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January 9, 2002

The Triumph of Cynicism

Dear Cynics:

Today at his press conference Mayor Williams announced new rules designed to make private financial donations to the District government conform to some ethical considerations ( Mayor Williams's financial ethical lapses started small, with a mere $40,000 in unreported income that he took for no-work jobs during his 1998 mayoral campaign. The Office of Campaign Finance fined him $1,000 for that. Then Mayor Williams blatantly used governmental employees and resources to campaign for the Charter Amendment to reduce elected representation on the Board of Education. Both OCF and the Board of Elections and Ethics censured Mayor Williams for that. Then came the current controversy over soliciting corporate and individual donations, which were laundered through both legitimate and phony nonprofit organizations, for the Mayor's political activities and parties. This scandal has been hanging over the Mayor's head for the past year, and the Mayor still refuses to reveal all the funds that were solicited and to account for how they were spent.

Today, Mayor Williams issued an apology for the mistakes others made in raising and spending this money. In doing so he threw overboard both his former Deputy Chief of Staff, Mark Thompson, and his former Chief of Staff, Abdusalam Omer, basically placing all responsibility for misbehavior on their shoulders, and accepting personal responsibility only for not managing them closely enough. What the headlines about this so-called apology won't show is that Mayor Williams apologized only to the people who are important to him — the people who donated to these funds and whose future donations he intends to receive. He apologized to the big-money donors for dragging them "through the mud." He had not one word of apology to the citizens and voters of the District of Columbia, whose hopes for ethical conduct by this government he has betrayed.

If you read the Mayor's order looking for the loopholes, here's what may be the most important one. The three independent offices in the city administration that are charged with ferreting out and disclosing unethical financial conduct are the Office of Campaign Finance, the Office of the Inspector General, and the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. The Mayor's order establishes an Advisory Committee to the Office of Partnership and Grant Development, the new office tasked with gathering the booty, and "invites" the director of the OCF, the Inspector General, and the CFO all to join that advisory committee -- thus compromising and undermining their independence and their ability to conduct untainted investigations of any fundraising misbehavior. Neatly, and cynically, played, Mr. Mayor.

Gary Imhoff 


Woodley Park’s Diary of Darkness
Sally MacDonald,

The streetlights in North Woodley Park went out six nights ago, and we are locked in the usual decades-long struggle to find those responsible and able to repair them. Instead of a Festival of Lights, or the Twelve Nights of Christmas, we regularly have Festivals of Twelve Nights of No Lights.

The City-DPW engineers, Mr. Jama Abdi (671-2710) and Mr. Mike Dorsey (671-2829), only discover neighborhood outages after some days (nights) of darkness. (Bad communications!) The City and Pepco play their game of Ping-Pong, each claiming the other is responsible! Pepco engineers (most vividly!) describe the City's bad history of not paying bills and do not want to get involved. Finally, they negotiate. (Squabbling!) After the outage, the residents' calls (over 20 yesterday), the lack of contact/communications/site visits, the negotiations, the search for the 80-year-old unmapped circuit, a weekend of no work, the “quick fix” of replacing a transformer (which never lasts), a dowser with metal rods to find the underground pipes, and maybe a day of repair, it is again the weekend and, again, the unsuccessful work stops! (The city arranges for Pepco NOT to work on weekends, leaving city residents without help!)

Halfway through our latest Festival, Mr. Abdi (the DC DPW Engineer/manager) said today that he has more important things to do than come to Woodley Park to check on any repairs; Mr. Dorsey (the man charged officially by DC with repairing streetlights) reminded me that he does not have/need streetlights, as he lives in the country! Over the years, I have tried to impress upon him how much city-dwellers want/need/expect and pay for streetlights! Mr. Charles Dickerson (872-5470) of Pepco Customer Operations, who grandly promised help, said that streetlight outages are so rare in DC that a voice mail option is not needed on their “help line.” Within one hour yesterday, I found that it is a recurring problem in five DC neighborhoods! (Residents might want to call and let him know.) We soldier on — on the edge of dark Rock Creek Park! We are told that if someone were to fall, it would be the City to be sued, not Pepco! We cannot expect lights until next Monday at the earliest. Wish us well! PS: For a single streetlight repair, call the DC nighttime number, 269-0855. That is Unity Construction, subcontractors who do a superb job!


Arresting Behavior at the Wilson Building
Dorothy Brizill, 

On Monday, January 7, at approximately 9:00 a.m., twelve homeless advocates from the group Olive Branch went to the Wilson Building to request a meeting with Mayor Williams about recent hypothermia deaths in the city, the closure of the Reeves Buildings as a cold-weather shelter, and the need for a detoxification center for homeless adult alcoholics and drug addicts. Because they didn't know where the Mayor's Office was located (and because the Wilson Building doesn't have any building office directory), the group went to the old location of the Mayor's office on the fifth floor, where they were greeted by Phyllis Jones, the Secretary of the City Council, who directed them to the Mayor's office in the penthouse. The twelve advocates waited in the public lounge area and in the elevator corridor outside the Mayor's suite of offices, and requested a meeting with the Mayor. They were told that they would not be allowed to meet with the Mayor, and security guards told them that they were not allowed to be in the reception area or corridor outside the Mayor's offices because it was “the private space of the Mayor.”

Nine members of the group agreed to an offer to meet with Deputy Mayor Carolyn Graham — they claim that she left the meeting after about three minutes; she claimed in a conversation with me that she stayed between twenty and thirty minutes, and then said forty-five minutes. Three members of the group — Harold Moss, Jamie Loughner, and Tom Gomez — remained in the public lounge area, demanding a meeting with the Mayor, until members of the Mayor's security detail and DC Protective Services (which provides building security in DC public buildings) carried them out. DC Protective Services arrested these three and took them to the Second Police District where, after several hours, they were charged with “unlawful entry.” Their court appearance on the charges will take place on February 15.

The entire arrest procedure was highly irregular. The three people in the Mayor's public lounge were never disorderly or disruptive or even demonstrative. They were not loud, and they did not prevent any business from taking place. They were simply unwanted. Unwanted by the Mayor, but not by the management of the Wilson Building. Under DC Law 10-65, the Wilson Building is “under the exclusive authority of the Council,” and the Secretary of the Council is responsible for building security — and Secretary Phyllis Jones had directed the Mayor's security detail and DC Protective Services, in her words, “to leave the advocates alone,” since they weren't disorderly or disrupting any work going on in the building. Since a charge of unlawful entry can only be brought if the person is there “against the will of the lawful occupant or of the person lawfully in charge thereof,” this seems on the face of it to be an egregious case of false arrest. But it remains an important cautionary tale for any citizen of the District who may want to get an appointment with the Mayor. The right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, doesn't extend very far under this city's administration. Be very careful — if you go to the Mayor's office to ask for an appointment, and he doesn't want to see you, you may be subject to arrest.


New Tenleytown Yahoo Group
Buddy Yingling, 

I'd just like to let folks know that I have created a web-based E-mail list for the Tenleytown area. To join go to


Can’t Get No Respect
Ken Katz, 

As one of those who takes words such as “democracy” seriously, I find that suffering through this current era of patriotic bombast, in which such words are more often abused than used, can nevertheless be assuaged by the local dog trainer: on today's Washington Post web site Metro section there was an article with the title “On the road to excess exhaust” written by Tracy A. Woodward. The article had a link in the form of a picture with the following caption: “Washingtonians are living further out in the suburbs, and driving more SUVs. . . .”

While I agree with the latter observation that inner-city SUV's are a large and sadly growing number, how exactly can “Washingtonians” be “living further out in the suburbs”? Can “Virginians” live in ever greater numbers in the District of Columbia? While simultaneously dismayed and humored by such poor — no matter the measure used — journalistic insight and ability, I was tipped off by the picture: seemingly a Suburu Outback Wagon (could've been the Suburu Forrester SUV, but really looked like the non-suv Outback) with Maryland or Virginia plates — but probably not DC plates — driving down Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown.

Was Rodney Dangerfield from DC?


Public School Spending
Bill Starrels, Georgetown, 

The spending on the DC Public School students has to be put into proper perspective. The numbers used for per pupil spending includes funds for special education. If the special education funding was separated, as it should be, one would find that the per pupil spending on DC students is not extraordinary. The figures top out at $5,000 or so. As the parent of a DC public school student and former PTA President, I find it patently unfair to lump the numbers together. If the special education money were separated, it would cause everyone to focus on fixing the problems with the Special Ed money and it would showcase in a proper light the modest amounts of money spent on the mainstream students.


WETA and Local Service
Peter Wolff, 

[Gary Imhoff wrote: “[I]n DC, neither WETA nor WHUR does much at all to produce or air programming specifically aimed to serve this city, and WETA seems particularly uninterested in doing so. Am I wrong?”] No, Gary, you're not wrong! I don't watch much TV — other than the usual news and weather channels in typical DC news junkie fashion — but when I do, it's more toward the so-called “educational” channels, especially WETA and MPT. For those who don't recognize the MPT call letters, that's Channel 22, Maryland Public Television, which comes in loud and clear in DC. I can say without hesitation that it has a far more interesting and creative local programming lineup than does WETA by far. There are many programs on MPT that focus on the history and culture of Maryland, from cooking to travel and arts. Unlike WETA, which seems to have an abundance of over-impressed-with-themselves talkers hogging the screen, MPT seems to go out of its way to find program hosts who seem to be real people who are actually part of Maryland and want to share their love and excitement of its history and culture with all of us out in TV Land. Even their little 3-5 minute filler pieces, instead of being paeans of praise for their station, tend toward being short reports about fun things for people to do happening around the state.


Public TV
George LaRoche, 

You ask for differences in the roles of public TV and commercial networks offering the same substance. You put your finger on much of the difference already, but don't overlook the fact that the substance offered by commercial networks is still quite different from that offered, usually, by public TV, and that difference reveals a deeper difference. While there are commercial networks offering “all history, all the time,” or offering “all nature, all the time,” the content of these programs is as much shallow entertainment as anything. In fact, you can waste an hour watching something on the history channel and get no more actual factual information than you might get from a People Magazine article read while taking a dump. On the other hand, public TV programming offers much more dense subject matter, and frames it in questions challenging the viewer to engage with the information. And this surface difference in what they offer reveals the deeper difference which matters. Public TV still takes itself seriously and offers demanding programming which challenges the viewer to think, while commercial TV, even if addressing the same ostensible subject matter, offers entertainment, to keep your mind from wandering for an hour or so, without asking you to use your mind. So, despite their similar content, public and commercial TV still differ fairly widely on why that information should be provided to the consumer. Public TV offers it to educate and challenge the viewer to think, which commercial TV offers it to entertain and relax the viewer.


Missing Mail and Reagan National
Alexander M. Padro, 

[In reply to Vivian Henderson's inquiry about missing mail:] I have gotten numerous complaints about delayed mail. Interestingly enough, on Saturday, January 5, I received a large envelope, with a postage-metered date of November 28, 2001, mailed from Minnesota. It had clearly been irradiated (the envelope was yellowed and so brittle that it began to fall apart in my hands as I tried to open it). Perhaps Ms. Henderson's letter and my envelope were MIA together. More importantly, how much other mail is in limbo? I heard a report some time ago that a large quantity of mail was to be destroyed by the USPS. Has anyone heard anything further on that?

Next time you want to fly out of the Airport-Formerly-Known-as-Washington-National, just tell the agent you want to fly out of “DCA.” That's the code assigned decades ago to identify Washington National Airport, or whatever else anyone may choose to call it these days. The three-letter airport code (ever notice them on airline luggage tags?), used by airlines, online reservation systems, air traffic controllers, etc., to identify the airport alongside the Potomac in what was once the District of Columbia, has not changed. Yet.


Reagan Watch Continued
John Noble, 

I can't help but chuckle when Peter Jennings refers, or more likely doesn't refer, to Reagan National by the partisanly anointed name. He almost always calls it “Washington National Airport.” After all it's already named after a president, isn't it?


That Airport
Ken Katz, 

I noticed on Sunday evening when sitting at one of the eating establishments in the new Main Terminal (no, I don't go there just for the dining experience) that the welcome/security announcement referred only to “Washington National Airport.” I don't know if that is a Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) oversight or was purposeful, but, ever the optimistic person I say bless the hearts of MWAA.


Taxicab Meters
Richard P. Schmitt, 

There apparently is resistance to meters because a short trip will cost less then some current in-zone trips. Why can't the initial fee be set higher? Isn't this part of the flexibility of the meter systems? Fares can be adjusted up or down by the 10th of a mile. Increase the proposed fee to go the first 2 to 4 tenths of a mile, and lower the fees for each additional tenth.

Am I missing something? Is there some politics which the local newspapers are not reporting about?

[The local newspapers hadn't reported the real politics of meters versus zones until Marc Fisher's perceptive, on-target article yesterday, “The Wrong Way for District's Taxis to Go,” Fisher writes: “Who favors meters: the mayor, big business and the companies that want to take over Washington's cab industry. The opposition: taxi drivers and customers. What's wrong with this picture?” Anyone who wants to change DC's cab system drastically, by introducing meters or by legislatively setting (and reducing) the number of drivers, needs to confront Fisher's analysis. — Gary Imhoff]


Re: CRS Report on the Horizon by Mark David Richards
George LaRoche, 

It's a good sign that Congress is looking into the District's status, but the CRS should not be the definitive — much less final — word on the subject, since their previous work on DC is usually quite accurate as far as it goes, it has tended not to go into the issues actually at stake for the District. As for the comparison of DC to other “federal capitals,” the best source for such is Donald C. Rowat, a Canadian political scientist, whose The Government of Federal Capitals was published three decades ago, in 1973. Harris, in fact, bases some of his work on Rowat's work.

But while the notion that Congress could and should do the “same thing” for DC as was done for other federal capitals in other countries is tempting, it overlooks something fundamental. In most of those cases, the countries who have taken such steps have somewhat different political norms than we pretend to cherish and, in all such cases, the fact that adjustments are made to provide "representation" of the federal capital in the national legislature STILL leaves unanswered the question of local self-government. Mexico City, for instance, is more or less constantly at war with the national legislature of Mexico to control its local fortunes, and its dismal environmental conditions are in no small part a result of national efforts to trump local measures to clean up the City. In short, the exclusive focus on "representation" in the national legislature ignores the reality of what government is, what it should do for us, and why we have governments. In the complex of events which we recall as the American Revolution, we determined that we HAVE government in order to secure life, liberty, and the chance to pursue happiness. We determined that this thing called “government” arises from and is sustained by our ongoing consent. We had spent several fruitless decades trying, under the banner of “taxation without representation is tyranny,” to persuade the government of Britain to “let us in” to its structure, arguing that we were good and loyal subjects of the Crown. When that effort failed, we decided that it was necessary to “dissolve” the bonds which linked us to Britain and govern ourselves. That was the essence and accomplishment of the American Revolution. It is possible to read all following American history as the unfolding of the original commitment to self-government.

Every situation in which Congress has trampled a local initiative or desire, every instance in which Congress has told DC what to do with its own money, every time Congress has trumped with will of the citizens of DC to do something they think right and proper, is an instance in which self-government has been denied, and “representation” in Congress will not eliminate this at all. As I note above, Mexico City is “represented” in Mexico's national legislature, yet it has the same fights DC has now, and loses them as readily as DC does now. If you're not a part of the SAME GAME, if you're not an equal member of that national legislature because you enter ON THE SAME FOOTING as every other member, you are a second-class citizen. The issue at stake is self-government, not "representation" in the national legislature.


Single Parent = Dysfunctional?
Lois Kirkpatrick, 

I take issue with Ed Barron's statement that DC's single parents are “presumably dysfunctional.” Do you mean to suggest that all single parents are dysfunctional? Or do you mean to suggest that only single parents who live in DC are dysfunctional? Either way, that statement is specious. The 2000 Census revealed that more than two million men in America are single parents, and, of course, many more are women. Some of these folks are much better parents than those in “traditional” households, just like many single parents have been from the beginning of time.

Ed Barron hit the nail on the head when he said the problem with DC schools is not money. One of the real problems is culture. I believe Harvard professor Dr. Cornel West made a compelling argument about how some contemporary U.S. cultures eschew the stereotypical middle-class lifestyle progression of pursuing good grades to get into a good college and then find a good white collar job. Until and unless that culture values education, students will continue to do poorly in school.


SmarTrip Cards
John Wheeler, 

I have a few responses to the SmarTrip discussion. Jamie Treworgy continues to complain about Metro's $5 charge. He admits that it may be only cheapskates that will not pay it, but the “collective of cheapskates means using SmarTrip.” I think it's a failure to design a system to satisfy cheapskates. Also it's not fair to compare this with Exxon charging for the chain thing. How much does that thing you waive at the pump really save you it time and convenience? How often do you use it? (I may go to an Exxon station one a year. I wouldn't carry an extra thing on my key chain for that.) He also complains about standing in line to purchase the SmarTrip card. I have purchased four (one for me, one for my wife, and two for guests). I stood in line at Metro Center for about a minute to buy the first two. The next two, I used a form that I picked up at a Metro station. They can also be ordered from Metro's web site.

Something that I'm surprised that people haven't raised in this discussion is the registration. If you register the card (you don't have to), you get insurance that if you lose your card, you can report it to Metro and you're only out the $5 cost of the card and any fare deducted before you report it. But when you register the card, Metro will know about every trip you make using the card. To some people, that's too much like Big Brother. Since Metro isn't the government, I'm not bothered. I assume they'll use that information to tweak service.

Finally, Annie McCormick asks what to do with used fare cards. Here's the rule: Any unused fare card can have its value added to the SmarTrip card. Any used card below a certain value (I think it's $6) can be added to the SmarTrip card. When I got my card I added my collection of small value fare cards to the SmarTrip card.


Offensive Greetings
Kurt Vorndran,

The question is asked: “Warm best wishes. You got a problem with that?” Yes, it is very offensive. It is a northern Eurocentric greeting. Why warm? Sure, northern Europeans would wish each other “warmth” in their cool climates. For people from the tropics, southern Europe, the Middle East, a cool greeting would be preferred.

Try again!



“Beautiful,” “Devastating” Play at Round House
David Sobelsohn,

A “beautiful” (New York Times), “devastating” (Chicago Tribune) play about “the healing potential of storytelling” (Financial Times), “The Weir” takes place in a rural Irish pub, where locals compete to impress a young Dubliner by telling ghost stories. Her own painful, personal tale tops them all. Footlights — DC's only modern drama discussion group — has a block of discount tickets for the 3 p.m. Saturday February 2 matinee of “The Weir” at Round House Theater, 12210 Bushey Drive, between Randolph and Veirs Mill Roads, a few blocks from Connecticut Avenue in Silver Spring. They're only $17, including a special post-show discussion arranged just for us. We'll have dinner afterwards at a nearby Chinese restaurant. Send your check, payable to “Footlights,” to Robin Larkin, 5403 Nibud Court, Rockville, MD 20852 (301-897-9314 and We can get you there; if you need a lift, just ask. More info at


FMMC Concert at Kennedy Center — FREE!
E. James Lieberman,

Forwarded from the Friday Morning Music Club Orchestra invites you to attend a concert at the John F. Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater on Wednesday, January 16, at 7:30 p.m. Sylvia Alimena will conduct and tenor Tim Augustin, winner of the 2001 Washington International Competition will be the featured soloist, performing Vaughan Williams' On Wenlock Edge. The program will also include Brahms' Academic Festival Overture, and Beethoven's Symphony #8 in F. Tickets are required for this concert and must be reserved in advance, but they are free. To reserve tickets call 333-2075. If a wheelchair is required, it must also be reserved at the same time. Tickets will not be mailed, they will be held outside the entrance to the Terrace Theater until 7:15 p.m. on the evening of the concert. Order your tickets early as this is generally a sold-out concert!


DC Preservation League Annual Meeting
Alexander Padro,

The DC Preservation League, Washington's citywide historic preservation organization, invites you to attend the League's annual meeting in the newly renovated John A. Wilson Building on Wednesday, January 16, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The John A. Wilson Building, formerly the District Building, was constructed from 1904-1908 to house the government of the District of Columbia. The building was designed by prominent Philadelphia architects Cope & Stewardson. The recently rehabilitated landmark building was renamed in honor of Councilmember John A. Wilson in 1999. The building is located at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. The public entrance is on the south side of the building (D Street).

The program will feature remarks by city officials, an update from the League's president on major preservation accomplishments of the past year, a summary of the Wilson building renovation by project architect Shalom Baranes, and tours of the building. Hors d'oeuvres, wine, beer and soft drinks will be served. The event is free for members. Nonmember admission ($45.00) includes a one-year individual membership. For more information and to make reservations, call the DC Preservation League at 955-5616 or E-mail


US Department of Labor Jobs & Skills Fair, January 10
David A. Catania,

I am forwarding the information below as a public service announcement, given recent increases in unemployment and the downturn in the economy. Please share the information below with others who might be interested in attending. Department of Labor Workforce Recovery Conference, Thursday, January 10, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Washington Convention Center (9th Street Entrance), 900 9th Street, NW. Free of charge to exhibitors and attendees.

This is a day-long jobs and skills fair to help put the Washington, DC, region back to work. It's for the people in the Metro area particularly affected by the aftermath of 9-11-01, and for those who are helping the recovery: employers in public service, security and public safety, construction, healthcare, transportation, technology, government contracting and more; providers of services and information on training, certification, skills, education, and access to the full range of services for workers in transition; and qualified job seekers in need of opportunity or assistance. For more information, please send an E-mail to



Anne Anderson,

I understand about twenty citizens have come together to place this ad in local newspapers. Thought it appropriate for themail. “Help Wanted. MAYOR: With demonstrated expertise, experience, and competence, willing and able to work with the people of this city to educate and protect our children, care for our needy, manage our hospitals, protect us from crime (street crime and white-collar crime), keep us from burning down, defend our interests, lead us into self-government, use our money wisely, and a lot more besides. Must be more interested in accomplishment than in self-promotion. Must have ethics and demand ethical behavior from colleagues. Has to be able to talk to people not wearing tuxedos and not writing checks. Courage and a sense of humor would be big +. Pay is not bad. Positions also available for Council Chair and six Councilmembers, Chair of the Board of Education and two Members, ANC commissioners, and some other offices. To apply, call 202-526-0003 for the address to which you should send your resume and a 1- or 2-page statement of why you should get this job. (The people of this city are an Equal Opportunity Employer.) Do not send references from Congress, the White House, the Control Board (R.I.P.), or the Federal City Council.”



Robert Marvin,

Flexcar: Has anyone tried the new car rental service whereby renters pick up cars at Metro stations? Convenient? Better or worse than Avis or others? Personally I think its a great idea, but have not tried it yet.


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