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April 10, 2005

Better Now

Dear Ironic Readers:

Several superficially unrelated news stories in the past few days all have one thing in common. CBS’s Sixty Minutes and The Washington Post both reported on the DC government’s pathetic inability to spend the Homeland Security money given to it by the federal government to protect the city against terrorism, and on the wasteful misuse of the money that the city government did spend ( and Sixty Minutes interviewer Steve Kroft took no more than three minutes of this story to turn Mayor Williams into yet another DC mayor who is the punch line for jokes. George Will’s column ( promotes Patrick Byrne’s plan to pass laws requiring public school systems to spend 65 percent of their budgets on classroom instruction. It notes in passing: “Fifteen states spend less than 60 percent [on classroom instruction]. The worst jurisdiction — Washington, DC, of course — spends less than 50 percent.” The National Capital Revitalization Corporation has begun to buy property near the Skyland Shopping Center, in the first step of the government’s plan to drive out businesses owned by smaller, less politically influential companies in favor of larger, wealthier, more politically favored companies ( Several heavy hitters — politicians, lawyers, corporate executives, and even reporters, shared their stories of how they used their pull with the Sports and Entertainment Commission or the Washington Baseball Club or just used their famous names to get preferential treatment and better seats for Nationals games at RFK Stadium ( And, in a story that hasn’t hit the newspapers yet, the Chief Financial Officer’s rigged lowball estimate of the cost of the city’s acquiring land to build a ballpark for Major League Baseball attracted its first lawsuit on Friday:

The common problem behind all of these situations is a city government that runs on patronage, that gives out contracts based on contacts, that favors its friends and political donors and picks them as winners, and kicks the losing businesses and residents to the curb. A government whose only principle is patronage -- our city government — is by its very nature inefficient and ineffective, incapable of providing services or providing for its people. A government that runs on patronage isn’t business friendly; it is simply corrupt, and that government’s only governing principle is that the rich should get richer.

Lea Adams, below, reports on a conversation in which someone says to her of the city, “It’s much better now.” Note the context, read that comment ironically, and understand it ironically whenever a beneficiary of this government’s patronage says it to you.

Gary Imhoff


Taking the Heart out of Home
Lea Adams,

Yesterday I passed an apartment building at the corner where 14th Street, Arkansas Avenue, and Varnum Street, NW, converge and saw a sign advertising condos “from the $200s.” A few decades ago, I used to pass that very spot on a daily basis, walking to and from my home in Crestwood to Powell Elementary School, from which I got a first-rate public education. I remember the modest, three-story structure as gently shabby, maintained less by management than by the lower-middle income working families who lived there and tended the front yard, planting flowers from the nearby hardware store that erupted with color each spring. They couldn’t afford to buy a row house on the surrounding blocks, but were able to give their kids the relative safety and comfort of life enjoyed by their northern Columbia Heights neighbors.

I called to inquire about the “luxury condo” and learned that three are left of the original ten units. There’s a one-bedroom, 740 sq. ft., for $385,000 and two two-bedroom units, just over a thousand square feet, at $470,000 and $490,000 (“customized” with a ceiling fan). Shocked by the price tags, I wondered out loud, "How are people who have lived in that neighborhood all their lives going to afford to stay there? Middle income families won’t be able to live in DC at all.” He answered, “That’s right, they won’t. It’s much better now. Columbia Heights used to be known for all the wrong things, but those things are changing.” He went on to say his company had done the same thing a few years ago in Logan Circle, which is now “a wonderful place to live.”

In the expensive, barren wasteland of the new DC, “all the wrong things” aren’t things at all. They are people. Ordinary men and women — mostly of color, with children; families whose incomes, no matter how many jobs they hold, will never allow them enough to live in “luxury.” Under Mayor Williams’ administration, the wrong people continue to be systematically purged from the places they live, to be replaced by the wealthy, childless, “new DC” faces who could care less about the outcome as long as the economy is on their side and there are enough shiny new prisons to clean up the mess they’ve made of other peoples’ lives. “Shame!” is too small a word for those who intentionally take the heart out of home for the love of money.


Wanted: An Inspector General
Dorothy Brizill,

In 1995, in the same bill that created the Control Board, Congress made the offices of Inspector General and Chief Financial Officer independent of the mayor’s office, and mandated that these officials would not report to the mayor, as they had previously. The intention was to free these offices from political influence, and to encourage them to act for clean, honest government. Congress considered it integral to reforming District government to have an independent CFO and IG. Since 1995, the Office of the Inspector General has grown exponentially in size, staffing, and cost, but its performance has been disappointing. DC’s last IG, Charles Maddox, resigned effective December 31, 2003, and Mayor Williams has not nominated anyone to fill the office in the following fifteen and a half months.

Instead of appointing an independent Inspector General, Williams named Austin Andersen as “interim” Inspector General on January 8, 2004. Andersen’s name has never been submitted to the city council for confirmation, and he is still acting as IG based on that interim appointment. Instead of following the law’s intention that the Inspector General have a definite term of office and not be dependent on the mayor’s favor, the mayor has kept Andersen in place dependent on his day-to-day approval.

However, the law doesn’t allow the mayor to leave appointed offices vacant forever. DC Code 1-523.01 requires that after 180 days of an appointive office’s becoming vacant, no District funds can be used to compensate any individual serving in that capacity without appointment and confirmation by the council. For the nine and a half months since June 28, 2004, the District government has been paying Andersen, and Andersen has been collecting his salary, illegally. Everyone who needs to be aware of this situation is aware of it — the mayor, the city administrator, the “interim Inspector General” himself, and the city councilmembers responsible for oversight of the Inspector General’s office. Yet it has been allowed to continue. The mayor has vetoed several qualified candidates for the IG’s position — some of whom may have been seen as dangerously independent of the mayor’s office — and kept the position vacant.


Property Taxes

You are not wealthy because your house has a high hypothetical value. To be wealthy, you need to control the means of production or have an asset that returns income. As a rule, a residence does not meet these criteria, unless you are renting part of the residence it is not contributing to your cash flow. A residence is a store of value. If things get really tight, in most cases you can sell the house and recoup the money. A house is more than a cold economic proposition like investing in gold brick or the stock market. It is the place you live. It offers a measure of security. For the house to function fully as a store of value, it has to be maintained and the taxes have to be paid. If the house were making the owner wealthy, it would be generating income, not expenses.

I am assuming that people who buy houses want to own and live in them as long as they can. If the expense of owning a house rises faster than income, what can people do to keep the house? First they can cut discretionary spending. They can let the house run down, which is my case. I have not resurfaced the driveway, repaired a broken retaining wall, or repainted the house. If that is not enough they can rent a room or set up an in-law suite. A friend of mine who has been house hunting says she is surprised how many houses in "wealthy" Northwest have in-law suites. Real estate agents talk openly about how these suites generate income for the owners. One I know of was broken into three separate apartments. People on the Cleveland Park list serve complain about how these illegal residences cause parking problems. This is the consequence of a tax policy that is regressive.

Does the city want a diverse population or does it want a bi-modal population of the very poor and very rich? At the moment, income is distributed fairly evenly with slightly more households at the lower end of the income scale than the high end. If the city continues its reckless property tax policy, it will end up with the subsidized poor and the wealthy. The middle class will no longer be able to live in the city.

What can the city do?. It can impose a 5 percent cap on the property tax increases. I support a cap on the increases in the payments for property taxes rather than a decrease in the assessment rate because the cap provides long-term stability in the payments I will have to make. If the rate is decreased, for the next year or two I will enjoy decreased property taxes, but then assessment creep will start again. It will be a never-ending process. The city could also do something more complex — tie the amount paid in property taxes to income, for all residents, not only the poor. In other words, it could make the property tax progressive rather than regressive. When I retired, my property tax was 10 percent of my pretax income. It stayed that way until this new round of assessments. Now my property tax is 15 percent of my pretax income. I hope I can keep the house until I am 65, so that my property tax will fall to slightly over what it was when I retired six-and-a-half years ago. I am also suggesting that when a house is sold, the owner who may have actually realized some real rather than a purely nominal increase in wealth would have to pay the difference between the capped rate and the uncapped assessment. I know I would not be happy paying the city that money, but as least I would have the money to pay. The city council should support this repayment idea because it solves their “intellectual” dilemmas about fairness. All taxpayers would eventually pay the full assessed value of their houses.


Phil Mendelson Can’t Explain Own Press Release
Matt Forman,

Previously in themail, Phil Mendelson’s staffer announced that the councilmember would be conducting several meetings around town on the real property assessment and appeals process, dragging the assessment office staff around with him. As I responded, appeals are largely a waste of time now, unless you can appeal your assessment below your capped assessment, which is usually well below your full assessment. Apparently, Mr. Mendelson doesn’t bother mentioning this at the meetings, probably because he greatly opposes the cap. So instead, he uses the meetings to denounce the property tax cap as "regressive," which he also stated in his February 15 press release (on his web site).

Well, just to get the terminology straight, tax incidence (progressivity or regressivity) is measured by tax divided by income. So only a tax can be progressive or regressive, not a cap. Presumably, however, he meant that the cap makes the tax more regressive. Well, that’s wrong too. Multiplying a tax system by a constant multiplier like the cap does not change the incidence of the tax. For example, if lower income people pay 10 percent of their income in tax and higher income people pay 20 percent of their income in tax, and you give everyone a 5 percent increase (like the cap), then the incidence ratio stays the same. Thus, a cap can’t make the tax more regressive. (For a more detailed explanation, please visit

Last Monday at the Cleveland Park Citizens Association meeting, when I challenged Mr. Mendelson about his theory, he simply couldn’t explain it. He instead turned the floor over to Ed Lazere, director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, who admitted no such regressivity. (And Ed isn’t one to easily pass up the opportunity to call something regressive.) Hopefully in the future, Phil will understand his own press releases before he issues them.


Another Revelation
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

Just when you think you have heard the last of the worst things about the DC public schools there’s another condemning revelation. In The Sunday Post main section George Will describes a proposal that will result in better schools. The proposal is that 65 percent of school budgets are spent in the classrooms on teachers and students. Now that may seem pretty reasonable. Schools do exist to educate students and those who do the educating are teachers. How interesting to learn that in DC only 50 percent of the operating budget winds up in the classrooms. That compares with a national average of 61.5 percent, and DC’s numbers are the worst in the nation.

How come that whenever the school budgets don’t meet expenditures there is a hue and cry to let classroom teachers go and to cut programs that are in place for the students? If Janey wants to fix the DC Public School system he should start with a wholesale clean-out of the debris outside the classrooms and in the offices of the school system.


Instead of the Usual Problems-Some Fun
Scoop the Dog, with a little help from his human friend Phil Carney,

Dupont Circle’s SCOOP the dog attended the annual Cherry Blossom Parade. Scoop walked and danced along the south side of the Constitution Avenue and covered most of the parade route before the start of the Cherry Blossom Parade. Scoop waved, danced and posed for photos. The big white dog enchanted little kids. Scoop posed with little and big kids, teenagers and one white haired woman. One bald man was thrilled to get a photo with the dog because in his town he is the Easter Bunny. Teenagers especially liked to see Scoop do his dance. As always, Scoop was excited whenever a human said they clean up after their dog. Scoop patted several such good humans on their head.

A boot lace came loose while Scoop was walking down Constitution Avenue. Mitten paws cannot tie a boot lace, so Scoop had to make do. Then while Scoop was posing for a photo with a little kid, a Korean man got up from sitting on the curb, came over, knelt, tied Scoop’s boot lace, then went back, and sat down. What a touching gesture!

When the Parade started, Scoop left Constitution Avenue and continued to walk the parade assembly route. Scoop got to wave to the famous Mickey Mouse. Mickey was appropriately riding in a Rolls Royce convertible. Disney mouse assistants kept Scoop at least twenty feet away from Mickey. Disney could not risk a photo of the word’s most famous rodent and Dupont Circle’s most famous dog. Disney is after all a! business empire built on the mouse.

Scoop met, shook paws, and posed for photos with the Target Stores dog. That dog looked like he might be related to Scoop. Later, Scoop high-fived some clowns. One clown said she was sorry that she did not have a dog. Another clown said that she could not bring a dog, but that she did bring poop-clown humor. The annual parade was an endless mix of people, colors and varied sounds from Koto drummers, American high school bands, Peruvian music, and a cacophony of languages. Only in Washington. . . .


Citizen Journalism Web Project Launched in Denver
Phil Shapiro,

The Rocky Mountain News, in Denver, is launching a citizen journalism project at They’ll be printing the best of the submitted item in a section of the newspaper that gets sent out with the rest of the newspaper. Meanwhile back at the ranch, DC’s citizen journalism progress is roughly on par with its spending on homeland security. We pull up the rear.


Terrorism Lab on Capitol Hill
Bryce A. Suderow,

In themail’s last issue [April 6], I pointed out that baseball attendees are at risk because there’s a gang war raging in the neighborhoods where they park their cars while watching the games. Seven or eight people have been killed or wounded in gun battles.

Another story that would probably surprise baseball enthusiasts is that Washington, DC, is planning to build a bio-terrorism lab a few blocks away from RFK Stadium City Administrator Robert Bobb is a major player in pushing for erection of the lab, a hospital, and a crematorium at the site of old DC General Hospital.

This is yet another story that the Washington Post refuses to touch because bio-terrorism labs are bad publicity for Washington, DC, and unlikely to attract new residents.


Smoke Free Exemptions
John Childers,

You may want to look at the recently introduced Smokefree Workplaces Act of 2005 “to create smokefree work environments in all public and private workplaces in the District of Columbia, and to establish penalties for the violation of smokefree workplace regulations.” The bill prohibits smoking in public places and places of employment, and establishes a series of fines for violations against “any person who violates any provision. . . .” However, the bill also states that penalties for a number of violations of the bill “shall not be levied against any employee or officer of any branch, agency or instrumentality of the District of Columbia government.”


It’s a Wash
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

There’s a big flap between the folks who run Metrorail and the new Nats baseball team. Seems that Metro doesn’t want to keep the Metrorail running late (at an added cost of $20,000) if there is an extra-inning game. Well, somebody in the Metro organization has lost his marbles. Just do the math, Metro. If you shut down and leave people stranded, those twenty thousand folks won’t be taking the Metro home and you’ll lose about $20,000. And the next time many of those folks won’t bother with the Metrorail at all.



Step Up to the Plate for Our Schools, April 14
Marc Borbely,

The city is flush with hundreds of millions of dollars in surplus money, but the Mayor’s proposed capital budget would slash funding for schools. His budget, which he released on March 21, would cut spending on school facilities almost in half — to $147 million next year, and to $98 million the following five years, from about $182 million per year over the last five years.

Please join the DC Public Schools Full Funding Campaign — a coalition of students, parents, teachers, school workers and concerned city residents — at the first home game of the Washington Nationals, on Thursday April 14. We have a permit for a rally from 6-8 p.m., on East Capitol Street, outside RFK Stadium.

We’ll be calling on city officials to invest the same time, energy and money into repairing city school buildings that they’ve put into renovating RFK Stadium and into finding more than half a billion dollars for baseball. Specifically, we’re asking that DC immediately budget $200 million, which is about two thirds of last year’s surplus, to repair and rebuild our city’s aging schools; and fully fund the school system’s Facilities Master Plan, to ensure that all of the city’s schools are updated and modernized within fifteen years.


Taxed without Representation Day, April 15
Shawn Rolland,

We’re looking for volunteers to help us get the message out on Taxed Without Representation Day! Join DC Vote’s staff and volunteers on Capitol Hill as we work to raise awareness about DC’s taxation without representation. We will be passing out “Taxed Without Representation” stickers to DC residents and supporters of democracy at Metro stations from 8:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. (Eastern Market , 701 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, Orange/Blue Lines; Union Station, 701 First Street, NE, Red Line; and Capitol South, 355 First Street, SE, Orange/Blue Lines) and at the National Capitol Post Office, 2 Massachusetts Avenue, NE, from 12:00 noon to 1:30 p.m. Call Zainab Akbar, DC Vote program assistant, at 462-6000, ext. 16, or to volunteer to help. Visit to learn more.

As you can imagine, April is a very exciting and busy month for DC Vote! We want people to write letters to the editor during the week of April 15. One of the most important ways you can help end DC’s denial of voting rights is by helping to educate people about it. Write a letter to the editor and have it submitted to your hometown local media office by Monday, April 12. Visit to learn more.

You can print out your own “Taxed Without Representation” stickers using our Avery 5160 labels template. Visit  to get your own sheet of stickers. (The file is a PDF of 19kb. For best results, make sure that "page scaling" in your print settings is set to “none.”) Pass them out in your office and to your friends for April 15! Let us know how it went! E-mail Zainab at


Whole Foods Opening Day Celebration, April 17
Elinor Green,

Whole Foods Tenleytown (Wisconsin Avenue at 42nd Street, NW) is hosting a Washington Nationals Opening Day Celebration on Thursday, April 14, from 4-7 p.m. Play ball! We’re celebrating the return of baseball to DC: Join us on the patio for samples of 365 peanuts (while supplies last); play in our baseball toss game and win a prize; enter to win raffle prizes featuring Washington Nationals gear; and fresh-grilled hot dogs, hot popcorn, and cold sodas for sale! All items are $1, with all proceeds donated to the Friends of the Tenley-Friendship Library.


The Great Pyramid at the National Building Museum, April 21
Brie Hensold,

Thursday, April 21, 6:30-8:00 p.m. The sole surviving example of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Great Pyramid at Giza has always fascinated scholars, engineers, and architects. Architectural engineer Craig Smith will discuss his investigation into the design, engineering, and construction of the Great Pyramid through computer modeling and other modern tools. At a reception after the lecture, he will sign copies of his book How the Great Pyramid Was Built (Smithsonian). $10 Museum members and students; $15 nonmembers. Registration required. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line.


Mapping DC Workshop, April 26-28
Gina Clemmer,

Mapping DC: An Introduction to GIS and Community Analysis, is a one-day workshop that will be given on April 26, 27, and 28, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Choose which day is most convenient for you. New Horizons Computer Learning Center, 1331 F Street, NW, Suite 420. Fee: $399; checks, credit cards, and purchase orders accepted. Visit to register online or call us toll free at 877-241-6576.

This fast-paced, hands-on workshop teaches the fundamentals of how to use a geographic information system (GIS) in a way that is particularly relevant to social service providers, planners, and researchers. Participants will learn the three core components of GIS: thematic mapping, geocoding (address mapping), and spatial querying. Exercises are designed for beginners. Intermediate level Excel skills required. Included materials are a comprehensive workbook (75 pages) which includes the presentation, exercises; and reference worksheets; ArcGIS (ArcView 9.0) software 60 day trial CD set; and access to new 2004 Tiger/Line geography files (already converted to shapefiles) which include streets, zip codes, school districts, voting districts, census tracts and many other useful geographies.

The Mapping DC workshop is intended to teach participants the fundamentals of using ArcGIS (ArcView 9.0), the leading GIS software; how to thematically map and analyze a wide variety of Census data such as income, race, language, and housing data (including how to download data from the Census); how to map addresses such as those of clients, volunteers, campaign donations, and social service facilities, as well as to identify gaps in coverage areas by zip code and other geographies; and best practices of creating informative and well designed maps for public dissemination. Class participants will review and critique several maps in an attempt to learn good map design and where to get a wide selection of free geography files including new 2004 Tiger/Lines including streets, zip codes and all Census geography.



Taxation Without Representation Stadium
Ben Slade,

You can go to to pledge money towards buying the naming rights for RFK stadium so that it can be renamed “Taxation Without Representation at RFK Stadium.” Note that this is a pledge campaign so, unless they win the bid, you don’t have to pay any money. At last count, they had about $30,000 pledged. They don’t say what a viable bid would be.



Houseboat for Sale
D. Ruttenberg, 

Would you like to live in one of the best neighborhoods in DC and enjoy the ultimate waterfront living? Then buy this wonderful houseboat which comes with the coveted “Live-aboard Status.” Gangplank Marina is the only marina in Washington, DC, that allows live-aboards, but unfortunately, the wait list for live-aboard status is years long. Lucky for you, live aboard status transfers with this boat!

I have loved living on this boat and have made many upgrades; however, I have bought a larger houseboat and now need to sell my forty-foot Holiday Mansion Houseboat. The boat has many amenities and is set up for living aboard and cruising the Potomac. Use it as your primary home or your weekend getaway. The boat is located at the Gangplank Marina on Water Street in southwest, close to Metro, shops, restaurants, the Mall, etc. Beautiful views of Haines Point and the Washington Monument, and the best spot in town for 4th of July fireworks! Asking price is $39,950.00 or best offer.

For more details, go to To make an appointment to see the boat, E-mail me at


Host Families
Harold Goldstein,

Host families are being sought for visiting students this summer. In particular there are several groups of kids, aged 12-16 or so, coming from France for three weeks in August. The host family must have a child within two years of age of the visiting student. These home stay experiences can prove to be quite rewarding. If interested in participating in this or another group, please contact Harold Goldstein at or 301-854-0388.



Lost Dog
Loretta Begg,

Fraidy, a black, long-haired, 40-pound Chow mix with a red ID tag, is still on the loose. She was last spotted on Connecticut Avenue near Massachusetts Avenue cross street, near the construction zone on April 7. She is spayed and microchipped. Please call Loretta Begg, 301-320-1181 and the DC Animal Shelter, 576-6664, who will send someone immediately.


Free Diamond
Pat Yates,

Beautiful long haired, mostly black cat has a white diamond marking on her cute round face. Adopt the cat, and you get the diamond for free! She is about two years old, and was dumped in the parking lot at the DC Animal Shelter by apparently uncaring owners. Her coat was so matted that she couldn’t even lie down.

Now nicely groomed and ensconced in my foster home, she is ready to move on to a family who will love her and groom her for the rest of her life. See her picture — her name is Shahin — on (link to foster cat page). Then E-mail or call me (265-2855).

If Shahin is not exactly the pet you want, scroll through the entire web site. There are some terrific dogs and cats at the DC Animal Shelter and in it foster homes.



DC Scholarships
Catina Perkins,

What do you do when your income is too high to qualify for a scholarship so that your children can benefit from private schools, but it’s not enough to make your bills every month?

[I believe this was intended as a regular posting, but I’ve posted it under “recommendations” to encourage public responses about practical solutions and sources for school financial aid. — Gary Imhoff]


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