Voters Should Have the Last Word
In a cleverly phrased bit of double talk, the Washington Post
today editorially urged the City Council to throw out the term limits that voters
overwhelmingly said they wanted (62 percent of the vote). The Post jokingly
proposed that the Council hold hearings before discarding the wishes of the citizens
because, voters in a democratic system should have, whether directly or through
their elected representatives, the last word. Very funny. Thirteen Councilmembers
acting in their own interests can outvote the citizens as a whole. That'll show us where
the real power lies, and put us in our proper places. That'll show us how much
Councilmembers care about the democratically expressed wishes of the people.
The real issue is not if you're for or against term limits, it is whether
you think the people should govern their public servants or whether the rulers should
overrule their subjects in order to benefit themselves.
But I can't resist making a plug for term limits. Is our electoral system
stagnant? It depends on what time period you use. In the past eight years, incumbents'
reelection rates have been down to only 84 percent, which the Post thinks is astoundingly
rapid turnover. But in the history of the Council, incumbers have won over 95 percent of
their races. Can this be changed with campaign finance reform? No way. Initiative 41,
passed by 65 percent of the vote in November 1992, imposed campaign finance reform. The
City Council overturned it the next year, raising the campaign contribution limits higher
than they had been before the Initiative and adding new loopholes for contributions to
independent committees. That law was introduced by former Councilmember John
Ray, with the able seconding of Jack Evans, who is now leading the Council's foregone
defeat of the citizens' other effort at election reform. If you're keeping score, that
makes it Evans 2 Citizens 0.
Term Limits and Election Reform
Spencer J. Hollis, firstname.lastname@example.org
Readers of themail are an anomaly: a voting block in the District of
Columbia that is on top of the issues and highly informed about the actions of their
representatives in DC Government. Unfortunately, we are the exception and nowhere close to
the rule. I don't believe in term limits. They DO undermine our election process but
placing an artificial restriction on who we can vote for. Unfortunately, there are so many
other problems with our election system such as insufficient voter education, ineffective
campaign and campaign finance laws, elections by plurality rather than majority, that term
limits are the only way we have right now to provide an infusion of new ideas into our
As long as our elected officials have such strong control over the means
by which they are elected, and as long as they continue to abuse this control, there is a
need for term limits. If we can reform our election process, only then can also do away
with term limits.
Easier said than done to vote them out of office. You're assuming an
informed, actively voting electorate whose opinions would prevail under the
best circumstances. I, and a whole lot of other Americans, voted to terminate Bush, Jr's,
term in office and look how well that worked.
Maybe we could start by suggesting our own few goals that seem reasonable
and that someone would notice. For instance: now that the Columbia Heights Metro stop is
part of the fabric of our lives and now that 14th Street has been resurfaced and now that
CVS is opened (notice which one of those things actually happened on time), why can't DPW
get around to posting No Parking during rush hour (or maybe no parking at all)
on southbound 14th street between Park and Irving Streets so that Metro busses, cars,
trucks and all other traffic don't get squeezed into one lane during morning rush (and at
all other times, too).
When do we get a cable system that is not the laughing stock of the Metro
area? Family services?
Not in the Hall of Fame
Ed T. Barron, email@example.com
Mayor Williams acts as if he should be in the Hall of Fame because his
administration achieved 68% of its established goals. Sorry Mr. Mayor, Gary
Imhoff is right. 68% is almost a flunking grade in any decent school. 65% was the lowest
passing grade on any Regent's Test that I ever took at Brooklyn Tech and I'd catch hell if
I came home with any grade lower than 85.
The most distressing part of this charade is that the so-called
goals are those contrived by the top level administrators. Only real goals,
established based on the needs of the District residents (not always what they
want, by the way), are what the various departments of our city should be
striving towards. Real goals can only be established, and be met, when they are created by
consensus in dedicated teams in each department, teams comprised of make-things-happen
people. When goals are established from the top down (as in Strategic Planning) they are
not bought into by those who have to make them happen. We need real goals and real teams
in our District Government, and grades well above 68%.
Larry Seftor asked some interesting questions. Why do the citizens in
Washington, D.C,. settle for so little? Why do they tell themselves that things are fine
here or improving or at the very least acceptable? Well, let us take a case in point, the
MPD. When I ask the Washington Post and Washington Times police
reporters why things aren't getting better, they say we have to give Chief Ramsey time to
fix the MPD. He'll need at least five years to turn the department around, they say. By
refusing to criticize him, they give the impression that things are fine, improving or at
When I ask Sharon Ambrose why things aren't getting better she
serves on the Judiciary Committee that oversees the MPD she says she won't
criticize the Chief. By refusing to criticize the Chief, Ambrose gives the impression that
things are fine, improving, or at least acceptable. When I ask other City Council members
why things aren't getting better, they tell me that overseeing the MPD is not their job.
It is either the Mayor's job or Harold Brazil's. By refusing to criticize the Chief, the
City Council gives the impression that things are fine, improving or acceptable.
When I ask citizens why things aren't getting better, they either tell me
that things are getting better but I'm too negative to see it or they say, You don't
criticize the police in your own neighborhood. If we criticized them they would never come
when we called them. Or they say At least Ramsey's not Soulsby. We
settle for so little because we as citizens are afraid to demand more and because our
institutions refuse to demand more.
After years of cleaning graffiti in our neighborhood, I see graffiti even
when I don't want to see it. While spending the holidays with relatives who live in the
capital of their state and driving throughout the capital city, suburbs, and one trip
around the state I couldn't help but notice that I never saw any graffiti. None!
Not sure which is worse: returning to Washington and seeing graffiti that
I know has existed for years or walking the two blocks from Metro to my home and seeing
numerous large spray painted graffiti hits that are new since Christmas. Guess hard
working vandals don't get holiday breaks. I keep hearing the District government talk
about fighting graffiti. Lots of talk! I continue to wait to see the District government
take effective action against graffiti.
As someone who travels the city a lot during the day, I am glad that the
city's parking meters were replaced a couple years back when vandals easily ripped them
from their posts. The clear message of the headless meters in the past was your car
is not safe.
I am surprised however, at the number of meters I've had malfunction. I
promptly call the Bad Meter number to report the offending machine and protect
myself from the ticket matrons, but this is almost a daily occurrence. I believe a private
company maintains these meters and collects a piece of the kitty. I am happy to toss in my
change, and glad that the machines take nickels, dimes and quarters. I just want them to
Can anyone tell me what the scoop is on the 17th Street exit/entrance to
395? I've been told it's illegal to get on and off there, but there are no signs that say
that. (Well, there's one sign as you get off about no unauthorized vehicles but I tell
myself that's about getting into the RFK parking lots.) And why isn't it an exit/entrance
that is maintained? It's incredibly handy for those of us who live near by.
There are quite a few really excellent DC Schools and teachers, even given
the poorly funded infrastructure. Research on why schools fail or don't fail and why white
and upper class students leave says more about why some students fail and why some parents
leave the school system or the District for other public schools, than
current criticisms of DCPS.
The economic class of the parents is the prime predictor of success in
school. If you have middle class parents, you will have good schools whether public
or private. Children are well behaved and motivated, and usually come to school fed. If
you have poor parents, or single parents, who place little value on disciplining their
children, who can barely read themselves, and who can't or won't provide a nutritious
breakfast, that child is pretty much doomed unless it has an astounding IQ. In this case,
the public policy answer to our schools is higher levels of public benefits and more
effective child welfare intervention. Now these take money, in the form of higher taxes. I
doubt that Mr. Barron's co-partisans are likely to go with such a solution since Mr.
Catania and virtual Republican Mr. Evans just cut taxes, predominately on the
wealthy tax payers.
Research on white flight also shows that a reason people leave
schools is to prevent interracial dating. This is not only true in DC. You find it in
Chicago suburbs. Oh, people politely talk about school quality or even safety. Trust me,
its about dating. (BTW, much school violence is also about the same thing as some
students have the same attitudes about interracial dating as the parents do). That one
will get solved with time, as the more interracial dating you have, the more it is
I would say only one thing about school structure, that getting rid of
bureaucracy and giving more control to parents is always a good thing which is why
I personally favor a parentally dominated school board for every school. However, I am
told that in many schools this won't work, precisely because of the economic and
motivation issues having to do with the parents that I mentioned above.
Councilmember Sharon Ambrose
Beth Solomon, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank heavens for Councilmember Sharon Ambrose and her staff. They have
helped my neighbors and me on too many occasions to mention. They forced inspectors to
crack down on a deteriorating senior housing complex where residents were frightened and
suffering. They have helped us force an unresponsive, often irresponsible DCRA bureaucracy
enforce zoning laws that are critical for stability in our neighborhood. Mrs. Ambrose and
her staff did not have to help with these problems. But they bring commitment, passion,
and excellence with a broad vision of public service to their work every day. It's not
only impressive, but inspirational.
Reply to Retrocession by David Sobelsohn
George S. LaRoche, email@example.com
Retrocession (or reunification) of the District with Maryland
would require three definitive acts. The people of the District would have to signify that
this is their desire, Congress would have to cede sovereignty to Maryland, and Maryland
would have to accept Congress's cession (or exercise sovereignty over the District, which
amounts to the same thing). These events could happen in any order, so long as they were
reasonably closely related in time that each could be taken as necessarily related to the
I'll leave political analysis of Maryland's desires or intents to those
better equipped than I am to read such tea leaves, but would offer one consideration. When
Maryland's politicians say they wouldn't consent to retrocession, they are also (if not
actually) saying they want the status quo to continue. In other words, Maryland can avoid
serious consideration of the issues because it can offer an easy answer to an easy
question: retrocession or status quo? Eventually, however, Maryland will have
to respond to a different question: retrocession or statehood for the
District? When that day comes, Maryland's calculations will be different, for once
the status quo is off the table, everyone's interests will shift.
Forget Retrocession; How About Adoption
Leila Afzal, Leila.Afzal@hdq.noaa.gov
I have another proposal for obtaining voting representation in Congress
for the District. Since Maryland is making no noise to try to get us back, how about
putting ourselves up for adoption. The new Census figures are out and many states in the
Northeast and upper Midwest are going to lose one or two seats in the House. I think those
states might be interested in adopting us to gain our population and ultimately regain a
house seat or two. Who says we have to be contiguous to our home state? I personally would
love to be part of New York State. We'd have our own Congressperson and we'd vote for two
Senators. Representing us would be real easy. Our representatives would live five days a
week in DC, and would really get to know us, and then would return to their home District
on weekends. . . . Just a thought!
Reply to Representation by Michael Bindner
George S. LaRoche, firstname.lastname@example.org
There is no ground or evidence for Mr. Bindner's suggestion that the
loss of representation . . . just happened as part of redistricting. It followed a
definitive determination of the Supreme Court that places under the exclusive sovereignty
of Congress ceased being parts of the States from which Congress obtained that
Part II: Fragmented in a Great Storm
Mark Richards, Dupont East, email@example.com
Before the southern portion of the District retroceded to Virginia in
1846, there was also discussion of retroceding the area outside the limits of Washington
City to Virginia and/or Maryland. In 1838 and 1839, Mr. Merrick of Maryland, a Southern
Whig, introduced memorials in the Senate, which were referred to the Committee on D.C. On
July 16, 1840, Mr. Merrick, from the D.C. Committee, reported a bill (S. 395) to
provide for the ascertainment of the wishes of the people of the District of Columbia,
without the corporate limits of the city of Washington, upon the question of retrocession
to the States of Virginia and Maryland respectively. It passed to a second reading.
In February 1841, Mr. Merrick again introduced memorials in support of retrocession to
Maryland. Shortly after, the General Assembly of Delaware sent resolutions to Congress
opposing retrocession, but supporting representation for D.C. in Congress: Resolved,
That this Legislature are unwilling to believe, with the citizens of Washington and
Georgetown, that their only chance for good government and prosperity rests in a
retrocession of the territory ceded to the United States to the State of Maryland; but
confidently hope the next, if not the present, Congress will grant them ample redress of
all their grievances. Resolved, That the people of the District of Columbia ought to be
represented in the Congress of the United States, and that measure should be taken, as
soon as conveniently may be, to bring about such just and desirable end.
After Virginia, Congress, the President, and District citizens south of
the Potomac approved, and the southern portion was retroceded in 1846, discussion about
retroceding Georgetown and Washington county continued. On December 22, 1848, when Stephen
Arnold Douglas, a.k.a. Little Giant, a Northern Democratic Senator from
Illinois submitted a resolution instructing the committee of D.C. to inquire into
the expediency and propriety of the retrocession of the said District to the State
of Maryland. It was considered by unanimous consent and agreed to. In 1849, Mr.
Cameron presented a petition from citizens of Norristown, Pennsylvania, praying the
abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and protesting against the retrocession
of any portion of said District to the State of Maryland. In 1850, the Senate again
considered the resolution submitted by Mr. Douglas. In June 1856, Mr. Albert Gallatin
Brown of Mississippi, Chair of the Committee of the District of Columbia, presented a
petition of citizens of Georgetown praying the retrocession of that city to the
State of Maryland, which was referred to his committee. The next month, Mr. Brown
reported a bill (S. 382) to take the sense of the people living west of Rock Creek, in
D.C., on the question of the retrocession of that part of said District to the State of
Maryland; which was read and passed to a second reading. The next year, the bill (S. 382)
was read the second time and considered as in Committee of the Whole, but further
consideration was postponed. In the end, the retrocession effort was not successful and
was terminated with the outbreak of the Civil War. Mr. Brown entered the Confederate Army
as a captain, and was elected to the Confederate Senate in 1862. When Republicans took
power, a movement to retrieve the retroceded portion to the District replaced the drive
CLASSIFIEDS EVENTS AND CLASSES
Harnessing the power of the media training Wednesday,
January 31, 11:30 am - 1:30 p.m., Western Presbyterian Church, 2401 Virginia Ave. NW
(limited parking available in the church parking garage; the church is located near the
Foggy Bottom Metro Stop). This session will provide participants with concrete do's and
don'ts of working with media, creating a media message, getting stories placed, and using
the media to tell your story. Participants will also break out into mini skill-building
Fee: $10 (this includes the materials, beverages and dessert).
Scholarships are available upon request please call 234-9404. Bring a brown bag
lunch. RSVP by January 25 to: DC Action for Children, 1616 P St. NW, Suite 420, 20036.
Send check for $10 (made payable to DC ACT) along with your name, organization, address,
phone, fax, e-mail. This training is sponsored by the Advocacy Initiative to Meet Human
On January 20, 2001, Inauguration Day, at 3:00 PM, Musicians for Social
Justice will present a protest concert, as an alternative inaugural event. The
concert will be held at the historic All Souls Unitarian Church, 16th and Harvard Streets,
N.W., Washington, D.C. The concert is entitled: A Concert: The People's Voice: A musical
call for justice in the election process. The concert is free and open to the public. It
features works by Beethoven, Copeland, Barber, Ives, and Afro-American composers along
with gospels and spirituals, with inspirational speeches throughout the event by prominent
artists, social justice advocates, and religious leaders of a variety of faiths and
denominations. Attendees are encouraged to use Metro (Green Line, Columbia Heights
station) in view of limited parking in the area.
Garden Resources Grants
Judy Tiger, firstname.lastname@example.org
Garden Resources of Washington announces the availability of small grants
up to $1,000 for community greening projects in Washington DC. Applicants are strongly
urged to attend a grant information meeting at GROW at 1419 V St. NW (2-1/2 blocks walk
from U St./Cardozo metro stop; street parking is available) on one of the following dates:
Wednesday, January 24, 6:30 p.m.; Saturday, January 27, 9:00 am; Tuesday, January 30, 6:30
p.m.; Saturday, February 3, 10:00 am. Garden Resources of Washington encourages
environmental stewardship, neighborhood revitalization, community food security and local
food production, community self-reliance, and youth development through community
Funds are available to community and youth groups, schools, churches,
civic associations, community gardens and other organizations for greening projects
located in Washington, D.C., such as new gardens, tree plantings, garden renovations,
educational projects and special events. Funds may be used for such project expenses as
gardening supplies, seeds, plants, tools, and other gardening supplies, educational
materials, outreach, and events. Selection Criteria include: high level of community
participation; strong community-building impact; realistic project plan, timeline and
budget; clear plan for long-term project sustainability; applicants' financial need;
long-term benefit to the neighborhood and environment; and in the case of youth/school
projects meaningful educational/community service purpose and clear plan for
long-term incorporation into classroom curriculum or ongoing community service.
Applications are due by March 5, 2001. Funds will be released by
mid-April. For an application or more information, call 234-0591 or E-mail us at GROW19@aol.com. In case of prohibitive snow or ice, call
to determine if workshops have been rescheduled.
CLASSIFIEDS CITY PAPER PREVIEW
Dave Nuttycombe, email@example.com
CASH MISMANAGEMENT: The only way the District government knows how to fix
a problem is to throw more money at it. Even as the city enters a new millennium and nears
the end of a congressionally created quasi-receivership under the financial control board,
the proverbial paradigm has not shifted. Want a clean audit on time? Spend mo' money.
Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Natwar Gandhi and Comptroller Anthony Pompa the
latest mo'-money acolytes decided that the only way to get the city's fiscal year
2000 audit out by the legally required Feb. 1 deadline and be certain of a clean opinion
was to spend $1 million. That's $1 million just to get ready for the actual audit, for
which the inspector general is paying $2.6 million to KPMG LLP.
Read the entire Loose Lips column here: http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/lips/lips.html
From washingtoncitypaper.com's CITY LIGHTS page, here are a few early
warnings for upcoming events:
SATURDAY: Andrea Young discusses her book Life Lessons My Mother Taught Me at
noon at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, 4606 16th St. NW. $25.
TUESDAY: Ken Burns defends his documentary Jazz at 7:30 p.m. at the U.S.
Department of Agriculture's Jefferson Auditorium, 1400 Independence Ave., SW. $22.
More details and more critics' picks are available online at http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/pix/pix.html
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