?: That’s the plan, anyway, per City Paper, “The transformation of D.C. Councilmember David Catania from a Republican to an independent who claims to be more Democratic than actual Democrats continues. Facing an electorate that's 75 percent Democratic, Catania's mayoral campaign is offering campaign paraphernalia for voters whose party affiliation doesn't match with their candidate choice. Along with the "Democrats for David" signs, Catania campaign manager Ben Young says the campaign is distributing "Democrats for Catania" bumperstickers.”

MERCURY SCARE: At school, no less, per Gazette.Net, “Hundreds of students at Francis Scott Key Middle School had to be evaluated by a hazardous materials crew Wednesday after a student showed up with a vial of mercury.

“Pete Piringer, a spokesman for Montgomery County Fire & Rescue Service, said 35 students tested positive for “low-level” mercury on their shoes and clothes. No illnesses were reported. The incident did not spur any major health concerns. Piringer said harmful exposure occurs if mercury is consumed or vaporized.”

TAXI WARS: And the beat goes on, per DCist, “An attorney for Sidecar faced the D.C. Taxicab Commission Wednesday to argue against proposed regulations the ride-sharing company believes will force them out of D.C. Elizabeth Stevens said Sidecar is "fundamentally different" from Uber and Lyft, two of the companies that would be affected by the proposed sedan services regulations, "in the way that we offer our services." (Representatives from those companies did not testify.)”

TRASH TALK: But no punches, per the Frederick News-Post, “The city of Frederick plans to finish rolling out its new trash pickup schedule in the coming fiscal year. Marc Stachowski, deputy director of the Department of Public Works, highlighted the department's plans at a hearing on the mayor's proposed budget Wednesday night, including holding two "Freecycle Roundup” days to help compensate for the lack of bulk trash pickup, which was cut from the city's budget in 2011.”{ }{ }

SPORTS, BRIEFLY: Nationals beat Houston 7-0.

TRENDING ON ABC7 FACEBOOK: “ABC 7 reporter Tom Roussey was in the middle of a live report earlier this evening when a Red Top Cab driver attempted to ford a road flooded with nearly three feet of water. The cab driver's narrow escape, as well as Tom's interview with him, were all caught on tape. Click here to watch the incredible video: { }

NEWSTALK: Among today’s guests (10 a.m., NewsChannel 8) is D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who will be asked about the panel’s lawsuit against the mayor and CFO, the police union’s negotiations with MPD and more.

--Skip Wood