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June 28, 2000

Gone Fishing

Dear Fishers:

Enough rhetoric, already. I'm all out of fruitless exhortations, for now at least. How do you recommend that those of us who are staying in town celebrate the Fourth of July? Does anybody suggest going to the Mall for the fireworks or (as Yogi Berra said) does no one go there anymore because it's too crowded?

Gary Imhoff


The Triviality of the Referendum
Harold Goldstein,

I have read and read, the various pros and cons concerning this absurd referendum. But today, in the Sunday Post, I read an article (teacher certification rules in VA) with which is infinitely more important than this meaningless referendum and the political bickering it has engendered. After all, it is about educating the kids of the city, isn't it? So why doesn't anyone focus on that issue? I've seen a few mentions of the fact that there is no evidence that the make-up of a school board, be it hybrid, appointed, or elected is any indication of the quality of the school system or the quality of its product. And, that being the case, this boils down to purely political drivel.

If the people here, and elsewhere, have the time and wherewithal to write reams about the political significance of this election, sue to stop the election, spend money to support the election, were to ask instead what they can do to get rid of the gross incompetents that prevent the school system from working, of the stupidities that exist in our school system as in others concerning the issues in that article as well as other issues, then something real would be happening.

I would vote no on Tuesday, if I had the time and inclination, simply because it implies that somehow, if his royal mayor would make appointments all would be better. We all know that whether elected or appointed these people are political animals and are beholding to some interests. Another example of the sham that is Mayor Williams. For him to imply that he (and all that follow him) will appoint professional educators that do the best for the system and not for themselves asks us to ignore all common sense. But vote yes or no and realize that in terms of the kids who are the victims of this school system it does not really matter. They are being defrauded out of a decent education, and they are the losers in this election no matter what the result.


Let Them Eat Cake
T. Jr. Hardman Rockville, MD,

Len Sullivan,, wrote: “That good ole, messy, wonderfully human, democracy! Isn't it time to take a look at the wasted human lives dribbling through the cracks while we play at partisan politics? Thousands more kids each year are doomed to be mired for life in a dispirited underclass while we twitter in the grandstands about license plate slogans.” I swear, Mister Sullivan, you may always be counted upon to hit the nail square on the head.

What is it about this town? People would, one would hope, have grand visions and get with the whole spirit of the place as the Capital of a great nation and potentially the Planetary Capital. But there must be something in the water that gives a mean spirit; I've seen so many come here with grand ideals and leave disillusioned by the pettiness of it all, and more so by the vigor with which the “locals” will bring exceptionally large guns to bear to achieve their small aims. “The best lack all conviction, and in the worst, a passionate intensity” to quote the poet. But paraphrase that to “and in the activist, a trifling pettiness” and I think it would apply. I just wish the folks would wise up and stop patting themselves on the back about how much has been done for the District; we've got bigger problems here, which are best described with a riddle: “what do you get when you do a million dollars worth of plastic surgery on an aged prostitute?” “You get a reasonably attractive war-hag.”

As you say above, it's time to go beyond matters of pride and cosmetics, the fundament remains rotten and that fundament is the general public's public school education. Without a first-rate education to be had by all, the District is doomed to failure and in a less remediable manner than the doom from unfunded mandates — one could (and we have done so) throw money at the unfunded mandate and the financial damage that caused, and it will heal pretty quickly. But it takes a generation's passing to fix a generation's worth of non education.


“Teach Your Children Well” and Democracy
Frank Pruss,

Democracy is three wolves and a lamb taking a vote on what to have for lunch. It is inherently flawed and the USA is founded on a system that tries to avoid it. If we fail to teach this elementary political lesson to our children, then we have only ourselves to blame for the results. That said, I'm not yet convinced that the proposed “solution” to this inherent defect in our School Board's selection process will be fixed by the Mayor's proposal.

The problem as I see it is the School Board has, for a variety of reasons, become a forum for political agendas remote from assuring competent provision of educational services to the children of DC. In fact, it would seem that, for the current board, the education of the children of DC is the ONLY thing they are NOT interested in. I don't see how this proposal addresses this core problem. I don't buy the argument that because this Board is failure, then ANY change in the selection process must be good. The “cure” CAN be worse than the disease. I think the current proposal will produce a near gridlock. There will be years of struggle focused solely on “which members are the REAL board” rather than on addressing the problems in our schools. In the meantime, the lives of the children in DC will continue to be sacrificed on the altar of political pride.

I'd like to see proposals that make the Board positions unpaid (or nominally paid, to cover expenses), and proposals that limit the scope of the issues that the Board can address. These are more important, in my view, than the selection process used to determine membership.


Dissing Democracy
Len Sullivan,

With all due respect for Mr. Imhoff's fervor in expressing his opinions, I found his diatribe against our elected officials, and his oversimplified “lessons” about democracy, to be well beyond the pale. Democracy is a tough and pliable form of government whose success is not measured by counting elected officials. It includes a set of checks and balances that make it the best form of government devised to date, but it obliges its constituents to act with some level of prudence and decorum to maintain that equilibrium. It has mechanisms for change, and change is basic to maintaining viability. It may involve squabbling, but it surely doesn't have to tolerate “bad behavior” indefinitely.

Democracy does not oblige its citizens to ignore failure, accept mediocrity, or keep electing officials they don't trust. It does not require that what works best in one area will work equally well in another. The search for what's best for the people — and their kids — will often require going beyond individual neighborhoods or local people willing to seek public office (in the face of such demagogic abuse). And I see little point in denigrating successful professionals who make more or know more than I do: I pressed my kids to do both. Beware of anarchists and ideologues dressed in a cloak of false democratic sanctimony.

Having properly and successfully taken the mayor to task for his inappropriate use of government resources to influence a decidedly political election, I wonder if DCWatch's watchdogs of propriety intend to challenge the tax-exempt status of local churches that used their pulpits to influence the same political election.

[Does Mr. Sullivan want to challenge the tax-exempt status of local churches whose ministers opposed the referendum, such as the Missionary Baptist Ministers Conference (, of those whose ministers supported the referendum by passing out the flyers distributed to them by the director of the Mayor's Office of Religious Affairs (, or of both? I don't generally support attacking the tax-exempt status of churches because it is a tactic selectively applied by governments against religious bodies that oppose them. If you could guarantee me that a government would even-handedly pull tax-exempt status from both Martin Luther King and Pat Robertson, and not just from one or the other, I might be convinced to go along. — Gary Imhoff]


Campaign Posters
Steve Leraris,

Dear DCRA: I've been informed that your agency is responsible for enforcing the DC Board of Elections & Ethics rules which prohibit the placing of campaign posters on traffic lights (see below, which are from I would like for your agency to do this enforcement. There are posters along Mass. Ave., NW (5th, 6th. St.) and near Union Station, Thomas Circle, 13th & U St., NW. These are only a few examples.

108.1 No person shall affix a sign, advertisement or poster to any public street light or traffic signal, except as provided in accordance with this section.
108.9 Signs and posters shall not be affixed by adhesives that prevent their complete removal from the fixture, or that do damage to the fixture. (It is illegal to use tape in affixing signs to lampposts.)

If you have any questions feel free to contact me.


What’s the Measure of Police Performance
Eddie Becker,

Reports in this discussion group on the DC police reluctance to file crime reports, got me to thinking that perhaps the crime statistics that measure the rate at which crime is reported might not be the best way to evaluate police effectiveness. A far better measure of policing could perhaps be the closure rate. Just how many crimes were “solved”? A statistic which the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) doesn't advertise on its web site. But they do compile it, and it's free for the asking. For instance, “The percentage of cleared Felonies for CY 1999 was 17.7% (a total of 7,838 arrests and cleared by exceptional means) out of 44,386 offenses).” Not a very high number, doesn't sound like felonies were given much priority. It's almost as if they had to catch the crook in the act to make the arrest.

On the other hand the number of cleared homicides in 1999 was 61%, pretty good in comparison to felonies. Homicides are given a higher priority. But wait, what that 61% means is that they arrested someone for murder, filed a form PD 252 or PD 163, and by doing that, they cleared a case. Now, whether they collected enough evidence to convict someone or even to get the DA to look at it, doesn't matter. It's just the arrest that clears a case, not a conviction. Such was the case with the two men recently arrested in the shooting death of the 76-year-old grandmother on her morning stroll, both men were previously charged with at least 31 crimes in DC — including one count each of first degree murder, though charged, the cases never were officially entered into the court system. But just with the mere fact of the arrest, the police were able to clear the book on those murders and add to the total statistic. Certainly there should be a better way of measuring police performance.


Metro Needs to Get Its Act Together
Leila Afzal,

Monday morning, June 26, the red-line was shut down between Cleveland Park and Dupont Circle. Metro “supplied” buses at Van Ness and Farragut North to shuttle people passed the closed stations. However, those of us who enter the system between those stations were out of luck. Buses would not make stops between Van Ness and Farragut North. We were told we would have to take buses north on Connecticut to Van Ness and catch a southbound bus there. This is an idiotic way to run a railroad. I understand that some buses can be designated as “express” buses to speed people along. However, some buses need to be designated as “local” to pick up metro and regular bus riders from the closed stations as well.


Final Death Penalty Thought
John Whiteside,

Ron Eberhardt wants the death penalty to make him feel better. Ms Persiflage wants us all to carry guns so we can be safe. A final thought: The safest city I ever lived in was Boston (and I lived in a relatively high crime neighborhood). Massachusetts has strict gun control laws and no death penalty. Boston has about 550,000 residents — more than DC — and about 50-60 murders a year. Perhaps Eberhardt, Persiflage, and company can give us an example of a city where their plan has worked. To find that combination of gun-toting citizens and “we fry 'em faster” legal system you have to go to Texas, whose large cities are no prize in the safety department.

Boston is in many ways like Washington. It's less interesting in many ways, but has a great city government and a populace that's wonderfully involved in local politics. It also tossed out its elected school board while I was there — and when a referendum came along to go back to the elected variety, it was soundly defeated. Bostonians, who prize good city services and neighborhood involvement, seemed to figure out easily that the school board is no place for electioneering. I hope DC follows suit, even with a half step. John, not voting tomorrow because he's still 36 hours shy of being a DC resident and homeowner.


Death Penalty IV
Michael Bindner,

Two comments about the death penalty. The first is, we have a de facto death penalty in some communities because the police department is either incapable or unwilling to bring most murders to justice, and is abetted in this by the community itself either through fear of retaliation or distrust of law enforcement. This leads to revenge killings, which prompt more revenge killings, etc. I suggest that, instead of quibbling about capital punishment, we first pull the murderers off the streets and convince those communities who do not cooperate with police that we value them as much as we do the citizens of Ward 3 and assign officers as spend money accordingly (or maybe the problem in this city is that we don't).

Second, lets abandon the notion of criminality and treat drugs, crime, alcohol abuse and violence as public health concerns. This would, of course, require the spending of real money to fight these concerns, which taxpayers in much of the District are loathe to do. Services for the mentally ill and addicts are already woefully underfunded (although I would propose establishing a regional mental health authority funded by a regional income tax for this purpose). Also, (and I know my civil libertarian friends will denounce me for this) we must make it easier to treat dangerous people, harder for them to be released and much easier to be readmitted — if someone is already adjudicated as ill or violent and they are not acting toward their disease responsibly, society's response must be swift. Then the streets and the families of perpetrators will be safe, as well as the rest of us. Our current system of playing cops, robbers, court, and jail makes no sense and makes the problem worse for everyone, including the violent.


Security System at MLKML
Patricia Pasqual,

In response to several questions about the security system at MLKML I am forwarding a reply from Plez A. Jenkins, head of security for DCPL.

“The recent addition of security measures (x-ray machine/magnetometer) located at the main lobby is there to prevent and deter weapons from entering this facility . . . and up to this point I believe it has been very effective. This office is well aware of the shortfalls within the garage location. Despite this shortfall we have been working diligently to reduce our vulnerabilities. Hopefully, you noticed the manual bag checks. Although not as fancy as an x-ray machine, this measure has been proven effective while inexpensive. We do recognize that more can be done and is being done. We will soon procure another magnetometer for the garage entrance.”


Hotline for Shelter
T.J. Sutcliffe,

I'm the Advocacy Coordinator at So Others Might Eat, or SOME, a nonprofit now in its 30th year of service to individuals and families who are homeless in D.C. Unfortunately, Sue Bell's experience last week trying to find shelter for a woman who was homeless and suffering from hunger, heat exhaustion, and schizophrenia was not uncommon. Both directory assistance and the Metropolitan Police should in theory have been able to give Ms. Bell better information. In reality, as Ms. Bell learned, this often doesn't happen. The District operates a 24-hour hotline for shelter: 1-800-535-7252. In the summer, whenever the heat index rises above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the District opens “cooling centers” and has several vans that will bring people cold water and also transport people seeking shelter. In the winter, the same hotline links people to blankets and hypothermia services including shelter.

Problems with the shelter hotline itself can be reported to the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness, the umbrella organization that coordinates the District's public emergency shelter system, at 543-5298. I encourage Ms. Bell and anyone with a similar experience to write the Mayor and Chief Ramsey. The police non-emergency operators should have the hotline number and be able to provide it. I'd also be interested in knowing what “Community Services” number she was given. Sadly, it is exactly this kind of confusion and lack of information that frustrates the commendable efforts of good-hearted citizens like Ms. Bell and leaves some of our most vulnerable residents without aid.


Open-Minded in DC
Charlie Wellander,

On Monday, our DC Council urged Mayor Williams to issue an executive order to change the DC license plate slogan from “Celebrate and Discover” to “Taxation Without Representation.” The reason for doing this by an executive order instead of a bill is to make it slightly more difficult for those in the Big House (and Senate) to block it. I say we should Celebrate, then Recover. If Congress allows this change, that's because they think it is of little consequence. Virginia has about 150 license plate options. How about some suggestions for DC from themailers? I offer this: Some say you've got to have a hole in your head to live and pay taxes in DC (that kind of open-mindedness). For DC residents who don't yet have such an aperture, Congress blithely operates on us in return for our two billion dollars in federal taxes. Thus, “Trepanation Without Reprehension.”


Defensive Shooting? I Doubt It!
David Pansegrouw,

Excuse me, Ms. Persiflage, but I seriously doubt Carl Rowan was defending himself from anybody that required shooting. And Mr. Rowan's case also shows what connections can do for you when you break the law. And may the adventure tour folks find their DC operations bankrupt very soon. Too bad they don't have better things to do with their time!


DC’s Scariest Places Survey
Marc Battle, Howard University School of Law,

The scariest place in DC is Capitol Hill — that haven for hypocritical lawmakers who suppress democracy in their own backyard while trying to shove it down the collective throat of the rest of the world.


Scariest Spots in D.C.?
Steph “Some rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen” Faul,

Oh, gosh, where to begin. Capitol Hill. Hill & Knowlton. CIA headquarters. Alan Greenspan's office. The Palm. Carr Realty. The Cato Institute. Any major law firm. The list is endless.



Apartment Search
Lisa Schatz,

Seeking a studio or one bedroom apartment for September 1st in the DC area. I am relocating from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and am making Washington my new home. I can be reached at


Dave Nuttycombe,

From's LOOSE LIPS column, appearing this Friday:
CHECK IT OUT: Sometimes LL gets the sense that people in this city are battling one another to prove who's the most inept.
In December 1997, the Fannie Mae Foundation issued a $10,000 grant to the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly (SWNA) toward the purchase and redevelopment of the shuttered Syphax Elementary School. Although the neighborhood association itself was not purchasing the building, it was acting as an agent for the project's developer, low-income-housing provider Manna Inc. In that capacity, the association promptly wrote a $10,000 check payable to the D.C. Public Schools for “Syphax School Purchase.”
The school system gladly accepted the check and placed it in a file. And never pulled it out.
Read the entire Loose Lips column here:

From's CITY LIGHTS page, here are a few early warnings for upcoming events:
TO JULY 15: Rare Chinese Graphics and Early Works of Art. On view from noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, to Saturday, July 15, at the Robert Brown Gallery, 2030 R St. NW. Free.
SATURDAY: Celia Cruz & Jose Alberto, at 7:30 p.m. at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, 730 21st St. NW. $25.
More details and more critics' picks are available online at


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