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November 9, 2008

Late Voting

Dear Voters:

Oh yes, education again. The way that Mayor Fenty, Chancellor Rhee, and their supporters present the issue, either you support their autocratic methods unquestioningly, or you don’t care about good schools, good teachers, and good education. There are other approaches to improving schools that involve working in concert with teachers, students, and parents, rather than working against them. Those approaches are represented well on a new blog site sponsored by Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform,, which I heartily recommend. (I also recommend Bill Turque’s article ( on DCPS’ ineffective efforts to deal with violence at Hart Middle School, efforts that center on Rhee’s faith that any school can be improved by replacing current teachers and principals with young and inexperienced ones.)

After the last issue of themail, Comcast public relations office called me with a clarification. Comcast’s last rate raise notification included a new two dollar monthly “convenience fee for payments made through automated service.” I wrote that that meant that Comcast would be charging extra for automatic monthly payments through banks or through Comcast’s web site, but the company says that it won’t. It says that it will be charging a “convenience fee” only for payments made over the telephone, not for other automated bill payment services. As Gilda Radner’s Emily Litella said, “Never mind”; but don’t pay them over the telephone.

Virginia Spatz, below, accuses me of an “irresponsible bit of speculating” because I said in the last issue of themail that the oddest result in last week’s local elections was the outcome in Ward 7’s Board of Education race, where a candidate who didn’t do any campaigning, Dorothy Douglas, received more votes than her two opponents combined, although they campaigned actively. I don’t know Ms. Douglas, I didn’t have any stake in any candidate in the race, and I didn’t follow the race, but I still think the election results are odd. Let me break my own rule against bringing national events into themail, but only for the purpose of drawing a parallel. Bob Barr and Ralph Nader are both fine and honorable men who ran for president on interesting and credible platforms. But wouldn’t it have been odd if either of them had received more votes than John McCain and Barack Obama combined, and won every state? Could that result have been adequately explained by saying that voters were turned off by the sniping between Obama and McCain, and among their supporters? Virginia misreads me, however, by saying that I made an accusation of fraud. I didn’t, and I don’t. I’m certainly not charging fraud by any of the three Ward 7 candidates. I’m just saying that it’s curious, and I’d like to know more.

Here is how the issue was framed on the Ward 7 Yahoo list by Christopher Jerry, “Granted, I live in Fairlawn and therefore most of the stuff I tend to be on top of is on the western and southern end of Ward 7, so who is Dorothy Douglas? With very little campaigning from her that I saw, at least in my part of the ward, how did she win every precinct in Ward 7? My precinct is 112, in the 1700 block of Minnesota, SE, and I’ve been asking some folks who I know voted in my neighborhood in Ward 7, and not only have I not talked to anyone who voted for her, I haven’t talked to anyone who says they know her. To collect 13,000 votes in a race where apparently close to 24,000 were cast for that seat and councilmember Alexander got 26,000 in her race means that she was the choice on almost half of every ballot that was cast. Had she been #1 on the ballot, I could probably explain it, but she was #3, which means someone had to search for [her] name to make that mark or selection. There was no backing from any councilmembers that I know of, so it does look a little strange than so many votes were pulled for someone who did so little campaigning or [had no] political backing. I take it there are some of you on the other side of East Capitol in Ward 7 who are very familiar with her.”

Gary Imhoff


Which Votes Counted?
Dan Gamber, Ward 2,

As of 8:00 p.m. on November 7, the Board of Elections and Ethics web site says that there were 228,062 votes cast on election day, with no absentee ballots and no provisional ballots. What happened to the absentee and provisional? They obviously could not change the presidential results, but they might change the at-large council race and any of several ANC contests.


Are You Sure Your Vote Counted?
Karen A. Szulgit,

DC voters took part in the unfolding of history, as evidenced by an Election Day turnout of over 53 percent. However, our civic duty did not end when we exited the polls. All persons who cast an Absentee or Provisional ballot should now verify that the DC Board of Elections and Ethics counted their votes in this historic election. DC voters are able to check the status of their own Absentee and Special ballots online at — although the Web page is currently labeled “Search Special Ballot Status for Presidential Preference Election — February 12, 2008” — or by calling 1-866-DC VOTES (1-866-328-6837). If the Board did not count your ballot, you have the right to appeal.

The Board will hold hearings from 9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. on the second Thursday and Friday after election day, in Room 270 North, 441 4th Street NW. If your ballot was rejected and you want to appeal, call 727-2194 to schedule a time to do so. Be prepared to show evidence that your ballot should have been counted, and bring a lawyer or represent yourself at the hearing. If you do not win your appeal, you have three days to appeal the Board’s decision to DC Superior Court.

I must cast Absentee or Provisional ballots because I serve as a poll worker in a voting precinct that is not my regular polling place. After examining my own voting history, I discovered that the Board had listed me as “E — Eligible (Voter did not vote in the election)” in February’s presidential primary, and the primary and general elections in September and November 2006, in which we elected a new mayor. I am dismayed that I am no longer considered a “Super Voter,” and that my voice was not heard in three highly contested elections. DC registered voters, do not let this happen to you! Claim your deserved role in making history by confirming that you have asserted your constitutional right to vote. Our voting histories — whether we voted, not who we voted for — are public record and it is a voter’s responsibility to verify that his or her vote has indeed been counted in every DC election.


Election Day Problems
Ralph Blessing,

Around 6:45 a.m. on election day we got in the long line at the Precinct 62 voting place. At 7:00 the line started moving at a fairly steady pace, and by 8:00 or so we had made it to the doorway of the school auditorium where the voting takes place. All of a sudden, the doors were closed. We were told that once the voters already inside had cast their ballots, the election officials were going to hold a strategy session to address some problems they had encountered during the first hour. It would take no more than a few minutes, we were told, but nearly forty-five minutes later we were still waiting. When we were then admitted, we went about our business with no further delays.

I related this incident to a coworker, who was astonished, claiming that once voting has started it’s against the law to shut the doors any time before the announced closing time. That makes sense, given the possibility for ballot tampering that could occur behind closed doors. Was my coworker correct?


Absentee Ballot Didn’t Arrive
Laura Richards,

There were no problems at Ward 7 precincts 108, 109, and 110 (Hillcrest, Dupont Park, Penn-Branch), but I mailed a timely request for an absentee ballot for my mother and it never arrived. She was able to use senior citizen curbside voting at her precinct (114, Anacostia), which worked well.


Optical Scan Voting Machines
Am Turnip,

Folks were feeding their ballots face-up into both scanners at J.O. Wilson Elementary, K Street, NE, when I was there around 7:50 a.m. I wanted to feed mine in face down; why should the poll workers inspect my selections on the way by? The poll worker supervising the machine for which I’d waited my turn informed me “it wouldn’t work” if I inserted the form face down. I inserted it face-down anyway. The machine did not spit it back out. Did it count?


Fenty’s Early Filing Offers a Valuable Opportunity
Mai Abdul Rahman,

Although the District of Columbia has yet to experience the same steep economic hardships of home foreclosures and the predictable decline in property taxes, nevertheless the economic crisis will impact our city’s ability to meet our costly financial commitment to the Fenty-Rhee school reform initiative. In the last month more than twenty-three state legislators, including nearby Virginia and Maryland, slashed their school budgets and froze future teachers’ and administrators’ salaries. With the looming economic crisis we are likely to face, Mayor Fenty’s early filing of his candidacy for a second term offers our city, mayor, and legislators an opportunity to reevaluate and reassess the mayor’s multi-billion-dollar school initiative; the successes of his new school reforms in the classroom; the effectiveness, role, and expense of his newly established Ombudsman and Deputy Mayor for Education offices; how much the taxes allocated for DCPS will have an impact on our limited city funds and services; and the wisdom of the Chancellor’s contentious proposal to rely on fragile nonprofit and private funding to augment the funds needed for her proposed astronomical teachers’ salary increases, a contentious proposal that has pitted teachers unsure of the reliability of these funds against DCPS central office.

Mayor Fenty has argued that his mayoral control of our schools has placed schools success and failure accountable to him, overlooking a fundamental weakness of his school takeover. He still has to work with councilmembers and negotiate the more than $1.4 billion needed for his proposed reforms. With an emasculated Board of Education, school parents have joined others in the city to push for more legislative oversight. Meanwhile the council is fretting over its limited input on school reforms and our rising school expenditures, while our schools have yet to show any tangible successes in the classroom. As a result, councilmembers are exercising their legislative prerogative by delaying the approval of millions of dollars in school renovation funds and take every opportunity to voice their discontent with Chancellor Rhee, Facility Director Allen Lew, and Mayor Fenty in private and public forums, openly challenging the Fenty administration.

Today’s economic climate and the mayor’s early declaration may offer the mayor and his school Chancellor another chance to reach out to the city council and school parents who have been alienated and marginalized from much of the school debate. This is a chance to reestablish and rebuild a more trusting relationship, and to diminish the current political friction all have suffered and have openly complained about. It may also present the mayor the prospect of reassessing and justifying the cost effectiveness of his school plans to DC citizens and legislators; to demonstrate how these reforms are enhancing teaching and learning in the classroom; and to examine the role, effectiveness, and cost of establishing multiple educational agencies that have yet to produce concrete accomplishments.


How to Fix DC Public Schools
Richard Layman,

I was told by someone that principals, in public meetings with other principals and parents, won’t ’fess up to not having resources (including people resources) when the chancellor says “you have X, don’t you?”, because they don’t believe that “telling truth to power” is what’s sought by the question, and they fear for their jobs — given the arbitrary and capricious decision making we seem to be witnessing thus far. That seems like a sound course of action to me (although I myself am not very good at denying the truth, but at least I am not a DCPS principal).

It’s reasonable to suggest that one way to correct these problems would be to weigh a good portion of the Chancellor’s salary on student retention (not to mention teacher and principal retention). The DC Schools Chancellor gets paid far more per capita than most school superintendents in the US and in the region. Montgomery County, Fairfax, and Prince Georges County schools all have about triple or more enrollment compared to DC. DC’s school system is very small. Even including the enrollment of the charter schools, it’s about half the size of the larger school districts in the region. If you want to get the school system committed to student retention vis-a-vis the charter schools, I suggest weighing up to half of the chancellor’s salary on student retention and enrollment increases/targets. Taking a page from the NCLB (No Child Left Behind) metrics, weigh this in terms of overall student enrollment, by elementary, middle-junior high, and senior high school tranches, and by individual school. Similarly, principals should have salary bonuses based on maintenance and increase of student enrollments, but on a smaller portion of regular salary (say 25 percent) compared to the Chancellor. So whether or not they are getting the right resources, this would begin to focus the public school system on competing with the charter schools for students.

Given the seven-thousand-student drop in attendance from last year to this year, that means a hefty decrease in salary to my way of thinking. (I know you have to guard against fudging the data, because that would be the new incentive given the link to salary.) Right now, one of the two major promises of charter schools, that their existence would generate a competitive and marketing orientation on the part of the traditional public schools, has never been realized (the other promise is choice and better schooling options for children with otherwise limited options). That’s because all the incentives right now favor charter schools. And there are no real penalties to the DCPS other than school closure which, granted, sucks for the people whose schools are closed, but not for the people who manage to keep their jobs and schools open. 

We can argue about the two-tier salary system for teachers proposed by Rhee. But I don’t think her proposal addresses what’s really needed in the face of the fundamental lack of 1) quality curricular systems; 2) quality teaching processes; 3) management and support systems for principals; 4) professional development systems for teachers and principals; 5) adequate support systems and provision of additional resources as needed for students of special needs — be they physically disabled or having other skill or resource deficits; 6) adequate support and development systems for parents and families — something that many school systems don’t need to do, but seem to be necessary in urban school systems with either or both ESL students and families or a high proportion of lower income students and families.)

This isn’t Wall Street, where poor performance gets big bonuses, and stellar performance gets stellar bonuses. I would say a drop in enrollment of more than ten percent merits a minimum 25 percent salary decrease. I tell you if Chancellor Rhee’s income dropped that much this year, she’d start changing how she does things, and really focus on enrollment-based outcomes. Match that with student achievement outcomes, and now you’re talking. So I’d do a base salary of maybe $125,000, and then another $125,000 on achievement outcomes, and another $125,000 on enrollment outcomes. I think that would have a lot more impact than spending money paying middle school students, and it would be cheaper too. (Although I do think there should be a cooperative education option for high school students on an opt-in basis. Students would go to school year round, maybe on 50 percent time, and spend the other 50 percent in payroll-job-subject learning-career oriented internships.) I’d be happy to sell this as a counter-plan to the Washington Teachers Union, which doesn’t seem to have managed to come up with a counter-plan yet.


Bag Checks
Dino Drudi,

Am I the only one who seethes at having to go through a metal detector and empty my pockets of keys, change, etc., and show an ID just to get into my city hall? I can remember not having to do so for a long time, and I am unpersuaded that enough has changed to warrant it now. I see this extraordinary level of security as the first thing to cut in every city building to make up the projected $131 million budget shortfall.

Every time I have to subject myself to city hall security, I wonder whether the city council feels a need for this level of security because it fears it is as despised by the governed as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and it worries whether we perceive it as being held in office by its fealty to special interests. City hall security smacks of tyranny and royalism, not government in a free republic.

The Washington Express’ poll center shows 54 percent of respondents object to WMATA’s new random bag check policy. But what tool of democracy is afforded us to reverse it? Ward One Councilmember Jim Graham sits on the WMATA Board, which has implemented this policy without a public hearing, but since I live in Ward Five, I can’t express my objection to this policy through the normal democratic means of voting Jim Graham out. Is this tyranny or is it royalism?


LEA and SEA Functions
Tonya M. Butler-Truesdale,

Dear Mr. Bobb and Mr. Greene, I thank you for your prompt response [themail, November 5] to the contributions made by Ms. Goodall and I. Expeditious agency responsiveness is impressive, while expedient misrepresentations of questions and issues are not. It is critical that the comments and questions of citizens regarding any ambiguities the public may perceive regarding the division of responsibilities between the Office of the State Superintendent ( the State Education Agency) and the District of Columbia Public Schools (the Local Education Agency) not be mischaracterized as being, “too quick to write off the significance of the DC State Board of Education.” As taxpayers we do have a right to ask questions. The thrust of the two contributions regarding the DC State Board of Education which you are responding to narrowly focused on the lack of clarity regarding the comparative responsibilities between the LEA and the SEA as described by their web sites.

The defensive accusatorial tone of the response is almost intimidating. While your E-mail lauds the alleged public participation already achieved in the process of reform, a question regarding public access to each agency’s responsibilities appears to be unwelcome, given the overall tone of your response. I had to remind myself that you are not the spokesperson for the LEA or the SEA. You are supposedly my voice, my spokesperson, the voice of the community.

More troubling is the fact that your E-mail attempts to clarify the responsibilities of the State Board of Education with the simple explanation that, “We have policy authority and responsibilities similar to those of education boards in every other state. Ours is the ‘big picture.’” That statement clarifies very little and leaves out the most critical fact, which is that State Board of Education only acts in an advisory capacity although it, “provides one of the few public forums where District residents can share their views at hearings and meetings with a responsive elected body that is focused solely on education.” I thank you for your service and your commitment and I am certain that the tone was less than intentional. And, I’d like to remind the readers that this discourse started regarding a question of a possible conflict of interest of a candidate for office to the State Board and my response that the conflict of interest issue was tangled by the fact that OSSE and DCPS are separate agencies with separate contract and procurement offices.


Carol Schwartz
Richard Rogers,

“First and most importantly, with the defeat of Carol Schwartz the District of Columbia has probably elected the last Republican to a partisan elected office for many years.” [Gary Imhoff, themail, November 5]

Carol Schwartz lost the Republican primary because she opposes gay marriage. Then, the loser, she said she wouldn’t do a write-in campaign. Then the loser changed her mind. So it is Carol Schwartz’ fault that Patrick Mara was defeated for the council seat and Carol Schwartz’ fault the Republican Party is disappearing.

Thanks Carol, you loser.


The Last Elected Republican in DC
William Haskett,

Not a good prospect, surely, given the uncertainties of party platforms, the improbabilities of local administration, Fenty’s wish to imitate the most dubious of Bush’s claims to executive authority, and the unholy alliance of the Post and the Fenty administration.


Irresponsible Speculating
Virginia Spatz,

I’m disturbed by what seems to be an accusation in Gary Imhoff’s piece [themail, November 5] of fraud based entirely on the idea that something seems unlikely. Is there any reason to believe there was fraud in the election for Board of Education in Ward 7 other than the fact that the person who didn’t campaign won? Given the sniping that was going on, at least in the Ward 7 lists, between the two younger, male candidates’ campaigns, it didn’t seem all that unlikely to me that voters would ignore the both of them and turn instead to someone with a teaching background and a long history of service to the community.

In any case, however, something being unlikely doesn’t make it a crime, and what is copied below strikes me as a very irresponsible bit of speculating. Were the reported misprinted ballots in Ward 7? Is there any reason to suspect fraud in this particular case? If so, can someone tell me some specifics?

If not, I hope citizens will think carefully before spreading charges based on likelihood. Thank you for considering this



National Building Museum Events, November 12, 16
Jazmine Zick,

November 12, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Building for the 21st Century: Innovation in Green Design: The AIA presents the 2008 top ten green buildings. Lance Davis, AIA, LEED AP and Greg Mella, AIA, LEED AP, of the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment, present the committee’s top ten examples of sustainable architecture and green design solutions that both protect and enhance the environment.

November 16, 2:00-5:00 p.m. Family Program: It’s Easy Being Green! Turn your trash into treasure during this fun workshop that uses recyclable materials to explore some of the themes of the Museum’s newest exhibition Green Community. Both events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square stop, Metro Red Line. Register for events at


Investigating DC Elections
Dorothy Brizill,

On Thursday, November 13, the city council’s Board of Elections and Ethics Investigation Special Committee will hold its second hearing on the election process and practices in DC. The roundtable will be held at 10:00 a.m. In Room 412 at the Wilson Building. It will focus on “pollworker training, recruitment and evaluation, absentee and early voting; innovations in voting options; voter education and initiatives; vote center; and other similar issues.” To testify, contact Aukima Benjamin at 724-8062 or


Department of Parks and Recreation Events, November 14
John Stokes,

Friday, November 14, 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., King-Greenleaf Recreation Center, 201 N Street, SW. Fashion show: A fun-filled night of choreography and dancing while introducing the latest crazes in fashion. For more information, call Henry Moton, Site Manager, 645-4550.

Friday, November 14, 4:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m., Langdon Park Recreation Center, 2901 20th Street, NE. Skate party: the staff at Langdon Park Recreation Center will host a Skate Party for the community. Admission is a canned good. All food collected will be donated to families in the Langdon Park community. Ages 6-18. For more information, call T-Jai Farmer, Site Manager, at 576-6595.

Friday, November 14, 7:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m., Joseph Cole Recreation Center, 1200 Morse Street, NE. Teen pot luck dinner (all ages). The teens of Joseph Cole will bring in dishes to sit down and share with their fellow friends before the big feast.


How to Make More and Better Sales Right Away, November 15
Barbara Conn,

At this interactive workshop led by Dick Davies, the president of Sales Lab Incorporated, you will learn how to say what you want — the way people want to hear it. In an hour and a half you will learn what to say, how to say it, and when to say it to have your audience agreeing they want to do just what you want them to do. No stranger to technology, our speaker has had key roles in the adoption of cellular phones, the Navy/Marine Corps intranet, and COBOL.

Gather your colleagues, friends, and spouses, and your questions, and bring them to this Saturday, November 15, 1:00 p.m., event of the Capital PC User Group (CPCUG) Entrepreneurs and Consultants Special Interest Group (E&C SIG). These monthly gatherings are free and open to all. This month’s event is at the Cleveland Park Branch Library (first floor large meeting room) at 3310 Connecticut Avenue, NW (between Macomb and Newark Streets), just over a block south of the Cleveland Park Metrorail Station on the Red Line. For more information about the event, the speaker, and CPCUG (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization), visit To RSVP, send E-mail to


Historical Society of Washington, DC, November 16
Ed Bruske,

Sunday, November 16, 2:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m. Historical Society of Washington, DC, 801 K Street, NW, at Mt. Vernon Square. Free admission. HSW Author and Lecture Series: Black Men Built The Capitol: Discovering African American History, In and Around Washington, DC. From the Back Cover of Black Men Built the Capitol: “Millions of people visit the National Mall, the White House, and the US Capitol each year. If they only hear the standard story, a big question remains: “Where’s the black history?” Packed with new information and archival photos, Jesse Holland’s book, Black Men Built the Capitol, answers this question. In this thoroughly researched yet completely accessible volume, Washington insider and political-savvy Holland shines a light on the region’s African-American achievements, recounting little-known stories and verifying rumors, such as: enslaved black men built the Capitol, White House, and other important Washington, DC, structures; Philip Reid, a thirty-nine-year-old slave from South Carolina, cast and helped save the model of the Statue of Freedom that sits atop the Capitol Dome; the National Mall sits on the former site of the city’s most bustling slave market; the grounds that are now Arlington National Cemetery were, from 1863 to 1888, a self-sustaining village for former slaves called the Freedman’s Village.

Included are hundreds of places in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia that illuminate ‘the rest of the story’ for Washington, DC, residents and visitors alike.” Jesse Holland is an Associated Press reporter covering Congress and is extremely well-connected among Washington’s powerful black elite — the political, legal, academic, and media communities. He took a year’s sabbatical from the AP to conduct never-before-done research into the topics covered in this book. Holland lives on Capitol Hill with his wife Carol and infant daughter Rita. See or 383-1828.


State Board of Education Meeting Postponed, November 20
Sean Greene,

The District of Columbia State Board of Education (DCSBOE) has postponed the public hearing scheduled for Wednesday, November 12, to Thursday, November 20. The DCSBOE will receive input from the public on the proposed Early Learning Standards. The meeting will begin at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 20, at 441 4th Street, NW, in the District of Columbia State Board of Education Chambers, located on the lobby level of the building. The meeting will air live on DSTV Comcast Channel 99 and RCN Channel 18.


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