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January 13, 1999

Reading the Signs

We're already evaluating Mayor Tony Williams' performance, or at least — since he's hardly had time to really take control of the bureaucracy — we're evaluating how the bureaucracy is reacting to Tony Williams' mayoralty. And here in themail we're keeping score in the best way possible, by letting each other know whether anything is getting better in our neighborhoods and on our streets. Below, some early signs with the Mayor's name on them.

Gary Imhoff


Official Residence
Randy Wells,

If there is to be an official residence, it should definitely be in Shaw. This residential neighborhood is literally the geographic heart of the city, as well as the only residential area truly representative of a racial, ethnic and economic cross-section of the city. Also, there are many beautiful and deteriorating old homes here needing renovation and protection. BONUS: several people who live in some of the best have specifically sworn to sell out and leave if the Convention Center is built, so there may be some vacancies. One good suggestion might be the Bruce House on M Street (home to one of the nation's first African American senators), though I for one would prefer a home deeper in the heart of Shaw (and of course closer to the Mayor's beloved Ben's Chili Bowl).

While Tony is at it, he could buy and renovate a home himself, using the many tax advantages available to a first time home buyer (including the $5000 Federal tax credit), and then donate the home (with a tasty tax write off) to the District when he leaves office in 8 years. Alternatively, there is a DC incentive that old mansions can be developed and used as offices by non profits — perhaps a foundation can be set up to serve as steward of the future Governor's Mansion?

Finally, so as to reflect our Mayor's modest grandeur (“don't demand respect, command it”), we should find a suitable moniker for the new home/office. Perhaps something along the lines of NYC's Gracie Mansion, though really neither Governor's nor Mansion really suits. Perhaps Columbia Cottage?


The Mayor and Medical Marijuana
Alan Abrams,

Did the hair on anyone else's neck stand up about a week and a half ago, when Mayor Williams was responding to calls during a radio interview on WAMU? The Mayor was asked whether he would consider giving the order to release the election results of the Medical Marijuana proposition — his response was (to the effect of) “...well, I hadn't been focusing on the issue in the last few weeks, but I will be sure to look into it tonight.”

My distinct impression was that Williams was ready and willing to make his first act as mayor an act of civil disobedience, that of, in effect, contempt of Congress. When I opened the newspaper the next day, I half expected to see a photo of Williams being led away in manacles by US marshals (with Rep. Barr in the background, arms folded across chest), but I have not heard a peep about it since. Does anyone have an update?

[Williams repeated this remark the same afternoon at his press conference. Independent boards and commissions are made independent for a reason — to insulate them from politics. This independence is especially important for the Board of Elections and Ethics. Independence was honored mostly in the breach during the Barry years, but, still, the Mayor is legally unable to order the members of the Board of Elections to do anything. Were Williams to order the Board to release the election results, which he hasn't done and won't do, his order would have no legal power or effect. Williams' response to this question was reminiscent of his comment that he would ask for the resignation of all members of boards and commissions — most of whom are appointed to definite terms to prevent political interference. So far, neither Williams nor anyone in his immediate staff seems to quite understand how these things work. — Gary Imhoff]


The Williams Administration Gets to Work

This morning on the way to work I walked past Kennedy playground. To my surprise I saw two uniformed Parks and Recreation employees in a pickup truck inside — the playground has a long history of neglect, and it has been a long time since I have seen maintenance men of any kind working there. So I stopped to ask them what they were doing. Were they fixing the fence? No. Fixing the playground equipment? No. Fixing the lights? No. Picking up garbage? No. They were replacing the sign at the entrance. This struck me as somewhat quizzical. While the playground has a porous fence, inoperable lights, unusable play equipment, and is strewn with garbage, it has a perfectly functional sign. While the neighbors have complained for years about the state of the playground, I have never heard anyone say, “And another thing — it needs a new sign.”

The current sign has one flaw: at one time it contained the name of our former mayor. That imperfection was corrected with paint in the first week of the Williams administration (perhaps the first day — amazing how fast those P & R guys can move when they put their minds to it). However, somehow it was decided that the most pressing need of this playground was ensuring that everyone knew who the mayor was. A tip for our new mayor: everyone who cares knows who you are. We elected you because we were sick of misplaced priorities, sick of twenty years of shiny signs on dilapidated playgrounds. Do something to make a difference first, and then put your name on the results.


A Last Word
Bob Levine,

A last word on last Friday’s snowstorm. I work out in Montgomery County and at 3 p.m. started home; the Beltway was jammed so I went down Old Georgetown and then Wisconsin Avenue. Travel was limited to 10 mpg due to 3 inches of slush on the road. Accelerating or braking caused spinouts so we all crept along until I crossed into DC at Western and Wisconsin when all of the slush disappeared and the streets were wonderfully clean, much better than the roads in MD. It's the first time in 10 years that has happened that I can remember. Can it be that Tony (Mr. Peepers) Williams managed to clear the streets?


Yes Snow, No Go
Willie Schatz,

So I killed myself for Tony to get the same horrendous no-service I (didn't) get from Marion? When's the last time — make that first time — anyone in AU Park saw a plow? And where's the personal decency and civic responsibility about shoveling walks? I'm walkin' the dog — the asphalt's too icy to run — and there are at least five unshoveled walks for every shoveled one. This is the upper-class Ward that's the envy of the other seven? NOT! I'm 15 years in the 'hood and it's come to this?


I Thought We Had a New Mayor!
Ed Kane,

Our residential street, in the Friendship Heights area of DC, as of late evening Monday, January 11th, is almost totally covered with the ice that arrived with the storm of Friday the 8th. Connecticut and Wisconsin Avenues are fine, thanks to the volume of traffic passing over them, but even on Reno Road there was a near fatal accident yesterday afternoon, due to ice. Any resident of the bad old days of Mayor Barry (remember the winter of 1995/96?) would feel right at home. As in the Barry days, it would appear that no action whatsoever has been taken to render our roads safer. To say the very least, our new mayor has not shone in his first encounter with the elements in the District. In fact, as far as I can see, he has not even shown.


Norton's Utility
Steph “There haven't been Senators at this location since baseball left town and that was YEARS ago” Faul,

When assessing Rep. Norton's record it helps to look back a little. First, she was elected because her opponent, Betty Ann Kane, was (and is) white. Sorry to bring up the obvious, but that's the reality. Second, she followed Walter Fauntroy, who could have made a Persian cat look energetic and effective. When she was first elected she definitely boosted the city's image in Congress and accomplished a lot. Lately she strikes me as being shrill and irritable. I personally think it's time for a change, but that's no slur on her many achievements. Which, as noted, remain VASTLY more impressive than those of Mr. Fauntroy.


Hang the Right Party
Tom Berry,

Regarding Camille Barnett's termination package, let us not forget that she wisely negotiated this agreement with the Control Board before she signed her contract. Thus, as much as I wouldn't have given her such a sweetheart deal either, she should not be blamed for her business acumen. The Control Board that gave her this deal (with our money) is the party that should be hung.


Williams and Barnett
Philip A. Walker, Jr.;

I must admit to some qualms about how Anthony Williams handled what appears to me nothing more than a personality conflict between him and Camille Barnett. Number one, he forced her out; she likely would have stayed longer if given the chance. Instead of trying to work with her and attempt some sort of basis for working together, he said I don't like her, to hell with the taxpayers, she's toast. I know quite a few potholes could be fixed for what the city now must shell out on her contract. And wouldn't it have been worth trying to strengthen their relationship, as opposed to so wantonly throwing away tax funds? That leads to my second point. Camille Barnett by no means has been a perfect city administrator. But I believe she was beginning to learn the DC power structure and how to work the D.C. government bureaucracy. That has understandably occupied much of her time and energy; a city this complex can't be learned overnight. She also appeared to be conscientiously gathering information on needed reforms but the scope, quantity and Byzantine extent of the problems she inherited made that no easy undertaking. So what we have now, is someone new coming in who will no doubt go through same first year “baptism by fire,” before really initiating change. I believe Barnett was on the verge of a breakthrough when Williams forced her out. That will create another year of unnecessary delay in getting this town turned around.

Hypothetical situation. Williams and Barnett work out their differences. Williams' administration could then have hit the ground running. The city would then divert that $500k to “improving basic city services” Williams claims as a goal. Instead, Williams has sent a clear message that his so called “performance objectives” are just another form of gussied up power politics. At the least, he could have given her the same opportunities and held her to the same performance review standards he is implementing on other managers. It concerns me that he did not establish a consensus behind her dismissal. But most of all, how
could such a “bean counter” so unnecessarily spend $500k of taxpayer money when there were other, cheaper options. This portends ill for a mayor swept into office with promises of fiscal responsibility and a “big tent” approach to local government. Apparently his tent wasn't big enough for her and him both, so he took the easy, but very expensive way out of terminating her.

As I see it, he stumbled badly, not only in cavalierly throwing away $500k of taxpayer's money, but also recklessly not trying to make their relationship work, given the obvious advantage of saving funds and putting his administration in a position of hitting the ground running. Now, it will be at least another unnecessarily wasted year before the new administrator can develop the network needed to accomplish needed reforms. So, we have a $500k year out of her. What bothers me about the Williams/Barnett situation is that it was so unnecessary. What I have seen of Barnett's performance indicates flexibility in working under different administrative styles; she has held jobs in several cities. I believe she would have worked with Williams.


The National Student Financial Aid Folks — A New Scam in Town?
Carl Bergman

We got a form letter this week from something called “National Student Financial Aid” congratulating us that our senior high daughter had been selected by their “College Review Board as one of the Washington area students eligible to apply for grants, etc.” Thrilled to know we could fill out a form, I read on. They assigned a 15 digit ID to her — most exclusive — and asked that we call a toll free number to attend a seminar in town. I called; it was an automated system.

The letter says they don't sell specific information or insurance, but doesn't say what they do sell, nor does it give any information about the organization. They do provide an address in Nevada. A quick check showed that their office suite must be pretty big. I found several other companies at exactly the same address. These included: an appliance repair manual publisher, a long distance phone company, a liqueur of the month club, and a company that will incorporate you in Nevada over the web. Either it's pretty chummy, or a well used mail drop. I also found their web site. It's registered at the same crowded address to Sheila Cuccia. She also signed the letter. Think we'll skip this one.


More Mosque Minutes
Paul Williams,

I have intended to respond to my neighbors posting awhile back about the prayer calls from a relatively new established mosque on my block. I have a reminder five times a day to post this missive with the prayer calls, beginning before dawn each morning. The mosque is located in an old apartment building in a block that is a mixed residential and commercial area. The prayer calls are live (not Memorex), and vary from good singing to really bad. The bad wails are excruciating at 5:55 am, and almost always wake me from my sleep. I have talked to a few other neighbors that are bothered by this intrusion as well. The leader of the group responded to a City Paper missive that he had heard no complaints. I find this interesting as a former roommate of mine almost always called out from his window when he heard the calls, day or night. Is this religious organization bound by the same noise ordinance as you and I?


Congressional Representation
Mike Livingston,

As Mark Richards points out, our duly elected U.S. Senators (“shadow” Senators who, like our “shadow” Representative, are elected pursuant to the D.C. statehood legislation passed by ballot initiative in 1980) were not included in the Senate jury and are not recognized by the Senate. There was, for that reason, a protest and “citizens' swearing-in” ceremony last Thursday in which Hilda Mason and representatives of the plaintiff class in the voting rights lawsuit administered the Senate jury oath to Senators Pendleton and Strauss — who pledged to weigh the evidence and, like other Americans' Senators, submit their votes on our behalf to the Chief Justice. (For what it's worth.) BBC Radio, among others, covered the ceremony.

Speaking there on behalf of the D.C. Green Party, I said we in the District had voted in the election of this President, who is now being held accountable to representatives of all Americans — all of his constituents — except us; that it's not too late for the 106th Congress to remedy that by recognizing our duly elected U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative (Tom Bryant); and that, until that happens, the U.S is not a democracy.


And They're Supposed to Be on “OUR” Side!
Rich Rothblum,

Lorie Leavy described People for the American Way as “tireless and well funded defender of our civil liberties.” Tireless and well funded, OK. Defender of our liberties? Depends on your definition of “our.” Probably not many libertarians or conservatives would include themselves in this “our.” PFWA is a leftist organization which believes the perceived goodness of their ends justifies their unprincipled means. They were in the forefront of those attacking the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas by digging up sexual dirt, and now they are whining that President Clinton is being unfairly treated. The fact is that they are not worried at all about liberty, or any other value that most people would associate with “the American Way.”


The Trash and Our Federal Saviors
John Olinger, North Lincoln Park,

I appreciate Ms. Ridgway's attempt to set me straight, but I have lived here for 18 years and I know the schedule of the trash pickup: a day late after a holiday. That means a Friday holiday results in a Saturday pickup — NOT a Monday pickup (a fact understood by Ms. Drissel and her sanitation crew who made the Saturday pickup in Mount Pleasant). I have Monday and Thursdays, so I should have been unaffected by the Friday holiday. After all, if the day late carried over to the following week, we would never catch up would we? Ms. Ridgway may be confused by the way it works, the DPW person who lied to me ought not to be. So Ms. Barnett still gets the credit.

It is now 2:00 pm on a Monday afternoon after a Friday snowstorm. The sidewalks around Franklin Park are still not cleaned. They are a sheet of ice. On the other hand, on the opposite sides of the streets — 13th, 14th, I and K Streets — the sidewalks all are perfectly clear. Where are our Federal saviors when we need them? The U.S. Park Service is responsible. Jim Moran, who sits on the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, responsible for the Park Service budget, is responsible. So Jim, get off the bridge and get on the stick. Why weren't the sidewalks cleaned?

By the way, our standards are just fine — its just the subject matter that needs improving.


Play Nice Nice
Stephanie Gerard,

Gosh, someone is disturbed at the language used to denigrate Congresswoman Norton! (Do we hear the voice of political correctness chiming in?) Half the fun of political “discourse” is being able to bellow ad hominem attacks at our political leaders, even at President Clinton the flasher (there, I've said it). If you can't beat 'em in the voting booth, bring 'em down a few pegs by other means!


New Postal Rate
Lois Kirkpatrick,

I'd like to comment on the increase in the cost of stamps. For the past year or two, we have received outrageously expensive mailings from the USPS promoting their stamp design contest for elementary students. Two different people in our office received the same mailings, which came in something like 12"x14"x6" boxes filled with full color, extremely expensive-to-produce booklets and promotional pieces inside. It was absolutely incredible and would have bankrupted our organization. I can't even imagine how many people they sent these to nationwide, and how many times each year! We'd get these boxes and joke about how postal rates would go up to pay for them. Bingo! What a racket!


Disturbing Signs
Wendy Green,

This weekend, I noticed one of those billboard trucks parked outside the elementary school playground at 40th and Calvert. The product being advertised? Cigarettes. It was VERY disturbing to see the cigarette advertising literally parked at a schoolground ... even more so when I saw that the advertisements showed nice, fluffy pictures of a kitten, a goldfish, and a puppy. I wanted to call and report it, but to whom? Anyone out there know how or if one can rat on cigarette advertising placed by a schoolyard?


Old Newspapers! Old DC Newspapers!
Matthew Gilmore,

We want those old papers. Not the Post, maybe not the Star, but all those others. We need all kinds of DC titles — from today backwards — all the neighborhood papers, all the foreign language papers, all the African American papers. The Informer, the New Observer, the Sun, El Pregonero, El Latino, Washington Journal. . . . Donate newspapers to Washingtoniana. Call Matthew Gilmore, DC Newspaper Project coordinator, at (202) 727-1213, 9-5.

The D.C. Public Library received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to participate in the nationwide United States Newspaper Program (USNP). The Library serves as the designated coordinating agency for the District of Columbia. The job of the District of Columbia Newspaper Project (DCNP) is to identify and locate all U.S. newspapers held within the District of Columbia; to inventory and describe (i.e., to catalog) all newspapers found; and to preserve, through microfilming, all newspapers published in the District of Columbia. Most early (i.e., pre-twentieth century)
newspapers published in the District of Columbia have already been cataloged and microfilmed by the Library of Congress. We are particularly interested in locating all community, neighborhood, ethnic, alternative press, religious, foreign language, and new immigrant newspapers — our urban equivalents of newspapers published in small towns throughout the United States.


Donating Old Cell Phones?
Stuart Weiser,

I have a Sprint Spectrum phone that I have had disconnected. I was told that disconnected phones can still be used to call 911, and that they could be donated to Red Cross or other charities. Does anyone know who I would call to make such a donation?



Book Sale
Matthew Gilmore,

Book sale on Saturday, January 30, 1999, 9-10 am for friends and Historical Society of Washington members only, 10 a.m.– 4:00 p.m. for everybody. Historical Society of Washington DC, 1307 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Metro Red Line Dupont Circle. Sponsored by the Friends of the Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library, and Historical Society of Washington. Books (almost only DC stuff, some rarities — 19th century — you may never get another chance!), post cards, maps (probably even a Baist atlas!) Some are bargains, some may be bargains at any price. Proceeds will go for acquisitions and to collection preservation, so most will be priced at market value or near. Tell your friends and anybody interested in DC stuff. We are still accepting donations of DC stuff.


Town Meeting on Voting Rights
Mark Richards,

We have got to do something about our lack of voting representation in Congress! Come to a very interesting Town Meeting called “Liberating the Last Colony: Getting Voting Rights for DC in Congress.” Mayor Tony Williams and Congresswoman Maxine Waters are participating, as well as Walter Smith on the DC Voting Rights Law Suit; Larry Mirel on Retrocession to Maryland; John Gloster on Statehood; Elena Shayne on DC Voting Rights Amendment; and James Gray on the Complaint before the Organization of American States.

The Town Meeting is jointly sponsored by the ACLU of the National Capital Area and the University of the District of Columbia in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday. The meeting will be held on Thursday, January 21st at UDC, Building 44, Room AO3 (parking is available under Building 44.) The building is located on Van Ness, near Connecticut, Avenue, NW. A reception will be held between 6 and 6:30 p.m., and the speakers will be from 6:30 to 8 pm. If you have questions, please call Mary Jane DeFrank at 457-0800.


Griot Storyteller Coming to Chevy Chase DC Library
Phil Shapiro,

Griot storyteller/poet Craig Anthony Bannister will give an hour's entertainment using the storytelling style that originated in West Africa. Free. For ages 6 and up. Wednesday, February 9, from 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm., Chevy Chase DC Library, 5625 Connecticut Ave. NW, near McKinley Street, 1/2 block south of Chevy Chase Circle. Contact: Tammy McKinney, (202) 727-1341.


Dave Nuttycombe,

From's LOOSE LIPS column, appearing this Friday:
Take Your Positions: When mayoral candidate Anthony Williams barnstormed through the District last summer, rival campaigns and the local media scrambled to expose scandals and missteps that would slow down the newcomer's ascendant campaign. They didn't find much. The best that the anti-Williams crowd could muster was that the former CFO was discourteous in firing 165 D.C. government employees and hadn't been around for the bad old days — attacks that no doubt helped pad his generous margins at the polls.
Now that Williams clutches the Seal of the District of Columbia, however, he seems intent on parading his mistakes before the public.
Read the entire Loose Lips column this Friday at

From's CITY LIGHTS page, here are a few early warnings for upcoming events:
Sunday, Jan. 16: The Grandsons, 7:30 p.m. at the Barns of Wolf Trap, 1624 Trap Road, Vienna. $12.
Thursday, Jan. 21: “Radio Days: A History of Washington Radio,” 6 p.m.; show at 7:00 p.m, followed by party and buffet dinner. At the Warner Theatre, 13th St. & Pennsylvania Avenue NW. $50 (benefits the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs).
More details and more critics' picks are available online at


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