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December 18, 2002

Safety in the City

Dear Correspondents:

Sean Madigan, of the Washington Business Journal, wrote it too neatly to try to rephrase him: “Being the fourth-best or fourth-highest in the nation usually is a good thing. That is, of course, unless your city is ranked the fourth-most dangerous city in America. Lawrence, Kan.-based Morgan Quitno Press recently released its rankings of the country's safest and most dangerous cities based on crime statistics from murders to muggings — and Washington is No. 4. Unfortunately for DC's business community, which has spent years trying scrub its image as the country's crime capital, it appears close to the top again” ( The full report is available for a charge from Morgan Quitno,

The “improvement” in crime fighting over the past four years has been like most perceptions of improvements in city services — the improvement has been in the perception rather than in the service.

Gary Imhoff


A Petty Man’s Revenge
Dorothy Brizill,

On September 8, I wrote in themail: “One thing to watch for after the campaign is over: Stephen Callas is a current member of the Board of Elections and Ethics whose renomination Mayor Williams sent to the City Council just before its summer recess. Sources close to Williams say that he is still furious over the Board's rejection of his nominating petitions, and that he is considering whether to withdraw Callas' nomination or to persuade Vincent Orange, chair of the Government Operations Committee, to bury the nomination in Committee.” Williams and Orange found a third way to kill the renomination and to take revenge for the Board of Elections' holding the Mayor responsible for his election fraud.

Here's what happened. The mayor renominated Callas on June 21, prior to the mayor's petition scandal and just before the Council adjourned for summer recess. Orange repeatedly delayed his committee's hearing on Callas, and finally scheduled it for November 21. The Committee approved the renomination unanimously, and the Council placed it on the consent calendar for its next legislative meeting, on December 3. On that day, just prior to the vote, Council Chairman Linda Cropp announced that Callas' renomination had to be pulled from the calendar and tabled because, under the District's Confirmation Amendment Act of 1998, the Council had 90 legislative days to approve of a nomination, and those 90 days had expired the day, before on December 2. Legally, the nomination was deemed disapproved. (Orange's staff acknowledges that Orange had been sent a notice and reminder of the 90-day deadline more that a month previously, and still failed to act in a timely manner.)

The Mayor has refused to renominate Callas, even though he issued an emergency renomination yesterday for another nominee whose nomination had expired. Gregory McCarthy, Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy and Legislative Affairs, explained that “things have changed” since the Mayor initially renominated Callas, and Ron Collins, Director of the Mayor's Office of Boards and Commissions, refused to provide any explanation for the Mayor's action. But is an explanation really necessary, when the message is so obvious? In this administration, honesty and integrity will be punished. However, there is growing sentiment in the Council to counter Mr. Williams's retribution. Under the law governing the Board of Elections and Ethics, a member whose term has expired continues to sit until his replacement is nominated and approved. If the Mayor persists in his spiteful course, the Council can refuse to accept any other nominations from the Mayor, and the current members of the Board will continue to serve independently and free from political pressure.


Mental Health System
Bryce A. Suderow,

Some of you may have read Annys Shin's article on DC's mental health care system on page 13 of this week's Washington City Paper. Shin interviewed Martha B. Knisley, director of the Department of Mental Health, but she failed to mention the ways that the director is crippling the system. Until six months ago, the Department assigned every patient a case manager and a doctor. This system worked smoothly, and patients could count on seeing their doctor at a specific time, usually before or after they saw their case manager. Knisley changed that setup about six months ago. Under her new arrangement, patients show up and wait for hours for a doctor to see them.

Until about three months ago, patients could show up at the pharmacy and receive their medication in about twenty minutes. Knisley changed that system too. Now the pharmacists often can't find the prescriptions, and patients turn in their prescription and are forced to wait hours. Knisley now proposes to fire 14 of the 28 case managers, all of whom are trained psychologists. She wants to replace them with social workers with less training. Washington, DC's, Mental Health Care system is probably heading for disaster, a la DC General Hospital, thanks to Martha B. Kinsley.


Major Mods on McArthur
Ed T. Barron,

Around the clock there is major construction work being done on the McArthur Boulevard Reservoir. Lots of earth moving and heavy equipment are installing large metal dividers between the front and rear bays and making major changes to the bottom of the front bay. I have not read anything in the Post or the NW Current about this expensive project and wonder just what is being done, why, and who is paying for it. Anybody know?


Midyear Teacher Transfers at Ellington and Elsewhere
Susan Gushue, PTSA President, Duke Ellington School of the Arts,

Students and schools across the city are being badly hurt by DCPS's latest thoughtless action which involves moving teachers around among schools as though they were so many rolls of toilet paper. At Ellington, four teachers are being transferred out of our school on Monday, December 16, after being notified on Thursday the 12th. For those of you who do not have children in DCPS, this is about four school weeks before the end of the second quarter and a month before most college applications are due. At our school, among the teachers who have no control over their destiny is an art teacher with a stellar reputation, outstanding credentials, and 25 years at Ellington. Not even our school administrators had any say in the matter. If you want to know one of the things that is wrong with DCPS it is the arrogance and thoughtlessness that governs personnel actions like these. I have to ask myself "Does human resources even know that our school system has children? When they say 'children first' do they really mean 'first hurt, last served,' because that is what it looks like? And who hired these administrators anyway? In the case of Ellington almost anyone at the local school could have come up with more student friendly, creative solutions than the people at DCPS. We were never asked.

Readers of themail — even if you don't have children — please don't stand by and let this happen. Personnel decisions like these need to be made at semester breaks in emergencies, but normally at school year's end. Please call the superintendent, the mayor, the city council, and the elected members of the school board and tell them that effective teachers should not be moved midyear.


DC Public Schools
Patricia Chittams,

I just have a question to anyone who says that DCPS has really changed. Do you have any children in DCPS? Yes, suffice it to say that on paper, there is choice in DCPS. There are public charter schools. I have had dealings with at least three. One was great (Children's Studio School), one was horrible (the now defunct World Public Charter School), and one is unfortunately still open (Hyde Leadership Public Charter School); however, their first graduating class shouldn't graduate this year, as they don't have sufficient credits to do so.

Yes, there is out-of-boundary choice; however, unless you are a parent with time on your hands who can lobby for your child, the likelihood of receiving an appropriate placement in slim to none. Where are the schools of excellence and the magnet schools? Are these something that is in the works, or something that is in existence now? Yes, there is new construction; however, we still have schools with no heat (School without Walls, Taft), no PA system or cafeteria (Walls). Great educational advancements, additional testing, but the children still cannot bring textbooks home (Hardy, Anacostia). Let's talk about the text books: one in particular, the beginning Spanish textbook that my son uses has errors in it. Blatant, egregious, and flagrant errors. But every child in DCPS uses this book, and I know of at least one Spanish teacher who didn't even know that the text book was wrong.

Yes, there has been some improvement, but in the case of charter schools more oversight is needed (not more announced inspections). In the case of the DCPS, there are some jewels there, some people who really have children at heart, but we need to put those people in charge of the system and kick the educrats out.


DC Public Schools
Judy Walton,

It saddens me about the little faith, support, cooperation, and collaboration that many of us put into our public school system. It is not inherently unfixable except to those who do want it unfixable. I am a native Washingtonian and a product of the DC Public Schools, who, by the way, went on to achieve her doctorate and to teach at one of our local universities. I do not have children, but I am willing and able to financially support our schools through our local tax system. I believe in public education for all people, not just for some of the people and their children who can afford private or charter school financial assistance. At the rate these opponents are going, we will have a variety of unequal charter schools for a select few. And, for the vast majority, who are not able to avail themselves to these “private and/or charter” schools, a damaged system will be left to them. It is divisive to have two types of educational systems: one for the “haves” and one for the “have-nots.” This prospect is frightening and insulting. If it is broke, then fix it. For our opponents who believe the DCPS is not working effectively, then I propose to them that they should lobby the people on Capitol Hill, who dribble educational monies while pouring military monies, for more school funding. Stop being nay sayers and doom delivers, work in a collaborative and cooperative manner to help our children and their future. I am not agreeing or disagreeing with Peggy Cafritz, or the Cato Institute, or Virginia Walden-Ford, head of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, I am advocating for a high quality, well-funded, and effectively managed DC Public School system that works for all children.


Goofy DC Laws: Where's the Beeves?
Mark Eckenwiler,

As long as we're on the subject of DC legal anachronisms, I'd like to remind themail readers of the restrictions set out in section 906 of Title 24, DC Municipal Regulations (Public Safety). For starters, “no person shall drive or conduct swine, beeves, or other cattle [in the streets] between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m.” (906.2) — but note that daytime sheep droves are OK, provided there are at least six (6) drovers and 1/3 of any bridge crossed is kept clear for others (906.4). And for you late-night cattle drovers, be advised that “no drove of beeves shall consist of more than fifteen (15) beeves.” (906.5) Perhaps by way of compensation, the regs declare that “horned cattle may be led singly by a rope or halter through any of the streets in the District,” apparently at any hour (906.8).

Finally, in an example of a truly under-enforced law, section 906.7 states that “no horse, mule, goat, sheep, swine, bovine, or other cattle shall be allowed to run at large in the District. . . .” (Punch line left as an exercise for the reader.)


Ramsey’s Spies in the Sky
Nora Bawa,

I don't know if the U. Penn. student (12/15 issue of themail) read the same article by Chief Ramsey I did, but I found Ramsey's lumping of demonstrations with terrorism as foci of the surveillance cameras a bit scary. Why keep mentioning these in the same breath? If fourteen sensitive locations have been selected as likely sites for terrorism, fine, observe them (if indeed one can make such predictions). But using cameras to observe peace demonstrations is another kind of watching. How do we know they're not being used to target individuals? How do we know how they're being used? And if the cameras are not intended to identify individuals, how can they be useful for crime prevention? By the time the police arrived, the criminals would be gone; the film in the camera could only be used to identify perpetrators.

I can't imagine why peace demonstrations (and I attended the very peaceful one he mentioned) should be a target of surveillance — who's being threatened?


A Christmas Reprieve! Partial Victory!
Melody R. Webb,

While DC punted, Maryland's insurance commissioner delved deeply, and CareFirst Blue Cross/Blue Shield extended coverage at Children's Hospital until January 31, 2003! CareFirst/BlueCross was set to leave Children's Hospital of DC on December 31, requiring out-of-pocket and out-of-network payments for its subscribers using any and all Children's Hospital facilities and specialists beginning January 1, 2003. A reprieve has been granted. On, Wednesday, December 18, during the Maryland Insurance Commission Conversion Hearings, CareFirst BlueCross and Children's extended coverage of BCBS Subscribers, through January 31, 2003, one month longer than the original deadline, and have resumed negotiations. During this week of hearings before the Maryland Insurance Commissioner Steve Larsen, CareFirst has had to explain its planned contract termination with Children's in the context of its application for conversion to a for-profit company.

The E-mails are working. We asked for the City Council's aid; they mostly punted, but made calls to DC Insurance Commissioner Lawrence Mirel on the behalf of consumers. Please continue to send your E-mails, but now please write to the Maryland official under whose watch this extension was granted. Please E-mail Commissioner Larsen, thank him for his inquiry on Wednesday, December 18, into the Children's dispute, and urge him to remain vigilant. Here is how: visit This web site allows you to write a letter of your own or mail the default form letter to Commissioner Larsen and to the relevant hospital, insurance and other government officials. DC licenses and regulates health insurance provision. is organizing citizens to ask that Children's and Blue Cross Blue Shield continue contract negotiations until a fair and reasonable agreement is reached and in the meantime, to extend the scheduled termination date until such time that a permanent contract agreement can be reached. The one month extension is a great beginning.

What can we expect from the City Council after last week's appeal for help? Well, they believe that it is not their place to intervene; rather Council staffers argue that the free market must resolve this. They have engaged in some talks with Commissioner Mirel, who urges subscribers to switch to other insurance carriers. Well, we can only hope that when it is Commissioner Mirel's turn to review the conversion in DC that he makes the same level of inquiry into this termination of the Children's contract that Maryland has done. We might even hope that the mayor or the council will follow the lead of Maryland, and look out for the interests of their citizens. This extension of coverage at Children's clearly is a victory for BCBS subscribers, children, and the public at-large. The significance of this extension can not be overstated. So what do we do now? We redouble our efforts. We maintain that this would not have been possible without this community outlet, themail, allowing us to publicize our campaign, which increased the volume of E-mail to decision-makers. You have made a difference.


Insurance Continued
John Whiteside, johnwhiteside at earthlink dot net

Lawrence Mirel, DC Insurance Commissioner, says that my problem is the result of the "sense of entitlement that people who buy insurance have that their policies should pay for any losses, no matter how small." Well, Mr. Mirel, what on earth are we paying our premiums for? It frightens me to think that we have an insurance commissioner who believes we should pay premiums and then pay for the losses the insurance is supposed to cover, and not bother those nice insurance companies with our troubles. It also bothers me that the insurance commissioner has time to comment on my situation, but does not have time to ask me what happened -- since he made some incorrect assumptions about my understanding of how insurance worked.

In most places, these government bodies are designed as watchdogs of the public interest, but, as usual, in DC citizens are on their own.


Insurance in DC
Gabe Goldberg,

[Insurance Commissioner Lawrence Mirel wrote:] “Two claims within a couple of years will cause someone to be moved from a preferred company to a standard company.”

I've been with Geico for more than thirty years, have certainly filed two claims within a couple years, didn't lose my policy or even my safe-driver discount. I don't remember the original post's details; maybe claims need to be the fault of the policy holder to get you cancelled — I've had claims like hitting debris in the road, people backing into my car in parking lots. Or maybe longtime policy holders get more leeway, or maybe Geico uses different trigger criteria.


DC Spaces
Mark David Richards, Dupont East,

I love to watch the way groups/people claim and define their social geography. Tonight I picked up a copy of a community paper I haven't seen before, DC North: A Community Newspaper for Neighborhoods East of the Park and West of The River. The Publisher is Jean-Keith Fagon and the Executive Editor is Melissa Ashabranner. A little map in DC North shows readers the area that DC North reporters cover, compared to the areas covered by Hill Rag and East of the River — which together are called Fagon Community Guides. Any information about this/these publications that cover East of the Park?


No Planning, No Estimating
Gabe Goldberg,

Ed T. Barron wrote: “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.”

Ed, please show your work in reaching conclusions. “It would have been far cheaper” based on what analysis/comparison? Surely there are added expenses involved in compensating for the unavailability of the Brentwood PO. Likely there's staff overtime. We've all heard about delivery delays. “A little planning and estimating up front would clearly have shown. . .” — you've done this planning and estimating? Details would be interesting. Would you settle for such unsubstantiated assertions in the Post or from others on this list? I don't think so. You might be right; I don't have data that contradicts you. But you haven't shown data or analysis that supports you.


Reopening Brentwood Postal Facility
John Henry Wheeler,

[Ed Barron] assumes that a cost benefit analysis of reopening versus abandonment was not done. It is my understanding that abandonment or demolition, without first decontamination, was not a viable option because of the concern that the anthrax could escape into the local community. So the options were decontamination plus abandonment or decontamination plus reuse. When given those options, reopening the facility from a cost benefit perspective probably makes sense. Finally, Mr. Barron states as a fact 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).” Does he have any support for these statements of facts, or are they just more of his irresponsible expression of opinions as facts?



Families with CareFirst Insurance, December 19
Michelle Molloy,

A meeting to discuss Children's Hospital and whether quality care will be available to CareFirst Subscribers on an ongoing basis will be held this Thursday, December 19, 7 p.m., at Falls Church High School, 7521 Jaguar Trail, Falls Church, VA. Directions: take 495 (Beltway) to 50 East exit. Take a right onto Jaguar Trail and the school is on the right. Meeting is in the cafeteria. For more information please contact Sue Harris, 703-765-4803, or Terry Newmyer, 202-778-0448.

The relationship between CareFirst and Children's Hospital is in serious jeopardy; the outcome threatens to force CareFirst subscribers to choose between paying high out-of-network costs and finding new medical care. Come learn how this situation will affect you, and what you can do about it.


Free DC Songfest, December 21
Karen Szulgit,

The Stand Up for Democracy in DC Coalition would like to invite you to the 2nd Annual “Free DC” Holiday Songfest, a very special outdoor event that combines a fun social get-together, the inspiring cause of full democracy for Washington, DC, great music, and lots of hot chocolate! Saturday, December 21, 11 a.m-1:30 p.m., 12th and G Streets, NW (northwest corner near Hecht's), (Metro Center Stop on Red/Blue/Orange Lines, MetroBus Routes 42,54,67,80,D2/D4,G8,P6/17/19,S2/3/4/5,W13,X2).

In the time-honored tradition of freedom singers advocating for civil rights, the Stand Up DC Freedom Singers will gather to sing holiday songs turned “freedom songs.” Song titles include: “The Twelve Days of Freedom” (“The Twelve Days of Christmas”), “Free DC” (“White Christmas”), “Fill the Halls” (“Deck the Halls”), “We Need a Little Democracy” (“We Need a Little Christmas”), “Norton The DC Delegate” (“Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer”), “Congress Oh Congress” (“Chanukah Oh Chanukah”), “The DC Song” (“The Dreydl Song”), “DC Libre” (“Feliz Navidad”), and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Statehood!” (“It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!”). Song lyrics will be available at the event. If you can sing, please join with us in song. If you can't sing, please consider joining with us in song anyway! And bring a friend! Let's celebrate together this season of goodwill and joy in our own way to help advance this important cause! Any questions? Call the “Free DC” Holiday Songfest hotline, 232-2500, see our calendar at, or E-mail


Museum Family Fun Day, December 25
Diana Altman,

The B'nai B'rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum is presenting its annual Family Fun Day on Wednesday, December 25, from 12:00 noon to 3:00 p.m. The event will be held at Tifereth Israel Congregation, 7701 16th Street, NW, and will include programs by the Judaic learning divisions of Tifereth Israel and Ohr Kodesh congregations. Highlights of the event are as follows: craft tables, staffed by experts, for learning about and making Judaic objects; storytelling, singing, Israeli folk dancing, games; displays of Judaica; and refreshments. Tickets are payable at the door, general public: $10 for adults, $8 for children 16 and under; members of the Klutznick Museum, Tifereth Israel, or Ohr Kodesh: $8 for adults, $6 for children 16 and under. Reservations are strongly recommended for this event. Street parking is available. To make reservations or find out more, call 857-6583 or E-mail

The B'nai B'rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum is dedicated to preserving and promoting the history, culture, and art of the Jewish people. Its collections comprise art, ethnographic, and archeological holdings from the Biblical period through the 20th century. The Museum is located at 2020 K Street, NW. Admission is by advance reservation only. For more information about the museum call 857-6583, visit, or E-mail


New Year’s Eve Gala, December 31
Michael Karlan,

The DC Society of Young Professionals is hosting a New Year's Eve Gala at the Ritz-Carlton. This event features seven international themed party areas: New York, New Orleans, Jamaica, Monte Carlo, Havana, Tokyo, and Vienna. It also features a top shelf open bar, champagne toast, elaborate food stations, party favors, white glove service, and much more. For more details or to purchase tickets, please visit, E-mail, or call 686-6085.



Redskins Tickets
Renee Schwager, Dupont Circle,

I have two tickets and a parking pass at Fedex Field for each of the next two Redskins games. The tickets are $59 per ticket plus $15 for parking. The game on 12/22/02 is against Houston. The game on 12/29/02 is against Dallas. Both are 1:00 p.m. games. I am willing to sell the four tickets and two parking passes at a discount if someone wants both sets. Please E-mail me at



Used VHS Videotapes Needed
Phil Shapiro,

I recently finished work on a pro bono video project for a nonprofit organization in DC. If anyone has any used VHS videotapes lying around, I could use about 50 to 100 videotapes to disseminate this video around town. I can come by to pick them up.


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