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March 8, 1998

Your Electronic Backfence

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Dear Neighbors:

For years, Districitizens have criticized the D.C. Public Schools for a bloated administration. It now looks like someone has tossed a handful of Tums into the offices. Led by the departure of facilities chieftain General Williams, administrators have been bailing out or being tossed overboard all week. (Chief Financial Officer Tony Williams appears to be on a similar rampage.) Which leads to two questions: Who is going to pick up the slack? And when does General Becton resign? (Or better yet, what conditions will allow him to save face and resign?) There is a proposal afoot for the Army Corps of Engineers to take over William's school repair responsibilities. What's next, mandatory ROTC for kindergarten kids? If the Corps is put in charge, the schools would probably still have leaky roofs, but the Potomac would be dammed and most of downtown Washington would be turned into a recreational lake.


Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is proposing additional tax relief for District businesses. Last year, DC received a convoluted series of tax breaks based on the way Congress "Bob" Doled these out before the 1986 Bradley tax bill. One method for determining the size of your tax break: Convert your business name to numbers, add them together, multiple by the difference between the highest and lowest totals, and subtract $500 for your DNC donation. That's two more subjects educators can add to our kid's curriculum: Rhyme and Reason, as in there is none.

What actually happened is that the formula distributed the tax breaks unfairly so that, for instance, some downtown hotels can take large tax credits for hiring District residents while nearby ones can't. More importantly, neighborhoods in need of extra cash were inadvertently redlined.

Inadvertent is perhaps the wrong word. These allocation schemes never work. The market always is smarter and more nimble than the government. But the legislators never learn. They would rather give the money away via tax breaks than pay in cash. Now there's no sentiment to pay more to the city, the rich get richer, the poor get denied, and the city receives only a portion of what the federales think they are paying the city. Thanks, Eleanor.

Jeffrey Itell March 8, 1998


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Pushing the Evil Weed
Suzanne Gallagher, non-smoker -

Last time I looked, it was still (barely) legal to smoke, although the beleaguered smokers can expect further restrictions. Should it be illegal to advertise cigarettes? Can outright prohibition be far behind? Then we will look forward to a thriving black market along with all the other illegal drugs and the attendant crime. A better move is to leave it legal, and legalize other drugs as well, not because they are harmless, but because prohibiting them has not solved the drug problem. Smoking has decreased dramatically in recent years without being illegal. At some point, people need to take responsibility for their own behavior. I'd be more concerned about cigarette ads being a blot on the urban view than a pernicious descent towards, gasp, smoking.


Pushing Weed
Tom Berry @

I feel obliged to respond to E. James Lieberman's posting despite the subject matter and my desire to stay away from differences of opinion on dc.story. Let me start by stating that I do not smoke any tobacco product, never have and never will. I don't even like being around the residue of smoke on clothing. My differing opinion with Mr. Lieberman is twofold: 1) he seems to feel that tobacco is a drug (I will not dispute that issue) and Metro should not be advertising this product. I, too wish that Metro didn't advertise this product. But, let us not forget one simple fact; cigarettes are a legal product and probably always will be. And, like it or not, that entitles the tobacco industry to advertise like any other product. 2) Mr. Lieberman's last sentence was "And they (cigarettes) are the first step in the transition to the illegal ones." I thought this logic died in the 60's. Apparently not. Let me state that I am living proof that cigarettes were not the first step in my experimentation with the other illegal cigarettes in the 60's. And I'll admit that I inhaled. Perchance a more logical conclusion would be that "drawing one's first breath upon exiting the womb is the first step in all of life, be it legal or illegal."


NARPAC, Inc. Upgrades for March
Len Sullivan -

The National Association to Restore Pride in America's Capital has upgraded its web site for March (See "What's New?" at with new headline summaries, and additional inputs on: the continuing need for a federal payment -- of some sort; improving DC's election practices; and Board of Trade testimony on the federal role in regionalism. It offers a major new emphasis on the close correlation between DC's "blighted areas" (as defined by the City Council) and poor student performance in public schools. It editorializes that the cures should look more like EPA Superfund programs, and less like supply-siders' "trickle-down economics". Feel free to visit, comment, or offer to help.


American University Law School Parking
Rick Rosenthal -

Why the heck are AU security guards giving tickets to legally-parked cars on public city streets...that aren't even in their jurisdiction? And $250 is totally excessive. As an AU alum, I am ashamed at AU's jurisdictional-jumping. A message to AU's Keystone Kops: let DC cops handle DC's streets, you stay on campus.


Keeping Faith With the Convention Center
Leslie Miles -

Faithful readers will wrongly conclude that I have but one interest in life-- the Convention Center (in contrast to Steph Faul, who apparently has several dozen) and my denial will ring hollow as I again am compelled to comment on that topic. Jeffrey, if the retail space planned for the convention center were inside, instead of facing 7th, 9th and Mt Vernon, it might be more like the MCI Arena. And if the proprietors of the new businesses outside the arena had no increase in business, you might be right in saying that the building contributed nothing to the area. But both conclusions are wrong. Is it surprising that a sports bar, a sporting goods store, and a sports restaurant are mainly patronized by sports fans who come for sporting events? I think not. This neighborhood is underserved by restaurants and retail, and patrons from the area and the larger community beyond will be using the convention center's tenants, and those who move into the surrounding empty storefronts, whether a convention is in town or not.

[I think I know where our differences lie on this edificial issue. Leslie thinks (rightly) that the choice facing Shaw for the next 20 years is either a convention center or bupkis. As a charter member of Utopians 'r Us, I think that while a convention center and sports arena are a step up from vacant land in the heart of the city, they are not good uses of public space because they don't generate enough commercial traffic. Leslie is being pragmatic, but I am certain that I have the pointier head. Jeffrey]


Red Coats Downtown
Kirsten Sherk -

I just saw the red coats for the first time yesterday and I love them. They were friendly and greeted people without being pushy (I'm wary of anyone who might be handing out leaflets or asking for donations). It's a real plus for an area of downtown filled with tourists and business trippers who often look lost.

[Who thought "revolutionary" Americans would one day welcome the sight of Red Coats? Jeff]


Jim Graham Declares Ward One Candidacy
Barbara Bode -

As some of you may have read in the City Paper and the Washington Times, Jim Graham has been exploring the possibility of running for the Ward One City Council seat. I moved in to Adams Morgan in April,1968 --I was negotiating roadblocks while Carl Bergman, according to his earlier posting, was running errands around them <grin>--and I've lived in the neighborhood ever since.

I've gone through various phases of involvement and disenchantment with Ward One politics. When Jim Graham, whom I knew through his work at the Whitman Walker Clinic, discussed his interest in running for our City Council seat, I told him I worried that once again we'd have a slew of challengers who would cancel each other out. He assured me that he would not run unless he had a fairly good sense that he could win and enough money in the bank to ensure a professionally managed campaign. With more than $60,000 in his campaign account and assurances of support from a wide range of folks from across our ward, Jim is declaring his candidacy Sunday afternoon, March 8th, at an open meeting hosted by Jamal Sahri, Owner of Utopia and The Bar. It will be held from 3-5 in the afternoon, at THE BAR 1416 U NW (next door to Utopia). Complimentary light food will be served. Cash bar. If you'd like to join us: RSVP: 202-328-8888

If you'd prefer to follow Jim's campaign online, you can subscribe to GRAHAM ONLINE, an occasional e-mail news service I edit, by sending a message asking to subscribe: . Additionally, Jim's new website is in process. Visit it in a few days at: For a copy of the press release announcing Jim's candidacy, send your request . Jim subscribes to dc.story and, like me, has been lurking and learning. He is well aware of the issues you raise here and also welcomes your direct questions to him at . We're all looking forward to a lively, substantive and productive campaign.


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Perhaps Your Dinosaur Computer Can Stop At My Door Before It Finds It's Way to the Graveyard
Connie Casey -

I am looking to rent or "baby-sit" a low-end. IBM-compatible computer and monitor for writing and printing approximately 20,000 words - beginning as soon as possible until May 17th. I would also like some support; for example, in case I run into printing problems. Nothing fancy required. I promise good care and a clean house.


Housing Sitting Query
Jeffrey Itell -

A friend of mine is looking for a long term house-sitting opportunity (minimum of 6 months) in NW DC. The person is a very responsible working adult. Pets are fine. Please contact me if you know of a situation -- or if you have advice in how to find a NW DC house-sitting situation.


Thanks on Taxes
Holly Eaton -

Thank you, everyone, for your recommendations on a tax preparer. I actually chose one of the people you suggested, so I appreciate your response.


Examining the District of Columbia: Views from Abroad
Ralph Blessing -

The seminar "Examining the District of Columbia: Views from Abroad" will bring together urban planning experts from other world capitals that are also part of special federal districts. Date: March 16, 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. Place: The Wilson Center, Smithsonian Institute (the Castle). No RSVP required but a call to Cynthia Ely at 357-2115 on the morning of the seminar is suggested to confirm time and place.


Dr. Camile Cates Barnett Program - April 2, noon to 2 PM
S.L. Mayhew -

Dr. Camille Cates Barnett, Chief Management Officer of the District of Columbia, will join the D.C. Affairs Section of the D.C. Bar for an informal brown bag lunch discussion on Thursday, April 2, 1998. The program will be held from noon to 2pm at the D.C. Bar Conference Center at 1250 H Street, N.W., B-1 Level (Metro Center). Everyone is invited. Please call (202) 626-3463 for reservations.


Ward 3 Democrats St. Patrick's Celebration
Kurt Vorndran -

Sunday, March 22nd - 2:00 to 4:00 in the afternoon at the Cleveland Park Club, 3433 33rd Place, NW (off Newark St.). Special Guest of Honor is John Hechinger, Sr. Contributions: Guest - $15, Al Smith League, $50 Shamrock Circle - $100. Please make check payable and return to Ward Three Democratic Committee, 2501 Calvert St., NW #111, Washington, DC 20008. Call 667-0105 for more information.


Fifth Annual John Eaton School Auction You
Leila Afzal -

You are cordially invited to the Fifth Annual John Eaton School Auction on March 21, 1998. It will be held in the Grand Ballroom at the Georgetown University Conference Center, 3800 Reservoir Road, NW at 6:00 p.m. Tickets maybe obtained in advance for $25 or at the door for $35. For more information (i.e. getting advanced tickets), feel free to email me at


Entertainers, Artists Sought for Glover Park Day
Judie Guy -

The 9th annual Glover Park Day will take place Saturday June 6 at Guy Mason Rec Center at Wisconsin and Calvert. This is a wonderful neighborhood festival that includes live music, food from local restaurants, community service public info booths, prizes, and beautiful art/crafts. Again this year we're looking for a mix of bands/entertainers and artists/crafts people to participate. Reply by email if interested.


Zoo Lecture: Adventuring in Southern Africa
Margie Gibson -

Join Allen Bechky, naturalist, safari leader, and author of "Adventuring in Southern Africa," for a slide-illustrated exploration of the wildlife and majestic scenery of Southern Africa. Preceding the lecture, Bechky will sign copies of his new book. Bechky will delve into the natural history and conservation issues of the region, which includes the habitats of some of the world's most fascinating and endangered animals.

Thursday, 19 March. 7 p.m. Book signing. 8 p.m. Lecture. The Education Building at the National Zoo. Enter at Connecticut Ave. and Park in Lot A. Free, but please RSVP by calling (202) 673-4801 or sending e-mail to


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Kibitzing by Jeffrey Itell. Copyright (c) 1998. All rights reserved.

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