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September 29, 2002

Punishment for Profit

Dear Punishees:

It seems like a simple proposition: the purpose of a government's punishing or penalizing its citizens should not be that the government can make a profit from it. But on last Thursday's “Ask the Mayor” program on WTOP Radio, Mayor Williams accidentally misspoke and told the truth about DC's traffic camera program, named “Speed on Green.” As reported in the Washington Times by Brian DeBose (, Williams said that he wanted to expand the use of traffic cameras because the city needs the money and admitted, “The cameras are about safety and revenue, and the way not to pay that tax is to not be speeding.” Williams went on to say, “The only reason we're looking at the enforcement with revenue figures is because we're in such a bind now.”

Maybe the camera program should be named “Speed for Green,” to more accurately describe its purpose. Just as DC residents for years have known that parking tickets were issued more to raise money than to keep the streets clear, traffic crimes are now viewed as an opportunity to raise money. Perhaps we can solve our budgetary woes completely with an expansion of this program. Instead of trying to find stolen cars, which our government doesn't do anyway, the government could open a chain of chop shops to recycle the parts. That's where the real money is. Instead of putting burglars in jail, the DC government could take a cut of their proceeds. Instead of trying to prevent crimes or spending our valuable resources on prosecutors, judges, juries, and jails, the government could just install ubiquitous cameras and levy fines on the criminals who were observed: $500 for a common mugging, $1,000 for aggravated assault, and so on. Budget shortages call for drastic measures, and we have to think creatively. Lawbreaking as a profit center is the new frontier.

Gary Imhoff


Our Perennial Shortfall
Harold Goldstein,

So we missed our favorite local crisis for the last few years -- a major budget shortfall. But it is no stranger to us. Patterson tells us she is on the job, aware of the new bloating in middle management and consulting contracts. "How we address this 'layering up' in the government is a challenge, and something I will focus on during the Friday hearing."

Why does that make me sick? Council has been here through every budget crunch telling us they will focus on it one way or another. Mayors come and mayors go, and we still have regular crises because the council does not stop new mayors from rewarding friends, creating new programs requiring more consulting, more high paying jobs, more bureaucracy.

At election time, it is easy for the individual councilmen to avoid blame for the latest crunch since it usually is easier to blame a mayor — but the council is the constant and shares the biggest part of the blame. They are impotent and useless. Their hearings are exercises in futility. Where is their oversight? If Patterson is aware of this bloating, then why weren't she and the council stopping it before the shortfall got to where it is? Get rid of the council en masse!


Budget Stuff
Anne Heutte,

I guess I dream stuff about money, budgets and life. The first two don't count for much in my poetic imagination, even though in my dreams the Budgets and Money seem to have a preponderance of weight. I am always losing my keys and purse and credit card and trying to find my way home to “security.”

In my dreams, I analyze these connections: Money rules, and Budgets manage. They seem to control my life. They dispose and they decree. But in my dreams, life slips out onto the street, or hovers silently over my book, or looks down on me from a tree. The kids in my neighborhood want “things” but don't seem to know about Budgets.


DC Public Schools’ Administration
Janice H. Hopper,

Does anyone know how many DC public schools opened this fall with paper supplies, etc. supplied and paid for by their PTA's? At least one Northwest public school would have gone wanting if their PTA had not made the necessary purchases. An investigation is in order, and measures need be taken to guarantee this won't happen again.


Whatever Happened To?
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

Maybe I missed it on my island hopping trip in the Northeast last week, but I'm wondering whatever happened to the $250,000 fine levied on Mayor Williams by the Board of Elections. Has the money been paid? If so, where did the money go? And, while I'm pondering that question, I have been looking at the “Eiffel Tower’ on Wisconsin Avenue in Tenley Town. Has that case been settled yet? How much will it cost the District to get the bloody stump removed?


Green Cars
John Whiteside, johnwhiteside at earthlink dot net

E. James Lieberman is right. We should have tax breaks for green vehicles. (FYI to those thinking of buying one, in Virginia, they also get HOV lane privileges, just like motorcycles.) They can be a time saver as well.

But let's take it farther. If we're going to incentivize socially responsible behavior, let's have a disincentive for driving a behemoth SUV. It's pretty obvious that most of the folks driving them aren't doing so out of any practical necessity, so why not slap an extra tax on vehicles that take up extra space, generate extra pollution, use extra gas, help make us dependent on Middle Eastern oil. The downside is that it would hurt the one percent of SUV drivers who actually needed them for some reason.


Put Stickers on a Diet!
Malcolm L. Wiseman,

Thanks, Mr. O'Toole, for writing a message that I've been meaning to write for weeks! The size and placement of the inspection sticker are both stupid. I saw yesterday where they decided to put a “look on the windshield” sticker on the tag where the real sticker should be. Stupid!


The Elusive Mr. Tangherlini
Mark Eckenwiler, eck at ingot dot org

In last Wednesday's issue, John Whiteside once again laments the supposed unresponsiveness of DOT's acting director, Dan Tangherlini. Oddly enough, this issue arrived shortly after I came back from a neighborhood association meeting where Dan offered a far-ranging (and very enlightening) set of comments on DOT projects such as signal timing improvements, a planned light-rail corridor near the Navy Yard, and efforts on the Hill to recalculate DC's share of federal funds to reflect the heavy load from out-of-District motorists. Dan also stuck around to answer questions, including some pointed ones, and did so with candor. As I understand it, he is spending more or less all his evenings this week attending similar meetings of local DC groups.

I can't say why John Whiteside's plaints have allegedly gone unheeded. All I can say is that in my experience, DOT has done a tremendous job in the last three years not only in trying to apply urgent Band-Aids where needed, but also to plan strategically (e.g., thinking more on the front of a project to better define the scope, avoid in-progress changes, and thus contain costs). If Mr. Whiteside or anyone else has a concern about mistimed signals and/or pedestrian safety issues, I suggest he repeat his concern to These are problems DOT is in fact making headway on (pedestrian fatalities are down thirty percent this year), largely because the acting director cares about fixing them. In short, squeaky wheels will get grease, but perhaps not overnight; in a world of finite resources, DOT simply cannot instantly fix the accumulated errors of bad (or no) planning from the past two decades of neglect.


In Defense of Dan Tangherlini
Patrick Shaughness, Palisades,

Recent postings question if Dan Tangherlini exists. He does indeed and in my view, we as DC taxpayers should be wishing that we could find more like him. Even his critics probably can’t satisfy everyone in their personal and professional lives, and everybody has off days. But on the whole, I can’t think of a senior local government official who works harder than Dan, is more responsive and tries to address the legitimate transportation concerns of citizens.

When I served as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, a neighborhood street had been battling for years to get four-way stop signs on a quiet residential street with dozens of little kids that were in jeopardy from waves of cut-through commuter traffic. The District bureaucracy tried to drag us through a procedural swamp with petitions, traffic “warrants” and even an administrative hearing to get two signs! When the issue got to Dan, he just put the signs up. More commonsense administration like this of our local government affairs would be very much appreciated.



Duke Ellington School Fall Festival
Susan Gushue,

Duke Ellington School of the Arts at 35th and R Streets, NW, is having its fall festival on October 5th from noon to 6 p.m. There will be free student performances outside throughout the afternoon, and there will be food and games. Please come by and support the school.


Candidates’ Forum
Juanita Conley,

The DC Federation of Civic Associations and the League of Women Voters of the District of Columbia will cosponsor a candidates' forum for both the At-large and City Council Chairman seats. The forum will be held on Monday, October 21, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Auditorium A, Martin Luther King Public Library, 901 G Street NW. The moderator will be Denise Rolark Barnes, Publisher, The Washington Informer and host of Reporter's Roundtable on Channel 16. The forum is an opportunity for DC residents to ask questions and voice their concerns to the candidates. For additional information contact Adolphe Edwards at 583-3663 or Elinor Hart at 347-3020.


29th Annual Washington Historical Studies Conference
Pat Bitondo,

You are cordially invited to participate in a three-day public forum on the diverse urban history of Washington, DC. Join other historians, preservationists, neighborhood researchers, students, and history buffs in this annual learning fest. The conference is free and open to the public. Registration is at the door. For more information, call 785-2068, x100.

The conference starts off on Thursday, October 17, at 6:30 p.m., John A. Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, with “'This Important Trust': The Early Governance of the City of Washington.” Following the lecture, attendees are invited to a reception in the Grand Foyer hosted by the Humanities Council of Washington, DC.


Benefit Concert
Melissa Chen,

Save the date! The 10th annual Concert for Life is on Friday, October 11, at 8 p.m., with a reception at 6:30 p.m. Sponsored by WGMS 103.5, the concert features the Foundry Choir and guest orchestra along with jazz pianist John Eaton and Zimbabwe composer Patrick Matsikenyiri of Africa University, who will lead African songs. Over the past nine years, the Concert for Life has raised $225,000 for organizations working with people living with HIV/AIDS. One hundred percent of the proceeds from this year's Concert for Life will benefit organizations including Max Robinson Center of Whitman-Walker Clinic, Project CHAMP of Children's National Medical Center, Metro TeenAIDS, and the AIDS Prevention Education Program of Africa University. Tickets are $25 for the concert, $40 for the concert and reception, and $15 for seniors and students for the concert. For ticket and sponsorship information, call 332-4010, extension 606, or visit


Say “Amen,” Somebody
Robin Larkin,

Footlights, the Washington area's only modern-drama discussion group, goes to church Sunday, October 6, 2 p.m., when we attend ACTCo's smash production of “The Amen Corner” by James Baldwin. In “The Amen Corner, a self-righteous pastor, unable to forgive her scapegrace jazzman husband or understand her ambitious teenage son, faces losing both as well as her rebellious congregation, when her husband returns home terminally ill. The Washington Post called this production “rendered in loving detail” and blessed with “a powerful cast”; it “ripples with life and passion.” The performance takes place at the newly renovated H St. Theater, 1365 H Street, NE. We can provide transportation to and from the theater; just ask. Our discount tickets are only $15, and include a post-show discussion. To join us, call Robin Larkin at 301-897-9314 or E-mail We'll have dinner afterwards in Chinatown.


American Place Theater Presents Zora at the Kennedy Center
Cynthia Samuels,

Nine performances of Zora will launch the American Place Theater's nationally acclaimed performance-based literacy program. Zora is a Literature to Life adaptation based on the theatrical biography of Zora Neale Hurston by Laurence Holder, directed by Wynn Handman. Zora features Kim Brockington, who will appear in The Life of Zora Neale Hurston, a PBS documentary for American Masters in February 2004. The American Place Theater's Literature to Life programs have served over 10,000 students and teachers each year in New York and Los Angeles and will reach some 3,000 students and teachers in DC during this 2002-03 academic year.

Performances for adults and families, ages twelve and up: Friday, October 4, 7:30 p.m.; and Saturday, October 5, matinee at 1:30 p.m. Tickets: $13.00; to order tickets, call 467-4600. Performances for school groups (middle and high schools): Thursday, October 1, 11:15 a.m.; Wednesday, October 2, 10:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m.; Thursday, October 3, 10:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m.; and Friday, October 4, 11:15 a.m. Tickets: $4.00/student; to order tickets for school groups, call 416-8835. All performances are at the Kennedy Center, AFI Theater.



Indoor Parking Near Logan Circle
John Whiteside, johnwhiteside at earthlink dot net

I'm looking for an indoor parking space for the winter months near Logan Circle (actually, as close to 12th and Q as possible). I want to park my motorcycle indoors in the bad weather. Winters outside take too much of a toll on it! If you have a garage space or a suggestion on renting one, please send me an E-mail!


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