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October 15, 2006


Dear Contributors:

Eric Marshall compliments Kathy Sinzinger on the accomplishments of The Common Denominator. I’d like to encourage more comments from others who have profited from the sharp reporting and local neighborhood focus of Kathy’s paper. Please, let’s let her know that we understand what we have lost with its closing.

There’s more in this issue on mixed-use developments incorporating schools, libraries, and other public buildings, so I have moved my remarks further down to reply to the comments by Richard Layman and Paul Michael Brown.

Gary Imhoff


Kathy Sinzinger
Eric Marshall,

Kathy, you should be proud of the hard work you and your colleagues put in over the years to make The Common Denominator such a valuable community paper. Nothing can ever replace the money you lost in this endeavor, but I wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your work. The Common Denominator truly had a positive impact on the DC community.


Common Sense Is in Short Supply
Leo Alexander, Ward 4,

On Friday, October 13, the doors finally closed on an institution whose sole mission was to care for all regardless of their ability to pay. DC General Hospital’s legacy was reduced to an urgent care center with outpatient clinical services shortly after Mayor Williams took office in 2001. Now on his way out, he’s finally accomplished in DC what he’d done in Boston — closed the sole remaining public hospital. I don’t know where we are headed as a community, but I am comforted by the thought that Anthony Williams will no longer be a part of our future. One would think that with a personal background as a foster child, he would have a special place in his heart for the less fortunate, but something’s missing there. How else could a man who started with so little turn his back on a community who in many cases share his story?

What angers me most is that last winter, while a group of concerned citizens met on a weekly basis at the Marshall Heights Community Development Center, only two ministers bothered to show their support. What will it take for the District’s clergy members to get it? Except for Ward 7’s Vincent Gray, who’s been engaged on the issue of the National Capital Medical Center (NCMC) since the beginning, the majority of the council has kept silent. The most deafening, and most surprising, silence comes from the man once-dubbed the people’s mayor, the current Ward 8 council member, Marion Barry. Wasn’t Barry partly responsible for brokering the last deal for the District to provide added financial incentives to Greater Southeast Community Hospital to maintain health care services at the old DC General site? Where is he now, now that the plug has been pulled? This is all too confusing to me, and I have to ask why. It is a fact that communities east of the river account for more than half of all the trauma cases for the entire city. Where is our congressional representative on this grim issue of access to health care? Does Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton only speak when the local issue affects tourism? (Remember the muggings on the mall?) If that’s the case, we can count on her to get involved only after a tourist visiting an historic site east of the river requires immediate trauma services that mysteriously aren’t there.

I don’t know where we’re headed. We can find hundreds of millions of dollars (and still counting) for a tourist attraction otherwise known as a baseball stadium. We can boast about a surplus in our treasury, and about our A plus bond rating; but what story do we tell about the care we offer to our citizens most in need? Is it too much to ask for our new mayor to show some real leadership by championing not only a world-class public schools system but also a comprehensive health care system, anchored by a full service hospital with a Level 1 trauma center at the old DC General site? Elected officials who represent the more prosperous areas of the District don’t seem to care; our local clergy members don’t seem to care; and judging by the turnout of the people who had the most to gain on Freedom Plaza last spring supporting the NCMC, I guess the short answer is to hell with it — very few really care.

I believe the role of good government is to protect the interests of the entire community, including those of the most vulnerable. When I was just a cub news reporter at my first TV station in Mobile, Alabama, I’d frequently speak with an older gentleman who would respond every time I asked how he was doing with, “I’ve got my health.” Standing there all those times talking to him, it never dawned on me just how lucky we were to live and work in a city where its leaders understood the charity behind a public hospital. Somehow they knew that funding a public hospital didn’t have to make sound financial sense, it just had to make common sense.


The Mixed-Use Conundrum and Anti-Democracy
Richard Layman,

[Re: the introductory comments to the last issue of themail, October 11]: First, I agree that public buildings usually are singly dedicated to public functions (i.e., the Roman Forum) and doing so communicates the foundation of government within the demos. (See this special section of Planning Commissioners Journal for the pre-World War II history of public buildings in the US, entitled “A Proud Heritage,” But outside of the core of the center city and in smaller cities, it isn’t uncommon to have shared government facilities in a single building. For example, a single federal building in other cities may include federal courts, the post office, and other agency offices.

Second, I think that we need to be much more broad-minded in shaping our public assets management strategies to serve multiple purposes. A major problem is that each DC government agency believes it, not the citizens, owns the property under its control. And there is no thought to accomplishing multiple objectives with each property. For example, many neighborhoods do not have parks. Most public schools have playgrounds. Why can’t the playgrounds (I am thinking of JO Wilson and Ludlow-Taylor Elementary schools in northeast specifically) be configured in a manner allowing for neighborhood use outside of school hours (in a safe and “eyes on the street” fashion)? Why can’t school libraries be situated with a separate entrance where after school hours the rooms and the computers can be used by neighborhood residents? Why can’t school gyms and auditoriums be similarly placed?

In Arlington County, the Thomas Jefferson Middle School is also the City Community Center. The gym is extra-large, also able to be used as an “exposition center” for community events such as the Arlington County Fair. There is a large auditorium used as a theater for community theater companies. The wellness-weight room is used by residents, as are art studios. I don’t believe that any of DC’s recreation centers have comparable facilities. And there is no reason why libraries of modern vintage (I am not referring to historic buildings such as Georgetown, Northeast, or Southeast, but the relatively new, undistinguished buildings) could not be reconfigured to provide additional public benefits, such as the how the Shirlington Library, also in Arlington, is getting the addition of the Signature Theater, or how the Rockville Maryland library will include administrative space for the library system as well as space for other government offices.

Third, in your comments last week you are absolutely right that I do not defend anti-civic or antidemocratic practices with regard to public assets issues generally, and to the DC Public Library system specifically. Fourth, as I said in a follow-up blog entry on this topic, after describing the attractive mixed use library in the Hollywood neighborhood of Portland Oregon (see this article from Metropolis Magazine, “A Living Library: Putting housing above a public library, Portland takes another pioneering step toward urban density,”, do I think DC will build a quality facility like this? No, not really. We don’t seem to be willing to strive for and demand quality all that much. Anything better than a parking lot seems to suffice for most people. And for the most part, DC government constructs plebeian value-engineered buildings that too rarely respect the architectural tradition of quality that typifies pre-WW II public buildings. Most agencies refer to buildings as “products,” and it shows. Unfortunately, we must live with the results for decades. It’s no wonder that people who care oppose the average DC government proposal to build new facilities. There isn’t all that much in terms of return on investment, if your expectations about return are more about a broader set of objectives than merely getting four walls and a roof.

Finally, it is true that in DC we have plenty of reasons to distrust our local government in terms of doing this right, but just because the local government too often fails to respect democracy, we shouldn’t reject potentially good ideas out of hand. It’s our job as citizens to demand much more and better from our government, rather than to oppose any and all agency plans because we expect the agency will screw up.

But don’t get me started on the library planning process. The whole process has taken contempt of one of the key principles of democracy, that “the common people, [are] considered as the primary source of political power,” to new levels. It doesn’t always work to have government bureaucrats become elected officials, because their orientation to civic engagement is completely different from people like Adrian Fenty who do door-knocking (real get-out-the-vote activities) rather than hiring people to “mail it in.”


Mixed Use Developments
Paul Michael Brown,

Mr. Imhoff argued [themail, October 11]: “If public schools and libraries are important to our government, it will maintain them much better than the owners of office or residential buildings who put a library or a school on one floor of their developments.” Clearly, the sorry state of DCPS structures shows the Board of Education cares not about the physical plant. The same can be seen in the decrepit libraries. The problem, it seems to me, is that when a facility is 100 percent public there is no market-based incentive to provide a quality experience for patrons. If schools and libraries were part of a mixed use development, the developer would have a financial incentive to keep the facility in good repair, because to do otherwise would adversely affect the developer’s commercial interest. Mixed use development is a win/win idea.

[I agree with Richard Layman’s posting nearly completely, but I must note that what he is describing has to do mostly with opening up schools, libraries, and other government buildings to expand their role as community centers. This argues against subordinating those community centers in private developments, where they will be less accessible to the public.

[I also agree with Paul that government management is almost always less efficient and more expensive than private management, and that market incentives usually lead to better maintenance and management. But that isn’t true in this case, because these projects aren’t really private market developments, and they’re not seriously affected by market incentives. Developers get these properties from the government because of their political connections, not because of the merits of their companies or their proposals. The maintenance standards of these mixed-use developments will depend on what the government is willing to enforce on politically influential developers. The profits on the projects will come mostly from government subsidies, including the lower-than-market prices developers will pay to purchase or lease the land and the higher-than-market rents the government will pay for the space occupied by schools and libraries. — Gary Imhoff]


Opinion on King Library
Tim Siegel,

I’ve known and used the Martin Luther King, Jr., Library in DC over many years. I’ve followed the debate about its value and future. Maybe it’s just me, but the question of what to do to have a topnotch central library for the city that is clearly a downtown gem seems to have an obvious answer. While the building is certainly architecturally distinctive and designed by a renowned architect, it is also ugly and was badly designed and outfitted from day one. It never fully honored the legacy of Dr. King, in my opinion. Let’s have a new stellar King Library to serve citizens well for the next one hundred years. The present site, or one nearby, is vital. It would take a massive redesign to overcome the distaste and the dysfunction of the current library. Why not a library oriented to serving all audiences well, from toddler to octogenarian, from Nigerian immigrant to sixth generation Washingtonian? The New York Public Library is itself a major draw. Why not DC? Let’s have it open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., loaded with Internet connections, and comfortable. Let’s make it a compelling destination. Two sensitive issues: 1) Is there the will to create an alternate, attractive, downtown day facility providing real services and a humane setting for the homeless who literally populate the Library now; 2) is there the will to fund the fullest and best operation of a reborn King Library?


Candidates’ Annoying Phone Calls and E-mails
Cecilio Morales,

Mike Livingston [themail, October 11] makes an excellent point about the possibility of retail politics. I felt I knew the blunt and sometimes irascible Dave Clark and his charming wife from a few encounters in which they gained my admiration. I was annoyed by Walter Washington’s entourage enough times to despise the last puppet mayor. Who hasn’t spent a few moments with Marion Barry and laughed along with his clever act or winced at Carol Schwartz’s annoying snarl? Who couldn’t guess from the get-go of shaking his limp and sweaty hand that Nathanson was way out of his depth? In meeting Adrian Fenty, his aplomb reminded me of my older son’s, and my thought was that I hoped he was really listening with his evidently keen mind.

I’m sure I am not alone in this sense of personal proximity to elected officials that I think doesn’t have parallels in New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles.

Phone calls and E-mails can’t possibly convey the personal warmth nor the intellectual depth of a candidate’s ideas that a voter can learn from the plethora of radio, TV, and newspaper discussion forums in this very political city. Plus, they’re annoying.


Rees’ Anti-Jewish Message
Joe Deluth,

Kindly don’t post any more messages from Jonathan Rees, who admits to being both homophobic and anti-Semitic. You can read about that yourself at There is the most recent blog entry from Jonathan Rees ["Jewish Gangsters in America," October 14]. He does not deserve to have a forum on themail.


Fenty Versus Kelly (and Williams)
Sylvia C. Brown, Deanwood,

I started to let Mr. Bindner’s comment [themail, October 11] pass regarding the city “dodging a bullet” by not electing Marie Johns. However, I could not let this prejudicial and unfair characterization pass. Too often women are unfairly judged because of the mistakes of another woman, whereas men are not as likely judged by similar standards.

Mr. Binder’s opinion about a Johns mayoral tenure had nothing to do with his comments about the “sour grapes division” concerns about a Fenty mayoral tenure.



H.D. Cooke Elementary Rally, October 17
Nancy Shia,

On Tuesday, October 17, parents, community members, and students will rally to demand that DC Public Schools end their ongoing neglect of DC schoolchildren and begin the renovation of H.D. Cooke immediately. Two and a half years with no work on the school is too long. Tuesday, October 17, 6:00 p.m., on the front lawn of H.D. Cooke Elementary School, 2525 17th Street, NW. 6:00 p.m., rally and short statements from former and current students , teachers, and parents; 6:30 p.m., busses arrive with students from the aftercare program from Cooke’s “swing space”; 6:40 p.m., a press conference featuring parent leaders, student orators, a representative from the DC Public Schools, a representative from Councilmember Jim Graham’s office, and other community leaders; 7:15 p.m., statements of support from DC candidates in November election. Spanish and English translations provided throughout.

Since September 2004, the students of H.D. Cooke Elementary School have been bused from the front of their school to a “swing space,” an alternative school near Howard University. Cooke was originally supposed to be renovated, with students returning within three years. However, two and a half years later, DCPS has not even begun the renovation. Bussing the students costs $1 million dollars each year, in addition to nearly an hour a day for each child bused.


DC Public Library Events, October 17-18
India Young,

Tuesday, October 17, 10:00 a.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Main Lobby. The Young Adult Services Division celebrates Teen Read Week with author Patricia Gaines. For more information, contact 727-5535.

Tuesday, October 17, 7:00 p.m., Lamond-Riggs Neighborhood Library, 5401 South Dakota Avenue, NE. Fall African history/culture lecture series, presentations about the history of Africans, Afro-Americans, Hispanics, and other ethnic groups. For more information, call 541-5924. Young adults-adults.

Wednesday, October 18, 6:00 p.m., Georgetown Neighborhood Library, 3260 R Street, NW. Learn about the benefits of meditation from the Brahma Kumaris Center of Washington, DC. DC Public Library is not responsible, nor does it endorse health information given to participants during the program. For more information, call 282-0213.


National Building Museum Events, October 19, 21, 23
Lauren Searl,

Thursday, October 19, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Since its beginning in 1980, the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Street Program has built an impressive record of success in working with small towns and urban neighborhoods to revive commercial districts. These projects have not only boosted local economies, but have also strengthened community institutions and restored vibrant local character to communities across the country. Doug Loescher, director of the Main Street Program, will show how it can be an important tool for implementing smart growth. Free. Registration not required.

Saturday, October 21, 2:00-4:00 p.m. Family program: Halloween Haunted House Workshop. Families are invited to create a spooky haunted house to place in a window at home for Halloween. Construct a house or barn with wood and cardboard, and then adorn it with miniature ghosts, monsters, and jack-o’-lanterns. Tantalizing treats and moody music provided! $11 per house for Museum members; $16 for nonmembers. Recommended for children age 5 and up. Prepaid registration required by October 18 at or 272-2448, ext. 3413.

Monday, October 23, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Architect Paolo Soleri’s concept of “Arcology” — architecture coherent with ecology — is the basis for his ongoing building project Arcosanti in central Arizona. Since 1970, this prototype town has demonstrated Soleri’s interests in minimizing the use of energy, raw materials, and land while allowing for an interaction with the natural environment. This year, Soleri was honored at the White House for his ongoing work at Arcosanti and received a lifetime achievement award from the Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. In this exclusive public appearance, he will discuss his continuing experimentation in sustainable urban planning, architecture, and design. Following the lecture, he will sign copies of his books. This lecture is held in conjunction with the exhibition The Green House, which will be open for viewing. $12 Museum and Smithsonian members; $20 nonmembers; $10 students. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. Spotlight on Design is sponsored by Lafarge, the largest diversified supplier of construction materials in North America. Additional support is provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. All events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


Howard University Hospital Health Fair, October 21
Clifton Roberson,

Howard University and Hospital invite all to our first October Festival on Saturday, October 21, from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. on the Howard University Hospital Plaza at 2041 Georgia Avenue, NW. Come to this family and child friendly event and get a free flu shot, health care screenings and a pumpkin. We hope to see you there.


DC BPW Luncheon Honors Women Veterans, October 21
Hazel B. Thomas,

The DC State Federation of Business and Professional Women, Inc. (DC/BPW), will observe BPW’s Annual Business Women’s Week by celebrating women veterans at its Business Women’s Week Luncheon at the Pier 7 Restaurant, 650 Water Street, SW, at 12:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 21. This year’s luncheon is part of the BPW Business Women’s Week celebration, held annually since 1928, and is part of a National initiative by BPW/USA to demonstrate support and gratitude to women veterans and to facilitate successful career transitions into the civilian workforce.

DC/BPW, the DC State Affiliate of Business and Professional Women/USA (BPW/USA), will also continue its military membership outreach initiative program as part of BPW/USA’s national program, Women Joining Forces: Closing Ranks, Opening Doors, which includes a job board specifically created to highlight women and veteran-friendly employers. Join us in celebrating military women. For information about DC/BPW or Women Joining Forces, contact Hazel Thomas at 491-9245. For luncheon reservations, call 301-279-5874.


Ward 6 Dems October Events, October 22, 23, 30
Jan Eichhorn,

Ward 6 rally for Democratic mayoral candidate DC Councilmember Adrian Fenty, Sunday, October 22, 1:00 p.m. At the home of Ken Jarboe, 911 East Capitol Street, SE.

School board candidate forum for the DC Board of Education Representative District III (Wards 5 and 6), co-hosted by the Ward 5 and Ward 6 Democrats, Monday, October 23. Ward 5 Dems meeting, 7 p.m.; forum, 7:45 p.m.-9 p.m. Gallaudet University Auditorium, Kellogg Conference Center, 8th Street and Florida Avenue, NE. All certified candidates have been invited to participate: Stephane Baldi, Robert Brannum, Lisa Raymond, and Marc Borbely are confirmed. Also invited: Mary Baird-Currie. Forum moderator, WTOP radio reporter Mark Seagraves; forum facilitators, Jeff Richardson, 1st Vice President of the Ward 6 Dems and Program Coordinator of "Building Futures for Youth" at Howard University, and Paul Washington, Issues Committee Chair of Ward 5 Dems and Chair of the Ward 5 Education Council. Free parking on campus. Metro: call 547-8855 and leave your name to reserve a free seat on the Gallaudet shuttle which leaves at 7:15 from Union Station Metro and returns to Union Station at 8:52, 9:22 and 9:52 p.m.

Ward 6 Democrats meeting and forum for candidates for President of the DC Board of Education, Monday, October 30. Ward 6 Dems meeting, 7 p.m.; forum, 7:45 - 9:15 p.m. Eastern Branch of the Boys and Girls Club 261 17th Street, SE. All certified candidates have been invited to participate. Confirmations have been received from Robert Bobb, Carolyn Graham, Timothy Jenkins and Laurent Ross. Also invited: Sunday Abraham.


Building Black and Brown Alliances for a Better World, November 1
Laurie Blair,

A discussion on Deconstructing Divide and Conquer Tactics: How institutions of power divide communities of color will be held on Wednesday, November 1, 6:30-9:00 p.m., at The Social Action and Leadership School for Activists (SALSA), Institute for Public Policy Studies, 1112 16th Street, NW, Suite 600. Join the first of four community discussions aimed at Building Black and Brown Alliances in Washington, DC, and beyond. Deconstructing Divide and Conquer Tactics will provide a historical context, examining the notion of race, dispelling misconceptions and how embracing a shared sense of struggle can generate social and economic power. Free. For more information, call 787-5229; to register, go to

This discussion series is part of an effort to raise awareness and involvement for the US Social Forum to be held in Atlanta, Georgia, from June 27 to July 1 (


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