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May 19, 2002

Controversy for a Change

Dear Controversialists:

I'm tired of writing about the uncontroversial and bland things I usually address, so for a change I'll take on a couple of controversial topics. First, the halfway houses. On Thursday, the Washington Post reported, as though it were a news story, that a criminal advocacy group that promotes halfway houses in residential neighborhoods issued a report that denies that these facilities cause any problems (; the report itself will be, but is not yet, published at, click on Projects/Publications). Is anyone surprised? Has anyone who every tried to resolve a problem with a halfway house in this city ever been met with anything but denial, both from the organization that runs the facility and from city government officials?

Second, speaking of denial, has everyone noticed that for the past few years themail has had two continuing threads that almost never intersect? These two threads speak to the great divide between two groups of politically active people in this city. The first thread is, broadly speaking, about the frustrations we face in trying to achieve good government — honest, efficient, and effective — in our city. The second is about the frustrations we face in trying to achieve both full self-government and representation in the national government. Those whose primary concern is representation -- voting rights through statehood or other means — rarely address the local government's corruption and inefficiency. One reason for this is the belief that voting rights are an inherent right that needn't be earned and shouldn't be dependent on our local government's good behavior. Two other reasons are more practical: advocates realize that emphasizing the failures of the city government strengthens the resolve of their opponents; and advocates are allied to, and often led by, local politicians who see the diminution of federal oversight over their actions as the main benefit of increased self-government. But wouldn't the case for self-government and voting rights be strengthened if its advocates also led the fight for good government?

Gary Imhoff 


DMV’s New Computer: Myth or Reality
Scott Vicary, 

My wife recently received the registration renewal for her car, which arrived ten days before the registration expired. After telephoning the DMV, she was informed that the new computer system was having problems, and many registration renewal forms went out late. This, of course, is the new computer system that the administration has been claiming will solve all the problems at the DMV. A responsible citizen would go down immediately to the DMV and renew the registration in person, but the computer system was down the day before and no DMV bureaucrat will tell you over the phone whether the system is operating on the day you want to go. So we took our chances with mailing it in.

This is when we learned another interesting fact. The DMV has up to fifteen days after your check clears to send your new registration and stickers, and apparently it's in no hurry. Funny that the parking enforcement employees seem to be far more efficient than the DMV, since a $100 ticket was on my wife's car within hours of the registration expiring. I've spoken to a few other people in the city who have not received their registration renewal in time. The conspiracy theorists might wonder whether, in a cash-strapped city, perhaps these late registration renewal forms have little to do with the new computer system but rather are a shameless way for the city to boost revenues. Apparently, a late registration renewal form is not grounds to overturn the $100 ticket, meaning that either the city collects many thousands of dollars for its “computer” problems, or DC residents must give up an even greater amount of time and labor productivity to renew their registration in person. Hmmmm.


Annie McCormick, 

I am (perhaps foolishly) thinking of purchasing a home in the District and am looking into crime reports for certain properties. I have tried  but every time I enter an address it comes up “The Parameter is incorrect.” The site has been this way for over two months. Does anyone have any idea how to easily find out PSAs? I have tried all sorts of DC government offices, and the police department, but no one seems to know an easy way to find out PSAs and crime statistics. I find this totally baffling that this fundamental information is not easily found.


On the Road Again
Dorothy Brizill, 

Mayor Williams heads out of town again this week to attend the annual meeting of the International Council of Shopping Centers in Las Vegas. The DC delegation consists of Mayor Williams, Councilmembers Brazil and Orange, Deputy Mayor Eric Price, and representatives from the DC Marketing Center, the National Capital Revitalization Corporation, community development corporations, developers, and business leaders. The DC Marketing Center has produced a report on “Retail Opportunities” in Washington as a sales tool for the trip, highlighting development opportunities in DC's neighborhoods.

The Las Vegas junket comes just after the Mayor and Mrs. Williams have returned from a ten-day trip to Europe (May 4-14), during which the Mayor attended the three-day “Glocalization” Conference in Rome ( “Glocalization” isn't a typographical error — it's a neologism defined as encouraging “global powers to have a broader respect for local powers.” The World Bank took a leading role in organizing and funding the forum and the continuing “Glocal Metro City” organization, as a response to the growing anti-globalization movement.

While Mayor Williams enjoyed springtime Europe, the City Council debated and finally approved the District's FY 2003 budget; the Department of Motor Vehicles, the agency that the Mayor touts as the prime example of his management reform, continued its meltdown with a series of central computer slowdowns, failures, and crashes; DC Public Schools reorganized its central administrative staff and issued Reduction in Force notices to 1100 employees in its central administration; the resume problems of Fire Chief Ronnie Few and his three top officials from East Point, Georgia, continued to raise questions about the competence of Williams's management of the department; and the unimproved DC Child and Family Agency let Layla Randolph's three-year-old life slip through the cracks.


World Cup
Jeff Yost, 

Many fans of the beautiful game have been lobbying the soccer-friendly bars to open for the World Cup matches in a few weeks so that soccer fans in DC can get together and watch their national team. Because of the time difference between here and Asia, most games will be shown live at 3, 5, and 7 a.m. Lucky Bar and Capitol Lounge agreed to a pretty decent schedule between them; almost all the games live. Well, fans just got some pretty bad news from Cap. Lounge/Lucky Bar.

It seems that within a couple of hours of posting the bars' World Cup viewing schedule on the Soccer-Nation web site they got a call from the ABC Board advising them that they are not to open outside their normal hours under any circumstances. There's really not much they can do about it. It's their livelihood, so they can't very well thumb their noses and open anyway. Besides, they have to deal with these ABC guys every day, not just for one month of the World Cup.

Given the games' late broadcast time, it would be clear that no alcohol would be sold, and the outside areas will be empty (no TVs outside), so neighborhood noise would be kept far below the sound of the garbage trucks that run through my alley at 5:30 a.m. The DC government makes temporary exceptions to its rules all the time. So what can be done to persuade the people at ABC to allow soccer fans in this very international city to congregate at their chosen spot to watch the mother of all games?


Postcard from Big D
John Whiteside, john at logancircle dot net

I'm just back from a weekend in Dallas, visiting a friend, which gave me a chance to see more of that city than I ever have in business trips. It was fascinating. It would be hard to find a place more unlike DC. Everything is big — the houses, the freeways, the hair. It's completely car centered, despite the development of some good new urbanist projects around the city and some enhancements to their public transit. It's ugly as sin, with sprawl that makes northern Virginia look charming. And housing is cheap — it's interesting to see how people live when they're not spending all their money on shelter.

But most shocking was this: the people who live there love it. They're proud of it. They tell you the great things about it. They want to show it off to you. Now that I've lived in the District of Complaint for years, it's refreshing to go to a place where people are capable of civic pride, even when they see the problems of their home town. When I returned to DC looked around, was very happy to live in a place much nicer than Dallas, and wonder why so many of us hate it so much.


The Marriott Myth and “The Plan”
Alexander Padro, 

In "The Words We Have to Eat," in the 05/15/02 edition of themail, Harold Foster made the statement that "we now know that Marriott has, in effect, bought up the entire eastern flank of the new Convention Center." The rumors about Marriott buying up property in Shaw and moving out poorer residents is nothing but an urban legend. Nary a week goes by without a constituent contacting me, often in tears, because he or she has learned that (select from one of the following Section 8 buildings: Immaculate Conception Apartments, Gibson Plaza, Kelsey Gardens, or Lincoln Westmoreland I) has been purchased by Marriott for conversion into a hotel. Or luxury condos. In every instance, I have dutifully contacted the management of the buildings in question, city officials, and hotel chains to attempt to confirm the rumors. In every instance, the rumors have proven false. As of this date, Marriott does not own a single square inch of property in Shaw.

Have developers purchased property adjacent to the new convention center in order to build hotels? Absolutely. On the 1000 block of 7th Street, NW, on the east side of the southern end of the new center, Douglas Development has assembled a number of commercial properties and empty parcels and has offered to construct a convention center hotel to be managed by Hilton. On the 1000 block of 9th Street, NW, west of the new center, Kingdon Gould has done the same, with Marriott as the hotelier partner. According to a statement by Steve Green from the mayor's office at a press conference on Friday, a decision on which development group will get the nod to build the convention center hotel is due in June. To date, the new convention center has not displaced any residents of the low income apartment buildings in Shaw. Last year, Kelsey Gardens, on the 1500 block of 7th Street, NW, was put up for sale. But when I helped the tenants to pursue their right to purchase the property, the complex was taken off the market. A few weeks ago, it was announced that Immaculate Conception Apartments was being sold to Mid City Financial, which owns Lincoln Westmoreland I and Washington Apartments. Mid City Financial's stated objective is for Immaculate Conception to continue to be populated almost exclusively by Section 8 families. But I am nonetheless encouraging the tenants to pursue their right to purchase the building and begin the process of creating wealth for their families through homeownership. And Marriott is still nowhere in sight.

And where the O Street Market is concerned — after years of poor management, broken promises and failure to pay taxes and repay federal loans by the former owner of this landmark, last year, an investor group bought the multimillion dollar tax liens on the property and settled the myriad other debts associated with the property so that it could at last be positioned for redevelopment. And the African American former owner remains a minority partner (no pun intended). The management company is in regular contact with me and makes periodic presentations at community meetings to ensure our input into the redevelopment process. Lastly, if I hear one more person tell me about “The Plan,” I'm going to tell them to check into St. Elizabeth's. If the nefarious characters allegedly behind this scheme to rid Washington, DC of all African Americans hold so much power, how come this city still remains a majority Black one, three decades after "The Plan" is said to have been conceived? DC residents of all races have much more to fear from Andrew Altman and the Office of Planning than they do from the late Richard Nixon or any of the other notables that legend tells us created “The Plan.” Or does Mr. Foster know something the rest of us don't?


Bleeding Hearts, Hemorrhaging Budgets: Is There a Doctor in the House?
Len Sullivan, 

Gary's assertion that his Hated DC Government cares more about sports promoters than the citizens of River Terrace, Kingman Park, and Capitol East makes about as much sense to me as claiming that DC cares more about hiring good doctors than curing the ill. They are the two sides of the same coin. Two thirds of DC's gross operating budget supports the needs of DC's less well-off citizens. Those three neighborhoods are well within the 75 percent of the city's limited land that consumes considerably more in city services than it produces in tax revenues. Sports promoters are one relatively short-term way to bring in revenues from otherwise underutilized spaces under DC's control. Redeveloping Reservation 13 and the SE Federal Center are obviously better, longer term options. But I see little sense in heeding inputs from citizens or demagogues that propose to increase expenses and deny raising revenues. It may sound appealing to the intended beneficiaries, but it's a formula for permanent welfare dependency on the Hated Federal Government.


The Race to the News of the Race
Kathy Sinzinger, 

Just wanted to point out that Serge's “good article” came six months after The Common Denominator wrote the same story last November. Serge broke no new ground, except that Sharon Ambrose returned his call for a brief comment. We added this Post story to our front window display of how Post reporters seem to need to read the news in The Common Denominator first.

[The web site of The Common Denominator is In the E-mail edition of last issue of themail (though not on the web site archive), I accidentally gave the wrong address for the first Washington Post article, merely repeating the address of article in themail. The correct address was  Today's follow-up article is at  -- Gary Imhoff] 


Summer School
Richard Layman, Northeast DC, 

Ed Barron makes a good point that budget overruns have led to a serious cut in the number of children who will be able to attend summer school classes — that there are serious consequences to mismanagement that can be debilitating to the students attending the DC Public Schools. However, one could make the point that “more of the same” won't necessarily lead to any better results in terms of educational achievement.


Red Arrow — No Turn
Vikki Kratz, 

Re: Annie McCormick's complaint about the red arrow on Thomas Circle and Massachusetts that motorists blatantly ignore: I have lived on this circle for more than a year and nearly every day I am practically run over by motorists who ignore it. I have even had motorists honk at me and impatiently gesture for me to get out of the way when the light is red and the "walk" sign is flashing! The red arrow is clearly visible, and there is even a helpful “No turn on red” sign posted right above it. This red light arrow is also in front of an apartment building for senior citizens, and watching them try to cross the street while cars honk at them and try to speed through the light is upsetting. Who do we call to get one of those red-light cameras set up at this intersection? Preferably before someone gets killed.


Red Arrows and Dan Tangherlini
John Whiteside, john at logancircle dot net

Annie McCormick asks whether red arrows mean stop. Yes, they sure do. I know this because I was pulled over and given a warning a few years ago for making a right turn on red (after a full stop, thank you) at one on Washington Circle. Of course, this doesn't mean anyone actually stops — I've had the same near-death experience when crossing P Street on the west side of Logan Circle. I suspect I may be the only person in the history of DC ever stopped for breaking this law, though.

Recently I speculated that DDOT chief Dan Tangherlini doesn't exist, since I'd had no luck getting him (or anyone in his department) to respond to me. (For those who thought I was E-mailing the wrong address — nope, I was using the form on the DDOT web site.) I'm pleased to report that DDOT has a real live acting director. I heard from Mr. Tangherlini after someone told him about my posts in themail, and we've exchanged a few E-mails about my transportation concerns. So, we'll see what happens next.


Sam Farmer’s “ECRA Worth Fighting For” (May 15)
George S. LaRoche, 

Mr. Farmer says that, “amongst those who have studied the Constitution, a constitutional amendment is far and away the preferred solution. That is just my feeling, nothing scientific.” Unfortunately, this is just Mr. Farmer's feeling. Of the several dozen law review articles studying or addressing the District's constitutional status even obliquely, NONE include any arguments which would support Mr. Farmer's assumption. And in my own research over the last decade, I've yet to find a single attorney who believes that amendment is “preferable” to statehood or retrocession on "constitutional" grounds (as opposed to political or socioeconomic grounds).

A significant constitutional issue was raised by Adam Kurland at Howard University law school, who argues that the 23rd Amendment should be repealed as part of either statehood or retrocession (as Farmer notes, but without attribution to Kurland's work). Kurland's arguments have convinced me he is correct, but I take his position not as a "bar" to statehood or retrocession per se but as indicating a deep structural problem which should be addressed to avoid a later constitutional "crisis" (serious problem). And Kurland's argument certainly doesn't necessitate or even indicate a conclusion that statehood or retrocession are therefore inferior to an amendment. In fact, because Kurland's arguments are so compelling, they also stand as a warning of the dangers of further amendment of the Constitution to isolate and define the status of the District and its residents. Such amendments would only more clearly delineate the segregation of the District from the federal system under which everyone else lives and, therefore, probably would have to be repealed in order to move toward statehood or retrocession.

The remainder of Mr. Farmer's arguments are focused on political considerations of the likelihood of passage of a statehood bill as opposed to an amendment. These predictions may be accurate, but political feasibility does not translate into legal or constitutional “preference.” And while Mr. Richards' public opinion survey (to which Farmer refers) may be correct, public opinion is not the ultimate test of constitutional legitimacy. One of the basic, structural principles of American constitutional law is protection of the rights of minorities, so majority opinion does not define minority rights. So, if one thinks that statehood or retrocession are bad ideas and if one thinks Congress should continue to manage the District as a little federal laboratory, but one wants representation in Congress, then an amendment conferring representation in Congress is a reasonable “preference.” But don't dress that parochial political choice up as, “far and away” the “preference” of “those who have studied the Constitution.”



CHIME: Scottish Fiddling and African Drumming
Dorothy Marschak, 

You have just two more chances to enjoy CHIME’s Music Around the World series of free programs at DC public libraries this spring, before we break until next October. 1) Saturday, May 18, 2 p.m., Lamond-Riggs Library, 5401 South Dakota Avenue, NE (541-6255 for directions). Scottish fiddler and dance instructor David Knight will give a lecture-performance on how the fiddle became the main dance instrument in Scotland and spread to Ireland and America. Audiences are encouraged to participate with some or all parts of their bodies. 2) Tuesday, May 21, 7 p.m., Mount Pleasant Library, Lamont Street near 16th, NW (671-0200 for directions). Percussionist Steven Nash and his group Ajiki will demonstrate many kinds of African drums and drumming and how they spread to Latin America and the Caribbean. The audience is encouraged to participate in dance, song and rhythm.

For information about these programs or CHIME, visit our web site,, or contact us at or 232-2731. Next year we plan to extend our programs to three additional libraries — Northeast, Watha Daniel and Francis Gregory — as well as continue at Mount Pleasant, Lamond-Riggs, Petworth, and Benning. We would like to add a library in Ward 8 as well. CHIME (Community Help in Music Education) is a DC nonprofit dedicated to mobilizing community resources to promote and provide music education for DC public school children. In addition to these library programs aimed at all ages, we have a Music Mentors program in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters; provide music instruction in schools and after-school programs; distribute donated instruments to schools and other programs; put on programs for DCPS students and professional development workshops for DCPS teachers through the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative; and lead an advocacy campaign to include music education in the required curriculum for DCPS elementary school students. We rely on volunteers and donations to carry on. We welcome your participation in either or both capacities.


May 16 Cocktail Charities
Marguerite Boudreau, 

May 16 Cocktail Charities will benefit Ward 1 Alley Cats ( and the Furry Faced Friends of Walter Pierce Park. Thursday, May 16th at Crush. All tips at Crush will go to Cocktail Charities. All proceeds from “Chef Master Ken's Buffet” will go to Cocktail Charities! The event will start at 6 p.m. and go 'til closing. Crush is located at 2323 18th Street, NW, near 18th and Belmont Streets in Adams Morgan. For more information, call 319-1111.



Paul Dionne, 

800 MHz computer with 256 mg RAM, 30G HD, 17' Monitor, network connection. Good computer in great shape. I move to Africa in June through December and am taking my lap top instead. $850 for entire system.


Key Strength Trainer 2000 Weight Bench
Kate Zimmer, 

Great deal for someone who wants to work out at home. Key Strength Trainer 2000 weight bench, bar, mat and 255 lb. weight set. Heavy duty oversized tubing. Sturdy no tip front and rear stabilizer. Scratch and chip resistant electrostatic finish. Comfortable high density foam pads. Weight bar safety hooks and retainer spring clips. Exercises: leg extension/curl, crunch, chest press. $275.00 or best offer.



Looking for a Book Group Meeting-Site
Charlie Stevenson, 

The Global Nomads, Washington Area, or GNWA, are looking for a site for our monthly book discussion meetings, to which the public is welcome. Ideally, we'll have something convenient to Metro, in the city, at little if any cost, and for a couple of hours, one Sunday afternoon per month.

"Global nomads" are basically people who spent formative years overseas due to parents' careers. GNWA is creating new activities and programs at this time. For more information on the group, or GNWA generally, contact Norma McCaig at


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