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June 23, 1999

Red Pencils at the Ready

Dear Graders:

Only three people responded to the opportunity to grade the mayor and council on the first half year of their new terms. I'm sure that many of you want to say something more. Please don't hesitate; you know the address.

On another matter, Charlie Wellander wittily notes that our exchanges on those thieving parking meters have been picked up by the press. Not only the Washington Post, but also all the local television stations, have reported on the situation. Charlie wonders why themail doesn't get credited in news stories. I'm of two minds about that. Of course, I'd like for more people to know about DCWatch and themail; the more publicity we get, the more people visit the web site and both subscribe and contribute to themail. On the other hand, we don't compete with the local newspapers or television stations. Jeff Itell, who started themail (as DC Story), described it as an “electronic back fence” over which neighbors could talk, and that's what we're doing. I'm delighted if people in the press either participate or eavesdrop over the fence, and if they find story ideas here that they can develop and report. If reporters had to give credit to themail, I'm sure that their highly competitive and territorial editors would veto a lot of the story ideas that germinate here.

By the way, Eric Lipton's stories yesterday and today about parking meters brought out at least three new points that interested me: 1) DPW didn't tell the public, when it knew for months that the meters were set not to give credit for coins that had very minor flaws. Is anyone giving DPW the message that this cover-up was wrong, and will any DPW official be penalized for keeping the public in the dark? 2) The same problem with this parking meter model had already surfaced in other cities, and Lockheed Martin still bought it for the District. Did Lockheed Martin tell District officials about the meter problem when they were negotiating the contract? Since the company gets a percentage of the take from the meters, was the extra unearned profit a factor in their decision? Those quarters add up. 3) The contrast between the attitude in other cities, where the parking meter problem was openly acknowledged and bad parking tickets were forgiven, and the attitude in the District — we don't want to give up the fines citizens pay because of bad meters — shows that our city government still doesn't understand that it works for its residents, not the other way around. Incidentally, does anyone really believe DPW's story that this problem affects only one percent of the meters?

Gary Imhoff


Mid Year Report
Alan Abrams,

I like the analogy of “The Student Mayor.” It sounds like the title of a light opera, hopefully a comedy. It also makes it a little easier to accept his misbehavior before the semester began, given that the pupil in question still shows great promise. However, I would reduce his grade in Congressional Relations 101, because an assignment which he volunteered to take on is apparently incomplete. In the first week of his class, Tony promised to follow up promptly on Congress' withholding of the results of the medical marijuana ballot initiative. To the best of my knowledge, he has completely forgotten this assignment.


Sold Out Downtown
Steph “DC’s Dead Zone” Faul,

My biggest disappointment about Mayor Williams is that he appears to have sold out to the real estate industry in record time. First there's the approval of the convention center — a huge waste of money that benefits resident taxpayers not at all. Then there was the ludicrous idea of building a baseball stadium downtown, while RFK rots away. Most recently there's the probability he'll allow the old Woodies' building to be turned into yet more offices instead of retail and residential. A stinging local irony is that tourists come to Washington for the “history,” yet not one downtown building out of six is more than 25 years old. The few remaining antique structures are rapidly disappearing and being replaced by offices, more offices, hotels, and offices. Williams talks a good game about a “living downtown,” but his actions show his real loyalty. Only six months into the game, and he's already in Oliver Carr's pocket.


The Williams Administration
Dorothy Brizill,

I'd give Mayor Williams a C-, or maybe a D, for his first six months, because he hasn't accomplished what needs to be done in the early days of any administration. His own office's staffing is still unsettled and in flux; his scheduling doesn't serve either him or the community (he's turning out to be as consistently late as Barry was, and he has completely missed several important events); his small circle of close advisers from his days as Chief Financial Officer hasn't opened or broadened at all; he hasn't made many key appointments, especially that of City Administrator; several boards and commissions lack key appointments; and he has failed to make the necessary changes he promised in government and to remove many administrators he identified as incompetent months before he was elected.

In the field that Williams himself identified as his key priority, economic development, he has failed to make any appointments to the new National Capital Revitalization Corporation, though he proposed legislation to reduce public scrutiny and oversight of its actions; the Department of Housing and Community Development is under temporary management; the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development is an arm of the big developers, uninterested in neighborhoods and actively hostile to community interests; the Redevelopment Land Agency has had to put off key development decisions for months because of his lateness in appointing new board members. And he compromised his primary qualification for the office, his honesty and clean reputation, by taking tens of thousands of dollars from city contractors for showing up at lunches, parties, and conferences — and by still not understanding what's wrong with doing it. His major accomplishment so far has been to increase the size, staffing, and funding of the Office of the Mayor by so much that no one in the office even knows what most of the new Special Assistants do.


Mall Pall
Mark Eckenwiler,

Denizens of downtown DC — especially those who frequent M.L. King Library — are well aware of the wretched state into which G Street NW (900 block) deteriorated. The fountains long ago stopped flowing, and the planters became repositories for trash instead of flowers. Massive cracks in the pavement went unrepaired. Only a contingent of homeless people ever lingered on this urban moonscape; for everyone else, it was a block to avoid (or if necessity commanded, to pass through as quickly as possible). The same used to be true of nearby F Street NW (from 7th to 9th), where an equally decrepit pedestrian mall was cleaned up and re-opened to vehicular traffic 18 months ago. (According to a November 1997 Post article, these malls were the product of misguided planning in 1974, at the dawn of Home Rule.)

At last, G Street is now being ripped up, but I have yet to see any reporting on what's planned. The Post's Metro desk has been singularly impervious to suggestions that they devote a few column inches to this issue. Can anyone point to a good resource on what G Street is going to look like months hence?


Two Cheers for Gun Laws
Philip Murphy,

Something about Adam Jay Marshall's posting regarding the lifesaving nature of gun laws made me want to respond. Marshall gushes “Could you imagine how bad the crime rate in this city would be if gun ownership were in fact easier?” Now I'm no gun nut, and I believe tougher gun restrictions make sense in almost every situation but I must admit that if I lived in Benning Heights and lived in terror because the police didn't or couldn't enforce the law on my street I would want a gun to protect my home and family and perhaps level the playing field with the criminals. And I would loudly advertise that I had a gun, too. Would I be targeted by criminals because I had a gun? Just the opposite, I think. Frankly, if the safety of a neighborhood cannot be guaranteed, why compound the injustice by making it illegal for neighbors to protect themselves?

Sure, it's a mindless cliche to say guns don't kill people, but culture does play a role. After all, imagine if the government issued every adult male citizen an assault rifle and required them by law to keep them in their homes. Bloodbath, right? In America, unfortunately yes. But in Switzerland, where gun ownership is virtually the law, there is peace. Obviously, there is something more complex at work than a sound bite. But that would require questioning some comforting assumptions, wouldn't it?


Home Rule vs. Gun Control
Tom Matthes,

“Get off my back and get out of my District.” — Eleanor Holmes Norton, to Virginia Congressman Virgil Goode, on a motion to end the city's ban on private possession of handguns. For the length of a TV news sound bite last Friday, Delegate Norton was the champion of local government. Bravo! Why should what's good for Goode's constituents be imposed on the District, when DC's elected Council has voted otherwise? The debate between Charles (“every man should be armed”) Heston and Rosie (“the Second Amendment is a relic of the War of 1812”) O'Donnell will last as long as the “right of the people to keep and bear arms” is part of the Constitution. But why does Congress have to impose a “one size fits all policy” on guns? Let Montana (where one's neighbor might be the Unabomber or a militiaman) and DC (where innocent people are shot on the streets or in their homes during gang wars) make up their own minds and let the NRA and Handgun Control, Inc., take their objections to the courts. For one brief, shining moment, Delegate Norton took her stand for local decision making. Alas, it was only an act. No sooner had the Goode amendment failed than she left the House for a rally of gun control advocates demanding their will be imposed everywhere else. There is no doubt of Ms. Norton's sincere support for strict gun controls, but to advocate local control in DC while opposing it everywhere else is hypocrisy. It is the triumph of a partisan agenda over consistency and fairness.

More important than this lack of principle is the damage it does to the ongoing efforts to convince the nation at large that DC residents deserve control of their schools, budgets, police and laws. Residents of the 50 states are not going to be impressed by the moral argument for DC democracy after that performance. Arguing for local prerogatives, by the way, is no longer a battle of liberals versus conservatives. The latest debates in Congress have included calls for teaching creationism over evolution and for school vouchers, in addition to the attempt to legalize handguns in DC. Both sides now have national agendas at odds with the democratic principle of looking to local solutions first and to continental solutions only as a last resort. DC citizens who believe they can run their affairs better than Capitol Hill need to acknowledge the same right for others, or the case for home rule will not “play in Peoria.”


“Success” in Our Schools
Ed T. Barron,

A program being run in some schools in Maryland that has demonstrated success in teaching children in urban schools with large minority enrollments recently tried to get the program aboard at an Alexandria school. Before the program is implemented at any school, the providers of this program insist that 80% of the teachers in that school, in a secret ballot, vote to bring the program into the school. If the votes are not there, the provider of the “Success” program will not provide the program to that school. The vote in that Alexandria school, by the way, was only about 50% for accepting the program.

But herein is revealed the secret to making things happen in a school. If you can get 80% of the teachers in any school to agree to trying the same thing you have, in fact, formed a viable team with a mission. Once you have a team with a mission the team members will break their buns to make it work, because they had a part in saying what should be done. Can you imagine in one of the District's poorer performing schools trying to get 80% of the teachers in that school to agree to changing to one program. You could not get 80% of the teachers in these poor performing schools to agree that they should go to lunch on any given day.

In my own consulting work, conducting Team Building and Process Reengineering, I have been very successful developing teams and creating viable processes in private industry, federal government agencies, and with staff elements of universities. I have never been able to get university professors to agree to be a part of a “Team.” I think the same would likely be true of many (perhaps most) of the public school teachers in the District. It appears that the slowest learners are in the field of education.


Trouble with Cop in Trouble
George S. LaRoche,

In the last issue of themail, Mark Eckenwiler raised the issue of using the “cop in trouble” ploy to get speedy response to calls for assistance. I realize this was largely tongue-in-cheek, but it should be noted that this is MORE likely to result in broken heads than useful “assistance” (not to mention that it's illegal). In recent years, the NAACP's Metropolitan Police and Criminal Justice Review Task Force has investigated SEVERAL instances in which MPD had blanketed a restaurant or home with officers who proceeded to crack heads. Seems an officer on each scene felt unable to deal with a situation so, apparently, called in one of the codes which indicates “officer down”; this brought everyone on wheels, ready to rumble. Not judicious.


Another View on Parking Enforcement
Sara Cormeny,

I know I'm going to be unpopular for saying this, but I charge forward fearlessly. It's wrongheaded to complain that the city is spending money on parking enforcement but not on schools. Overall, parking meters and parking enforcement make money for the city — that is one reason why, when there have been furloughs in the past, meter maids are still on the job. It's a revenue producing sector, and I say bully to them! I would of course like to see the occasional glaring errors/liberties on the part of the enforcers eliminated (for instance, ticketing at 6:50 am on a spot that is legal until 7 am). In general, though, I'm very impressed by the clarity of street signs and the aggressive posture on parking violations. And in case you forgot, it is a violation to park at a broken or headless meter. It's certainly a violation to park in a two-hour zone for more than two hours, operating meter or no.

On the traffic-enforcement front, I'm also thrilled to see that the city is finally going after red-light runners and gridlock-creators downtown. It's a small effort so far, but I hope it expands and serves as a deterrent to those dimwitted motorists who contribute to the very gridlock that's slowing everybody down, in a vain attempt to speed their own commute. Please save any flames for somebody else — I'm wearing my asbestos gloves and will just delete them.


Baseball in DC
Lorri Manasse,

In response to Sheila McCormick's inquiry re baseball in DC, it is alive and well at Friendship Playground/Turtle Park at 46th and Van Ness, NW. There are T-ball teams for the little ones, minor and major little league. The older guys play softball. John McCarthy runs a baseball camp there all summer, Home Run Baseball Camp, for kids 12 and under. There is also little league in the Capitol City League, which won a regional championship a few years back. There is baseball elsewhere in the city, and a citywide playoff each summer.

For the older kids, the Police Boys and Girls Club runs programs for 13-15 year olds. Then the high schools take over. True, you see more soccer, but there is definitely baseball if you look around. Talk to Bob Haldeman, the rec. director at Friendship, for more information.


A League of Their Own
Mark Eckenwiler,

Sheila McCormick asks whether there are any tee-ball leagues in DC. As the parent of two budding sluggers, I can confirm that there's a group of teams on the Hill (schedule on the web at ). Alas, I suspect all the teams are filled for this summer.


Ralph Blessing,

Our kids have played t-ball, baseball, and softball over the years in the Takoma Park and Montgomery County leagues. Both permit non-residents (as we are) to play. Sign-up is usually in March. For more info, you could probably contact the recreation departments in those jurisdictions.


“Bless” ’em All . . . the Short and the Tall
Charlie Wellander,

Speaking of various small- and large-statured revenue enhancers for DC: On the Short side (parking meters on stubby poles misappropriating quarters), themail got very short (i.e., zero) credit for its part in Tuesday's Washington Post Metro story (at until Independence Day). Congrats to themailers Gabe Goldberg, Ann Loikow, and Constance Maravell for becoming the only people on the cyber-street to be quoted. (Reporters save on shoe leather these days.)

The Tall ones are the streetlight poles above the parking meters, which recently sprouted large advertising banners flying way up there from semi permanently attached hardware. Does anyone know who owns these and how much rent the city is collecting for this further degradation of the streetscape? I'll keep mum on the infelicity of Adam Sandler's public micturition adverts (don't want to get into that “prissing” contest); but if he starts dissing on us from high poles as well as in the Metro, I just hope he misses us.


Subway Advocates Mugging
Rob Fleming,

If you were offended by the “Big Daddy” poster of two people pissing on the wall, how about the Subway sandwich shop ad that features David and Goliath? David asks politely for a bite of Goliath's sandwich, and is rudely refused. So little David loads up his sling and caps the big guy. Now as I remember the original story, David was defending his city in a war that came down to single combat, not mugging someone to get a free meal. What kind of message is Subway sending? Given the recent history at Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, I don't think a fast food store chain should be advocating the use of weapons to procure their products.


I’m Trying to Pay a Ticket, Darn It!
Kathy Carroll,

Last year, I made a left turn onto Observatory Lane from Massachusetts Avenue after 4:00 p.m. and a nice gentleman in blue was waiting for me. It was a $25 ticket. I went home, fired up my bill payer software and sent the gentleman's employers a check. The check was returned to me because I had not included the ticket number. I hadn't kept the ticket after paying it, so I waited for a second notice so I could write the ticket number on the check. None came. Six months later, my bank sent me a nice letter which apologized but noted that the D.C. Treasurer had not cashed my check in 6 months and it was, therefore, void.

The check carries my social security number, and that's my driver's license number. They were obviously able to find the ticket and credit me with the payment, so why did they send the check back? I'm not encouraging anyone to be a scofflaw, I just hope someone “in charge” reads this and can make sure it doesn't happen anymore.


Metro Bus Stop Maintenance
Annie McCormick,

I called Herb Leonard of Metro today at 12 noon. He called me back at 3 p.m., saying that, yes, the bus shelter in question is supposed to be maintained by the District. He said that he would call them to report it so that I would not have to. That's the end of the story. I'll let you know IF it ever gets fixed.


Trash Cans Courtesy of the DC Government
Joan Eisenstodt

Interesting — the delivery was this weekend with a note about how and why. But for those of us without storage, the can now must sit out all the time. The apartment building down the street got two cans — not nearly enough for the ten units in the building. More, for those who were already bagging the trash in heavy bags, the can doesn't make that much difference. For those who weren't, I can't imagine they'll buy heavy-duty bags and then put the trash in; rather, the trash is likely to go directly in the can, which is easily turned over! Good idea in theory; we'll see about execution.


Windshield Sticker Waltz
Rick Rosenthal,

Here's a good one — I have to replace my windshield, so what happens to my Zone 3 sticker and inspection sticker? Do I have to go through the dreaded DMV line again, or can I get a replacement? Got a sinking feeling it's the former.


Dangerous Pothole on Van Ness
Constance Z. Maravell,

It is on Van Ness as you drive from Nebraska to Wisconsin Avenue. It is almost in the center of the lane and it is hard to see.


Rat Patrol
Peter Luger, Mt. Pleasant,

The tenant who rents the basement apartment in my house reported that he was seeing rats in the backyard. He called the Rat Patrol and they said they'd be out within three days. He asked that they call him at work one hour before they arrived so he could meet them at the house. Two days later, they called him. When he showed up at the house, they were there waiting for him. We have been very careful about keeping our trash secure and our alleyway is pretty clean. The Rat Patrol suggested it was probably a pile of firewood that has been in the backyard for years.

They spread poison and plugged up some holes (with newspaper, to keep dogs and cats away from the poison). We think it may have worked, although we're not totally sure. However, we were greatly impressed by their response time and attention to detail.


Potomac River Cruises
David Sobelsohn,

Does anyone have information about Potomac River cruises? I'm especially interested in evening no-dinner cruises and cruises from lines other than Spirit of Washington & Dandy Cruises. Please reply directly to ; it's for friends coming to town this weekend. Thanks!

[And send a copy to themail; the rest of us may want to cruise down the Potomac sometime later this summer. — Gary Imhoff]



Tasting Society International June & July 1999 Calendar of Events
Charlie Adler,

1) June 23rd, Wednesday, “Last Tango in Argentina: Wine, Dinner & Romance!” 7-10 p.m., Wyndham Hotel, 1400 M St., NW. $55 in advance, tax and tip inclusive. Argentina is a country that sizzles! Join Argentine Embassy diplomats as we experience the carnal pleasures of this South American country. The Ambassador claims that not only is their beef an aphrodisiac, but so is their wine! We'll include a full buffet dinner with this wine tasting including imported Argentinian beef, Empanadas and other delicacies (Vegetarians are welcome!). There will be a wide selection of this country's fine wines served in an informal format. Last, but not least, a tango demonstration and lesson will be included with a live band, so bring your dancing shoes. 2) June 30th, Wednesday, “French Wines For Summer with Ann Berta, Wine Columnist for Washingtonian Magazine,” 7-9 p.m., Radisson Barcelo Hotel, 2121 P St., NW, $40. France produces such a wide variety of fantastic wines that it's very difficult for the consumer to choose quality producers. Join Ann Berta as she helps take the mystery out of French wines. We'll primarily taste wines that pair well with the lighter foods of summer. 3) July 21st, Wednesday, “ZAP's America's Heritage Wine Tasting,” 6-8 p.m., The Westin Grand Hotel, 2350 M St., NW, $40. (ZAP Members get $5 Discount.) Over 50 Zinfandel producers showcase America's greatest wine treasure. Over 100 Zinfandel wines are expected to be sampled. Special hors d’ oeuvres will be served. This tasting will focus on Zinfandels that may soon be available in the Washington, D.C. market. Call (530) 274-4900 for Reservations. 4) July 22nd, Thursday, “Wine 102: Tasting Like A Pro,” 7-9 p.m., Radisson Barcelo Hotel, 2121 P St., NW, $35. You understand the wine basics, but you want to impress your friends, business associates, or other acquaintances with your wine knowledge (this is great for that next job interview!). Our speaker will show you in under 2 hours how you can taste like the pros and impress anyone with your new found knowledge. 5) July 28th, Wednesday, “Mixology 101: How to Make Premium Cocktails,” 7-9 p.m., Radisson Barcelo Hotel, 2121 P St., NW, $35. Drink Better! Tired of the same old Rum and Coke? Well, our Bartender will demonstrate how to make each new specialty cocktail using the finest premium spirits available, and you get to taste each of them! We'll taste variations on old standards such as the Martini and Margarita, and a variety of Shooters. Light hors d'oeuvres included. Reservations, RSVP at (202)333-5588, email: , or



Room Wanted
R. Paul Warren,

Very neat, quiet, non-smoking male GWU student seeks furnished/unfurnished room for July and August. References available.


Room in Shared Student House
Phil Shapiro, Chevy Chase DC,

Room in shared student house. Available for July and August. Walk to Red Line subway stop. (Van Ness/UDC.) Separate phone line. $375/month.


Dave Nuttycombe,

From's LOOSE LIPS column, appearing this Friday:
IF YOU CAN'T MAKE IT THERE...In a recent sweep through upstate New York, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton found out just what the folks on the home turf of Martin Van Buren think of her Senatorial ambitions. “Carpetbagger go home!” and “Go back to your village” read the signs of the anti-Hillary homers in the state's rural heartland.
So LL has a better idea for Mrs. Clinton: Skip New York. If you want a post-White House career in public service, there's no better place to start than the troubled city outside the executive mansion's gates. After all, where else to showcase your pet issues — children and health care — than the District? Your adopted hometown, after all, ranks 51st in the nation in infant mortality, 51st in the nation in child poverty, and 51st in the nation in reduction of teen birth rates. Don't those numbers stir your Children's Defense Fund compassion?
Read the entire Loose Lips column this Friday at:

From's CITY LIGHTS page, here are a few early warnings for upcoming events:
Sunday, June 27: Caribbean Comedy Festival at 7 p.m., Howard University's Cramton Auditorium, 2645 6th St. NW. $25.
Monday, June 28: James Burke discusses his new book The Knowledge Web at 8 p.m. at the National Museum of Natural History's Baird Auditorium, 10th & Constitution Ave. NW. $15.
More details and more critics' picks are available online at


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