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January 18, 1998

Your Electronic Backfence

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Dear Neighbors:

Sorry to run long folks. But trust me, this is a good issue. I saved my two cents for the fray below.

Jeffrey Itell


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Eyewitness Report From the Frontlines - City Manager's First Day Greeted With Protest
Steve Donkin

Thursday, January 15, was a notable day for two reasons: it was Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday, and it marked the first day on the job for DC's Control Board-appointed City Manager, Dr. Camille Barnett. At 9 am that morning, about 50 members of the Stand Up for Democracy Coalition gathered outside the Control Board offices at One Thomas Circle to celebrate the former, and condemn the latter. When the group decided to enter the building to pay a visit to the Control Board, the building manager, sensing that the right to petition for redress of grievances was getting out of hand, shut down the elevators, closed off the stairwell, and told the citizens they would have to leave the building or be subject to arrest for unlawful entry. (In case you didn't know, the Control Board, a public body making decisions about allocating the public's resources and governing the public's welfare, resides in a privately owned building, thus allowing them, at their pleasure, to cloister themselves from the public, using the public police force to enforce their desires).

In the process of restricting our access to the Control Board, the police arrested two people. A delegation of three was finally allowed in to meet with John Hill, Executive Director of the Control Board. In that meeting, Mr. Hill agreed to present the Control Board with our demand that the process by which Dr. Barnett and the Control Board make policy decisions be transparent, openly conducted, and inclusive of direct input from the citizens. He promised to report back to the Coalition within two weeks. Is this a victory, or is Mr. Hill stonewalling? I suspect the latter, but stay tuned for further updates.


Give Someone A Chance

I agree the control board and General Becton have made mistakes but, I also believe our expectations are higher than they should be. For the last +/- 20 years, most of us have complained (and rightfully so) about the city and how it is/was being managed. However, we didn't do a whole lot about it. Now we expect the entire mess to be cleaned up immediately, again with minimal supportive participation from those of us who complained the most. Maybe, if by some miracle, available maintenance money had been used maintain the school buildings over the past 20 years, we might not have had to try and replace so many roofs at one time. Also, as other school districts replace roofs and boilers while students are in class, there was no reason not to assume it could be done here.

Maybe, if we had forced some management changes over the past 20 years, we would not have so many people, inside and outside the city, telling us what to do, how to do it and where our money should be spent. Maybe, if we had counted our students and closed/sold schools over the past 20 years, we could now sell unused buildings without playing NIMBY. By the way, if we are going to stand here and let Ms Barnett swing in the wind and not help her to effect changes that need to be made, why not just give her the 5 years salary and tell her to stay home.


Budget Busting
Kathy Patterson

Jeff's description in the last Story about walking away from the consensus budget arrived at last summer by the control board, Council, mayor, and chief financial officer was right on target. The consensus budget sent to the Hill included $162 million in deficit reduction and some $30-40 million in "management reform." The proposals Brimmer just sent to the Hill reflecting the consultant-driven management reforms would have the effect of cutting the deficit reduction significantly -- down to the $30 million range. At our retreat last weekend the Council agreed to reaffirm our own commitment to that consensus budget package and, in particular, to significant deficit reduction. That's to be reflected in a sense of the Council resolution at the February legislative meeting. The Revitalization Act gives the control board the ability to allocate the White House-generated windfall as they see fit regardless of the consensus we reached months earlier, though it doesn't preclude the larger deficit reduction. The Council's action won't have the force of law, but does at least put the Council on the same page as the CFO on this issue. Frankly, I pitched this as news to both the WashPost and the WashTimes coming out of our retreat, but neither picked on on the item.


Taxes and Sevices
Harold Goldstein

As distasteful as it might be to say a good word about our bungling city I do feel that the self righteousness of other area governments is a bit hard to take as well as some of the exaggerations about DC. John Whiteside says he is moving to Va. because of the 'several hundred' a month different in taxes and auto insurance. This either is an exaggeration or John is in a very high tax bracket. Several hundred to me means at least 3 (a couple is 2 so several is 3 or more) and that measn at least $4,000 difference.

Well I live in DC, I own 2 cars, me and my wife make decent, though not immense, incomes yet we pay about $4,000 total in DC income tax and auto insurance. So John, point to school quality, saftey or whatever you want but do think of another rationalization for leaving town cause this one aint right. Maybe you need to do your taxes yourself??


Edie Whittington and the Post
Andrew Aurbach

Alex Johnson has adopted a problematic position. It seems antithetical to the First Amendment to suggest that community members silence their criticism about Post coverage of local events. As community members, we have an active interest in what is covered and how. Asking us to withold our comments about what our newspapers cover would subject us to the tyranny of the editorial board.

Re: Edie Whittington, Alex Johnson correctly points out that The Washington Post has never run a story on the former Ward 8 Councilperson who has been on the Alchohol Beverage Control Board for at least 18 months. This may not be "earth-shattering" news to Alex. I think, however, a little outrage, or outcry about the continuation of such cronyism is justified once people are informed about this (or have we all gotten so used to it that it really is not news?).

[Here's what I've learned about Edie Whittington-gate. She isn't lawfully appointed to the ABC Board. Barry nominated her months ago. The nomination went to Harold Brazil's committee. Brazil has sat on it, neither moving to approve or disapprove her nomination -- because he doesn't want to piss anyone off, because she's a former colleague, because she was under a cloud, or because he's Harold. At the same time he submitted her nomination, Barry appointed her "acting" to the ABC Board. A curious thing to do since the law makes no provision for an acting Board member. (How he got acting Corporation Counsel JoAnne Robinson to go along is another story....) The consequence is that is merely a matter of time before a losing petitioner to the ABC Board challenges a decision in court...and you, dear taxpayers, will have to foot the legal bill. Jeffrey Itell]


D.C. Education
Victor Chudowsky

Anyone on the list interested in education should read the current Education Week, the thick annual issue where they grade each state's schools. You guessed it - DC is at the bottom of the barrel - or I should say near the bottom; slithering around with Balto. There are some interesting stats in the piece. When compared with other "inner city" school districts, DC schools are absurdly top-heavy with administrative paper-pushers: 1 per 16 teachers, compared with 1 per 47 teachers elsewhere. I just read, however, that Becton is laying off around 500 of these. Also, performance on NAEP tests of reading and math were dismal and far below those of NY City and other major metro areas. There is a lot more but too much to go into here - just read the report.

DC school officials - enough excuses! Other cities do better with the same, or even fewer resources. And I don't think winning some court case for the school board is going to change much. I've been watching the constantly repeated press conference with Don Reeves and the rest of the elected school board on Channel 16 (aside: is this like DC's version of TASS, or Pravda?), and pardon me for saying so, but they don't inspire confidence. They are far more interested in political crusades than our kids, and fail to answer what they would do to change the current dreadful situation.


Mary A.T. Anigbo
Bob Levine

According to the Washington Post Mary A.T. Anigbo principal of the Marcus Garvey Public Charter School, has been fired and is trading theft allegations with her stepbrother who is chairman of the school's board of directors. A MGPCS official said that Anigbo had removed all of the financial records from the school. While I'll admit to being happy seeing the downfall of someone I believe to be a racist divisive rabble-rouser I would have preferred to see the system jail her for cause, the assault on a reporter, and the school board close the MGPCS for teaching racist pseudo science to young children. Instead we are treated to the show of her self destruction. For anyone who missed it the Post article can be found at:


Lycra Bandits.
Damian E. Buckley

Cruel to be kind: spot fines on cyclists are for their own good. Cyclists may be the salvation of a polluted world - but most road users and pedestrians don't like them any better for that. Proposed £20 fines for oafish riders may bring a welcome image boost. What a wonderful idea for Washington! For further information have a look at the website where I found out about the same sort of problem that London (England) is having --


Market D.O.A.?
Rob Pegoraro

Heard this afternoon from a colleague that Market Day, the best yuppie-food market ever on Connecticut Ave., is now closed. That totally sucks--I've never had more fun buying (expensive) food, which I did at least once or twice a week when I lived a few blocks north.

I didn't see anything about this in the papers (although I don't get the chance to read the Rock Creek Current much these days), but the store always looked crowded when I was there. What happened? Are these guys gone for good?


Janet Hess

A few weeks ago, I happened along a journey that took me to the Van Ness, Cleveland Park and Dupont Circle (N) Metro stations. Seeing all those areas within minutes brought home the changes in commercial space in these parts. It seems nearly overwhelming. When on earth did Roy Rogers leave Van Ness? To the best of my memory, that space has been occupied by Hot Shoppes /Roy Rogers (therefore, I think, Marriott?), for about 20 years.

At Cleveland Park, the Wrap & Roll, in keeping with Jeffrey Itell's Starbuckian prediction of some issues back, seems to be coming along quickly enough. But what on earth is the story with the business in the 3500 block whose name seems to be CHECKS CASHED? Somehow I never thought that Cleveland Park cried out for a check cashing venture, even one that also produces photocopies. Tonight I noticed a strobe (or otherwise pulsing) light in their window. An unusual addition to Cleveland Park. The Dupont Circle vacancies seems almost eerie.

Could someone who knows more about commercial real estate than I do say a few words about the state of things in NW? I can't remember so much empty space along these few miles of Conn. Ave., but perhaps I've simply never noticed before.


Rumor: Mazza sold to Chicago Philistines?
Larry Seftor

Mazza Gallerie is starting to look a little like a war zone, with a number of store closings. And the comments from the merchants are a little uneven. But I was told that the shopping center was sold to a Chicago organization that doesn't understand the concept of upscale shopping. For example, stores are being evicted so that Filene's Basement can expand and McDonalds can thrive. I was also told that the small tri-screen movie theater will soon close. I'd be interested in hearing a few facts about this impending change.


Kris Herbst

Re: Kirsten Sherk's query: the Riggs Bank owns the buildings near the Dupont Circle Metro Q Street entrance that housed Marvelous Market, Burrito Brothers, Hannibal's coffee shop and sidewalk cafe, Beadazzled and Kemp Mill Records. Riggs booted their tenants and are in the process of replacing this lively collection of storefronts with banking admininstration offices, which will be attached to the Riggs Bank branch facing Dupont Circle. Riggs (one presumes) is richer, but the quality of the neighborhood is poorer. Unfortunately, Hannibal's has gone out of business (I miss that sidewalk cafe at the Metro!), but at least Beadazzled and Marvelous Market were able to find places directly across Connecticut Avenue, and Burrito Brothers has a much improved space 1.5 blocks north.


Banks 'n Sassafrass
Steph "Nature Girl" Faul

1. The buildings on the west side of Connecticut north of Dupont Circle are owned by Riggs Bank, which wants to turn them into one large office building but promises to retain the facades (and possibly most of the structures; I can't remember the details). There is much discussion about preserving retail on that block so it won't become yet another D.C. office dead zone. Dunno where things are in the process, but that's what's happening to my knowledge.

2. Natural sassafrass is easy enough to find. Sassafrass is either a hardy native plant or a weed, depending on your point of view, and grows readily in semi-open spaces such as the edges of woodlands and my back yard. I won't attempt to describe it here, except to say that it's the only plant I know of that routinely features three different types of leaves at the same time: single-lobed, mitten-shaped, and three-lobed. The roots are used for tea and can be easily dug, washed, dried, and made into shavings, the way people used to do with herbs before Fresh Fields opened. Bonus tip: tie shavings up in little squares of cheesecloth for teabags.


Sassafras Note:

Sassafras is a native tree in this region. If you will only go to Rock Creek Park, or any mostly-natural stand of trees in the region, you will see Sassafras. I've seen it in Rock Creek Park, in Montgomery County's Lake Needwood park, and up around Sugarloaf and all along the Potomac River. Sassafras is one of the trees that's the very first to re-colonize abandoned fields, or hedgerows. It's easily recognized by the tri-lobed mitten-shaped leaves. It is also one of the few large shrubs/small trees that simultaneously has mono-, bi- and tri-lobed leaves.

Also note that in many places that you can find sassafras, you can also find wild gensing; it should be noted that in the last decade, Northern Virginia was the world's leading exporter of wild ginseng. Watch where you step or you couldhear the mandrakes scream! <grin>


Sassafras Tea
Joseph Poisso

Oh, some do-gooding, paternalistic federal agency banned the sale of sassafras tea, huh? Well, that is enough for me. I personally will go get some. I will dig it out of the ground, cut it into chunks and will be pleased to send you some. It will take a couple of weeks before I get up to The Farm. I have drank the stuff since I was a kid, as do most of my family and neighbors. Probably what killed my grandparents, they were in their nineties. I will have to warn my father, he is only eighty-nine, as are most of my aunts and uncles. It will take a couple of weeks before I get up to The Farm. You know I like warning labels but there is point where government rules gets awful stupid. What is wrong with giving folks all the facts and letting them decide? Is there any wonder there is a credibility gap?


Who are the LOCAL People opposed to the Convention Center?
NB Keenan

Me and my neighbors across the street -- we live three blocks from the proposed site. Beth Solomon and Leroy Thorpe, like 'em or not, live even closer -- and as much as I hate to say anything nice about Mr. Thorpe, the fact is that he represents the ANC bordering the site, and he was elected with a 70% majority. Why I am opposed to the Center? Becuase it is a boneheaded idea and is being built for all of the wrong reasons.

More to the point, who are the LOCAL people in favor of the Convention Center? My next-door neighbor, who received $25,000 to do "community outreach"? Scripture Cathedral, who's getting a new parking lot from WCCA? United House of Prayer, who got a sweet land deal? Lawrence Thomas, who got a bunch of goodies for his center? At the end of the last reception -- or any other WCCA event in the Shaw neighborhood -- did Ms. Miles notice that by in large the supporters drove home, and the opponents walked?


Round 2,597 - Convention Center
Ronald G. Eberhardt

I am a resident of Shaw. I use the Mt. Vernon/UDC Metro daily. Now, having heard all of the pros and cons to the building of the new Washington Convention Center, I have just one question for those in opposition: If not a convention center - then what? Does anyone believe that either residential or commercial investors will line up anytime in our lifetime to develop this mass amount of cleared and crumbling property?

I understand the many concerns of those in opposition but I am convinced that the convention center is the only answer that will provide the footing necessary for our community as well as the continuing development of this area. Left undeveloped, this wasteland will only flourish in the already present problems of robbery, prostitution and drug selling.


Convention Center Redux
Norma Zane Chaplain

Leslie Miles fears (1-7-98) that, unless a convention center is built at Mt. Vernon Square, the six rubble strewn blocks would remain as desolate as they became when over 100 homes were torn down to accommodate an earlier poorly conceived city project. "If the center doesn't happen, nothing will," se says. Really? Prime real estate downtown, already cleared? It is an ideal location for housing and some shopping to anchor that living downtown we say we want. The approximately $90 million the Mt. Vernon land is worth would more than pay for any aditional land needed at New York Avenue behind Union Station.

Ms. Miles "if not...nothing will" assumption is more appropriate to New York Avenue. If a government project does not spearhead development of New York Avenue, another longtime civic goal, we will see it lay in fallow ugliness for at least the next quarter century. Or we could have two major new developments in the District and the jobs they would bring. And as for the convention center being snatched away by Virginia: Is this the same Virginia that successfully defeated a Disneyland in the wilds of Manassas and a Redskins' stadium on the wasteland of Potomac Yard? Not likely. No, Virginia will let us pay for the center and reap the benefits cheaper hotels and restaurants for attendees. No surtaxes needed.


Convention Center Continued
Eric Gravley

Leslie Miles is misinformed on financing for the proposed convention center. She claims that "the hotel and restaurant folks have self-taxed to pay for it. The rest of us are NOT paying taxes." This is false. The city government taxes people (the rest of us) not the hospitality industry when the bill comes due at a hotel or restaurant. It's true these taxes are not assessed on other types of sales, but this is plain vanilla taxation, same as gas taxes for road maintenance.

In fact, the taxes collected are not just on meals and hotel rooms. 2.5% of D.C. franchise (income) taxes on businesses in the District are diverted directly to the WCCA. In 1995, that totaled $3.8 million in income taxes from city businesses. This is the only direct assessment on hotels and restaurants, a tax that every business, including mine, must pay. So, in truth, the rest of us, not just hotels or restaurants, have borne the financial burden, and now, with money still short for a project that is creeping towards a cost of $1 billion, Councilmember Jarvis has proposed INCREASING taxes AGAIN on businesses to cover any additional costs that WCCA cannot pay with its current revenue streams.

The center, better and bigger than the one proposed for Mt. Vernon Square, could be built with existing revenue streams at the alternative site North of Union Station, saving a cash-strapped city hundreds of millions of dollars. And the alternative is very real. The city currently owns about half the land, and could acquire the other half for about the same it could sell the Mt. Vernon site to private developers. The North Capitol Street exit of the Union Metro station is two blocks away from the site today, the Red Line goes right by the site, and a new station could be included at a reasonable cost (on this point, it's worth noting that Delegate Norton has already proposed financing a new Metro station for the convention center with some of the transportation money saved when the Barney Circle Freeway, another boondoggle, was cancelled).

The bottom line issue on the convention center is that we the people are paying for the project, and we need to decide what's a good investment and what isn't. If you look at the costs and the benefits, it's impossible to justify investing the public's money for a convention center at the site at Mt. Vernon Square, which is too small for the project.


Convention Center and Historic Districts
Paul K. Williams

I would like to be contacted either personally or via DC:Story posting by those with thoughts on the Convention Center with specific regards to the potential historic districts and individual landmarks that will be registered as part of the project by the DC Preservation League. I'm interested in thoughts both opposed and in favor of the historic landmarking as part of the Convention Center being built at the Mount Vernon site.


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.



Start 'Em Young?
Phil Greene

I have a daughter who will turn 5 in November. According to DC Public School regulations, I'm told, since her fifth birthday will arrive before the end of the calendar year, she must be placed into kindergarten if we decide to send her to DC Public Schools (in this case, Lafayette); in other words, we can't "hold her back" and put her in Pre-K, then start her the next fall in Kindergarten. We're also told, by many parents and teachers we've consulted, that the trend these days is to "hold back" kids with late-in-the-year birthdays, otherwise they'll be much younger than their peers and might consequently be at a disadvantage. We're also told that other nearby DC schools, such as Murch and Hearst, are willing to waive the "5 year olds must enter K" rule, and that many parents do just that, but that Lafayette strictly enforces it. So, if we want to avail ourselves of lafayette, a very good public school, we must "start her young." If anyone has had experience with these issues, I'd appreciate hearing from you. I suppose we could just have her flunk kindergarten at Lafayette, then she'd have to repeat it, and then she'd be where we wanted her to be, no? It would be fitting; I got tossed out of kindergarten at Lafayette (on March 2, 1967) when I let it slip that my family had moved to Chevy Chase, Maryland the day before. Zero tolerance! I think they were just looking for an excuse.



Paul Penniman

Is anyone interested in sharing season tickets to see the new women's basketball team, the Mystics? I was thinking of splitting two medium-priced season tickets, $20/ticket. There are fifteen games, and I won't be able to go to the first four games in mid-late June and early July.


Do any of you good folks know where I can find master sheets for my serviceable but "obsolete" Sharp SF-741 copier...? I'd like a box of masters but I only need a couple of sheets (okay, I'll settle for one). Judy Rosenfeld


Discuss Modern Drama With "Footlights"
David Sobelsohn

Footlights, a modern drama discussion group, meets monthly to discuss plays from the modern theater. Membership & attendance are free. At our next meeting, Wednesday, January 21, we will discuss the play Time Magazine recently described as holding "all the secrets of human existence": Herb Gardner's "A Thousand Clowns" (1962), about an eccentric television writer, his precocious nephew, & the child-welfare workers who try to separate them. Our meeting takes place at Luna Books, 1633 P St., NW (just E of Dupont Circle). Dinner starts at 6:30 & our discussion at 7:45. You can get a copy of the play at Backstage Books, 2101 P St., NW. For reservations or further information call (202) 484-8303, send e-mail to, or visit our website at .


Dr. Bernard Mergen, professor of American civilization at George Washington University, will sign copies of his new book, "Snow in America," an interdisciplinary look at snow encompassing science, literature, film, history, art and public policy. Snow influences climate, water resources, and the lives of creatures from single-celled algae to humans. Mergen's presentation, "The Ecology of the Snow Commons," will explore how snow benefits the environment and us. He will examine nature's deep freeze for the food chain and discuss the interrelationship between plants, animals, humans, and snow.

5 February 1998. 7 p.m. Booksigning and Refreshments. 8 p.m. Lecture. Education Building. National Zoo. Enter at Connecticut Ave. Park in Lot A. Free, but please RSVP by calling (202) 673-4801 or sending e-mail to . Margie Gibson NZPEM053@SIVM.SI.EDU


Computer Wanted. New or used, but it must be inexpensive, compatible with MS Widows 95 and able to accomodate Access95.

Plus....Administrative Assistant Wanted. Callahan Consulting, serving the nonprofit professional performing arts field, seeks part time assistant. Excellent opportunity to learn about fundraising, grantwriting, qualitative research, marketing, and about national trends in the arts. Must be reliable, prompt, detail-oriented and computer-literate. Prior experience in the arts strongly preferred. Suzanne Callahan, Director Callahan Consulting 202-955-8325



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