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May 4, 2008


Dear Popular Correspondents:

I’ve been thinking recently about the popularity of politicians, and why some politicians with little to brag about in terms of positive accomplishments retain great popularity. Part of the explanation is personality, or at least the image of personality that the politician projects. But that doesn’t begin to explain the phenomenon. Take Mayor Adrian Fenty (where else did you think I was going with this; themail is about local issues, after all). Fenty has chosen education as his signature issue, and he promised that he would rapidly improve the education provided by DC public schools. That claim of rapid results has been progressively diluted to promising measurable results in three years, results in five years, and in the latest statements by School Chancellor Rhee to results in eight years. Fenty has claimed credit for all the public development projects that have been in the pipeline for years, and for all the private development projects that have been finished in the last year and a half, but he has little to show that is the result of his own administration’s efforts. He hasn’t done much to advance public safety, public works (the city’s potholes and roller-coaster street surfaces are winning over smooth streets again), or a legislative agenda. But the press still swoons over him, and he has retained a very high popularity rating in polls.

I think that the explanation is that politicians are popular not just for what they accomplish, but for who their enemies are, for whom they fight. The messages by Candi Peterson and Qawi Robinson below exemplify that. Fenty and Rhee have fired or are in the process of firing public school central office employees, principals, counselors, and teachers, and they are engaged in a concentrated effort to bust the teachers union. What Fenty and Rhee know is that Fenty’s core supporters, childless yuppies and new, short-term Washingtonians, don’t like public school employees, even classroom teachers. They don’t feel any connection to the schools, and they’re happy to see school employees and union members hurt, even if school children aren’t helped.

Fenty has fought taxicab drivers over the meter issue. Meters won’t benefit riders, of course; cab rides won’t be any cheaper, and riders’ fears of being cheated under the zone system were exaggerated. (Besides, to make riders who think all cab drivers are crooks more nervous, a fare meter that has been easily jiggered with a screwdriver can’t be detected by riders, while any knowledgeable rider can read a fare zone street map.) The meters will hurt taxi drivers, though. Again, what keeps Fenty popular is not the questionable benefits of this “reform,” but the fact that cab drivers oppose it and that enough people dislike cab drivers as a group to make it a politically popular move to hurt drivers.

Do you have an alternate explanation? Let everybody know; send it to themail.

Gary Imhoff


Chancellor Rhee Gives DCPS Elementary School Counselors the Boot
Candi Peterson,

On Saturday, May 3, Mr. Jesus Aguirre from the Office of the Chancellor told some local DC public school restructuring teams in a citywide meeting that DCPS elementary school counselor positions will not be funded in DCPS elementary schools that do not have a minimum of six hundred students. At a time when we need all the certified educators that we can find, I surmise that many elementary school counselors will join the pool of excessed teachers from DCPS closing and restructured schools who will be looking for new jobs beginning next Saturday.

As if this weren’t enough, DCPS literacy and math coach teachers were advised last Friday that they too will have to reapply for their newly reclassified jobs under new position titles, Literacy Professional Developer and Mathematics Professional Developer, at the DCPS teacher transfer fair next Saturday, May 10, at Eastern Senior High from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Check the DCPS web site,, and there you will find their jobs (fifty in total) newly reclassified with a May 30 deadline date by which to apply. The job announcement reads: “Use your Talents. Transform Our Schools.”

I am not here to criticize, but to give a Rhee-Ality check. Like their mentor, Chancellor Joel Klein of New York public schools, it appears that Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee believe that the way to reform public education is by firing the bottom half of public school employees. As Randi Weingarten, President of United Federation of Teachers, reported about Chancellor Joel Klein’s similar tactics, “And if you can’t fire them, make their lives miserable.” Instead of proposing creative solutions that would reform our public schools, Chancellor Rhee and Mayor Fenty continue down their path of destruction of our educational landscape which is counterproductive, destroys employee morale, wastes valuable talent, tarnishes future teacher recruitment efforts, and lacks a long-term educational strategic plan. After all, what competent, certified and experienced employees will be attracted to work in a system that regularly devalues and disrespects teachers, and fails to retain their existing pool of talented and certified educators?


Pork in the FY2009 Budget
Dorothy Brizill,

For the first time in the council’s history, there is a web page dedicated to the Office of the Council’s Budget Director. As the council committees completed their markup of Mayor Fenty’s fiscal year 2009 budget last week, links to all of the committee reports have now been posted on that page ( Several of the reports are interesting to read and give insights into the special earmarks and pork hidden in the District’s budget.

As just one example, I have looked at some projects being funded by the Committee on Public Works and the Environment, chaired by Ward One Councilmember Jim Graham. This committee is responsible for “matters relating to environmental protection regulation and policies; highways, bridges, traffic, regulation of alcoholic beverages, vehicles, the regulation of taxicabs, maintenance of public spaces, recycling, waste management, water supply, and wastewater treatment, and regional public transportation issues.” Despite oversight over very specific areas of the District government and budget, Graham’s committee report contains funding (mostly from fines generated by the FY2009 enhanced neighborhood parking control initiatives) for:

1) youth gang prevention and intervention activities, with funding being provided to three Ward One organizations ($1 million to the Columbia Heights/Shaw Family Support Collaborative; $100,000 to the Columbia Heights Youth Club; and $100,000 to the Reeves Recovery Group, Inc.); 2) $1.2 million in additional funding for capital funding and community project enhancements for the Lincoln Theater in Ward One; 3) DC Office of Latino Affairs FTE enhancement and program support ($475,000 in additional funding for the Office of Latino Affairs, $100,000 to the Neighbor’s Consejo, and $100,000 to the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities to support Fiesta DC); 4) identification, protection, and commemoration of the cemeteries at Walter C. Pierce Park in Ward One ($200,000 to Howard University for archaeological work and $140,000 to Washington Parks and People so that it may acquire four vacant properties in North Columbia Heights); 5) restoration of the murals in the Tivoli Theater and the dome of the Gala Hispanic Theater within the Tivoli Building in Ward One ($450,000); 6) funding support for the Source Theater ($200,000); 7) $300,000 in operational support for the Dance Institute of Washington in Ward One; 8) $100,000 in support for the Ethiopian Community Services and Development Council; 9) $100,000 in support for the Vietnamese-American Community Services Center; 10) $150,000 in support for the annual DC Caribbean Carnival and Festival; 11) $100,000 to Mt. Pleasant Main Street for the Mt. Pleasant responsible hospitality zone pilot program; and 12) $100,000 to Adams Morgan Main Street Group, Inc., for historic preservation of the fire-damaged Avalon building at 2627 Adams Mill Road, NW, in Ward One.


Reject the Proposed Budget Support Act of 2008
Mai Abdul Rahman,

Last year many in our city, who were perplexed and disappointed with our school failings and the inability of former mayors and school administrators to bring about meaningful school reform, gave up public input into and control over our schools. While this may have been well meaning at its onset, it has led to minimal public input on several school reforms, restructuring consolidation plans, budgets, and other school initiatives. DC citizens’ willingness to give up control of our schools has led the mayor and other DC officials to assume that we may also be willing to give up input and control on other serious matters. Hence the mayor’s proposed Budget Support Act of 2008, which will provide Mayor Fenty and the Deputy Mayor of Economic Development the legal means to consolidate their control of several funds and initiatives that are vital to our entire city. Furthermore, the Act will give the mayor the power to spend these funds without an implementation plan while offering his administration broader discretion in using and managing these funds. The proposed Act will also eliminate community input.

This Act, if approved by the council, will create a new special fund — the Unified Housing Fund — drastically modifying three existing funds: the Baseball Community Benefits Fund, the Neighborhood Investment Fund, and the Economic Development Fund. The proposed Act lacks specific objectives and the transparency necessary to maintain public awareness and oversight. In fact, this proposed legislation will alter the Neighborhood Investment Fund’s primary mission, meant to allow each ward and neighborhood to take part in the future planning of our communities and to ensure that city projects are planned, designed, and initiated with community input and reflective of community needs. In addition, the proposed Act provides the Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development control and discretion over the Economic Development Fund. According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, the Budget Support Act will provides the Deputy Mayor additional revenue ($5.13 million in addition to the proposed $23 million proposed in FY 09-12) from the lease of the Convention Center, Newseum, and other short term leases.

The mayor’s proposed legislation will allow him and his Deputy total control over the operation and the expenditures of these multimillion dollar funds without prior approval of the DC council, or the community. A note of caution: our city may trust Mayor Fenty’s discretion, but if they are approved these fund consolidations will be in place well beyond the mayor’s term, and may lead to the abdications of citizens’ input for years to come. The council must be urged to reject the proposed Budget Support Act of 2008- on the grounds that it lacks the transparency that will allow community and council oversight necessary to ensure good governance.


Local Press Coverage
Dorothy Brizill,

In the past two weeks, there have been two important developments at two major newspapers that will have a direct impact on the coverage of local issues. At the Washington Post, Theola Labbe will no longer be covering DC public schools. Labbe was widely respected by parents and civic leaders for her aggressive coverage of school issues, which drew the wrath of School Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Labbe, who sought the reassignment, has joined the Post’s investigative until, and will work on a “school-related project.” Bill Turque, who has covered politics and government in Fairfax County for the Post since 2006, will join reporter V. Dion Haynes on the school beat.

Last week, thirty staffers working at the Washington Times were fired as a result of “newsroom reorganization.” It is still not clear what impact the investigation will have on local coverage of District issues.


Taxi Confusion
Qawi Robinson,

After the court ruling, taxi meters will return to DC on June 1, after a seventy-year hiatus. The irony is that once again, even with the delay (that was predicted by all but the Fenty Administration), neither the city nor the DC Taxicab Commission is ready for this switch. Where will the enforcement come from to issue the $1000 fines? Will all taxis have to be reinspected upon receiving meters?

Currently, the city does a terrible job enforcing the law against Maryland and Virginia taxis picking up passengers. Even the law against illegal supermarket courtesy drivers is not enforced. Still, somehow all of this is supposed to be fixed in slightly over a month. With June 1 being a Sunday, traffic factors will probably prove favorable. However, June 2 will be the first work day of enforcement, and Nationals games will be held from June 3-9. This will prove to be a good test of how and whether the meter requirement will be enforced, and how that will affect taxi service and traffic.


Klingle Road
Laurie Collins,

For Jack McKay (themail, April 27) and Tony Bullock (themail, May 1) to say that we don’t need to repair Klingle Road because we now have growing retail in Columbia Heights, U Street, and Logan Circle is divisive, self-serving, and narrow minded. Yes, let’s make it “less compelling” for those in Cleveland Park, Georgetown, and others who live west of the park to shop or eat east of the park. Good idea. And while we’re at it, let’s keep looking at those aesthetically pleasing pictures posted at of what Klingle Road looks like today, because it seems to me it will surely cost the city more than two million dollars if someone happens to fall in one of the many trenches and deep holes in a place that some call Klingle Valley Park.



Cleveland Park Citizens Association, May 10
George Idelson,

Kwame R. Brown, at-large councilmember, will be the featured speaker at the May 10 meeting of the Cleveland Park Citizens Association. Issues to be discussed include economic development, the impact of over-development and, vocational education. The meeting, at the Cleveland Park Library (Newark and Connecticut, NW) begins at 10:30 a.m. Also on the agenda is ratification of a resolution: “Neighborhood Commercial Overlay and McLean Bible Church,” and the proposed 2008-09 officer slate for CPCA.


Industrial Design for Public Spaces, May 10
Jazmine Zick,

Saturday, May 10, 2:00-4:00 p.m., DAP 17: Rack On! Industrial Design for Public Spaces: Final Presentation. For DAP 17, teen designers worked with volunteer design professionals and studied industrial design and marketing and then designed and constructed new brochure racks for the Museum. Come see the finished products and hear about the process during this final presentation. Free. Registration not required. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line.


Welcome to Shirley Book Talk at Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library
Beth Meyer,

Kelly McMasters, the author of Welcome to Shirley: A Memoir of an Atomic Town, will give a book talk called “More Than Memoir: Writing Towards a Green Life” on Tuesday, May 20, at 6:30 p.m., in the first floor auditorium of the Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, Connecticut and Macomb Streets, NW. A book sale and signing of Welcome to Shirley, courtesy of the Trover Shop, will follow the program.

Ms. McMasters grew up in Shirley, a blue-collar town on the east end of Long Island. Shirley’s story serves as a touchstone for the Brookhaven National Lab; a nearby federal nuclear research facility and Superfund site. Three leaking nuclear reactors and countless chemical spills released carcinogens into Shirley and in 1996, town residents afflicted with breast, thyroid and lung cancers sued after lawyers, including Love Canal attorney Richard J. Lippes, took their case. Welcome to Shirley is the story of one young woman’s ability to find beauty in the most unlikely places and a small town’s fight for survival. Ms. McMasters’ articles and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post Magazine, and Glamour magazine. She is the co-curator of the Nonfiction Reading Series on Tuesday nights at the KGB bar in the East Village and teaches in the undergraduate program and at the Journalism Graduate School at Columbia University. 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.



AARP Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration Volunteers
Johanna Diaz,

As part of a fiftieth anniversary celebration, AARP will host its monumental event and expo, Life@50+, at the Washington Convention Center from September 4 to 6, and it is inviting eight hundred District-area residents to volunteer at the event. More than thirty thousand guests from across the nation are expected to participate in the anniversary events, that will include megawatt celebrity speakers, exhibits, seminars, lifestyle sessions, concerts on the mall, and more.

AARP is looking for enthusiastic volunteers with strong communication and people skills and an interest in serving as AARP ambassadors. Volunteers will receive T-shirts, meal vouchers, and free entrance to event sessions and the exhibit hall.

Interested individuals are encouraged to apply before Friday, June 20. Applications are available online at AARP will notify volunteers of assignments in July and hold a mandatory orientation at the Washington Convention Center in mid-August to go over responsibilities and familiarize volunteers with the venue. For more information about volunteering at the event, please call AARP at 1-877-926-8300 (toll-free).


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