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August 4, 2002

Trust But Verify

Dear Verifiers:

“State and Main” is David Mamet's very funny movie about truth, lies, second chances, and movie-making. Near the end of the movie, the wise, kindly town doctor, who always wears a bow tie, advises the film's hero, “The truth is you should never trust anybody who wears a bow tie. The cravat is supposed to point down to accentuate the genitals. Why do you want to trust anybody whose tie points out to accentuate his ears?”

The man whom Cora Berry dubbed “Mr. Bow Tie” is now sending out two messages at the same time. He says one thing to the public, and he says exactly the opposite thing to the Court of Appeals, in his appeal of the decision by the Board of Elections and Ethics ( To the public, he says that he is outraged and repulsed by the forgeries on his nominating petitions. To the Court of Appeals, he says that he doesn't admit that there are any forgeries on the petitions. To the public, he offers the paranoid excuse that he suspects his campaign was “sabotaged” by the Bishops. To the Court of Appeals, he insists that there is no evidence that the Bishops ever did anything at all wrong with the petitions. To the public, he portrays himself as a man who understands what was wrong about submitting forged and fraudulent voters' petitions. To the Court of Appeals, he says that a false affidavit on a petition form is just as good as a true one, and that the Court should order the Board of Elections to accept false affidavits — all that should count, the Mayor argues, is that the lines on the affidavit are filled in with any information, true or false. Read the Mayor's latest brief to the Court and, if you get a chance, ask him what he really believes.

Gary Imhoff 


Strange Occurrences at the DMV Inspection Station
Pete Ross, 

As a Democratic Candidate for Shadow Senator, I campaigned at the inspection station from July 29-August 3. Listed below are some surprising observations: 1) Cars with low number tags were permitted to enter without having to wait in line. In particular, a car with tag #1089 was inspected on Wednesday (31 July) without having to wait in line like everyone else. When I asked why that car was permitted to cut in line without having to wait in line like everyone else, nobody would give me an explanation. There are no rules that I know of that permit citizens with low numbered tags to cut into the front of the line at the inspection station. I also observed cars being driven into the station without having to wait in line where it appeared that DMV personnel (or people who were friendly with DMV employees) were getting cars inspected for other people for a fee. 2) I noticed that when the TV cameras and reporters were at the inspection station, the lines moved much faster than when the TV cameras were not there. The lines moved twice as fast on Wednesday when the cameras were there than on Monday and Tuesday. I also noticed that the speed of the lines slowed down immediately when the TV cameras were gone. Employees came out of the inspection station to assist residents when the TV cameras were present. As soon as the TV cameras left, employees miraculously disappeared into the building. 

3) Ms. Newman (the Director of the DMV) stated on WTOP that the wait was long on July 31 because the inspection station had closed early on the previous two days. What she neglected to say was that the lines (and wait) were even longer on Monday when there were no TV cameras reporting the delays and the inspection station had not been closed early on the previous week. 4) Metro busses were in line to be inspected. I asked several of the drivers what they felt about having to stay in line for up to four hours. They said they loved it because they were on overtime. Four hours of overtime plus travel time means that it must cost us tax payers several hundred dollars to get each bus inspected. It would be much more efficient if the inspection station had dedicated late night inspections to have buses, police cars, and other government vehicles inspected.

5) I also observed police officers waiting in line to get police cars inspected. This does not appear to be an efficient use of our policemen. 6) On July 30 (the day that had a humidex index of 105 degrees), I observed a senior citizen in a car that was not air-conditioned. I informed the senior citizen that there was a special line for senior citizens. The senior citizen went to that line. An employee of the DMV came to me and told me that I should not inform senior citizens of this privilege. The employee who told me not to inform senior citizens of this privilege would not give me his name, so I had to go to a supervisor at the DMV who instructed the employee to give me his name (which was Reese Butler). This senior citizen also reported this episode to Councilmember Graham. Councilmember Graham sent an E-mail to Ms. Hobbs Newman with a suggested solution. Councilmember Graham suggested that the DMV post signs at the DMV to inform senior citizens that they do not have to wait in line to have their vehicles inspected. To the best of my knowledge, Ms. Newman has not responded to Councilmember Graham.

7) The men's room in the DMV station was absolutely filthy and smelled of urine. Personnel may be cleaning it, but it is not being properly cleaned and sanitized. 8) None of the soda vending machines in the public area of the DMV inspection station were working from July 29-31. However, I did observe employees at the DMV drinking sodas and I was told that they had soda machines in an area that was not open to the public. Why were the machines in the employee area functioning when the machines in the public area not functioning? By Thursday, I stopped going into the DMV station to get sodas, and I do not know if the machines in the public area were fixed.

It is a disgrace that this deplorable situation exists at the DMV Inspection Station. Ms. Newman (the director of the DMV) has had several years to correct this situation. I am sure that when she goes to get her car inspected, she does not have to wait in line. An appropriate punishment for Ms Newman for not competently doing her job would be that she be required to take a car through the inspection station every time the wait is more than one hour. Ms. Newman has been the director of the DMV for several years and has had more than enough time to solve problems at the DMV Inspection Station. All city employees (especially high ranking employees) should be required to take their cars personally to get inspected and stay in the same line that residents do when they get their cars inspected. These high ranking bureaucrats (and elected officials) should be required to sign sworn affidavits that they did not get any special preference when they went to the DMV inspection station. Maybe if the DC hierarchy joins the citizens in the charade at the inspection station, the situation will be corrected.


The 411 on DC’s 529 Plan
Mark Eckenwiler, eck-at-ingot-dot-org

At long last, DC has unveiled the plans for its Section 529 college savings account program. Like other 529 plans, it provides a tax savings both on the front end (up to $3K/annum DC tax deduction per filer) and on the back end (withdrawals to pay for college costs are not subject to federal or DC tax).

Some (but not all) of the details are available in the press release — — and on the official plan web site, Oddly, the latter is missing some key info — e.g., the fees charged to set up and maintain an account — that does appear in the otherwise minimalist press release.


Property Tax Escrow
Chester Speight, 

I'm a DC homeowner. I want to pay my own property taxes. I have asked my lender, Bank of America, that I not be required to pay property taxes into an escrow account held by them, because I have substantial (and undisputed) equity in the property. First, the Bank flat-out said no. Now, the Bank has written me to say it would allow me to do so, but with conditions that I have to sign off on. I think this is not right and believe it is not allowed under DC law. Anyone out there share my problem and concern? Anybody out there have similar communications with the Bank of America or another bank concerning DC property tax escrow?


Foggy Bottom, Jury Trial Resolution and Housing
Jim McLeod, Foggy Bottom, 

For those who don’t receive the Foggy Bottom News, it covers more than our neighborhood's struggle with housing-hungry George Washington University. The last issue had news of the passage of a bill that was responsive to a resolution (#99-6B) passed by our Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC-2A) in 1999. The resolution called for the restoration of the statutory right to a jury trial for most misdemeanors offenses. Councilmember Phil Mendelson introduced the Misdemeanor Jury Trial Act and, after hearings conducted by Judiciary Chairperson Kathy Patterson, the bill was passed by the City Council. The law does not fully restore the rights the Council took away in 1994, but eleven members of the council (from both parties) voted in support of twelve members of the community deciding questions of fact when more than two years of a person's liberty are at stake in a single criminal proceeding. Before Act 14-135 became law on May 21, (49 DCR 5052), one person in DC was charged with multiple misdemeanor offenses and faced more than 3000 years in jail, but had no right to a jury.

As for GWU's efforts to occupy more housing outside its campus boundary, their campus plan will be the subject of a September 24, Board of Zoning Adjustment hearing and will be discussed on Oct. 24, in oral arguments before the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit (GWU v. DC, et al, #02-7055).


Term Limits: A Good Idea in DC
Lars Hydle, 

When I first got involved with the battle against the repeal of term limits, my main concern was that the Council not overturn in such a self-serving way an initiative passed by the voters without going back to them. But over time I concluded that term limits are a good thing for DC because our incumbents have such large advantages — name recognition, control of redistricting their own wards, cable channel coverage, no serious partisan opposition, large campaign contributions of “smart” money — that most races are over before they begin. Incumbent Council members have won 86 percent of the races they have entered, though few would argue they were that good, and no Council member not named Marion Barry has ever won a race for Mayor. In this political context term limits create more open, competitive races.

For democracy to work in DC, there must be some doubt about who will win an election, so that the candidates are more worried about pleasing the voters than each other or large contributors. The term limits law that the Council repealed was very soft, only prohibiting more than two four-year terms for one office. A ward council member could move on to an at-large Council seat, the Council Chairmanship, and/or the Mayoralty, and back again, all without a break in service, if the voters agreed. That term limits law, which took effect in 1995, was repealed before it ever affected the right of an incumbent to seek reelection; that would not have happened until 2004. One can hardly say that term limits in DC has been tried and found wanting.

A recent PBS show, “Rediscovering Washington,” said that George Washington, whose family coat of arms is the inspiration for the DC flag. was the first politician to leave office voluntarily since a Roman general named Cincinnatus. DC politicians contemplating eternal life in a Council seat should ask themselves, and should be asked by the voters, whether they are more indispensable to DC than George Washington was to the USA.


On Term Limits and Trees
Kathy Patterson, 

I write to respond to two postings in the last issue, on term limits and the “tree bill.” 1) During my first year on the Council I voted against legislation that overturned the $50 campaign limit in Ward Council races on the theory that the legislature shouldn't invalidate the results of a ballot initiative. I appreciate the concerns expressed in themail about my joining Council colleagues to overturn the term limits policy approved by voters in November 1994. There are differences between the two issues, though, and while the term limit vote was a difficult one, I think it was the right vote. (Had term limits remained in place they would NOT have had an impact on races this year; the first cycle that would have been affected was 2004).

Term limits take away the right to vote; I believe they are contrary to the Constitution. I spoke against the ballot measure in 1994 and would vote against term limits again. Time has proven that term limits are not necessary: voters have "term limited" incumbents in 1994, in 1998, and again in 2000. Had the matter been put to voters, I believe term limits would have been overturned. Given that likelihood and my belief that term limits are wrong, I did not think it was responsible for me to "punt" the issue back to voters in a costly special election. I acknowledge many disagree; this was a considered vote made for the reasons cited and I will happily discuss it further with anyone who contacts me.

2) The Urban Forest Preservation Act of 2002 — the “tree bill” — aims to promote cleaner air by protecting and enhancing the District's tree canopy, but there's been more consensus on goals than methods. The original bill's requirement that private property owners pay a fee for removing a full-grown tree has been significantly changed. An alternative moved July 2 by the committee chair, Councilmember Schwartz, in concert with the Mayor's office, provides that a “reforestation fee” is required only in those cases that involve an erosion and sediment control or storm water management plan, with the exact amount determined in regulations. The assumption is that significant soil displacement means trees are being removed and regs would be guided by earlier drafts that would have charged homeowners up to $1,250 per full-grown tree. The current version approved on first reading July 2 (a final vote is expected in September) contains two amendments I proposed: one gives residents a $500 per year tax credit for planting trees on their property as a positive incentive to add trees on private space. The second exempts owner-occupied private property from the new enforcement scheme but leaves it in place for developers. This amendment addressed concerns of constituents opposed to a new “tree tax,” and forestalled the entire bill being defeated. Voting for the homeowner exemption: Chairman Cropp and Councilmembers Mendelson, Brazil, Catania, Allen, Ambrose, Chavous, and Evans. The bill also establishes a Tree Advisory Board; an Urban Forestry Standards Manual; a tree registration program for exceptional trees; a notification requirement prior to removal of trees on public space; and revised penalties for injuring trees on public space and private property. I continue to consult with constituents, environmental groups, and others in an effort to produce an improved piece of legislation when the Council takes the matter up in the fall.


DC Trees
Joan Eisenstodt, 

I confess, I feel guilty! DC planted one of the little trees between our house and our neighbors. OK, it's really in front of the neighbor's house. (We are still working on getting a larger tree to replace the one that was in front of ours. That had to be taken down, resulting in much higher electric bills.) I have tried, when I am in town, to water it regularly after being chastised by the “Tree Lady” for not doing so. Now there is a little sign out there that says, in essence, “naughty naughty” for not watering the tree. I'll water, I promise, but water is not free, and I do appreciate the tree and think there has to be an equitable way to handle this.


The Tree People
Lea Adams, 

Those three young women were in front of my house as I was leaving for work one day last week. I found them just a tad condescending, frankly, in responding to my inquiry — “What are you doing?” They were cutting the support connector holding a young tree to a stake, so the tree would get stronger without the crutch. Maybe I'm turning into a curmudgeonette, but I don't need blonde teenage girls from Oregon, Montana, and I forget the third faraway place explaining to me how important the trees on my block are, as if I'm not quite smart enough to appreciate them, after fifty years in the same house. Okay, I admit, it really annoyed me that someone puts enough money in a pot to do a full-out study of the entire tree population in DC, but they can't find a single DC teenager to send out into the community to conduct it. If we don't give our young people the kind of opportunities the three out-of-towners have, they will never grow and learn and become the kind of local leadership we so desperately need. Darn it, our kids need to know about the green canopy under which they live, and the folks at the Betty Casey fund ought to understand that!

I'm not feeling very welcoming, for some reason. Maybe it has something to do with the chief executive not being involved enough in the life of our city to own a home here, or walk up to real-life people and ask for their signatures on his petitions. I'm reminded of another short-lived Mayor who once told me that a person could not "run the city and run for office at the same time." Maybe it has to do with an administration that doesn't know, without having to be told, that libraries should be open on Saturdays, because that's when most people can get to use them. Maybe it's just one two many years of having our budget mandated by strangers, our laws overruled by strangers, and now our trees studied by strangers. Am I the only one out here who's feeling outnumbered and cheated today? It seems that the only real public servants are the ones who aren't on the public payroll! Thanks G & D, and all who have kept Tony's feet to the fire. Thanks, Mark, for staying on top of the facts in spite of a distinct balance of power that leans towards opinion. (I should know.) I'll no doubt be in a better mood by the next time themail comes.


They Really Don’t Get It
Dorothy Brizill, 

For all those who thought that Mayor Williams and his reelection campaign had learned some lessons from the ongoing controversy regarding the Mayor's nominating petitions, guess again.

On Wednesday, evening, the Ward 6 Democrats held an endorsement forum at One Judiciary Square. Michael Patterson, the head of the Ward 6 organization, insisted that Mayor Williams's name be placed on the endorsement ballot even though the DC Board of Elections and Ethics had decided that Williams's name would not be on the September 10 Democratic primary ballot. Gwendolyn Hemphill, the co-chair of Mayor Williams's reelection campaign and a subpoenaed witness at the Board of Elections hearing, was one of the individuals responsible for overseeing the vote count. And when the votes were counted, Mayor Williams won the endorsement handily. The only problem was that there were 34 more votes in the ballot box than there were people who had registered to vote. The stuffed ballot box and the election results had to be discarded.

On Saturday, the Williams campaign convened focus group meetings in each ward to discuss the write-in strategy for the September 10 Democratic primary. The campaign held the meetings for Ward 1 and 2 at the Reeves Municipal Center, a DC government office building at 14th and U Streets, NW.


Tony Williams and the Petitions
Thomas Smith, 

Excuse me, but who could be really surprised at Tony Williams's actions with the election petitions? He knows that the oppressed will hire their oppressor (Congressional Control Board Tony Williams mutated into Mayor Tony Williams). So why be surprised at his arrogance and disdain for the poor misguided souls that elected him? This might be exactly what is needed to bring into focus the imperial manipulation that the DC Statehood Green Party has been warning the city about for twenty years.

Now is the time to break the shackles of Congress and the corporate democratic party's neocolonialism. Vote DC Statehood Green/Steve Donkin for Mayor, because, as Frederick Douglass said during the dark days of chattel slavery, “He who would be free, must first strike the first blow!”


The Mayor’s Petitions
James E. Taylor, Jr., Anacostia, 

The Mayor should have no more right to have illegal petitions acknowledged than anyone else. There are many ways a petition can be rendered invalid, no matter how many legitimate signatures are present. Have we forgotten Florida? Live and play by the rules and you will be respected. Skirt around the law by legal mumbo jumbo and you will be suspected. The mayor's management style is reflected in the shoddy and ineffective way this government operates. We hear feel-good speeches about what he has done for us, but the mayor should not embrace the posture that he is ordained. First of all, anybody following Mayor Barry would have been as well received as mayor because any new mayor would have been embraced by and supported by Congress. So, Mr. Mayor, please. You have a unique opportunity to make things right for all residents and you must realize that the same management style you embrace now and in the past is the same benign neglect that allowed this petition fiasco to happen. You had some of the city's brightest people behind you for mayor. Where did they go? What next?


From Straight Arrow to Broken Arrow
Charlie Wellander, 

Just saw “West Side Story” again and noticed another guy named Tony — a “straight arrow” who wants to reform the system. He enthusiastically plows ahead and gets in the middle of the action without sufficient preparation, which leads to various disasters.

In February (!), Dorothy Brizill wrote, “The administration's decision to vet its nominees comes after several embarrassing lapses in its knowledge about its nominees over the past three years (for example, Robert Newman, Christopher Lynn, Sam Kaiser, Ronnie Few, Charles Maddox).” Now, Saturday's Washington Post reports that Scott Bishop, Sr., in signing the sworn certification on 44 nominating petitions, gave his address as one on Eastern Avenue, NE, where he has not lived since 1999. Anybody can make a mistake, but why does Mayor Williams make the same one again and again?

Come September 10, the new optical-scan ballot system will give us the opportunity to try to turn “broken arrows” back to straight. Good luck to us all!


Marquais Smith, 

In reading back issues of themail, I can see that you all (Brizill and her redneck boy toy) have been targeting the mayor for several months on the petition issue. How pathetic that some election formality few in the city even knew about a month ago is the best you could come up with in trying to build up negative sentiments for perhaps one of the most popular mayors in the country.

There are dozens of issues I find far more important (housing costs, taxes, the school system, DC general, development, roads and transportation) that should be the central issues of this campaign — issues that I don't always agree with Tony Williams on and ones that should be the substance of the public debate about whether or not he deserves another term. Yet you've managed to put all those important issues on the back burner because of some personal vendetta. I suppose you feel proud about that, thinking it confirms your reputations as a hard-nosed citizen watchdogs. But what have you really accomplished? Embarrassing and attempting to humiliate a good, earnest, decent man — one who is a a real role model for black youth? Nice job.

Black people like Brizill (Clarence Thomas, Ward Connelly, Kay Coles James) are sick self-loathing sycophants to people who -- while rewarding you with back slaps and attaboys -- are secretly thinking that you can't manage, think, or organize. More power to Tony Williams for defying those stereotypes and having the cojones to take on a job nobody even wanted. Independent, write-in Democrat, or hell, even as a Republican, he's got my vote.

[I know that the last time themail ran a message from Marquais Smith a number of readers protested his intemperate tone, but I couldn't resist running an E-mail that calls me a “redneck boy toy.” I take that not only as a compliment, but as the belated fulfillment of a youthful aspiration. This may be the place to note that a profile of Dorothy in today's Washington Post ( asks the very Washingtonian questions, “Why on earth would somebody want to do the right thing if she weren't being paid?” and “Why would anyone who was offered a city job to buy her off ever turn it down?” and reports her critics' bewilderment and incomprehension. Now, enough about us. Write about yourselves and your friends and neighbors. — Gary Imhoff]


A Simpler Time
Lea Adams, 

Thanks for the reminder. 'T'is a gift to be simple. Julie London . . . wow! I'd forgotten all about her, and dug around in my “record room” and found an album of hers. Too bad my turntable is on the fritz. They don't make a damned thing as well as they used to, do they? Even Twinkies are different, now that they come in threes instead of pairs. And when something that never spoils changes, you know we're in trouble.


Getting Back to the First Order Terms
Len Sullivan, 

Anybody want to get back to DC's fundamental problems? Why not address the basic illness instead of clucking about the symptoms? Just how different would DC's government be if it were as efficient as other national and regional state/county/local governments, school districts, police forces, and welfare dispensers? Want to hazard a guess how much residents might save in taxes? Is DC really unique because of its urbanization and large minority population? Are DC kids off the norm too? On the simpler side, what would you do with the Franklin school? Which is your favorite party animal? NARPAC's answers can be found in the August update of its web site at Try a new approach to making DC better. Get positively involved.



Ask the Mayor!
Anise Jenkins, 

WTOP-AM news radio will have an “Ask the Mayor” show on Thursday, August 15th, at 10:00 am . . . that's 1500 AM on your dial! Good opportunity to get out the issues of full democracy, education, health, housing, etc.



Loving Dog for Adoption
Kevin Palmer, 

My next-door neighbor has decided to part with his beautiful dog, Lotus. I have taught her how to play ball and give her the occasional walk, but she needs more attention than he or I can give. If you or someone you know is looking for a pet, consider this offer.

Adopt a dog. Lotus, a sweet, but lonely female Belgian Shepherd, free to good home. Current owner too busy to be able to give her the love and attention she deserves. She’s 1-1/2 years old, weighs about 50 pounds, and has a good temperament. Her shots are current and she's recently been dipped. To express interest, call Louis at 543-5662 home, 240-882-1500 cell, or E-mail



Local Consumer Information E-Mail Discussion Lists
Charles Stevenson, 

Can anyone recommend one or more discussion lists that carry consumer issues, information and advice — in the city, and around it?


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