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September 17, 2008

Benevolent Dictator

Dear Benevolent Correspondents:

Bill Turque wrote an item on the DC Wire blog that is obviously too hot for the print edition of the Post: “DC Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who didn’t fuss when a PBS interviewer asked if she was a ‘benevolent dictator,’ made clear again Monday that she was more than comfortable with the her-way-or the-Beltway approach. ‘I think if there is one thing I have learned over the last 15 months it’s that cooperation, collaboration and consensus-building are way overrated,’ she told the Aspen Institute’s education summit at the Mayflower Hotel.” ( Who needs cooperation, collaboration, and consensus building? We do, and Rhee brags about her failure to understand that. Rhee isn’t ready for democracy; maybe she needs a refresher course in citizenship education.

The fact is that there is no such thing as a benevolent dictator. A dictator, by definition, imposes her wishes and desires on her subjects by force, and that is always malevolent. The dictator doesn’t see herself as a villain, of course. Despots don’t sit in their lairs, rubbing their hands and cackling in glee at the suffering they inflict upon their people. Instead, they view themselves as kindly, beneficent figures who sometimes must, with great regret, use their power to take the strong measures that are necessary to protect their people. Sometimes the great leader, or the little mother, has to take stern steps to keep the people safe from themselves and from external dangers, and to lead them to a greater future. The people, not having the broad vision and the wisdom of the great leader, sometimes cannot see the need for these measures; they lack the vision to understand the rationale behind the dictator’s arbitrary measures. Only the great leader and those who follow her can fully comprehend how these measures, seen by hostile critics as repressing and hurting the people, really benefit them. Of course, the best thing for the people is to keep the great leader in place to protect them, so the first duty of the great leader is to protect herself and her reign. That may require doing some things that the uninformed see as purely self-interested, but they are not; they are really in the best interest of the people. Unfortunately, the people cannot be trusted to see what is in their own best interest; only the great leader has the vision to do that.

The city council passed Councilmember Mendelson’s amendments to DC’s gun laws yesterday, but the reactions to the bill are even more interesting than the bill’s provisions. Except for lingering issues that remain, such as zoning restrictions that practically eliminate the possibility of opening gun shops and shooting ranges in DC, our laws are now substantially in line with the requirements of DC v. Heller’s affirmation of the Second Amendment. Mayor Fenty has issued a disingenuous press release in which he tries to grab credit from Mendelson: “The executive and DC council have worked together to adopt commonsense, reasonable laws to prevent handguns from falling into the wrong hands or being misused. I have signed this new legislation passed by the council today, and believe it fully complies with both the letter and spirit of the Heller decision. We trust that Congress will recognize that it is appropriate that the District legislate in this area of local law.” In fact, Fenty and Interim Attorney General Peter Nickles strongly opposed several of the provisions of the Mendelson bill, such as registration of semiautomatic handguns and the ability to keep a gun in an operable condition, and had promised to fight them. Fenty and Council Chairman Vincent Gray castigated the House of Representatives for passing Rep. Travis Childers’ (D-Miss.) bill that would have forced DC to comply with the Heller decision, but without the impetus of the Childers bill the city council would not have passed Constitutional gun laws until it was forced to do so by lawsuits.

More layoffs at the Washington City Paper are rumored to lead to the demise of the City Line column and the phase-out of cover stories. What’s left? Syndicated columns and nightclub, music, and restaurant reviews. Only what’s barely necessary to complement the ads and to provide some space between them. Should an entertainment guide for twenty-somethings even be called a community newspaper anymore?

Gary Imhoff


An Open Letter to Councilmember Phil Mendelson
Dino Drudi,

Yesterday’s Examiner reported that US crime had declined slightly, but showed that in DC crimes such as homicides and robberies continued to escalate. This escalation could be viewed as a tribute to your chairmanship of the council’s Public Safety Committee, which lately has been distracted by efforts you have led to limit citizens’ constitutional right to maintain effective means of self-protection. Revealingly, today’s Express quotes you as saying, “We are still going to have a strict gun control law,” even though yesterday the council scrapped the one it had previously passed because, as you explained, it “would not stand up to judicial scrutiny.”

How fitting this should be reported on the 221st anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. In honor of this historic event, President Bush has designated September 17 as Constitution Day and asked Americans to explore and rediscover this groundbreaking document, including the Federal Employee Oath of Office that every new Federal employee is required to take to “. . . support and defend the Constitution . . . and bear true allegiance to same” (cf.

Our city councilmembers take such an oath of office, but it seems our city council, led by you on this issue, is more concerned with preserving a particular public policy, gun control, than bearing true allegiance to the Constitution, much as in parts of the South local and state governments tried to figure out how to evade and limit the reach of civil rights laws protecting minorities’ constitutional rights even during our lifetimes.


Why Did Carol Schwartz Lose?
Paul Wilson, Ward 1, Dcmcrider-at-gmail-dot-com

I have no inside knowledge on the 3,700 or so Republicans that voted last Tuesday. But I’ll speculate anyway! She lost probably because Mara was able to argue successfully that she was not much of a Republican, in a broader national context. That’s undeniably true, but we’re talking about a Republican who could actually win elections in DC. To the extent the Post endorsement of Mara was involved, they didn’t like her questioning the Fenty-Rhee takeover. To my mind, the Post’s endorsement was a piece of mischief, and I doubt most Republicans pay much attention to Post endorsements.

I think denying Schwartz the Republican nod in November was a mistake and will prove a severe setback for the party. Republicans will be even more marginalized in local DC politics — we’re going to end up with eleven Democrats and two “independents” on the council. Kwame Brown is of course a shoo-in and Mara, or any of the other small fry, doesn’t stand a chance up against Michael Brown’s name recognition. He’s also handicapped by the enormous drag of the Republican label in DC, and that’s even more acute this year with Obama in the ballot and what I expect will be unprecedented turnout. Schwartz was able to transcend the party label. Schwartz was arguably the closest thing to a small(er)-government conservative there is on the council. (I know, I know, we’re talking about the tyranny of small differences here!) She stood up to Fenty on schools, bucked the smoking ban, and nearly knocked off Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry in 1994. Her occasionally contrary voice be sorely missed.


Why Did Carol Schwartz Lose? [Sent to themail on September 14]
Brigid Quinn,

I think much of the reason is that Carol has never run, nor had to run, a traditional, hard nosed campaign, and she didn’t this time either. Her opponent was well financed, well managed, and he did. Well-organized campaigns more often than not do produce winners, particularly when the universe of electors is as manageable as the small Republican electorate is in DC. I don’t think, however, that Mara will win in the general election, even with money and organization. However, his opposition must too raise considerable funds and run a thoughtful campaign. I think Carol still has a lot to offer the city, and I have always been a supporter of hers. I think she should mount a write-in campaign. Write-in campaigns have been successful in general elections in the past in DC. I don’t know that Carol is inclined to do so. However, if she does run, she will need to invest in a professional campaign infrastructure.


Schwartz to Run as Write-In [Sent to themail on September 15]
Cherita Whiting,

Carol Schwartz, the Republican member of the DC Council who was defeated last week in a targeted and well-financed race by newcomer Patrick Mara, is running as a write-in candidate for the at-large spot in the general election.

Schwartz made the announcement from her campaign office on U Street this afternoon. The room, Nikita Stewart reports, was packed with supporters and news media. Schwartz, a longtime council member who, like Marion Barry, has built a reputation in the District among voters for her aggressive efforts at accountability, especially when it came to the executive branch. She has been a proverbial thorn in the side of Barry and other mayors, including Mayor Adrian M. Fenty. Schwartz ran for mayor four times herself, each time pulling Democratic voters and quite a bit of respect for having the moxie to take on those powerful figures.


Single Sales Ban
Matt Forman,

Jack McKay, in the last issue of themail [September 13] repeats his argument that single sales of alcoholic drinks should not be banned in Mt. Pleasant because doing so might push the problem of public intoxication to neighboring areas. But Mr. McKay was elected to the ANC by his Mt. Pleasant constituents to represent their interests, not those of neighboring areas. Should the neighboring areas wish to address the problem, they are free to do so. Indeed, in this case, a friend of mine informs me that many neighboring Columbia Heights residents are also in favor of the ban. The other solution to Mr. McKay’s concerns is to simply make the ban city wide.


Watch That Eye Contact
Star Lawrence,

I smiled when I saw what Gary wrote [themail, September 13]: “In New York, constantly weaving between lanes and cutting other drivers short is considered a sign of driving skill.”

In my thirty-five years in DC, I learned to look through the windshield of a car and make eye contact with the driver to be sure he or she saw me before I crossed the street. Once while at the Film Market in Soho, I was walking with a New Yorker. We were going to cross; I saw a driver did not see us and stopped. She grabbed my arm and pulled me into the cross walk, saying, “If you look at them they won’t let you go. Don’t worry, they won’t hit you.” I was walking with a New Yorker. We were going to cross; I saw a driver did not see us and stopped. She grabbed my arm and pulled me into the cross walk, saying, “If you look at them they won’t let you go. Don’t worry, they won’t hit you.”



Mistress of the Vatican, September 18
George Williams,

Thursday, September 18, 6:30 p.m., Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library, 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW. Eleanor Herman will discuss her book, Mistress of the Vatican: The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini: The Secret Female Pope. A book sale and signing, courtesy of the Trover Shop, will follow the program.


Historical Society of Washington Events
Ed Bruske,

Thursday, September 18, 12:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Machito, a film directed by Carlos Ortiz, 58 minutes, at the Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW, at Mt. Vernon Square. Free admission. In a career that spanned half a century, Cuban bandleader Frank “Machito” Grillo embodied Latin Jazz and influenced several generations of musicians, contributing to a cultural explosion on the international music scene. Machito weaves together vintage film clips and recordings, Hollywood production numbers, and one-of-a-kind street performances from 1920s Cuba to contemporary New York. Sensational shows at such hot spots as the Cotton Club highlight the golden era of Latin Jazz in the 40s and 50s. Musicians Tito Puente, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, and Ray Barreto share fond memories of the scene while paying tribute to Machito. Warm and “simpatico,” Machito laughs, reminisces, and plays some of the hottest Latin Jazz on film anywhere. “Hugely informative, with astonishing archival footage.” — John Pareles, New York Times. or 383-1828. Free.

Friday, September 19, 6:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. LGBT Ceremonial Awards at the Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW, at Mt. Vernon Square. Free admission. The Latino LGBT History Project will present ceremonial awards honoring key figures in the Latino gay, lesbian, and transgender community. Uriel Quesada, a Costa Rican gay writer will also present his new book “Viajero Que Huye” and there will be a special musical performance. For more information contact Jose Gutierrez at the Latino LGBT History Project at (A program collaboration of the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs (OLA) and The Historical Society of Washington, DC.) or 383-1828. Free.

Saturday, September 20, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Family Series: Hispanic Heritage Family Day at the Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW, at Mt. Vernon Square. Free admission. The Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs (OLA) will partner with embassies from various Latin American countries to offer engaging entertainment and fun activities for the entire family. At 1:00 p.m., the film Under the Same Moon will be shown in the theater. This film follows the parallel stories of a nine-year-old boy named Carlitos and his mother Rosario. Rosario wants nothing more than to provide the best life possible for her son. To that end, she is working illegally in the United States while her mother cares for Carlitos in Mexico. Some unexpected circumstances arise that cause both Rosario and Carlitos to try to reunite with one another. Naturally, they both face plenty of challenges along the way, but never losing sight of the end goal — being together again. For more information, contact the Office on Latino Affairs at 617-2825. (A program collaboration of the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs (OLA) and The Historical Society of Washington, DC.) For the entire family. or 383-1828. Free.


All About Guns, September 23
Anne M. Renshaw,

The Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia will hold a panel debate on criminal justice and self protection on Tuesday, September 23 at 6:45 p.m., at the Charles Sumner School, 1201 Seventeenth Street, NW (at M Street). The discussion will cover DC’s emergency gun legislation, the June 2008 Supreme Court ruling ending the city’s handgun ban, and the Congressional attempt to ease the purchase of semiautomatics.

Debating the highly-charged topic of “Criminal Justice and Self Protection” will be Dick A. Heller (plaintiff in District of Columbia v. Heller, the momentous Supreme Court case that overturned DC’s 32-year prohibition of handguns), Attorney George Lyon (, Kristopher Baumann (Chairman, Fraternal Order of Police, Metropolitan Police Department), Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, and Councilmember Phil Mendelson, Chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary. The meeting will be moderated by George R. Clark, Federation President.

The Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia is a coordinating body for fifty citywide citizens’ organizations. Formed in 1910 and incorporated in 1940, the Citizens Federation serves as a liaison between its member organizations and the city government on important issues affecting District residents. For further information, contact George Clark, Federation President, 331-3200, or Anne Renshaw, 1st Vice President, 363-6880.


How Tall to Build?, September 24
Jazmine Zick,

Wednesday, September 24, 6:30-8:00 p.m. DC Builds: How Tall to Build? The 1910 Height of Buildings Act set strict limits for how tall buildings can be in the District of Columbia. Listen to a panel of experts debate the pros and cons of changing this nearly one-hundred-year-old statute. $12 Member; $12 Student; $20 Nonmember. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


It’s ICSIC Time Again, September 25
Beth Jamieson, DC Action for Children,

Join DC Action for Children and representatives from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education to learn about the work the Interagency Collaboration and Services Integration Commission has been doing over the last year and new programs this school year. The forum will take place Thursday, September 25, from 1:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m. at the Goethe-Institut Washington, 812 7th Street, NW. Registration required at: Additional information is available at



District Seeks 100
Darlene Nowlin, DC Office on Aging,

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is looking for District residents aged one hundred and older to honor at the twenty-second annual salute to District of Columbia centenarians. Residents should call the DC Office on Aging to make sure their family members and friends who are centenarians have been registered. Centenarians will be invited to attend a luncheon, and new honorees will receive medals to honor their long lives. This event will honor residents who turn one hundred by September 30. To register, call 724-5626.


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