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October 19, 2008

Lightning Rods

Dear Lighting Strikes:

Another laudatory article about Chancellor Michelle Rhee was published last week: Clay Risen’s “The Lightning Rod,” in the November Atlantic Monthly, However, as the article’s title indicates, Risen already sees some of the problems Rhee is creating. Although Risen is clearly cheering for Rhee, he calls her “controversial” and gives an almost fair hearing to her critics. Most importantly, he understands what is at stake in Rhee’s and Fenty’s dictatorial stance toward public education, and frames the argument well in his last paragraph: “It is to answer a basic question about the nature of urban governance, a question about two visions of big-city management. In one, city politics is a vibrant, messy, democratic exercise, in which both the process and the results have value. In the other, city politics is only a prelude, the way to install a technocratic elite that can carry out reforms in relative isolation from the give-and-take of city life. Rhee’s tenure will answer whether these two positions are mutually exclusive — and, if they are, whether public-school reform is even possible.” Fenty and Rhee see themselves as part of that technocratic elite, isolated and above having to respond to the democratic mob over whom they rule, and not to be questioned or challenged by citizens or their representatives on the city council. Risen’s question answers itself; of course the two positions he describes are mutually exclusive, and lasting reform of any public agency can only be brought about through a democratic process in which citizens are full participants.

Another member of the administration who sees himself as being above the checks and balances of the democratic process is Acting Attorney General Peter Nickles, whose confirmation hearing was held on Friday. Nickles, who sees his job as representing the mayor, and only the mayor, rather than the city government or the citizens of the District of Columbia, is leading the executive’s campaign to deny basic information about government programs and departments to the city council, and to withhold executive branch witnesses from testifying before the council. If the city council acquiesces in Nickles’ appointment, it sanctions and approves of its own demotion to be a subordinate and subservient branch of the city government.

In the last issue I wrote about Comcast’s poor customer service. I should have known better than to have taunted fate. The next day, Thursday, the man trimming our trees brought down the Comcast cable to our house. I called the company, and the response I got was that I should call them back in a week if by then I hadn’t received a call to schedule an appointment. When I escalated the matter to the management level, Comcast called me back fast to schedule a time to splice the wire — but it called my broadband telephone number, which went down with the rest of the cable service. Cable companies used to provide just television signals, and then it may not have been terribly urgent to resolve disconnection problems; most people could suffer through the hardship of having to watch broadcast television for a week or two. But when cable companies are also responsible for telephone and Internet connections, for providing basic communication services, a cable disruption is longer just a minor inconvenience, and a cable company’s lackadaisical indifference to providing prompt service isn’t good enough.

Gary Imhoff


The Capital Gains Plan
Cherita Whiting,

Some students paid, some students not paid the right amount, Http://

By not paying kids the right amount what real lesson are they teaching these students? This is so like the summer jobs program: you can work, but you may be paid — you never really know.

Shaw and Whittier students feel somewhat slighted, because how can they have been underpaid and other schools’ students have been paid what they rightfully should have been paid? How do you really explain this to a child?


Statement on Shepherd Elementary School by Councilmember Bowser
Kristen Barden,

Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser issued a statement today [October 16] to the Shepherd Elementary School community about the lack of leadership continuity at Shepherd Elementary School. “I was very disappointed to learn last Friday that there had been an abrupt change in leadership at Shepherd Elementary School in Ward 4. The unrest caused by such an action concerns parents and the entire community that this may signal a school year of further disruptions. Leadership stability is paramount in our schools if we are going to usher in the changes we’ve promised DCPS children and families,” she added. “The Chancellor may have good reasons for her personnel action, but no one can be satisfied with the manner and timing of these actions. Reasonable people understand that personnel actions are sensitive by nature and that the Chancellor is in the best position to make them, but they also expect that an orderly and transparent process is used when making these decisions,” further expressed Councilmember Bowser.

If media reports are true, and had DCPS shown due diligence in the hiring process, this disruptive episode may have been avoided. The principal’s departure raises questions about the school system’s vetting process and the great weight given to the community’s recommendation in the selection process. Councilmember Bowser is committed to making sure that these processes are thorough and transparent. Shepherd Elementary School is a great school on the brink of excellence with good test scores, a diverse student body and an active parent community. What it has lacked has been consistent, engaged leadership and needed support from the central administration.

Chancellor Rhee will address the school community tonight [October 16] to discuss her plan to restore stability to Shepherd Elementary School. Above all, Councilmember Bowser will join the school community in demanding that administrative processes are fixed and that the appropriate resources are assigned to Shepherd Elementary to make this great school an excellent school.


Gang Attacks Near Potomac Avenue Metro
Bryce Suderow,

The whites in the neighborhood near Potomac Avenue Metro are under siege from black teenagers and young black men. Nearly every day, commuters walking to the Metro are being beaten and robbed. Early this week a young black man tried to rape a woman in her home and when she resisted he stabbed her seventeen times. Citizens have asked the Guardian Angels to walk the area around the Metro with them to discourage attacks.

According to a Washington Post article, similar activity is occurring elsewhere in the city. Is this happening in your neighborhoods? How are you coping with it?


DC GOP Asks Office of Campaign Finance if Strauss Is Hatched
Paul D. Craney,

Robert J. Kabel, Chairman of the District of Columbia Republican Committee, wrote the chief of the Hatch Act Unit of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), Ana Galindo-Marrone, Esq., requesting an advisory opinion as to whether the members of the Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals, including its former chairman, Paul Strauss, are covered by the Hatch Act at all times. Strauss, the District of Columbia Shadow Senator, is presently campaigning for reelection, having won the Democratic nomination for this position in the September 9 primary. He is also the immediate past chairman of the Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals, but is still a member of the Board. Mr. Kabel said that he believes that occupancy of both positions by Mr. Strauss may put him in violation of the Hatch Act.

At issue are two advisory opinions written by the Hatch Act Unit. A recent opinion stated that the Hatch Act applies at all times to members of the District of Columbia Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) because its members meet regularly. In 2006, the Hatch Act Unit issued an advisory opinion, apparently in the case of Paul Strauss, finding that the Hatch Act only applied to members of the BRPAA when they were performing their duties. This was presumably because the Hatch Act Unit found that this board only met occasionally. Mr. Kabel has asked the Hatch Act Unit to revisit its 2006 decision regarding the BRPAA on the basis of new evidence, the recently released DC Auditor’s Report on the workings of the BRPAA, which is replete with evidence that the Board works regularly throughout the year.

On September 30, the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor issued the Auditor’s Review of the Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals Operations. This 27-page report, with an appendix, can be found online by going to (Click “Reports” on the left, and then click “Fiscal Year 2008 Reports,” then scroll down to DCA232008 and click document symbol on right). The DC Auditor is an office under the District of Columbia Council. The Auditor is Deborah K. Nichols, Esq., who can be reached at 727-3600. Chairman Kabel offered to the OSC Hatch Act Unit the following information from the Auditor’s Report which is compelling evidence that the BRPAA meets regularly and not occasionally: 

1) In addition to its other responsibilities, the BRPAA is required by DC law to hold four required annual meetings on administrative matters (see page 2 of Auditor’s Report);

2) In Fiscal Year 2008, the BRPAA disposed of 3,231 cases (see appendix of Auditor’s Report for Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals Fiscal Year 2008 Annual Report);

3) In Tax Year 2008, BRPAA made downward adjustments to proposed real property tax assessments totaling $2.9 billion which had a corresponding negative revenue impact of -$49.7 million (see page 2 of Report); and

4) From Tax Year 2005 through Tax Year 2008 the total revenue loss DC government amounted to -$143.38 million dollars (see page 2 of Report).

Mr. Kabel said, “I do not see how it is possible for the BRPAA to meet only occasionally and dispose of more than three thousand cases in one year causing a revenue loss to the District government of nearly fifty million dollars.”

Two of the eight major recommendations of the Auditor’s Report (see page iii), which should be of interest to the Hatch Act Unit, are as follows: “The BRPAA Chairman not accept campaign donations from individuals who appear before the Board of Real Property Assessments and Appeals,” and “BRPAA members not simultaneously hold elected and appointed positions.” The DC Auditor found that Mr. Strauss accepted campaign donations from individuals who had business before the Board. According to information gathered from the District of Columbia Office of Campaign Finance web site,, Mr. Strauss received more than $135,000 in campaign contributions in three campaigns for partisan office since October 10, 2002. A notable amount of donations came from real estate interests which did business in the District. Mr. Kabel wrote to OCF, “As the general election takes place on November 4, I request that your Advisory Opinion be issued as soon as possible, but certainly before that date.”


Wisconsin Avenue Development
Trudy Reeves, Commissioner ANC 3C-06,

Before posting on themail, it would help if folks did a bit of easy research. Paula Miller [themail, October 15] should go to to review the plans before she spouts off. Yes, an underground garage for 396 cars is proposed under the Giant. Yes the residential units in the north parcel will all have one parking space each under their building (DC law only requires one space for every two units, so they are providing double the requirement). The eight townhouses on Idaho will each have two parking spaces (only one is required). How about a little research that is easily accessible before printing untruths? I think the biggest problem with this development is the amount of misinformation out there. I am disappointed that themail contributed to it.


Allan Mendelsohn,

Paula Miller’s posting [themail, October 15] about parking and traffic at the Giant (that’s planned for Newark and Wisconsin) is utter nonsense. If she had been at the meeting last evening, she would have learned that Giant has planned and allotted twice, repeat, twice as many parking spaces as are required under normal zoning regs. What more can reasonable folks in the community ask or demand — unless they want to be totally unreasonable and find any reason for opposition (while, as usual, claiming — falsely — that they fully support the project).

As for the allegation that the new store will become a traffic destination, this too is nonsense. There’s a Safeway in Georgetown, two superduper Whole Food stores in Glover Park and Friendship Heights, another Safeway in Friendship Heights, a Giant at Van Ness, and the very attractive new Harris Teeter in Adams Morgan. Someone has to be a dedicated opponent of Giant’s plan to try to argue that all of a sudden the new Giant will be the only destination for all supermarket shoppers all over the city. It will be a destination true — but, thankfully, for those of us who have long lived in the neighborhood but have for the past several years scrupulously avoided going to the Giant because of its deplorable condition and the even more deplorable conditions along the block.


Wisconsin Avenue Development
Richard Stone Rothblum, ANC3C07,

Paula Miller writes [themail, October 15] that, “The fact that a zoning waiver is being sought by the developer on the number of commercial parking spaces is suspicious.” The fact is that the Office of Planning or the Zoning Board is quite likely to recommend less parking than what Giant has proposed. The policy of the city government is to discourage private transit in favor of public transit. Reducing the number of available parking spaces is part of that strategy. According to the Giant plan, the number of parking places available to residents and shoppers, including patrons of local restaurants, will remain approximately the same, and will be free. The Office of Planning held a public meeting on October 15 at the 2D Police Station to inform the community about the planning and approval process. Jenifer Steingasser, Deputy Director, Development Review and Historic Preservation, of the Office of Planning, stated that Giant is providing one space per condo on the north parcel, twice what is required. For the single family houses on Idaho, she stated that Giant is providing two spaces per house, twice what is required. For the residential units on the south parcel, Giant is providing one space per unit, although these spaces will be mingled with general parking for the shops. Again, twice what is required. I believe that the requested waiver is to allow certain parking spaces that are being provided to satisfy requirements of the North parcel to be situated on the South parcel

Giant has been fairly open about its planning process and has involved the neighborhood to a great degree. They have sought community input to the point where I am getting tired of meeting after meeting related to this development. The fact is that the “community” doesn’t speak with one voice, and it seldom knows what it is talking about. I have observed already several instances in which plans were reversed based on community input, only to be reversed again when other elements of the community were heard from. By the time all the district agencies are done with their review, the project may end up looking like one designed by the proverbial committee of visually challenged personnel trying to guess what an elephant looks like based on the particular part each examined. It is a shame that the planning process is taking years, and that it will be at least another year before the city completes its approval process and ground is broken. No wonder businesses avoid the District.


The Giant Development Process
Paula Miller,

Thank you, Richard Rothblum, for your E-mail (above), but why didn’t you summarize your understanding of the Giant Food development parking situation at the meeting? It would have been helpful to a lot of people and alleviated a lot of the questions and confusion. Last night [October 15], the ANC-3C community met at the Second District Police headquarters to voice their concerns about the ongoing Giant Food development planning effort at Wisconsin and Newark, NW. From the start, it was unclear if the meeting was to be an open forum for all concerns to be aired, or just a question and answer session about the planning process. It was not clarified until almost one hour into the meeting that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the planning process. Jennifer Steingasser, Deputy Director, Development Review and Historic Preservation, chaired the meeting, but did an inartful job of leading the “discussion,” such as it was. Her transparent attempts at obfuscation became frustrating to the audience as she continually repeated that the Giant’s seeking of a waiver from the current zoning “overlay” would not itself change the underlying zoning overlay — as if such attempts to reassure the audience would alter our concerns. At one point, an audience member asked her to drop the zoning-speak and explain clearly the terms she was using, to no avail. ANC commissioners present last night, and other community members in-the-know, tried to help clear up the process issue, but no one seemed to understand the entire zoning and planning process, as it applies to this particular project, enough to help the community attain a better understanding of how we’ve gotten to this point in the “process” and where we’re going from here.

While I fully agree with Mr. Rothblum’s impatience about the geologic pace of the planning and zoning process, no one in this community wants to be treated like a mushroom. But that is how we’ve been made to feel by the ANC, the DC developers, and the Giant Food development representatives. No one is pretending to know what they’re talking about regarding this development, as Rothblum accuses me of doing. They are asking good questions, but not getting good answers. Yes, the Giant Food expansion project needs to move forward more quickly to execution. However, the community wants to understand the process better, and not feel as if the developers and ad hoc secret neighborhood groups are acting behind the community’s collective back, trying to either push the planning through back channels, or stall or halt the project.

While it appears that the majority of the community supports the Giant Food development project, last night’s meeting revealed a split between those merely seeking more accurate and complete project information as we move forward, and those impatient with the snail’s pace of the planning process who want to barrel ahead and get the project started. If Steingasser had done a better job of framing the meeting’s purpose and given us a “where-we-are-now, and where-we’re-going-from-here” synopsis, the tone of the meeting could have been much more informative and productive. Steingasser is the wrong person to lead any community outreach or education efforts. Could we now just move on to the zoning commission’s review and hearing process armed with a better understanding of how this is all supposed to work?


Curbside Parking for Commuters Continued
Jack McKay,

Mount Pleasant resident Denise Wiktor complains (themail, October 16) that the proposal for curbside parking for commuters to Mount Pleasant (themail, October 11) “means business owners and employees until midnight” parked around her house. No, it doesn’t. “Daytime-only parking permits” means valid only until 5 p.m., and “a limited number” means few enough to have only a modest effect on daytime parking for residents. A recent count found over five hundred vacant curbside spots at 11:00 a.m. on a weekday, and DDOT recommends that no more than two hundred such permits be issued, whereas the ANC proposed just eighty-five. Surely we residents can get by on three hundred vacant parking spots around the neighborhood.

Furthermore, the DDOT plan will allow these permits only for blocks which currently have daytime parking occupancy of less than 60 percent. This means that none of these daytime-only commuter parking spots will be within a block of Ms Wiktor’s home. They’ll be in front of my house, certainly (40 percent daytime occupancy). But that’s okay, if they’re paying us $160 a quarter for the privilege. I don’t own that spot in front of my house.

I estimate that four thousand cars leave Mount Pleasant every morning, because many residents drive to work. That opens up lots of curbside parking during the day. Given that there’s no commercial parking lot in the neighborhood, why not rent this curbside parking out “ . . . to bona fide Mount Pleasant school and business employees” coming to our neighborhood to work? We need the services these people provide, they need the parking space, it’s public space, and the neighborhood can make good use of the revenues.


With a Few Days to Spare
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

After six phone calls to the Board of Elections, and speaking with three persons, I was assured that the absentee ballots would be mailed out right after Columbus Day. Sure enough, my ship came in today (Saturday) and delivered absentee ballots for roomie and me. They’ll be mailed back on Monday, properly filled out. I was primarily interested in writing in Carol Schwartz (fie on you, Washington Post) but my vote for McCain will be in a very small minority here in DC. I will learn of the results of the national election while I’m in Germany, but I won’t likely learn about the DC results until I get back.



At-Large Council Candidates’ Debate, Dupont Circle, October 20
Joel Lawson,

The Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission (2B), in conjunction with the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA), will co-host an at-large council candidates’ debate on Monday, October 20. The debate will feature questions submitted directly by residents. Residents may submit potential questions at: Confirmed to participate are Kwame Brown, Michael Brown, Mark Long, Patrick Mara, Carol Schwartz, and David Schwartzman. Monday, October 20, from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at the Cosmos Club, Powell Room, 2121 Massachusetts Avenue, NW.


DC Public Library Events, October 21, 23
George Williams,

Tuesday, October 21, 12:30 p.m., West End Library, West End Book Club.

Tuesday, October 21, 3:00 p.m., Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial Library, Room 110. Shades of Black Book Club. Discuss The First Lady by Carl Weber. Next month’s selection: Drama in the Church by Dynah Zale.

Tuesday, October 21, 6:30 p.m., Southeast Library, Capitol Hill Nonfiction Book Club.

Tuesday, October 21, 7:30 p.m., Palisades Library, Palisades Library Book Club.

Thursday, October 23, 6:30 p.m., Cleveland Park Library. Author talk: Naomi F. Collins will discuss Through Dark Days and White Nights: Four Decades Observing a Changing Russia. A book sale and signing will follow.


Historical Society of Washington, DC, October 22
Ed Bruske,

Wednesday, October 22, 12:00 p.m., Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW, at Mt. Vernon Square. Free admission. High Noon Live Music: Me and Martha. Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is a wellspring of traditional folk music dating back to the days of the early settlers. Beyond the historical tracings of fiddle/banjo music, popular in rural Virginia until the guitar gained popularity in the late 1800’s, there has been little primary documentation of the music or the music makers. Except for a dozen or so Library of Congress field recordings by Washington based Alan Lomax, nothing of the Shenandoah Valley’s music exists prior to 1940. This program will trace the preservation and current trends in rural roots music with particular attention given to the role Washington, DC, has played in preserving this truly American performing art specifically the music of the Shenandoah Valley. Don DePoy and Martha Hills, will share their own efforts to preserve and promote traditional folk music with their live presentations of ‘country thumping root music’. Bring the entire family to hear this fun, authentic American music. or 383-1828.


National Building Museum Events, October 22, 25
Jazmine Zick,

Wednesday, October 22, 9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. National AICP Symposium: Make a Difference with Green Community Strategies. Learn how city and regional leaders are producing sustainable communities and addressing climate change through innovative green infrastructure strategies such as green municipal operations and construction standards, alternative forms of transportation, and “energy-smart” growth. Free for APA and AICP Members; $12 Member; $12 Student; $20 Nonmember. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.

Saturday, October 25, 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.; 2:00-4:00 p.m. Family Program: Haunted Halloween. Celebrate the spirit of Halloween as you build and design your very own haunted house. Festivities include crafts, treats, and ghost stories. $10 Member; $15 Nonmember, per child. Ages six and up, accompanied by an adult. Prepaid registration required. Both events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register online at or call 272-2448.


Family-Friendly Halloween Alternative to Trick or Treating, October 31
Ingrid Drake,

M.O.M.I.E’s Great Persons Ball on Friday, October 31 from 6:30 to 10:00 p.m. At the ball, attendees are invited to dress up as their favorite great person, an individual whose life story inspires them, such as Rosa Parks or Malcolm X. The ball will have great food, positive Hip Hop music, family picture-taking, and will feature contests for best costumes. Organized by M.O.M.I.E.’s children and parents, the ball provides families a fun, educational alternative to celebrating Halloween. The ball will be held at the Brightwood Park United Methodist Church, 744 Jefferson Street, NW (corner of 8th and Jefferson Streets, NW). This event is a fundraiser! Please call Melantha at 468-5323.


Videoblogging Class at SALSA, November 4, 11
Phil Shapiro,

Would you like to learn how to put video on the web to support your favorite cause? I’ll be teaching a videoblogging class for SALSA (the Social Action Leadership School for Activists) on November 4 and November 11, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. The price of the class is $75. I teach this class using iMovie HD on a MacBook laptop, but refer to Windows software equivalents. Further info at

I also teach this workshop by arrangement at other places around town. In teaching the class I show and explain how you don’t need expensive equipment to get your message out to the world. For example, the digital camcorder I use costs $225 new and produces excellent video for the web.


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