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December 28, 2008

Here’s Adventure

Dear Adventurers:

“Here’s adventure! Here’s romance! Here’s O. Henry’s famous Robin Hood of the Old West, the Cisco Kid!” That was how the excited announcer introduced episodes of The Cisco Kid television series. Cisco was an exception among major Western series heroes. All the other heroes were good guys with good reputations, with the possible exception of Charles Starrett’s black-masked Durango Kid. Cisco was a good guy with a terrible reputation. On television, Cisco and his sidekick Pancho were a little roguish, but they never did anything illegal, except evade a mistaken arrest or escape from an unwarranted jailing. This made them very different from the ruthless, remorseless killer that O. Henry created ( Nevertheless, all the sheriffs and marshals in the west must have been familiar with O. Henry’s story, because they invariably suspected Cisco and Pancho of committing any crime that occurred within miles of them. Mistaken identity was a common plot in Western movies and television series, but lawmen were never mistaken about Cisco’s identity; they were just mistaken about his character.

It’s hard to imagine how they recognized Duncan Reynaldo’s Cisco from O. Henry’s description, however. To begin with, O. Henry’s Cisco had no companion; who would put up with him? O. Henry’s Cisco was an Anglo; Reynaldo portrayed a Mexican, although his own ethnicity was questionable. O. Henry’s Cisco was no dude, but Reynaldo had the most elaborate costume of all television and movie cowboys. Like Hopalong Cassidy and Lash LaRue, he wore a black shirt and pants, but his shirt was decorated with flashy white embroidery, his wide belt and gun belt were covered with silver buckles, eagle figures, and medallions; and he wore a wide-brimmed sombrero rather than a cowboy hat. His handsome horse, Diablo, was a piebald pinto, unlike the speckled roan that O. Henry described. Pancho’s horse, Loco, was also handsome. It was a golden palomino, like Roy Rogers’ Trigger, but it looked plain next to the showy black-and-white Diablo. Similarly, Leo Carillo’s Pancho was a highly competent cowboy sidekick who could ride, fight, and shoot with the best, but he was handicapped by a paunch; a plain brown shirt with a white pattern; and broken English that was a collection of malapropisms, spoonerisms, and misquoted aphorisms (“Put that in your smoke and pipe it.”) Cisco was the lady’s man and got all the girls, while Pancho got all the laughs.

In the mid-1960’s, a decade after the television show had ended, a revived and unauthorized Cisco Kid Fan Club was begun. The club materials were written with a gentle humor, rather that with the sneering and snarky condescension that would underlie such a spoof today. Of course, I joined. Unfortunately, I lost my membership materials years ago, and I can’t find any mention of the club on the web, but I still remember that the club’s two goals were to promote world peace and to paint desert scenes, and that part of the lyrics of the club’s song, sung to no recognizable tune, was: “Oh Cisco, oh Pancho, and their horse Diablo, and their horse Loco; they help the young and old; they never get thirsty.”

As a belated Christmas present to you, I won’t turn the Cisco Kid into the strained metaphor about Washington politics that you were dreading. I shall, however, point you to the best year-end summary of Washington political affairs in the local newspapers, Colbert King’s Saturday column, King wishes “that leaders address the real problems that threaten the quality of life in our city: the erosion of public safety, an apathetic and complacent city workforce, and DC council members who fail to realize they are getting duped by the $10 billion municipal enterprise that voters hired them to oversee.” Of course, I’m limiting that “best” appellation to printed summaries; see two more contenders for best 2008 retrospectives below in this issue of themail. If you want to compete with King, or if you have a different viewpoint, please send in your 2008 year-end review in time for the New Year’s Eve edition of themail.

Gary Imhoff


Enter the New Year
Richard Layman,

While I think I lack the critical distance to do a full-blown year end review, I do offer some things to think about as we enter the new year, based on another year of involvement and observation of the local scene. DC has one advantage possessed by no other city in the United States, we collect and keep 100 percent of local (state) income taxes. For this reason, as well as a belief in theoretical capacity for efficiency, I am tired of the excuse that because the city has state, county, and local government functions, it is more expensive to conduct a variety of functions that cities would not normally conduct. There really is no excuse after more than thirty years of Home Rule for the city’s political and civic engagement culture as well as the capacity of governance, to be so weak, and for people to be so little concerned about mediocrity.

One problem is that “little government” — DC’s local government — shapes itself after “big government” — the federal government — so that it is more top heavy and slow and even less oriented to transformation than other municipalities. Relatedly, there is what I call “governmentalizing” (like “infantilism”) where it is believed that government action is the solution to any and all problems and issues (this is the flip-side negative that ANCs sometimes represent). This reduces our ability to develop ground-up, grassroots, and self-help oriented solutions. This is complicated by the fact that many of our politicians come from government, where they first learned to think of the citizenry as customers/consumers of government services, rather than of the people as sovereign, from which government derives.

So, things to think about as we enter 2009: 1) That culture of incompetency that means that government agencies are disconnected and many people, such as Harriet Walters, “ask not what they can do for their country, but what their government can do for them.” How is it possible that the Office of Tax and Revenue managers who overlooked massive corruption for more than one decade can still be in office? 2) More democracy, not less, is in order. Isn’t it time that the Attorney General was elected by the people, to better manage the conflict between representing the executive branch and representing the people, as these interests often collide, depending on who is in office? I would suggest that the AG be elected in the residential election (e.g., 2012) as the mayoral election occurs in the non-presidential election slot of the election cycle. 3) Isn’t it time for a review of the Home Rule Charter? It’s been thirty years. Things aren’t “perfect” and, among other things, citizens cannot initiate changes in the charter by referendum, which seems an unreasonable restriction of democracy. 4) One of the things to change in our civic culture is a belief in the savior. We need instead to focus on building strong management and development systems and structures within our government agencies, so that there will be great outcomes regardless of who leads. That requires a culture that demands and builds excellence in both people and systems, rather than looking for magicians to somehow magically transform outcomes without transforming culture and management. 5) With the race to sell or lease public properties, why haven’t we learned yet that a request for proposals isn’t a plan, that we need to do master planning for capital improvements and neighborhoods first, and that disposition of public assets, if at all, should only occur in the context of objective city and neighborhood planning? 6) Why is it that the city council is exempt from the contracting laws that regulate the executive branch? For example, the special contract for redeveloping the Florida Market was passed by city council without a request for proposals, without a public vetting. It was a sole source contract worth potentially more than $100 million. Every week, when I read about public corruption investigations in Maryland, I sit with my mouth open, wondering why DC public officials aren’t investigated for the same type of behavior. 7) We need to guard better against what I call the tyranny of neighborhood parochialism. Citywide needs of more residents paying more income taxes need to be balanced with neighborhood desires to have no change at all. Cities change over time; they can’t be static, especially when our most successful competitors (Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery Counties) continue to improve whether or not DC works to truly be “world class” rather than to be content with trash talk about how great the city is.


Reflections of 2008
Qawi Robinson,

By the time this is published, there will be three days left in 2008. That is three days premature for a complete retrospective. However, to honor what Gary requested, here is my 360-day retrospective of DC. For the sake of brevity I just hit high- (or low-) lights. However, for those who want to know more, just review previous issues of themail for details.

Department of Parks and Recreation: Langdon Park finally got upgraded facilities. Summer Camps once again were a quiet success. Department of Employment Services: Fenty’s goal to get every child employed was admirable and outstanding. Getting all the kids paid and running within budget . . . well, the debt was outstanding (in a bad way). Metropolitan Police Department: the suspects in the Spevak’s double murder were apprehended swiftly, but the Trinidad, Ivy City, and Carver Terrace Neighborhoods are still under siege. “All Hands On Deck” days are predictable and minimally effective. Trinidad checkpoints only proved to ire the ACLU and residents, not the criminal element, who could easily walk from place to place. 6D police officers stole donated Christmas toys. DC Public Schools: schools were consolidated and shuttered in the name of low attendance; Many employees were fired from the DCPS central office thanks to Fenty’s help; Union- and contract-busting tactics were used by the Chancellor to trick veteran teachers out of their seniority; more school violence, this time in Anacostia SHS; “EleMiddle” schools were created and naming as such based on their success in other jurisdictions; and special education support remained dismal despite court orders. Children and Family Services Agency: mishandling of the Benita Jacks case led to Fenty’s firing of counselors surrounding the Benita Jacks case, which led to qualified staff hemorrhaging due to low morale, and to the director’s departure. Board of Elections and Ethics: not prepared for write-in votes in September, slightly better in November, but investigation looms . . . all to the tune of less than 30 percent voter turnout. DC Public Libraries: Tenleytown, Watha T. Daniel, and Benning have “interim” libraries, but construction for permanent facilities is bogged down by deception, unfinalized designs, and contract issues. Per recent reports, Kiosk-style libraries will be next to be shuttered. Office of Tax and Revenue: still sorting out how much money was stolen . . . $16 million to $40 million; Gandhi’s recommended projected cost for the National’s stadium deal was grossly inaccurate, all the while we have not collected full rent from the Lerners for their use of it.

Other low lights: DC Taxicab Commission: taxis got meters in a Draconian fashion, drivers (and some customers) be damned; District Department of Transportation proved its incompetence and lack of customer service as it took 2.5 months to replace a streetlight. Benning Road (approaching Langston Golf Course and western points) was a construction minefield unsuitable for vehicular travel. Citizens and the city council had to fight the Fenty Administration for DCPS budget transparency; Carol Schwartz lost after pulling a Lieberman. And, finally, Peter Nickles was confirmed as Attorney General!

One can only hope that 2009 will be less controversial.


DCPS Is Rigging Some Teacher Evaluations
Candi Peterson,

To protect their jobs, DC principals are under increasing pressure to fudge teachers’ evaluations in order to satisfy Chancellor Rhee’s plan B, sources say. Shortly after teacher contract talks stalled, Rhee threatened to implement her plan B aggressively in the form of a “newly revised” evaluation plan that seeks to rid DC Public Schools of ineffective teachers. While no one supports ineffective teaching, little did we know that DC principals would be encouraged to dismiss a quota of teachers, bribe students, and, if all else fails, lie on teachers.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, sources have recently revealed that several more DC administrators were required by the Rhee administration to alter the already completed structured observations of teachers who had performed well in order to make it appear that they were less than effective. Our teachers deserve better. It is recommended that DC teachers take precautions by videotaping their next structured observations, which must be scheduled in advance by the administrator. Of course, take the required steps to ensure that you have the parental permission releases necessary to videotape your students. In addition, request that another teacher or your union representative sit in on your structured observation and take notes.

Given that Chancellor Rhee’s office has refused to provide the names and work sites of DC teachers on ninety-day termination plans to the Washington Teachers’ Union as required, all affected teachers should contact their union representative immediately for additional information at 293-8600.


5A Bus Stop Sign at L’Enfant Plaza
David Sobelsohn,

Merry Christmas Councilmember Graham! I just wanted to remind you that, regarding the 5A WMATA bus stop, I sent the message below to you and to WMATA’s Brett Tyler two weeks ago, on December 11. On Christmas Eve I stopped by L’Enfant Plaza again — specifically, the south side of D Street, SW, between 7th and 9th Streets, SW, at the foot of the stairs to the L’Enfant Plaza promenade Metro entrance. At that place, as I wrote you both on November 20 and again on December 11, and contrary to Mr. Tyler’s claim, there remains an information case for Metrobus routes — specifically, giving the westbound times (weekdays, Saturdays, and Sundays) for the 5A bus to Dulles Airport, even though the 5A to Dulles Airport hasn’t stopped there on the way to Dulles for many months. Check it out if you don’t believe me. That’s why I waited there in vain on November 12 for the 5A to Dulles.

I am starting to hear from friends who’ve had the same problem I had: waiting for a bus that never came, lured by a display case that should have been removed years ago and that should be replaced by a sign directing riders to the correct westbound 5A bus stop. Some of my friends live in Ward One, but I know you wouldn’t want anyone misled by Metros signs, not just Ward One residents. I am, however, copying this message to the ANC commissioner (both outgoing and incoming) who represents the block with the actual 5A Metrobus stops.

Can you explain why WMATA keeps up an information case that gives misleading information? I am also curious as to why WMATA’s Brett Tyler makes claims that are patently false, and why you didn’t respond at all when I pointed that out to you and to him two weeks ago. It’s now been over a month since I first brought this problem to your and WMATA’s attention. One heavy travel season (Thanksgiving) has passed with no correction; we’re in the second. It would be good if WMATA fixes this problem before our influx of visitors for the inauguration. I hope to hear from you as soon as the season permits. My best wishes for the New Year.

[This E-mail to Councilmember Graham has been followed by two E-mails that were copied to themail; one from the councilmember calling WMATA’s attention to look into the signage and a reply from WMATA saying that it would look into the matter. — Gary Imhoff]


Historic District Designation
Jack McKay,

Matt Forman confirms [themail, December 24] that preservationists want to impose historic district designation on homeowners, however unwilling, because commonly “the current population is unable to foresee the value future generations will place on existing buildings” Evidently the preservationist aristocracy is able to perceive what we commoners cannot, and so preservation must be imposed, without allowing the affected homeowners to vote on the matter. Democracy? Not applicable here, it seems.

Mr. Forman goes on to say that, “The historic preservation office doesn’t demand anything other than that the homeowner not let his property go to rot and ruin.” Uh, no, quite the opposite is the case. The HPO is supposed to prevent “demolition by neglect,” but in fact simply ignores that portion of the law, with the excuse that they don’t have lawyers on staff to sue negligent homeowners. I can show you two houses within a block of my home that have been allowed to deteriorate to partial collapse, roofs open to the weather and allowing the rain in. The HPO does nothing to prevent such passive destruction of “historic” homes. On the other hand, Historic punishes homeowners who try to improve their properties, e.g., with energy-efficient windows, or who try to modify their homes to cope with disabilities, such as the well-known case of the elderly couple on Walbridge Place. Allowing your house to deteriorate to ruins is allowed, but improving it, if that would affect its circa-1935 appearance, is not. (Evidently the Depression era was the golden age of District architecture.)

Mr. Forman asserts that “owners of million-dollar homes” ought to be able to pay the high costs of historic preservation. Fine, let the regulations apply only to homes assessed at a million or more. That would exempt the great majority of us in Mount Pleasant, including the young couple with the vinyl windows, and the elderly couple on Walbridge. Too many advocates of historic preservation imagine that everyone is wealthy, and they have no comprehension of the burdens imposed on homeowners who are not.


Another Case of Hysterical Preservation
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

The Georgetown ANC has, for the third time, rejected a design proposal for an Apple computer store on Wisconsin Avenue in the Georgetown shopping corridor. Apparently none of the three designs submitted to date meet the “in character” criteria in the minds of the Georgetown ANC. As a confirmed Macaholic I have visited Apple stores in several places. All of them are stunning and very customer friendly. They are all very modern in design and very functional. It’s hard to believe that one would be a blight on the Wisconsin Avenue shopping corridor. Apple stores bring in a ton of customers every day and a huge amount of sales dollars per square foot of space. That is both a blessing and a curse for Georgetown. They want the additional folks coming to Georgetown, but they have onerous parking restrictions, very limited parking, and almost nonexistent convenient public transit to that corridor. If I were Steve Jobs, I’d take my great store to someplace where it was more convenient and more wanted, as well as needed.



Vigil, December 29
Sandra Seegars,

There will be a vigil for Amari Hall, the little girl who was murdered early Friday morning in her bed at 3314 11th Place, SE. The vigil will be held for Amari on her birth date, Monday, December 29, at 7:00 p.m., in front of 3314 11th Place, SE (11th Place, SE, intersects with Alabama Avenue, near Wheeler Road and Savannah Street). We are asking everyone to bring a light; a flashlight is preferred. For more information, call ANC Commissioner Sandra “S.S.” Seegars, 561-6616.

There have been entirely too many deaths at the hands of supposedly loved ones – parents killing children. If anyone can think of anything that could be done or tried to stop these types of homicides, please E-mail me.


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