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March 9, 2005


Dear Correspondents:

Every once in a while, I repeat some of the guidelines for writing to themail. Mostly, they deal with timing and length. Timing is everything. Issues are published twice a week, on Wednesday and Sunday evenings. If you’re sending a meeting or event notice, please keep those days in mind. As it says at the bottom of each issue, brevity is the soul of being publishable. Keep it short, and I won’t edit it with my rusty hatchet, or run only the first two or three paragraphs in the E-mail version. Classifieds are free, but I’ll run the same classified ad only once in a month, not repeatedly. We’re dedicated to local issues and to life in the District of Columbia. We don’t cover national and international politics; don’t bother to write to themail about them unless there’s a very strong local connection. And if you want to be sure that I don’t title your submission with a bad pun or misspell your name, format your message exactly as you would like to see it printed, with the title, your name, and E-mail address at the top of the body of the message.

If you ever miss an issue, please remember that the current issue and all back issues are available online at Also, since back issues are maintained online, please remember, before you hit the send button, that your message will live forever in the memory of the web. Even after that long-distant day when DCWatch goes away, it will still live in the Wayback machine (

I don’t enforce any limits on language, although most readers prefer politeness. The most riotous profanity is all right on web sites, but the censorship filters that screen E-mail are stricter and stupider than the bluest-nosed Mrs. Grundy of the Victorian era. Please, if you can restrain yourself, don’t emulate those risque folks at the National Cathedral who in this issue of themail openly advertise a performance by a “titular organist.” Who knows how many filters will reject this message because of that?

Gary Imhoff


Good Government Coming Soon to DC
Mary C. Williams, Committee to Recall Sharon Ambrose,

Over the last few days, I have awakened in the wee morning hours just to catch reruns of the Council’s March 1 committee meeting on Channel 13. The rare and award-winning performances by a majority of our Council members have left me giddy with hope that repeat performances may not be too far off or infrequent. On that fateful Tuesday, a group of council members stepped outside their carefully crafted political boxes and demonstrated a number of characteristics and qualities that made me proud to be a DC resident. I know that it might be hard to believe, but they were actually articulate, concise, thorough and thoughtful, decisive and dedicated to representing the best interest of the people. More importantly, they were just plain smart.

Not all of them, however, took part in this unique good government exercise. The noteworthy actors were council members Barry, Brown, Catania, Cropp, Fenty, Graham, Gray, and Schwartz. My own representative, Sharon Ambrose, was unable to participate due to a lack of familiarity with this aspect of governing. She was left speechless by mounting concerns about the financing of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative. I watched in awe as Council members Catania and Barry teamed up to point out that the $3.8 million funding for the highly-touted AWI was nothing more than a giveaway to another quasi-government agency (devised to circumvent the constraints of government operations and assist private developers) and reward the city’s former planning director and his staff for executing the administration’s plan. Catania noted that the multimillion funding was solely to pay staff salaries and consultants and that the group, while good government planners, were not developers and could not carry out the project without hiring consultants to do the actual work. Barry also pointed out that unlike the National Capital Revitalization Corporation (NCRC), there was no provision for AWI to repay the loan from the city.

Ambrose refused to take part in the public discussions or provide an explanation. On another critical issue, Councilmember Fenty was encouraged by colleagues to continue dogging the institutionalized dysfunction of the Health and Human Services system amid growing criticism from advocates and the administration that Fenty may be blocking needed services. Undaunted by the repeated political rhetoric or the fear of reprisal from single-minded advocates, a majority of councilmembers, including Gray, pledged support for Fenty’s efforts to expose and right a system that allowed contractors to collect $450,000 a year for the care of one special needs person, revealing that there were several similar cases that none of the agency directors or supervisors could explain why or how this had occurred. Later in the week, Councilmembers Graham and Brown continued their efforts to right DCRA’s course, putting an end to the agency’s long-standing and illegal practice of rendering legal opinions on the sale of apartments and unlawful condominium conversions. It took Graham less than three months to put an end to the letter-writing practice that deprived renters of home ownership opportunities. Graham’s brief tenure as oversight also brought out two whistle blowers who unveiled numerous questionable practices within the agency, while Ambrose sat on these problematic issues for more than three years and did nothing. Ward 6 residents expect and deserve better. It’s time for Sharon to step aside. She is out of her league with this good government team.


What’s the Story on Loose Lips?
Bryant Young,

I remember reading in a previous issue of themail that Loose Lips, my favorite feature of the City Paper, was going away. Does anyone know why?

[Elissa Silverman, the latest Loose Lips, was fired by the City Paper’s editor, Eric Wemple, although Eric doesn’t want to call it a firing. The only local news report of the event was in The Common Denominator, If anyone wants to add anything to that account (Elissa, Eric, want to comment?), please feel free to do so. The column will return in tomorrow’s issue of the City Paper with a new Loose Lips, Jim Jones, formerly a reporter with WAMU-FM. — Gary Imhoff]


Rising Property Taxes Are Unrelated to Ability to Pay
Edward Cowan, Friendship Heights,

Many of us have on our desks DC Real Property Tax Bills payable by March 31 — bills that are up 12 percent from a year ago. Equally large increases are on tap for next year under present law. Few of us can augment our incomes enough to keep up. Rising property taxes are not related to ability to pay, unlike income and sales taxes. The real estate boom — bubble? — in DC and elsewhere puts enormous pressure on many of us to keep our homes. Rising property taxes drive up rents, too.

Councilmember Jack Evans (Ward 2), chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, wants to let your property tax bills rise by 5 percent a year. And that is his opening position -- one from which he will compromise upwards as he seeks to broker a deal with other Council members. Recall that Mr. Evans has his eye on the Mayor’s race in 2006. Increases of 5 percent a year are too much. It is twice the rate of inflation. It implies that DC government will take an increasing share of our incomes and the local economy. Council members should put the brakes on property tax increases by raising the homestead exemption and by reducing the rate at which property is taxed. Let the Council stop squeezing renters and home owners.

DC revenues can grow — equitably — with taxes from rising incomes and retail sales. There is even room for the income tax rate to come down a little and still yield more revenue as incomes and corporate profits grow. Property tax increases are unrelated to ability to pay. Please write to Council members — all of them, not just your own ward’s member — to express your views. You can find names and addresses at

[You can also send an E-mail to all councilmembers by using one address: — Gary Imhoff]


Who Are They and Where Did They Come From?
Larry Seftor, larry underscore seftor .the757 at zoemail.net1

An outside panel put together by the American Public Transportation Association analyzed Metro’s operations and “found flaws that include fragmented management” and “poor training” []. That is no surprise to anyone who saw the picture in the Post of one rail car sitting on top of another, or read stories about how a train operator simply walked away from a train load of passengers. In fact, it is no surprise to anyone who rides Metro, even intermittently. What is a surprise is the simplicity and commonsense nature of the panel’s findings. The panel’s recommendations, reported in the Post, did not focus on esoteric details of mass transit, but addressed fundamentals of rail operations. Metro management got a failing score on the most basic aspects of rail transit.

I have been told that the Metro board supports Metro General Manager Richard White because of the respect they hold for his ability and knowledge. Who are they kidding? As the lawyers say: res ipsa loquitor, the facts speak for themselves. Metro is ill run, a conclusion that was confirmed by the just-completed expert study. My question is: who are these people on the Metro board and where did they come from? The only way Metro is going to be repaired is to replace the current board by people who care about the system and who, in fact, deign to ride the system occasionally themselves. A revised board’s first action should be to replace White.


Somebody’s Making a Bundle
Ed T. Barron,

The price of diesel fuel in DC is well over $2.20 per gallon. That’s a bit baffling, since diesel fuel is a minimally refined product that is exactly the same as number 2 home heating oil. Yet home heating oil is only about $1.70 per gallon. Who’s making all that extra profit?


DDOT and Common Sense
Phil Carney,

ANC2B Commissioner Rob Halligan E-mailed me his testimony to the Council concerning DDOT. While I know that DDOT is trying to improve, here is my response to Rob with my favorite DDOT fiasco.

Rob, thanks for your testimony. Cannot help but think, “How bleeping sad.” My favorite DDOT stupidity was when they repaved Q Street, NW, in our Dupont Circle neighborhood after a decade of promising to do it. DDOT never made any public announcement, either before or during the work. Emergency No Parking signs appeared with no explanation and originally were for one week. When DDOT does not understand the value of street parking, we are in trouble. Then problem after problem and complaint after complaint followed. If we had only known what was going on, people would have been dancing with joy! Instead, everyone was complaining, and I heard a lot more complaints than DDOT ever did. DDOT needs to figure out that, if they treat the public with contempt and offer no public information, then even something positive becomes a negative. The worst part of the above fiasco was that all it would have taken to do it right was simple common sense.


Dr. Transit Blog
Richard Layman,

In response to a couple Washington Post articles, and more generally to less-embracing-of-transit attitudes, I hope to demonstrate that “Dr. Transit” is “In” and “Dr. Gridlock” is “Out” via the following entries on my blog, Laymanblog, at Check out, a response to a Sunday front-page article, and, in response to a piece in the Thursday Dr. Gridlock column, see

There’s also this unrelated, but related, post here: Questions to Dr. Transit are welcomed at


Blogging about the District of Columbia
Andy Catanzaro,

Check out a new a blog (, Blogging about the Colony of the District of Columbia! The blog’s focus is to update you on interesting web sites, current articles, and events crucial to establishing voting rights in Washington DC. The web site is sponsored by the Stamp Act Congress ( Submissions, links, or opinions are strongly encouraged.


New Smoke-free Discussion Feature on the Web Site
Eric Marshall,

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s smoke-free campaign is really driven by its volunteers and supporters, and the campaign wants to hear from you! There is now a Smoke-free Discussion feature on the web site. The campaign’s field representative will periodically be posting articles or updates about smoke-free. There will also be guests from the Washington, DC, and public health communities posting from time to time. At the bottom of every post there will be a comments section where you can comment about the post or anything else related to smoke-free workplaces.

Please go to and join the discussion today.


Concerning the New MPD Procedures
Selina Musuta,

I would like to comment on Bryce A. Suderow’s comments [themail, March 6] on new police procedures that would force the police to investigate every citizen complaint as well as changing the process in which superiors confront police on complaints made against them. Mr. Suderow said that these procedures were horrible. I disagree. What I do think is horrible when police officers tell residents that these procedures will create more crime in a neighborhoods. That is a scare tactic in my opinion.

The fact is that when citizens do overcome their fear and complain about police misconduct, the complaints are rarely investigated. I remember the first time I tried to get enough information to report a police officer after seeing a youth being harassed, the police officers mocked me, and one refused to give me his badge number. They said that my complaints would not be heard. That disheartened me. My friend and I chose not to report because of that. The second time I tried to report to the police, which was over a year ago, nothing happened. No one contacted me. My story is one of many stories. Whether these procedures will be enforced and police held accountable is my real question.


Follow-Up on Interactive Journalism
Justin Orndorff,

Another valuable local resource for interactive journalism is J-Lab: the Institute for Interactive Journalism, at the University of Maryland (


Panic at Cardozo High
Victoria Lord, tory at aya dot yale dot edu

I have to agree with Gary’s assessment of the unnecessary panic over the mercury spill at Cardozo. It is complete overkill. That said, I also want to point out that this is a recurring theme in DCPS. Several years ago, my local DCPS elementary school was undergoing some slight renovation when it was discovered that pipes covered with asbestos had been exposed. Not disturbed, but simply uncovered. As this occurred on only one floor, only a few classrooms were affected, but you would have thought that we had uncovered a secret uranium dump. There were meetings with EPA officials, DCPS officials, school administrators, board members, etc. The oddest part of this, for me, was the parents who showed up to (literally) scream at the officials. I had never seen the vast majority of them at a single PTA meeting, a school clean and repair work day, chaperoning a field trip, or working in any other way to improve their child’s educational experience. In fact, I have never seen many of them since. I finally realized what was going on with these folks. Doing the day-to-day scut work of raising and educating your kids is exhausting -- making sure that homework is done nightly, that some reading occurs every day, that the child eats a good breakfast and gets to school on time, etc. It is a lot easier to show up once a year at the school and yell at other people about how inadequately they care for your child than it is to do this daily grind. And that’s what a lot of people seem to do in the District of Columbia. As a result, DC tends to respond with overkill to any situation like this because they know they are going to be accused of "harming the kids" if they just do a quick cleanup.

The second depressing factor in all this sturm und drang is the fact that in the past, DCPS has lied to parents, worked overtime to keep them in the dark, and downplayed real problems within the system. Put both these pathologies together and you get the dysfunctional dance we are seeing at Cardozo. I would like to see a serious response that involves making the parents of those kids found responsible financially liable for the cleanup. The cost is $150,000 and rising — more than enough to pay for librarians or music teachers at some of those schools which currently lack them. The waste of money is far more painful to those of us with kids in the system than any other aspect of this nonsense.


It’s Not So Much the Mercury as the Irony
Len Sullivan,

It is very rare when I find myself on the far side of Gary Imhoff. But his description of the city’s overreaction to the minor mercury spills in DC schools [themail, March 6] understates the histrionics over a nuisance event. In my youth, two decades before Gary’s, ink-bottle-sized containers of mercury were sold in toy stores. I fooled around with mine for months: freezing it with dry ice, coating coins with it to make them shiny; splattering puddles into droplets, and so forth.

But here’s what’s truly bizarre: there are no first responders at all when kids drop out of school and are left to pollute their communities, shorten the lives of their neighbors, and condemn their progeny to ill health. Where are the sirens, the evacuations, the yellow plastic bunny suits, the acrimony, and the angry parents when the really serious spills occur — at least a thousand times a year?


Harold Goldstein,

Without taking the time to reply in detail you might consider further research on mercury. Mercury is extremely toxic and deadly if ingested in certain forms. To downplay its danger is not wise.



Cleveland Park Library Book Sale, March 12-13
Jill Bogard,

The Friends of the Cleveland Park Library will hold their annual spring book sale this coming weekend, March 12 and 13, at the Cleveland Park Library, 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW, one block south of the Cleveland Park Metro stop on the red line. Hours are 12:00 noon to 4:00 p.m.

We have thousands of previously read books, many in pristine condition, in nearly every subject area. Most hardbacks are $1:00, paperbacks $.50. Paperback mysteries, romances, and science fiction are only $.10. Most children’s books go for $.50 for most hardbacks, $.10 for paperbacks. We also have a music section with CD’s, tapes, LP’s, and sheet music, as well as books on tape and some videos. Nearly everything in the sale has been donated by our neighbors and friends and thus reflects a wide range of interests and tastes. Questions? — contact Nathalie Black (362-3599) or Julianna Ohlrich (237-2005).


Concert by David Roth, March 13
Erik Suter,

Washington National Cathedral, Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues, NW, presents Daniel Roth, titular organist of St. Sulpice, Paris, in a winter celebrity organ concert on Sunday March 13, at 5:00 p.m. Mr. Roth will improvise in addition to performing works by Widor. Free and open to the public.


National Building Museum Events, March 14-15
Brie Hensold,

Both events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line.

Monday, March 14, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Shanghai, the world’s most densely populated city, is undergoing phenomenal changes to its physical environment. Peter Rowe, professor of architecture and urban design at Harvard University, will review the city’s urban plans since the beginning of the People’s Republic in 1949 and discuss contemporary major projects including infrastructure, commercial buildings, historic conservation, and construction of new and satellite communities. By way of comparison with contemporary Shanghai, he will briefly discuss development in Beijing. After the lecture, he will sign copies of his book Shanghai: Architecture and Urbanism for Modern China (Prestel). $10 Museum members and students; $15 nonmembers. Registration required.

Tuesday, March 15, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Starting in 1997, the citizens of Birmingham, Alabama, and the surrounding region began to develop a shared vision for their future. Architect and urban planner Larry Watts, executive director of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, has helped to shape the process and bring transportation, land use, and urban form together. In 2004 the planning effort bloomed into a progressive regional vision, an influential citizen-business-government regional partnership, and a downtown home for collaborative planning and design. Mr. Watts will share the Birmingham story as the region moves toward creating a growth framework and transit plan, and confronts critical issues of water availability. Free. Registration not required.


Walking Tours of Downtown Jewish Washington, March 27, April 17
Diana Altman,

Guided walking tours of downtown Jewish Washington provide an insider’s view of downtown Jewish Washington beyond the Mall and monuments. Go back in time to a neighborhood where Jews lived, worked, and worshipped, beginning in the mid-1800s, when Adas Israel Congregation was founded. Tour highlights include the sites of Adas Israel’s first and second buildings, the old Washington Hebrew Congregation, and Ohev Shalom.

Sponsored by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington in association with the B’nai B’rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum; the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue, and Hadassah. The tour will be offered on two dates: Sunday, March 27, 1:00-2:30 p.m. (RSVP by Monday, March 21), and Sunday, April 17, 1:00-2:30 p.m. (RSVP by Monday, April 11). Tours begin at the 1876 historic synagogue at 701 Third Street, NW (at 3rd and G), and end at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue (at 8th and I). Cost for members of the cosponsoring organizations, $10/person, for nonmembers, $15/person. Advance reservations required. For more information or reservations, please call Stephanie Silverstein at 789-0900.



Cabin in Park
Ted Knutson,

I want to rent a cabin for a weekend this spring in a state/national park within a four-hour drive. Any recommendations?


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