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August 27, 2006

Occasions for Comment

Dear Commentators:

Wonkette ( has already made fun of Adam Nagourney’s guide to what to do in a day and a half in Washington beyond the monuments in today’s New York Times, But then, Wonkette, like the other snarky city sites in the Gawker Media network, Gawker and Defamer, makes fun of everything. Is Nagourney that far off, or can you improve on his recommendations for spending a little time in our city? When you welcome an out-of-town guest and want to show off our town, what sites do you visit and where do you eat, drink, and entertain?

And whom do you read who writes about or from Washington? Add to your list, if you haven’t already, native Washington writer Edward P. Jones. The Times Book Review today gives a rave review of his latest collection of short stories, All Aunt Hagar’s Children, and in fact of everything he’s written, including his earlier collection of short stories and his novel,

And, if I could get you to comment on another item, Dorothy, below, asks you to comment on the outgoing administration.

Gary Imhoff


A Scorecard for Williams
Dorothy Brizill,

In the Democratic primary on September 12, DC voters will, for all intents and purposes, choose the next mayor of DC, the person who will succeed Mayor Anthony A. Williams. Although Williams appears to have started his farewell tour earlier this year with all of his out-of-town travels, the September primary will mark the four-month countdown until DC inaugurates that new mayor. It is likely that the four months will be filled with tributes, retrospectives, and assessments of the eight years of the Williams administration. Southeastern University, for example, will sponsor a roast of the mayor on October 18 (

Before the mayor, his administration, and political pundits offer their own assessments, what do you think his accomplishments and failings have been? Mayor Williams long ago gave up the idea of issuing scorecards to evaluate the performance of District agencies and managers, but it’s time for us to issue one for his performance over the past eight years. For example, while one can enjoy the new downtown, with its new cafes, restaurants, shops, and street life, the development itself raises questions of development for whom, and at what cost to District taxpayers. At a time when many neighborhoods, particularly east of the river, lack basic shopping and retail, downtown has seen something of a rebirth. For instance, Herb Miller’s Gallery Place development project at 7th and H Streets, NW, took a long time to complete, but it was the beneficiary of extremely generous economic development assistance from the District government, including the District‘s noncompetitive sale of the land to Miller and tax increment financing. Developer Doug Jemal spearheaded the redevelopment of surrounding buildings in the 7th Street corridor, but also contributed to the demise of most of Chinatown. Jemal, a particular favorite of the Williams administration, has been indicted by the US Attorney’s Office on charges of bribing District government officials in order to secure lucrative office lease agreements. In Columbia Heights, the Williams administration is taking credit for retail and housing development, but by mishandling its awarding of the Redevelopment Land Agency and National Capital Revitalization Corporation parcels in Columbia Heights and giving them to politically favored developers, it has cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars to subsidize those developers and it has stalled development for years.

How would you balance the pluses and minuses of the Williams administration? Or, if you were roasting Williams at Southeastern University, what jokes and zingers would you make?


All Politicians Do It
Mindy Mitchell, Member, Friends of Kingman Park, mindymitchell2 at yahoo dot com

In the early spring of this year, Adrian Fenty was invited to our civic association as a guest speaker. The president of the association was doing his best to give the residents an opportunity to meet with and question all of the candidates who would be appearing on the fall election docket. A very important issue in Kingman Park is the threat looming over us of the loss of our open National Park land north of RFK Stadium and the potential health threat that construction there could pose to the residents. When asked what his position is on this threat, Mr. Fenty told us all that whatever the community wanted he would back us 100 percent, that the residents know best. None of the residents I know has ever seen his much anticipated letter of support. In fact, Mr. Fenty turned around 180 degrees almost immediately, and is being presented on the web site of the institution most desirous of building on that land parcel as being in support of their goal to steal our National Park land for their own. Even the questions about Home Rule, which one would assume any new mayor would be very interested in, don’t appear to resonate with Mr. Fenty. He has not answered any of the three invitations issued to him by a neighborhood organization to meet, even though he claims to answer 100 percent of E-mails received by him. If this is an example of the kind of promise he is making around the District this campaign season, woe betide those who believe him.

Marie Johns has no dog in this fight, but she has taken the time to hear our concerns. She has toured the site with the civic association president and the commissioner for the Single Member District. She isn’t making wild promises, but looking carefully at the issue. Lies by politicians seem to be expected by most but, unlike many, Ms. Johns doesn’t appear to need to bolster her cause by issuing them. For that, I respect her. We need more politicians who shun the practice of pandering during the crunch and conveniently forgetting when they have reached their office desk.


Stadium Parking Plans Facing Trouble
Ed Delaney,

From “DC’s CFO is asking the city’s attorney general to rule on the legality of the mayor’s plan for a mix of parking garages, condos and shops next to the new ballpark. CFO Natwar Gandhi says he’s concerned that the plan would violate the $611 million stadium cost cap and a ban on using the money the city would receive from development rights near the stadium to build the garages.” I know the Chief Financial Officer is asking these questions and seeking legal clarity for his own debt certainty concerns, but where’s the council (let alone anyone in the media) taking the lead on this issue. Who is seeing, in an election year, that the promise of a rock-hard spending cap that will be vigilantly and uncompromisingly enforced? If this issue isn’t adequately pushed from the outside, the Baseball Brigade is going to continue to write checks and skate past any environmental accountability on the most significant project the city has seen, one that directly impacts not only future ballpark patrons but also the public at large, due to its impact on the Anacostia watershed with who knows how many unaddressed environmental issues present.

Runaway costs are one thing, but it remains stunning how this project, with its massive scope and location proximate to the water, could have such a low level of due diligence performed at the environmental level compared with even the most basic housing project. What’s worse is the muting of any outcry both from the local media, on which so much depends for getting the facts out, and from city officials, especially those on the city council who demonstrate brazen fear of any slowdown in the project lest deadlines be missed and fees have to be paid to MLB. But in the end, it comes down to the citizenry informing themselves and choosing what battles are most important to fight for themselves and the city’s future. This really is the turning point for the city as it seeks more and more political autonomy (and presumably, the accountability that comes along with it) and chooses the type of government to handle the increasing responsibility. If enough people and groups can’t get mobilized around this issue and making an impact at this point when the Brigade is being so amazingly blatant and clumsy with their handling of cost and environmental issues, then they deserve the Tammany Hall that this pivotal project is ushering in as more and more planned tax rebates and reductions get canceled and more and more bills come due to pay for public projects done for private profit. If they can’t be bothered to make a stand when the stakes and the costs are at the highest; if they are willing to be lulled to sleep by an absentee lame-duck mayor who goes into fits of piques and rants and rails against any trimming of this monstrosity, or by the rhetoric and histrionics or Jack Evans on this issue, then any resistance to similar boondoggles will be token at best and will be waited out and trumped by whatever future brigade that wants to force through an agenda that pays off themselves and select cronies.

From Speaking of Evans, you’ve gotta love the fallback plan to covering the parking overruns he touts of “simply build[ing] the required parking spaces and put off any other development — a move that officials said would cost the city millions in lost tax revenues it hopes to reap from the stadium project.” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is your chairman of the finance and revenue committee, the ballpark hawk who kept insisting, while sneering at any doubters, that ballpark costs at the $383 million mark were all-inclusive, while revenue would just pour in from the well-planned entertainment district that would evolve and transform, just as happened at the MCI Center site. Yet here we are in late August 2006 with the city picking up the entire tab for a project that what we all know will cost well over the outrageous sum of $611 million. City agencies and officials scramble to find ways to pay for parking, environmental, and other overruns for the cut-rate “Buick or Ford” greenhouse while design issues and restrictions at the unworkable current site are prompting the building of two badly-placed parking monoliths where city vistas and city-specific revenue-generating retail should have been, both of which bode ill for the ballpark’s revenue potential in both the short and long terms.

It might be one thing to be facing this disastrous news about costs and revenue several years down the road, but one huge problem after another has arisen out of this project and especially out of the selection of the current train wreck of a ballpark site, even before the ballpark has come close to being built. Both the fallback and the condo boondoggle are unacceptable, and one hopes that enough public pressure and common sense descends on officials as the election race heats up to hold firm to the spending cap and recognize that a ballpark could still be built under that cap at the RFK Stadium site, especially if fallback options that leave out significant revenue generating development are actually on the table at the current joke of a site, as Jack Evans says.


What a Councilmember Can Do for Our Schools
Wendy Sefsaf,

I have to take exception with recent posts about the Ward 3 race and what constituents can expect from their council members regarding DCPS schools. I know what helpful and engaged council members can do because I have worked with the DC council on matters related to public schools. I am on the school modernization campaign’s steering committee and I am also on the LSRT and PTA of my local public school, Stoddert ES, which my son attends.

I also know how harmful it is to have a council who believes our school system is being adequately funded when it is not. Case in point, recent cost overruns that should have been anticipated in special education transportation, but were not, will hurt our overall operating budget this year — essentially taking away part of a schools budget halfway through the year. An engaged councilmember would have seen this coming and been able to negotiate a better outcome with the other twelve members on the council. Parents like me took time off from work to testify at these budget hearings and warn them of what was to come to no avail.

So while folks like Mary Cheh and Bill Rice say they have a moral commitment to our schools, it should be noted that Mary Cheh opted out of public schools for the private ones and Bill Rice doesn’t have children at all. So while many people may be content to put the future of public schools in the hands of those who really have no dog in the fight — as we have in the past — I for one will not. I support my fellow public school parent, Paul Strauss, who has to work hard on public education reform for the benefit of his own children. And that is more than twelve of our thirteen current councilmembers, mayor, or school board members can say.


An Humongous Water Bill, Part 2
Jack McKay,

A Water and Sewer Administration technician appeared here this week and provided a better explanation of my stunning $686 water bill (themail, July 19). When the new water meters were plumbed in, in September 2005, they weren’t connected to the electronics that transmit the water consumption data to the WASA reading devices. But the old water meters were left in the water meter hole, connected to said electronics. Hence, the meter reading the water usage wasn’t sending out any data, while the meter that was sending out data, wasn’t reading any water usage. Very clever arrangement, that.

It seems that this is not an isolated incident. They were all done this way around here, he said. So many other households may be in for unhappy surprises.

Oh, that horrendous water bill was based on "estimated usage, not actual, since WASA had yet to connect my meter. The WASA estimate underlying that humongous bill was 131 cubic feet. The tech read my meter on the spot: 71 cubic feet, since installation. Looks like WASA may be owing me a sizable refund.


Republican Mayoral Candidate
Carl Schmid,

I noticed that the submission by Dennis Moore [themail, August 23], identifies him as a Republican mayoral candidate. According to the DC Board of Elections and Ethics, there is only one Republican mayoral candidate on the ballot for September 12, and Mr. Moore is not listed.


Crime Statistics
Jack McKay,

Gary wrote [themail, August 23]: “In any case, both a 6 percent decrease and an 8 percent increase are within normal variations in crime statistics, which are often very slippery things.”

That is entirely correct, and very important. Chief Ramsey and others go on about changes of a few percentage points, as if those are significant. Here’s my take on the “bogus crime emergency”:


No Such Thing as a Candidate Ready to Be Mayor
Harold Foster, Petworth,

To reply to Claudia Pharis (“No Such Thing as a Born Manager,” themail, August 23): take it from someone who has been a public service professional (and someone who takes all three of those terms very seriously), a third generation Washingtonian, and someone who spent twenty years in District government: there is also no such thing as a born mayor. I find it interesting that this time around many of the same arguments being made against Fenty, such as relative youth and lack of top-level managerial experience, were arguments that many of these same people did not accept when candidates like Kevin Chavous raised them about Tony Williams four and eight years ago. Apparently “youth” and “lack of experience” are disqualifications only for some mayoral candidates, but not for others.

I also need Ms Pharis’ help on some of her other points, because I don’t get it. Neither Fenty nor Cropp (who, by the way, also has no real “top level executive/managerial experience”) is expected to run the district government single-handedly. Of course the next mayor will have to deal with intractable problems with the “five publics”: public safety, public health, public works, public finance, and public education. But, hey: that is what the mayor has a city manager, a cabinet, and an entire district government bureaucracy for. Sure: if Fenty or Cropp were being judged now on how well each of them can “pitch, catch, and play first base,” I am sure we would all find plenty of grounds to find both candidates — never mind each of the others running for this office — so ill-equipped for the job that they shouldn’t even be running in the first. But that, I suggest, is hardly the most important point. The point is, or should be, how well and how consistently the next mayor can find, cultivate, motivate, and integrate other top-level public service executives who will be principally responsible for making sure the trash gets picked up, citizens get the services they are paying taxes for, the public accounts and records are accurately and consistently maintained, the schools are supported (note: I did not say “run,” since that is Clifford Janey’s job) properly and all the rest of it.

Further, take it from someone who spent twenty years in the trenches of DC government: the District government is full of talented, motivated line staff and employees who will do everything that is expected of them, often more, if only they are supported and encouraged at the top. Of course there are — and always will be — some who either don’t measure up or, frankly, should be redeployed or perhaps even fired. But that is true of any large public-engaging organization, whether it is DC Government, the Pentagon, or General Motors. So, again, I am not sure I get it when people talk only about Fenty’s relative youth and presumed inability to manage the kind of large public institution that, almost by definition, no one can actually prepare — or be prepared — to manage. That is, not until they have actually spent some time on the job and made. and learned from, some mistakes, some of which — as we saw with Tony Williams — can be real “boners.” I would suggest that, instead of worrying about which candidate can manage something that is inherently unmanageable (in the sense that most people here use that verb), all voters look at all the candidates for mayor and for city council, come to that, and ask themselves: can this candidate manage his or her learning curve in this elected office. It is what you do after you know what you don’t know that matters.


Instant Run-Off Voting
Harold Foster, Petworth,

I absolutely agree with Jennifer Ellingston [themail, August 23]: instant run-off voting is clearly the way to go in the District. IRV significantly addresses the two concerns that voters (particularly younger ones) most often express, especially about candidates for local office: first, that they may waste their vote when the candidate with whom they agree the most has no realistic hope of winning, and second that, as Ms Ellingston says, a large number of fringe candidates will siphon votes away from another candidate and, in so doing, ensure the election of a much less desirable candidate. I find that these are often the reasons that residents (especially younger African-Americans) give for not bothering to vote at all.

Either this city should adopt the conventional system of having second, run-off elections to ensure that the winner is, well, really the winner; it should adopt the simpler, more cost-effective alternative, IRV. We wouldn’t just vote for Candidate A. We would express a first (and second and third and fourth) preference for all the candidates for a given office. If one candidate did not get a genuine majority of all votes cast, the lowest-scoring candidate is dropped, but not the votes that were cast for him or her. The second preferences of those who voted for that candidate would then be tallied for the remaining candidates and so on, until a genuine winner of the majority vote emerged.

That way, 1) no one’s vote is wasted on a so-called fringe candidate, since their follow-on preferences would be counted for the candidates who remain in second or third rounds of vote-counting; and 2) the ultimate winner will be the preference of a true majority of the electors, to borrow that (more appropriate) term from the Constitution. This system is being adopted in an increasing number of municipalities, and several states, including Vermont, are seriously considering employing IRV for statewide offices. By the way, if any of you still need convincing, if we had had IRV in 1978, 1982 or 1994, a certain very controversial multi-term mayor of this city probably would never have been elected or reelected in the first place.



Katrina Benefit, August 29
Elena Temple,

The Louisiana Network, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization comprised of natives from the State of Louisiana, is hosting a local observance of the one-year of Hurricane Katrina on Tuesday, August 29, from 6:30 p.m. on at Anzu, 2436 18th Street, NW, in Adams Morgan, for evacuees from New Orleans in the metropolitan area.

As we embark upon the one-year anniversary of hurricane Katrina, one of the nation’s most devastating occurrences, this event will serve as a reminder of the effect it had on the lives Louisiana residents, families, and extended families. One year later — the impact is still being felt. While our families and friends continue to rebuild their lives on the Gulf Coast, the LA Network is assisting in rebuilding hope and restoring culture by celebrating the unbreakable spirit of the people of New Orleans and remembering its rich history and traditions (food, music, etc.). The LA Network extends a special invitation to New Orleans evacuees currently residing in the DC Metropolitan Area to join them at Anzu on Tuesday, August 29.

Established in 1999 to assist Louisiana natives relocating to the Washington Metropolitan area, the LA Network has evolved into an outreach organization providing both a professional network and a social outlet to a membership of over five hundred. Immediately following Hurricane Katrina, the LA Network initiated a campaign to help displaced residents of Louisiana who relocated to Washington, D.C. and surrounding jurisdictions. Since then, the Network has also worked to inform evacuees of the absentee voting process for the New Orleans mayoral election, as well as hosted a Mardi Gras celebration for our membership to make Louisianans in the area feel "at home."


DC Public Library Events, September 1, 2
Debra Truhart,

September 1-30, library hours, Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library, 5626 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Wardman Row-House Neighborhood Exhibit. An exhibit featuring three Washington neighborhoods — Bloomingdale, Brightwood, and Columbia Heights -- that are defined by row houses built by Harry Wardman during the first four decades of the 20th century, a period of severe housing shortages.

Saturday, September 2, 12:00-4:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Second Floor West Lobby. Hook, Yarn, and Needles, Informal knitting and crocheting workshops for all levels from beginner to advanced. This program was made possible with a grant from the DC Public Library Foundation.



Moving Sale
Fred Davidson,

Table/desk with side drawer. Turned legs with hardwood mahogany finish. Measures 28"D x 29"H x 42"W, $175.

Baker’s rack for collectibles. Black metallic finish, $20.

Floor and table lamps, $25 and $20.



Spanish Catholic Center Employment Services
Anna Clark,

The Spanish Catholic Center (Centro Católico Hispano), founded by the Archdiocese of Washington in 1963, strives to provide charitable services for the Latino community of the Washington Metropolitan Area. The Center’s various ministries promote civic, social, health, and educational betterment. As an integral part of that goal, the Employment Program offers assistance to individuals who face economic hardship and so are in need of work. The clients seeking employment are qualified and willing workers looking for jobs in childcare, housekeeping, general construction, gardening, restaurant service, janitorial services, and more.

We are always in search of any reasonable job offer. If you have any questions, please contact Anna Clark in Employment Services. I can be reached by telephone, 939-2415; fax, 232-1970; or E-mail,



Means for Dreams
Ron Leve, Dupont Circle,

From Marc Fisher’s column in The Washington Post, May 26, 2005: “When readers ask how they can help the DC schools, I counsel volunteering or leaning on elected officials. But many want another way to help. Here it is: at, you’ll find a two-year-old charity that matches donors with teachers who have projects they want to launch but can’t get funded by the system. I joined Means For Dreams founder Mary McCain and director Jonathan Evans at River Terrace Elementary in Northeast this week to watch a rousing talent show organized by Vata Frederick, still a dynamo of a teacher after 38 years in the DC system. Although River Terrace has no music or art teacher — the usual budget cuts story — Frederick was intent on using movement and performance to boost literacy through a stage show infused with poetry. She wrote a proposal, Means for Dreams posted it on its web site and two donors clicked over the dollars. (Though they have no music training, Frederick and other teachers at River Terrace teach recorder. ‘We have a little book, and we stay a page ahead,’ she says.) Some requests on the site are heartbreakingly prosaic. Books on the Cold War. A bus so kids who live less than two miles from the Mall but have never seen it can visit the Smithsonian. Ink cartridges. A thesaurus. You can fulfill some of these dreams for less than you spend on coffee in a week.”

After this column appeared, I went to and found a site marvelously organized to help one find a program whose support seems worthwhile. Let me warn you, your heart will be torn as so many requests are for the most basic of needs that the school system should already be providing. In my case, for very few bucks, I was able to fund an elementary school class with sets of colored felt tip markers for art work. A few months later I was richly rewarded when the mail brought me an attractive booklet of pages done by each student thanking me for the markers.

So, take a shot and look through the very appealing projects. There’s even a way to select ones already partially funded to help target your dollars where it might make the most difference.


Volunteer to Stop the HIV Epidemic in DC
Clifton Allen Roberson,

The DC HIV Prevention Community Planning Group is looking for volunteers to help update the HIV Prevention Plan for the District annually, prioritize which populations should be targeted for HIV prevention programs, and recommend strategies to promote safer behavior among those at risk for HIV infection and transmission. HPCPG is currently seeking members who represent the perspectives of the populations at high risk for HIV transmission in the District: injecting drug users, men who have sex with men, male and female heterosexuals, sex workers, and youth/young adults. HPCPG is also seeking members who are persons living with HIV/AIDS, as well as individuals with expertise in behavioral/social science, epidemiology, and evaluation -- regardless of what risk population they identify with. Individuals who are capable of expressing the views, behaviors, and norms of their community, while participating as group members in objectively weighing the overall priority HIV prevention needs of the DC community are strongly desired. Contact Donald Babb, Administration for HIV Policy and Programs, to request a membership application. The deadline for submitting applications is August 31. Applications received after that date will not be considered. The selection process will take approximately two months and will include interviews with some of the prospective candidates, as well as training for those invited to become members. For more info, call 671-4900.


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