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May 2, 2007


Dear Money Managers:

Money spoke in yesterday’s ward council elections. Both the campaign funding reports and the election vote totals are incomplete, but the current numbers are that Muriel Bowser’s campaign raised $371,000, and that Bowser got 4,886 votes. This was far from a majority of the 12,061 votes cast, but it was a sufficient plurality to give her a win in the special election for Ward 4 councilmember. The Fenty administration, starting with the mayor himself, put relentless pressure on contractors, developers, and others who do business with the city government to contribute to Fenty’s chosen candidate. The result was a record amount of money raised for a ward council campaign, and an obscene amount of money per vote. Bowser raised $75.93 in campaign funds for every vote she got. In Ward 7, Council Chairman Vincent Gray was largely responsible for the success of Yvette Alexander’s campaign fundraising. Her campaign raised $180,000, or $74.29 for every vote she got. She won her race with only 2,423 votes, just 34.1 percent of the 7,101 votes cast.

If elections can be bought, and if the cost of an election in DC is currently between $74 and $76 per vote, only candidates who are backed by the biggest money interests can win, and only candidates who back big-money interests against the residents should bother to run. Unless, of course, more citizens make the effort to turn out to vote, and only if they vote for candidates who will represent their interests. Only 13.53 percent of registered voters came to the polls yesterday, and the low turnout is why elections can be bought easily, if expensively.

Gary Imhoff


Fire Leads to Spending Spree
P. Walters,

According to the web site of the Architect of the Capitol, the new visitors’ center is a 580,000 square foot structure. The current cost is pegged at $554 million, which is enormously over its budget. That works out to $955 per square foot for a completely new, highly secure facility. According to the Post ( Lars Etzkorn, the Director of Property Management, puts the Eastern Market restoration cost at $30 million or more. Eastern Market is 16,500 square feet (area cited by the Project for Public Spaces). That works out to $1,800 per square foot. How can anyone expect to spend nearly twice as much per square foot to restore an existing facility than has been committed to build the visitors center just a few blocks away? The fire was sad, no doubt about it, but it looks like the Fenty administration is queuing up to make the aftermath a champagne bath for its favorite developers. Open your pockets, boys, here comes the money train.


Eastern Market, Adieu
Paul Wilson, dcmcrider at gmail dot com

As if by some inexplicable planetary alignment, Gary Imhoff’s lament on the subject of privatization of neglected and under used city properties [themail, April 29] came out on the same night that the South Hall of Eastern Market was nearly destroyed (the Post politely says “gutted”) by a multiple-alarm fire. Eastern Market was anything but under used, but it was certainly subject to a decades-long pattern of official neglect. A neighborhood landmark is gone and, even if rebuilt “as was,” it won’t be the same place.

Sadly the dilapidated condition of Eastern Market is all too common for city-owned properties. Take a look at our schools and libraries, for instance. Or the old naval hospital, which is a perpetual eyesore and stands as another towering monument to civic neglect. Renovation plans at Eastern Market have been in the works for five years, but were going nowhere fast, as they were bogged down in endless community group hand-wringing, compounded by dithering and delays on the part of officialdom. Delays in this case have proved fatal. The very thing people feared, radical change, has descended upon Eastern Market, in spades. Lack of automatic sprinklers -- sprinklers would surely be part of any renovation scheme -- played a major role in this catastrophe.

You have to ask if the market had been owned by a private nonprofit organization, or God forbid a private for-profit owner, would they have allowed it to decay to such an extent? Would they have been charging rent from merchants for years, while plowing none of it into the physical plant? As opposed to the government, private entities tend to take greater care of their physical assets. The physical plant represents their only revenue source after all. And, they generally can’t go to the city council and beg for a handout, unless they own a sports team.


Temporary Eastern Market
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

I go away for two weeks to Eastern Europe and come back to find two old landmarks have gone up in flames. While the Eastern Market is being rebuilt the city should cough up one of its empty schools near Capitol Hill and refurbish it for temporary occupancy by the Eastern market vendors and those who set up around the Eastern market on weekends. This would allow those who shop and hang out at the Eastern Market to enjoy their delights while the vendors continue to earn a tough living. The city would collect rent from those using the temporary facility to cover the costs of temporary refurbishment of the school building. It’s a win-win for the citizens and the business people. Perhaps there’s an empty school facility in Georgetown where the same arrangement can be made to provide temporary library services while the Georgetown library is rebuilt.


Sale of Eastern and Jelleff Branches of Boys and Girls Club
Melinda Roth,

While two historic landmarks were ravaged by fire this week in the Georgetown and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, two other community assets are also on the verge of destruction. This form of destruction is avoidable, however, as we have been warned by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington that they have opted to sell both the Eastern branch, located in East Capitol Hill, and Jelleff, located in Georgetown. Eastern is set to close during the summer, while Jelleff’s future is uncertain. Unlike Eastern Market or the Georgetown Public Library, the community has the chance to stop such a disaster.

The decisions to sell these clubs — without requiring a club to be maintained or redeveloped — is all about the money. Those in power at the parent organization have run into financial problems. They have hired expensive consultants with little to show for it, continued to mismanage the assets, cut staff (and even stopped funding the pensions of already underpaid staff), and now believe they have little other choice. These two older and dated clubs require renovation and, rather than step up and help, they are turning their backs and running to the suburbs. The spin is that the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington now will serve those children in greatest need. However that need was determined by using income level and geographic proximity to the clubs. The methodology of the study was flawed, and the entire process has been cloaked in secrecy without any community consultations, and also against the very mission of the organization.

All children are supposed to be welcome in any Boys and Girls Club — no one should be checking income levels to see if a child qualifies to participate. In fact, both Eastern and Jelleff branches represent the real world: neighborhoods change but all children remain at risk for the same issues. We cannot simply forget about certain parts of DC and stop serving kids simply because real estate has appreciated. There are thousands of children affected by these decisions, and we urge you to help them keep their clubs open. Please see


Public Safety
Dorothy Brizill,

In the District, as in any civilized society, the key function of government is to provide for the public safety. Two incidents this week — one widely publicized and the other personal to me — raise serious concerns about the District’s ability to protect the public with regards to fire and police services.

As has been widely reported (, the DC Fire Department’s efforts to fight Monday’s fire at the Georgetown library was hampered because the two nearest fire hydrants were broken. Responding firemen had to spend precious time searching for working fire hydrants, several blocks away, that had adequate water pressure. In the aftermath of the fire, we have learned that: 1) the District’s Water and Sewer Authority is responsible for maintaining the city’s 9,300 fire hydrants; 2) WASA has only two crews to inspect and repair those 9,300 hydrants; 3) WASA, under the direction of General Manager Jerry Johnson (remember his lame response to the lead-in-the-drinking-water problem several years ago), doesn’t have a clue as to the total number and location of other problem hydrants in the city; and 4) the fire department and WASA are not communicating with each other, and they maintain separate and distinct lists of inoperable fire hydrants.

In January, Mayor Fenty held a press conference with Police Chief Lanier to announce that the Metropolitan Police Department would recommit itself to community policing and that the commanders of each of the seven police districts would be developing a “customized policing plan.” In the Third District, where I live, 3D Commander McCoy devised a program he labeled “adopt a block,” which is intended to focus police manpower and resources on neighborhoods’ problem areas. It was against this background that last week I was quite pleased to see a patrol car parked during the evening hours at the corner of 14th and Girard Streets, NW, across the street from a small pocket park that has been a hotbed for drugs and criminal activity in Columbia Heights for the past twenty years. In short order, however, I soon realized that my hope that MPD would finally address this neighborhood problem was ill-founded. Last week I realized that the officers never left their parked car and that they kept their car windows rolled up and seldom even glanced over to observe what was happening in the park. On two successive evenings, I watched the officers reading novels and magazines in the car. My neighbors told me that they had seen the officers sleeping in the car. When I ran into Chief Lanier in the Wilson Building last week, I gave her the details, including the times and car numbers. She assured me that my concerns would be addressed. This evening, at 9:00 p.m., Gary and I passed the patrol car parked across the street from the park, and I was glad to see that the officers were neither sleeping nor reading. Instead, they were watching a Disney Aladdin cartoon on the car’s dashboard computer.


Cap Payday Loan Interest Rates
Jillian Aldebron, Center for Responsible Lending,

In March, Councilmember Cheh introduced a bill that would protect District residents — especially low-income households — from abusive payday lenders. Payday loans are small value, short-term, high-interest loans based on a personal check as collateral. Payday lenders target low-income communities of color. They make it extraordinarily easy to borrow money because they don’t do a credit check — in fact, the harder it is for a borrower to pay back the loan, the more money the payday lender makes. Payday lenders charge interest rates of up to 391 percent. The loans are so expensive that rather than helping people bridge a short-term need for cash, they actually create debt and dependency. It can take months for a borrower to make enough money to pay back a payday loan: the average borrower pays $708 to pay back a loan of $325.

The sad part is that payday loans are legal. DC law caps interest rate for all other consumer loans at 24 percent. But in 1998, payday industry lobbyists fought for and won an exemption from the District’s usury cap. What this amounts to is that middle-income and more affluent households are protected by the 24 percent interest rate ceiling, but low-income households are left without any protection. Councilmember Cheh’s bill would oblige payday lenders to follow the same rules that every other lender in the District has to follow.

We are hoping that residents will contact their councilmembers to urge their support for this bill. Please contact me for more information on this issue and how you can help stop payday lenders from preying on hardworking families.


Need a Caterpillar to Move All These Caterpillars
Paul Penniman,

So what’s the deal? Where did they come from, and how do we get rid of them? Is this like the seventeen-year cicada cycle?


Saturdays Are Crane Days in DC
Ron Leve, Dupont,

While I’m not fond of the fact that Saturdays in my neighborhood of Dupont and West End seem to be the days that we locals get stuck with the weekend construction jobs that commuters get to avoid, the least that could be done is to have DDOT use some common sense in planning this work.

This past Saturday there was a huge crane located on the complete set of lanes heading west on K Street under Washington Circle. Also, 23rd Street, an alternate to getting onto “surface” K Street, was closed for construction (I believe it was for work being done at the One Washington Circle Hotel). So there was a huge line of traffic leading around Washington Circle to “surface” K Street and backing up onto Pennsylvania Avenue. And why did the line take so long to move? Because the traffic signal at the point at K and 25th Street, where one can join the traffic coming from under Washington Circle heading west towards Georgetown, was still working even though no traffic was there because the road was closed by the aforementioned crane.


DC Vote Bill Introduced in Senate
Ken Kiger,

On May 1, Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced a bill in the Senate that would give DC citizens their first-ever voting member of Congress. A similar bill, the DC Voting Rights Act, passed the House of Representatives on April 19. This nonpartisan, vote-neutral legislation pairs one seat for heavily Democratic DC with a fourth seat for Republican-leaning Utah. Unlike the House version, the Senate bill does not have an at-large seat for Utah. Instead, Utah will adopt a four-seat map such as the one approved in December. Also, the newly created DC and Utah positions would be elected during the 2008 election. These changes were necessary to secure bipartisan cosponsorship of the bill.


Ending Home Fool
Michael Bindner, mikeybdc at yahoo dot com

There is more than one way to skin a cat. With voting rights closer to passage, giving the Delegate full status, I would propose the following: repeal the Home Rule Act and replace it with a council-manager form of government. Limit candidacy for the council to members of the House and Senate who reside within the District. Allow these individuals to run in four classes: Majority House, Minority House, Majority Senate, and Minority Senate. These should be designated using the usual formula for a joint committee of Congress. The actual selection will be made by District of Columbia voters (which leaves staffers out of the voting pool). There should be no primary, so that all voters will be able to select the Republican members, not just the local Republican Party. The election would obviously occur in February or March after the seating the new Congress, with declaration of candidacy required forty-five days before the election.

The locally elected council would also function as the Joint Committee on the District of Columbia and would serve as both the authorizing and appropriations committee. Include in the rules of each house that the District’s budget will be considered under a closed rule in the House with a point of order against any amendments in the Senate requiring sixty votes to suspend it or to amend the rule. To make sure that this becomes a powerful committee, place jurisdiction over all of the monuments and the Architect of the Capitol under this committee, as well as the Capitol Police. Also, give the Chair of the Committee the title of mayor, with appointment power over all boards and commissions.

This proposal would only become law if ratified by District voters. Any amendment to it must also be so ratified. The act should also contain a bill of rights, etc. It should also contain initiative and recall provisions. Not every act would be an Act of Congress. It would pass DC Laws as the city council, not as a congressional committee. This is, of course, a thought experiment, put out to you for comment. The experiment would only work if someone wanted the job. The size of the committee would be set based on the number of members and Senators actually living within the District. Likely the number of matters handled by the committee would be smaller, especially in contracting. Of course, there would be no bring home the bacon factor. However, if your voters kicked you out and you had a good DC rep, you could always run here, giving the post of DC Representative a bit of competition. What say you all?


William Haskett,

A common factor in virtually every issue that comes before the District council (including the issues concerning disposition of public land or assets to real-estate interests with a material and very profitable concern for a variety of situations and circumstances) is the peculiar practice of discussion and action under emergency legislation. Now, I think I have some grasp of the meaning of “emergency” in common parlance, but I have the impression that it is used in this context in a very peculiar way. It by-passes inconvenient regular ways of doing so, either in timetable or in scope, especially when this would mean taking more time to consider complicated questions. It implies that, unless we act soon, we will be unable to act effectively. It allows the introduction of measures too close to the event to allow time to read and consider them, as with the so-called “sell-off” of the youth clubs, or the apparent silence over the future of the office-holder(s) of the schools’ Superintendent

Surely we can do better than this? As a minimum, we might return to the approximately normal use of the word “emergency.” Under a changed usage, we might ask of the council and the mayor that they remain under the control of normal provisions for procedures, timetables, and notification, and avoid the implication of a rush to judgment in many areas of our official public life. It might be that we could become more aware of how much of our public property is at risk if we permit short-term “emergencies” to truncate our consideration of all the various opportunities for “development” as an excuse for costly-mistakes that might easily be avoided if we took more time than is permitted by the single word “emergency.”


Papers All Over Are Freaking Out
Star Lawrence,

Re Phil Shapiro’s note on changes at the WashPost [themail, April 29], I can report from the West that the Arizona Republic (Gannett) is also trying to remake itself. Monday is now a pamphlet, all sections glommed together because we are “so busy” on Monday. I call it Mindless Monday. The two-page op-ed section has lost half a page, with stories often jumped onto it. A lot of the paper is going online, like we want to make reading the paper a day-long, multimedia event. I tried to find that story online about the bee virus, could not, asked the editor, and he said, “I found it with the video about bees.” I don’t know where this is heading, but some of us love to read a newspaper. I have some severe vision issues at the moment, but still pick through three papers a day. I know a magazine has come out with a cell phone issue . . . so we are not done yet!


Too Doggone Far
John Shepard,

Ms. Lorn [themail, April 25], you may want to check with reporter Jonetta Rose Barras. I heard her express similar sentiments on air recently. She could probably direct you to a group watching the dog park development issue, although there are quite a few kid-friendly and community garden-friendly groups out there who seem to be quite vocal in their opposition. Your E-mail gave me a chuckle. What was even funnier was the "rabid" response from Bob Levine [themail, April 29]. Yo Bob, heel boy! There’s a way to disagree without foaming at the mouth.


More on Postal Service Erosion
Ted Gest,

Bryce Suderow wrote recently on this list [themail, April 18] about his poor experience at the Eastern Market post office. I also have a couple of tales. My office is in Chinatown. For years I’ve been using a mailbox at 7th and H Streets, in the shadow of the Arch. Recently I had to get some mail out that day. When I went to the box, it was gone. I hightailed it to the nearest post office, which claimed no knowledge of the removal. I was given card with a toll-free number to call. Two calls over a two-week period produced no answer about why a mailbox would be removed from one of DC’s busiest intersections.

Last week, after a meeting near Union Station I dropped into the main Post Office at North Capitol Street and Massachusetts Avenue with the idea of buying a periodic supply of commemorative stamps. No such luck. After waiting in line, I was told by a clerk, “We don’t have any. Go to the Postal Museum” (next door). One has to do an airport-style security check to get in there, after which I discovered a long line of people making esoteric requests. I left. Yeah, I know, I should buy stamps by mail.



DC Public Library Events, May 3, 5-6
Randi Blank,

Thursday, May 3, 10:00 a.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Enhanced Business Information Center (e-BIC), A-level, e-BIC Conference Center. The Business Planning Process. Learn the steps you need to take to start a business in D.C. This class is free and cosponsored by DC’s Small Business Development Center. For more information, call 727-2241.

Thursday, May 3, 12:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Room A-5. Brown Bag Recital Series. Cellist Vassily Popov, pianist Ralitza Patcheva, and guest artist Serhii Morozov, a prize-winning Ukranian pianist, will perform music by Rachmaninov. Call 727-1245 for more information.

Thursday, May 3, 1:30 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Enhanced Business Information Center (e-BIC), 1st Floor. Local, Small, Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (LSDBE) Office Hours. Are you eligible for LSDBE certification? Come to the Library during LSDBE office hours if you are a small business owner in the District, plan to become one, or currently sell to the District Government. Please call 727-2241 to sign up for this session.

Thursday, May 3, 2:30 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Room 221. Let’s Talk About Books. We will discuss Summer by Edith Wharton. Call 727-1264 for more information.

Thursday, May 3, 3:30 p.m., Northeast Neighborhood Library, 330 7th Street, NE. Young Adult Book Discussion - Their Eyes Were Watching God. For more information, call 698-3320.

Saturday, May 5, 1:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Room 215. Technology Training Session. Demonstrations of new assistive technologies and group training for people of all ages who use assistive technology for the blind and visually impaired. For more information, call 727-2142.

Sunday, May 6, 2:00 p.m., Petworth Neighborhood Library, 4200 Kansas Avenue, NW. The Literary Friends will host dramatic readings from Their Eyes Were Watching God. For more information, call 541-6300.


Zora Neale Hurston in Cleveland Park, May 5
Beth Meyer,

Deborah Macanic, exhibit developer and project manager at Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, will give a PowerPoint presentation on “Zora Neale Hurston in Context” on Saturday, May 5, at 3 p.m. in the first floor auditorium of the Cleveland Park Branch of the DC Public Library, Connecticut and Macomb Streets, NW. This program is part of the Big Read, a major initiative from the National Endowment of the Arts. DC’s Big Read will consist of activities for a “city read” of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God from April 19- May 19. Also included in the program will be a brief talk by a library staff person about how to form a book club. Refreshments will be provided courtesy of Friends of the Cleveland Park Library.

Ms. Macanic will talk about Zora Neale Hurston and the events around her in the Twenties and Thirties. She will review Hurston’s writing in the context of the Harlem Renaissance and the American South. Ms. Macanic has had more than thirty years of arts and museum experience. She has managed the following exhibitions: Beyond Category: The Musical Genius Of Duke Ellington, Latin Jazz, and The Jazz Age in Paris. The Cleveland Park Branch of the DC Public Library is located near the Cleveland Park Metrorail Station. All District of Columbia Public Library activities are open to the public free of charge. For further information, please call the Cleveland Park Library at 282-3080.


National Building Museum Events, May 7
Lauren Searl,

Monday, May 7, 6:30-8:00 p.m. Spotlight on Design: Reinventing Los Angeles: Reinvention without Amnesia. Founded in 1980, the Los Angeles-based architecture firm Levin & Associates has received worldwide attention for its preservation work on some of the city’s beloved landmarks. With the restoration of the Los Angeles City Hall, the Bradbury Building, the Griffith Observatory, and other projects, the firm has played a large part in revitalizing the metropolis. Founding principal Brenda Levin, FAIA, will discuss her firm’s role in this complex urban center and demonstrate the importance of preserving the built past. Following the program, she will sign copies of her book Levin and Associates Architects: Selected and Current Works. This program is presented in celebration of National Historic Preservation Month. $12 Museum members, National Trust for Historic Preservation members, and students; $20 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


Domestic Violence Forum, May 31
Cherita Whiting,

Join us in our fight to stop all domestic violence. The Ward Four Education Council presents its second forum on domestic violence on Thursday, May 31, 6:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m., at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School, 6315 5th Street, NW. Moderators, EZ Street and Jeannie Jones, 93.9 KYS radio personalities. Keynote speakers: Chief of Police Cathy Lanier, DC Metropolitan Police Department, on how the police department will handle domestic violence in our communities? And Mildred Muhammad, ex-wife of DC Sniper John Muhammad Come hear her story: The terror of living in fear at the hands of a domestic violence perpetrator and survival in the aftermath of such a horrible life experience. Other special guest speakers: Karen Cunningham, executive director, Women Empowerment Against Violence (WEAVE). Help is available for victims and their families: DC has the highest teen DV rate in the country. LaVika Bhagat Singh, chief operating officer, Children Network International. What impact does domestic violence have on children who have parents that are victims of domestic abuse? Sponsors: DC Women Commission for Women, Safeway Food Store. Contact info, 487-5926



Learn Skype Videoconferencing
Phil Shapiro,

I was recently hired for a part-time job teaching English to teens in Korea, using Skype videoconferencing, a free Internet service. The person who hired me gave me some excellent practice sessions using Skype. I feel compelled to pass along that goodwill and know-how to anyone here in the DC area who would like a short Skype orientation. I provide these short trainings using the Skype videoconferencing service itself. One thing I like a lot about Skype is that it works very well between Mac and Windows computers (as well as between Mac/Mac and Windows/Windows.) Send me an E-mail if you’d like an orientation session to Skype. Windows users can do videoconferencing on a fairly wide range of recent computers using something as inexpensive as a $30 webcam and a headset with microphone. Purchasers of recent Macs can use Skype videoconferencing with the built-in iSight camera in their MacBooks, MacBook Pro’s and iMacs. I’m pretty sure I can offer the orientation training to you even if you don’t have a camera on your side. (That would be a video to audio Skype call.) Videoconferencing is also one of those technologies that can help us keep more cars off the roads, a worthy goal in itself.


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