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November 17, 1996

Pathetic Public Institutions

Dear Neighbors:

Sometimes a little history is helpful. Fred Siegel, writing in the latest issue of The New Democrat, lamented the failure of many cities, including ours, to fulfill their main function in society: turning the tired, poor, huddled masses, etc. into middle class citizens. Despite the oft-times harshness of the process, cities were the engines that created middle class values. The tools were jobs, capital, information, civic associations, self-government, schools, libraries, unions, and.. so on.

Many cities don’t serve this function anymore, or at least not to the extent they used to. D.C. area immigrants almost invariably settle in the suburbs. Job creation in the city has dwindled with the population. And so on.

What’s missing? Strong public institutions. A public school system that turns out acculturated (not assimilated) productive workers. Libraries (and their modern day information equivalents) that create manufacturing and enterprise nexuses. Public health. Public safety. Low-cost housing alternatives with cheap transportation. Social services that help struggling folks through tough times. While never perfect, this model works around the world, and it still works in some of this country’s more vibrant cities.

But the model fails here, in part, because our public institutions are a disgrace. Folks either move here because they can manage without the social institutions or they were born here and have not left yet. (Yes, there are exceptions, but I think my argument is generally true.)

I bring this up in the context of the argument about the Control Board and democracy. As the Control Board rolls from one pathetic city institution to the next, it’s important to keep in mind that if it does it’s job well, the Control Board will simultaneously be usurping and rebuilding the engines of democracy. In the not-so-long run, I think self-government will be better off because of these actions. But it’s no sure bet.


Shameless Self-Promotion

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The More Things Change
Phil Greene

D.C. gets its first snowfall of the year, and Mayor Barry is in China.


Education Matters
Barbara Somson

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over the spectacle of Karen Shook, Jay Silberman and some other school board members going to court in an attempt to halt the Control Board’s long overdue takeover of the school system. Here they are, asserting the "rights" of adults: of candidates and voters, of school board members and school board members-elect. What about the rights of kids to a decent education?

According to the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, as cited in the recent Control Board report, "Children in Crisis," only 22% of DCPS fourth graders read at grade level. To me, that means that no more than 22% of DC students are getting an education. Would that someone would file a counter suit against the school board plaintiffs for breach of fiduciary duty to the children of this city!

As a parent with two kids in the DC public schools, I welcome the Control Board’s action. Judging by the talk on the school playground and by the reaction of the crowd at the hearing this morning, I think I’m in the majority. There are those few — invariably without children in public schools — who express outrage at the Control Board’s transgression against home rule, or against Democracy itself. All I can say is I never heard them expressing outrage against the deplorable state of public education in the District of Columbia. And without education, where is Democracy?


School Board
John Capozzi U.S. Representative (DC)

Everywhere else in the World the right to vote is held up very high. Evaluation of the performance of those elected leaders is subject to debate and discussion. Then after people decide they are unhappy they vote again. In D. C. we just voted to change the school board, with 4 out of 6 positions being filled by new people(you’ll be happy to know I supported 3 of the 4 people who won because we need new blood) which is how it’s supposed to work. Now we see the control board jumping in to nullify the will of the voters. Let’s give them a chance to work. Many candidates spent a lot of time and money running for office and those who won deserve a chance to do the job.


Norton and the Control Board
Gary Imhoff

There is no mystery (about Del. Norton’s outrage at the Control Board). Norton is just being consistent. She has never been a good government or clean government type, and she is certainly not a reformer. She comes out of the same tradition as Barry and Clarke, and the only reason she doesn’t have a similar reputation in this city is that she never worked in local government.

Norton has never shown any inclination to reform or clean up District government. She punts whenever citizens ask her to intervene in an outrageous action by the City Council or the Barry administration. Her excuse is that she doesn’t get involved with local politics, and she sends the citizens back to meetings with their Councilmembers and administration officials that she knows will be useless. She holds that her job on the Hill is to support the positions of the elected officials — the Council, the administration, and the school board — whatever those positions may be, and regardless of whether those positions are in the best interests of the citizens.

The only reason Norton ever supported establishing the Control Board was that the city government couldn’t borrow any more money to support its bad habits, and the only alternatives were receivership or bankruptcy. She would be happiest if the Control Board could guarantee the District’s borrowing without changing anything about the way the government does its business, and she will continue to press the Board to ensure the government’s ability to borrow while doing the least possible to clean up the government’s act.

And further more.…

Did Delegate Norton or her office really write that she was promoting the Jeffords Commission as an advisory board for the D.C. schools? At one of her public meetings, just after the legislation establishing the Jeffords Commission passed, Norton said that she would do anything she could to ensure that the Jeffords Commission never came into existence. She said she completely opposed the Commission, that she would encourage President Clinton not to appoint any members to the it, and that she would try to see that no funds were appropriated for it. The guest speaker at this meeting was Carol Thompson-Cole, so the message got through to the White House without delay.

My guess is that the rest of this "brokered agreement" is just as factual as Delegate Norton’s newly-found support for the Jeffords Commission.


Courtland Milloy
Stew Reuter

Comment on Courtland Milloy column 11/13 in the Post: It is a real shame that Milloy is so prejudiced against anything associated with the military that he uses the military background of General Becton as an excuse to exclude Becton from service to the DC school system. Based on this logic, no veteran or service retiree should ever be permitted to hold employment. Or does Milloy believe that service to our country so taints, that veterans should be discriminated against for the rest of their lives? It seems that Becton was very successful in rescuing Prairie View A&M from going under, but this "cuts no ice" with arch-leftist Milloy.


The Very Last Colony?
Willie Schatz

Dianne Rhodes is absolutely right on to cite Courtland Milloy’s Sam Smith-dominated piece as an early warning of the Invasion of the Stealth Bombers. A general ("retired" doesn’t mean shit—their approach/philosophy/attitude doesn’t change when they stop wearing their uniforms) appointed by an appointed body running the schools? I’m ballistic about the dysfunctional DCPS—and my sixth-grader goes to Janney, one of the cremes de la cremes in that sorry lot—but we gotta draw the line somewhere. So I will—at Doug continuing in a military-led school system. As much as I like Deal JHS and Wilson HS and as convinced as I am that I can make them better by actively participating in their processes, I can’t see sending Doug there when he can, because my estranged lives in Bethesda, get a real education by taking one step over the line.

But maybe I should chill out. After all, we’re already political prisoners here of our own device. So what’s the difference between The Last Colony and The Very Last Colony?


Newspaper Ads
Philip Murphy

In reply to Dr. Lieberman’s concern about newspaper ads contributing to the impoverishment of the masses and the destruction of the planet, I have some good news. The price of newsprint has not increased as Dr. Lieberman fears. Newsprint prices are, in fact, declining rapidly — from $750 per metric ton at the beginning of this year to about $500/metric ton today. You can probably look forward to more print ads, not less, in the near future.

Imagine for a moment that newsprint ads are actually a good thing. It’s often hard for many Districtizens to grasp but jobs and income are the result of a voluntary exchange of goods for money (which represents a convertible form of labor). Outside the District they even have a name for it. Its called commerce. Commerce is not the outcome of secret deals between corporate "newsprint hogs" and the Washington Post. Nor is commerce the result of government edict as subscriber Abramson implies. DARPA’s locating in Virginia explains that state’s dynamic economy the same way a glass of milk explains a herd of cows.

Wonder why so few profit-earning companies choose to locate in the District? It’s because Districtizens are baffled by and hostile to private enterprise.


Stephanie "Former advertising copywriter" Faul

Your correspondent who doesn’t like Giant’s advertising hasn’t looked at the broader picture. The Washington Post would cost $10 an issue if local businesses stopped advertising (maybe more). Without advertising, news publications would be exorbitantly expensive, if they were able to exist at all. The amount of product innovation would plummet without advertising, because new products wouldn’t sell. Corporations who have tried to sell their goods without advertising have invariably admitted defeat (e.g., Hershey’s, as a well-known example).

Advertising revenues are the secret grease that lubricates every aspect of the American media. Ask Jeffrey about the importance of advertising in maintaining the existence of a publication. That said, there may very well be some sort of agreement between advertisers and the Post but it’s almost certainly a cheaper rate based on volume. Sensible advertisers only do what works for them, and the Post is a very effective way to reach people. Professionally speaking, I think twice as many half-page ads would be more effective because it’s easy for the reader to skip a full-page spread, but Giant may have found otherwise. Speaking as a Post reader, I’m delighted that local businesses support the paper and wish more did so.

[As the founder of the Northwest Side Story, I wish more did so also. I’d still have a few sheckles in my pocket. jeff]


"Is there an unholy alliance between Giant and the Washington Post?"nancy jackman-brown

As a matter of fact there is an alliance of sorts, but ironically it’s considered to be traditional, not "unholy." As an advertising marketing rep for many years, I am familiar with the ads, circulars, ad nauseum of department stores, supermarkets, and many other retailers. Repetitive research shows people may glance at these ads, but very, very few working men/women and busy homemakers with families have the time or patience to comparison shop through these ads. And these are precisely the people most of these newsprint/circular advertisers are trying to reach, not the elderly or retired who do often read these ads but whose small expenditures can’t justify the ad cost.

These huge, weekly ads are a total waste of newsprint and ad agencies have been trying to educate advertisers to this fact for at least 10 years now. They have a lot of excuses and reasons to give you, but they all boil down to..."this is how we’ve always done business and we’re afraid to change." (literally said to me once by a supermarket sr. vp in Colorado). And the newspapers, not just the Post, reinforce this fear at every weekly sales call " what will you be advertising next know I think your competitors just brought a 2-pg. spread for next week’s Food Section, etc., etc." You pay for this fear with higher than necessary food costs and god only knows conservation/ recycling costs.


Tom Matthes

"I’m hoping this sin/redemption/forgiveness thing is just a passing FAZE and the millennium brings back the old stalwarts—honor and shame. jeff

Editor Jeff: your analysis of public life is often admirable, but not this time. I for one hope that redemption and forgiveness of sin will not be considered a passing faze in the new millennium. Even when it involves George Corley Wallace. If not, most of us are in trouble.


District Business
Stephanie Faul

Northern Virginia has done a lot of work to lure businesses there, particularly associations. The District used to have the largest number of professional, trade, etc. associations in the area by far. Now there’s a dense enclave of them in Alexandria and they’re leaving D.C. as fast as they can. The District has scarce and expensive parking, a substandard local workforce, high real estate costs, and a grubby environment in much of downtown, with few compensating benefits. It’s usually a fairly easy sell for a suburb to get the National Association of Widget Producers to move in to a nice new building, and those organizations are an important source of the white-collar jobs in this area.


Crime and (Surprisingly) Punishment
Andrea Carlson

Diane Rhodes rightly claims that DCPD will "dust for prints, if they think they have a case." But if you’ve ever tried to determine the results of such a test (whether they were able to get clean prints and whether they matched any known criminal’s) you know that the backlog is months long. Chances are, you’ll never hear anything about it again.

If you want to know who burglarized your house, call the detective assigned to your case every day. If you don’t get an answer within two weeks, call the District Commander. Raise hell. Do a story in your neighborhood association’s newsletter. Write letters to the police, the mayor’s office, City Council, etc. If you make a big enough stink, the police may actually arrest someone. Of course, getting the courts to hold and prosecute the perpetrator is another matter entirely. Patience, stamina, and persistence may pay off. We managed to get a known neighborhood burglar arrested and locked up for a while, at least, after a long battle.


Home PC Computer Assistance and Small Business Applications
Jeffrey Itell

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