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December 12, 1999

Kate Boo for Mayor

Dear Constituents:

Below, David Reed nominates Katherine Boo for Mayor. One thing is sure. If Katherine Boo were Washington's Mayor, Jearline Williams would not still be the Director of the Department of Human Services. Somebody would have been held responsible and accountable for the scandal of “community based” housing for the mentally retarded, and for the government's failure of oversight and supervision. I'll bet that she wouldn't have given a free pass to the Department of Motor Vehicles for giving a driving permit to the trucker with a long history of reckless driving who flipped his rig and killed an honor student on Military Road, and wouldn't have supported DMV Director Sherryl Hobbs Newman's irresponsible excuses for the process and workers who granted that permit. I'd be willing to bet that we wouldn't have just empty Mayoral rhetoric about responsibility and accountability, but Mayoral actions that redeemed those promises. Maybe David is on to something. I wonder if she's willing to run.

Gary Imhoff


Katherine Boo for Mayor
David S. Reed,

The Mayor should be the person who tell us the truth, holds government to proper standards, and makes improvements happen.

[Katherine Boo wrote the recent Washington Post article about the mentally retarded people who died in residential care facilities, as well as several other exposes in the past. — Gary Imhoff]


Chief Ramsey’s Honeymoon
John Olinger,

Thanks to Bryce Suderow for reporting on the Council's hearing on the police and Chief Ramsey's complaint about micromanagement. When it comes to the Metropolitan Police, if it weren't for micromanagement there'd be no management at all. There certainly hasn't been any reform. In reading his statements about improved crime statistics, they don't square with experience. Since Chief Ramsey came along the woman on our block who works out of her house as a prostitute (I recall with some amusement the discussion in themail about people who have home offices/businesses) has branched out and now also does a side business in the flourishing crack trade that continues in front of the convenience store and its next door neighbor, the liquor store. We have a new, flashier crack lord who, in his satin Yankee jacket, is visible to all but the police. The traffic snarl in front of the two stores continues and every evening we see police cars weave their way through the knot of illegally parked and double-parked cars. The only time we ever see a police officer get out of the car is to patronize the stores.

Calls to Assistant Chief McManus and Lieutenant Gottlieb bring assurances that things are better, that “we are doing things we can't tell you about.” (Did they work in the Nixon campaign drafting the secret plan to end the war?). We've been fed the line about secret investigations for so long, it's pathetic. Nothing changes. It just gets worse. Every time we get a really good police officer (and there have been several and they have achieved results), he or she either gets transferred or promoted. There are lots of monthly meetings in which lots of new statistics are unveiled (my favorite was the meeting where a newly assigned Captain got up and started to read statistics for the wrong neighborhood; when this was pointed out, he replied that these were the statistics he was given and he continued to read them). Residents are urged to do a better job policing their own neighborhoods. And of course, about every six months we get a new structure with a new PSA officer who promises that things will be different. Sadly, they never are. I've lived on this block for fourteen years and in the last ten years have heard so many reports of improvement that I think I am living in paradise; then I open my eyes and look around and see that it's just a paradise for crack dealers, suburban crack buyers, and prostitutes. I am glad that Councilmember Ambrose continues to try to get the police chief to put more police officers on the street. That's where they belong.


Ackerman’s Gag Order
Roy Goertner,

In watching the brouhaha over Arlene Ackerman's crude attempt to stifle charter schools in the District, I was reminded that when Julius Becton attempted to close schools in 1996 in the face of strong community opposition, parents at those schools threatened with closing were told the same thing: that discussion of school closings was not permitted on school property. My children attended Woodridge Elementary School at the time, which was closed, and I recall that we rebellious parents went ahead and met and discussed anyway. This is an old DCPS tactic. It is also interesting to note that Ackerman's attempt to deprive Paul Junior High of their building as they attempt to go charter has resulted in emergency legislation introduced to the City Council by Charlene Jarvis to prevent that happening. It seems that the council intended for conversion schools to have first dibs on the school building they occupy, and that what Ackerman is attempting to do goes against the spirit of the original legislation, and, if the new legislation is passed, will simply be illegal. Paul Junior High would have a very hard time converting to charter status if they didn't have an adequate facility, and DCPS has been notoriously slow to let any charter schools make use of unused DCPS property. These issues show very dramatically how poorly Ackerman solves problems, especially when faced with any degree of community opposition. She does little or nothing to actually solve the problem, which in this case would be making public schools good enough to withstand competition from charters, and resorts to underhanded and divisive tactics to get her way. It is time for Ackerman to go.


Stiffing Special Education Students
Dorothy Brizill,

There is a new development in DC Public School's campaign to lower the cost of special education by denying it to students. DCPS has informed parents of special education students that they must provide proof of DC residence by December 15, 1999, and last week it told the private schools in which special ed students are enrolled that their payments will be cut off immediately for any students if proof of residence has not been provided by that date. This may catch some students whose parents or guardians really live in Maryland and Virginia, but it is likely to punish many more students whose parents simply ignore, are unable to deal with, or are unable to read the letter sent out by DCPS. No arrangements have been made to appeal these cut-offs on a case-by-case basis or to challenge the termination of funding, except for requesting a hearing from the Student Hearing Office, which has a backlog of several months. When students' funding is cut off, the private schools in which they are placed will either have to carry them for several months without payment, in the hope of eventual back payments, or they will have to dismiss them.


“On Sale” Means “Not in Stock”
David Sobelsohn,

In several years of grocery shopping in DC, I've learned to predict which items will be out of stock at my local Safeway: I just check Safeway's latest advertising circular. If an item's “on sale,” it's likely not in stock, and won't be until after the sale ends. If Safeway promotes an item as on sale but never has the item in stock during the sale, doesn't that border on consumer fraud? (I seem to recall the phrase “bait and switch.”) Safeway offers “rain checks” for sale items, but many Safeway store managers. including Greg Davis of the notorious “Soviet Safeway” on 17th Street, NW, refuse to issue a rain check until the very last day of the sale, a policy calculated to make the sale moot for most customers. Any suggestions on a way to address this problem? Does DC have a working department of consumer affairs these days? Any lawyer out there want a class action?


Pepco and Tree Topping
Leila Afzal,

Recently, there have been a lot of articles in the Washington Post about how the City of Trees is no longer. But Mayor Williams and Co. are going to change this and begin a replanting and tree maintenance resurgence. All this is well and good, but if Pepco is allowed to continue to butcher the tops and sides of trees to prevent interference with electric lines, our trees will continue to die or blow over in high winds. (This situation was addressed in a letter to the editor in the Washington Post.) Can we encourage legislation that requires Pepco to prune trees with more care and thought to preserve the health and aesthetics of the trees while protecting power lines? Is there a better approach to saving our trees from these crew cuts (sorry about the pun) and preserve our electric wires?


Memories of Christmas Downtown
Stephanie Faul,

I remember the Woodies windows quite well. The new installations seem very like what I remember from childhood; I got the urge to go into the store and shop, and felt sad when I realized I couldn't. (I looked around for Flora Moulton and her guitar, too.) I miss the old downtown terribly. It felt exciting to come down to F Street, to see all the different shops and people, with the wonderful mix of old buildings and little stores. Now it's bland dull buildings. The only thing you can buy is a lunch, and even the sandwich places close at 4:30. By the way, are they EVER going to finish the old Garfinckel's building? That's the store I miss most.


Christmas Downtown
John Whiteside,

It's sad that DC no longer has downtown shopping. I work in Tyson's Corner, and see a lot of cars with DC tags pulling into the malls there. Which is even sadder. I (a Virginian!) won't shop at Tysons because it's such a blight on the world, and I would hope DC residents would support in-town businesses. I've gotten some great Christmas gifts at Eastern Market, Kramerbooks, and in shops in Takoma Park, Cleveland Park, and Dupont Circle. Or how about Millennium on U Street?

Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors. Not only can you buy neat stuff in the city, you can do it without getting run over by an SUV in a mall parking lot. When you're done you can stop for coffee at somewhere that's not a Starbucks. I fill in the gaps with online shopping. And I don't set foot in a mall between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Makes for much happier holidays.


Christmas Memories
Becky Grimm,

This little story may not get anyone in the holiday spirit, but it's full of memories. After graduating from a Montana high school in 1977, I came to DC to work on Capitol Hill. After three weeks of working in a Senator's office, I knew politics wasn't for me, so I quit my internship and went to work at Hermes World of Sporting Goods in downtown DC. Not only was I with the type of people I really enjoyed, but my free time during the week was spent wandering around downtown DC, and during the weekends, hiking and rock climbing in the surrounding areas. I have many good memories from that first year in DC, and some of my most vivid are my memories of the Christmas season; the decorations, Woodies, snow!, the street vendors, card sharks, etc. To a seventeen year old “country” girl, it was fascinating, definitely “Winter Wonderland.”

Fast forward 20 years when I once again found myself in Washington, DC. I could hardly wait to get downtown as see my old place of employment, the yogurt shop I used to frequent regularly, the book stores, pizza parlors, and all the other old hangouts. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered none of them existed any longer. I couldn't believe it, and I still consider it a tragedy. DC just isn't the same without its vibrant downtown area of the past. I now find myself going to the malls when I have to, but for the most part try to shop little out of the way places and strip malls in the hope that they will not go the way of downtown DC. Let's hope downtown is revitalized so future generations can enjoy it the way my generation did.


Mythological History
Art Spitzer,

Lea Adams berates some readers for being confused about the confusing details of the two DC voting rights cases, but then goes on to tell a tall tale about the retrocession of Alexandria ("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") that has no relation to fact. The Act of Congress retroceding Alexandria was enacted on July 9, 1846, and can be found at 9 Stat. 35. James K. Polk was President at that time. He was succeeded by Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan before Abraham Lincoln become President in March, 1861, nearly 15 years later.


The Two DC Rights Lawsuits
Jon Desenberg,

Yes, in response to Ms. Adams, I do remember that there were two separate DC rights cases argued in Federal Court back in April. I support both of them, but have to say that the premise of the Adams case got hammered by the judges. Meanwhile Judge McFerrin and the Alexander v. Daley argument sailed through oral arguments without a problem, and the Justice Department got grilled. Most people left court that day thinking it was the Adams, not the Alexander, case that was in trouble.


Dumb and Dumber
Ed T. Barron,

The folks who run the Metro System are getting dumb and dumber. They have determined that the increased number of New Year's Eve revelers will be more than double the normal 350 thousand who travel home after midnight that night. Since the Feds won't pick up the tab to pay for the increased service required, the geniuses running the Metro have decided to require all passengers to pay for entry onto the Metro System. In the past this night has been free, which is not only a great good will gesture, but is imminently safer and far less chaotic at the downtown Metro stations.

That's dumb enough, but the even dumber decision is to save some money by not starting the Metro running until 8 AM instead of at 5:30 AM on Friday the 31st of December. How are those folks who are flying out of National going to catch their early morning flights that day? How are those who get early trains out of Union Station going to get there? How are all those folks who go to work that day by Metro going to get there on time? Do the Metro folks think that everyone will know that the system is starting two and a half hours later on Friday. Wake up and smell the flowers you geniuses at Metro.


Wee Hours Fix It
Paul Williams,

Last night (Thursday, 12/9), I woke up as a very sound sleeper to the sound of hammers on metal. I thought for sure some fool was breaking in a security gate, but then I saw the flashing yellow lights. And there at 3:45 am was a repair truck whacking off a long-ago damaged traffic light affixed to a pole not 30 feet from my bedroom windows on Vermont Avenue and 11th Street, north of Logan. It's great to get it fixed at long last (busted green lens, flattened sun shades), but geez, Louise, must they fix it at 3:45 to 4:20 am? I was afraid if I went out to offer them coffee I might throw it in their faces.


Rare Good Bell Atlantic Service
Deborah C. Fort,

Having been the irritated recipient of so much expensive bad service from Bell Atlantic that I tried to substitute another company, I finally got excellent, generous treatment from Joe Harris at 703 712 2267. I neglected, however, to inquire about phone books; I have also had bad luck with them. Does anyone know where and how to recycle them?


It’s OK to Desert Your Post
Brian Reeves,

Reading the Washington Post every day is like being in a bad relationship/marriage. You don't realize just how bad it is until split up and meet someone else. There's been a lot of griping about the Washington Post in the past few issues of themail. I agree with you 100%, but I have a suggestion. Read another paper! I gave up reading the Post 4 months ago. I couldn't bring myself to read the Washington Times. So I started reading the Wall Street Journal. And I have to tell you, besides not getting a paper on Saturday and Sunday, I don't miss the Post one bit! It's little bit more expensive. But it gets delivered by 7 am, and it's infinitely better. The titles above each article actually describe what the articles are about (imagine that!). The first paragraph of every article describes in further detail what the article is about. The first sentence of every paragraph tells you what the paragraph is about. These are pretty basic principles I learned in high school about how to write an article/story. I don't know where the Post reporters learned to write.

The only way the Washington Post will ever change (hopefully for the better) is when they see their readership going down. We deserve better. Boycott the Post if you don't like it. And if you have the time, write them and tell them why you canceled your subscription. Come on people, they're not going to change by magic!


Virginia Tags
John Whiteside,

Kathy Chamberlain wonders about getting Virginia tags when you live in DC, and why people would do it. I have VA tags (I live here!) but have had DC tags in recent history (I lived there!) so I can offer a comparison. Insurance can be way cheaper, but it depends. However, getting Virginia tags means you must also pay Virginia personal property tax. For a new vehicle, you probably save big on insurance and pay big on the tax. When I moved here, with a 1.5 year old vehicle, my insurance bill dropped from $1400 to $450, but I had to pay up about $400 in tax. Still a savings, but not a big one and besides — it's illegal! For an old vehicle the insurance savings are probably negligible. And while DC is losing the vehicle registration revenue, it's also losing the costs. The real impact would be on insurers
whose customers are lying to them to lower their bills.

Because of the tax implication, Virginia localities usually advertise a number you can call to report people who appear to be your neighbors but don't have VA tags. (You're supposed to get them within 30 days of moving to the state.) I noticed some neighbors (4 single people with 4 vehicles and only one with VA tags suddenly ALL had VA tags and Arlington tax stickers the same week. I didn't blow the whistle but suspect someone did. Does DC have anything like that?


Praise for Spaulding
James E. Taylor Jr.,

I would like to second the motion of Ms. Drissel's description of Mr. Vince Spaulding, who, for those who don't know him, put a lot of hours into making the League of 8000 a formidable organization, along with people such as Mrs. Marilyn Groves, Mr. Paul Savage, and many other citizens in this city who were fed up with years of double talk. Vince Spaulding will be successful because he cared about this city's cleanliness before his current title and responsibility. His decision to move on was likely due to being tired of beating his head against the political barrier.

It is a heavy task that will, first, require him to overturn past years of apathy because of favoritism, nonresponsiveness, and maybe incompetence in dealing with a city population that was largely ignored in the process. I hope this mayor's initiative in adding layers and layers of bureaucracy will not give truth to the impression “that the more things are changed, the more they remain the same.” If you have one horse (objective) why place five riders on it to guide? At least these gallant warriors can confuse us by pointing blame, in a circle.


Pepco Calling
Paul Williams,

Larry Seftor wrote, “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.” Larry, I don't know about your phones, but all of mine plug into a power source, and hence would be useless during a power outage! Sounds like a great idea to those in the Pepco Boardroom, but out here in real life, the system won't work in my household. Reminds me of the time the news captured a burning house on my block that looked like mine, and when I got home from vacation, there were dozens of messages on my (burning?) machine from friends saying they just saw my house on TV. Ummmm ... were they hoping a fireman would answer?


Power Behind the Phone
Mark Eckenwiler,

Larry Seftor asks whether Pepco's new 877-PEPCO62 service — which automatically looks up your home address when you call from home and reports the status of power service in your area — makes any sense, given that phone lines, like power lines, run through tree branches. Surely the answer is yes, because 1) there are plenty of events other than downed trees that cause power outages (e.g., blown transformer), and 2) the new service is an improvement over the current system or recorded announcements, under which I don't quickly receive information relevant to my neighborhood.

Also, FYI, an 877 number should not use “caller ID” to determine the caller's number, since CLID can be blocked (and on many home lines, is blocked by request on all outgoing calls). If Pepco has any sense, what they're using is ANI (automatic number identification), a similar but distinct service that cannot be blocked by the caller.


Spam Tips
Jim Kingdon,

Complaining to the ISP where the spam came from is a good plan, but it does require learning to read the headers of the E-mail — spammers often forge much of the information. For an introduction, see Many states (including Virginia but not Maryland or DC) have laws which may let you sue, at least sometimes. See for details. Due to the global nature of the internet, laws will never be the complete solution, and so you might ask your ISP whether they have plans to implement any of the private blacklists or filters; some of the best regarded are at The one thing that is clear is that spam is inconsistent with email continuing to be useful (because there is no natural force limiting its volume), so don't fall for “just hit delete” or other pro-spam arguments.


Spam Prevention
John Dorsey,

SpamCop ( ) is a useful public service. You paste a copy of the offending E-mail along with all that cryptic header information into a window. SpamCop analyzes it and traces back to the E-mail's source. (This is very helpful inasmuch as many spammers forge return address and routing information and thereby make it seem as though the message is coming from somewhere other than it really is.) SpamCop then prepares a message addressed to the administrator of the ISP, which you can send with a mouse click. The foregoing is free; for a fee you can get slightly upgraded service. (I haven't subscribed so I can't comment on its value.) I pretty regularly run my incoming spam through SpamCop. To be honest I don't know how effective it is (I figure I get replies from ISP administrators about 15% of the time) but it is satisfying to be able to send something back.


Can Spam
Austin Kelly,

Many states, including VA (but, alas, not DC), have passed laws to limit spam in one way or another. None of them is broad enough to be effective. Rep. Chris Smith's Netizens Protection Act is the cleanest answer at the Federal level. It would explicitly extend the ban on junk faxes (47 USC 227) to E-mail. A court in Wisconsin just ruled that this law already applies to spam, but it might be overturned. Be warned that many supposedly anti-spam proposals are effectively pro-spam — spam has a surprisingly powerful lobby in this town. Numerous court decisions have held that free speech does not mean that you have to pay for speech that you don't want to hear, otherwise any one of us could simply demand that the Post run our rantings for free. And spam is precisely that — it's popular with marketers because the costs are shifted from the sender to the recipients. As the late spam fighter Jim Nitchal liked to say, “Speech isn't free when it comes postage due.”


Rob Pegoraro,

What you need to do is parse the headers of the junk E-mail and try to figure out who sells the spammers their Internet connection. Then yell at that company, not that it always works. A more effective tactic is prevention — keep your address from showing up in public places. For instance, if you post to newsgroups, enter a bogus return address in the settings of your newsgroup client. On that note, I see that the Web archives of themail include the address of every poster. That information should be deleted or camouflaged (see how I've listed my address above; fix the typo to send me a message).

[All submissions to themail have to be signed, simply because individual posters are taking responsibility for what they write. Signing also allows readers of themail to correspond with each other. For those who are concerned about spam, Rob's idea works if the alteration in the E-mail address can be easily spotted by humans but not by the automated spiders that are used to mine web sites and newsgroups for addresses. This is a continual race, as spammers work to make the spiders more intelligent and capable of correcting deceptively altered addresses. — Gary Imhoff]


Fictional D.C. ZIP Codes
Thomas C. Hall (

I hate to un-ZIP Kathy Carroll's belief that National Airport and the Pentagon are geographically in the District of Columbia. They are not. A recent Washington Business Journal (“Inner Loop” Nov. 26-Dec. 2) item gets to the bottom of this. An excerpt:

“Airports Authority lands in D.C.
“Everyone except tourists, taxi drivers and postal workers know that both of Washington's airports are actually in Virginia. Or are they?
“'National and Dulles both have a Washington, D.C., postal address,' said Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
Taking this fiction to new heights, the authority is announcing that it, too, is moving to Washington — at least on paper.
“After 10 years of leasing office space in Alexandria's Canal Plaza, the address of the authority's new headquarters is now '1 Aviation Circle, Washington, D.C. 20001.'
“But don't take a cab downtown: It's in the former Hangar 10, just north of the new terminal at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.”


Satellite TV
Ed T. Barron,

Switching from D.C. Cablevision to a satellite dish for TV was one of the better moves I made a few years ago. And now, the feds have approved the inclusion of local channels on the offerings of satellite signals. I have always been able to get very clear local channels 4, 7, and 9 (via a small wand antenna) to supplement my satellite signals, but channel 5 (Fox) has always been a poor signal. Now I'm getting 5 via the satellite and all the channels are clear. For those who have been held captive by the cable and get poor service and poor local channels, the satellite signal providers now can solve all your problems. Note: I sold my Hughes stock (DirecTV) two years ago.



Short-Term Housing Available, Jan-March
R.A. Bird Anderson,

One small bedroom in 3 bedroom apartment at 19th and Florida, NW, available for short-term lease. Living room, dining room, kitchen, porch, laundry in apartment, 3 bedrooms, 1 bath, to be shared with 2 working female professionals. Fully furnished room. $550/month (negotiable), includes utilities. Available January 1 through March 31. Possibility of extension but only if Bradley wins the nomination! If interested, please contact



Antiquities Sought
Randi Rubovits-Seitz,

Anybody got a KAYPRO keyboard you don't need any more?



Masonry Contractor
Valerie Kenyon Gaffney,

I can recommend with confidence James Scaldaferri, (703) 631-1245. He has done considerable work over the years in the DC area, particularly in Georgetown, and should be able to furnish any number of references. Feel free to use my name when you contact him.


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