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April 15, 1998

Your Electronic Backfence

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Dear Neighbors:

Congratulations folks, you wrote a fine issue today. I wish my streets were in such good shape. It seems that despite the mild weather, potholes that could sink the Titanic are popping down all over. Perhaps I don't understand road technology as well as I should, but I thought "freeze, drip, freeze" was the cause of road demise. Apparently, city workers are using a variety of fill that falls to pieces during even the mildest of winters. Or maybe we can just blame the Eleventh Plague, El Nino. (Now that's a mixed religious metaphor!)

Jeffrey Itell April 15, 1998


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DC's Income Taxes: As Logical As a Combined Separate Return
Carl Bergman

If you forked out the money for the DC version of TurboTax, etc., you probably didn't notice, but DC's income tax has moved another notch away from federal conformity. If, like me, you did it on a spreadsheet, or manually, you now know how different the two have become. As usual, DC didn' t do the moving, the feds did. DC just stood still. For example, if you reach the federal cap on deductions, DC has you figure a percent to add back. DC once fully conformed - in 1949. Efforts to either make the city's system easier or mimic the federal have pretty much failed. Among its shortcomings, the District tax is not particularly progressive, its administration is costly, and haphazard - once keyed returns were just dumped on the floor.

Federal conformity has many levels. The most common is on AGI (Adjusted Gross Income), usually with a lot of changes. That's where DC stands now. After that, there's conformity with federal taxable income. You'd take your federal taxable income and apply the District's rate schedule. The most conforming is federal liability. Your DC tax would be a flat percent of the federal. This is the simplest system, requiring only a post card form. You'd pay DC about 30 percent, of what you owed the feds. Conversely, you'd get back from the District 30 percent of whatever the feds owed you. There's one other type of conformity, filing status. With this, you'd file with DC as you filed with the Feds. If you filed a federal joint return, you couldn't file as a single with DC. This would eliminate that odd creature, the combined separate return. The current filing system gives a big break to some taxpayers. Hopefully, the DC Tax Revision Commission will help sort some of this out. You can find its research on this and several other tax topics at:


DC Income Taxes for Married Couples
Harold Goldstein,

Doing your DC income taxes as a married couple (or single for that matter) is a breeze and a pleasure as compared to that of many other states ... You can copy most everything directly from the federal form .... Usually you are best served by filing 'combined separately' ... That is by filing on a single form with the primary taxpayer listed in column a and the other in column b.

The reason this is such a deal is that you can allocate your deductions (and yes you both get the standard exemption) any way you choose ... So just put down the earned income in the right column and then allocate deductions to even out the 2 columns ... Could save you a few hundred dollars.


No Need to Wait
Marie Drissel,

I am not waiting until August when the mayoral campaign finally heats up. I am planning a meeting at my house this Thursday, 7:30PM to organize the first forum among Democratic mayoral candidates. The subject will be "Your Record". If you are interested in helping me plan this event for mid May, please attend. My address is 2135 Bancroft Place, N.W. I am north of Florida and Connecticut Avenues in the embassy area. St. Margaret's Episcopal Church, a red brick church, is on the corner of Bancroft Place and Connecticut Avenue.


Play Ball !
Thomas C. Hall,

The successful completion of the MCI Center downtown has District officials thinking big, as in the Big Leagues. Behind-the-scenes preparations are being made to build a Major League Baseball stadium downtown, with the preferred site _ and I'm not making this up _ just two blocks east of Mount Vernon Square. To read the full story, click on

Historic preservationists are already having a hissy-fit over this idea, but what do D.C. Story readers think? For those who dismiss the downtown baseball stadium concept as folly, consider that it is being brought to you by the same people who made MCI Center a reality _ so don't be too quick to say "It can't be done."


Emancipation Day
Kathy Carroll,

I understand that there are no celebrations anymore, but April 16th is the 136th anniversary of the emancipation of slaves in DC. The bells in the Old Post Office will ring at 7 to celebrate....And did you know that the emancipation of slaves in DC was the only compensated emancipation in the US? I'm told that slave owners were compensated from $8 for young females to $700 for older males.


Perils at the Post Office
Leslie Miles,

Our mail service here in Logan Circle/Shaw is pathetic too-- I have received at least 20 return-receipt-requested mailings with the green card still attached-- but what happened to me outside the post office at 14th and L NW last Friday was the worst. A large mail truck was double parked although the curbside spaces were free. I pulled into one so I could run into the office and drop my mail into the mail slot-- right by the door, a 20 second trip. A mail hauler came running out of the post office flailing his arms and screaming at me to move my car just as I stopped. I said "I am just going right inside the door, I will be right back" but he kept screaming at me to move. I said "I am legally parked, you're not. I'm leaving" (because I was already back in my car). But he had moved three giant "laundry basket" type mail loaders alongside my car by then. I actually sat in my car for five minutes while he ran two of them into his truck, leaving one of them in my way. He then climbed out of the truck and said " See what you get. How do you suggest I do my job? I told you to move!" etc. I got out of the car and told him to move the basket. He kept screaming at me, calling me "psychotic" and screaming at passersby that I was a crazy woman. I moved the basket myself. He then walked into the middle of the street and started screaming for the police. I got back into my car to leave but he immediately moved the basket back into my way. A SAM officer (the BID folks) came over and asked if he really wanted the police. He was still screaming that I was psychotic and interfering with the mail. When the officer called it in he promptly moved the basket and I got back into my car and pulled out. As I was getting into the car he whirled around with his fingers pointed at me like a gun and shouted "BAM BAM BAM-- you're just lucky I'm at work."

And we wonder why postal workers are always shooting each other. I was going to write a letter to the Postmaster until I read this morning's DC Story, and decided that the futility combined with the potential risk made it a waste of time.


Mail Service
John Whiteside,

Paul Penniman's comments on bad mail service can be applied to the whole metro area, not just his neighborhood. Since moving from Kalorama to Arlington (yep, that's right, VA) in February, I've lost credit card bills, book club mailers, and all kinds of things. Meanwhile, I get a big stack of mail for the former resident of my apartment... although she's also getting a lot of her mail forwarded to her new house. Fortunately, she lives around the corner and can come pick it up. Unfortunately, there's no one at my old address to watch for my old mail. It also took two change-of-address cards before ANY forwarding started.

I've moved many times in the 10 years before coming to Washington -- among three northeastern states and a number of neighborhoods and towns in Boston -- and never experienced a problem. Something is amiss in the USPS in the DC area.


Mail DISService
Jean Lawrence,

Paul Penniman mentions the beloved "no mail days." A pet peeve when I lived in DC (it doesn't happen in my new location, by the way). I used to call Friendship and ask for the carrier supervisor (call before 2:00 -- he leaves then, or did). But I seem to remember some 800 number being put in and having to vet my "reason for calling" with a central operator who didn't know Friendship from fried clams. Can you get through to Friendship directly again? Cool -- ask for the carrier supervisor. One time, I complained to Runyon and he sent two postal inspectors to my house. They were very large gentlemen who crammed themselves side by side onto my tiny Ikea futon and managed to contain their amusement quite well as I explained that letters mailed at Conn and Macomb in the mailbox did not get postmarked for days, etc. Nothing came of it, though.


Poor Mail Service
Kathy Carroll,

I handled Postal Service inquiries when I was a congressional caseworker. Eleanor Holmes Norton has a web page ( and you can e-mail her there...just click on the constituent services page and then on her district office. She should be able to help -- or at least get you an answer.


Poor Mail Service
Peter Luger

When I recently had a mail forwarding problem, I went to the USPS website ( and found the page to send them an e-mail ( I got an e-mail response and two phone calls within days and they resolved the problem and even apologized.


Tenley Hechinger Pricing
Phil Greene,

Hechinger DOES charge more at the Tenley store. I found out when I went to to an Annandale store to return a light that I bought for $24 at Tenley, figuring I could return it anywhere. When they scanned the light it came up $20. I showed my receipt to the cashier and asserted that I should get a full refund of what I paid (they agreed and gave it to me), and I also got their explanation: since the Tenley store is in an urban location, and since it is in DC, they have higher overhead, so they charge more.

As for your specific question, "do they charge different prices at different stores?," I can't tell you if they charge more at Bethesda than they do in Marlow Heights, etc. All I know about it the Tenley location. I think the rest are pretty much homogenous.

I called the Tenley manager to confirm their pricing practices, and he reluctantly admitted it, and defended it on the grounds raised above. I said "what about your advertising that Hechinger has the lowest prices?" He said "Oh, we'll match any competitor's advertised price." The party line. "But will you match other Hechinger stores' prices?", I asked. "No, we can't do that (!)," he answered. I was dumfounded. They will match a Home Depot price, but show them a Hechinger price from another store and all they will do is smile and give you directions to that store.

I guess it's the price you pay when you get the convenience of the neighborhood store. Do other chains do it (CVS, Safeway, Giant)? I dunno, good question. When I first raised this issue several months ago, Carl Bergman wrote to me to tell me that he was convinced that what Hechinger's is doing is illegal, and thought that I had a case worth pursuing with the Federal Trade Commission. No dice; I called them and spoke to a few people and only got the sound of heads being scratched. Illegal? Probably not. Good public policy? Certainly not. But what do we expect from our own hometown World's Most Unusual Lumberyard?


Movie Theaters
Andrea Carlson,

Jeffrey, Did you know that the beautifully restored Lincoln Theater on U Street has a movie screen? Not that they use it (except for a show once a year for the DC filmfest, I believe). It's truly a great facility, though it's deplorably underutilized. Many of us in the neighborhood would patronize the place if they would bring in some decent entertainment. We suspect others would, too.


School Vouchers
R. Allen,

Hey Jeff you must be in the teachers union or a card carrying PC. No school vouchers is one of the PC mantras which is to be regurgitated and never questioned or thought about. Two major issues keep the middle class families out of the district crime and schools. The typical two child family would need to pay approximately 20K a year to send their kids to private school. Twenty thousand dollars not tax deductible would support a house that costs over 200K. Only the upper middle class can afford this indirect DC tax. The alternative is DC schools where their children can aspire to be garbage men or to work for the district government.

DC spends 10 to 12K per year for each DC student so that he can't read or write. Montgomery count spends approximately 7.5K for a good education for their children. Now lets say we allow school voucher of 7.5K then people can send their children to Montgomery county while the district saves? ? ? give up, O.K. for you DC school graduates this works out to be over 2.5K saving for DC.

If we had school vouchers all you would hear from the suburbs is a sucking sound from families moving into DC. If you carefully examine the teachers union's arguments you will find that they are just a smoke screen to protect their own interest at the expense to the children's.


We Shall Not Be Moved
Steve Donkin,

In "Stop the Madness," NB Keenan laments the lack of political skill on both sides of the convention center debate. Presumably, the "Madness" referred to is the angry and often violent backlash that people fed up with subsidizing the corporate elites are wont to exhibit from time to time. In such a situation, disruption and organized resistance are usually the only options left to people devoid of wealth or political influence (remember our colonial war for independence, struggles for the right to unionize, the abolitionist movement, and struggles for civil rights, women's suffrage, welfare rights, gay rights, etc.?).

If Mr. Keenan is asking, "Can't we all just get along?", the answer is no, the people in DC's poor neighborhoods can't get along with outside developers and their shills in Council who are chomping at the bit to run us out of town so they can build their shrines to the almighty profit motive on top of our communities. Our enemies have already shown how low they're willing to go. It is in fact the proponents who have constantly subverted the democratic process, lied, and ignored proper protocol (examples include improper use of public funds to buy influence in the community and choosing a contract manager BEFORE attaining a guaranteed maximum price, a violation of the legally prescribed procedure). We also know the proponents' propaganda is rife with misinformation; I defy Mr. Keenan to tell us one example of "outrageous misinformation" perpetrated by the convention center opponents.


Let Not Fight But Work!
Jessica Vallette,

In response to NB Keenan's posting: You are absolutely right about the issue tearing up the neighborhood. I jumped into the fray about 5 months ago on this issue, because I live in Cardozo/Shaw on Vermont Ave. The members of my citizen's association have repeatedly said that it is not our issue and therefore CSNA should not take a stand. Obviously, this issue is a divisive one for us as well. That sentiment--that it won't effect our neighborhood-is the result of many people's lack desire to digest & analyze the volume of information being put forth by both sides. This has led to a lack of understanding of the implications of building a center in a *residential* area that will be undersized and inflexible.

The real question is: how do we make Shaw more livable without forcing out families--what kind of compatible economic development do city residents really want and how can the city make it more attractive for appropriate planners and developers to build in this area. This convention center proposal is being foisted onto the neighborhood because the city can't see how it would provide the right incentives for better uses for the acres of asphalt that grew up after it razed the area in preparation to build a new UDC campus. We need to band together to answer these questions in a similar way that Georgia Avenue is addressing their development needs--not the way the so-called Shaw Consensus Group is "building" consensus. I want to recognize that despite the differences of opinion in our neighborhood on this issue, we have been big enough to continue to be friendly towards each other and work with each other on the issues that we do agree on (can we say parking lots?). Feel free to email me to help this process along.


What the Control Board Has Done Wrong.

Now I'm not a DC resident, but as I live just over the line, the problems there affect my back yard.As I see it, criticizing the Control Board for being Bad Politicians is like Criticizing your Cat for being a bad dog. It's not in the Job Description. Where I would fault the Control Board and especially Gen Becton is for being bad administrators. This is what they were brought in for. The DC Government was in a state of near-collapse. Vendors were unpaid, Non-vendors were paid, no employee head count existed, accounting was lax, personnel out of control. Now the Control Board has achieved some success, but they could have done far more. More staff downsizing needed to occur, more school facilities needed closure, modernization of systems needed more priority. Failing to keep close to constituents was not a priority, and should not have been a priority


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Fluent Russian Speaker Wanted
John Risinger,

I am a first year Russian language student, and I would like to try out my new language skills with someone who speaks Russian, preferably as his/her first language. You should be male/female, in your 20's/30's, and interested in friendship, coffee and good conversation.


Washington Storytellers Theatre
Robert Revere,

On Saturday, April 18, Washington Storytellers Theatre presents storyteller Barbara McBride-Smith in "Greek or Whut?" a program for adults. This irreverent performer recreates the classic Greek myths with a down-home Texan slant. Her bawdy recreations of classic myths and the "good ole boys" of ancient times include describing Zeus as a "thunder-totin' Big Daddy" and observing that "Aphrodite rhymes with nightie."

The performance takes place at The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda at 8 PM. Tickets are $10; $8 for members, seniors and students. For tickets or information, call 301/891-1129.


Auction in Adams-Morgan
Andrea Carlson,

Dinner for four at Restaurant Nora, tickets to Sweet Bird of Youth at Shakespeare Theater, one week's stay at a condo in the French Alps...these are just a sample of the offerings at nonprofit preschool Amazing Life Game's auction, April 26 from 12-4. Fun & games for kids, great food and drink for all. Sealed bids accepted. E-mail for a copy of the booklet.


On April 25, at from 9 am to 12 noon there will be a Shaw-wide Cleanup to celebrate Earth Day, followed by a lunch. Volunteers are needed. Meet at Kennedy Playground (7th and P, NW). Tools and equipment will be provided, but bring rakes, shovels, brooms or bags if you have them. For more info see: or call Dan Amundson -- 588-5626, or email me,


1988 BMW 325is For Sale. Jet black/black leather interior, 5spd, 2DR, sunroof, power locks/windows, CD player, high mileage, great condition, needs a/c. must sell. $5,500 obo. 202-518-4049. Wanda Klayman,


Four Orioles tickets available for sale -- Friday April 24 vs. Oakland, 7:05 game. the seats are in Section 354, on third base line, upper deck -- great seats--season ticket holder section. $18/apiece. Margie Siegel,


MOVING SALE--1875 NEWTON ST. NW (Mount Pleasant) Newlywed couple selling items from their bachelor/bachelorette days: Sofa, coffee table, dark wood dining room table with leaves and four chairs, kitchenware, twin mattress/box spring, household items, men's and petite women's clothing, small electronics, lamps, air conditioner, desk, linens. Great items for college students/people in their first apartments! No reasonable offer refused. Saturday 4/18 (rain date 4/19) 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or call Julie & Scott Makinen at


SUMMER SUBLET--1875 NEWTON ST. NW (Mount Pleasant) Nice 3 BR 1.5 BA house. Available May 1-July 31. Hardwood floors, beautiful master bedroom with cathedral ceilings and stained glass windows, spacious rear deck. Washer, dryer, dishwasher, window unit A/Cs work well. Fenced back yard, great front porch. Full basement for storage. Pets OK. Wonderful neighbors. The only major drawback is the brown and orange kitchen, but everything in it works well. 1400/mo. + utilities. Open Saturday 4/18 12 p.m. - 4 p.m. or call Julie & Scott Makinen at


Design/Build/Carpentry: Small design build firm specializing in additions, decks, built-in furniture, and custom-designed furniture available for in-home consultation. No job too small. John Taboada,


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


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