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November 13, 2005


Dear Washingtonians:

Here’s the whine I was too tired to write last Wednesday. Don Oldenburg describes the problem accurately in “Demonizing the Customer: Some Company Help Staffs Disdain the People They Serve,” in the business section of today’s Washington Post ( That article centers on the experience of a Chicago-area customer of Comcast in trying to get decent customer service, and on the response of the company to her problem -- after her service problem was resolved, her next Comcast bill came addressed to “Bitch Dog.” The problem is real; many companies work extremely well as long as everything runs smoothly, but can’t resolve a customer’s problem without going to extraordinary measures.

I was one of Starpower’s first telephone customers in DC. I went to them before they advertised they were ready for business, before their offices were even fully furnished, because I was so delighted that they would provide competition for DC Cablevision, Comcast’s predecessor. Even though they never extended their cable service to my neighborhood, Starpower’s telephone service was fine for years, until their billing department started messing up. I had two lines on one bill, and the company started crediting my whole payment to one number, so that I would build up a surplus prepayment on one number, and get disconnected for nonpayment on the other. No matter how many times I got this straightened out, no matter how high in the company I went, the problem kept recurring. After I canceled one of the telephone lines, Starpower continued crediting my payment to the discontinued line, and insisting that no payment had been made on the live number. The only way to escape the problem was to fire Starpower and move to another telephone company. (I’m using Vonage now, and — knock wood — everything is working well.)

My Comcast problem, which has been affecting your receiving themail, was not quite as difficult to solve. The problem is that Comcast doesn’t want people to send a lot of E-mail. It casts its policy as a way to combat spam, but what it means is that if you send more than a thousand or so messages, Comcast will block your outgoing mail. There is a way to resolve the problem, but it doesn’t work. The error message when the E-mail is blocked points to a web page; the web page has an E-mail address. The instruction to get your E-mail unblocked is to send an E-mail explaining your excuse for sending all that E-mail. This is similar to a policy by which you would subscribe to a package of cable channels, but then have to write to Comcast to get their permission to watch certain channels in order to receive them. The major difficulty is not that the process is intrusive and inconvenient, however; it is that it doesn’t work. Comcast doesn’t respond to these E-mails; it ignores them. If you try real hard, you can get a telephone number for the department that handles this problem; the number is answered by a recording that says to send an E-mail, and that doesn’t take a message. Very friendly and helpful people in the local Comcast office tried to get the problem resolved, but even Comcast employees couldn’t get a real telephone number for the department, or find a way to communicate directly with them. When a company makes the people who are supposed to solve customers’ problems inaccessible, that company doesn’t want its customers’ problems solved. In any case, I’m back on Comcast’s list of customers who have their permission to send a lot of E-mail, so you should receive this.

You can draw your own parallels to dealing with DC government, but I’ll point out one thing that isn’t a parallel. If Starpower can’t solve my problem, I can go to Vonage, or Verizon, or several other telephone companies. If Comcast can’t solve my Internet problem, I can switch to DSL service. If Comcast can’t solve my cable television problem, I can switch to a satellite company. But if DC government fails, well, wouldn’t it be nice to create an alternative city government to compete with the one we have?

Gary Imhoff


It’s Hardball Time
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

Something that DC’s negotiators for the incoming Major League baseball team have not learned is that baseball is hardball. After wimping out in all the negotiations to date and not gaining any leverage in the negotiations with Selig’s minions, it’s time for DC to stand up and fight in the upcoming negotiations. They should not only stand firm but should demand that the Major Leagues guarantee at least eight million dollars a year in lease payments for the new stadium. DC is taking all the risks, laying out all the up front cash, and the Selig gang is reaping a three hundred million dollar windfall by selling the Expos. If Major League Baseball won’t concede, then DC should take its cards off the table and walk away. It’s time to know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. Play hardball, guys.


Tax Relief Unlikely for DC
Ed Delaney,

From the Washington Times’ article, “Tax Relief Unlikely for DC Businesses,” “Earlier this year, the city entered into a partial private financing agreement with Deutsche Bank, hoping it would reduce required ballpark fee revenues from $14 million to $8 million. But Wall Street bond raters have insisted the $14 million be guaranteed from the city in order to provide investment-grade ratings on the bonds used to finance the $535 million stadium. The news drew angst from business leaders, who supported the Deutsche Bank plan this spring on the belief it would offer them tax relief. ‘For us, the whole reason to do the Deutsche Bank plan was to quite frankly lower the cost to the business community,’ said Barbara Lang, president and CEO of the DC Chamber of Commerce. ‘The whole idea was to lower the impact on businesses.’”

And yet, the exact opposite will occur, as businesses will continue to get soaked at a tremendous rate, all of which would significantly lessen their willingness to pay additional dollars in support of other city priorities such as education. That’s what happens when you throw in with the Brigade, Lang! Sit back and take your medicine along with everyone else but the schemers and the private interests driving support for the Anacostia Waterfront site. Too bad DC businesses besides the Nationals (which are essentially a public charge) have to suffer and will now either pass the costs onto consumers or leave the city altogether. Where’s your inclusion of that ancillary liability in your rosy stadium picture, Brigade?

But it gets better (doesn’t it always?): “DC Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi has said he will support the Deutsche Bank plan regardless because it eliminates the need for the city to sell general obligation bonds, which count against the city’s debt load.”

Not wanting to have the stadium count against the city’s debt load is a good goal. In fact, that goal could be achieved by building at the RFK Stadium site or not building it altogether. However, accepting the bank financing deal needed because of the unbelievably high cost of the Anacostia Waterfront site is not good for the city, as the bank will be the one seeing the money from the stadium’s most reliable revenue streams along with Major League Baseball, leaving the city in a money-losing proposition of major proportions.

All of this could be eliminated completely by moving from the current unworkable site to the RFK Stadium site, which would be easy were the DC Council not so self-conscious and experiencing an inferiority complex vis-a-vis the Brigade and MLB. If the business community knew what was good for it, they’d rally against this boondoggle before it was too late. (But we all know the odds of that!) Also, the Post has an article entitled, “Bill Would Sell Land Promised to DC,”, in which the stadium land would have to be paid for by the District, but Tom Davis has reiterated his intent to not take a dime for it (lest the cost be an impediment to the boondoggle’s being built at the Anacostia Waterfront site).


Dispassionate, But Concerned, About Baseball
Larry Seftor, larry underscore seftor .the757 at

I have no interest in baseball and would not go to a game if given tickets. However I realize that many do enjoy the game and that it can be an engine of economic development for the District. Therefore, I’m comfortable with the District’s negotiations with baseball to permanently place a team here. It is a business deal, no more and no less. What I do bristle at are the oft-stated bombastic statements about baseball. For example, last night I heard that, "Washington will never be a world-class city without baseball," something that London, Paris, and Rome are apparently unaware of. And, "Washington cannot be a major American city without baseball." These statements are really harmless, unless they affect the negotiations that the city is conducting with Major League Baseball. Unfortunately, to read the press reports, baseball believes this nonsense and feels that it can negotiate from a position of strength, forcing DC into an unreasonable position because of baseball’s supposed position next to motherhood and apple pie. I strongly urge the city’s negotiators to take a hard, but reasonable, line in negotiations with baseball. If baseball’s terms don’t make financial sense for all citizens of DC, even those of us who are not fans, then the city must be ready to walk away.


Who’s in Charge?
Dorothy Brizill,

Mayor Williams’s public schedule for last Thursday indicated that he was going to London to attend a conference of mayors sponsored by the London School of Economics and Deutsche Bank’s Alfred Herrhausen Society. Since September, Williams has traveled to Greece, German, Austria, China, California, New York, Massachusetts, and North Carolina, so the trip to London continued a pattern of extended absences from the District. I called the office of City Administrator Robert Bobb, and learned that he was also not in town, and would not be back in his office until Monday. I then contacted the mayor’s press office to ask, if the mayor and city administrator were both out of town, who was in charge and running the city? The reaction I got was sheer surprise -- no one in the press office knew that Bobb was gone as well as Williams. Then I called the office of the mayor’s Chief of Staff, Alfreda Davis, and asked the same question. After a long delay, a staffer for Ms. Davis came back to me and said that if Bobb were out of town, he would have designated someone in his office to be in charge. When I asked who that was, the staffer said I had to call the city administrator’s office to find out.

I called Bobb’s office back and asked for his chief of staff, Dana Bryson, and was told that she was also out of town until Monday. I then left a message for Bobb’s press secretary, Tara Dunlop, asking who was acting mayor. On Thursday afternoon, Dunlop sent me an E-mail indicating that Alfreda Davis had been designated while Williams and Bobb were both out of town.

Last Wednesday, the mayor and other regional leaders met with Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of Homeland Security, to press him to develop a protocol through which the federal government would inform the region and city of terrorist threats and homeland security alerts. What good would it do to have such a protocol when on any given day in the city no one is sure who is in charge of making any decisions if we got an alert?


Commercial Property Assessments
Warren Gorlick,

Further on the recent on-line discussion in themail concerning commercial property assessments, when I appealed my property tax assessment two years ago, I brought in as part of my evidentiary package examples of how nearby residential apartment buildings (both the underlying land as well as improvements) were assessed at a small fraction of the rate that my single family home was assessed, even though these rental apartment dwellings were located in more desirable locations. I was informed that, while I was welcome to provide evidence that my land and improvements were being assessed differently than that of my neighbors’ single family homes, I would not be permitted to provide any evidence on nearby commercial assessments. I was informed that the District uses a different basis for assessing commercial residential property, and therefore comparisons were not permitted in such administrative appeals of property taxes.


Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and the Upcoming Election
Laurie Collins,

It is surprising that leaders of local Sierra Club and DC Environmental Network continue to live in denial of the advanced state of the legal processes that authorize reopening Klingle Road to motor vehicle traffic. They unreasonably threaten to withhold support or endorsement of candidates in the upcoming political races who support reopening Klingle Road, despite the fact that Mayor Williams signed, and Congress approved, legislation enacted by the DC Council over two years ago directing the DC Government to reopen Klingle Road to motor vehicle traffic and provide a storm water management plan to prevent the kind of neglect that led to collapse of the road in 1991.

Poor environmental management led to the collapse of this important component of DC transportation infrastructure, and continued neglect has resulted in what is now a complete environmental disaster with not only storm water, but also sewage, tainting areas that were once part of an everyday roadway. Complying with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), DC DOT, and the Federal Highway Administration have determined that five alternative road reopening options will improve the overall environment, and that the preferred alternative "C" will do so with the least taking of trees on National Park Service land. Arguing "the environment" as a basis for objecting to reopening Klingle Road for motor vehicle traffic debases genuine environmental concerns.

Political candidates who have a genuine concern for the environment should not be fooled by factions touting bogus environmental concerns in order to promote their anti-development and anti-automobile agenda. Responsible candidates will recognize the reality of the democratically enacted DC Council legislation and the comprehensive NEPA planning effort that supports preferred alternative "C." They should agree that the reopening of Klingle Road for motor vehicle traffic should have been completed yesterday.


Dear Mr. Mayor, DC Is Not a State
Larry Seftor, larry underscore seftor .the757 at

I just went to the web site and left a message for the mayor. On his response page, the list of states includes DC as a state. While this is common on the web, the mayor of a city trying to establish its claim to representation should not propagate this nonsense. As we all know, our city is “Washington, DC,” and our state is “none.” (My suggestion to the Web designers for this special case is a set of two radio buttons, one for “Washington, DC,” and one for “other,” which would allow traditional city and state entry.)


What Does It All Mean?
Ed T. Barron,

The ankle busters are back. Those bigger than usual acorns from all the oaks towering over my AM walk in American University Park. Not only are they bigger this year but there are many more of them, too. In addition the big pine tree on the corner of my lot has been shedding needles like crazy. My back yard lawn is a veritable bed of pine needles, no air mattress needed. Have to wonder if this is all just an ominous symptom of a very cold winter this year.

I have seen a lot more deer this year, too, especially in Little Falls Park. I was walking with my intrepid squirrel hunter Pomeroodle, Trudy, when a large doe ran across our path only ten feet in front of us. This doe was about five feet tall and moving very gracefully through the woods. It was the biggest squirrel that Trudy had ever seen, and she took off after the deer as fast as her four feet drive could go. With each graceful leap the doe was gaining on my tenacious hunter. They disappeared after plunging about 150 yards from our path. It was quite some time before Trudy returned, and it was getting worrisome at just about the time she appeared from way back on the path. Her GPS was working fine.


Getting on and off the Jury List
Leah Gurowitz,

[Re: Laurie Collins, "Starting Young," November 9] I wanted to clarify for themail readers how the DC Superior Court compiles its jury pool list, and assure them that voting will not result in anyone’s name being “automatically registered” for the jury pool. There are three main sources that provide the Court with names and address of DC residents: the Board of Elections and Ethics (registered voters), the Department of Motor Vehicles (licensed drivers and those with non-driver identification cards), and the Department of Tax and Revenue (taxpayers). These lists occasionally contain the name of those not eligible to serve on a jury — those who are too young but have income from some source, those who do not speak English fluently, those who have recent felony records, etc. A call to the Jury Office, 879-4604, or a visit to our interactive web site,, allows those who are ineligible for jury service to be excused. That link is a relatively new feature of our web site. It allows those summoned for jury duty to check their most recent previous date of jury service (if within two years, they are excused), to register on-line, and to defer if the summons date is not convenient (a letter confirming your deferral is then mailed to you).

I would like to take this opportunity to make sure that everyone is aware that the Court offers child care services for jurors with young children (children must be two years old or older and potty-trained) and has a business center (with modem and fax connections) as an alternative to the jurors lounge. Jury duty is a civic responsibility and jury service is essential for our criminal justice system to function. The Court sees its responsibility as one of making jury duty as convenient as possible for DC residents. We would urge those who have suggestions for the Court to go to and use the Feedback option to send us their input.


November 2005 InTowner
Peter Wolff,

This is to advise that the November 2005 on-line edition has been uploaded and may be accessed at Included are the lead stories, community news items and crime reports, editorials (including prior months’ archived), restaurant reviews (prior months’ also archived), and the text from the ever-popular "Scenes from the Past" feature. Also included are all current classified ads. The complete issue (along with prior issues back to May 2002) also is available in PDF file format directly from our home page at no charge simply by clicking the link provided. Here you will be able to view the entire issue as it appears in print, including all photos and advertisements. The next issue will publish on December 9 (the 2nd Friday of the month, as always). The complete PDF version will be posted by the preceding night or early that Friday morning at the latest, following which the text of the lead stories, community news, and selected features will be uploaded shortly thereafter.

To read this month’s lead stories, simply click the link on the home page to the following headlines: 1) “Historic Adams Morgan Church Demolition Rumor Put to Rest — Adaptive Re-Use Design Shown”; 2) “Mt. Vernon Square Development Project Design Re-submitted”; 3) “Adams Morgan Continues Ambitious Re-Forestry Project — Mayor Visits”; and 4) “Adams Morgan Essay: Part 4 Four O’clock in the A.M., Friday, June 10, 2005.”



National Building Museum Events, November 15, 17
Brie Hensold,

Tuesday, November 15, 12:30-1:30 p.m. National Award for Smart Growth Achievement. At the fourth annual ceremony for the National Awards for Smart Growth Achievement, the US Environmental Protection Agency will honor up to five communities for their innovative strategies to build neighborhoods that provide safe and decent places to live and work, protect natural and historic places, and create a balanced transportation system. Free. Advance registration requested. Visit to register.

Thursday, November 17, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Architect and author Wilbert R. Hasbrouck will analyze late 19th-century Chicago as the birthplace of modern architecture in the US and a magnet for aspiring architects. He will also describe the creation and impact of the Chicago Architectural Club that young architects founded to improve their drawing skills. To conclude, Howard S. Decker, FAIA, a former Chicago architect and former National Building Museum chief curator, and Mr. Hasbrouck will discuss this historic organization. After the lecture, Mr. Hasbrouck will sign copies of his book The Chicago Architectural Club (The Monacelli Press). $10 Members and students; $15 nonmembers. Registration required.

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


DC Public Library Events, November 15-16
Debra Truhart,

Tuesday, November 15, 10:30 a.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Main Lobby. A morning program for District school children in celebration of Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday. Storyteller Sharon Salluzzo shares the author’s tales, Librarian Wendy Lukehart presents illustrations of the author’s work and his characters will come to life. For preschool and elementary school children. Public contact: 727-1183.

Tuesday, November 15, 6:30 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Main Lobby. Minister Counsel Lene Balleby, Royal Danish Embassy, will be joined in a discussion by Diana Crone Frank and Jeffrey Frank, translators of some of Hans Christian Andersen’s stories, on Andersen’s legacy. This is the opening event for the exhibit on Hans Christian Andersen that is on view through December 18. All ages. Public contact: 727-1183.

Wednesday, November 16, 4:00 p.m. Southeast Neighborhood Library, 403 7th Street, SE. The Air Force Bank will present a special concert that exposes young people to music and allows them to meet some of the nation’s most talented musicians. School ages. Public contact: 698-3377.


Christmas Revels, December 9-11, 16-18
Connie Ridgway, Kaniru4 at yahoo dot com

I will be performing in the year’s Christmas Revels show, “Journey to the Northlands,” a theatrical celebration of the winter solstice, featuring the songs, dances, stories and costumes of Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, starting with the creation story of the Kalevala (a Finnish folk tale). The music is hauntingly beautiful. The show is at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium the weekends of December 9-11 and 16-18, with two evening and two matinee shows per weekend.

This is the best time to get tickets before the best seats sell out! You can purchase them through the Revels web site,, or by calling 1-800-595-4849. There are discounts for groups and families. This is a wonderful show for children, and the adults will love it too — lots of opportunities for participating in the show, and a great rendition of the “Three Billy Goats Gruff.” I hope to see you there!



Adopt Two Mount Pleasant Kittens
Pat Yates,

Currently romping through my home are two black and white, short-haired, female kittens, both fosters from the DC Animal Shelter, and both eager to move into a permanent home. Midge is almost three months old, and has become a cuddler and a kisser. Celie, almost six months, is confident and assertive, but loves long stretches in my husband’s lap. Both have become very good bed warmers during these chilly fall nights, and both get on fine with my cats and dog. There is an adoption fee: $70/each; it includes spay, tests, shots.

Please call 265-2855 or E-mail if you would like to meet these friendly playmates, or log on to to see pictures.


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