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September 26, 1996

Thar She Blows

Dear Neighbors:

There she blows again. Eleanor Holmes Norton blew her stack at the Control Board in yesterday's Post, blaming them for not working fast enough, hard enough, and smart enough--and for not cooperating with city officials. Joan of Arc, er, Delegate Norton rightfully complains that the Control Board has failed to stem the city's dwindling population. Folks are still heading for Prince Georges' County's hills.

Granted, the Control Board has acted clumsily in some of its actions. But it was Norton who lobbied to place Dr. Brimmer in charge. Though proving able, Brimmer is no Napoleon. He might not even be a Dan Quayle. Also, the District is in such a mess that it will take time to fix the city--to the extent it can be fixed. My hill experience taught me that politicians are generally clueless when it comes to management issues. They can spend up to two years legislation a fix to say the Food Stamp system and then beat the administrator over the head in three months because the fraud rate isn't down to zero. Norton implies that she wants the Control Board to act like they've got the city under control, even though it's not. I doubt that would fool many District residents--the residents are smarter than that--and it would grievously hurt the city's efforts to regain standing in the bond market--a major Control Board and CFO achievement.

Finally, Norton's ire is still misdirected. She blames the Control Board for not working with the city. But when was the last time you heard Norton criticize the mayor? Indeed, it's the executive branch that has thwarted cooperation--spending more time sending nasty-grams at the Control Board and CFO to defend its turf than in "reinventing" the government--or at least exorcising the government of its demons. The truth is that Norton will never directly criticize Barry. Barry and Norton were colleagues during the civil rights movement and, therefore, no matter how much of an embarrassment Barry causes, he is always viewed as being "pure of heart."


The District Government is ready to relaunch its home page. Tom Hall of the Washington Business Journal called me to suggest alternative web page urls for the District. The best I could come up with was the lame HELP:// Any style invitational participants want to give this one a whirl?


Also free! Short movie reviews and movie discussion. To subscribe, send an email message to and note the name of the newsletter in the subject line or body of the text.


Jeffrey Itell


The Mayor

Mark Plotkin snuck me back on his show last Friday (McGinty was out of town) and joining us was Dr. Jeff's favorite mayor. Barry criticized (at some length) the media for blaming him for all of the city's problems. I told him I took a more balanced view and only blamed him for 23.7% of the city's problems. He said he could live with that. So we're making progress.

The Barricentric view of the DC crisis doesn't really help. The fact of the matter is that Congress has set up a perfect system for blame-passing. Our current system is a form of legislated anarchy. The WP piece was a first recognition of this by the city's elite. Inevitably, you come back to a problem that has plagued the city from its beginning: every solution has been internally inconsistent, permitting someone in power to hold someone else in power responsible for DC's problems.

Only two suggestions have been put forth that deal directly with this situation: statehood and retrocession. While I strongly favor the former, both stand head and shoulders above any jury rigged solution Congress or the Washington Post could ever come up with. The current solution -- like those in the past -- will eventually fall of its own weight although, sadly, only after a lot of people have been hurt.

sam smith the progressive review

[Sam: I think you calculated Barry's contribution to the city's ills incorrectly. One should divide the numerator by the denominator. On my calculator, Barry is 422 percent responsible for the city's problems. All right, even the "Mayor's Biggest Fan" wouldn't lay that much blame on hiz dishonor.

Sam, I agree with you that the system doesn't work, which, of course, doesn't mean that it has to produce as poor a result as we've seen. But the Post's story suffers from a category of thought we can label "D.C.-Centrism." (A fancy title always implies a substantive argument, eh?) These arguments begin with solving the question: What's best for the District of Columbia? The 200-year-old problem is that there are two sets of interest that have to be satisfied: the city of Washington and the United States federation. Uncle Sam has even greater reason today for a federal district than 200 years ago. Like the Arab-Israeli conflict, I'm quite certain that we will never fall upon a solution. The best we can hope for is peaceful coexistence. That's why statehood is out of the question and retrocession remains dubious. We can muddle through well or muddle through poorly--but muddle we must. jeff]


Suing Congress

When I read the column about suing Congress I was so shocked I thought it was a joke.

Eleanor Penniman



Not all lead comes from paint. There's lots of lead in the soil, particularly along well traveled roads, because until relatively recently lead was an additive in gasoline.

Steph "Has never lived in a house built *after* 1975" Faul


Tales From the X-Files

I took my car into the Half Street SW inspection station at 7:30 a. m. one recent Friday morning, and found NO ONE ELSE IN LINE! The inspection officer told me that it is always thus early on Friday mornings.

Ed Kane


Fun At Motor Vehicles

So, today I went and got my DC plates and DC driver's license (converting from out of state). It wasn't too bad, but I had to share one moment of my bureaucratic adventure. I had called and listened to the recording, and knew that I would have to bring proof of residence, for which a utility bill is suggested. Now, since all my utilities are included in the rent, that's a problem. So I called and asked a real live person what I could bring, and she said, "Bring your credit card bill, or a bank statement." So I brought my Mastercard bill and my checking account statement.

When I got to the front of the license line, the clerk said, "We can't take credit card statements." So I pulled out the bank statement. It was from my checking account. She said, "It has to be a savings account. Checking accounts are no good." What?!?!? Does this make any sense to anyone? What the heck is the difference between a checking and a savings statement? For that matter, what's wrong with the Mastercard bill? Why is that less convincing than my checking account statement? (Note that I have used all of these items as proof of residency for Boston resident permit parking stickers in the past.)

I told her that I had called and been told that both of these pieces of paper were fine. She said, "Did you get a name?" Of course I hadn't. Silly me, I assumed that the people answering the phones there knew what they were talking about.

I said, "How about my car registration?" I had just gotten that from the other line. She said, "That's fine."

Which is the funniest thing of all, because I didn't have to show any proof of address of any kind to register my vehicle in DC. I got plates and my resident parking sticker without offering any more proof of residence than writing my address of the form.

Is anyone from the city government listening? Your employees are giving out bad information on the phone and then enforcing rules that are stupid and pointless and do nothing to prevent people who don't live in DC from registering their cars here and getting DC licenses. (Why they would want to do this is another question entirely; perhaps there are Virginians who want to pay higher insurance rates?)

I guess I shouldn't complain; I got out of there with everything I needed. I also discovered that DC doesn't appear to do motorcycle road tests, which is convenient, but slightly scary.

John Whiteside


The question before us is: "Does anyone know a good route (by car) to get from about 13th & H St. to Georgetown University during rush hour in under a half an hour?"

Take 13th to Mass, then take Mass, which goes under the circle at 14th St., to 15th and take a right. Take a left at U St. Here you can try two things. Option 1: U St. turns into Florida Ave at 18th. Continue on Florida across Connecticut and Mass to P St. and take a right and on to Georgetown.

Option 2: Take U to 18th St. and go right. After crossing Columbia, bear to the left and cross the Duke Ellington bridge. You are now on Calvert. Cross Connecticut and continue on to Garfield and turn left. This will end up about 1 block on Mass from Wisconsin.

I work at 14th and K, and have made it to G-town this way in about 20 minutes. There is no rhyme nor reason to which option works better on which day.

Martin Lynds


Well, I work at 9th and D and Penn NW (Market Square) and have to pick up my husband in Tenleytown everyday. Here's my time-tested route ever since the Whitehurst Construction began:

Take 7th street south to Independence Avenue (9th and 15th streets are always packed with people going to 395) and turn right. Follow Independence west (stay in middle lane) to Memorial Bridge (Commuter's Tip: from 4 - 6:10, all 4 lanes are one-way outbound on Independence west of Ohio Ave, but the right hand lane is obstructed by sawhorses immediately after Ohio). Cross on Memorial Bridge, staying in the middle lane. Take the second left exit after you cross the bridge, towards Key Bridge/Route 50. This will narrow to one lane. If you wish to cross on Key bridge, immediately GO RIGHT and take the Key bridge exit. If Chain Bridge is easier, follow 50 to Glebe road north, and follow Glebe to Chain Bridge.

I've found this to be about 20 minutes from downtown to Tenley Circle.

Kim Czajkowski


S. Gallagher writes to ask for a better route from 13th and H to G'town U. at rush hour. Although this won't get you there in "under thirty minutes" I suggest that you walk to Metro Center and take the blue/orange line train to Foggy Bottom and walk the remainder (or catch the bus nearby).

There would be one less stinking car on the road at rush hour trying to get 'cross town.

K. Jeffreys


Head for the Hills

My wife and I spent three days in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia last October, staying at an incredible country inn, the Sugar Tree in Steele's Tavern (between Staunton and Lexington). That place is heaven, but it's so popular it's booked every weekend thru most of November. (It's mentioned in the Fall getaways issue of Washingtonian.)

The Blue Ridge Mountains are gorgeous in the fall, and we had a great time biking and hiking (the Appalachian Trail runs nearby). The Blue Ridge Parkway is at least as pretty as Skyline Drive, but with less traffic.

It's a 3-hour trip by car from D.C. Take I-66 to I-81 and head south. We enjoyed it so much we're going back at the end of October. Can't wait!

Evan Roth


Here's a neat idea for a Fall outing in D.C.. Get Jeff to take you on a drive through tour of Anacostia while he tapes your reaction to what you see. This will be, by the way, far more informative and enlightening than you would suspect.

Ed T. Barron

[This is, of course, an inside joke. Remember during spring when I solicited volunteers for a "secret mission?" My motive was to take four random District residents, drive them to Anacostia, and record their reactions. What did they expect to see, what did they see, and what did they learn. My premise--that for white District residents living on the pale side of 16th street, visiting Anacostia would be the equivalent of visiting a foreign country--was borne out. I never wrote the story, but an uncomfortable time was had by all. Jeff]



I'm looking for a wood floor contractor and a painting contractor. Any recommendations?

Evan "usual disclaimers" Roth


My recently purchased Dupornt Circle townhouse has been assessed at more than twice it's market value. I appealed the assessment (bringing in an independent appraisal and examples of comparables with photos) and was flatly rejected -- the City will not change the assessment. Can anyone advise me on next steps to take? Do you know of a good strategy for getting the City to correct an assessment that is unreasonably high?

Kris Herbst


Home PC Computer Assistance. I'll help you choose and buy the best model for the lowest price, get your computer up and running, teach you the ins and outs of Windows 95 and applications, show you how to maintain your system, build special applications for you, and get you up and running on the internet. $60/hour. 202.244.4163.

Jeffrey Itell

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