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 (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/03/31/60minutes/main684349_page5.shtml
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 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A38726-2005Apr8.html)
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 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A40628-2005Apr9.html).
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 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35540-2005Apr7.html).
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: http://www.dcwatch.com/govern/sports050408.htm.
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
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.
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, email@example.com
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.
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
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, Matthew.Forman2@verizon.net
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 http://www.KaloramaCitizens.org/news.)
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.
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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, email@example.com
The Rocky Mountain News, in Denver, is launching a citizen
journalism project at http://www.yourhub.com/.
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, Streetstories@juno.com
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.
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.”
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.
CLASSIFIEDS — EVENTS
Step Up to the Plate for Our Schools, April 14
Marc Borbely, borbely@FixOurSchools.net
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
to volunteer to help. Visit http://www.dcvote.org
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 http://www.dcvote.org
to learn more.
You can print out your own “Taxed Without Representation”
stickers using our Avery 5160 labels template. Visit http://www.dcvote.org/pdfs/TaxDay5160.pdf
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Whole Foods Opening Day Celebration, April 17
Elinor Green, email@example.com
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, firstname.lastname@example.org
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: 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 http://www.urban-research.info
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.
CLASSIFIEDS — PLEDGES
You can go to TaxationWithoutRepresentationStadium.com 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.
CLASSIFIEDS — HOUSING
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 http://www.geocities.com/houseboatforsale/gangplank_marina.html.
To make an appointment to see the boat, E-mail me at HouseboatForSale@yahoo.com.
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 email@example.com or
CLASSIFIEDS — PETS
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
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 http://www.washhumane.org
(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.
CLASSIFIEDS — RECOMMENDATIONS
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
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