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June 22, 2008

The Public Pays

Dear Paying Public:

So here’s a simple case. On June 19, Mark Segraves revealed on WTOP-FM that, “District taxpayers paid more than $50,000 for three members of Mayor Adrian Fenty’s executive staff, ten police officers, and three detectives to travel with Fenty as he campaigned across the country for Senator Barack Obama over the past five months” ( It is against District law to spend government money for partisan political campaigns, and the Fenty administration broke that law. What’s the right response? “I’m sorry; it was a mistake, an oversight. We’ll repay the government, and we won’t do it again.”

Why is it so hard for the administration to say that? Instead of pledging to obey the law, Mayor Fenty responded, “The citizens of the District of Columbia have my commitment that we will review everything we’re doing, compare it to what other big city mayors do and compare with what governors do. And if it is not following what those big city mayors are doing, then we’ll make an adjustment” ( Fenty doesn’t say that he’ll consult the law and follow the law. Instead, he implies that if he can find other instances where big city mayors or governors use public funds to subsidize partisan political campaigns, he’ll continue to do it regardless of what District law says.

What does Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier, our chief law enforcement official, say? On this morning’s “Viewpoint” segment on WRC-TV, Joe Krebs asked her. She didn’t address the legal problem with taxpayer financing of partisan political activities; she didn’t acknowledge that she had a duty to obey the law. Instead, she said that she would continue to send police officers to guard Fenty on his political trips at public expense, because in her opinion Fenty is one of the most important people in the United States today. (Neither the video nor the transcript of the program is yet posted.)

Fenty is too important, it seems, to have to obey the law, in this instance as in many others. And why shouldn’t he think that he is? Who is going to hold him responsible — the city council, the Inspector General, the Office of Campaign Finance, the Board of Elections and Ethics? Who is going to issue a finding and enforce it? It’s a simple case, but who will make it?

The June 16 hearing of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, on the administration’s “public safety” initiatives, is now online at The testimony of Acting Attorney General Peter Nickles and MPD Chief Cathy Lanier begins at the 4:13:40 mark; Councilmember Mary Cheh’s first ten-minute round of questioning begins at the 4:35:42 mark. One correction to the introduction to the last issue of themail, brought to my attention both by Art Spitzer of the ACLU and by Councilmember Cheh’s office: Cheh is a professor at George Washington University, not American University; that correction has already been made to the online version.

Gary Imhoff


Klingle Road (Secretly) Open
Taylor Simmons, ttsimmons at aol dot com

Here’s a small victory to report in the chaotic, seemingly Quixotic quest for restoration of transportation rights that were unexpectedly lost seventeen years ago. Yesterday I drove all the way up Klingle Road from Porter Street to 34th Street. Yeah, baby! It was suh-weet! I had gone biking with my ten-year old daughter on the weekend-closed portion of Beach Drive north of Broad Branch Road, having parked near Pierce Mill. (Yes, it would be swell not to need to drive first before biking, but alas that’s not yet a safe option for her.) So, driving south on Beach Drive after our ride, with our bikes attached to the bike rack, I decided as I sometimes do, to “try” Klingle Road, to see how far I might get.

Until yesterday, that was not very far, as an impenetrable wall of Jersey barriers a hundred yards from Porter forced us obsessed, oppressed former Klingle drivers into a U-turn. But when I approached yesterday, those barriers had all been moved aside, perhaps so construction vehicles could do their work. In any case, I was able to proceed along, slowly but surely. The actual pavement may have been missing in a few spots and a few fallen branches here and there made the ride a bit bumpy, but I was equally confident and unbothered that my twenty year-old car could make it. After a few hundred yards, I spotted our first truly serious obstacle: an elderly gentleman up ahead enjoying a private evening stroll. I was actually about to put the car into reverse and begin to back down, not wanting to startle the poor feller, nor receive a finger-wagging Klingle-berry lecture. But then I considered that no road-closed signs were posted and that gosh darn it, I actually had as much right to drive on that road as he did to walk.

He did seem a bit surprised to see me, so I waved and smiled as I approached, cheerfully commenting “slow but sure!” to which he replied with similar cheer “dead end!” But as nothing was actually blocking me yet, I kept going. Around the next bend, I spotted what he might have been referring to: a massive oak tree, uprooted on one side spanning the entire valley. So that’s it I guess. Wait a minute, maybe I can fit under it! Had I been driving an SUV, that tree might well have proved impassible. But my car’s not that tall. The highest point was actually the bike on the bike rack which I checked carefully as I proceeded under the oak. After that, the going got a bit smoother and no other obstacles were visible. I began to fear that the dead end would be an impenetrable blockade of Jersey barriers up by Cortland Place and the back entrance to Tregaron. But one barrier had been moved aside, just wide enough for my trusty car to get through. I made it. Yeah, baby! Suh-weet!


When a Book is More Valuable Than a New Car
Phil Shapiro,

When Oprah Winfrey gave the commencement address at Stanford University last week, she gave each graduate a gift more valuable than a new car. She gave them a copy of DC-author Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind. This book explains how “right brain thinking” will be much more in demand in future workers and how we ought to start preparing our students to better meet the needs of that future workplace. I heard Daniel Pink speak about his book at the Cleveland Park library two years ago. (Thanks, Barbara Conn.) I found the book thoughtful and thought-provoking. Pink’s humility is one of his greatest strength. Humility is the path to wisdom.

See for further info on this news item. The DC Public Library has copies of A Whole New Mind. If you’d like to discuss A Whole New Mind, I’ve started a Facebook group for that purpose.


Another Dubious First
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

The June 23 edition of Time Magazine reports that Washington, DC, is the worst in the US in terms of children’s obesity. Forty percent of DC’s children are overweight (13 percent of whites, 43 percent of minorities). There are several key factors that result in overweight children. Children from broken homes seldom get good nutrition, and there is a lack of efforts to involve our children in activities that promote better health. The public school system and the District should establish more opportunities for recreation, more ball fields, more intramural sports teams, more clubs that involve physical exercise (hiking, swimming, running). Establishing these recreational activities will result in better students as well as better health.

I grew up in a diverse community, Brooklyn, NY, that had a wealth of sports facilities and clubs that involved boys and girls in recreational activities during the school year and in the Summer months. The Flatbush Boys Club was my favorite. I don’t remember any fat kids in my schools or my social circles.


Everything Fenty and Rhee Have Done to Date Is Moot
Jonathan R. Rees,

DC Mayor Adrian Fenty on Friday announced what the city plans to do with seven school buildings that will be closing. Mayor Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee outlined the closure plans earlier this year. Seventeen school buildings will be shut down by the end of the month. Some of the schools will be converted for government use or will house charter schools.

None of what Fenty and Rhee have done to date (closing schools, firing personnel, etc.) will have any impact upon student performance, and voters should not allow themselves to be fooled that we are making progress in improving the educational system in DC for our students. Similar acts in the New York City school system — closings, firings and so on — actually had an initial adverse affect on students.

Until student test scores across the city go up, everything that Fenty and Rhee do is moot. It is all designed to deceive voters that progress is being made. Fenty and Rhee are dancing around the tough stuff; namely, coming down with a real plan to improve student performance. It is time for voters to demand from Fenty and Rhee a concrete plan in writing to show all they really know what they are doing. And voters and parents should follow along with the plan until it comes to fruit.


Exploring for Arsenic in Northwest Washington
Don Oakley,

More than three weeks have passed since Mayor Fenty and the National Park Service announced the reopening of Fort Reno following closure due to a false report of arsenic contamination. Standing with the mayor as he made his announcement on May 28 were DC Department of Environment Director George Hawkins and the US Geological Survey’s Michael Gauldin. Peppered with questions about how the arsenic claim unraveled, Hawkins and Gauldin promised answers on the cause and peculiar circumstances of the arsenic finding. Where are the answers and DDOE accountability that were promised?

A veteran of the Spring Valley cleanup, Alma Gates, posed the right questions regarding arsenic contamination at Fort Reno and other locations in Northwest DC ( An article in The Northwest Current (June 18, page 3) added additional concerns,

I have an additional question. To prevent a recurrence of this episode elsewhere in Northwest DC, how will the incorrect imagery that identified Fort Reno as having arsenic-affected grass be corrected, or better, be removed from circulation by DDOE and the USGS? Why is this necessary? The same imagery also shows arsenic-affected areas throughout Northwest DC ( E. T. Slonecker created the arsenic image in his doctoral dissertation (George Mason University, 2007) while working for the US Environmental Protection Agency. He is now employed by the USGS. The larger of the arsenic-affected areas can be seen at the north and south ends of the Archibald-Glover Park between Van Ness Street and Massachusetts Avenue; Nebraska Avenue in the vicinity of NBC offices, the Embassy of Japan, and Homeland Security; Georgetown Day School and an area near Fort Bayard. In addition to these areas, numerous single red pixels are scattered throughout neighborhoods at individual home sites. A single pixel, or “red spot”, corresponds to an area of 4 meters x 4 meters, or 172 square feet on the ground. 

Knowledge of the arsenic image and the potential for arsenic contamination in Northwest DC became known in November 2007 at the Spring Valley Partners Meeting. The minutes are located at: According to the minutes of this meeting, “DC Department of the Environment (J. Sweeney) said there is an equal density of red spots in the non-Spring Valley portion and the Spring Valley portion of the District of Columbia.” Wouldn’t that have been reason enough to confirm, immediately, arsenic levels at other locations within the image? At the same November 2007 meeting, after DDOE’s Richard Albright had shared the imagery with local media, Slonecker backpedals on the usefulness of the imagery, stating that “he did not have verified data to substantiate the findings.” This is at odds with an unqualified statement accompanying the arsenic image in his 2007 dissertation — “Red is arsenic-affected grass.” When the image was shared with the media and picked up across the country, the caption was omitted.

In April 2008, five months after the Partner’s meeting, USGS’ Slonecker and DDOE’s Albright picked up their imagery project again and took arsenic “samples” at Fort Reno. Five months. That public health concerns were not high on their agenda is apparent even to the small mind. Facts that would provide credibility that the sampling actually occurred in April 2008 have not been shared with the public. The very basics are missing — make, type, calibration, model of the X-ray fluorescence instrument that was allegedly used in April 2008, and specific date, times and locations of measurements. Other than media reports, there are no published data, peer-reviewed or otherwise. It appears that, absent analysis by their management or peers, the Albright-Slonecker team concluded they had two independent sets of corroborating data. They got that part right. Unfortunately, both data sets were bad. The team believed they had confirmed that relatively high levels of arsenic existed at Fort Reno (up to 1100 parts per million, ppm). Some weeks later, this revelation was shared with the NPS, which acted correctly to close Park access immediately on May 14th. For comparison, naturally occurring arsenic levels are in the range of 3-10 ppm in our area.

Some observations about the use of satellite imagery. Thanks to Google Earth and other tools, everyone knows how useful imagery can be to observe physical features in our environment. With much qualification and ground measurement confirmation, imagery can be used to obtain chemical signatures of areas under satellite surveillance. Specifically, contemporaneously-obtained imaging and confirming ground measurements are needed for meaningful interpretation of chemical presence in imaging data. The image that Slonecker used was taken in October 2000. Based on a search of public documents, on-the-ground chemical analyses (arsenic or other) do not exist in NW DC at any time around that date. At best, any conclusions about the value of this image are purely speculative.

When DDOE and the USGS are prepared to provide the promised answers, let’s hope they figure out how to discredit or withdraw from circulation the arsenic image (“Red is arsenic-affected grass”) that caused all the fuss. This needs to be solved. The alternative is to expect future flare-ups as desk-bound cowboys venture into our neighborhoods for more rogue experiments.


Gasoline Loopholes
Art Spitzer,

[In response to Ed Barron’s question about which gas station will be the first to hit the five-dollar-a-gallon mark, themail, June 22] Either the Spring Valley Exxon or the Watergate Exxon, at Rock Creek Parkway and Virginia Avenue, which is also always a price leader. Both are far from competition.


June 2008 InTowner
P.L. Wolff,

This is to advise that the June 2008 on-line edition has been uploaded and may be accessed at Included are the lead stories, community news items and crime reports, editorials (including prior months’ archived), restaurant reviews (prior months’ also archived), and the text from the ever-popular “Scenes from the Past” feature (the accompanying images can be seen in the archived PDF version). The complete issue (along with prior issues back to January 2002) also is available in PDF file format directly from our home page at no charge simply by clicking the link in the Current & Back Issues Archive. Here you will be able to view the entire issue as it appears in print, including all photos and advertisements.

The next issue will publish on July 11 (the second Friday of the month, as always). The complete PDF version will be posted by the preceding night or early that Friday morning at the latest, following which the text of the lead stories, community news, and selected features will be uploaded shortly thereafter. To read this month’s lead stories, simply click the link on the home page to the following headlines: 1) “Preservation Review Board’s New Members’ Questioning Past Procedures May be the New Normal; Actions Taken Surprised All”; 2) “Historic Former Apt’s to be Incorporated Into New Office Project Gets HPRB Nod for Excellent Design”; 3) “Collapsing Inside Walls of Rundown 16th Street House Forces Tenants Out.”



National Building Museum’s Events, June 24, 30
Jazmine Zick,

Tuesday, June 24, 6:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m. Eero Saarinen’s former structural engineer Abba Tor, and Martin Moeller, the Museum’s coordinating curator for the exhibition Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future, recount the pre-computer age engineering of JFK Airport’s iconic TWA Terminal.

Monday, June 30, 6:30-8:00 p.m., Preserving Modernism in a Green World. Panelists will consider the situations when preservation and sustainability meet — or don’t meet — in the preservation of buildings of the modern era. $12 members; $12 students; $20 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. Both events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


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