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March 19, 2008

Taking Aim

Dear Aimers:

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Second Amendment case of Heller v. DC. As you know, the District’s main argument was that the Second Amendment guarantee of a right “to keep and bear arms” has nothing to do with weapons, but that “arms” refers only to upper body appendages, as in arms and legs. DC’s attorney, Walter Dellinger, said that in his opinion the meaning of the Second Amendment is that two-armed soldiers make for a better militia than one-armed or even armless soldiers, so the government shouldn’t chop off potential militia members’ arms. Several Supreme Court justices seemed to be skeptical of DC’s claim that the Second Amendment is simply a guarantee against governmental amputations. Other justices, however, seemed to support the city’s position. Justice Stephen Breyer asked Heller’s attorney, Alan Gura, if he disputed the duty of government officials to violate citizens’ Constitutional rights if the officials thought they had a really, really good reason to, and Gura, at the urging of Justice Scalia, said “Yes.” If you’re at all skeptical of my account of the arguments (although I have no idea why you should be), you can read the transcript yourself at or hear the proceedings at rtsp://

Gary Imhoff


Firearms in DC
Bruce Snyder,

Judging by what I’ve been reading lately, the Supreme Court seems to be hard at work confusing itself: a militia vs. the militia? If weapons-appropriate-to-a-militia are legal, might I expect to confront a tank coming down Euclid Street? The Court seems to believe in the rights of states, except when it doesn’t. Some Justices go on about “original intent” except when inconvenient to their argument. We can’t seem to get out of our box.

Suggestions: the practical: treat weapons like automobiles — the gun gets a license, you get a license, you get insurance, you get tested for skill and safety. Armed when drunk, armed without a license, armed recklessly are treated along the same analogy. The literal: anyone buying a weapon is enrolled in our new Militia. There will be mandatory weapons training and drill. Anyone whose weapon is used dangerously or unlawfully (by anyone) is subject to court martial, with the rules of evidence of a court martial. Original intent: Americans have the right to own any muzzle-loading weapon.

Just for a change, wouldn’t it be neat if we thought about instead of fought about it?

[Since, judging by justices’ questions during the oral argument, at least a majority of the Supreme Court seems ready to affirm the Second Amendment’s guarantee of an individual right to keep and bear arms, Bruce is correct that we should debate how the city government should react to such a ruling. Bruce is also right that the Supreme Court would certainly accept “reasonable” regulations on gun ownership, although it is in doubt what standard of review the Court will require. The question is whether the mayor and city council will adopt reasonable regulations that would pass either an intermediate or strict standard of review, or whether they will be defiant and pass regulations that are so stringent and draconian that they amount to another gun ban, and lead to another decade of litigation. I take Bruce’s suggestion of mandatory militia membership for those who want to own a gun to be a joke, since the recognition of an individual right would sever it from the explanatory militia clause. However, I’m not sure that he doesn’t mean seriously his suggestion that the Second Amendment guarantees only the right to own the kinds of guns that existed in the eighteenth century. If basic rights were dependent on there being no technological advances, then wouldn’t the First Amendment also guarantee freedom of the press only to those who use hand presses and not to those who use electric presses, radio, film, television, or the Internet? — Gary Imhoff]


DC Jobs for DC Residents
Victoria McKernan,

First it was the baseball stadium’s failing to hire enough DC laborers, now Eliot Spitzer is shipping in his hookers from New York! What ever happened to DC jobs for DC residents? Should we really sit back and let the whole world think that our city can’t provide a few good (call) girls? Where is the outcry?


ANC 6A Requests Withdrawal of Current H Street TIF
Joseph Fengler, Chair ANC 6A,

[An open letter to city council Chairman Vincent Gray] At our regularly scheduled and properly noticed meeting on March 13, our Commission voted 7-0 to request the council to withdraw the current Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Program for H Street, NE, and approve a TIF program that will encourage diversification and preservation of existing small properties versus providing incentives for consolidation of property for large scale development. The Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Program is an economic development tool administered jointly by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. This program allows the District government to sell bonds backed by a development’s future taxes, with the bond money helping to pay the developer’s construction costs. TIF is not a loan; the development’s taxes, which would already have to be paid, are used to pay back the principal and interest on the bonds. Development costs that can be covered range from surveys to demolition to preservation.

A TIF project must satisfy two criteria. One, provide contributions to achieving public objectives that could not be achieved without TIF. Two, provide prospects for achieving a positive net fiscal impact. TIF projects approved in the past were for major downtown project including entertainment, retail, housing, offices, and parking, and neighborhood retail center on city-owned or privately held land which has remained underutilized. The $25 million TIF project approved for H Street are for projects that exceed 10,000 square feet of retail total with more than 5,000 square feet should set aside for an anchor retail use. Accordingly, only large lots like the H Street Connection and AutoZone sites appear eligible. The RFP also strongly encourages applicants to obtain maximum density through the Planned Unit Development process. While the RFP does encourage applicants to create “partnerships” with existing businesses, small business owners can only receive funding if they are part of a larger project anchored by a large landholder.

It is the large square foot requirement that is a problem. While the TIF program has been used by the city to spur large-scale development that is likely to be undertaken without public assistance, the H Street NE properties are not conducive to such an approach. The foundation of H Street is based in the diversity of small businesses. Our community needs a TIF program that strives to preserve small business diversity and not large-scale uniform homogenization and consolidation. The current TIF favors land consolidation and not individual diversity. The council should not adopt a TIF that excludes small land owners from the benefits provided to large land owners. We urge the council to rescind the current TIF for H Street NE and authorize one that allows individual business on corridor to actively participate in this critical revitalization program.


Junior Colleges and UDC
William Haskett,

I was recently made aware, by Stephen Pearlstein’s article on UDC in the Washington Post [], that Alice Rivlin at Brookings was preparing a new set of proposals involving the creation of a system of junior colleges for the District of Columbia. This has obvious implications for UDC, not all of them adverse, but certainly requiring a rethinking of many aspects of the University’s operations. I wish to make the interconnection more explicit, and to connect them with the present alterations in the overall position of DC public schools under the direction of Mayor Fenty and his appointed Superintendent, Ms. Rhee. I take as a premise the assumption that any scheme to provide college or university level education must take into account the now forty-year experience of UDC and its struggles with itself and with the challenges peculiar to the District’s educational system, which reveal simply that nothing has worked very well or for a long period of time, and that it is time to rethink the assumptions upon previous proposals have foundered.

The principal lesson of all of this, it seems to me, is that the transformation of schools and colleges must involve a nearly simultaneous program of change in the society which largely sends them its students, and is dependent upon the schools for its own well-being and ultimate prosperity. The business models that dominate our present landscape do, of course, effect a transformation of DC but largely for the benefit of the city for a future population, hardly at all for its present one. The changes are most obvious and visible at the center and least obvious in the neighborhoods where most of the affected population actually lives and works. At present, over half of UDC’s students stand in need of remedial work in both mathematics and English. They are therefore casualties before the event, and the jobs that become available to change their situation do not come to them, or do so only with difficulty. The profile of employability and success is marked by this continuity, which has been the story since 1968, and is largely the inevitable result of the failures of DCPS before and after that date. I stipulate these, and leave to others to recount them.

This would suggest the pressing need for a new logic of practices, personnel, and administration, built around and giving to these facts the most careful and complete attention. It should be pointed out that the average age of most students at UDC throughout this entire period has been close to 26-27, requiring thought about what the University has done and is doing in terms of adult-education, with an almost eight- to nine-year interval between graduation from high school and higher education. Too little has been done to acknowledging this demographic condition. We are now presented with an opportunity forced on us by circumstances. In the present budgetary crisis now experienced by most funding sources for higher education, budget shortfalls force states to think of ways to transfer funds from failed or less-efficient institutions to new ones with better prospects of success. With due care. this apparently adverse circumstance might, for a short time, present the District with the chance of doing better now what was first attempted four decades ago.

Why not 1) concentrate resources. presently diffused over far too many empty degree courses in too many subjects, upon this neglected group. 2) Look at older plans for creating at UDC a pre-college year where most students would concentrate on removing these historic defects. This would be a huge change in what is presently thought of as “extension,” and now become the focus of the actual and needed work on the part of incoming students. 3) Placement out of this needed work would be by an examination developed to get at real capacities, to assure the capacity to do college level work. There would be either no time limits or, perhaps, at most one year of this, with attention to individual problems and large hirings of subject specialists (especially in mathematics and English) who are also aware of the social dimensions of what they are trying to do. 4) Coordinate more closely with the local and regional job markets, and create a more rapid and more flexible program (curriculum) design in whatever components of the present university survived a new analysis of purpose. 5) A fraction of the present budget of UDC, perhaps $125 million, would surely suffice for this kind of thing. 6) New appointments, especially of younger staff with commitment to this work rather than to academic careers elsewhere, would have to be made. 7) New boards and a minimized administration, with a single-minded dedication to clear tasks and a willingness to accept risks of failure for promise of success, would also be needed.


DC House & Building History on Goggle Maps
Paul Williams,

It’s taken us awhile, but we have plotted nearly 2,000 house and building histories that we have researched in Washington, DC, on Google Maps, and will add others in the future as research is completed. Each red pushpin includes house or building address, date constructed, architect and builder. There are two maps:

NW Washington, DC (two pages, so scroll down address list for page 2):,-77.057784&spn=0.05862,0.11673&z=13

And NE, SE, & SW Washington, DC:,-76.994226&spn=0.117277,0.233459&z=12

Enjoy! (If we have researched on your block, your entitled to $100 off a house history of your own at


No Computer Tax, No Tolls
Robert J. Kabel,

[Open letter to city council Chairman Vincent Gray] The DC Republican Committee strongly objects to the idea of introducing a commuter tax in the form of new tolls as proposed by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Transportation Policy Board.

As Chairman of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, we encourage you to consider the additional financial burden tolls will place on commuters and DC residents alike. We implore you to identify other avenues to locate sources of funding for our roads, bridges, and tunnels that will not raise taxes or fees.

By introducing tolls in the Washington Metropolitan area, many of our most vulnerable citizen,; those on fixed income, and the elderly will struggle to find resources to pay for tolls. Additionally, with the introduction of tolls, many residents will fear the continual increase of fees which will discourage business from moving to DC and place another financial hardship on those businesses already in DC.


DCPS Firings, Continued
Ted Gest, tgest at

Gary Imhoff and I agree on one major point about the firings: DCPS has a lot of explaining to do about who was fired and why. Example: It may be fine to fire many data processing people if that function is being taken up by the executive branch as a whole, but I don’t recall seeing a full explanation of that by the Fenty-Rhee administration. As for “due process” rights, sure, employees can complain about this, but I thought that point had been made to the city council before the law was passed allowing such firings. It would be nice to know if the administration specifically determined that the fired employees were not eligible for other school system jobs, but without knowing that, it is hard to evaluate what happened.

As another poster noted, the firing procedures used are standard in business today. It doesn’t seem that the administration is guilty of particularly cruel or brutal methods. The dispute over whether employees could take their personal belongings immediately (two media reports) or had to come back to get them (one report) seems fairly minor in the overall scheme of things. Unfortunately, the central office employees should have seen this coming, after all the public discussion of it. But the taxpayers still deserve more details.


E-Mail Ban
Jonathan Rees,

After my going to the US Attorney with my grievance against Mayor Adrian Fenty, the ban against DC government workers receiving our E-mails and being able to access our blog from work appears to have been lifted (for now), as many are reporting to us.


Opting Out of Comcast and RCN
Regina Owens,

Gwen Southerland wrote about the bait and switch tactics employed by Comcast [themail, February 3]. She is not alone, and neither is Comcast. I experienced the same problem with RCN. The DC Cable Commission was very responsive and attentive and put me in touch with their contact at RCN, who was equally responsive. She assured me there would be a correction upon receipt of the next bill. It never happened. Everyday, I spent at least an hour on hold awaiting a live body with whom I could discuss the issue. Sometimes the result would be a closed office and a message to call back during business hours, and other times the live body I reached would transfer me to someone at another division who would indicate it was not their problem. I paid the bill because they severed my service for nonpayment (and, yes, I do need cable in my home). The entire cable industry needs to be overhauled and better regulated.



National Building Museum Events, March 26
Jazmine Zick,

Wednesday, March 26, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Smart Growth: Revitalizing Urban Neighborhoods. Jair Lynch, president and CEO of the Jair Lynch Company, presents his firm’s experience applying smart growth techniques to revitalize urban neighborhoods in Washington, DC. Free. Registration not required. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


DC Youth Advocacy Training, March 22
Martina Gillis,

This Saturday, March 22, from 12:30-3:30 p.m., the DC Youth Advisory Council, the Fair Budget Coalition and the DC Women’s Agenda are providing an advocacy training for DC Youth, 13-24 years old. The workshop will be held at The True Reformer Building, 1200 U Street, NW. The workshop will prepare young people to participate in the democratic process, including an overview of the DC budget process and tips and role play for meeting with and giving testimony to DC leaders. Please help spread the word and encourage all youth that you know to attend. Please RSVP to Kristi Matthews, 328-1262.


UDC Book, Literary, and Poetry Festival, March 27-29
Juanita Britton,

Literature Live, a three-day book festival celebrating the diverse and vibrant literary life of Washington, DC, will be held on March 27, 28, and 29. There will be book signings and sales, poetry readings, a poetry slam contest, readings, and panel discussions. Meet DC agents, editors, and authors. Event locations will be Busboys and Poets, the Thurgood Marshall Center, and the University of the District of Columbia. This event is presented by UDC and Hurston/Wright. For a complete schedule of events, times, and locations, visit or


CFSA Budget Briefing, April 8
Susie Cambria,

DC Action for Children and others are sponsoring a community briefing on the mayor’s proposed FY 2009 budget for the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA). The event is being held on April 8 from 9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. at the Goethe-Institut, 812 7th Street, NW. Attendees will hear from Dr. Sharlynn Bobo, director of CFSA, and will have the opportunity to ask questions following her presentation. Meeting attendees will receive a copy of the CFSA budget, a list of child- and youth-related hearings, and other important information about the budget process and advocacy. You may attend for free but registration is required. Send your name, organization, title, complete address, telephone number, fax number, and E-mail address to DC Action for Children,


Lorraine H. Whitlock Memorial Dinner, April 25
Villareal Johnson,

Join the Ward 7 Democrats as we celebrate the life of Lorraine H. Whitlock, a heroine for the ages, at the fifth annual Lorraine H. Whitlock memorial dinner. Her memorial is a public testimonial to a needed service to the people of Ward 7. Help us to continue her legacy by passing her tradition of service on to our next generation of resident.

The dinner will be held on Friday, April 25, at 7:00 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.), at St. Luke’s Center, St. Luke’s Catholic Church, 49th and East Capitol Streets, SE. Save on tickets when you purchase by March 31: single ticket, $35; table for eight, $240. After March 31: single ticket, $50; table for eight, $400. To sponsor an advertisement in the souvenir program or for more information about ticket purchases, please contact Villareal Johnson, or 582-9056. Proceeds help support the Lorraine H. Whitlock Memorial Scholarship Fund, which is awarded to graduating Ward 7 seniors attending a Ward 7 high school.


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