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July 16, 1996

Gimme a Break

Dear Neighbors:

I couldn't sell the following article so instead I'm going to foist it off on you. It's about why you might want to keep your tax relief expectations in check.


Gimme a Break: Five Hundred Million Reasons Why Newt Won’t Deliver Tax Relief to District Residents

This ain’t no tax bill. There’ll be no party. The Republicans are just fooling around.

In a carefully scripted segment of the Archers-Daniel-Midland Hour (With host David Brinkley) last Sunday, Chairman Newt smacked Sam Donaldson’s softball question about republican tax initiatives out of the park by saying:

"We are looking very seriously at a very dramatic tax change for the city of Washington to literally create an incentive for people to move back into the city."

Actually, Newt’s is looking at some seriously dramatic poll numbers that show the Republicans losing ground in House and Senate races. Because the politically comatose Bob Dole was going to let another weekend news cycle pass without proposing an agenda, Newt decided to make a grab for air time by touting tax and urban issues.

In perfect orchestration after Chairman Newt’s announcement, House Majority Leader Dick Armey immediately nuanced the issue by saying that "boosting the District by slashing federal taxes could be an important step toward reducing taxes nationwide." And folks close to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott say he wants to be a co-sponsor. And I thought Republicans spent Sunday in church.

When the euphoria clears, Gingrich’s sudden interest in the Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s oxymoronically named progressive flat tax proposal is likely to be revealed as nothing but the cynical execution of a long-planned ploy to attract swing voters (especially catholic, urban Reagan Democrats). Please note that the Troika never said that the bill would pass over their colleagues dead bodies.

How did Republicans Gingrich, Armey, and Lott suddenly become the District’s best fair-weather friends? In simple terms, Norton made a pact with the devil. And the pact was brokered by Jack Kemp and Gingrich’s allies at the Progress and Freedom Foundation.

After the 1994 elections, Norton was faced with Marion Barry and a Republican congress. With President Clinton smart enough never to be seen within a photo opportunity of Marion Barry, and the city falling off the financial precipice, Norton had no choice but do business with the Republicans.

In turn, Gingrich wanted to move his party’s base into Democrat territory, demonstrating that the Republicans were also a party of compassion. Gingrich needed an urban agenda to accomplish this goal,. His laboratory was the District, which he was going to turn into an "urban jewel." As his minions, he selected Jack Kemp, the "Republican who talks to the black community," and Jane Fortson, a Carter Democrat, whom he placed at this think tank, the Progress and Freedom Foundation.

Gingrich’s urban agenda quickly fell apart. The Barry Administration wanted only the carrots, not the sticks. Fortson became almost invisible as the District’s management problems became more intractable by the day. And Gingrich’s minions, especially appropriations chair Jim Walsh, were more interested in punishing sinners than participating in a revolution.

Yet, Gingrich still wanted the Republicans to having something to say to the millions of urban voters, and Norton wanted to fix her hometown. Thus, a mutual interest was married and a tax bill was born. In announcing the bill, Norton made the remarkable announcement, to the effect, that since 30 years of Democrat policies have not helped the city, it was time to try Republican tax cut orthodoxy. The audience gasped. "Had Eleanor sold her soul to the devil?"

Meanwhile, Norton’s bill languished for months in legislative purgatory, with few sponsors and no hearings. Virginia’s Tom Davis, who opposes the bill because of its inequitable treatment of his Virginia constituency, was forced to promise to hold a hearing on the bill.

This is not a popular bill in Congress. Let us count the ways. It rewards the District for its ineptness. Every mayor is going to be at their representative’s throat saying, "Give me some of that too." It costs a bundle, somewhere between $500 and $700 million, which congress will have to take out of some other fund. And it’s bad public policy. As Steven Pearlstein argued in the Washington Post, "[The bill] is monstrously expensive, creates big windfalls for lots of rich Washingtonians, and is likely in the end to be self-defeating."

Norton has a point that federal fiscal and tax policy favors suburbia—after all, it was Ike who built the Interstate Highway System that provided city dwellers a conduit to flee—but Congress could rectify the imbalance by revising those provisions rather than betting on the Norton scheme.

With so much opposition to this bill in Congress, it’s doubtful that Gingrich’s announcement will outlive the number of news cycles that "urban jewel" enjoyed. But suppose that the polling data show that America will vote for Republicans because they are generous to the District and that Gingrich and Lott rally their soldiers to support this bill. Who wants to bet that the Republicans will poison the bill by taking the $500 million from a program near to Democrat’s heart and jugular—say a Tyson’s food subsidy? I would.

Norton will be lucky if she can trade the package for a $50 million increase in the federal payment.


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Jeffrey Itell



Our most able Delegate Norton has been working actively if behind the scenes on the her proposal to reduce federal taxation of District residents. HR 3244, as the House version is known, has obtained bipartisan sponsorship to date: Rep. Fazio, Rep. Collins (C.), Rep. Armey of Texas (House Majority), Rep. Towns, Rep. Hastings (A.), Rep. Meek, Rep. Frazer, Rep. Romero-Barcelo, Rep. Fattah, and Rep. Boehner. In addition, the Post and Times reported on Monday that both House Speaker Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Lott had endorsed the legislation.

Of course, supportive talk does not necessarily translate into legislative action. Citizen support is essential--both from District residents and from others who recognize the importance of the issue.

Rep. Tom Davis, chairman of the Subcommittee on the District of Columbia, has said he plans a hearing in August. I am hoping that as many of us as are able to attend that hearing do so--as soon as a date is set, I will notify everyone.

In the mean time, the DC Sucommittee is seeking citizen comment on the tax proposal--particularly residents of DC and Virginia, but others as well. Please call (202) 225-6751 today to express your support of HR 3244. You can speak to either Susan South or Ann Mack, or whoever picks up the phone.

Thank you very much for your interest and attention. Feel free to contact me about DC Citizens for Tax Justice.

Randy Wells


Marc Plotkin on NPR this morning agreed with you: he pointed out that the relevant chairs of subcommittees in Congress are refusing even to schedule any hearings on the proposal to cut DC federal taxes. (I guess Plotkin was referring either to Rep. Walsh of NY or Rep. Davis of VA.) The Post mentioned yesterday that Rep. Davis, who chairs the D.C. subcommittee with initial jurisdiction over a possible DC tax cut indicated he is not interested in the idea.

David F. Power


New Anti-Loitering Law

[My apologies to Art Spitzer, who wrote this note at my request. I cut off his signature and final paragraphs in the last edition. jeff]

Andrea Carlson suggests that the District's new anti-loitering law is a "preventive measure" that "could do wonders for the crime problem."

There are lots of preventive measures that could do wonders for the crime problem. House-to-house searches for guns and drugs could do wonders. Erecting metal detectors on Pennsylvania Avenue and making pedestrians walk through them could do wonders. The fact that a law may be effective is not a sufficient reason to accept it.

We like to say that we live in a "free country," but what does than mean if it doesn't mean a country where a person can stand on the sidewalk and talk peacefully to his or her neighbor? Yet under the new anti-loitering law, it is a crime to stand on the sidewalk and talk peacefully to your neighbor, if you live in a "designated" neighborhood and a police officer tells you to move along. In our view, such a law is not consistent with living in a free country, or with the Bill of Rights.

Ms. Carlson also notes that "there is a lot of local resistance to the law dating back to the days when an all-white police force used loitering laws as an entree to routinely harass black residents."

Does Ms. Carlson think that Black police officers do not harass people they view as undesirable? Does Ms. Carlson think that the neighborhoods that will be designated as "no loitering zones" under this bill will be white neighborhoods? Does Ms. Carlson think that low-income people who have the misfortune to live in bad neighborhoods shouldn't have the same freedom to stand on the street and talk to their neighbors that we have in Ward 3?

The police already have plenty of authority to take action when they see suspicious conduct. If a police officer observes suspicious conduct, he or she can make a "Terry" stop to question the person, and can pat the person down for weapons. So the only purpose of the new anti-loitering law is to give the police power to harass or arrest people where they do *not* even observe any suspicious conduct. What is the justification for that? Would we give the police such powers in our own neighborhoods?

Arthur Spitzer ACLU of the National Capital Area


This is in reply to Andrea Carlson's note about the anti-loitering law. I may be a bit off on this -- it's been a while, and I'm not inclined to do the legal research -- but I believe there was a Supreme Court decision in the early 70's that found such a statute "unconstitutional." I seem to recall that William O. Douglas may have written the majority opinion.

I also think there were several test cases to get around it, but all failed. Personally I agree with Andrea, i.e., we need it. It's probably worth a try, because today's court is a bit more conservative, and they have the life experience and record of explosive crime under their belts (or skirts!). Also, if Congress doesn't change too much in the next election, they may be willing to take on the issue.

I suspect that I am operating on common sense, Euclidian logic here, not non-Euclidian lawyer-logic, so the ACLU, which seems to think that a group of loud, often drunk, dishelved men (or younger) standing on a residential corner at 3:00 AM reflects a "right of the people peacefully to assemble" under the 1st amendment will probably prevail.


I'm not sure where you live, but here in Shaw, it's pretty easy to tell the difference between neighbors engaged in a friendly chat and guys running drug markets. Granted, it may be possible to confuse one situation for the other, so much depends on the discretion of the police. (Not exactly comforting, but it's their job, so we've got no choice but to put some faith in them.)

If you're not toting a gun or peddling drugs or wanted on a felony, the only harm done is that you might feel hassled. The benefit to the community outweighs the potential for inconvenience to the individual. When we spend too much energy protecting the rights of criminals, communities pay the price. If you want to restore any semblance of safety in this city, it's going to take some drastic measures.

And by the way, I'll take back what I said about the anti-loitering law being a preventive measure; it's more accurate to call it a corrective measure. Crime prevention is education, early intervention, employment, community involvement, and substance abuse treatment, which are also critical to DC's future.

Andrea Carlson



Re: the latest proposal to eliminate 350 coveted parking spaces downtown around federal buildings. Here we go again. Another land grab by the Secret Service. I have a much better idea. Move all those Federal employees to a bunker someplace outside of the city, with all the security you could ever dream of, and leave us poor drivers/parkers alone. Then, coupled with tax relief and Pennsylvania Ave. re-opened, we could have a semblance of a living city.

S. Gallagher


dc.story Story

I had the good fortune to meet Councilmember and At-Large/Council Chairman candidate Harold Brazil at a neighborhood (Glover Park) barbeque/political awareness event yesterday. He doesn't subscribe to dc.story, but said his wife handled the computer/cyber communications in their family). I told him "," but you might try to find an address for Mrs. Brazil.

I commented that Kathy Patterson scores lots of points with me (and I assume other readers) with her frequent, detailed, well-written, but perhaps too-lengthy contributions. (His supporters have complained about Ms. Patterson's support last year for a property tax increase, seemingly at odds with her campaign position. I was out of the loop when that happened, so I hold no grudges.)

Bottom line, I think it would be good for dc.story and maybe even good for D.C. if more elected officials subscribed to and occasionally posted brief comments.

Regards, -TTS

[Just so you know, a number of District politicians and media folks subscribe to the story. Even folks in the mayor's office! Many lurk in the background and don't participate in the discussion. But they do read what you write. As for encouraging others to get on board, I think it would be great. But given the amount of time I already put into this free venture, I'll leave it up to you to encourage new subscribers. jeff]



Leo Gonzalez Wright goes to court at 9:30 AM, Thursday, July 18 to plead guilty to the murder of Bettina Pruckmayr, a 26 year old human rights lawyer. On December 16, 1995, Leo Wright abducted Ms. Pruckmayr from her apartment parking lot near Logan Circle and forced her to drive to an ATM where he stabbed her 38 times with a hunting knife after taking her ATM card and access code. The state is seeking the death penalty, while Mr. Wright is plea-bargaining for life imprisonment without parole.

At the time of Ms. Pruckmayr's murder, Mr. Wright was on parole for a similar murder of a D.C. Taxicab driver 17 years ago, and had repeatedly violated all conditions of his parole, by:

- having been indicted on a felony drug charge, - testing positive repeatedly for cocaine and heroine use, and - refusing to remain in contact with his parole officer.

Despite these violations, no action had been taken to revoke his parole. Investigation into Mr. Wright's parole records (obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request) creates deep suspicion as to whether or not he should have been paroled in the first place. Examination of Mr. Wright's parole records reveal questions as to how closely the parole board follows its own guidelines in reaching decisions.

In an interview with Margaret Quick, Chair of the D.C. Board of Parole, we were informed that the Board of Parole has begun (since Ms. Pruckmayr's murder) to attempt to address some of their internal operations problems by setting up new communications channels between the D.C. court system and the Board to ensure that in the future the Board is aware of any indictments against parolees.

While we commend the Board of Parole on this action, it does not begin to address the central issue: the release of violent criminals even against the Board's own internal guidelines and recommendations.

The "Friends of Bettina Pruckmayr" believe -- based upon our research to date -- the D.C. criminal justice system is in deep disarray, is seriously underfunded, and lacks the kind of politically-neutral, professional leadership that might be accomplished by creating a Public Safety Commission to coordinate resources, maintain required standards and advocate for appropriate levels of funding. It is obvious that this is not happening now.

We also believe that public safety is fundamental to creating a civil society where individuals can flourish and freedoms are respected and protected. This is not the case in the District of Columbia. We strongly recommend, and will continue to advocate for, elected officials at both the local and federal level to act expeditiously to correct the problem.

"Friends of Bettina Pruckmayr" are a group of Bettina's friends and colleagues dedicated to honoring her memory by seeking to ensure that similar, needless murders do not continue in this city we call our home. Bettina was committed to the principles of justice under law, and she gave her time, energy and creativity to numerous not-for-profit organizations seeking a better, more humane world for those most vulnerable to injustice and the violations of their human rights.

Aaron M. Knight


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