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January 30, 2002

Taxi Problem Solved

Dear Riders:

Of course we can solve our problems, if we just apply ourselves. Joan Eisenstodt, below, suggests a simple means by which the current taxicab zone system could be made easily understood by both cab riders and drivers. The program to make her system work could easily fit on the cheapest Palm Pilot, which retails for a hundred dollars. So if the problem with the current system is really that the zone maps are hard to understand and susceptible to fraud, Joan has the solution. However, if the real purpose of introducing meters is to raise the cost of long cab rides for DC residents from far southeast and northeast in order to subsidize short rides for tourists at downtown hotels, then Joan's solution won't work.

Now let's apply the same ingenuity to getting more and better competition in the election races for DC offices.

Gary Imhoff 


Proper Planning by DCPS?
Ralston Cox, Striver's Section/Dupont Circle, 

If Peggy Cooper Cafritz and the Board of Education want more money, why on earth are they sitting on one of their biggest assets and letting it rot? Many mornings I pass by Franklin School (13th Street, NW, between I and K, east side of Franklin Square) and marvel that this incredibly lovely building — for which DCPS received big $$$ for renovation when they sold development rights to a developer who built a big building right behind it — sits vacant. With office space in the area going for a very, very high premium rate (nearby Metro, great park, etc.) why on earth don't they outlease it or something.

Does anyone know why this particular school is left to rot by Ms. Cafritz, et al.? What a waste! I suspect this is but the one example I know of and that a close examination of their portfolio of properties would reveal other wasted opportunities.


Who’s on First?
Ed T. Barron, 

Don't ask this question of the DC School System. When it comes to relevant data they'd have trouble finding their collective butts with both hands. Can you imagine a school system that has more than 3000 high school students without shot records? We have a school system in DC that does not know how many students are actually enrolled. A system that cannot really tell you how many employees that are on the payroll are actively working in the schools.

There needs to be a data czar assigned to the school system to get what data bases there are pulled together and to put together a plan that will get all the data needed by a functioning school system collected, organized, and placed in a relational database accessible only to those who need access. Someday we might even be able to know how many students are really in the District's schools (and where they live).


Home Rule, But Not at the Local Level
Brian Heller, 

I'd like to see some mention made of the injustice in the proposed Advisory Neighborhood Commission redistricting coming before the City Council. It seems that part of Southwest is slated to go to Ward 2 ANCs, unless an amendment is made. This may not sound bad, considering that the ward boundaries changed as a result of the census, but consider this: the Washington Marina, a longtime Southwest business and part of the SW waterfront, would come under the jurisdiction of the Logan Circle ANC. Nobody from that neighborhood lives anywhere near the Marina, whereas the citizens who do live within walking distance would be shut out under the current language of the ANC redistricting bill. It goes even further: Hains Point would also be under the jurisdiction of citizens who live miles away and are far removed from the SW waterfront. This makes as much sense as having District of Columbia representation in the government of Delaware. Why should local SW areas be subject to non-local ANCs that are nowhere near SW? Is the sentiment in favor of DC home rule hypocritical?


Save the Avalon
David Hunter, 

Please sign “Save the Avalon Theater,” hosted on the web by, the free online petition service, at We agree with what this petition says, and think you might agree, too. If you can spare a moment, please take a look, and consider signing yourself and passing it on.


Giant Versus the Neighborhood
Diane L. Olsson, Committee to Examine the Giant Giant, 

A January 28 posting defends Giant's intention to take over all of its Wisconsin Avenue/Newark Street building, formerly home to the Giant plus GC Murphy's plus The Kellogg Collection plus Hunan Gallery plus MAB paints plus Shemali's Deli — a neighborhood of shops. The posting contains a number of misconceptions and one very good idea — if only Giant would listen. The misconceptions? Most flagrantly, the notion that the groups that are trying to preserve the commercial vitality and variety in our local neighborhood shopping center are opposing any expansion by Giant. Of course we're not. But we do oppose The Great Wall of Giant: Giant's proposal to take a stretch along Wisconsin Avenue almost the length of a football field and render it devoid of any commercial activity other than one door to let pedestrians into — but not back out of — its supermarket. (The only exits would be to the rear parking lot.) Instead of the former pedestrian-oriented neighborhood shopping area, Giant would convert the heart of our Main Street into a lifeless brick wall punctuated by equally lifeless glass panels. That's what we're against.

Another misconception? The writer asserts that only the “crazies” are against Giant's plan. True, most of the neighbors who are seeking modifications to the Great Wall of Giant lack official Certificates of Sanity. Still, there's quite a bunch of us, and when Giant starts flaunting the signatures it collected on a petition for a wider-aisled store (we're all for that), let's see if it will finally respond to the other petition, presented to it last fall, with the hundreds of signatures by people who wanted Giant to set aside space for the former small shops along Wisconsin Avenue.

What's the very good idea? Simple and obvious: negotiate with Giant for neighborhood-serving uses opening onto Wisconsin Avenue. The writer suggested a fitness/wellness center. We've given Giant other alternatives as well — space for the small merchants that used to be in Murphy's, including the modest watch repair-and-jewelry stand, the seamstress, the shoe repair, and the garden supply shop; maybe a magazine booth with Giant's own wares or an ice-cream parlor — there are loads of good options. Sadly, the days of Messrs. Danzanski and Cohen, who ran Giant but cared about community, are gone. Instead, Giant now reports to its new owner, Royal Ahold, NV, the huge Netherlands food corporation, where profit is dictator, not benevolent leader. Months of discussion with Giant about retail along Wisconsin Avenue have gone nowhere. “Let's set up a working group,” we said. Said Giant, “we're at an impasse.” Sure, let's negotiate. We crazies are all for that.


Noncompetition in themail
Michael Bindner, 

The stagnation of the political process has several sources. The effect of campaign finance is huge, but not the only reason, as is the one-party status of DC. The reason not mentioned is the small size of the legislature. While a smaller body is much more effective as a committee, this effectiveness does not always give you better legislation. I have long advocated replacing the council with a larger House of Delegates. Tim Cooper and Democracy now recommend a House somewhere over 120. For most District voters (who we hope are the ultimate deciders of this question, rather than the Congress), I don't believe 120 passes the smell test. The New Columbia Constitution ratified in 1982 sets the legislature at 40 from single member Districts with the presiding officer elected by the body. The Council's unratified substitute is 25 members, with the presiding officer and 8 at-large members elected at-large and 16 members elected from either 8 or 16 wards (to be decided by the transitional House of Delegates). That seems to me to be too many at large for too few district members, so I don't expect it would pass the smell test either (if ever voted upon).

To overcome the one-party problem, electing 3 members per ward seems advisable, with no party able to nominate more than 2 of these. I would also have the body select the presiding officer from among 5 at-large members, which would create natural factions within parties and some interesting coalitions which might go beyond party lines to create a vibrant minority faction in the legislature. If there were 24 Wards, the resulting legislature would have 77 members (which may still be too large to pass the smell test). If there were 16 Wards, the legislature is 53 members. This would seem about right. Of course, there is no requirement that the number be divisible by 8, although that seems to be the District tradition. 21 wards would yield 68 members, and I trust my fellows readers with the ability to figure the math for other ward sizes (3 x wards + 5 at-large).


Pilot, or Autopilot? Over-Exercising the Right Not to Run for Office
Mark Richards, Dupont East, 

Last year this time, I wrote an article in Public Perspective magazine exploring the reasons people give in public opinion surveys for why they don’t vote. One item I found was that in 1998, 22 Virginia towns didn’t have enough candidates to fill council seats and three didn’t have candidates for mayor. I haven’t yet explored the reasons people do not run for office, but that would make a great civic research study. Some reasons I think of in DC: 1) there may be a lack of leadership training/candidate grooming efforts, 2) DC officials run into a dead end quite rapidly — in most areas, people start on a school board, move into a city council or town/village supervisor post, go on to the state legislature, and move into Congress or run for Governor, 3) the stark contrast between federal versus local official status/power causes many residents (perhaps rightly) to assume they can accomplish social change and/or earn more in federal, private, or nonprofit positions than by running for local office, and 4) DC local politics may appear to be more like walking into quicksand than a challenging mountain. In fact, DC residents seem to be more likely to chew up and run out of town appointed officials than elected ones.


Voting Responsibly
Erica Nash, 

Gary wrote, “. . . not many candidates . . . is this a sign that DC voters are happy and satisfied, or that we are discouraged and hopeless?”

I believe DC voters, in part, feel that it is pointless to vote since we do not have true representation and thus "value" as citizens. Well, one could certainly argue that if we cannot even take an interest in our local votes then what is the point in giving us the right to participate in a vote for national concerns at large. But as humans we must recognize how we are psychologically affected by deprivation of inclusion, and the factors which emanate and trickle-down from government’s actions which tell us that we are not worthy of a vote. I do not advocate that we are lazy voters because we do not have national voting rights, but I do recognize that this is certainly a factor which psychologically affects us.


Public Funding of City Elections Beginning in 2004
Arthur H. Jackson, Jr., 

As a member of the DC Democratic State Committee, I am calling on city voters to petition the City Council to end fundraising corruption by supporting a limit on all campaign spending of: Mayor, $20,000.00; Council Chair, $10,000; At-Large Councilmember, $10,000; Ward Councilmember, $ 5,000. I am also advocating doubling the petition signature requirement for all offices and an automatic and immediate recall of any elected official found guilty of violating city ethic laws.

Through public funding of elections, we will take away the power and influence of lobbyists and give power back to the senior citizens in Anacostia, single parents in Petworth, and police officers on Capitol Hill. We must end fundraising corruption and ethical abuse, which are hanging over our city, and public funding of campaigns is a first step.


Citizen Participation in Government
Jim McLeod, 

On February 5, Bill 14-2, the Misdemeanor Jury Trial Act of 2001, is up for its first legislative reading (on the Council's non-consent agenda). How this bill has been treated by some members of the council should interest you, but it takes me at least 800-words to explain it. To request a copy of my essay recently published in The Georgetown Current ( “Viewpoint: Civil liberties at stake with law on juries,” January 23, 2002, page 11), just E-mail me You have until Tuesday to express your views to your councilmembers on the subject.

For a brief web-residing description of what issue the bill is responding to, read the five-paragraph letter to the editor, “When It's Just a Judge,” April 7, 2000, A30,,  by Christopher Warnock. Attorney Warnock explains both how the U.S. Supreme Court has come to its current view of the constitutional right to a jury trial and to what extremes the court's 1996 Lewis v. United States decision has taken us.


Meters and Computer Nerds Blended
Joan Eisenstodt, 

Like others, I ask every taxi driver his/her thoughts about meters v. zones. One said, why not combine them with a meter into which the pick up and drop off addresses are entered, the zone fare pops up and a receipt is printed. It seems simple. Are he and am I missing something? If Red Top can have the cool things that help them find their next fare (although I question the safety when they are driving and punching in info), why can't we have something easier and make (almost) everyone happy?


At DC School, Justice Kennedy and Teens Explore U.S. Values
Mark David Richards, 17th Street Strip, 

This Washington Post article on the Federal Page (January 29, 2002), as titled in the above headline, is great:  I wonder if Justice Kennedy and First lady Laura Bush explored the meaning of the Taxation without Representation T-shirt in this little lesson in American values. Well, it is accurate that Americans have apparently not valued having democracy in DC.


An Open Letter to Mayor Williams and Councilmembers
Sam Jordan, 

In a packet of materials forwarded to your office on January 24, 2002, Health Care Now! addressed its concerns regarding the proposed merger and conversion of CareFirst, the regional Blue Cross/Blue Shield holding company. CareFirst seeks to convert to for-profit status and be acquired by Wellpoint, a major health insurer. The press release accompanying the materials underscored our apprehension occasioned by the lack of rigorous municipal oversight of the performance of the DC Healthcare Alliance and its implications for oversight of the CareFirst conversion process and its impacts. Health Care Now! declared that only “immediate due diligence from the DC Council and the Mayor's office” could adequately assure the public's interest would be promoted. Please find enclosed a copy of the letter recently distributed by CareFirst to Blue Cross/Blue Shield policyholders. In it, CareFirst asserts its confidence that “the merger will benefit our customers, our members, our partners in health care delivery and our community in many important ways.” Better service and products, greater stability “slowing the rise in premiums” are among the advantages to be achieved by the merger and conversion according to CareFirst.

The benefit given most emphasis, or “above all,” as CareFirst puts it, is “the $1.3 billion charitable trust that will result from this merger can be used by your elected leaders to address health care needs for citizens. . . .” Health Care Now! must insist that neither CareFirst nor any other entity has demonstrated that $1.3 billion is an accurate reflection of the value that should accrue to the public should the conversion be approved. To date, there has been no reliable, independent examination of the value of CareFirst's assets and liabilities, good will, community value and years of favored tax treatment accruing to CareFirst in its role as “insurer of last resort.” Some observers have suggested that $1.3 billion is far too conservative an estimate of CareFirst's liquidated value. Yet CareFirst has initiated its public information campaign by projecting the $ 1.3 billion estimate as if it has a necessary relevance to the public's interest in the proposed merger and conversion.

The public's interest in this matter is yet to be determined. It may in fact be very poorly served by a merger and conversion of CareFirst. Health Care Now! is a member of CareFirst Watch, a coalition of local organizations concerned that we will be “pitched” by CareFirst when health care consumers, including policy holders and non-policy holders, health care providers, regulators and legislators should instead conduct the most exacting and circumspect examination of the conversion bid by CareFirst. This letter serves to inquire into your plans to conduct an independent valuation of the CareFirst conversion, an examination of the impact such a conversion might have upon the access, quality and affordability of health care services and health insurance in the District. We seek also to obtain your projection of a time frame or schedule of hearings, public forums and the completion of the application process. What is the role to be played by health care consumers? What weight will be given community input? How will it be solicited? We urge your immediate attention in this matter.


David Sobelsohn's Postings Concerning “Incrementalism” and Thurgood Marshall's Strategy for Overturning Segregation
George S. LaRoche, 

No wonder we don't achieve any real solutions to the fundamental problems in DC and no wonder so many people tune out when we start talking politics or law. Beyond declaring our ideas or opinions, it's very difficult to discuss (or, in the academic sense) debate them. Example: David Sobelsohn interprets the facts and political climate one way; I interpret them in another. When asked to explain a critical assumption in his argument, he trivializes my motives as “impassioned” (January 13) and charges me with intellectual dishonesty (January 27) — for not having read a book which he had cited in support of his argument, after I had suggested that the book doesn't stand for the proposition for which he cites it. It doesn't matter whether I'm impassioned or have read the book, however, in the context of the original argument, for the question was not about my feelings or the book; the question was why the District should remain a colony, segregated from the rest of the United States, albeit with a little more equality of representation in Congress. In the same vein, if I start citing pages in the book which support my interpretation of the best strategy for addressing the District's situation (and out of 776 pages of actual text, not including title pages, appendix, index, etc., you can be sure that I would cite dozens), it wouldn't necessarily mean I was “right” or that Mr. Sobelsohn was “wrong” because the book — howsoever useful and important — is extraneous to the question. It seems to me that one of the highest purposes of a forum such as themail is to discuss the District's situation, in hopes of figuring out together what we can move forward together, towards a better world. Personal attacks detract from that purpose and alienate us from each other.

[This debate may be emblematic of life in Washington, but it has gone far from the subject of life in Washington, and gone on far too long. Time out, gentlemen. — Gary Imhoff]



New Networking Opportunity
Kathy Sinzinger, The Common Denominator, 

Join us for a new monthly networking opportunity! The Common Denominator's new monthly after-work series of "Conversations With Newsmakers" will kick off on Friday, February 15, with City Councilman Adrian Fenty of Ward 4 as our featured guest. Join us from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on February 15 at Ellis Island Restaurant & Pub, 3908 12th Street, NE, in Brookland, for a lively discussion of local public affairs and an evening of networking. Our host for the evening will be restaurateur Hugh Kelly, whose Ellis Island Restaurant is located just off Michigan Avenue, NE, and within walking distance of the Brookland/Catholic University Metro stop on the red line (exit on the side with buses). Free parking is available on and off the street. Cash bar. No reservations required to attend this event.


Technical Assistance Budget Advocates
Susie Cambria, 

The Fair Budget Coalition's February 6 meeting (9:30 - 11:00 a.m. at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, 1800 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, 6th floor) will feature technical assistance on 1) non-profits' legal right to lobby and 2) the use of data in budget advocacy. The monthly meeting will also feature a briefing on the status of the suspension of the Tax Parity Act and the CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report -- the city's audit) and updates on the DC Earned Income Tax Credit and other important human services' related issues. All are welcome and encouraged to attend. For more information about the Coalition or the meeting, contact Patty Mullahy Fugere at the Legal Clinic, 872-8958, or Susie Cambria,



Computer Consulting
Stewart Glanzman, 

I am a freelance PC support specialist with over twenty years of experience, and I am versed in every version of Windows. I will come on site and perform Windows upgrades, troubleshoot Windows or resolve any PC related application issues. I can also provide user training and diagnose your system and install and maintain any Windows based application.

My rates are reasonable. I am available on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis. I can be reached via E-mail at, or you may call my toll free number: 888-464-2135. Please check out my web site at New York Metro area. Resume and references available upon request


House Sitter
Arthur Jackson, 

Business consultant/writer will serve as caretaker of your property from thirty days to one year, will clean and maintain property, forward mail, pay bills, secure property and grounds, other duties considered. E-mail or call 240-508-5926.



Ron Lefrancois, 

Available at no charge to a needy student, school, or other organization is our mint condition two-year-old Yamaha keyboard. All kinds of bells and whistles. I even have the original box and all papers, music books, etc. It is 3 feet long and 12 inches deep and easily fits on a small table. It plugs into a standard wall outlet.



Language, Etc.
Amy Michaud, 

Language, Etc., located in Our Lady Queen of the Americas Church, is recruiting native English speaker volunteers to teach English to adult immigrants Saturday or Sunday afternoons 2-5 p.m. Classes start February 16th. Training is provided and parking is available. It is located at 2200 California Street, NW, between Connecticut and Massachusetts Avenues, and only minutes away from the Dupont Circle Metro station. For more information, call or E-mail Melissa Zervos, ESL Coordinator, Language, Etc., 387-2222 or 387-2616,

I am currently volunteering as an ESL teacher at Language, Etc., on Sundays, and it is a wonderful, hands-on volunteer experience. I can't recommend it highly enough. Feel free to E-mail me directly with questions.



Trash Companies
Rachel Hines, 

I'm researching private trash companies that will come to a small apartment building (seven units) in DC and pick up recyclables about once a week. I'd appreciate any leads and, if you know, how much these companies charge.


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