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December 15, 2002

All Politics Is Local in themail

Dear Localists:

I often repeat that themail is about living on the ground in the city of DC, and not about the national politics that swirl around us. We address local political issues, but don't get into national issue debates except as they affect us locally. I got, but didn't print, messages about how Mr. Clinton was the sleaziest liar on the face on the earth, and now I get, but don't print, messages about how Mr. Bush is the fount of all evil for needlessly provoking that nice Mr. Hussein. You can find plenty of other sources for pro and con opinions on national issues; themail is for what happens here.

In the past two weeks, two national issues have edged their way into themail — health care policy and educational policy. I believe that both the District of Columbia's current health care system and its public school system are failing us in important ways. I also believe that any repairs to or ameliorations of these broken systems will eventually come from us locally. That is, those repairs may come from us locally, if they are not prevented both by the refusal to acknowledge the problems of the DC HealthCare Alliance and the DC Public Schools and by the iron grip of the national ideological debates that prevent us from trying any solutions except for those that have already failed repeatedly.

Because the door was opened, this issue of themail contains two messages opposing school choice, but that doesn't mean that we're going to repeat here the long national debate over choice and vouchers. On the other hand, if you want to write about a local school or student, about a neighborhood success or failure that you know about, please do so.

Gary Imhoff


Sidewalk Snow Removal
Richard Black,

The residents of Capitol Hill for the most part did a good job clearing their sidewalks after last week's snow storm. As a walker, I couldn't help but notice that on any city park or other sidewalk along city owned or maintained property there was no effort at snow removal, sanding, or salting. This includes block-long areas of Pennsylvania Avenue on both sides of the street near the Eastern Market Metro stop.

I wonder if the city does a better job of this in other parts of the city . . . and the mayor gave himself a B?


Real Property Appeals to BRPAA
Mark Eckenwiler,

A tip for those embroiled in appealing their property assessments to the Board of Real Property Assessment and Appeals. Under DC Code 47-825.01(f-1)(6), “[t]he real property owner is entitled to obtain any response made by the Mayor to an appeal filed by the owner with the Board. The Mayor shall make the response available at a reasonable time upon the request of the real property owner and no less than 5 business days prior to a scheduled hearing.” In other words, the Office of the Assessor isn't allowed to sandbag you at the hearing with a response you've never seen, assuming you ask to see it in advance.


Bogus Survey
Annie McCormick,

I came home one night last week to my apartment to find a three page survey under my door. (I live in a “secure” building). No contact name(s), no number, no address was given on this survey. It stated "This survey is being conducted by a student research group at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. The survey is in no way affiliated with your respective real estate management firm. All information collected is confidential and for research purposes only. Your participation in this project will be greatly appreciated. You'll also have the chance to win $100 in a raffle we will be conducting among survey participants. All surveys can be returned to your management office. The purpose of this survey is to study the apartment rental market and correlations between [sic] a variety of preferences, lifestyles, backgrounds, and behavior related to searching for and purchasing apartments."

I called the Wharton School and spoke with Anne Marie Urban at the Dean's office (215/898-4155). She said this survey is in no way connected with the University of Pennsylvania or The Wharton School and that no such student research group exists. The survey asks you to give personal information which is not your management company's business. Just wondering if this has appeared in apartment buildings elsewhere? Who would go to the time, effort and expense to do this?


Ramsey in the Post
Jonathan Tannenwald, University of Pennsylvania Class of 2006,

So I read Charles Ramsey's piece in the Outlook section of the online version of today's Washington Post ( And I was pretty impressed with what he had to say, especially regarding protests.

Yet I know that many on this listserv haven't got much nice to say about our Chief of Police. So I ask, what part of the picture am I missing, not living in the District anymore? Or is Mr. Ramsey actually making a good-faith effort to respond to our criticisms of a program that might just be used properly?


Campaign Poster Scofflaws Revealed
Kathy Chamberlain, ANC 7B,

Tired of seeing campaign posters? Tired of taking them down? Candidates were required to remove their posters within 30 days after the general election or face a fine. We're past the 30-day mark. When candidates picked up their materials from the DC Board of Elections, they signed a pledge to remove their posters within 39 days. The Clean City web site links to a “scofflaws” list, a list of candidates and the locations of their posters, as reported by citizens. Check out As of this writing, the top two scofflaws are Chris Ray and Dwight Singleton, with 79 and 71 posters respectively. The web page tells you how to report posters to have them show up on the list. Hopefully the list will help candidates locate their posters and remove them. If the threat of fines won't work, maybe a little public embarrassment will do the trick.


No Planning, No Estimating
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

Fumigation of the Brentwood postal facility begins this weekend to rid the facility of anthrax spores that resulted in the deaths of two postal workers over a year ago. We seem to be getting our mail without that facility, but there seems to be an uncontrolled effort to reopen it. This is so uncontrolled that over $100 million has already been spent on reopening it to date. It is likely that another forty or fifty million will be spent before it reopens (if ever). Doesn't anyone in the federal government know how to perform a cost benefit analysis? (Nobody in the DC government does, by the way.) A little planning and estimating up front would clearly have shown that it would be far better to abandon that facility and either convert some other existing space in DC to that purpose or build an entirely new facility. It would have been far cheaper to implement either of those alternatives than to pour money into that dump at Brentwood.


Insurance in DC
Art Spitzer,

John Whiteside wrote: “Are there rules about when insurance companies can cancel auto policies in DC? I just received notice that my company is going to cancel my policy because of two claims in 2001 . . . it seems like I'm being punished for actually needing the insurance I've paid good money for.” I forwarded his message to the DC Insurance Commissioner, Lawrence Mirel. Here's Mr. Mirel's educational reply, which smart people will take to heart:

“Insurance is a highly competitive industry and companies carve out their individual 'niches.' Some are 'preferred' companies that will sell only to persons with essentially perfect driving records. Some are 'standard' companies that sell to persons with a couple of accidents or speeding tickets, but not many. Others are 'substandard' writers who will sell to persons with significant numbers of claims. What category you fall into determines what rate you pay. The rate for 'preferred' policyholders is obviously less than for standard or substandard. Many insurers have both 'preferred' and 'standard' companies and will move people back and forth between those companies depending on their record (although of course people always have the option to change from one carrier to another). Two claims within a couple of years will cause someone to be moved from a preferred company to a standard company. A 'clean' record for 3 or 5 years (depending on the company) will give you a chance to move up from 'standard' to 'preferred.' Obviously this system provides a disincentive to file claims — indeed, it is intended to do so — which is why I always advise people to buy a policy with the highest deductible they can reasonably manage (which results in a lower insurance premium) and then pay the small stuff out of pocket without filing claims. The message you forwarded to me suggests that Mr. Whiteside had two very small losses which probably could easily have been paid by the insured out of pocket. That is what he should have done, to avoid being non-renewed. And he would have paid lower premiums.

“My frustration is that people don't understand that this is how the insurance system works. That is partly a failure on the part of insurance companies (and insurance regulators, like me) to get the message out, and partly a pervasive sense of entitlement that people who buy insurance have that their policies should pay for any losses, no matter how small. That is why people insist on buying policies with the smallest possible deductibles when they should be picking the highest deductibles. Insurers will pay for covered losses above the deductibles, but policyholders will pay higher premiums when claims are made, or will be non-renewed.

“The same principles apply, by the way, to health insurance, but try to explain to people that they should take high deductibles on their health insurance policies and pay small bills themselves. They look at you like you are crazy.”


So Much for an Effective School Board
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

The hybrid School Board was ballyhooed as one that would work together to make DC's school system effective and efficient. The old School Board could not even agree on when to go to lunch and just passed on the outrageous proposed school budgets to the City Council for them to make the cuts. Well, guess what? The hybrid School Board is doing the same thing. The budget they have passed on to a financially strapped city calls for a 14 plus percent increase in their budget for the next fiscal year. Take a good look at the line items in that budget and you will find about 20 percent that can be cut without any impact on what happens in the classrooms.

The school system is so unorganized (to characterize it as disorganized would imply that, at some time, it was organized) that they still don't know how many employees are on the payroll. There are probably some dead persons still receiving checks. As for how many students are in the system they still don't know and base their costs on some fictitious highly inflated numbers. If the DC school system could get the special ed programs under control they could probably do quite well with a lot less money than was spent last year. A fourteen percent increase — fuggedaboutit.


Fixing Public Schools by Funding Private Schools
Mark David Richards, Dupont East,

Gary Imhoff described a forum at the Cato Institute featuring, Peggy Cooper Cafritz, elected President, DC Board of Education; Virginia Walden-Ford, Black Alliance for Educational Options, and Casey J. Lartigue, Jr., policy analyst with the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom. After reading a number of Mr. Lartigue's papers, including “The Need for Educational Freedom in the Nation's Capital,”, I can see why Ms. Cafritz would take issue with Mr. Lartigue and feel he has little to offer in the way of assistance to DCPS. Lartigue reviews the history of DCPS since 1804 and concludes the system has never worked. He writes, “[T]oo many people have focused on saving the system as a whole, even at the cost of students being poorly educated. . . . [A]ny solution limited to the DC public schools would have little benefit. What is needed is a system that allows parents and children to opt out of the DC schools and select another provider. A competitive system that used a combination of vouchers, tuition tax credits, and contracting would be the best way to increase educational quality.”

In fact, Lartigue offers no specific solutions in his article for fixing the current public school system from within, although he says there is evidence that “public schools made a strong push to improve achievement in the face of competition from vouchers.” (What about charter?) He suggests Opportunity Scholarships (as proposed by Rep. Armey), a GI Bill for K-12 (in which students could go to schools Virginia and Maryland), Tuition Tax Credits, and contracting the poorest performing schools to private entrepreneurs. Lartigue notes that “The District is not the only urban school system struggling with educating its residents, but it is the only one for which Congress has clear constitutional authority to 'exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever,'” but he bemoans how DC residents and elected officials resist having Congress use its power to impose voucher proposals. (Is that libertarian?) Lartigue writes, “DC politicians have used the issue of statehood to block positive reforms for DC public schools. It is time for DC politicians to stop putting their political concerns ahead of their concerns of students. District officials must stop blocking the exits to school choice. . . .”

DC officials seem to be reasonably in line with DC voters on vouchers. A poll of 603 DC voters sponsored by the National School Boards Association, conducted Nov. 6-15, 2002 by Zogby International, found 76 percent opposed to “giving taxpayer-funded vouchers to parents to pay for their children to attend private or religious schools, even if that means less money for public school students.” Eighty-five percent of DC African Americans opposed. Polling questions that suggest vouchers will cause public schools to lose money elicit higher levels of opposition. Eighty percent agreed that “private schools that accept taxpayer-funded vouchers should be required to meet the same public accountability standards as public schools.” Mr. Lartigue (“Education by Polls” 3/21/02) notes, “Many polls simply show that Americans are uninformed about public policy issues,” and says, “We can't be sure how many people really support public schools until they are given an option to leave them.” The Washington Afro-American (editorial, Dec. 14-20, 2002) reminded readers that the late Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers in 1971, said that “public schools were facing extinction. . . . Vouchers are not an experiment, the conclusion of which is unknown. The result is inevitable, the end of public schools and the establishment of a system of tax-financed private education.” The Afro notes (as does Mr. Lartigue) that schools which succeed are ones in which parents and the community are involved. The Afro concludes, “[I]f public schools are to survive, the community must stop acting like everything is alright [sic]. Otherwise, Al Shanker's prediction of the end of public schools will become a reality.”


The Campaign Against DC Public Education
Larry Gray,

Those who are regularly involved in efforts to reform the DC Public School system, rather than carping from afar and usually with outdated criticisms, will say, “Three cheers for Peggy Cafritz for standing up to the right-wing voucher bullies.” While neither Cafritz nor I have ever said the DC Public Schools are either turned around nor perfect, at least we see when progress has been made under qualified school administrators. The game of who can make the most outrageous claims of malfeasance and dysfunction in DC schools must end. It is counter productive. It affects system morale, funding options, the attraction of ever better qualified employees, etc.

To say there is no choice and no progress in DC schools is to ignore some existing public charter schools, out of boundary transfers, cluster schools, schools of excellence, enterprise schools, magnet schools, early childhood initiatives, the Superintendent's transformation school efforts (not imposed from the outside), teacher recruitment efforts, pay scale improvements, the long term facilities plan and the first new construction in well over twenty years, perceptible improvements in student test scores at virtually every level in reading and math, the development of improved curriculum standards, improved teacher training initiatives, new efforts in bilingual education, the implementation of the textbook replacement program (begun under Alderman), technology infusion progress, and on and on. Take a look at the progress instead of endorsing the ongoing efforts by many to insert their pet political pork into the regular budgeting process in which the entire parent and school community attempts to work its well informed will. This administration is also better aligning Federal spending before use of scarce local dollars and launching efforts to improve grants and outside contributions from private sources.

As one who has worked tirelessly for many years to help form the political will for positive change in the city's education infrastructure and has called for reform to take place “brick by brick.” I know when a brick is being laid or brickbats are merely being thrown. Get with the processes and programs in place under the current reform initiatives and make your voices heard! Advocate for the funds necessary to continue improvements. It's time for the annual DC School's Budget Debate.

The Mayor and Council will probably attempt to freeze current school funding at 2002FY levels. (about $740 million) While the schools were funded at $220 million less than the Superintendent's request for FY2003 (that budget is still hung up on Capitol Hill and spending is frozen), the Superintendent has reduced his request by $100 million and the Board of Education has worked diligently to wring tens of millions in savings to cover the first unfunded year of teacher pay increases. The Superintendent, having continued to streamline Central Administration, is seeking $860 million to continue ongoing reform efforts including Special Education reform, school transformation, inclusion of a regular school repair and maintenance effort, some increase over last years disastrous cuts in Summer school, AP program expansion in high schools, and continued initiatives in early childhood programs to name a few.

The name calling is in high gear once again from CATO type voucher and choice advocates who are never satisfied unless they can rob the system for their pet priorities, free from government accountability, teacher pay standards, gain free buildings, use of central administration services when possible and are often free of the responsibility to provide special education options. They would remain unaccountable for use of public funds when their students drop out and return to public classrooms or student outcomes fail to improve. They continue to propose sapping the resources from concerted public action to improve every neighborhood school for the benefit of the comparatively few voucher or special Charter School beneficiaries.

Cheers to Board President Cafritz for taking the heat and standing up to the perennial bullies. A united Board of Education backed by parents and an informed community should resist their simplistic solutions and band aids which only postpone the painstaking efforts required to bring real substantial and quantifiable change for every student in the public school system.


Don’t Forget the Mule
Jeffrey Itell,

Bill Adler’s perusal of DC laws, which led to his finding the prohibition against dueling, reminded me of a similar search I conducted several years ago. Should I have chosen to declare personal bankruptcy — which I didn’t — I would have been allowed to keep one, and only one, mule.


Dueling in the District
Bob Summersgill,

Kathy Patterson has introduced bill 14-636, the “Elimination of Outdated Crimes Amendment Act of 2002,” in order to delete the laws regarding dueling challenges — as mentioned by Bill Adler in themail — and other archaic laws. Every body of laws needs a little house keeping now and again to remove laws that once seemed important and now seem silly. A hearing was held on December 5. Although the bill will have to be reintroduced in 2003, it will not need another hearing, and will be able to proceed through the legislative process with no apparent obstacle. Cropp, Allen, Ambrose, Catania, Evans, Fenty, Graham, and Mendelson are cosponsors.


Not Fun and Fun
Ann Loikow,

Ed T. Barron wrote that “The Peace Pageant with the Christmas Tree lighting on the White House ellipse was definitely not fun.” I couldn't agree more. My family tried to go by the National Christmas tree on Friday night after seeing the Revels, as we had a friend with us who had never seen it. We drove up 17th Street and could barely see it beyond the blockades and security vehicles. We drove around the block (or

more like around half a dozen blocks as the streets are closed around the Ellipse and White House) and when we came down to Constitution Avenue and looked for the tree, it was gone! As my husband said, we have a "stealth tree" or else the President is saving power to use for his war (it was 11 p.m.). Given all the fences around the Ellipse, it appears there are very few ways one can walk up to the Pageant of Peace. Makes you wonder who it is for. Appears what it needed to properly finish the scene is to install a crenelated wall with turrets around the Ellipse and White House Precinct to properly reflect our new imperial presidency.


Being Like Suburbanites
Gabe Goldberg,

John Whiteside said, "The store is enormous and understaffed, just like every other Home Depot I've ever been to." I'm neither gloating nor suggesting you come to Annandale, VA, to shop, but the (enormous, yes) former-Hechingers Home Depot here is great. Accessible, knowledgeable, helpful staff makes us happy it's not Hechingers every time we shop there.


New York’s 311 Help Line
Richard Layman, Northeast DC,

[With regard to Gabriel Goldberg's posting]: It's four more numbers to dial, but the City Call Center, 727-1000, is, basically the same thing and it's been in place for at least three years.


Call Central
Erik Gaull,

Of course DC has had 727-1000 for several years now. While you can't always find everything you need there, it is a damn sight better than it was when I first moved to DC


How to Fight an Automated Speeding Ticket?
Gabe Goldberg,

[Phil Greene wrote asking how to fight an speeding camera ticket sent to his wife.] Was she doing 37 mph? Do you object to the ticket being automated, her not knowing she was ticketed (a likely unavoidable consequence of the ticket being automated), it arriving in the mail, or the fact that she received a ticket? I'm not taking a position here on automated tickets, though I did receive an automated red light ticket a while ago that I wasn't happy about, tried to fight, and failed to beat. It's just not clear to me whether you want to fight an unfair ticket or beat a legitimate one.


Fighting a Speeding Ticket
Bill Starrels, Georgetown,

Considering the fact that the writer's wife (presuming she was the driver) got a ticket for driving 37 in a 25 zone — let's see, that is 12 miles per hour over the posted limit — unless the driver knows something the rest of us do not, I would suggest that she: 1) pays the ticket, 2) is thankful that there are no points, 3) slows down, 4) has a happier holiday season.

[Both replies assume that automated speed cameras do not make mistakes. Two weeks ago, the MPD revealed that for some period it issued wrongful tickets at two speed cameras that were set to the wrong speed limit. Is it also possible that a camera could malfunction, or should we assume that automated speed tickets based on camera surveillance are all correct and incontestable? — Gary Imhoff]


December 2002 InTowner
Peter Wolff,

This is to advise that the December 2002 on-line edition has been uploaded and may be accessed at Included are the lead stories, community news items and crime reports, editorials (including prior months' archived), restaurant reviews (prior months' also archived), and the text from the ever-popular "Scenes from the Past" feature. Also included are all current classified ads. The complete issue (along with prior issues back to August 2001) also is available in PDF file format by direct access from our home page at no charge simply by clicking the link provided. Here you will be able to view the entire issue as it looks in print, including the new ABC Board actions report, all photos and advertisements.

The next issue will publish on January 10. The complete PDF version will be posted by early that Friday morning, following which the text of the lead stories, community news, and selected features will be uploaded shortly thereafter. To read this month's lead stories, simply click the link on the home page to the following headlines: 1) “Major Anchor Project for Columbia Heights Seen Getting Boost from Target Stores”; 2) “Street Call Boxes Well on Way to Being Saved -- Dupont Circle Neighborhood Groups Join Effort”; 3) “Art a Major Force in the East End — Winter 'Open Studios' Event Rewards Art Lovers.”



Public Hearing on Mansion Land Expansion, December 16
Bob Andrew, Casey Mansion Committee,

Plan to come to Georgetown Library at Wisconsin Avenue and R Streets, NW, Monday night December 16, at 7:00 p.m., to participate in the only public hearing the National Park Service will hold on a proposed Casey Mansion Foundation plan to buy four acres of Whitehaven Parkway park reserve in addition to more than sixteen acres they already own for building the actual Mayoral mansion. Under the proposal, the foundation would buy the land to fence it in, add a secure driveway and gatehouse. The money would be used to buy two or three private townhouses on Potomac River waterfront in Georgetown that would be torn down to make way for a new (institutional?) boathouse, on the west end of a new Georgetown Waterfront Park.

Foxhall Community Citizens Association, ANC2E, and ANC3D have already unanimously voted to oppose this expansion, though do support building the mansion itself on the former Brady estate as the alternative to maybe a 100 or more houses that could be built as of right under R1B zoning. See for summary of the key issues, also for chronological details of key events to date, the notice about this hearing, and link to the 133-page Environmental Assessment (EA) report that NPS plan to present on Monday. If you have a question to ask, read the material and have it ready, so all affected community residents can be effective in the use of time in this public hearing opportunity. Written comments on the environmental assessment are due by January 2, 2003, to


CHIME’S “Music Around the World” Library Programs on DCTV, December 17
Dorothy Marschak,

CHIME’s program on traditional Appalachian folk music and tales, filmed during the live performance by dulcimer player Ralph Lee Smith and banjo player Lee Coryell at Mount Pleasant Library on October 12, is being aired three more times this month at the following times on DCTV Channels 6 (Comcast) and 11 (Starpower): December 17, 5:30 p.m.; December 22, 3:30 p.m.; and December 28, 8:00 p.m. Our October 6 program at Benning Library, great women jazz singers with Cynthia Lin, was aired many times on the same stations in November, and will be shown again at various times in the future. Cynthia is now performing in "South Pacific" at the Arena Stage.

Our library series begins again on January 11 with “Music of Arabic Peoples” at Francis Gregory Library in Ward 7 presented by Grant Chamberlain and eminent Jordanian musician Seifed-Din Abbdod (performing on Oud). There will be sixteen Saturday afternoon programs in the series on music with Asian, African and European roots given at nine libraries between January 11 and May 12. The complete schedule, with descriptions of the programs, can be viewed on our web site, (There is currently a problem accessing this site from rcn (Starpower) servers that we hope Starpower can resolve soon).



House for Rent
Bryant Young,

Two bedroom, 1.5 bath house for rent; $1425/month + utilities; 1124 K Street, SE; near the US Marine Barracks on Capital Hill; approximately five blocks from Eastern Market Metro stop; wall to wall carpet; fireplace; brick patio; available immediately.



Please Donate New and Gently Used Toys to Kids Who Really Need Them!
Kathleen McLynn,

Do your kids have toys, infant items, clothing, games, books, or sports stuff (roller blades, cleats, bikes, helmets, etc.) that they have outgrown? Are you looking for a way to help disadvantaged kids have a happy holiday? In the spirit of the season, please consider donating them to Mt. Rona Baptist Church. Each year, Mt. Rona (13th and Monroe Streets, NW) holds a Christmas celebration where toys find their way into the hands of less fortunate children, including kids from the local shelter. All items in good condition are welcome and your donation is tax deductible.

This grass roots effort first started twelve years ago when families at Stoddert School, where Bernice McCallum taught for thirteen years, first adopted the program in support of her volunteer work at Mt. Rona Church with DC children. Now families in Cleveland Park, AU Park and other neighborhoods support this great cause as well. (It is all volunteer, with no administrative waste). If you would like to make a contribution, please drop toys off at the porch of any of these locations 24/7: 3723 Veazy Street, NW; 4332 Albemarle Street, NW; 4209 Warren Street, NW; 4120 Garrison Street, NW; 3929 Benton Street, NW; 5124 Chevy Chase Pkwy (use alley, BACK porch). Please make your donation no later than Thursday, December 19. If you have questions, please call Bernice McCallum, 726-5852, Mt. Rona Church; or Kathleen McLynn, 966-9837, St. Columba’s Church.



Clare Feinson,

I strongly recommend Delbe Home Improvement, 237-0187. Our contact there is Dewayne Jiles. This is not just a general contractor, but a contractor service. You pay a membership to join and you get a personal representative. Then, whenever you need a contractor, they find one for you, someone they have checked out and usually worked with before, so they have some leverage in case something goes wrong. They have negotiated rates with the contractors, too, so you don't have to deal with the financial hanky-panky so prevalent in these situations.

Last year, on September 10th, the contractor they found us was a day away from finishing a big job in our house. On September 11th, the contractor vanished from the contact. Delbe found him and forced him to come finish up our job, which must have seemed really trivial to him at that point — it turned out he was called to help rebuild the Pentagon. Delbe will also come let contractors in if you cannot get away from work, and will even water plants and feed pets when you are gone, if that is what you need. We have been very happy with them and we recommend them highly.


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