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July 23, 2008

Laboratories of Democracy

Dear Lab Techs: gives this description of an article in the Examiner: “DC drivers have 84 percent more accidents than rest of nation, which is a five percent improvement over last year. And they still wonder why we don’t let them vote,”

I promised I wouldn’t write about DC v. Heller and the Second Amendment again until there were substantive developments. There haven’t been any substantive developments, but there has been a minor one. However, I’m as tired writing about the issue as you probably are reading about it, so I’ve demoted my latest rant to be a reply to DC Vote’s latest take on the issue, below.

Gary Imhoff


Wilson Students Testify in Support of Their Biology Teacher
Sarah Cox-Shrader,
Hanna Mahon,

For five years in a row, Woodrow Wilson High School has failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards as set by the federal No Child Left Behind law, and as a result has to undergo major restructuring for the coming school year. The restructuring option selected for Wilson was reconstitution, or the replacement of “instructional staff relevant to AYP failure.” All Wilson teachers and administrators had to reapply for their jobs, and eleven were not asked to return. Among these was Dr. Arthur Siebens, Wilson’s renowned biology teacher for the past eighteen years, a beloved and inspirational mentor and educator. Dr. Siebens’ removal came as a surprise to him and to the Wilson community because his performance has been stellar and he does not teach tenth graders, the only high school grade that DCPS tests to gauge AYP. The decision to remove Dr. Siebens was purportedly made by Thomas Whittle, a designee of Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who had been at Wilson for only three months. This decision was later reaffirmed by Wilson’s new principal, Peter Cahall, who had just started at the school. Neither Mr. Whittle nor Mr. Cahall provided a specific explanation to Dr. Siebens for his removal, which is required under the collective bargaining agreement with the teachers union. The Chair of the Wilson LSRT subsequently reported that the teachers who were removed “were seen not to fit in with the restructuring plan.” The LSRT Chair also said that Mr. Whittle “knows what gets in the way” in school turnarounds. Dr. Siebens was never told why he doesn’t “fit in” and Mr. Whittle never observed him teach a class.

Since the decision to remove Dr. Siebens became known, current and past students of Dr. Siebens, their parents and other supporters have rallied to his defense in an effort to have him reinstated as teacher of Botany, Anatomy and Physiology, and Advanced Placement Biology at Wilson. We are coordinating this effort. As an instructor, Dr. Siebens takes every measure to ensure his students are learning and retaining the material, from hosting extra study sessions during lunch and on school holidays, to writing, recording, and performing over thirty songs to help students understand and memorize Biology concepts and vocabulary. On a more personal level, Dr. Siebens takes the time to get to know each and every one of his students, and brings an unparalleled amount of dedication and enthusiasm to his teaching. In short, Dr. Siebens is precisely the kind of teacher Wilson cannot afford to lose and who should be back in his classroom where he belongs.

At a public roundtable hearing held before the DC city council on Friday, July 11, four of Dr. Siebens’ former students testified before Chairman Vincent Gray and other councilmembers in an effort to bring attention to the unfairness of Dr. Siebens’ removal. The students’ prepared statements are at, and a web cast of their testimony is available at


Are Jersey Barriers Next?
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

Will the prohibition of taking photos in Union Station be followed by strategically placed Jersey barriers in this great architectural building. I, not so fondly, remember the old Union Station in the mid ’50’s when I was traveling back and forth to NY City via rail while on duty in Fort Belvoir. How well they have restored this wonderful building. I’ve been taking pictures inside for several years since we moved to DC in the late ’80’s. I have examined all of those pictures in great detail and can find nothing that would compromise national security. Prohibiting taking pictures in Union Station by well meaning tourists and residents is pure folly. Anyone with real terrorist leanings would take all the pictures they wanted with a camera disguised as an iPod or any of several other innocent looking devices. Will confiscating cell phones be next? Once again I say that Homeland Security is the WPA of this generation. Are Amtrak passengers any safer with Homeland Security on the prowl?


DC’s Child and Family Services Agency Deserves Better
Paul D. Craney,

Yesterday, DC’s Attorney General Peter Nickles defended the appointment of Mr. Roque Gerald as interim director of DC’s Child and Family Services Agency. Mr. Gerald comes with baggage, as recent revelations show that in 1989 Mr. Gerald, who is a psychologist, had sex with a suicidal and depressed patient in his office who later sued him for damages. Mayor Fenty directed media questions to Mr. Nickles. “Would a bank hire a bank robber, no. Why is Mr. Gerald being appointed for a position in which he is disqualified for?,” stated Robert J. Kabel, Chairman of the District of Columbia Republican Committee. “Having the Attorney General answer calls to the press about a questionable political appointee instead of helping to prosecute the criminals in the Trinidad neighborhood is waste of valuable resources,” concluded Kabel.


Taxi Meters May Not Be Working
Ralston Cox, Dupont Circle,

Ed Barron takes the position in the last issue of themail [July 23] that taxi meters must be working because taxis are still on the street and taxi drivers aren’t complaining — and then goes on to posit that they must not have lost significant income as a result of the move from the zone system to meters. I think this is a bit of stretch.

I ride taxis maybe once or twice a week tops, and have talked to taxi drivers pretty regularly about the switch. Most understand that they lost the fight and are doing what they can to make a living. I live in Dupont and work downtown and find that my fare is almost exactly the same as it was before. But I hear from the drivers that they have, indeed, lost income. They’re hustling to make it up and changing their habits to do so.

There are winners and losers in the market from changes like the switch from zones to meters. I think it will be a while before it all gets sorted out and we learn who won and who lost. Hard working taxi drivers are trying to be the former, rather than the latter. For the moment, I think it’s a toss-up.


Jim Graham’s Representation on WMATA Board
David Sobelsohn,

In the July 16 edition of themail, in a piece entitled “WMATA and Council Accountability,” Dino Drudi complained that the DC council’s representative on the WMATA Board, Jim Graham (D-Ward One), “only has a compelling political need to respond to constituent complaints about WMATA from residents of his ward.” That may be true, but as a resident of Ward Six I have found Councilmember Graham as responsive to my criticisms of WMATA as if I lived in Ward One. Jim Graham, at least, seems rightly to consider his position on the WMATA board as if he represents the city as a whole. Case in point: WMATA continues to publish MetroRail timetables only because, at my urging, Councilmember Graham has pushed them to do so.


DC Gun Law Public Misinformation Misfire
Mike Licht,

The DC Metropolitan Police Department distributes a pamphlet to inform citizens about the new handgun registration law, which allows them to have revolvers in their homes. Those pamphlets display the logo of Project ChildSafe, an excellent program that distributes free trigger locks.

But, as if there were not enough misconceptions about handguns in Washington, the Project ChildSafe logo displayed on the MPD pamphlet depicts a semiautomatic pistol, implying that this type of firearm can be registered, while the text correctly states that civilians are specifically prohibited from owning these guns under DC law.



The Second Amendment and Self Defense
Charles Cureton,

I read William Haskett’s comment about the Second Amendment and self defense [themail, July 20], and respect his right to his opinion. However, he is obviously missing the point, which is that things are not as they were when he was growing up. I am soon to be sixty-eight years old, and I and have seen things that I thought would never happen. However, a person has to adjust to the situations, and understand there are those in society who are evil, perverted, career criminals and predators who prey on honest citizens, young and old alike. When these types attempt to rob, assault, rape, or do some other form of criminal act on people, self defense is the only option. Too bad Alcatraz is closed. Maybe it should be opened for those who cannot abide by the rules of society.

What has happened to the nations’ capital city, where the mayor and police chief appear to not listen to the citizens and are not concerned about the honest citizens protecting themselves? Do they not understand criminals do not get the weapons they use legally? They steal them, have them enter the USA at ports of entry disguised as something other than weapons, they go across the borders and smuggle illegal weapons back into the USA, and worse yet, gang members are being allowed into the military where they have access to weapons and tactical training. It would be interesting to know how many arms rooms in the military have had weapons stolen or how many have come up “lost or missing” for various reasons.

In closing, I wish all the honest citizens the best of luck in the future and hope they will stop having to live in the situations that currently exist in DC.


House Members Attempt to Reintroduce Gun Bill
Jaline Quinto,

Representatives Mark Souder (R-IN) and Mike Ross (D-AR) have moved to introduce a bill to repeal DC’s gun control laws, even after the Supreme Court has already ruled that the existing laws are unconstitutional in the historic District of Columbia v. Heller case. Though DC Mayor Adrian Fenty will file a bill in Congress proposing new gun legislation, Rep. Souder is pushing to reintroduce H.R. 1399 “to restore Second Amendment rights in the District of Columbia” by discharging the bill from the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“Once again, Congress is attempting to overstep its boundaries on an issue that is clearly one of self-governance,” said Ilir Zherka, DC Vote Executive Director. “Rep. Souder and some of his colleagues in the House are interfering with DC and using it as a testing ground for legislation they would never impose on their home districts. The Supreme Court has already spoken on this issue and the message is clear. DC’s gun laws are not constitutional. The mayor and the DC city council are working to write appropriate, new legislation addressing the ruling. Souder’s bill is antidemocratic and unnecessary, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling.”

The bill would “repeal the District’s: 1) registration requirement for possession of firearms; 2) prohibition on possession of handgun restricted pistol bullets; and 3) requirement that, under certain conditions, firearms in the possession of certain individuals must be kept unloaded, disassembled, or with the trigger locked.” In a statement released yesterday, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) called upon her colleagues in the House to show respect for DC home rule by not taking part in efforts to discharge HR 1399 from the committee. She emphasized that the DC government is already taking measures to address the Supreme Court ruling and asked members to “take the lead in ensuring the same respect for the District of Columbia and for her, that all members would expect for their districts and themselves.”

“This bill would overturn measures that the DC government has put in place to ensure public safety for their constituents,” added Zherka. “Like every state in the nation, DC taxpayers elect officials to serve in their interests. Sadly, certain members of Congress have a history of disrespecting DC residents’ right to participate in American democracy. It’s unconscionable that they would try to assert their authority over more than half a million people who are not their constituents.” DC Vote is planning to send a letter to every member of the House, signed by members of their coalition, urging them to oppose Rep. Souder’s discharge petition because “it would violate the fundamental right of local democracy and self-government.”


Laboratories of Democracy
Gary Imhoff,

One of the most-cited benefits of federalism, of having a federal system, is that the states can be “laboratories of democracy.” The states can have different laws and even, considering Louisiana, different systems of law. The federal government doesn’t intervene and insist on uniformity or even consistency. We believe this allows for legal experimentation that gives us the ability to determine which laws are necessary or unnecessary, effective or ineffective, productive or counterproductive. But the constitution and the Bill of Rights put a limit on federalism. Since the courts have definitively determined that the Fourteenth Amendment applies the Bill of Rights to the states as well as to the federal government, states cannot pass laws that abridge the rights of citizens that are guaranteed, directly or indirectly, by the Bill of Rights.

It should be noted that opponents of the Second Amendment still dispute that the Second Amendment applies to the states. Since there has been no definitive Supreme Court case directly on this point, some future court case will settle that issue. But, since the District is a federal district that is not a part of any state, that question doesn’t arise in our situation. DC is a federal district, and our ultimate lawmaking body, the source of our local government’s authority, is the Congress of the United States. Congress has delegated its authority to the city council of the District of Columbia, but it retains, as Article I, Section 8, of the constitution specifies, the power, “To exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever,” over the District. Congress’ legal authority over the District and the right to keep and bear arms are Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s least favorite parts of the constitution, and she issued a press release ( earlier this week denouncing both of them, and denouncing members of Congress who support a bill ( that would bring the District into compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision in DC v. Heller.

In DC v. Heller, the Supreme Court settled the issue of whether DC’s gun laws were unconstitutional and abridged the rights of DC citizens; it found that they were and that they did. The next step must be to repeal those unconstitutional laws and, if desired, to replace them with other gun regulations that respect the constitutional rights of the people who live in DC. It is the duty of the lawmakers in the District of Columbia, the city council, to do that. But what should happen if the city council fails to do its duty? DC Vote, above, claims that, “DC Mayor Adrian Fenty will file a bill in Congress proposing new gun legislation.” This is a fanciful invention, since the mayor is not a member of Congress and can’t file a bill in Congress. It also claims that, “The mayor and the DC city council are working to write appropriate, new legislation addressing the ruling.” But they are not. The mayor and the council are writing legislation that flouts and defies the ruling; they are pursuing a policy of “massive resistance” by retaining old gun ban restrictions that are explicitly rejected by the Heller decision, and they are considering new restrictions that invite further litigation. Whose responsibility is it to bring DC into compliance with the constitution, if local elected officials refuse to do it? We can go through years of litigation and appeals, defiance and delay, which is clearly the strategy of the mayor, attorney general, and council. Eventually, after years or decades of resistance, the courts will impose gun laws that are consistent with the Second Amendment on the District. Or Congress can pass legislation imposing constitutional gun laws on the District, as is its constitutional right and duty. Even the laboratories of democracy, which can experiment with most of their laws, have to obey the higher laws of the constitution and the Bill of Rights.



For Your Eyes Only, July 24
Elizabeth Price,

The summer-long James Bond Film Festival, hosted by the NoMa (North of Massachusetts Avenue) Business Improvement District (BID) in Washington, DC, continues this week with a free showing of “For Your Eyes Only” on Thursday, July 24, starting at sundown.

The film will be shown outdoors at the intersection of Florida and New York Avenues, NE. The site is located directly across Florida Avenue from the New York Avenue Metro station on the Red Line and the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) headquarters. Attendees are encouraged to bring a blanket and walk, bike, or take Metro. Nearly two hundred people attended the most recent film showing. All James Bond Film Festival movies are subtitled for the hearing-impaired.

The James Bond Film Festival will be held each Thursday night through August 28, rain or shine, with each film showing preceded by an Odd-job and other Bond character look-alike contest. The film series will take place on the future site of MRP Realty’s Washington Gateway project, a one million square foot mixed-use project that will begin construction later this year. A movie schedule and map are available at


Unity Rally Against Violence, July 24
Kathy Henderson,

Please your neighbors in a unity rally to denounce violence in the Langston Terrace, Carver Terrace, and Trinidad communities. We deserve safe communities, and will accept nothing less; we are taking a stand against sense violence and crime; enough is enough. On July 24 at 6:00 p.m., we will assemble at the corner of 21st Street and Maryland Avenue, NE, and march to 16th and Levis streets, NE.

When citizens have a stronghold, criminals cannot get a foothold. For more information, call Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner India Henderson or former commissioner Kathy Henderson at 397-2777.


Fun Family Films Under the Stars, July 25-27
John A. Stokes,

The District’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) will hold “Fun Family Films Under The Stars,” its 2008 Family Movie Night Season, this summer. “Fun Family Films Under The Stars,” which continues until late-September, will afford residents of all ages and families of all sizes the opportunity to enjoy viewing the free, family-oriented films in DPR’s outdoor settings. As in previous years, viewers are invited to bring their own snacks, chairs, and blankets. This year, District residents will have a greater selection of viewing locations. Movies will be shown from 8:45 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Community members who arrive early enough for each screening will have the opportunity to place a vote between two movies that may be shown that evening. The movie that receives the most votes will be shown.

Friday, July 25, Carver/ Langston Terrace, 21st and Maryland Avenue, NE
Friday, July 25, Kennedy Recreation Center, 1401 7th Street, NW
Saturday, July 26, Trinidad Recreation Center, 1310 Childress Street, NE
Saturday, July 26, Benning Park Recreation Center, 100 Stoddert Place, SE
Sunday, July 27, Brentwood Recreation Center, 2311 14th Street, NE


Prayer Vigil and Service, July 25
Qawi Robinson,

Because of the recent spree of shootings in DC in the past two weeks, an all-night prayer vigil/service for the city will be held on July 25, starting at 7:00 p.m., and ending on July 26 at 7:00 a.m. For twelve hours, there will be speakers, prayers, and other forms presentation to increase the solidarity of our citizens against the recent wave of violence. Light refreshments will be served as well. Several councilmembers and the mayor have confirmed there attendance to this needed event. This is a nondenominational ecumenical service; all faiths are invited. This event will be held at Brightwood Park United Methodist Church, 744 Jefferson Street, NW. Call 882-4686 or 669-7029 for further details.


What’s Funny about the DC Comedyfest?, August 7-9
Jaline Quinto,

DC Vote is an official sponsor and full-time supporter of all things DC and funny. That’s why we’re a sponsor of the DC Comedyfest, August 7-9, at various venues across the District. We’re even on the “Politics is Funny” panel on Saturday, August 9, at 3:00 p.m.. Moderated by Politico, the panel features such all-stars as: the co-creator of the Daily Show, writers for the Colbert Report and the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the Web editor of the Onion, a writer from the Washington Post, and DC Vote’s own “Senior Humorist,” Jaline Quinto.

Join DC Vote staff and your fellow supporters for some good times and good humor. Check out the full schedule. DC Vote will even be at some of the venues, giving out swag like buttons and T-shirts and bringing the funny. DC Comedyfest has been a fantastic supporter of DC voting rights. You can show your support for them by buying a few tickets and having a good time;



Quality Schools and Charter School Facility Financing Grants
Kadidia Thiero,

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education is soliciting grant proposals from qualified applicants for the Quality Schools Incentive Grant and the following Facilities Financing Grants: City Build Incentive Grant; Public Facility and Shared Campus Grant; State Charter School Facilities Incentive Grant; and Public Charter School Special Facility Grant.

Please click this link for additional information:


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