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June 28, 1998

Your Electronic Backfence

dc.story is presented in association with Washington's News Station The *New* WTOP! Top News, Non-Stop ! WTOP is the radio station that doesn't make you wait. Traffic and Weather together every ten minutes on the eights. Sports every half hour at 15 and 45. Money News every half hour at 25 and 55. CBS News at the top of every hour. Plus, more regular coverage of the District, Congress, the White House and regional issues than any other radio station. 1500 AM or 107.7 FM.....whichever signal works best where you are !

Dear Neighbors: Thanks to Tom Hall of the Washington Business Journal for setting the record straight.

Jeff-You are showing your age -- the cartoon character with the rain cloud over his head was Joe Bltsphyk, from L'il Abner, not Andy Capp, although Andy Capp had a bad day now and then. Tom adds: Thanks to dc.story, I got a lede on a story about D.C.'s porous property tax enforcement. Although a posting from Nick Keenan turned out not to be a bit overstated, the city is indeed not enforcing its higher tax rate on abandoned/vacant property very well, meaning that the city loses twice -- it doesn't get rid of eyesores and crack houses, and it doesn't collect more revenue from do-nothing absentee landlords by not enforcing the higher rate. It's a front-page story in today's Business Journal. Cheapskates can read it on our Web site on Monday. Cheers, Jeffrey Itell June 28, 1998

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Mayoral Campaign
Ginny Spevak,

The DC Story posting on Tuesday's ELI seminar led me to a very informative session. Thanks! Yesterday's Post's article re shouting crowds dissuaded me from attending last night's mayoral forum; today's Post bore out my concerns. However, I don't see much of substance printed about candidates there either. City Paper does a little better, but coverage is spotty. A volunteer at the League of Women Voters of DC told my husband that they are moving and can only put out a list of candidates. As someone who always votes and tries to be informed, I feel very frustrated about the lack of hard information. Can DC Story serve as a forum for candidates for mayor? (At-Large and possibly even Ward candidates might be added if it worked.) A possible format: each week invite candidates to respond directly and succinctly to a specific question, making it clear that this is not the place for glib answers, or to trot out their views on other issues. My dream world would include the opportunity for dialogue as long as it stuck to the topic. One question that impacts on all of us which I never see addressed is "How would you concretely address the problem of over 30% of young black males in DC are under supervision of the court?"

[I've tried and I've tried. Some elected officials and candidates post to dc.story. But I've solicited others to no avail. I don't disclose membership but many more DC officials read dc.story--the ascertain the kvetch quotient, I assume--than post. Jeff]

Gildenhorn for Mayor????? Is There A Janitor in the House??!!!
Andrew Frank, DrSirius@worldnet.att.aet

I must ask: Should a man who runs a dingy greasy spoon be allowed to run for mayor if he can't even keep his own restaurant clean? If we have to elect someone to be mayor from the diner set, then I nominate the owner(s) of the Silver Diner. At least they're good at what they do!

Jack and the DPW Pack
Leslie Miles,

To be clear, in reply to Nick Keenan, what I meant was not that Jack Evans was somehow incapable of getting anyone at DPW to do anything, but rather that he is not the boss of anyone there (it is an executive branch agency, formerly the responsibility of the Mayor and now answerable to-- who?-- the Control Board?) and did not direct anyone to take down or fine the anti-Convention Center signs. And Evans HAS helped with derelict properties, in terms of the Class Five matter (the status of which I understand from a reporter was misrepresented by Mr. Keenan in his posting-- there are many such properties, not the "zero" he indicated, although it appears to me that they may be undervalued to begin with, resulting in an inadequate tax rate even when multiplied), as well as the attempt to prevent demolition by neglect. I am pushing an idea that other cities have used successfully. Just because we have derelict properties here, as do all the other wards of the city, does not mean that our Councilmember has failed us. He has indeed worked harder than anyone on issues of concern to this ward and to the city, and I believe that he has the brains and the intestinal fortitude to be a fine mayor.

Cop Bicycles at $1,481.28 each
Ron Eberhardt,

DC police chief Charles H. Ramsey told a congressional subcommittee that he is buying 187 bikes for his cops at a cost of $277,000 or $1,481.28 each! Ouch. Look, I know that bikes are expensive, however, I seriously question this price. It seems that a more then adequate bikes could be purchased for half that price - or less bought in bulk. While putting cops on bicycles in neighborhoods and commercial areas makes great sense, it does not make sense to pay such an inflated price per bike. At those rates the DC police department is not far behind the Pentagon in the wasteful spending category. Given these margins I would like to have the contract to supply toilet paper to the department!

[Maybe the bicycles are armored? Jeff]

Overkilling 911
Len Sullivan,

NARPAC's numerologist has developed some sympathy for the DC 911 operators who are apparently answering a call every 52 seconds, 24 hours a day, year round. This equates to 598,495 calls per year, or about 1.2 calls per DC resident old enough to use the phone. Many of these calls must be fraudulent. I wonder what the operators have to say--they must know some of the repeat callers by their first name. 598,495 calls seems very high compared to the 75,000 or so patients transported to hospitals yearly by Emergency Services, compared to the 65,000 or so "part 1" crimes committed annually in all of DC (13,000 against people, 52,000 against property), and compared to the less than 6000 real fires per year in DC. It is more than four times as large as the 144,000 responses a year performed by DC's ridiculously overworked fire companies. These statistics are extrapolated from 1995 data in DC Indices. I have no comparable data from other inner cities, but something doesn't ring true! Any investigative reporters lurking?

Weird Bank Marketing
Gabe Goldberg,

Having been captured by First Union with its purchase of Signet, and disliking its new/increased fees (though I do like bank branches on every corner) I'm looking for a new bank. So when I heard of "Amalgamated Bank of New York" and then saw repeated commercials (on CNN, I think) I was intrigued. It *seems* to be some sort of consumer/labor-oriented outfit. I was puzzled, though, by there being no phone/email/URL ever given. So I looked them up in phone book (DC directory only), called, got recorded answer, left message several weeks ago, and haven't heard from them. What kind of advertising doesn't demand action and explain how to contact vendor? What kind of bank advertises but won't call back live prospects? Has anyone else heard of them, has anyone banked with them? They seem to have at most one DC-area branch, and with this sort of support they're no longer appealing...

Civil War Memorial
Paul Williams,

As one that walks by twice everyday the work-in-progress that will eventually become the African American Civil War Memorial at Vermont Ave and U Street, I have been tracking progress and work on this project for some time. Although I'm all for it, as it will be a great boost to the neighborhood, I have to wonder about some aspects of it: Perhaps the most alarming is that I've never seen one African American work on any aspect of it (outside the sculpture and architectural drawings); that's right, in a city of minorities building a African American Civil War Memorial orchestrated by councilman Frank Smith, none of them seem to be employed in its construction....and I've never seen more destruction along the the sculpture base in concrete, tear it down the next day and build another one, lay the sidewalk and spread topsoil, two weeks later move earth and widen it by almost two feet, install the lampposts and the very next day jack-hammer the concrete bases away...what's going on? I've also heard that the engraver has had multiple problems with the 100,000 plus names being placed on the wall; misspellings and typos that has NPS employees taking home lists of names to look for obvious goofs. I'm also very skeptical that they will make their opening July 18th. Am I watching this too closely?!

DC Press Notes
Ted Gest,

Following up on my comment regarding inadequate Washington Post coverage of D.C. award winning history teacher Cynthia Mostoller, the Post deigned to write a short feature about her, buried in the District Weekly section, and gave her first name incorrectly! Although the paper immediately was told of the error, no correction had run as of June 27.

Someone asked about the new weekly paper called Common Denominator. I haven't seen it, but I did see an e-mail post that the publisher is a Medill (Northwestern) Journalism School graduate, class of '78, and its staff are professional journalists. It hopes to be a paid circulation weekly with a press run of about 40,000. The publisher said she wasn't trying to compete with the Post, but it wasn't clear to me whether she is competing with City Paper, which provides some decent local coverage.

Washington Post AIDS Ride Coverage
Richard Gervase,

As another rider in this year's spectacular D.C. AIDS Ride, I second Paul Williams' disappointment in the Post's coverage, which was, objectively, marginal at best. I am often disappointed when the Post fails to cover a local event I consider significant, particularly events in the gay community, but generally try to convince myself in most cases that these events are objectively un-newsworthy. Not so with the AIDS Ride, whose 1400 riders and 500 crew exhibited extraordinary commitment and, in many cases, real courage. And each of the riders and crew was supported, financially and otherwise, by dozens of friends, family, co-workers and neighbors in the D.C. metro area who were eager to pick up the Post (as I did upon my return) and read about the inspiring local event in which they played a part. Add to these the thousands who are served by Whitman-Walker and Food and Friends, the Ride's beneficiaries, and the Post is guilty of neglecting an important news story of broad interest in its service area.

Cellular Towers
Taylor Simmons,

Having watched this thread from a distance for months, and following the recent pro-tower comments of Gabriel Goldberg and Rob Pegoraro, countering the anti-tower comments of Ralph Blessing, I thought I would now weigh in. As a wireless industry consultant, this is an issue I''ve seen discussed quite a bit over the past three years. So far in this forum, the debate has centered around the safety arguments in favor of wireless communications versus the pro-aesthetic/NIMBY arguments against. The question has been: Which is more valuable to citizens, the nice view currently enjoyed by some or the enhanced safety and convenience of others? It's a valid question and there isn't one answer. In this specific case, a before-and-after photograph (probably supplied by Bell Atlantic Mobile) ran on the front page of RCR, a weekly trade publication, showing the existing tower of lights over the Rock Creek tennis courts without and with their cellular antenna attached. That's right, the tower is already there shining light for night-time tennis games. The difference with the antenna added was barely noticeable. If this was an accurate depiction, Mr. Blessing's beltway tower photo fears are misplaced, and the U.S. Park Service should let them add the antenna. A missing element from the arguments in favor of wireless communications towers is the prospect of enhanced competition to local phone service, currently a monopoly here for Bell Atlantic. So in addition to the safety and convenience arguments in favor, there is an economic argument as well, assuming the competitive wireless carriers price their service cheaply enough. Too bad the tower in this case was one of Bell Atlantic's, but if another antenna gets collocated on the same pole, this angle will also have merit.

BGoodman's Frustration with District Cable
Sid Booth,

Re BGoodman's frustration in trying to communicate with DCCable, I thought I'd pass along a good news anecdote just for its shock value. A Mt. Pleasant neighbor mentioned that she enjoys Digital TV, an enhancement of the DC Cablevision service that Goodman may have had in mind. The added programs -- BBC, History, music channels, and PPV options that can be ordered by pushing a button rather than dialing up the bureaucracy -- sounded good. Her family demonstrated how easily the new remote helped one navigate through the system. Monday I called DC Cable (the number listed in the channel chart in the Post weekly guide) for more information and ordered on Tuesday. (None of my calls required more than a minute or two to reach a human -- Ingrid Simmons @ 635-5542 -- but I have heard of constant busy signals for callers who try to reach Digital TV on its direct number). At first, Ingrid thought it might be a month before I could get an installation, but on Wednesday she called to tell me of a cancellation -- they could come today (Thursday). I said not before 2, but they came earlier because of a mixup. Wonder of wonders the cable guy came back and installed the gadgets in about 45 minutes, including a link to my VCR (cost: $12.95). It seemed to test ok, and I was receiving channels immediately. But I was told it might take an hour or so before all the data were loaded into my new control box. After he left I had trouble with the sound and connecting with certain channels. Customer service came on the phone in 3 minutes and although unable to talk me through a fix, set up a service call for July 7, saying she'd try to try to get the techie who installed my equipment to drop by before he went home today. He didn't show, but the neighbor's kid came over to troubleshoot and we're in business.

A Day in the Life of the City
Larry Seftor,

The more time that passes, the more DC just stays the same. Consider a couple of items from Thursday, June 25, 1998. Item 1: I went down to DMV to pay my car registration. I didn't so much mind the 40 minute wait to give the DC Government a little money -- but I did mind the lack of air conditioning. At 8:30 in the morning, before the heat of the day, it must have been over 90 degrees in the "customer" area, and probably near 100 degrees in terms of heat index. The employees in that area seem to have cooler air behind their plastic screens. Conclusion: taxpayers and DC employees are all treated badly; but the taxpayers are always treated the worst. Item 2: Tony Williams held a political meeting at the offices of a downtown law firm. According to one report, about 2/3's of the attendees do not live in DC, but have a stake in the election because they run a business in DC. (Maybe the next step is eliminate the sham and give non-resident business people the vote!) Conclusion: although new to politics, Mr. Williams has quickly learned that in DC the business community always gets the first call of politicians.

Road Rage
Rona Mendelsohn,

Traveling my weekly route from the Cleveland Park area to downtown DC, I pass a strip of Massachusetts Ave. from 6th street to 3rd street that is infuriating. A few years ago, the District "repaved" this strip and incorporated sewer covers (or whatever they're called) that rise a few inches above the road. As a consequence, cars (including mine) hit the covers every couple of feet. I've noticed that now the asphalt surrounding these covers is also buckling, increasing the likelihood that cars will have an even bumpier ride. Did the District purposely build the road this way in order to slow down traffic? Or was this the same ineptitude we've come to expect? In any case, when I recently went to have my car brakes repaired, the shop said the suspension had to be fixed as well. I assume this extra repair was a result of the rocky road I travel daily. Does anyone know whether further repairs are in the works?

Community Heroes
Phil Shapiro,

One World Media Center, a new nonprofit video and multimedia training center in Adams Morgan, has launched a "Community Heroes" section of their web page. If you know of someone deserving public recognition for the community supportive work they do, please send us via email a few paragraphs telling about this person. We want to collect information on the many "community heroes" here in the Washington DC metro area, because the stories of their work needs to be told. Please try to include as many specifics about their work as possible. Email submissions can be sent to: Phil Shapiro. Community Heroes items will be placed up on the One World web page shortly after they are received.

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.


Phil Mendelson's Campaign Announcement Speech

I come to this campaign with over 20 years' experience as a community activist. But I have also served on the other side -- as an activist in City Hall -- first with Jim Nathanson, then in the Budget Office for the late Dave Clarke. The breadth of experience that I can bring to the Council is based on a track record that shows I know how to get results. Real results. What we need in our government are leaders who have an honest commitment to fight for reform. Real reform. Like overhauling our regulatory process. No one likes the long lines and waste of time that it takes to get licenses and permits of any kind from our government. But I fought the bill that came out of the Council last fall because it was hollow, and because there was virtually no public input. The Council was racing to beat the Control Board. As a result, the Control Board has just issued some 171 orders to do what the Council did not. Too many people, for too long, have talked "reform" without meaning it. I cut my teeth as a civic activist over the rental housing fights in the 1970s. McLean Gardens, where I was a tenant leader, was one of the first -- and the largest ever -- tenant purchases and conversions in this city. I was a leader in the fight against overdevelopment of Wisconsin Avenue in the 1980s. Our efforts forced numerous reforms in citywide policies over land use, helping other areas in DC crying for economic development. In that fight I learned the value of commitment and strategy, which we seldom see in our elected officials. Developers wanted to build a road through the entrance to Glover- Archbold Park. We went to our Councilmembers, who sympathized but didn't help. We went to the courts, and lost. We ran a write-in campaign against the Mayor. Some of us even got arrested. The road got built. But we were persistent--that road got hauled away in a dump truck, and the park was restored. More recently I have been at the forefront of tax reform. My lawsuit over a loophole enabling developers to avoid taxes on buildings with "incomplete" roofs brought ½ million dollars to the city and closed the loophole. I was the creator behind legislation establishing the Tax Revision Commission, which just this month presented its report to the Council. Although I don't agree with all of its recommendations, it starts the process of real reform. I also was co-chair of Initiative 51, adopted by 80% of the voters in 1996, to open up the real property assessment appeal process. This is why my campaign slogan says: "Real Reform. Real Results." The two most important concerns among the residents of this city are public safety and public education. During the last two years I have participated in the police district's Citizens Advisory Committee and worked to make the Patrol Service Areas (PSA) more effective. Solutions include real "community policing," improving closure rates, and zero tolerance for petty crimes. These are my priorities. Until everyone feels safe, the fear of crime hangs like a millstone, a drag on the pride we should have in our city. Public education should be our greatest priority. Two years ago the appointed school trustees tried to close Hearst School in my district. Hearst is one of the most integrated, and most successful, elementary schools in the city. There was no academic plan or long range facilities plan to guide the decisionmaking. There was little interest in whether any of the threatened schools was actually good. If we want to build our residential base and attract jobs, we will have to improve public education. But most important, if we want everyone -- especially those children born into the poorest and most difficult homes -- to have any chance at the American dream, then we must provide the best educational opportunity. My style is to be inclusive. By that I mean to reach out to the different stakeholders on any given issue: labor and business; neighbors and developers; teachers and parents. Encouraging public participation is critical to good government. It is also good for democracy. If we want to regain Home Rule we must have an active citizenry. I chose this site to announce my candidacy because it says many things. This site symbolizes the difference between the old paradigm and the new. This site is about spending public dollars wisely. It is about looking at proposals, and their alternatives, fully and honestly. And it is about thinking creatively. Imagine what a new convention center -- the largest public works project in the city's history -- could do as an economic engine for this area. There are opportunities before us, and I know how to achieve them. I ask for your support as I declare my candidacy today for an At-Large seat on the City Council.


I'm looking for after-school child care for my two kids, ages 7 and 10, in my home in Chevy Chase, starting in July or August (FT the last 2 weeks of August, part-time starting in Sept.) Does anyone know of someone they would recommend who is looking for such a job? We will provide salary, a car, and room/board, so it would be ideal for a college student or anyone who wants to work PT. I'm interested in hearing from anyone who has had problems with the White House Nanny service in Bethesda. Diana Zuckerman,

Wanted: Official Entry into the Marine Corps Marathon As a first time (hopefully!) marathon runner I had no idea about the registration deadline for the Marine Corps Marathon. If you, or anyone you know, registered for the run and have decided not to run, please let me know. Eliza,

Attention All DC/VA/MD X-Philes Lois M. Kirkpatrick, LKIRKP@CO.FAIRFAX.VA.US You're invited to the kickoff of what will hopefully become a national summer craze: the "Rocky Horror-fying" of the X-Files movie. Let me know if you're interested in seeing "Fight the Future" at an area theater on Friday, July 10, at a 10:00 p.m. showing. Everyone is to bring a flashlight and a cell phone and follow along the audience-participation script that will be provided. I will also try to get press coverage. Please reply to me if you'd like to come.

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,

Vermont Vacationland
Lynn Dorman,

Ex DCer now living in southern Vermont, has space available at her B&B for those wanting to plan ahead for Fall foliage or winter skiing trips. Brattleboro is on the Connecticut River and I-91, north of Amherst Mass, and is within striking distance of most of Vermont's attractions. Rooms go fast for foliage season. Discounts for DC Story readers. Email for more info.

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

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

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