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July 22, 2007

Bad Idea

Dear Thinkers:

The award for worst bad government idea this week goes to Councilmember Mary Cheh. I hope that she said what she said in a fit of momentary resentment and pique, and now regrets it. But I doubt that, so I think it is worth pointing out how wrong she was. Cheh actually had a good week. On July 17, the Office of Campaign Finance released its final report and order in a complaint about her campaign that had been filed by Jonathan Rees. The order is available in PDF format by going to, and clicking on Mary Cheh (you may have to use Internet Explorer to get this page to work). The complaint had essentially two parts. The first was not a complaint against Cheh, but against Joe Sternlieb and Linda Singer, whom Rees accused of creating a political action committee (PAC) to raise campaign funds for Cheh, and failing to register the PAC or file financial reports for it. The second was a charge that Cheh paid an unusually low rent for her campaign headquarters space, and that the difference between the low rent and the market rate rent constituted an illegally large campaign contribution from the realty company, P.N. Hoffman, that managed the building.

Joseph Sternlieb and Linda Singer are a married couple who are politically active in Wards 3 and 4. They were prominent supporters and fundraisers both in Mayor Fenty’s primary and general campaigns and in Councilmember Cheh’s primary and general campaigns in Ward 3. Sternlieb is a developer whose career began as the committee clerk for Charlene Drew Jarvis on the Committee on Economic Development. He helped write the legislation that established Business Improvement Districts, moved from that position to become a senior official of the Downtown BID, and left the BID to enter development. His current company, EastBanc, is the sole-source beneficiary of the mayor’s and council’s “emergency” giveaway of the West End Library, fire station, and police office. Linda Singer, who had been executive director of DC Appleseed, was appointed by Mayor Fenty as the District’s Attorney General, at a time when she was not a member of the DC Bar. Rees charged that Sternlieb and Singer called together a group of people to interview Ward Three council candidates, that the group selected Mary Cheh as its preferred candidate, and then raised money to support her campaign, which would fit the definition of a PAC. Rees called the group “Friends of Joe Sternlieb,” and the OCF makes a big point of the fact that the group was called “Ward 3 Action,” and not “Friends of Joe Sternlieb.” The OCF wrote letters to several members of this group and interviewed a few, whose interviews it summarizes in its report. It did not receive a reply to its letter inquiry from Attorney General Singer, and did not attempt to interview her, but accepted the representation of her husband that she was not involved with the group or in any of the group’s activity. Sternlieb, whom the OCF identifies as a developer and "community leader," an honorific it doesn’t accord to anyone else in its report, represented that the group did not raise money for Cheh as a group, but as individuals, and that he did not collect contributions from others, but merely loaned his name to fundraisers for her and informed others of how they could contribute to her campaign. On this evidence, the OCF came to the conclusion that the group was not legally a PAC.

The amount of office space occupied by the Cheh campaign is at the heart of the second controversy. Rees and two workers in the Christian Science Reading Room next door to the campaign headquarters said that the campaign occupied the entire space vacated by its former occupant. People associated with the rental company and the campaign, however, testified that the campaign used only two or three rooms in that space, and paid an appropriate rent for that amount of space. OCF credits their testimony, and again rejects Rees’ charge. The OCF did find that the Cheh campaign published a campaign flyer without the required identifying notice that the committee paid for the flyer. It fined Cheh $500 for the violation, and suspended that fine.

Jonathan Rees is controversial. I know that because every time I publish one of his messages in themail, I get E-mails saying I should never publish anything by him, and saying that the writers will never read or submit anything to themail again because I used a message by Rees. But his suspicions and charges of campaign irregularities in this matter seem perfectly reasonable to me, even if they were not upheld by the Office of Campaign Finance. Now, here’s the worst bad government idea that Cheh promoted, from the Post article about the OCF’s report ( “Cheh said she was outraged about the time and money spent by the city because ‘one misguided individual, Jonathan Rees, thought he could make mischief.’ Cheh said Rees should have to repay the city for the waste of time resulting from his ‘malicious charges.’” On the contrary, a citizen who witnesses what he believes to be misconduct in a political campaign should be encouraged to report it to the Office of Campaign Finance. Cheh, instead, wants to discourage it — to wreck retribution on citizens if the OCF doesn’t support their complaints. This is nothing but a politician’s protection racket. What citizen would dare to report misconduct at the risk of being charged tens of thousands of dollars or more if the investigating agency doesn’t support the complaint? What Cheh’s proposal would do is shut OCF down as an investigative agency. If anything qualifies as malicious, misguided mischief, it is this.

Gary Imhoff


Restaurants or Taverns?
Jack McKay,

There’s a rush of restaurants filing for tavern licenses as a deadline for meeting food sales requirements approaches. What’s not made clear in the media reports is that this rush is not about restaurants overnight deciding to transform themselves into bars, but about restaurants that face extinction due to these requirements.

The DC Code requires a restaurant liquor licensee to have 45 percent of its gross receipts be for food, or to sell $2000 of food per “occupant” (not per seat, as the media insist on saying) per year. Restaurants have certificates of occupancy with numbers well above the number of seats, so this criterion implies over $3000 per seat, which is no doubt trivial in Georgetown, but unthinkable in lower-income neighborhoods. So the focus is on the 45 percent number. This sound sensible, but a large number of restaurants here in Ward 1 don’t meet that number. It’s not because they’re simply bars in disguise, but because their customers insist on doing more drinking than eating. Maybe they’re not the model of white-tablecloth, cloth-napkin restaurants, but they’re not bars, either. They’re something in between, urban pubs.

What is such a restaurant to do? “Sell more food,” say the critics, as if the restaurateurs can simply force their customers to eat more. “You can get a tavern license,” certain politicians assured us in 2004, when this problem was on the horizon. But now that the time has arrived, that assurance is forgotten, and politicians object to giving these restaurants tavern licenses, as if that would in fact transform them into bars. The District Council has now stopped, by law, the issuance of new tavern licenses in Adams Morgan. But if these restaurants cannot meet the 45 percent criterion, so their restaurant liquor licenses are terminated, and they’re also denied conversion to tavern licenses — well, what happens next? A restaurant without a liquor license is not viable, so it goes bust. That does the community no good. Councilmember Graham has led the way to a six-month postponement of this onerous condition, while the council investigates its consequences for low-cost restaurants. Good for him, I say.


The Bills Aren’t in themail
Dorothy Brizill,

On Tuesday, July 10, at its final legislative session prior to summer recess, the city council adopted forty-four separate bills as “emergency” legislation. This past Friday, however, ten days after their passage, most of these bills were not available from the council’s Office of Legislative Services. Most of them were still being drafted and reviewed by the General Counsel’s Office.


Upcoming Council Elections
Tanya Washington,

In 2008 there will be elections for several council seats, including Wards 2, 4, 7, 8, and Kwame Brown’s and Carol Schwartz’s at-large seats. I don’t live in Ward 2, but I’ve been keeping track of the controversy about the emergency disposition of the West End library, and the police and fire stations. Jack Evans’ seat is one of those up for election. I don’t know if Councilmember Evans plans to run for reelection, but next year’s election is an opportunity that all Ward 2 residents will have to make their sentiments known about who should represent their ward’s interests.


Voter Registration Deadline
Bill O’Field,

Residents of the District of Columbia who are not registered to vote must register by the close of business on Monday, July 23, in order to be eligible to vote in the August 21 special election for the District One (Wards 1 and 2) member of the Board of Education.


Contractor Misconduct Database
Ernesto Gluecksmann, Eglue @

On July 18, Project On Government Oversight, a federal watchdog group, released their improved Federal Contractor Misconduct Database ( It lists instances of misconduct of the top fifty federal contractors that, despite their troubles, continue to be awarded with millions in taxpayer funds. Is there something similar, a list of DC contractors with histories of misconduct? If not, wouldn’t it be nice if there were?


Let’s Have a Parade
Gabe Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com

Friday about 1 p.m. I saw a parade — marchers, banners, police escort, traffic blocked — marching up 14th Street, NW, around Freedom Plaza. Naturally, traffic was mightily bollixed. The banners were in an Asian language and I never did figure out what it was about. Matters weren’t helped by a repaving project on 15th Street. I understand midday repaving, but what possessed the city to allow a parade in the middle of the day in a high-density traffic area? Does anyone know who was parading, or for what?


Lawsuit Against Dorothy Brizill Dismissed
Art Spitzer, ACLU of the National Capital Area, artspitzer at aol dot com

As some readers know, Dorothy Brizill was sued in the Superior Court of Guam last summer, for defamation, invasion of privacy, and “tortious interference with prospective business advantage,” by the sponsors of a ballot initiative that would have legalized slot machine gambling on Guam. The lawsuit was based on Dorothy’s statements, in a telephone interview with a Guam radio station, about the 2004 slot machine initiative here in DC, which had been backed by the same financial interests that were backing the initiative on Guam.

I have had the pleasure of representing Dorothy in that lawsuit. I’m pleased to report that on July 19 the Guam court granted our motion to dismiss the case. Judge Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson ruled that Dorothy’s statements were fully protected by Guam’s “Citizen Participation in Government Act,” an excellent statute that immunizes from civil liability all public statements made “in furtherance of the Constitutional rights of petition, including seeking relief, influencing action, informing, communicating and otherwise participating in the processes of government . . . regardless of intent or purpose, except where not aimed at procuring any government or electoral action, result or outcome.” As the court noted, “It is not uncommon in public debate . . . that the moral character and personal or professional background of proponents, and opponents, becomes the focus of discussion. . . . The Guam Act is intended to allow for such discussion . . . no matter how painful or potentially harmful.”

Nevertheless, the plaintiffs’ lawyer has stated that an appeal is likely. A copy of the Guam court’s ruling will soon be posted on the ACLU of the National Capital Area’s web site,


Tinted Car Windows
Carolyn Long,

Thanks to those who elucidated DC’s laws regarding excessively tinted automobile windows [themail, July 18]. As a pedestrian, when crossing the street I want to be able to look at the driver approaching the crosswalk to make sure he or she sees me and is prepared to give me the right-of-way. Then, when I cross in front of the car, I wave a thank-you to the driver.

There are probably all sorts of legitimate reasons why people want to darken the windows of their cars, but if the windows are so dark that the driver and passengers cannot be seen, it makes one suspect that they are up to no good.


DC Library in the West End
Jim Champagne,

People seem to have overlooked the obvious. To wit: Nader writes to the city attorney about the problematic legal status of how some city council members gave away the land to a developer in the dark of night. Unfortunately, the developer is married to the city attorney.

Also, their names (the city attorney and her husband the developer) figured prominently in the case involving possible illegal campaign contribution to the ultimate winner of the Ward 3 Council seat in the last election. Does anyone care that the erstwhile "leaders" of the city have no sense of duty or honor? Very internecine indeed. Very internecine indeed.


Message to MacFarlane
Ed Delaney,

From “Evans said another option that had been discussed is construction of a soccer stadium next to RFK, which would then be torn down.” These discussions are puzzling in view of the baseball brigade’s assertions, when the cost cap was exceeded at the M Street, SE, ballpark site that an environmental impact study of the RFK Stadium site would uncover “heavy environmental problems that would trigger [stadium construction] delays of up to three years” (Washington Times, December 7, 2005) and “federal and congressional approval, [including] approval from the Park Service, the National Capital Planning Commission and the US Commission of Fine Arts,” (Washington Post, December 2, 2005). (The ironic postscript to the Brigade’s deceit, all of which was whitewashed by the usual suspects in the local newsrooms, was that the RFK Stadium site already had an independent and extensive environmental impact study done on it, unlike the M Street, SE, site, which reportedly had at least fifty-three oil tanks, many of them leaking, and asbestos at the site — yet none of that ever yielded a single independent environmental study, let alone a call for one made by the major local media.) I guess now that the Brigade isn’t trying to artificially inflate cost and delay times at the RFK Stadium site, and because they now want to put something there, the land is suddenly viable? At least be consistent in your publicly financed stadium pitches, Evans!

“During the negotiations, DC United officials suggested they would consider moving if the District was unable to help build a new stadium, the sources said. ‘We’re keeping our options open,’ said Julie Chase, a spokeswoman for MacFarlane. ‘We need a new stadium somewhere in the DC area. I can’t put parameters on that.’” Before we let MacFarlane, et al., run wild with relocation threats and blackmail (which the Post article sets up perfectly for him while failing to note any weakness of his stance or strength of the city’s stance), everyone associated with this issue, especially those in city government, ought to take note of the following excerpt from the December 25, 2006, Washington Business Journal: “It’s a little too early in the development cycle, but MacFarlane says he also has his eyes trained on some of the city’s largest redevelopment opportunities, including the National Capital Revitalization Corp.’s 25-acre McMillan reservoir site and the Anacostia Waterfront Corp.’s 100-plus acres at Poplar Point and 67 acres at Reservation 13, both along the Anacostia River. It’s not all smooth: MacFarlane already suffered his first defeat. Herb Miller had partnered with MacFarlane to finance a $300 million condo and retail complex, around a 900-space parking structure at the new $611 million baseball stadium. The deal eventually collapsed in the fall and Miller sued. MacFarlane has moved on. He says the episode didn’t scare him off. ‘It would give me pause if that was the only opportunity available in D.C.,’ he says. ‘But when you are talking about having — pick a number -- $5 billion to $10 billion in public-private opportunities just in D.C. — it’s a huge amount.’”

MacFarlane is wrong if he thinks he can make the city meet his demands by threatening relocation. Putting aside the magnificence of certain bastards for the moment, here’s MacFarlane’s playbook right in front of us — one that’s eerily similar to the antics of his partner and Evans’ close personal friend and city sue-er [wink] Herb Miller! This is not the end but the beginning of MacFarlane’s negotiations with the city and the likes of Jack Evans, but the city has clear leverage due to MacFarlane’s stated intentions, and therefore the city needs to stop the relocation blackmail game immediately. If MacFarlane really wants to risk all of those $5 billion to $10 billion public-private opportunities that he could be in on, that’s fine. However, the city should let him know in no uncertain terms that an out-of-town developer who’s been making hollow gestures of community support will not be welcome as a development partner with the city in any project if he holds our soccer franchise hostage for any length of time.

Not only that, but Major League Soccer values the presence of a team here and isn’t likely to let someone who was looking for a public handout from the get-go in the form of development and stadium subsidies bolt from one of the league’s most successful markets. It is conceivable that a deal could be worked out that gives the team a more favorable leasing arrangement at RFK Stadium, a stadium with tens of millions of dollars in recent renovations and terrific parking and Metro/roadway access, combined with the ability to house large-scale soccer matches and concerts for many more years. Let’s see the city move on a project like this for once that’s prompted not by a developer with his hands out for public money but by concerns for the good of the city! (I know it’s not the hoped-for dinky twenty-five-thousand-seat open-air facility that’s virtually useless for other sports or for concert functions in an area where Nissan Pavilion, Wolf Trap, etc. have the open-air venue market cornered, but it’s a lot better deal than MLS is likely to get anywhere else!) The previous ownership group (Global Development Partners) who attempted to get the city to help finance a stadium project simply sold the team rather than engage in relocation blackmail, and MacFarlane should be told to do so ASAP if he wants to be part of the city’s other development opportunities.

The one thing I don’t want to hear from the city is “We had to give MacFarlane what he wanted, or else,” which is basically what they cried out after caving on the lease deal when the city had significant leverage and the ability to make a deal that worked for all involved, including the public.



DC Public Library Events
Randi Blank,

Monday, July 23, 6:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Enhanced Business Information Center (e-BIC), A-level, e-BIC Conference Center. How to Get an SBA 7(a) Loan. Learn how to finance your business through the Small Business Administration (SBA) 7(a) loan guaranty program. Find out how it works, where to apply and what lenders look for on your application. For more information, call 727-2241.

Monday, July 23, 7:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Room 222. All the World's a Stage Book Club. We will discuss The Year 1000: What Life Was Like at the Turn of the First Millennium, by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger. For more information, call 727-1161.

Tuesday, July 24, 2:30 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Enhanced Business Information Center (e-BIC), A-level, e-BIC Conference Center. Starting a Home-Based Business. This session walks you through the tax and licensing requirements for a sole proprietor consultant who is doing business out of his or her home. Please call 727-2241 to reserve a seat.

Tuesday, July 24, 6:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, 901 G Street, NW, Enhanced Business Information Center (e-BIC), A-level, e-BIC Conference Center. How to Find and Finance Commercial Property. This class will teach a step-by-step process to finding commercial real estate in Washington, DC. You will become familiar with the DC real estate market and learn about the demographics of the various business districts in the city. For more information, call 727-2241.

Tuesday, July 24, 7:00 p.m., Takoma Park Neighborhood Library, 416 Cedar Street, NW. Takoma Park Book Club. To find out what book will be discussed, please call 576-7252.


Akbar Ahmen at Politics and Prose, July 28
Jaime Fearer,

There will be an author talk and book signing of Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization, by Akbar Ahmed, at Politics and Prose Bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Avenue, NW, on Saturday, July 28, at 6:00 p.m. ( In response to the events of September 11, Akbar Ahmed — a Brookings Institution nonresident senior fellow, professor of Islamic Studies at American University, and former high commissioner of Pakistan to Great Britain — led a team of young Americans on an unprecedented listening tour of the Muslim world. Journey into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization (Brookings, 2007) is the riveting story of their search for common ground in the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia. The project — sponsored by American University, the Brookings Institution, and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life -- focuses its mission to help Islam and the West move past the hatred and mistrust that have characterized relations between the cultures.

Akbar Ahmed is the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is former high commissioner of Pakistan to Great Britain and has taught at Princeton, Harvard, and Cambridge Universities. His many books include After Terror: Promoting Dialogue among Civilizations, with Brian Forst (Polity, 2005), Islam under Siege: Living Dangerously in a Post-Honour World (Polity, 2003) and Discovering Islam: Making Sense of Muslim History and Society (Routledge, 2002).



Original 1887 Hopkins Maps For Sale
Paul Williams,

I still have a number of original, 2' x 4' sized original, hand colored GM Hopkins maps for sale if anyone is still interested. These are rare to find anywhere, and they make a great gift when framed and on the wall. They show all structures on the site or square built by that date, wood frame, brick, stores, etc., along with many family names, etc. (I also have full sized scanned prints of each map in original size) They can all be found at



Panelists Needed for Book Discussion Video
Phil Shapiro,

I’m looking for two or three persons to join a panel discussion about the book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, by DC author Daniel Pink. The video from this panel discussion will be uploaded to Google Video. Please send me an E-mail if you’d like to be involved.


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