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January 23, 2002

Springlike Plans

Dear Planners:

Dorothy was saying today, as we contemplated the unseasonable warmth and an upcoming week of winter days in the high fifties, and even sixties, that there were a few new tourist attractions in town that we hadn't yet seen — the reopened Botanical Gardens, the new panda couple at the zoo — and it made me wonder what else you would recommend. As the federal government develops phony tourist simulations to substitute for the White House, the Capitol, and other real monuments of the federal government, what are the shouldn't miss sights in town that we've probably missed?

Gary Imhoff 


Tree Planting in the District
Joan Eisenstodt, 

This morning, I heard loud noises and saw a back hoe digging up the tree box in front of the house next door. A large trench, which also took out bricks, was dug. Down the street, workers were digging smaller holes. Nothing had been said to us. The DC Dept. of Public Works was pretty nice and called the Tree Division to ask, and they were told that there should have been a “green circle” on the sidewalk to mark where the trees went. Nope, no circle, said I. Hmmm, said DCPW, call us back. Found a supervisor and yep, he said, they are planting trees. (Note they will not do anything about the mostly dead large old tree that may, in any storm, fall on our houses!) But a trench? Sheesh. The grass is now gone, the mud is lovely, and there is a dear little tree with not nearly enough room for its roots.

Beware of men bearing trees!


MLK Day Not a Holiday for AT&T Wireless
Bill Starrels, Georgetown, 

Apparently Martin Luther King day is not considered a holiday by the folks at AT&T Wireless. I simply hope subscribers are not trying to use their unlimited “nights and weekend” time not knowing that MLK day is billed at prime time.

Perhaps next year?


Camping at the Oyster School
Tad DiBiase, AU Park, 

Last January, I read with some disgust an article in the Washington Post regarding nearly one hundred people camping out for an entire weekend at the Oyster School in Ward 3 so that they could get their applications in first when registration began on Monday morning. Not disgust at who would do that, but disgust that the school system is so backwards that, rather than just have a lottery system, it would force parents to nearly freeze to death to try to get into this wonderful bilingual school. I took some comfort in the fact, however, that School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz expressed her shock and the shock of newly-named superintendent Paul Vance that this camp out occurred. Indeed, eventually the principal was told to open the school during the day to let folks thaw out. Ms. Cafritz noted that the decision to permit this type of camping out was not made by Superintendent Vance but by the previous superintendent, the implication being that this wouldn't happen again.

Well, I'll give you one guess where I'll be this weekend. That's right: camping out in order to secure a good place in line to get my 4 1/2 year old daughter the best chance of getting into Oyster. Why does the school system let this lunacy continue? When I called the DCPS to find out, I was told by a surly “Ms. Wilson” that the decision not to have a lottery was made by “a committee” made up of principals, parents, teachers, and some assistant superintendents. She refused to give me the names of the superintendents but said she would check to see if she could release this obviously highly classified information. (The cobwebs remain on my phone.) A call to Ms. Cafritz has yet to be returned, but my school board member, Dwight Singleton, helpfully informed me that the real solution was more bilingual schools. Um, yeah but how does that prevent me from having to wear eight layers of clothes next weekend?

The idiocy of this system is even larger when one considers that Oyster requires its student body to be 50 percent English-dominant and 50 percent Spanish-dominant. I understand that the percentage of Spanish-dominant slipped last year because with a new school (the first in DC in fifty years), many parents in Woodley Park, where the school is located, decided to send their children there. Did the DCPS ever consider that many the Hispanic families they target may actually have parents who have to work on the weekends and can't afford to camp out? Doing a lottery gives everyone an equal shot and enables the school to still jigger the applicants to achieve the desired language mix. So if each of themail subscriber could come by the school with just one small item, a hot drink, a fifth pair of gloves, or a chiminea, I sure I'll survive my 62 hour ordeal! I'll be the skinny guy with the icicles on his chin.


Taxi Meters
Victoria McKernan, 

Why is the only choice for taxis between a bad zone map or potentially abusive meters? Hello — what have all you computer nerds out there been doing all this time besides thinking up newer ways to complicate my life? What about a GPS system in each cab that is connected to (interfaces with?) a computerized map of the city? The driver pushes a button and gets a GPS reading at the start and finish of the ride, then the computer figures a mileage cost based on the most direct route between those two points. The computer could also factor in time idling in traffic. This assures the driver a decent fare while eliminating the potential for flogging the meter by circuitous routes. The cost should be comparable to installing meters.


Erica Nash, 

Ed T. Barron, what a great idea! A trial run for metered cabs with feedback. Now that is great marketing! How do you suggest we get it implemented?


The Nightmare of Epaminondas
Mark David Richards, Dupont East, 

In 1800, Augustus Woodward (“Epaminondas”) warned DC residents and democracy advocates against having Congress assume exclusive legislative authority over DC. At the time, the outcome was not clear, and some dreamed of streets paved of gold. Epaminondas warned that “The effect ... is to reduce us to that political situation, which Americans deprecate; we are to be governed by laws, in the making of which we have . . . no share in electing the members of congress, who are exclusively to legislate for us. We are reduced to the mortifying situation, of being subject to laws, made, or to be made, by we know not whom; by agents, not of our choice, in no degree responsible to us. . . . [H]aving other constituents to serve, [they] are not likely to be very tender of our rights, or very much alive to our interests. We resort in vain to the constitution, for the means of relief; from that instrument, we cannot hope to have our situation ameliorated.”

Two hundred years later and “the effect” Epaminondas warned about couldn't be more obvious. Following is the newest anti-democracy rider that Congress attached to DC's FY2002 budget, along with two that previously existed and were retained. Just exactly what does this mean? Can the Mayor and Council use their office space to advocate for voting rights, or is that against federal law? In another rider, Congress allows DC's local funds for “shadow” representatives, but not federal funds. Although we can argue about whether spending local money in support of DC Congressional voting rights or statehood is the most important use of our collective money, I find these restrictions repugnant and malicious:

Sec. 107. (a) Except as provided in subsection (b), no part of this appropriation shall be used for publicity or propaganda purposes or implementation of any policy including boycott designed to support or defeat legislation pending before Congress or any State legislature. (b) The District of Columbia may use local funds provided in this Act to carry out lobbying activities on any matter other than — (1) the promotion or support of any boycott; or (2) statehood for the District of Columbia or voting representation in Congress for the District of Columbia. (c) Nothing in this section may be construed to prohibit any elected official from advocating with respect to any of the issues referred to in subsection (b).
Sec. 124. None of the funds contained in this Act may be used by the District of Columbia Corporation Counsel or any other officer or entity of the District government to provide assistance for any petition drive or civil action which seeks to require Congress to provide for voting representation in Congress for the District of Columbia.
Sec. 132. Nothing in this Act bars the District of Columbia Corporation Counsel from reviewing or commenting on briefs in private lawsuits, or from consulting with officials of the District government regarding such lawsuits.


In the Absence of Integrity
Jonetta Rose Barras, 

Several years ago, back in 1996 to be exact, I fell in love with this wonderful book written by Stephen Carter simply entitled Integrity. Observing the DC Council’s public hearing on Inspector General Charles Maddox — his residency, his term of office, his educational background and tangentially his performance -- reminded me of that book. “One reason to focus on integrity as perhaps the first among the virtues that make for good character is that it is in some sense prior to everything else,” says Carter. “The rest of what we think matters very little if we lack essential integrity, the courage of our convictions, the willingness to act and speak in behalf of what we know to be right.”

In the District, those of us who supported Anthony Williams for mayor above all the other candidates thirsted for integrity. We hungered for the return of ethics. We had been deprived for decades of these key ingredients, and yet we had not grown cynical or jaded; we continued to believe it was possible to find a political leader with integrity. And, when Congress in what we all concluded was a wise decision, infused the city’s Office of the Inspector General with new and important powers, we celebrated. We hoped the new configuration would make the office more than a legal camouflage of mayoral improprieties and bureaucratic malfeasance. Now, however, three years after Mr. Williams first took office, and six years after the creation of the independent Office of the IG, many District residents realize that the dream they dreamed has become a nightmare. Not only is the mayor’s administration under investigation for yet a third time for unethical and possibly illegal activities, but Maddox, who as IG is supposed to be above reproach, also has proved himself a man of questionable ethics and integrity. Is it possible that he truly believed he was following both the letter and spirit of the city’s residency law when he decided to squat two nights a week at his son’s condo? Was he attempting to fool us all, make us believe he was actually a resident of the city because he changed his voting status, while five days a week he made it home to his 17-acre estate in Maryland, where his wife waited with dinner and a smile? How did he get the job as general counsel to then-IG E. Barrett Prettyman, when Maddox did not have a degree from an accredited law school and wasn’t a member of the DC Bar as required? Should Maddox have been made to apply for a new position, instead of just having it handed to him? And why didn’t he notify the mayor that he in fact was no longer general counsel, when Williams nominated him to fill the remainder of Prettyman’s unexpired term? You can be sure that Maddox, like the mayor, has an answer for his shadowy behavior. But his answers aren’t good enough.

One thing is clear from the council’s hearing last Thursday: The city needs a new IG. If you doubt this, consider this question from Carter: “No matter what our politics, no matter what causes we may support, would anybody really want to be led or followed or assisted by people who lack integrity?”


Ed T. Barron, 

Mayor Williams recent public remarks on the misuse of contributions made to a fund that was intended to help disadvantaged students in the District could be summarized in just a few words, “I am not a crook.” These are familiar words that were made by a former resident of DC when the Watergate was being investigated. Like Nixon, Williams has acknowledged that the bad stuff happened on his watch, but immediately pointed fingers (and toes) at many who no longer are part of his administration.

To get to the real bottom of just what happened Mayor Williams has appointed the District's Inspector General to investigate. That's the equivalent of giving Willie Sutton the key to your safety deposit box. Is it likely that the District's IG is going to uncover any damning evidence that his boss knew all that was going on? The District's investigation is the equivalent of Arthur Andersen investigating Enron. We need some real investigators. I ask the Post to reunite Woodward and Bernstein to smoke out all the real crooks in this scandal.


DC Residence for Senior DC Government Officials
Lars Hydle, 

While I agree with the DC government requirement that senior DC officials must be or soon become DC residents, I think it is too labor-intensive to follow them around or stake them out to see where they spend their nights. A senior government official should be deemed to be a DC resident if he/she pays DC income taxes on his income and claims to have a residence here. If, like Inspector-General Maddox, the senior official does not claim the homestead exemption for that residence, that is his/her loss.


An IG Is Not Enough; Expand the DC Auditor’s Office
Rob Fleming, 

Isn't it time that the Council got its own investigative/analytical arm, like Congress has the General Accounting Office? With all due respect to the Council's committee staffs, some of whom are very good, it needs more permanence and expertise. This goes beyond simple auditing to program evaluation and assessment. For instance, how about a crosscutting study of how much Federal money never gets spent, and why? Why are contracts (and personnel appointments) awarded without performance deadlines? What are the second-order consequences of city actions (e.g. you step up housing code enforcement and landlords use it as an excuse to displace low-income tenants)? If the Council is going to exercise oversight, it needs better glasses.


Least Represented?
Denise Wiktor, 

When I lived in Austin, Texas, I had an elected Mayor, six at-large city council members, one or two members to the state school board, a state senator and a state representative, and two Senators in the Senate here in DC and a House representative. No, we didn't have ANC's, but we also didn't have Congress examining every bill we passed. It is not a question of how many elected officials we have, but what powers they ultimately have. We could have one City Council person for every ten thousand residents but that still would subject our every action to federal scrutiny. Numbers are not the issue. Power is.


A True DC Legislature
Timothy Cooper, 

I quite agree with Mr. Farmer regarding the stunning lack of local representation for DC residents. It is simply preposterous that DC residents elect only eight ward representatives and five at-large members to the DC Council and call it adequate local democracy. Given the minute level of representation for a population of the District's size, it is no small wonder that DC's local politics, to say nothing of its talent pool, is so shallow. With only eight locally elected representatives representing the specific interests of individual wards, DC residents tolerate a shockingly insufficient constituent-to-representative ratio: a whopping 72,750-to-l. Because the five At-large members represent the District's entire population, while school board members perform an entirely different city service, none of these elected DC officials are counted in this equation.

Strikingly, the average of the ten least populated states' constituent-to-representative ration is 6,700-to-l. Vermont provides the most dramatic comparison. Though the state's population of 562,000 is nearly identical to that of the District, its voters elect 180 representatives to the state legislature every two years, including 150 to the state House of Representatives and 30 to the state Senate. In the lower house alone, the constituent-to-representative ratio is 3,747-to-1. Moreover, while Vermont's State budget is less than $1 billion per year, the District's is more than $5 billion. This means that Vermont has 180 elected representatives to oversee a budget one-fifth the size of the District's, or, put another way, the District has 13 elected representatives to oversee a budget five times the size of the Vermont's.

Several other points are worth noting when considering the District's lack of local representation, which, of course, was originally mandated by Congress in the Home Rule Charter in 1974: 1) After evaluating every state legislature in the US, the Citizens Conference for State Legislatures recommended between 100 and 150 members for each state legislature as the optimum size for good governance, regardless of state population; 2) States with populations comparable to DC's, including Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, North Dakota, and Vermont, enjoy legislatures of between 97 and 180 representatives; 3) Residents of each of the fifty states enjoy various levels of representation, including county, municipal, special district, and federal levels. These numerous representatives, numbering in the thousands in many states, are actively engaged in governing, while DC functions as a municipality, county, and a state (for the most part), with only 14 elected officials; 4) The territories of American Samoa and Guam provide their residents with a hugely superior level of local representation compared with DC's. American Samoa has a population of approximately 142,000, yet its legislature is composed of 21 members. If DC enjoyed that same level of proportional representation, its legislature would be comprised of 380 members; 5) DC once enjoyed a territorial legislature of significant size and scope. Between 1871 and 1873, DC claimed a 33-member Governor's Council and House of Delegates. At the time the local population was only 131,000. If DC residents enjoyed the same level of representation today, its House of Delegates would be composed of 132 members, not 13.


RE: DC Self-Government: TWO Aspects, Count ’Em by David Sobelsohn
George LaRoche, 

Mr. Sobelson's distinction is not between “aspects” of self-government but between expressions of the phenomenon. Most Americans exercise their powers of self-government through state (and, with qualifications, local) governments and through the national government. To have the full panoply of opportunities to govern ourselves, we must enjoy both avenues of expression: local and national. But under our federal Constitution and the system of federalism it defines, it is not possible to have the latter without the former, however easy it might seem to draw a “theoretical” distinction in the armchair.

As for incrementalism, it's a reasonable thing, when you've been fighting to reach the right and ultimate goal but are defeated in the process, to live with the incremental state which your defeat gives you, but it's not a fine thing to start with that incremental state as your goal. In this sense, Mr. Sobelsohn does in injustice to Thurgood Marshall and misreads Simple Justice, for the point made in that book was not that Marshall was an incrementalist, but that he was smart enough to figure out how to use defeat as a stage from which to reach the right and ultimate goal. So, noting that this goal of “representation in Congress” has been the incrementalists' goal for a century, one has to wonder how long the incrementalists are willing to wait for the right and ultimate solution. And all the while, we still don't know why DC should remain a colony.


Mirian Saez Again
Bob Summersgill, 

In a previous posting to themail, I wrote that DC School Board nominee Mirian Saez had previously served on a school board. Dorothy Brizill challenged this and wrote, “Despite claims that are now being made for her, she was never previously a member of any board of education or school board; the closest thing to that on her resume is her membership for an unspecified period at an unstated date on a Guernsey, Ohio, County Board of Mental Retardation and Development Disabilities.” Mirian Saez E-mailed me to say that this is a school with a workshop. That does not rise to the level of an elected community school board, and I humbly withdraw my previous claim. I will stand by the point that I was trying to make that if this is a political appointment, it isn't one that will get the Mayor a single extra vote.


What Do the Orange, Painted Square Markers Signify?
Peter Wolff, Dupont Circle, 

Here's a question (actually, it's sort of a two-parter) that was sent to me. The inquirer is confused and so am I. Do any of the knowledgeable folks on the list (including the DC government gang) know the answer(s)? Here follows the inquiry received:

“I was wondering if you knew what the orange box painted on the front of some boarded-up homes signifies? I think it relates to the, now canceled, Homestead Housing Preservation Program. There are so many boarded-up homes in the city, and I was wondering why some have the orange square on them and some do not. Also, how do you know which homes are available for purchase and renovation and which ones are not? It's all confusing to me.”



GWU’s Production of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues
Laurie Beth Rines, 

George Washington University's performances of the Vagina Monologues will take place on Friday, February 8, Saturday, February 9, and Sunday, February 10. Friday and Saturday performances will be held at the Dorothy Marvin Betts Theater, in GWU’s Marvin Center at the corner of 21st and H Streets. Sunday's performance will be in Lisner Auditorium, across from the Marvin Center. All three performances start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $20 general admission and $10 for students. Student Groups of twenty or more can purchase their tickets at a rate of $5 per person for the Sunday night show only. For ticket information please call 248-9968 or E-mail at



Xerox Repair Company Needed
Jon Katz, 

Please give me your recommendations for a company that will service a Xerox desktop copier. The warranty expired, and Xerox claims that it doesn't make service people available for non-warranty work.


Dave Nuttycombe, 

From's LOOSE LIPS column, appearing this Thursday:
TELLING TALES OUT OF SCHOOL: If the DC public schools ever experience a shortage of creative-writing instructors, their recruiters should turn to DC Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz, who is proving eminently qualified to teach such a class. After all, Cafritz has spun some fantastic tales about the school system's budget over the past few months.
Cafritz even has the writerly lingo down. “We have a narrative and a plan attached to everything we do,” she testified before the DC Council Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation last Friday, Jan. 18.
Cafritz's story arc begins back in September, when DC Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi unearthed an $80 million deficit in the fiscal-year 2001 budget. The school board president denied overspending, presenting her own reports that showed a budget surplus of $93.5 million. “I don't believe we have an $80 million deficit because we have not received any paperwork that says that,” Cafritz told the Washington Times on Oct. 20.
Cafritz was right: The deficit later turned out to be $98.2 million.
Read the entire Loose Lips column here: 

From's CITY LIGHTS page, here are a few early warnings for upcoming events:
SUNDAY: Marty Stuart plays with Last Train Home at 7:30 p.m. at the Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. $25.
TUESDAY: “MacHomer: The Simpsons Do Macbeth,” at 8 p.m. at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center's Kay Theater, University Boulevard and Stadium Drive, College Park. $20.
More details and more critics' picks are available online at


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