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December 16, 1998

Nothing About Iraq, Little About Impeachment in themail


Mike Hill, in the first message posted below, raises two important points. The first is the question of whether, in fact, the District's population loss has finally been stemmed. There's no evidence that it has been, but of course we won't know for certain until the next census. It's true that the groups he mentions, singles and childless couples, continue to move into the District, as they have throughout the past three decades. But families continue to move out, resulting in a net population loss. House sales are up, but we don't really know whether the buyers are primarily new residents, or whether they are mostly DC apartment dwellers taking advantage of the new $5,000 income tax credit for first home buyers.

The second point is one that I'll also restate as a question: is it a good or bad thing to criticize the District, or more particularly its government, as much as we do in themail? This is a subject that has been debated since the early days of themail's predecessor, DCStory, and long before that. My own view is that second class cities have boosters; first class cities have critics, and there's a reason for both. Boosterism weakens cities and their governments; it allows their faults to continue and grow unremedied. Criticism strengthens and improves cities and governments. Ever since DC received home rule, residents of the District have been told that we shouldn't criticize our city's government because criticism would weaken the case for home rule, or prevent us from getting statehood, or would be racist. Most of us pulled our punches, and didn't hold our elected officials and bureaucrats to high standards of performance. The result was the collapse of the city's budget, the necessary imposition of the Control Board in order to keep the government going at all, and lousy public services.

I'm glad to hear about positive things going on the District. In the spirit of the season, send in as many positive stories as you can. But I'd encourage you to keep on criticizing, loudly and often, if you want things to get better.

Gary Imhoff


Who's Leaving?
Mike Hill,

In response to Gary's assertion in the last issue that DC residents are continuing to “vote with their feet,” are we seeing a net loss of residents now, a net gain, or a holding pattern? I was under the impression that a significant number of young professionals, couples without children, or older “urban pioneers” are moving back to the city. I have also heard this is especially true in neighborhoods like Shaw and Columbia Heights. Is any of this true?

Finally, I have to wonder about how beneficial it is for people to continue bemoaning how hard our lot as DC residents is. We live in one of the great capital cities in the free world, a place of great physical beauty and enormous business opportunity. Do I detect a strain of New-Yorkerism developing, where part of the mystique of living in the District is always talking about how “tough” you have to be to live here? Let's be careful not to fall in love with our misery!


Managed Competition
Cathy Vidito,

So it turns out, as reported in the 12/14 Washington Post, that Anthony Williams is considering a managed competition to allow DC employees to compete against private companies for their jobs. While I think this is a worthy idea that has proved successful in many cities by allowing city workers to keep their jobs while improving services and saving money, I think DC in its current state may be beyond self-improvement at this level. Many municipalities that put their services up for bid in such competitions have extensively trained their employees and hired consulting firms who work with the city for years. Most of all, every worker who participates must feel a personal stake in the outcome, which requires bottom line thinking and a constant focus on improvement. As much as I am optimistic about the changes Williams can bring, I think it's too soon for this city to try to recuperate on the strength of its own workers.


Where Can I Donate Usable Old Electronics Gear?
Leslie Ruskin,

I tried several years ago to find an answer to your exact same question. Seems like no one wants old electronic equipment these days! I did find one school in DC which actually did have an electronics shop class but the times that someone was available for drop off just never co-incided with my schedule. I can't remember the contact info at this point but I am sure that a call to the DC school board, etc. could turn up the name and number. To my recollection, there was only one school which includes electronics in its curriculum.


DC Voting Rights and Education Via E-Mail
David Sobelsohn,

If you're like me, occasionally you get mass e-mails from friends urging you to lobby your congressional representatives to vote for or against some measure. The last couple of weeks it's been impeachment. Of course as an American citizen who lives in Washington, DC, I have no congressional representative who can vote for or against something on the floor of Congress. Rather than just delete the message, I have started routinely sending back the following message, on the theory that there may still be some people out there who don't realize I have no right to vote: “Thanks for suggesting I lobby my representative to vote against impeachment. I would surely do so if I had the right to vote for someone who could vote against impeachment. Unfortunately, as an American citizen who lives in the District of Columbia, I have no voting representative in Congress.”


We Can Vote to Elect a President, But Even That Has Limits...
Mark Richards,

Once again, District subjects have nowhere to go on an issue of national importance. Delegate E.H. Norton can say all she wants as loud as she wants, but she has no vote when it comes to impeachment. We don't count. Whatever the outcome, D.C. will have been excluded. We live so close, and so far away. The arbitrators of honesty and truth say we can trust them to uphold the rule of law. But it is obvious that they change the rule of law to suit their interests. America seems to be blind to the fact that she is at the helm of a sinking world ship. Bickering over who is least trustworthy is certainly not going to solve our problems. Maybe a big end-of-Millennium purification rite will appease the gods. Ho ho ho!


DPW — No Promises
William B. Menczer; William.Menczer@FTA.DOT.GOV

Frank J. Pruss' experience shows that something is improving at DPW, at least for him. I, however, have always received a registration tag expiration notice/renewal form in the mail. My problems are different from his. First, the new tag stickers always arrive after the expiration of my existing tags, no matter when I send in the form. The second problem is that DC always fails to mail me a residential parking permit even though I pay for it along with tag renewal form. The first problem keeps my car parked in the garage during the period after expiration and before receipt of the new tags. The second problem requires my personal appearance at 301 Indiana Avenue, NW where the clerk “makes an exception” and gives me a residential parking permit without charging me a second time. I guess exceptions rule the day for DPW!

There is still room for improvement. We'll see what happens under the new “regime.”


Renewing by Mail
Dennis A. Dinkel,

In response to Frank J. Pruss, Jr.'s, query about renewing license plate stickers by mail, for about the past eight or nine years, I have taken advantage of the mail option. For one thing, I have always received a notice, about eight weeks in advance, of my license expiration. I always opt for the two-year renewal feature — because if you do this, when you have your car inspected, the inspection is good for two years, provided your renewed your license plates for two years.

About six weeks after sending the renewal form in, and two to three weeks before the tags expire, I've always received my stickers in the mail. I always keep a copy of the check I send to the motor vehicle department, a copy of my renewal form, and I am very careful to answer each and every question on the form. I think they ask for your auto insurance policy number — I don't even like to think where the mailed application might languish if you didn't provide all requested information.


Registering by Mail
Ellen Ward,

I too have lived in the District for many years, during which time I have for some reason always received renewal notices for my car registrations, and always in plenty of time. I have consistently mailed them in and never had a problem receiving my new registration, stickers, etc., well in advance of the expiration of the old ones. I have also always received driver's license renewal notices, even at times when I was reading in the Post that the city had no money in its budget to send them out. This time it came a month before I was even eligible to renew my license.


Registration Renewal
Leila Afzal,

I received a notice that my car registration expires on January 4. Renewing by mail would take 15 working days. Considering the holidays, I figured it was not worth the risk of renewing by mail. So the bad news is that DC does not allow enough time for this service. I went downtown and renewed in person. It took about an hour and 10 minutes to renew my registration, change the number on my driver's license to a randomly generated computer number ( replacing my social security number) and take the metro to and from work. This is the good news.

Direction of car tires. If one's car is parked facing downhill, the front wheels need to be turned toward the curb. If one's car is parked facing uphill, the front wheels need to be turned away from the curb. This way, if for some reason the car starts to move, it will hit the curb instead of rolling out into the street. If this is news to any driver out there, it is proof that our driver education system is not working.


Renewing Tags by Mail
David Sobelsohn,

Actually this past spring was the first time in my 5+ years here in DC that I didn't get a postal renewal notice for my car registration. However I did have a bizarre experience in 1997. In August 1995 my car was towed from the spot in my building where I had been parking for over 2 years. After I complained to my building management, they retrieved my car from the tow lot at no expense to me. The car had no ticket on it. Just to be safe, I called the police to learn that, indeed, they had written me a ticket for “parking on private property.” Figuring that the police can't issue that ticket when parking is with the property owner or manager's consent, I petitioned for the ticket's dismissal. I included a letter signed by my building manager agreeing that the ticket should not have been issued and now should be dismissed. One year later, in August 1996, I received a letter from DPW denying my petition and requiring me, at the threat of further penalty, to pay the ticket by a date several days before the DPW letter was postmarked (time machine for sale, anyone?). I advised my building manager that we could either appeal, or they could simply pay the ticket for me. They agreed to reimburse me for the ticket, so I paid the fine and forgot it. In due course I received my canceled check. Many months later, in April 1997, I received my annual registration renewal form and promptly sent it in with the registration fee. A few weeks later, I received my canceled check. On the same day, I also received, from DPW, a photocopy of the letter they had sent me the previous year denying my petition to dismiss the parking ticket. No renewal sticker. Around the date of my tag expiration, I called DPW and spoke to a Mr. Xavier Redd, who checked department records, agreed that he could see no reason why I had not received my renewal sticker, and promptly mailed it to me. So my advise to Frank Pruss, Jr., is: try mailing it in but plan on at least calling DPW if you don't get the sticker in a few weeks. And hope you reach Xavier Redd.


22-Minute License Renewal
Rich Mintz,

I moved back into the District last week after several years in Virginia. Full of dread, I walked in the door of the motor vehicles office at 8:45 am (on a Tuesday) ... and had my new DC driver's license in hand in 22 minutes. I was barely even late to work! I don't know about you, but I think that's stellar service. Everyone was competent, efficient, and polite. I mentioned my surprise to the delivery clerk (the woman at the photo booth), who smiled, and said “We've been working on things around here.” I hope they keep it up!


Registration by Mail (was DPW — A Promise of Spring?)
Leslie Ruskin,

For many years I received my registration renewal form in the mail and never had a problem using it. In fact, the last several allowed me to register for two years at a time!


DPW and Parking Tickets
Leslie Ruskin,

Many states have the law that a vehicle must be parked with the wheels turned in toward the curb. This law has good reasoning, if the car is hit by accident or the brakes/gears, etc. loose grip the the car will only roll into the curb and not into traffic. This is the first I have heard that DC has this law, though.


Van Gogh
Natalie Hopkins,

Time is running out for the Van Gogh exhibit but tickets are available daily from scalpers/street people if you don't want to wait in line. Just a word of warning though — I waited for three hours in the cold to get tickets and frankly I don't think it was worth it because the show didn't live up to its billing. Granted there were a few memorable paintings and “Wheatfield with Crows” is spectacular but if I had to describe it, I would say definitely “second string.” Was anyone else disappointed?


Van Gogh Tickets
Harold Goldstein,

I was appalled to see Van Gogh tickets being sold for $50-75 on scalping organization web sites. It's one thing to scalp for sold out concerts and the like but for a public event when tickets are readily available for free its sort of a rip off to sell to the unsuspecting public who might think this is their only way in. And to see someone on THIS LIST trying to get $100 for such a ticket is really distasteful when they'd, in fact, be ripping off another list member.

The fact of the matter is, at this time, if you arrive by 9:30 you'll probably get it by 11 on your average weekday!! If you arrive by 10 you'll get in by 11:30, etc., etc. And, lest you think that the $100 saves you 1 1/2 hours on the line ... no that's not right either, since about 1/2 the wait comes after you have the tickets waiting to get into the exhibit! Our recent experience had us arrive at 10:10, wait 3/4 hr for tickets to the 11:30 time slot, roam the museum for 1/2 hour (there are other Van Gogh's at the museum, and Rodin etc), wait on the entry line for 1/2 hr and that is typical. Times may differ as Xmas approaches BUT the deteriorating weather will mitigate that.



Free Van Gogh tickets!
Thomas C. Hall,

Those who do not want to support scalpers or waste their time standing in line at 10 a.m. can still see the Van Gogh exhibit for free. Now that the stampede has subsided, floor supervisors in the second floor rotunda at the National Gallery of Art's west wing are distributing free tickets all during the day. These tickets are give backs from kind people who ended up with more than they needed, and don't want to encourage scalpers.



Will Do Anything for Money
Paul Penniman,

I couldn't sell my Van Gogh tickets for enough money, so would anyone like to purchase any of the above items?


Dave Nuttycombe,

From's LOOSE LIPS column, appearing this Friday:
Carol's Career Blues: Even when it appeared obvious that her campaign had no chance against the runaway bandwagon piloted by upstart Anthony Williams, mayoral hopeful Carol Schwartz stood before the press and voters to declare that she deserved to be the next tenant on the 11th floor of One Judiciary Square. “In your heart, you know it's my turn.” Of course, it's a time-tested ploy among flailing politicians never to acknowledge the futility of their efforts. The difference is, Schwartz really believed voters would come to their senses and pick her over a little-known newcomer. Losing was hard enough for the Republican at-large councilmember. The margin of her drubbing, though, was a knockout blow. Stung by the defeat, Schwartz considered quitting the D.C. Council in the midst of her current term and ending her long political career.
Read the entire Loose Lips column this Friday at

From's CITY LIGHTS page, here are a few early warnings for upcoming events:
Sunday, Dec. 20: Chava Alberstein and the Klezmatics, 8:00 p.m. at Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW. $20-45.
Thursday, Dec. 24: “Kung Pao Comedy Night,” at 8 p.m. at the D.C. Jewish Community Center, 16th & Q Sts. NW. $40.
More details and more critics' picks are available online at


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