DAYBREAK DAILY: Surfing championships to remain in Va. Beach

ABC7 WEATHER: Partly cloudy with highs in the low 60s. { }

‘GOOD MORNING WASHINGTON’: Among the reports – Recapping Thursday night’s D.C. mayoral debate on NewsChannel 8; much more, beginning at 4:30 a.m. M-F.

SURF’S UP: After a tenuous period, per the Virginian-Pilot, “The East Coast Surfing Championships are staying put. The Virginia Beach Jaycees, which owns the ECSC, said Thursday that it has worked out an agreement with Virginia Beach over fees the city charges to provide services for the event. The 52nd annual competition is on for Aug. 18-24.

“. . .In January, the Jaycees expressed dismay after learning that, under a new law, the city planned to charge fees for services at Oceanfront community events such as the surfing competition, the Polar Plunge and the Shamrock Marathon. Under the new plan, the surfing contest’s costs would have increased by tens of thousands of dollars for services such as trash collection. At the time, Grant Hummer, president of the Jaycees and a former chairman of the ECSC, called the increase “a crushing blow.”

D.C. DEBATE: Guess who was the star, per the Washington Post, “Mayor Vincent C. Gray strolled out onto a new, much rougher campaign trail Thursday night, taking sharp verbal blows from two of his leading challengers in the Democratic primary race days after federal prosecutors unveiled new allegations about his knowledge of an illegal campaign scheme. On several occasions, a feisty Gray told his foes that if they had evidence he committed a crime, to “put it on the table.”

“The scrapping took place in the first and only major televised debate ahead of the April 1 primary, aired on NewsChannel 8. The proceedings began with discussion of the federal investigation, which centers on Gray’s 2010 mayoral campaign, and the focus remained there for much of the hour-long program. “The entire election was corrupted,” said D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser (Ward 4). “I do believe the U.S. attorney when he says that. It’s also hard to believe that $600,000 .?.?. could be missed by a candidate — especially a candidate who is known for his attention to detail.”

MEANWHILE: Of a heavy hitter, per City Paper, “Vince Gray has spent the days following Jeff Thompson's guilty plea doing reputation damage control. Now he's getting some help from an unlikely source: crisis manager Lanny Davis. Since working as Bill Clinton's special counsel in the 1990s, Davis has lent his talents to such luminaries as Penn State University amid the Jerry Sandusky scandal and various African dictators. (He also helped Pigskins owner Dan Snyder in a failed lawsuit against Washington City Paper.)

Now Davis is doing some unofficial stumping for Gray, writing in his column in The Hill that he thinks the mayor is getting mistreated by U.S. Attorney Ron Machen and the media. "Mayor Vincent Gray deserves the presumption of innocence," Davis writes. "It is only fair. It is—it must be—the American way." While LL's reaction to a supportive column from Davis would be to run the other way, Team Gray loves it. Gray's campaign sent out a press release with the article, then emailed supporters a link so they could see Davis "rising to the defense of Mayor Gray."

STARTING OVER: Kind of, per the Baltimore Sun, “Maryland will likely dump all or part of the state's health insurance exchange website and adopt Connecticut's system, a move that could make it the first state to abandon a dysfunctional site. Officials with Maryland's exchange plan to turn to the "Connecticut solution," which was developed largely by Deloitte Consulting LLC and considered among the most successful in enrolling consumers in private health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, said two sources with knowledge of the situation.

Exchange officials insist that no decision has been made. Connecticut's software is "on the table, among other options, but we've not made a final decision," said Carolyn Quattrocki, interim director of the Maryland Health Benefit Exchange. "It's a multi-step process that we're undertaking," she said. "Then it becomes a recommendation to the board. The exchange board makes the final decision. We'll also need to work with our federal partners."

VEA IS MAD: Real mad, per the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “The state teachers association is giving a highly unsatisfactory “incomplete” to lawmakers who left Richmond with no budget agreement. The three financial proposals left to resolve “fail to provide the public school funding required to move Virginia forward,” Virginia Education Association President Meg Gruber said in a news conference Thursday.

“Before lawmakers return March 24 for a special session to tackle the budget again, the VEA highlighted per-pupil funding in the proposed House and Senate versions of the budget, which it says would be below 2009 levels. “Underfunding by the state has a ripple effect on our localities, which have not been able to maintain programs while being shortchanged by Richmond,” Gruber said. In turn, they have reduced staff and increased class sizes, she said.”

THE STRANGE CASE: Of the missing airplane, per the New York Times, “Investigators are examining data that appear to show that the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner was still in automated communication with satellite systems, and may therefore still have been airborne or at least functional, for hours after ground controllers last heard from it, a well-placed official involved in the investigation said on Thursday. The information added to a growing belief that the jet turned off course after contact was lost and could have traveled hundreds of miles west, across the Malaysian peninsula and out into the Indian Ocean. Some search efforts were redirected to those waters on Thursday, with the redeployment of American naval aircraft and an American destroyer, the Kidd.

“Revelations that the aircraft continued to communicate with satellites long after contact with air traffic controllers ceased added to a swirl of new information and speculation about its fate. ABC News reported on Thursday evening that American officials believed that two communications systems aboard the aircraft shut down at separate times, suggesting they were turned off deliberately rather than as a result of a catastrophic failure. The ABC report, which quoted two unidentified officials, could not be immediately corroborated.”

CONCERTED IDIOCY: Just the facts, per the Austin American-Statesman, “The tragedy took only one minute to unfold. A suspected drunken driver, fleeing a routine traffic stop early Thursday, crashed through a police barricade and sped down a downtown Austin street crowded with South by Southwest festival-goers, killing two and leaving a horrific trail of injured pedestrians over two blocks.

“Dazed bystanders hastened to help the injured, emergency crews arrived in force, and nearby hospitals mobilized as a scene of revelry was transformed into a trauma center by a random crime, upending lives and marring a signature event that draws tens of thousands to Austin each year. Police arrested Rashad Charjuan Owens, 21, of Killeen shortly after 12:30 a.m. near the northwest corner of East 11th and Red River streets, where his four-door Honda came to rest after plowing into a bicyclist, moped, taxi and a parked van.”

UNEMPLOYMENT: A quick fix, per The Hill, “The Senate reached a bipartisan deal on Thursday that would renew federal unemployment benefits for five months. The plan put together by Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) would provide retroactive benefits to people who lost federal help after the program expired on Dec. 28. “There are a lot of good people looking for work and I am pleased we’re finally able to reach a strong, bipartisan consensus to get them some help,” Reed said.

“The bill is cosponsored by a broad swath of lawmakers from both parties, including Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). The bill will likely see floor action later this month, after the Senate returns from a one-week recess. Reed and Heller expressed confidence that they can garner enough votes to break a filibuster in the Senate and pass the measure. The deal combines ideas from Republican and Democratic proposals.”

POLITICO PLAY: “President Barack Obama finally bowed to pressure from immigration rights activists and signaled on Thursday that he may change his deportation policy.

“The president changed course after months of claiming there was nothing his White House could do to stem the flow of deportations of undocumented immigrants. Obama announced in a meeting readout that he has requested a review of his administration’s enforcement policies for immigration laws to see if that enforcement can be done “more humanely within the confines of the law,” the White House said Thursday.”

MARYLAND WEED: And so it goes, per Gazette.Net, “House Speaker Michael E. Busch convened several of his lawmakers — including Dels. C. William Frick and Jeff Waldstreicher — to study marijuana policy in Maryland, which included questions of whether the state should take the first steps toward legalization.

“Multiple pieces of legislation have been proposed this session attempting to do everything from easing restrictions on medicinal use of marijuana and decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of pot, to making Maryland the latest state to legalize, tax and regulate the substance.”

MINING DATA: A lot of it, per the Loudoun Times-Mirror, “A California technology company has filed plans to build one of the world’s largest data centers in Ashburn’s Data Center Alley. Equinix, a Redwood City company with facilities in 15 countries, has applied to place a 1.1 million-square-foot data center at the intersection of Loudoun County Parkway and the W&OD Trail.

“The plan calls for the construction of six buildings, and would increase to more than 5 million the number of square feet for data centers in the county. The facility is expected to create about 70 jobs, according to a Fast Track Application which was filed with the Department of Economic Development. The Equinix data center would be the third largest in the world, according to metrics compiled by Forbes magazine.”

TRENDING ON ABC7 FACEBOOK: “Two Montgomery County Council members want students to have unlimited access to fruits and vegetables at lunchtime. A spokesman for Superintendent Joshua Starr says progress is already being made, noting an additional $560,000 was spent last year alone to boost not only fruits and vegetables, but whole grains and lower sodium items too.”

NEWSTALK: Among today’s topics (10 a.m., NewsChannel 8) -- analysis of NewsChannel 8’s D.C. mayoral debate from WAMU reporter Patrick Madden, political strategist Doug Sloan and Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney.

--Skip Wood