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January 4, 1998

Your Electronic Backfence

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Dear Neighbors:

I'm glad DC homicide rates are down substantially. Seventy-five victims who might have died are probably especially grateful. Nevertheless, here are some facts to consider. The rates began to fall before MPD implemented its new programs to combat violent crime. The rates began to fall years after the rates began to fall in other cities. DC is still the murder capital of the country for large cities. (Some work I did a couple of years ago showed much higher murder rates in medium sized, largely African-American cities in North Carolina.) If memory serves me, under 700 people died in New York (population over 7 million), and under 500 died in Los Angeles (population over 5 million). In DC, 300 people die (mostly due to demographic changes) and we pat ourselves on the back.

Here's what really irks me. Interim Police Chief Sonya Proctor cites these statistics to show that progress is being made and the MPD is functioning. What chutzpah to say such a thing after several weeks on the job. That's like being traded to a first place team in the last week of the season and taking credit for the team's success. What's worse is that Proctor now seems to be successfully maneuvering herself into the first tier of candidates for the permanent position. This according to Control Board Member Stephen Harlan, who seems incapable of hitching his wagon to a train moving in the right direction. Though the Post reporters don't always remember this point, Mayor Barry will select (but not approve) the next Police Chief. Given that many feel that it will be difficult to hire someone from the outside to restore confidence in the MPD, Proctor's statements that morale isn't bad concern me.

Is this another case of going along to get along?


In this issue, what are the mayor's guards guarding, More Patterson Do's and Don'ts, Becton's chain of command, and a theorty about why those little transistors implanted by the Rosswell Aliens won't work by American University.

Jeffrey Itell


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Our Frightened Mayor
Carl Bergman

I wonder if there's a ten or twelve-step program to keep me from writing about Marion's quirks, but they're just so fascinating. Take the last mayoral press conference. Channel 9's Bruce Johnson wanted details of Marion's police detail. This lit the mayoral fuse, and sent him into a personal vulnerability orbit. (See: <>ht tp:// Marion holds several world records for crying wolf, but this time I think he's really worried. Barry, who hasn't fought for anything in years, is actually fighting for his detail. He's out of shape, but fight, he does. Which leads to the simple question, why?

If there'd been any serious threats, he'd have clued us in fast. No, this much energy doesn't seem motivated by a fear of the known. He never ascribes threats to retaliation for any of his stands or acts. This isn't business, it's personal, and that is scary. No wonder he wants protection, but gives few clues. From what he does say, he never feels safe. He's been shot before, a powerful motivator, but they weren't gunning for him. Sounds like he fears someone out there like oddly like himself. Someone who a 'situationist' weighing things coldly, but who lacks his civil restraint. Marion's famous for his control, but on this one something's got him running. He's frightened and playing out his fears on a large stage. Does he realize what he's telling us about himself?

[I think there is far less to this story than meets the brain. Before being impressed into service as luggage caddies, Barry's Praetorian Guard protected him more from scandal than threat. If you wanted to find out the truth during the days of Courvoisier and Crack, you had to go through the Hizzoner's hand-picked Guard. Even now it's not so easy to find out where El Presidente is at any moment. Could be a security risk, you know. As late as last year, the mayor was still eating sandwiches and changing clothes with check kiters and who knows what. Well, the Guard knows who knows what but you don't. And that's the point, after all. Jeff]


Mayoral Candidacy
Judy Rosenfeld

Enough already on Mayor Barry's will-he-won't-he reelection plans. Given the pathology (the grandiosity, the refusal to look at the wreckage of the city, the coy foreplay),shouldn't we simply conclude that we have here a man who cannot separate himself from the office and must have it? Should he be a candidate, it is not illogical to predict that Mr. Barry will run against the Control Board, against Congress, against the new Chief Management Officer and against Ward Three, and that there will be a great many buses hired to ferry his voters to the polls.

What if he wins? Will Wall Street retaliate? Will Congress clip our wings of their few remaining feathers? Will the Control Board take over the Dept. of Recreation and coopt the right to name members of Boards and Commissions,leaving the Mayor with purely ceremonial functions,a 15-member security force and his weekly press conference? That's worst-case thinking. Is there a better case? Help me out here! I'd really like to hear from others on this.


More Legislative Do's and Don'ts
Kathy Patterson Ward 3 Councilmember

I'm glad Len Sullivan appreciates my candor. Sorry I didn't convince him that my oversight and his accountability are pretty much the same thing. The whole purpose of oversight on job training contracts ("micromanagement" in his view) is to accomplish precisely what he lists as #2 in his legislative "to do" list -- namely "making DC's executive branch accountable and responsible." If one year of close oversight brings about more effective and efficient executive branch job training, it has accomplished its purpose. That is a real life example of the kind of checks and balances envisioned by separation of powers -- the legislature stepping in precisely because the executive branch is failing.

I wish Mr. Sullivan were right that simply writing a law would produce a better government. Does anybody else remember the national law that was, in fact, welfare reform? The 1989 Family Support Act? Congress wrote it, walked away from it, ignored the implementation challenges, never funded the authorized demonstrations, got back into the issue in a heightened political environment in 1996, and wrote a worse law. The Council wrote a procurement law a year ago that is sound and maybe -- maybe -- in a couple of years everything else that has to happen will, including training and effective management. We're rewriting personnel law at the moment and that is important but I have no illusion that the law alone will accomplish what is necessary. We need to reclassify positions, implement effective evaluations, pay for performance, and on and on.

I will concede a part of Mr. Sullivan's point, nonetheless. Much of what I do right now consists of stepping into vacuums where no one else takes responsibility, due to executive branch dysfunction. Keeping track of particular contracts to make sure they get executed because services are critical and/or savings have already been budgeted -- technically, no, that's not my job. But I can't walk away from the school nurse contract, for example, when it lapses three times in two years because if I did walk away on some the theory of separation of powers, it might not get done. It's that simple. We have an ad hoc, jerry-rigged, Rube Goldberg government at the moment with agency directors reporting to the control board -- reporting to everyone and, therefore, to no one. There's a culture of "it's not my job" in too many DC government offices and that's a mind set we have to change. Mr. Sullivan is right that we should be framing a discussion about how to make democracy work in the District, and thinking long term is part of the Council's job. But so is trying to make things work today, whether they're in my job description or not. Won't some other Story readers weigh in here? Do you see oversight as micromanagement? Are there Story readers who want my office to stop asking for potholes to be filled, or street lights to be replaced, or schools to have heat, because those are executive branch functions and I'm a legislator?


Has Anything Changed In Our Schools?
NB Keenan

I spoke recently with a teacher in the DC school system. At her school, the Teacher's Aides have not been paid at all this school year. Last week, one of the Aides, facing financial ruin, resolved to go downtown and bang on doors until she got paid. Eventually she ended up in General Becton's office, and explained to him her plight. He picked up the phone, and dialed her principal -- and told him to do a better job "controlling" his underlings, and then threw her out of his office.

The primary argument that defenders of Becton use is, "Give him time to do the job. Things didn't get like this overnight, and they won't be fixed overnight." That may be true, but at the same time there are certain practices that should not be allowed to continue a single day. Stiffing employees (a tradition in the DC government) is one of those. When Becton picked up the phone, he should have called the head of personnel, and said "If you leave the office today without these aides being paid, don't bother coming back." If he doesn't have that authority, he should resign -- he hasn't been given the tools to do the job he was hired to do.


Radio Reception/Interference
Gershon Silins

I'm a McLean Gardens resident, and have really terrible FM reception in one room, merely bad reception in another. I'm still not sure how much of this is due to the radio towers which I can see from out front of the door, and how much is due to machinery in the buildings (still researching that.) I don't have a car or garage remote, so can't comment there.


Transmission Tower Weirdness
Leslie Miles

Re Steph Faul's comments-- I can't make my remote car alarm/lock work on the roof of the Hechinger's rooftop parking lot at Wisconsin and Albemarle, right across the street from the big transmission towers. Guess it's the same phenomenon.


Radio Active Ward 3
Carl Bergman alias amateur radio: W3HBK cbergman @

I gather from some prior postings that receiving police calls doesn't have the mystique it used to. Especially, when you want to hear something else, or you can't use your auto remote. Here's the sad news: it's probably not the cops fault. The way the FCC runs the radio world, if the transmitter is clean -- and commercial equipment is almost always clean -- the folks on the receiving end bear the burden of keeping out unwanted signals.

What this often means is that the manufacturers of radio receivers, including car alarm makers, meet competitive market pressures by leaving out circuits that could cut down on overload. Even if the equipment on both ends is ok, there can still be interference. Strong radio waves love to find rusty turnbuckles, gutters, power lines, you name it. Any of these give signals a way to double or half their normal frequency -- like throwing balls against a split rail fence. There are several devices you can find at Radio Shack known as attenuators, low pass and high pass filters that can screen out unwanted signals. For help, try the American Radio Relay League' Technical Information Service at <> . Their material is well written, and practical.


Convention Center
Eric Gravley

The Census Bureau says the population of the District of Columbia continues to decline (Washington Post, 1/1/98). Shaw residents can tell you why. The proposed convention center for Mt. Vernon Square in Shaw is the latest example of District politicians pursuing a boondoggle rather than providing basic city services. But the convention center project will not be just a passive waste of nearly $1 billion in taxpayer money and land, it will also be destructive, damaging the quality of our downtown neighborhood where people live and work. The huge structure will sit as a barrier within our community, serving conventioneers but not area residents, bringing with it choke holds of traffic and air pollution. If ground ever breaks on the convention center, I believe more District residents are sure to leave the city.

That the convention center will be destructive to Shaw could be dismissed as an unfortunate NIMBY complaint. In this view, Shaw must yield to the greater good of the city in the interest of economic development, and the Distinct, once improved with a new convention center, will attract new residents. But a reasonable assessment of the economics of the convention center proposal shows that the new center will be smaller than desirable, with no room to expand, and will cost nearly $1 billion. It's a bad investment, being made by D.C. politicians and their appointees, who, having gone this far along with an idea that started out vague and became increasingly bad, cannot now save us from the disaster without looking increasingly bad themselves.

The convention center proposal for Mt. Vernon Square is especially obnoxious because the City Council's latest financing plan calls for new taxes on businesses in the city. Like the Arena Fee tax that the city unjustly assessed to help pay for the new MCI Arena, the proposed convention center tax plan is a devious method of shifting the cost burden of a very large construction project away from the few who will benefit to the many who will not. The city needs to reconsider the proposed convention center plan, and if it has the resources to prudently invest in such a project without raising taxes, it should do so at the industrial site north of Union Station where it will be closer to transportation hubs, much cheaper to build, bigger at the outset, and expandable in the future. A smart move like that will help bring people back to the city.


Fed City Council in Architecture
Bill Rice The Current Newspapers

According to an article in Architecture (Nov., 1997), Washington's Planning Politics by Bradford McKee:

D.C. developers all belong to a secretive group called the Federal City Council, a shadow chamber of commerce and phantom government established by the late Washington Post Publisher Phil Graham in 1954. The FCC includes every imaginable Washington Brahman--from top lawyers and business executives to university presidents--including...J Carter Brown, whose office controls all development affecting federal lands in the District. "The FCC comes up with bad ideas, and the Post flacks them," says one local preservationist, which gives their plans legitimacy. Members contribute heavily to city council and mayoral campaigns, which restrains public debate on major development issues sewn up behind the scenes.

Copies are available by request Does anybody know who McKee is?


Wesley Smith, Oliver North, and Marion Barry
Matt Schneider

Wesley Smith, representing something called -- more or less -- the MidAtlantic Coalition wanted signatures and contributions to a campaign to defeat Mayor Barry in the forthcoming DC elections. He claimed to have played a role in the senatorial race defeat for Oliver North not so long ago.

Wesley Smith did, in fact, work on the campaign to defeat Oliver North. You will still see the bumper stickers they put out "North? Never!" and "I don't vote for felons." According to the FEC, that committee which is not the Mid Atlantic coalition raised over 400,000 dollars.


NARPAC, Inc. Upgrades its Web Site Again
Len Sullivan

The National Association to Restore Pride in America's Capital has upgraded its web site for January (See "What's New?" at <> ) with new headline summaries, additional relevant web sites, and new correspondence to major players in DC's future. It updates prior analyses on regional federal tax revenues, demographic trends, federal oversight, and welfare costs; summarizes the new National Capital Planning Commission 21st Century report; and provides a more explicit definition of "regionalization". It concludes with an editorial in the form of an open letter: "Mr. President, It Takes a Nation to Raise a Capital", urging him to continue the process of rejuvenating the Capital Metro Area by encouraging enactment of "landmark legislation in regionalization, rehabilitation, and representation" by the end of DC's Bicentennial Year. Feel free to visit, comment, and offer to help--don't just lurk!


So you're interested in that big advertising spot in the beginning of dc.story? Contact Jan Genzer -- the dc.story marketing maven--at or call him at 202.364.0383.



Can anyone recommend an honest and efficient auto body shop? Our '88 Honda Civic is pretty crunched up (but still driveable). Private e-mail preferred. Bob Kulawiec


Single Volunteers Of DC

Dana Katherine Kressierer <>

Looking to get involved in volunteer projects and meet other singles like yourself? Come to the Single Volunteers of DC general-interest meeting on Saturday, 10 January, at 7pm. We are a 300 plus member organization that provides area singles a way to meet others while doing good works in the DC metro area. Want to know more? Visit our web site at: <> to learn how you can get involved. Or, just show up on the 10th at The Capital Lounge (229 Pennsylvania Avenue SE - 202-547-2098) at 7pm and ask for Single Volunteers. Organizations who would like to get a crew of Single Volunteers for their next project should visit the web site or contact me directly.


Do You Love to Sing?
Renee Schwager

Was the last time you sang in high school or college but you miss it? The Runnymede Singers might be just what you're looking for. We are a mixed group including usually about 18 people. We sing a variety of music (from madrigals to popular music) for fun and for charitable events. We rehearse every Tuesday night (our next "season" begins on Tuesday 1/13/98) from 7:30 to 9:30 at the First Baptist Church on O Street, between 16th and 17th NW. Please send an email to if you're interested or have any questions.


Executive Assistant/Office Manager Wanted for Busy Political Consulting/Public Relations Firm.
Jennifer Laszlo

Must have skills in the following areas: Computers (We use macs & powerpoint), Databases (Filemaker pro a plus), Simple book keeping, billing/invoicing, Scheduling, Logistics, Meeting tight deadlines, Working well with people, and General knowledge of politics/public affairs. Our firm offers both vacation time and health benefits. We are one block from the Rosslyn metro. Smoking not allowed in the office. Send resume to Jennifer Laszlo, Laszlo & Associates, Inc., 1000 Wilson Blvd., Suite 960, Arlington, VA, 22209.


Need Help With Your Computer Needs At Home Or In The Office?
Patty Friedman 202-232-3449

Back-up and archive your files and email on CD-ROM; setup computer network for the small office; build customized database in Access or other programs; web training and web page development; port service for the small office; PC hardware repairs and upgrades; hardware/software installation and upgrades; maintenance, troubleshooting and network support; application/Internet training; data recovery. Reasonable rates. Excellent references.


Also, free! Free movie passes, short movie reviews, and movie discussion. Send an email message to to subscribe.


dc.story is a discussion group. The opinions stated are the sole responsibility of the authors. dc.story does not verify information provided by readers.

Kibitzing by Jeffrey Itell. Copyright (c) 1997 All rights reserved.

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