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August 14, 2002

Williams and Barry

Dear Comparison Voters:

Sam Smith, who writes below about Washington's official song, wrote a provocative article in the May 29th edition of his City Desk E-mail newsletter. “It is one of the most popular myths in town that life has gotten demonstratively better since Marion Barry left office. This myth, a favorite of the Washington Post, will undoubtedly get a real workout between now and election day, so it is worth examining a little more closely. For example, here are a few things that have clearly gotten worse: the ability of poor folk to stay in the city, public health services, the treatment of demonstrators by the MPD, the willingness of government to give away the city to a few developers (and subsidize them for the privilege), and the administration of the Fire Department. Here are a few things that have seem to have gotten worse: service at the Department of Motor Vehicles, public recreation and libraries (owing to lack of funding), public schools, and anything that has a computer attached to it. Now here are a few things that seemed to have gotten better: trash pickup and street surfaces. And one thing that has clearly gotten better, albeit true of most big cities: the crime rate.”

Bryce Suderow wrote in the August 8 issue of themail, “When people talk to me about Mayor Anthony Williams' administration, they keep telling me: 'Well at least he's not Marion Barry.'” Is that true? In what ways is he “not Marion Barry” and in what ways is he more of the same? And is not being Marion Barry the most important thing you look for in a politician?

Gary Imhoff


Literacy in the District
William Haskett, 

Is it — can it — literally be true that 35 percent of the District's present population is illiterate, i.e., unable to read or to write at whatever would be considered an acceptable level for civic responsibility, or whatever measure you choose to invoke? This is what is claimed in the Washington Post on Saturday, August 10, in the course of an ironic comment on Mayor Williams' campaign's proposal to mail to 77,000 households a request that they write in his name in the coming election. [Courtland Milloy, “Williams Wants a Write-In When People Can't Read,”] The article notes the additional cynicism of the cuts in funds for summer school, as it relates to these basic numbers, which are said to be based on the most-recent Census figures.

What do the candidates for the several offices at stake in the coming elections have to say? This cannot be entirely due to the schools, which have lost half their numbers in the past two decades, to reach their present size of around 80,000 students. It cannot be a function of poverty, at least not entirely, since other indicators would suggest that even the poor must have benefited to some degree from the irrational exuberance of the stock-driven 1990s. Is it a fundamental condition after two decades of Barry rule? A geological-like fault in American optimism? A media-driven replacement system, which puts television in the place of books, and boom-boxes in the place of computers and E-mail? A false conclusion from an irresponsible claim? None of the above?


Campaign Signs in Rock Creek Park
John Henry Wheeler, 

I know that campaign signs posted on all polls on commercial streets are part of the election campaign process. But this year seems to be much worse. Sunday before last, I was returning from vacation via Military Road. Every light pole in the portion of Military that goes through Rock Creek Park had three (yes, three) Singleton signs. No chance he'll get my vote for such visual pollution in the park. Surely that's not legal.


Voter Guides
Susie Cambria, 

Voter guides focused on human needs issues (e.g., poverty, affordable housing, health, child care) are now available for citywide races (mayor, chair of the Council, at-large Council, shadow senator, shadow representative) and the Ward races (1, 3, 5, 6). The guides are currently available in Word by E-mail from and on-line at


DC in the News
John Whiteside, john at earthlink dot net

Well, we've made the national news! Or at least, our mayoral campaign has. I got a call from a friend (and former DC resident) in Massachusetts this weekend who told me that he'd just seen an item on the Democratic primary on a national newscast, and wanted to know if I was voting for “Faith or the guy who bit someone.” Can Jay Leno's monologue be far behind?


A Terrible New Thread
Gregory Diaz, 

Dear friends, please do not think that the recent expansion of the no trucking zones around the White House is mere coincidence. Neither is the reappearance of the single engine communications surveillance plane, sometimes expanded now to two planes, droning over certain areas of our city. These are tangible portents of official concern.

Do we mere plebeians think that the possibility of catastrophic terrorism has gone away? Or do we just not like to think about it, preferring to be diverted by litter, voting fraud, and the general squalor of our civic life? Here are three credible terrorist scenarios (not even the worst) involving the Nation's Capitol, about which one wonders whether our city government is prepared or has, more importantly, prepared us: 1) detonation of a radiological dispersion device (also known as a “dirty bomb”); 2) dispersion of a highly infectious biological agent; 3) release of a toxic chemical. Whether you personally believe any of these is likely, assume with me for the sake of argument that one or another of these is likely to happen here in the short to mid-term.

Now, ask yourself: 1) Do you believe our city government is prepared to deal with any one (much less all three) of these events? (The federal government will be way too preoccupied protecting national assets to bother with mere D.C. residents. Remember the postal workers who were basically cut loose to be “canaries” while Congress was evacuated?) 2) Do you know precisely if, when, where and how to evacuate (or not) — routes, times, etc. — or how you will be informed? 3) Has anyone informed you, or your office, or the building management where your office is located, how they will be alerted and what they should do as institutions, and what they should have you do as a living, breathing person, in the event of an attack? I didn't think so.


Child Benefits Are for Children, Not Adults
Okonkwo Auten, 

Bad choices and poor administration of public programs are the results of uninformed political assignment and agencies demonstrating poor examples of public service employees; i.e., poorly skilled administrators who happen to be private individuals under government employment. Many of us recall the Millennium fund raiser Mayor Williams held from Dec. 19, 1999, to Jan. 1, 2000, for children. There were no children there, and no child benefited from the Mayor's fund raiser. It was improper and illegal, yet the Mayor kept the money. No child benefited.

Many are contributing kickbacks disguised as campaign contributions. The politician and his/her associates become sole beneficiaries of public dollars. The Congress passed the Hatch Act to stem improper behavior by making these acts illegal. Congresswoman Norton flouts the law when it is in her interest, allowing a DC Public School employee to campaign illegally, supporting her reelection campaign while receiving employment under government service. Ms. Norton as a Democrat, oversees DC's wrong-sided political agenda, and she is improperly supporting an illegal act contrary to public interest mandated under law.

To escape discovery and responsibility for inept and unskilled management politicians operate in private meetings, exclude the public, and choose self interests. New political blood is needed. Those up for reelection should honorably step aside and let a new electorate form. We need new politicians, and reassign responsibilities for distribution and delivery of public programs for better public services. Hopefully the message will spread, and, in November we will have new representatives for American Citizens, not for corporate interests solely.


Good News on Porter Street
Gabe Fineman, Porter Street, NW, 

There is actually some good news to report from the neighborhoods. The DC Department of Transportation has installed a traffic calming system on Porter Street, NW, and it seems to be working. Porter is one of the few east-west streets through Rock Creek Park and it was recently rebuilt to handle more of the traffic diverted from the long-closed Klingle Road. The neighbors were justly concerned that this residential street (that carries more traffic per lane than Connecticut) would appear faster and encourage speeding. In fact, it does look much faster with its ribbed concrete surface, and something had to be done to keep the traffic flow from exceeding its previous 35-45 mph unsafe actual speed. The neighbors proposed several stop signs, but Wil DerMinassian, chief of the Traffic Services Bureau, was much more creative and has installed an Intelligent Traffic System. Intelligent because it uses a camera to see how fast cars are going and turns a traffic light red if they are speeding. There are warning signs that tell you how fast you are going.

This is a demonstration project and it may be duplicated elsewhere as needed. It is already having its desired effect of slowing down speeders toward the posted speed limit of 25 mph. It is teaching the city about the placement of the signs and cameras, especially on curves and hills. The local residents are pleased and hope that the DOT has finally realized that when it makes a street appear faster, it has an obligation to control the speed of the traffic. Along with speed and red light cameras (enforcement tools), we are adding Intelligent Traffic Systems (a structural tool) to the traffic-calming inventory.


Where Are the Cops?
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom 

Monday's Post had an extensive description of an open air drug market that flourishes in the broad daylight right in the parking lot adjacent to a Methadone Clinic in DC. It's hard enough for addict to get clean without the temptation of illegal prescription drugs and narcotics being openly offered for sale as they near the clinic. One has to ask “where are the cops?” This open flaunting of serious law breaking should not be tolerated. Ramsey should have roving squads that break up these markets, confiscating they booty and getting the sellers off the streets. Continued tolerance of these markets just makes the city and its residents a much poorer lot.

As a volunteer driver for the American Cancer Society I have picked up patients in SE D.C. for transport to D.C. and MD hospitals and have driven through flourishing open air drug, flesh, and stolen goods markets. Their continued existence will doom this city. New York City found that tolerance of even minor crimes like the “Squeegee Men” and turnstile jumpers made for far more serious crimes. After cracking down on these relatively minor crimes, the crime rate in NY City dramatically decreased as intolerance to criminal activities among the residents grew. We need the police in DC to eliminate these open air markets and to hound them wherever they appear. Forming a raiding squad will be a good start and send a clear message that open air criminal activities will no longer be tolerated.


Boys Town
Will Hill, 
Ellen Opper-Weiner, 

We thought that some of your readers might find Marc Fisher's column in the August 8th Washington Post of interest. To view the entire article, go to

The federal judge's dismissal of Boys Town's lawsuit against us is a tremendous relief and a victory for the First Amendment. The struggle isn't over yet because Boys Town has appealed the BZA ruling in the DC Court of Appeals. There are also some unresolved zoning issues and Boys Town could decide to go back to Congress in an effort to attach a rider to the DC Appropriations bill in a move to have Congress override the BZA decision as Boys Town did in May.


The Courthouse Isn’t the DMV
Leah Gurowitz, Director of Public Affairs, DC Courts, gurowitzl@DCSC.GOV 

I just wanted to clarify for all themail readers that the DC Courts do not issue, renew, or modify drivers' licenses. Ms. McCormick may have been confused because the downtown DMV office (on C Street, NW) is next door to the back entrance of the Courthouse, but they are separate institutions and, in fact, separate branches of government. Thanks for the opportunity to clarify.

[Annie McCormick, in the last issue of themail, had written that she had gone to DMV at “the courthouse” to change the address on her license. — Gary Imhoff]


911 and 311
Joan Eisenstodt, 

A siren was sounding for a long time one day last week. When one lives in DC, and especially on the Hill, a siren could mean trouble. I could not remember “311” and thus I called 911. I apologized for taking up the person's time, said what the problem was, and then asked what number I should have called for non-emergencies. I was told the 727-1000 main number! How well publicized is the 311 number?


Washington’s Song
Don Lief, Portland, OR, 

Here's lyrics to a song that was part of our life in Anacostia's schools in the 1940s:

Washington, Washington, we love thy name,
Washington, Washington, long live thy fame.
Down thy great avenues great patriots trod,
Heart thou art of all the nation,
Gateway to God.

No comment needed except to note that it was mercifully sung infrequently.

[Okay, these lyrics aren't from “Washington, Fair Capital,” “Washington” (the Jimmie Dodd song), or “Our Nation's Capital” (the march). Who recognizes and can identify the song that they're from? — Gary Imhoff]


The City Song
Sam Smith, Progressive Review, 

Here's something I wrote a few years ago (October 1999) that may be of interest given the current discussion of a city song.

DC Watch recently raised the question of the existence of an official city song. In fact there almost was one. I know, because I wrote it. Marion Barry sponsored a contest for such a song, which I entered with “Washington, My Home Town.” I was later told that the judges liked mine the best but, in the ethnic patois of the time, they wanted to reopen the contest in order to receive a "broader range of submissions." Nothing more was ever heard of the contest. I may be the only person in America who not only lost a gig because of affirmative action but made the gig disappear as well.

The song came from a musical revue of DC history written by my wife Kathy, Becky Denney, and myself. It was performed several times, once with the mayor in attendance, and featured Jim Vance as Frederick Douglass and a beat poet. The Washington Star listed it as one of its “Sure Things” for the weekend. Besides “My Home Town,” I wrote a soft shoe number performed by Boss Shepherd and a pair of his henchmen: “I'm the boss, I'm the boss of Washington/I can force anything that I want done./I can plant a tree or pave a road or put a gas lamp up/So what does it matter if I'm a little bit corrupt?. . .” My favorite, however, was the tune I wrote for feminist Alice Paul which, aside from being a foot-stomper, included the immortal bridge: “We don't find it too enrichin' to be switchin' in the kitchen, so if you want us to stop bitchin', you had better start in switchin.'”

DC Watch, which researched the history of the city's songs (or lack thereof), later told a part of the sequel: “Things remained relatively stable until 1985. Then City Councilmember Charlene Drew Jarvis introduced a bill to name 'This Is My Town,' by Mark A. Williams, as the city's official song. The song didn't pass muster, and the Council failed to act, largely because of discomfort over the open resentment expressed in lyrics like: 'Oh the tourists and the politicians Come and go and that's fine by me As long as they know -- This is my town. My home town!'” News of this attracted my attention because the song I had earlier submitted to Mayor Barry's contest (as written and performed in 1977) was a tune called “Washington, My Home Town.” Among its lyrics: “Politicians they come and go; It doesn't get me down Because I still have my Washington; It's my home town.” Jarvis' bill crumbled, so I never pursued the matter.


Colbert King on the Washington Song
Sam Farmer, Dupont, 

Colbert King wrote an editorial in the past year or so on the Washington Song. He was rather angry about it, as the song was inaccurate about the actual situation of the District and instead focused on the myth that DC is the center for freedom, etc.


Trees a Crowd
Lea Adams, 

A number of people wrote me about my comments in themail about the Tree People. I'm continuing to hear from folk who take issue with my concerns, which were based solely on what I observed on a particular day at a particular time. Observation is not the same as accusation, judgment, or misrepresentation, all of which I try to avoid, especially in public forums. I expressed an observation, and what I still consider a valid concern, but boy, am I sorry I hit that send button without thinking about the repercussions. For crying out loud, some of my best friends are trees, and I've had my share of blonde buddies, as well. It's true, I don't know that many folk from Big Sky country, but I'm certain they're a perfectly nice lot, on the whole. By the way, I won't be able to join the Casey crew at their end-of-inventory event, but I encourage other readers to do so (and for goodness sakes, be NICE to those people).



Elvis Has Returned to the Building
Jerry A. McCoy, 

He has returned to the Washingtoniana Division (Room #307) of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library at 901 G Street, NW, in Washington, DC that is! In memory of the 25th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley, the Washingtoniana Division is currently displaying photographs that appeared in the pages of The Washington Star newspaper. Images include a rare 1955 publicity still with Jimmy Dean, host of “Town & Country Jamboree,” produced by local WMAL-TV, as well as stills from Elvis' September 28, 1978, concert at the University of Maryland's Cole Fieldhouse.

The hours of the MLK Library are 10:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 10:00 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday. The exhibit will continue through Labor Day. Thank you . . . thank you very much.


Musical Event
Vivian Henderson, 

The Chancel Choir of Sixth Presbyterian Church will offer a free Concert, Sunday, August 18, at 5:00 p.m. at the church 5413 16th Street, NW (corner of 16th and Kennedy Streets) Under the direction of William Jones the choir will “Sing to God with Gladness.” Several of themail readers attended last year and asked to be informed of future concerts. Attend this year and you will enjoy another musical treat; this is an outstanding choir.



1991 Honda
Michael Johnson, 

I have a 1991 Honda DX 2-Door Hatchback with about 97,000 miles. It runs well, it has a new clutch, new distributor, and good tires, but it needs a small amount of work to pass DC Inspection. High blue is $2800 and low blue is $2300, will sell for $1800 as is. Call 667-6453.


Office Furniture and Computers Available
Virginia Johnson, 

Small nonprofit to close its doors at the end of August. Among the items for sale are: office furniture (including: computer desk, regular desks, executive chairs); two computers with monitors; mini refrigerator; fax machine; computer accessories such as power surge protectors and zip drive; reams of office paper and blank envelopes. For a complete list or to follow up with any of the above-mentioned items, call 545-1001. We’re accepting most offers, but there is no delivery. Location in Takoma Park, DC.



One-Bedroom Apartment Rental
L. Mitler, 

Bright one-bedroom basement apartment in quiet private home. Cable TV, central AC, shared washer and dryer, utilities included, use of garden, efficiency style kitchen, two blocks from M4 bus. One person. Nonsmoker, pet negotiable. $775 + deposit. 362-3929.



Volunteer Opportunity, Pediatric AIDS/HIV Care
Sarah Barnett, 

If you have a few hours free on Saturday, August 17th, Pediatric AIDS/HIV Care, Inc., an after school facility serving children from the District, Maryland, and Virginia, located at 450 M Street, NW, needs your help. We are having a Volunteer Work Day from noon to 3 p.m. Some of the opportunities on Saturday are: Putting the 1st coat of paint on the kitchen walls and finish painting the sitting room; the Executive Director, Gerri Graves, always welcomes help researching sources of contributions, help with writing grants and other administrative tasks.

There are several groups (interns, junior/high school students and others) who need to put in a certain number of hours of volunteer time. Pediatric Care (a 501(c)(3) organization) is a wonderful place to accomplish that on our work days. We always welcome new faces. Gerri Graves delights in showing newcomers around, explaining what the staff is accomplishing. The facility is located two blocks from the new convention center. For more information, please telephone Pediatric Care at 347-5366. Pediatric Care is located two blocks South of the New Convention Center.


Host an Exchange Student
Chana Hayes, 

We have an AFS student from Thailand living with us for a year. There are four students who are already here in Washington for whom AFS does not have permanent homes for this year. In August, the Washington, DC Area Chapter of AFS-USA welcomed more than thirty exchange students to the area and is currently seeking four host families to share their homes with students who will attend Wilson High School, School Without Walls, and Duke Ellington School.

AFS (formerly American Field Service) recruits over 2600 outstanding students ages 15 to 18 from over 44 countries to live for a year or semester in the US. These motivated teens are eager to learn about US culture, language, lifestyle -- your America. Family life makes a big difference in their lives. We are seeking two-parent and single-parent households with or without kids that have a willingness to open their homes to host an AFS student and treat them just as they would their own children. Host families provide room, board, and guidance. The Students for whom we seek families in DC are from South Africa, Hungary, Paraguay, and Brazil. These four students are already here in Washington, and we are desperate to find them homes immediately.

Please call Chana Hays (265-8744) if you are able to host an exchange student or would like to in the future. Please consider opening your home to one of these students. This is a wonderful experience that you will never forget!


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