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December 15, 1999


Dear Moviegoers:

For no particular reason, I have been thinking about how Washington is portrayed in films. Usually, of course, our city is just a background for political intrigue, and all you see are the monuments and the Capitol (in movies, there is a view of the Capitol from the window behind every lawyer's desk). The neighborhoods are shown only occasionally, as in Clint Eastwood's Washington movies (Absolute Power and In the Line of Fire). My favorite Washington line in a movie is from 1946's Undercurrent. Katharine Hepburn is being driven by her new husband, Robert Taylor, down a dark and narrow two-lane road from Washington to his country farm in Middleburg. She exclaims, “We haven't seen another car for miles!”

So what's your favorite Washington movie or movie moment, and why?

Gary Imhoff


DCPS Gag Order
Andrea Carlson,

Both The Washington Post and the Washington City Paper covered the gag order issued by DCPS to Hearst Elementary when we tried to provide information to the community about our charter school initiative. Both stories could use clarification. The Hearst PTA filed a charter application because we have no confidence our school can survive under DCPS (not because we were sore about last year's “unpopular” principal). A core group of PTA parents has determined that, for an overwhelming number of reasons, starting a charter school poses a better risk than staying in DCPS. A charter school offers the autonomy and flexibility we need to restore and strengthen our program.

We had a building use agreement for our meeting in which we planned to update the community about planning activities. The man I spoke with at DCPS did refer me to the Assistant Superintendent — after he said that Mrs. Ackerman herself confirmed that “No one is allowed to discuss charter schools on DCPS property. That is DCPS policy.” I should note that this isn't the first time we've experienced such an order. Last year, after DCPS exiled or “involuntarily transferred” two of our strongest teachers, the Assistant Superintendent admonished teachers not to discuss the transfers with each other or with parents or else they, too, would be transferred. She also warned them that were being watched. This isn't the first time DCPS has issued statements, then retracted them. We were told that, after last year's tumult and the resulting drop in enrollment, DCPS would consider holding our budget harmless. In October, the budget was cut $47,000 and we were ordered to hire a special ed teacher at $20,000. We were given less than 24 hours to determine how to cut the budget. We were forced to let go of classroom aides — a core part of the program.

We would like for Hearst to survive and thrive. But, as parents, we, the founding group believe that the best place for our own children is in a charter school that offers small classes, innovative approaches to learning, high quality instruction, a strong social curriculum, an integrated arts program, hands-on science, and a voice for parents and teachers in decision making. Our teachers will be fairly compensated and paid on time, and the school will be held to high accountability standards. We want to provide all DC families with an alternative — a top-notch public education that builds on Hearst's traditions and incorporates best educational practices. We've put together a solid plan for the school (tentatively named “Capital City Public Charter School”), have identified high caliber candidates for our staff, are in the process of putting together our board of directors, and been awarded a federal planning grant. All we need is a facility. We're exploring several possibilities, but have yet to identify the perfect spot. If you know of a great site, want additional info on our plans, or can help in any other way, please let me know.


Granite Versus Concrete Curbs
James Treworgy,

I've noticed quite a few curb replacements going on around the city. Crumbling concrete curbs are being replaced with granite. I think this is great — I had read in a past discussion that this is the city plan, and they are more cost effective because although they initially cost more than concrete, they are virtually indestructible and last much longer. And they're much more attractive.

Which leads one to ponder why the city installs concrete curbs when they do massive construction projects like the Park Road rehabilitation that Mt. Pleasant residents endured for so long. Can anyone explain this? Did the contractor pull a fast one on the city, or is there simply no standard for curbs, even though using granite makes more sense and they seem to use granite whenever they do repairs. Or perhaps the standard is use concrete for new construction and use granite when the concrete falls apart ten years later.


The Washington Post and Times
Jonetta Rose Barras,

Brian Reeves, who recently ended his relationship with the Washington Post, should know there is more than one paper in the city that reports on local issues, he doesn't have to go national and corporate, choosing the Wall Street Journal. While it is a fine paper, there won't be any news in it about D.C. Public Schools, or the fight over development rights in Columbia Heights, or the good news stories so many seek. I would urge him to rethink his decision about the Washington Times. With only one fourth of the reporters on staff covering local news, the Times gives the Post a run. And Ron Hansen has broken several stories recently. If it still doesn't satisfy him, maybe he can try the other neighborhood publications like Common Denominator, which, when Rebecca Charry was there, had a hell of a reputation for going way beneath the surface and finding the "truth."

In fact, he doesn't even have to choose. He can read them all, since the Times is the only daily. The other neighborhood pubs are weekly. Good reading!


I Miss My Post, Waaaaa
Jean Lawrence,

I moved to AZ almost four years ago and started reading The Arizona Republic. It's like The Weekly Reader for adults. All about zoning, growth, burned up babies, horoscopes, etc. The political cartoonist Gary Benson is so knee-jerk he must have to wear a brace. Every cartoon is about Hillary as a man hater (the man has issues). OK, I have been writing for the thing, but no one screams and writes YOU MORON letters like they did about my occasional Post pieces. Nobody gets me, I guess. I remember my colleagues in the aerospace industry referring to the Post as the Washington Compost -- I miss you, though, Washington Post. You made my mind grow.


Coloring Contest for Kids 5-10
Kathy Sinzinger,

The Common Denominator's annual coloring contest for kids, ages 5-10, is in progress. The entry form and rules have been published in the last four issues of the paper and can be found on page 16 of the December 13th issue of The Common Denominator (which will remain on sale until our holiday hiatus ends on January 10th). Deadline for entering is 5 p.m. on Dec. 31st. We award two $25 cash prizes in two age categories: 5-7 and 8-10.


Preserving Fragments from K St. to Your St.
Mark Richards, Dupont East,

When humans have growth spurts, their souls usually emerge intact. I suppose that's the case with communities, too. But looking at what is happening in the recent building spurt, it feels like the souls of historic buildings are being lost as they're transformed into archeological fragments. Architectural transmutation. (1) Is the house on the patch of land at the edge of Rock Creek Park nested between the Calvert and Duke Ellington bridges (Woodley Park) being "preserved"? Is that "historic preservation?" It will soon be swallowed into another structure, to house a non-profit association. Excavation is underway. The house on the lot, empty for years, is a sight. They gutted the inside and placed a square steel structure (beams) under the brick shell ("the house"). Now, they're scooping the dirt from under it. (One onlooker asked: does the guy in the truck scooping out the dirt from under the house get extra pay?) The transformation has been fascinating — the once solid looking house is now a fragile looking brick box suspended in the air, almost floating, decontextualized and deconstructed. If it doesn't fall, it will be a relock inside a new structure. It would have been better preserved had it been moved to a lot where they really wanted what was there.

(2) For a time I had an office on the top floor of the old Investment Building at K and 15th Street. It was full of small and start-up businesses (clue: reasonable rent). Inside, the building had a 70s look — it needed work, had no central air, and the old elevators brought fear to visitors. But it had nice features too — large windows that opened (you could have "fresh" air and even hear protesters chanting on the marches), beautiful wide doors and woodwork, some marble floors. I was sad to see it as a hollowed out L-shape — the stone facade propped up, waiting to be filled. The facade is saved, but the soul of the building is lost — for better or worse. (3) A new condo is going up at 16th and R NW. There was no historic structure to turn into an archeological fragment, but joining the historic buildings on all sides is what looks like a downtown postmodern structure. I'm more alarmed by this K St. condo than by the corner pub expanding into (and protecting) an existing building. (4) Has anyone seen Lilly Spandorf lately? She spent the last couple decades painting DC buildings before they were razed and published a book of her paintings of the old next to photos of the new. At the rate things are moving, she may need apprentices and her book may get unwieldy if she keeps it up. Then again, like every CVS that was once a historic structure, the community relations people will want photos to display to express their keen sense of history. I like the ones in my lobby.


Well Deserved Bonus
David Meadows,

As a member of the DC Coalition, this is one member who is happy that the DC Council and the Mayor worked together to fund the bonuses for DC's Government employees, who were denied wage increases year after year during this cites fiasco of financial management. This is good business to reward workers, creating trust and respect which produces greater productivity. These individuals have worked very hard day after day with outdated technology and working conditions to keep this city running. I'm sure most of these middle class Americans will appreciate the 1,650 bonus during this holiday season, a bonus much better than the proposed Republican Party's 800 billion, 500 dollar per family tax cut that President Clinton vetoed.


Power Lines, Outastate Tags
Rob Fleming, Mt. Pleasant,

To Larry Seftor: Some power lines (mine, for instance) are underground. Some power lines follow other routes than the telephone lines. Power sometimes goes out for reasons that don't affect the phones (we used to lose power in the south end of Mount Pleasant every time Adams Morgan turned on their air conditioners until we got a new feeder line into the transformers — and fuses — on my block). So yes, there are times when I could report a power outage on my regular phone.

About those Virginia tags: the way it was explained to me was that the Virginia law requires you to show proof of insurance (and Virginia residence) to get the tags, but not to keep the insurance in force (as DC does). Therefore, some people (maybe a lot of people) use a friend's address to get the tags and then cancel their insurance. Than means that the cars with Virginia tags that are parked in my neighborhood at night are probably driving around during the day with no insurance, which is why DC insurance rates are so high. DC is trying to crack down on the outastate tag problem, but the enforcement procedure (usually done at night when parking enforcement isn't working, so it is done by our understaffed DC police) requires an officer to observe the car in the same general area several times over a period of weeks (so they don't ticket visitors). Mostly, I think the police have better things to do with their time, and so there is little enforcement. Perhaps there should be really stiff fines for both having fraudulent outastate tags and no insurance.


Diagnosing and Fixing Problems in the D.C. Educational System
Ed T. Barron,

In the twelve years that I have lived here in D.C., and despite all the rhetoric and parade of top school administrators (and other overseers), there has been, to my eyes, no measurable improvement in the education provided to the kids who live in the District. Without naming names it is clear that many of these top school administrators create more problems than they solve. It is time for a much sounder, and perhaps a seemingly, radical approach to diagnose the real problems to come up with processes to solve these problems. The so-called problem solvers at the top: the Chief School Administrator; the School Board(s); the Mayor; the City Council, can't solve any of the real problems. Those problems can only be solved where they exist, right on the front lines. The “radical” approach that I suggest is a “bottom-up” approach. What then is the role of those at the “top”? Glad you asked. Their role is to provide the help and support needed by those (and only those) who make the system work.

To get an educational system that will work in providing a decent education to District kids we must start with some real dialogue in each ward between the parents and the educators. How do we get this started? One way would be for the Mayor to hold a series of “Town Meetings,” one in each ward of the District. At these meetings, which would focus on only education in that ward, parents, educators (who work in the schools in that ward), a City Council rep, and a rep from the mayors office would initiate the dialogue to get issues surfaced. The real output of these “Town Meetings” should be the formation of an ad hoc team in each ward to identify the top ten issues which face that ward AND a recommended process to begin to address each of those issues/problems. Each ward really has its own set of issues/problems and they should be addressed by the folks who live and teach in that ward. The recommendations from each ward would then be acted on by those at the top who would provide the needed support to fix the problems. This could mean some dramatic changes in policy, allocation of teachers, use of facilities, and money. A really objective approach could even require more charter schools.

Without a radical change in the way the schools are being administered we will never fix this mess. We need to provide a decent education to our kids if we want to stem the outflow of middle class citizens and to attract families with school age kids to come and live here. Providing a good education for our kids is the way to preclude crime before it becomes a problem in the streets. And without a major change in the way we educate the kids in the District, Washington, D.C., will never be the great city it deserves to be.


Emergency Phone
Kenneth Nellis,

In the 12/12/99 edition of themail, Paul Williams wrote, “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!” For Paul and others in his situation, you might want to consider buying a cheap phone that you could use in a power outage situation.

Might come in handy!


Follow-up to Realtor Request
John Whiteside,

First — thanks to the many people who sent me recommendations of realtors. I tried to send everyone a thank you, but there were a LOT of messages, so if I missed you, or it sounded a bit quick, that's why. I appreciate the help. Second, a little gripe. I've been going to open houses every weekend to educate myself about the market a bit -- and about a third of the time, the realtors don't show up, leaving a group of people standing in front of the the property wondering what happened! This never happened to me in Boston but it seems to be typical here. What's wrong with these people? I am remembering who they are so I know who not to use down the road when I'm selling. And realtors need a little help with their geography. They seem to have a very interesting view of what's what in the city, since apparently Capitol Hill now extends very far into NE, and Howard University is now at Logan Circle.


Confusing the Cases
George S. LaRoche,

In response to “The Two DC Rights Lawsuits,” Mr. Desenberg says that “the premise of the Adams case got hammered by the judges.” This statement is ludicrous. The court has expressed no reservations whatsoever with the Adams case. Rather, the court questioned Charles Miller of Covington & Burling as to how the court could possibly order Maryland to allow District residents to vote in Maryland, when the State of Maryland is not a party to Alexander v. Daley. Likewise, the court questioned Mr. Miller how it could possibly order Congress to do anything, which the Plaintiffs in Alexander request.

Clearly, Mr. Desenberg is seriously confused and knows nothing of the law or of the actual merits of the two cases. Sound bites and newspaper reports are no substitutes for knowing what's really at stake in the two cases. And while Mr. Desenberg can agree with the plaintiffs in Alexander v. Daley that “partial retrocession” to Maryland (as Mark Plotkin calls it) is the proper solution to the lack of “voting rights” in the District, that end should not be pursued through misrepresentations of the truth.


A Beautiful Metro
Sue Walen,

I was standing on the platform at Grovener on Sunday, when a magical sight appeared: A Metro train heading downtown aglow with Xmas lights, every window sprayed with snow-in-a-can, red balls hanging from the ceiling, red and white tinsel strands wrapped over the seatbacks, green plastic pine strands covering the vertical posts and horizontal bars, the advertising brackets filled in with wrapping paper and bows. Even the overhead lights were colored with green and red cellophane inserts. When we went underground, the tiny colored lights glowed and every face in our car held a smile. It was wonderful. I got off at Metro Central, and scurried down to the orange and blue lines for my transfer, but no more magic trains came. I never saw one on the way home.

What was it? Where did it come from? Where did it go? Who did it? Will they do it again? Can I help?


Look Where There’s Light
Ed T. Barron,

Those geniuses who run the Metro Transit System are at it again. This time they say that the noise from those small buses is coming from hard brake linings. Uh uh, guys. Look where there's light. The noise occurs when the buses accelerate (and also in the cruise mode) not much when they are braking. The loud noise level comes from the engine and muffler combination, not the brakes. And, speaking of brakes, I don't think they are very good brakes based on an incident I witnessed at the bus stop on the corner of 48th Street and Massachusetts Avenue with one of those noisy little critters. The bus driver of that craft did not see the person waiting at the bus stop until he was only forty or fifty feet from the stop. Although not moving very fast, the driver tried real hard to stop at the bus stop (based on the very pained expression of terror on his face) and wound up with the entire bus passing through the intersection and stopping, finally, in front of the AU Law School building. Changing the brake pads on the fleet is much more likely because the brakes don't work well, not because they make noise.


MetroRail Schedules
David Sobelsohn,

Back in July 1998, Metro published weeknight and weekend schedules for MetroRail. These schedules remained mostly accurate for many months. By last summer, few Metro stations had any copies of these schedules. Then Metro opened the Congress Heights and Georgia Avenue green line stations, and extended its hours to 1 a.m. on weekends, both of which made the 1998 schedules at best incomplete. Lo and behold, a few days later, in the wake of obsolescence, many Metro stations suddenly had plenty of copies of the 1998 schedules! Now the supply seems once again spotty. In fact some station managers seem completely unaware that Metro has ever published its MetroRail schedules. Does anyone know if and when Metro will publish updated schedules?


Recycling Telephone Books
David Sobelsohn,

I recycle my telephone books at ABC Salvage, 65 N St., SE (202-488-7850), open weekdays 8-4, Saturdays 8-2, closed Sundays. They don't require any special treatment; just bring 'em, tell the people there you have 'phone books to recycle, then dump 'em where they tell you. I think you can also recycle 'phone books at Bancroft School Playground in Mt. Pleasant on Saturdays 9 a.m.-noon (contact Rob Fleming,; and possibly also at Fort Totten Transfer Station, 4900 Bates Rd., NE (open weekdays 8-4 & Saturdays 7-11); 3540 Wheeler Ave. (S of Duke St., just W of Quaker Lane), Alexandria (open 24 hours/day); and Montgomery County Solid Waste Transfer Station, MD-355 (Frederick Ave.) at Shady Grove Road (across Frederick Ave. from Comfort Inn) (every first Sunday of the month). But I've only gone to ABC Salvage so I'm not sure about the others.


Trader Joes Is Coming . . . to Bethesda
Fred Davidson,

Last month a letter from Mary Vogel suggested a letter writing campaign to lure Trader Joes, a California-based gourmet food store, to H Street, NE. I have learned that TJ's has no plans to open in the District, but will open next spring at 6831 Wisconsin Ave. in Bethesda. (They now have stores in Tyson's Corner, Bailey's Crossroads, Rockville and Fairfax. Check out their Web site, For years I have schlepped a grocery bag full of TJ's products on return flights from California. Now they are 10 minutes away! I guess Christmas has arrived early.


Jack Werner,

Will the woman that is taking in stray cats and then offering them for adoption, please contact



Meeting of ANC 3C
Ann Loikow,

ANC 3C's monthly meeting, Monday, December 20, 8:00 p.m., following the Police Service Area (PSA) 204 Meeting which begins at 7:30 p.m. Second District Police Station 3220 Idaho Avenue, NW, Community Room. Agenda includes update on Alban Towers, conversion of Connecticut Avenue and Porter Street Exxon Station, addition to a single family house at 3507 Rodman St., and height of Henry Adams House (apartment house part of Oyster School development). For more information, please call 202-232-2232 or 202-363-6658.



Canadian ’Skins Fans Want Tickets
Joan Eisenstodt,

Taught a class recently in London, Ontario, and met some 'Skins fans who are desperate to attend a game. Here's what they sent me: January 2nd vs Dolphins — want two tickets with a face value +$50 USD each. Please respond directly to, 416-504-8881.



Seeking Plumber, Recommending Others
Sara Cormeny,

Having just moved from a 15-year-old condo into a historic townhouse near 16th and T Streets, NW, I'm in need of contractors for all kinds of little things. Right now the most pressing need is for a good plumber, so I'm hoping I can come to themail for advice. Apparently David Stang, recommended on themail earlier this year, doesn't do Dupont Circle (although if you know otherwise and think I can persuade their receptionist, let me know!), and I can't find Spadero listed — a friend recommended them but the number I got didn't ring, and they're not in the phone book. I'd prefer to go with a licensed plumber rather than a handyman; some of these jobs look tricky. I've definitely got at least a couple of hours worth of work for someone, if not more.

Now, on to my recommendations: 1. Great Scott Moving, 202.546.8190, Came to me recommended by a friend and they did a great job, three guys, very professional. My only caveat is that my SO and I don't own anything expensive, so we weren't overly concerned about how they packed anything — everything arrived in one piece, no problem, but I can't speak to their way with your Spode or Baccarat. 2. John Blizzard, handyman, 703.861.0859. John is the full-time building engineer at The Richmond, the condo where I used to live, but also does some general handyman work like installing lights, fixing drywall, basic plumbing, etc. I don't know how much work he might be looking for on a moonlighting basis, but mention my name and I'm sure he'll talk to you. Dupont Circle/17th Street area especially. 3. Randolph Flooring, 301.881.4945. Did a fabulous job on our oak floors, also came highly recommended. Very professional crew who cleaned up after themselves. Done a day early without putting on a huge rush or making me crazy. The floors were in pretty good shape already, but their attention to detail and quality (and the fact that the owner, CL, actually came by to check up on the job on day two!), really sold me on their quality. We paid $2300 for about 2000 square feet of work, including two staircases, and some small replacements.


Dave Nuttycombe,

From's LOOSE LIPS column, appearing this Friday:
THE WILMOT PROVISO: Longtime D.C. lobbyist David Wilmot has a piece of business that takes him to a familiar spot — the 11th floor of 1 Judiciary Square.
His client, Margo Briggs, president of Executive Security and Engineering Technology, is seeking nearly $2 million in back pay from a mid-1980s contract to provide security at D.C. government agencies. To complicate matters, the company also owes an estimated $1 million in back taxes — a liability that would not exist if the District had paid Briggs in full, according to Wilmot. The 22-year influence-peddling vet is wrestling with mayoral staffers to come up with some kind of compensation for his client.
Negotiating with high-level bureaucrats over big-money matters on behalf of local companies is old hat for Wilmot. One part of this particular transaction, however, marks a departure from years of tradition: Wilmot has never gotten an audience with the mayor.
Read the entire Loose Lips column here:

From's CITY LIGHTS page, here are a few early warnings for upcoming events:
FRIDAY: The Way Home: Ending Homelessness in America. On view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday to Monday and Wednesday and from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday, to Monday, Jan. 31, 2000, at the Corcoran Museum of Art, 500 17th St. NW. $3 (suggested donation).
MONDAY: Breakfast at Tiffany's, at 12:30 p.m. at the National Portrait Gallery Theater, 8th and F Streets NW. Free.
More details and more critics' picks are available online at


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