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December 9, 1999

Christmas Traditions

Dear Carolers:

The windows of the empty Woodies building downtown have been decorated with Christmas scenes as a way of pretending that there still is a shopping district in downtown DC. Remember Christmas shopping in past decades in DC, when you could walk from Hechts on 7th Street to Lansburgh's to Woodward and Lothrop and down to Garfinkels on 14th Street? That was when downtown shopping offered a variety and quality that no mall could begin to match, and when people still went downtown for something other than visiting a lawyer's office. Wouldn't it be wonderful if any of the various “economic development” schemes being offered to revitalize downtown held any promise of bringing back the excitement holiday shopping on F Street once had?

Does anyone have favorite memories of Christmas in Washington to share with the group? Let's get in the holiday mood.

Gary Imhoff


Four Deputy Mayors: The Pyramid Gets Taller
Ed T. Barron,

Another insulating layer of bureaucracy has been added by the mayor to the already top heavy “management” structure of the city. This will cost us only about $700K per year in salaries and bennies. It's like adding more overseers on a plantation. These overseers won't produce a single product and they likely won't make things any better for us or for those who really do make things happen, those on the front line. Instead of making the bureaucratic pyramid higher, Mr. Mayor, you should be striving for a flatter and more responsive team based, empowered, organization with full accountability at every level. Adding more people on the top just insulates and distances you from what is really happening and makes the chain of command even longer. A shout from the top, cheering those who make things happen, will never be heard on the front lines. Sure would be nice earning one of those big salaries just watching others work and telling them to move faster.


Street Cops
Bryce Suderow,

On Tuesday, Nov. 30th, the Judiciary Committee held hearings on David Catania's proposed bill that will require Chief Ramsey to deploy 2/3 of his officers on the streets. Chief Ramsey testified about the effect the bill will have on the police department and later citizens testified as well. Chief Ramsey was very upset with the Committee's proposed bill and made his feelings known. He grumbled, “The type of micromanagement proposed by this legislation threatens to undermine the record of reform that we have begun to put in place.” He told the Committee, “No other major city police chief in America operates under this type of legislative edict.” David Catania and Sharon Ambrose were unmoved. Catania answered the Chief's criticism by stating, “I think this is the stick we need to encourage the police to do their jobs. Schools and safety are the two things people point to as most important to them. Much of the flight from the city concerns public safety fears. If we are going to lure people to return, we have to convince them this city is not only safe but safer than where they're coming from.”

Six citizens testified at the end of the hearing. They were Sam Bost from Ward 7, Roland Chavez of PSA 510, Bryce Suderow of PSA 510, Carl Rowan Jr., of Georgetown, Nancy Fiedler of Dupont Circle, and Jim Lively from the 2nd Police District. All of them told the Committee that Catania's bill was essential to putting cops in the neighborhoods. The Chief would not post the officers of his own free will.

In his testimony, Roland Chavez recounted how Ramsey had met with him and other citizens and had promised to take officers from behind desks and put them on the street and also guaranteed he would close open air drug markets. “To our sheer horror we now see that the opposite is happening in our PSA,” Chavez said. He told the group that Ramsey's promotions last February had reduced the officers in the PSA from 17 officers to 13 officers. Chavez explained, “This means that on average we have only three officers per shift. . . . This means that an officer must take into consideration when he is seeing a law being broken whether it is worth being taken off the street and leaving the neighborhood short or being covered by the neighboring PSA (which are also short staffed). This effectively means that our zero tolerance for crime in our PSA is over." The long honeymoon with Chief Ramsey also appears to be over.


Freedom of Speech Regarding Charter Schools
Peter Luger,

Although I have no children and never will, the story about not being allowed to discuss charter schools on public school property pissed me off (I apologize if that's considered inappropriate language). I immediately went to the DC Public Schools web site. I found that: there is no way to contact anyone via E-mail; if you look on the policies page, there is no mention of the “gag order”; and if you choose the link to solve a problem, the problem solving page is not found.

This policy reminds me of when unions were forbidden from organizing. I've been against the idea of vouchers for some time. However, I am compelled to change my mind with the fantasy that within about two weeks, there will be five students left in DC Public schools and then Arlene Ackerman and all the other brain surgeons can go find another job. The woman should be fired, pay her off the whatever astronomical figure she's probably been promised for doing a bad job and move on already. And, Mayor Williams and Councilman Chavous, don't bother setting up a commission or reviewing everything ... call her office, ask if this policy is true and tell her to change it by midnight tonight. It ain't that hard, folks. (I know I'm being simplistic, but I feel much better now.)


Charter Schools
Nancy Henderson,

Ackerman is furious about the charter school movement, I've heard. Charters get about the same funding per pupil as regular DC schools, but they don't bring in funds for the central bureaucracy. So for Ackerman, it drains resources and seems like a slap in the face. Recently she announced that Paul Middle School, which is trying to convert to charter, will lose its building — DCPS is converting it to a technology center, so the charter would have find its own building.

If Ackerman thought about the long-term, wouldn't she support the charters? She spends most of her time putting out incredible fires and dealing with politics that perhaps prevent her from putting children first and ruling with insight. Charters that succeed will do so in spite of the DCPS leadership.


Journalistic Malpractice at the Post
Philip Blair, Jr.,

On November 29, the D.C. Council held a hearing on proposals to “reform” the Board of Education. Today's assignment in Journalism 101: compare and contrast these headlines and leads:

The Washington Post (30 November): “Smaller Board Gains Support. An aide to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said yesterday that the 11-member Board of Education should be reduced to seven or fewer members, a recommendation offered at a sometimes rancorous D.C. Council hearing on proposals to shrink the panel and change how its representatives are selected.” The Common Denominator (6 December -- it's a weekly): “Council Urged to Slow School Board Changes. Mayor Anthony A. Williams' chief policy advisor and numerous education activists are urging the D.C. City Council to slow its fast-track efforts to change the city's school governance structure.” The Washington Times (30 November): No coverage.

If you read only the Post you would not know that the two premier parent groups in the city — the DC Congress of PTAs and Parents United — both oppose Chavous' and Patterson's legislation. (Both stands were noted by the Common Denominator.) You wouldn't know that the Mayor — burned badly in his proposals to move UDC and Ellington High — is being very cautious on Board of Education “reform.” You would not know that Council member Catania is backing off from his initial support of Chavous' bill. The Denominator noted both situations. You would think that Barbara Lett Simmons supports all of Chavous' legislation when, according to my recollection, and I was there, her enthusiasm was for the the city-wide election of the President of the elected Board, an idea for which Chavous gives credit to the current members of the Board of Education. You would think that the Big Deal was a typo in the testimony of a Board of Education member when he lost the first “l” in “public school” — titter, titter.

I give the Common Denominator an A- and the Post an F. I mark the Times truant.


Maybe It Is Something in the Water
Larry Seftor,

Although I've never had a close encounter with one of the new Metro buses, I'm not surprised that there are problems. My basis for this observation is that I intermittently rode the Red line to Dupont Circle several years ago. This was during the time when the South escalators at Dupont Circle were replaced. Metro has always had trouble with escalators, supposedly since they are exposed to the elements. However, given 20 some years of escalator experience, I expected these new escalators to be specified, purchased, and installed to provide a new level of escalator reliability. Unfortunately, they started failing soon after installation. I assume that the same Metro acquisition process used for these escalators was used for the new buses. Pulling back a little from these sad details, I'm struck by how our D.C. Government and our non-D.C. Metro management seem able to spend so much money with such poor results. I've lived elsewhere and, while stupid problems pop up, it is simply not this consistently bad. All I can assume is that it is either something in the water or, with a tip of the hat to Ed Barron, we are seeing the performance of graduates from poor schools.


In the Suits Case
Lea Adams,

How come Jon Desenberg, who says he was in the courtroom on April 19, 1999, doesn't recall that there were two cases heard that day. The suit brought by Covington Burling is not a citizen action case and will not result in full, equal, and effective citizenship rights for District of Columbia residents. Only the Adams v. Clinton case — filed nearly three months prior to the case Jon referenced; crafted by a single, activist attorney (George LaRoche) on behalf of twenty genuinely involved, activist citizens — will do that, because it is the first and only lawsuit to ask for equality for DC residents. The second suit, to which Jon refers as “the case,” is worthy of our interest, but would provide in effect only a version of Home Rule with an enhanced status for our Congressional representative(s). Please visit the web site for our landmark civil rights suit at to get the facts.

For those of us who are passionate about full enfranchisement and rights equal to those enjoyed by all other US citizens, the continued misrepresentation and/or confusion about the two suits — whether by intent or honest ignorance of the real deal — is as frustrating as our wait for the decision of the three-judge panel of the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Our plaintiffs are prepared to go on to the Supreme Court with our cause, which has much less to do with politics than with equal justice, and will offer the only permanent, legal solution to our plight. We need your support, Jon -- moral (yes, in the real sense of the word), financial, and grassroots! We need and deserve the attention and support of any and everyone who cares about real, substantive democracy in the nation's capital! It is crucial that we get it right, because, (with apologies to the major daily that has yet to do so) “If you don't get it, WE don't get it!” As in, “We, the People....”

Kathy Carroll's point about postal identity is well taken, but her facts are a bit askew. The Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of Maryland contributed the land originally used to create the District. When President Abraham Lincoln, in the very first bill he signed, outlawed slavery in the District, Virginia rapidly (I think it took two days in Congress) took back its portion, so the booming trade in African people out of the port of Alexandria could continue, unabated by any moral considerations. Had the Virginia retrocession not taken place, the heinous inhumanity some of us call the American Holocaust might have gone out of business during the first half of the 19th century. It may also interest you to know that it was the influx of Free Persons of Color into the safe haven of the District — not the ineptitude of Boss Shepherd — which caused Congress to take away the rights of residents of the District to elect both national and local government representatives. If the civil rights lawsuit of Adams v Clinton is decided in favor of the Plaintiffs, that 200-year-old injustice will be corrected.


Arlington, Formerly DC
John Whiteside,

Kathy Carroll is right that Arlington and Alexandria used to be part of DC, but I think she may be off on the history of Arlington's name. Arlington Heights still exists; it's a neighborhood in Arlington. When Arlington was retroceded back to Virginia, it was Alexandria County. At some point, Alexandria City tried to annex it, over the objections of residents of Alexandria County. The whole thing eventually wound up in court; the City lost and Alexandria County became Arlington County, as it's known today. But it was indeed SW DC at one point.


Larry Seftor,

Pepco in their radio ads promote a new phone number that one calls during a power outage. The automated system uses caller-id to figure out where you are and take note of your call and your power problem. I may be simple, but I don't understand why power lines, which run through the trees, fail, and phone lines, which run through the trees, stay up. The phone lines are so reliable, in fact, that Pepco relies on them for this notification system. (Cell phones don't provide the location information needed, so Pepco isn't relying on them.) Answers anyone?


AAA, DC, Skyscrapers, 911, DCPL
David Sobelsohn,

Kathy Carroll writes: “The Pentagon and National Airport are within the District of Columbia.” Not according to the AAA maps, which place the border at the VA shoreline, perhaps yet another reason not to belong to AAA. Gosh, if they can't even get the maps right. Phil Greene writes: “isn't [the ease of finding the Washington Monument] the whole point of the 'no skyscrapers' law?” Actually, the “no skyscrapers” law resulted from erection of the Cairo. The neighbors thought that was about as high as a (DC) building oughta grow, so they got a law passed to prevent the construction of any building taller than the Cairo. On calling 911, my 2 cents: I've tried twice on my own behalf (from SW) in recent years. Both times they've responded within 5 or 10 minutes.

Thanks to Roxanna Deane, Diane Mohr, and everyone else who helped with interlibrary loan through the DCPL. Ironically, the book that prompted my original posting, the book that my branch twice insisted they couldn't get for me, turned out to be on the shelf, in the collection, at MLK all along. Once folks like Roxanne and Diane got on the case, MLK sent the book to my branch in less than a day, demonstrating yet again the value of a posting in themail.


DCPS Catalogue Online
Roxanna Deane,

On December 29, 1999 we expect the D. C. Public Library catalog to be available for searching on the Internet. There will be a link to the catalog from the library's home page, As this note is being typed the library is installing a new integrated online library system. In an effort to show appreciation to library users while the we convert to the new SIRSI system, all fines and fees are being waived for materials returned by Saturday, January 15, 2000.


What’s the Story on Virginia Tags?
Kathy Chamberlain, Hillcrest,

At a recent police/community meeting, our police noted that there is an increase in the number of cars with Virginia tags parked in our neighborhood and probably throughout the city. They said this is because DC residents can go to Virginia and get their tags. There's no requirement that they live in Virginia; a DC address will do. Does anyone know if this is true? If so, it's obviously lost revenue to DC. What's the advantage? Is it cheaper to register in Virginia? Is it a way to get cheaper insurance?


Hamburger Helper Tips Needed
Phil Shapiro,

With the penalty phase of Microsoft's lawsuit rapidly approaching, Bill Gates has put out a general call for “hamburger helper” tips to help him better extend the value of his money. (Approximately $108 billion. If you have dollar stretching tips that could help Bill Gates, do please share them with the rest of us here in themail.

I'd suggest the following tips: 1. Use disposable razors more than once. 2. Buy bananas when they're sold in the discounted paper bags. 3. When parking your car, drive around the block a few times to find the lowest price parking garage. (See the fascinating biography, Hard Drive, by James Wallace, to learn why Bill Gates already follows the third tip. Available in paperback from for $12. — Tip number 4.)


WASA and Catch Basin Cleanings
Libby Lawson, WASA Public Affairs Director,

The District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority has the responsibility for cleaning the city's 25,000 catch basins. We know that a number of customers and residents get annoyed when it appears WASA's response time is lagging. Last fiscal year (FY99), WASA cleaned approximately 18,000 catch basins — the most catch basins cleaned in many years. This year our goal is to clean virtually all 25,000 catch basins during a 12-month cycle, as opposed to an 18-month cycle — the cycle time for the past several years. This fiscal year has an allocation of approximately $2 million for catch basin operations and maintenance. We also have realigned crews and ordered additional equipment to ensure our stepped-up cleanings.

Our citizens, too, can assist in this regard. Unfortunately, very often people and businesses think of catch basins as large public trash cans and throw all types of imaginable items in them. Leaves also contribute to the clogging of catch basins. All of this debris ends up either in the river (if thrown into a storm drain) or the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant (if in a combined storm/sanitary sewer). If you see anyone throwing trash down a catch basin, please report it and, if practicable, ask them to refrain from this activity.

Incidentally, a number of comparable cities do not perform catch basin cleaning on an annual basis. In fact, some cities only clean them every 3-6 years. In some of our neighborhoods, it may seem this is the case for us. However, WASA performs a complete cleaning cycle every 18 months. This will now change to every 12 months. There were a number of critical concerns that existed when WASA was created three years ago. All issues have not been completely resolved but there is a capital improvement plan in place — not the case in early 1996 — and WASA's financial position is much improved. Our customers should also know that WASA is collecting old delinquent accounts from property owners. This activity had been neglected for many years. For more information about WASA or, if we can make a presentation at a community meeting, please call WASA's Public Affairs Office at 787-2200 (new number). Also, for emergencies call 612-3400 24 hours a day. Customers with billing inquiries can call the Water Bill Action Line at 354-3600.


Clean City Summit
Anne Drissel,

This week's issue of themail contained an invitation to the Clean City Summit posted by Vincent Spaulding, For those who don't know him, I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Clean City himself. Vince Spaulding was one of the early participants in the Draft Tony Williams Campaign. But he and his wife had already made plans to move out of the city before the campaign got underway. Although they had sold their house and already moved out of town, Vince came back home to DC to keep helping the campaign. He stayed on after the election and worked as a team leader on the Transition Planning Team under Marie Drissel addressing the DPW, Police, Fire and Emergency Departments. And then he convinced Mayor Williams that this city needed somebody to facilitate the efforts of the multitude of city departments with some aspect of responsibility for the cleanliness and order of the city. So the Mayor appointed Vince Spaulding to that job. We can thank Vince for his quiet, enthusiastic, effective leadership in cleaning up neighborhoods throughout the city and supporting groups like the recent Mt. Pleasant street-and-alley clean-up efforts. Here's a round of applause for Vince Spaulding — an exemplary Good Citizen-Good Bureaucrat-Good Neighbor! Thanks, Vince for coming back home and staying to help out!


Watch Where You Park
Ed T. Barron,

On Monday: There's been no sign of “Linda L.,” the leaf swallowing truck, up here in AU Park/Spring Valley and the leaves are still lying in piles along the curb. This creates a potentially hazardous situation for those who might be parking along the curbs. The catalytic converters on new cars (even those that are shielded) get mighty hot and can set the leaves that you park in on fire. In a short time a roaring blaze of that leaf pile could consume your car. The only leaf clean up that I have seen up here was four guys shoveling leaves into a small pick up truck. Perhaps they were cleaning up some debris that was clogging a storm drain sewer entrance.

On Wednesday: Linda L., the leaf sucker-upper, appeared on Massachusetts Avenue (a first) just a few minutes ago and is now headed into AU Park. The caution about parking over a pile of leaves still stands.


AAA Stories Surprise
Kerry Jo Richards,

I must say that I was surprised to hear stories of bad AAA service! I've been a member my entire driving life (ok, that's only 10 years) and have had only excellent experiences! Just a few weeks ago I accidentally locked my keys in my car — don't ask — and a locksmith showed up within an hour, did a little magic, and minutes later I was driving. I even got a call on my cell phone 15 minutes before he showed up to let me know he was coming. They've towed me and they've given me directions for long trips. I've found that without fail my membership pays for itself every year whether it be through trip tics or tows. Once they even got a tow to my car during my lunch hour so that I was only about 15 minutes late. Hopefully I won't experience any of the problems that others have had, but right now I would highly recommend AAA.



Lessons and Carols Service
Bob Andrew,

Are you a closet Anglican? Well, clear out the cobwebs on Sunday December 12th, 10:30 am at Grace Episcopal Church, 1041 Wisconsin Avenue (between C&O Canal and Whitehurst Freeway). Enjoy the traditional alternating cadences of readings and music, plus hear the choral rendition of Bach's Cantata 142 “Unto Us a Child is Born.” Bring a friend and revel in the rich full sound of the classic mechanical stop and keyboard action of our A. David Moore pipe organ. Call 333-7100 between 10 am and 2 pm with questions.


Christmas Tree Sale
Leila Afzal,

Ho, ho, ho, our second weekend selling Christmas Trees is coming up fast. Please consider buying your tree, wreath, and roping from the John Eaton Elementary School. (We raise money to pay for co-teachers to lower the student/teacher ratio in our classrooms.) Our school is located at 34th and Lowell Streets, NW. The sale is Saturday and Sunday from 10-4. See you there!


The ABC’s of Buying a Home with Government Assistance
Pamela Johnson,

On Thursday, December 16, 1999, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 pm, the Mt. Pleasant Library will host a free home buyers' seminar to assist DC residents with accessing monies set aside to help them become homeowners. The seminar, 10 Homebuying Secrets Everyone Ought to Know. is sponsored by HomeFree USA, a non-profit, HUD approved, homeownership organization. Do you know that you can earn as little as $14,000 and as much as $92,200 a year (based on household size) and qualify for up to $20,000 in government assistance? In addition, there is a $5,000 tax credit, free home inspections, 50% Discount on HUD homes for police officers and teachers, and much more. All D.C. residents are encouraged to attend. Please call 1-800-BUY-IN-DC for more information and to RSVP.



Short Term Housing/Housesitting Opportunity Needed
Judie Guy,

Some friends (a middle aged married couple with no children) will need to move from their District condo for about 3 months January through March, while major renovations are done. They are looking for an apartment or house they could rent or house-sit during that time, preferably in NW DC (they now live off Connecticut Avenue).



Information Technology Instructors
Jerry LeNoir,

I am currently in search of qualified teachers to teach classes in the following IT subject areas — MCSE, General Networking, UNIX, C, C++, PC Hardware Trouble-Shooting. If you'd like to teach in a great facillity with strong support, contact me via e-mail.



Looking for a Masonry Contractor
Don Squires

Can anyone recommend a good masonry contractor? We need to rebuild a brick retaining wall. Also, does anyone have any experience with retaining walls constructed with pressure treated wood timbers?


Spam Prevention
David Sobelsohn,

The amount of spam I get seems on the increase. My ISP suggests “trying to figure out what service the message came from and send an E-mail to, where is the name of the service, asking them to do something about it.” Do folks think following this suggestion worth the time? Any other ideas? Any legislation pending, or is any legislation even possible or useful on this? I'm thinking, for example, of a law that would require each commercial message to provide a real E-mail address for “no spam” replies, and a law (like the telemarketing law) giving us the option to place an address on a “do not spam” list. Any First Amendment implications here?


Dave Nuttycombe,

From's LOOSE LIPS column, appearing this Friday:
DEMOCRACY FIRST! OR SECOND: About the only action item left for D.C.'s elected school board is which member will deliver its eulogy. Born by act of Congress in 1967, temporarily suspended by the control board in 1996, the city's oldest elected body — in its original form, at least — died this fall, even as the city officially debated its future. Just months before the board is to regain its powers, everyone has an opinion on the future of educational governance. It's just that none of those opinions favor the board as we know it.
Read the entire Loose Lips column here:

From's CITY LIGHTS page, here are a few early warnings for upcoming events:
SATURDAY: “Working and Playing with Robots” from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the National Museum of American History's Information Age Theater, 14th and Constitution Avenue NW. Free.
THURSDAY: Galapagos: The Enchanted Voyage, a 3-D IMAX film, at 6:30 p.m. at the National Museum of Natural History's Johnson IMAX Theater, 10th and Constitution Avenue NW. $15.
More details and more critics' picks are available online at


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