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April 22, 1998

Your Electronic Backfence

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Dear Neighbors:

With the swearing in of our new police chief, the Washington Post took another look at our unfair city's violent crime rate. A civil was apparent every way Michael Powell sliced the data. The one statistic imprinted on my mind was that young black males had a one in 24 chance of death by homicide. Are these rates much different from Vietnam? Contrary to what exhausted public officials used to believe, government knows how to save these lives. But the District's lazy approach of high incarceration rates and low community involvement has resulted in the worst of all situations-a generation either dead or imprisoned. We should all be ashamed.

Another mayoral election approaches and though the mayor no longer (thankfully) has control over the Police Department, the election of the mayor is still a way for residents to express their concerns, priorities, and interests. Perhaps we ought to ask the candidates how they plan to end the civil war that has been dragging on for too long.


The dc.story membership list is growing as quickly as the stock market, with members now representing 40-50 countries. I am concerned, however, that most list members remain lurkers. Perhaps lurkers can write to use about why they stay in the background.


In line with the upcoming elections and to encourage lurkers to leap out from the shadows, it would be interesting if readers suggested questions for the mayoral and council candidates. I will compile the list, feed the questions to the candidates for responses, and share some of the best questions with you.


A short housekeeping note-your entries are getting long again. Please remember to keep your messages to two short paragraphs. Got two thoughts? Send two messages. Verbosity a problem? Weed whack your prose. Get rid of the underbrush.

In addition, please sign your messages. First names too. No initials. It's in the bylaws. Otherwise, I am going to assign you first names like Ethelbert or Loudon.


With the next edition, I am starting a new feature called dc.referral. Self-obvious, right? You find a great service or product provider and send us a note. Include your email address and the provider's. Website links are also cool. I will run them on email and begin compiling them on a soon-to-be-completed web page. With your participation, we will all know whom to call when we need a reliable, reasonably priced plumber.


All the News That's Fit to E-Mail >From PC World On-line by Tracy Swedlow, TipWorld staff, edited by Lisa Moskowitz, April 20, 1998

If the nightly news and daily papers aren't quite satisfying your need for information, check out the following e-mail lists for the inside scoop on Washington, D.C., details on world events, politics, and technology, and even the New York City new-media scene. Journalists will especially enjoy the tidbits found in the Electronic Broadcast Newsletter.

DC Story Newsletter and Discussion List Most of us think Washington, D.C., is the place where the President, Congress, the Justice Department, and the Treasury work to keep our teetering country just off balance. That may be so, but it's also a town just like the thousands of others across the country.

To help us all foray a little deeper inside the Beltway, DC Story (sponsored by WTOP, a Washington news radio station that understands the power of the Internet) showcases subscribers' questions and reports on civic matters such as bike safety, city government, and schools. Occasionally some government gossip is thrown in to the lineup. But what can you expect in a city crawling with feds?

Jeffrey Itell April 22, 1998


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After breakfast, everyday, she throws the want ads right my way, and never fails to say, Get a job. Sha na na na, sha na na na na - The Silhouettes - circa 1957
Carl Bergman

Even in good times, its not easy finding work, so who can blame hiz honor for a little bravado when he tells us, "I have a lot of skills," he insisted. "I have a lot of experience. A lot of brain power. A lot of energy. I'm not devoid of options if I don't run." Post Thursday, April 9, 1998; Page J01.To a great extent he's right, he's not devoid of talent, intelligence or energy. It's options where he loses it. He has few. He can't readily sell himself as anything other than an ex Mayor. Nor does he seem inclined to want to work too hard. That's why there's been so much effort to jury-rig a job for him. Something to get him out of office that's not too demanding but pays O.K. The problem is that the city's college presidents weren't happy about creating a position that's deadwood from the start. There's also the implication that his notorious life style will cause them no end of trouble.

Each knew that their new Visiting Professor could quickly become their Professor of Visiting.

The problem for them, for him and ultimately for us is that after twenty-five years in public office, Barry has little to show. It's one thing to be middle aged with good, if undifferentiated, skills, but that's not enough. Barry's dilemma is that he can't point to any project, program or accomplishment of his that stands out as a success. When he pokes his resume out the door, it's long on positions, duties, and time in office. It's short on problem solving, turn a round management, and innovation - the stuff of senior managers. He has only one real strength to play to: self-promotion. It's what he's always done best, It's also what's made him an international figure - a derided one, but one for sure. There are some role models, Lee Iacoca, and Ed Koch come to mind. They learned to play their weaknesses into success. He could too. It won't be easy, but he may not have any other choice. Even if he runs and wins, there's little he'll be allowed to do in office, other than stall the day he leaves. He also must know that city's voters may throw him the want ads sooner then he wants.


Outing Empty Suits by the Book
Len Sullivan,

Marcos Wilson somehow hopes the emptier suits will out themselves from the mayorality race before July. Why should they? The more empty suits there are, the better the chances any one of them can win (by diluting the vote) if the encumbent doesn't run, and the happier the incumbent will be with them for their help if he does run. Why not do the outing by the book? Why not formally adopt the customary American democratic process of the run-off primary? I would very much like to know why the DC Council fails to improve the workings of those democratic processes they've still got. Can anybody out there enlighten me so I can explain it on my NARPAC web site?


The Vision Thing
Mark-David Richards at

Speaking of silence about the vision thing among mayoral candidates, there are at least two things we can do. First, start giving them some ideas about how we would like to see our city in 10 years--anybody left who isn't cynical enough to dream? And second, talk about what we think we know about the candidates. What assets and liabilities do the current slate of candidates bring to the table? Maybe we can inform one another. And, if we get too far off base, maybe the candidates will clarify things. For starters, I would like to elect someone who: (1) Articulates a vision that wakes up and unites our citizens and makes us dream a little (inspires hope), (2) Identifies at least 3 clear and measurable goals they will work to meet (like more parking to accommodate car people...) (3) Knows how to balance a budget and manage a bureaucracy, (4) Will make a concerted effort to work with and involve local citizens in developing an improved elected municipal government system/structure that can function in our unique circumstance (rather than waiting for Congress to tell us what our next govt. will look like), (5) Will work systematically to address the regional structural inequities that will keep this city from ever solving its problems, and (6) Makes a clear commitment to work for equal voting rights for District subjects and to use the bicentennial of our city's creation to talk about this inequity and to ask other Americans to help us fix it.


Back in the USSR?
Nick Keenan,

My street is blessed to be lined with ginkgo trees, which are beautiful in every season. The only drawback is the fruit, which is a sticky mess and produces a distinctive foul odor. However, if the trees are sprayed in the spring they produce no fruit in the fall. Every year, about this time, faded signs are tied to the trees with twine, announcing that they will be sprayed soon. Within two weeks the trees are sprayed and the signs come down. I have never heard any discussion of this; it just happens. I don't want anyone to think I am complaining, but it does seem odd to me that DPW, an agency that does not have a large presence in my part of the city, performs this service like clockwork. I mean, we're talking about an agency that has trouble picking up the garbage every week and filling potholes, hasn't cleaned our alleys in at least eight years, can't tow abandoned cars, won't put out trashcans, doesn't plow after snowfalls, doesn't address nuisance properties, won't maintain public spaces -- I could go on, but you know the story.

In his youth, my father studied in the Soviet Union. He told me once that the thing that a visitor to the country noticed right away was that the institutions that predated Communist rule were the only ones that functioned -- the telegraph worked, the telephone didn't; the trains ran, the automobiles didn't; the ships were reliable and the airplanes weren't. I suspect if you were to ask someone at DPW why they spray the Ginkgo trees, the answer would be, "Because we always have."


River Road Work

As many may know from their daily commutes, River Road in DC has been undergoing some road work, with new curbs and sidewalks being put in. Its nice to see that years of neglect are being rectified. As part of the job on River Road, Park Site, the Lorton-based construction company, is placing sod on the borders of the sidewalks where they've had to dig. However, I've noticed that the sod they are placing is dead--DEAD as in dried out, will never grow etc.!!

The sod was delivered on the Thursday before Easter and work was not done on Friday. With no watering or cover over the weekend, the sod predictably died by the time they started laying it the following week. Consequently parts of River Road have the neatest borders of dead grass I've seen. (This is not to mention the green spaces - islands - that the construction workers have torn up and destroyed by driving heavy equipment over soft ground.) Am I the only one to notice or care? Is there anyone in the DC government who oversees these contractors?


School Vouchers
Michael Cushman,

In the 4/15/98 edition R. Allen, ( complains about DC public schools and promotes moving to the suburbs or vouchers as the appropriate alternative. Some fact checking is necessary here. It is especially important that the "facts" cited are essentially correct since there is a possibility that they will be repeated. There are two fatal factual flaws to the argument that is being advanced here. 1. The costs for DCPS are wrong and overstated. 2. The reimbursement that is likely to be forthcoming from any government is WAY too high too.

The DCPS per child expenditure was at the high point 2 years ago, before some substantial budget cuts. The per student expenditure at the high point was just barely over the Montgomery Co. number at 7900 dollars/student. (NOT 10-12K). It has declined in the following years as the school budget has been cut each year. It is currently below the amount spent in Montgomery county and Fairfax county.The assumption that any municipality will dispense vouchers in the range of 7500 dollars is pure fancy.

I attended a session on the Congressional Charter schools which are billed as a school choice option to the "monopoly" public education system. The reimbursements had not been set at that time but the range of reimbursement was between 3000 to 4000 dollars depending on the students grade. (High school costs more).The voucher plan being considered in Congress calls for vouchers in the same low range (3200 to 3500).


Babies and Bathwater
Tom Hardman,

Our host makes some excellent points regarding the potential pitfalls of throwing the baby out with the bath water in any restructuring of the District Schools which is not carried out with all _deliberate_ speed. It must however be noted as an aside that many educators nationwide credit "modern education" approaches with having "dumbed-down" vast segments of America who would have probably been much better-educated under traditionalist approaches. Teachers' Unions have been quite-often blamed as a major influence in the implementation as practical, of experimental and ideologically-motivated educational approaches. But however leftist or radical-center our teachers'-unions might be, still they are the only people with practical experience in education. We should pay close attention to their politics and approaches, but they also deserve our support for their difficult, underpaid, and often-thankless work.

I note as an addendum to counter Jason Juffras remarks, that the $62-billion deficit in the District Schools does nothing to alter the actual budgetary status of the District government - it only alters the public awareness that "all is still not perfect".


School Vouchers
Daniel Rabbitt,

I was disturbed by the attack on school vouchers by David Reed in the last DC Story. One comment was that, with vouchers, "There will be a demand for schools that appeal to parents' ideological, racial or religious fears and prejudices, and brainwash children to adopt these views." Places to ideologically indoctrinate schoolchildren already exist - they're called the public schools. In addition to such established practices as politically correct historical revisionism (practically taught as religion in many schools) and condom distribution to teens regardless of the parents' beliefs, we've recently learned that a new book for DC public school students will sing the praises of Marion Barry as the man who cleaned up the District government (but that's just objective history, right? No one's imposing a personal viewpoint there, ha ha.) At least with vouchers the parents can decide which values will be taught to their children, instead of the kids being used to promote the social and political agenda of whoever happens to be in charge of the public schools at the time.

Reed also stated that "Children whose parents would not choose well need good schools the most." Huh? So parents just can't be trusted to raise their own children, and we must condemn all poor children to failing public schools instead of helping as many as possible receive a quality education. The introduction of some competition could only help the public schools and increase opportunity for all students, regardless of what their parents choose. While I agree with his comment that "We must assure that there are no disastrous choices available," currently most parents have only one choice: the disaster that is the DC public schools. After decades of increased spending and bigger bureaucracies, the public schools continue their downward spiral. Nothing could do more to improve the future of DC and other U.S. cities than to implement school choice.


Retrocession Nyet
Timothy Cooper, Executive Director, Democracy First,

In light of the feeble history of the D.C. retrocession movement, it is ironic that Mr. Sobelsohn and others continue to trumpet retrocession as the magic political bullet destined to end centuries of disenfranchisement and inequality for District residents. The concept of retrocession was born in the early days of the District when Georgetowners, dissatisfied with their newly disenfranchised state, proposed it as a solution for their political woes. But it never attracted any demonstrable support from the citizenry at-large, and was soon abandoned. In the 1960s, Rep. John McMillan (R-NC), chairman of the House District Committee, touted the idea of D.C. retrocession, attempting to employ the argument as a means to subvert the quest for home rule on the part of D.C. residents which culminated in the attainment of partial home rule in 1974. Since the early 1990s, Representative Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) has introduced five D.C. retrocession bills in Congress. None of those bills, however, have ever come up for a single Congressional hearing, let alone for a vote on the House floor. Indeed, no retrocession bill has ever been introduced in the U.S. Senate. There can be no question then: The retrocession "alternative" is no alternative at all, only an improbable idea whose time will never come. It will never happen because the retrocession argument is fundamentally flawed. It is flawed because it fails to take into account the will of the people. Retrocession, in whatever century proposed, has never been supported by the majority of D.C. residents-- not ever. Until such time as it is, it will remain what it has always been-- an illusionary non-starter in search of a constituency.

Statehood, of course, remains an important, theoretical remedy because it has been democratically sanctioned by District residents by a 3-to-2 margin in a referendum held in 1980. However, statehood will not be a viable political option until the District regains all of its state functions and proves it is capable of paying for them in the long run. By default then, an Equal Rights Amendment provides the only constitutional remedy available for District residents to pursue their rights. It honors both the spirit of the D.C. statehood referendum and the immediate imperative to hold Congress's feet to the fire. And because it frames the issue of our enfranchisement as one of equality before the law, it also provides us with an historic opportunity to expose Congress's utter hypocrisy on this issue of the equal treatment of the residents of the national capital, by exposing the continuing human rights violations taking place daily in the District under international law.

In response to Mr. Mirel's concern about the language of the Equal Rights Amendment, it should be noted that the amendment language, which states that District residents "shall be treated as citizens of a state for all constitutional intents and purposes", represents a constitutional statement of some simplicity and elegance, and was written in consultation with two constitutional experts, Professor Raven-Hansen of George Washington University and Professor Jamin Raskin of the American University. The language as presently constituted would ensure that D.C. residents enjoy the same rights and privileges as all other citizens of this country in each of the fifty states.


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.


This Sunday night, April 26th, is the return screening of Neil Diamond Parking Lot at the Black Cat after January sell-out. Featured along with our sequel to Heavy Metal Parking Lot is a 75-minute program of video work including Heavy Metal Parking Lot: The Lost Footage, and more. Screening is at The Black Cat Nightclub, 1831 14th Street, DC, as part of the New Alaska Film Society film series. Admission is $5. Time is 8:30PM. Also on the program: LIVE MUSIC!!!!! Scheduled are cabaret act Faith and Jude, and Arlington supergroup Alzo. Jeffrey H. Krulik,


Community Yard Sale, Saturday, April 25, 1998 from 10am to 6pm at 1224 Lawrence Street, NE. All proceeds to benefit Dance Place and Brookland's Empowering Neighborhood People. Sarah Woodhead,


Organics Under Attack
Kathy Carroll <

Unless we act now, the USDA will allow food labeled "organic" to contain antibiotics, to be grown in municipal sludge, to be irradiated, and/or to be genetically-engineered. If you care about the food you eat, the clothes you wear and the survival of organic farming, please join us at Fresh Fields in Glover Park (2323 Wisconsin Avenue -- free underground parking) on April 29th at 7:00 p.m. Postage paid postcards will be available to send your comments to the USDA. Sponsored by Patagonia and Fresh Fields. For more info, call 333-5393 or 333-1776.


Earth Day Shaw-wide Cleanup
Nick Keenan,

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,


FOR SALE: Trek 800 Mountain Bike. Red and Black. Upraged gel seat. Just tuned up last fall and barely ridden since then. In wonderful condition. Comes with hybrid tires (brand new) and original mountain bike tires. Perfect size for a small person (I'm 5'2"). $150-call Debbi Koplen at 703-356-6248 (Mclean)


1985 Toyota Camry, 96,700 mi. Maroon w/roofrack. Very good condition w/rebuilt engine installed @ 47K miles due orig weak piston rings. In DC registration. Retail value de Kelly's = $4300. Will sell for $2600. 202-362-0710. S. Reuter,


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


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