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August 12, 2009

At Any Cost

Dear Benefits:

The top local news of the last few days, of course, has been the poll showing Mayor Fenty’s potential reelection weakness “Only 30 Percent Say Fenty ‘Definitely’ Has Their Vote,” The poll was obtained by Mike Neibauer of the Examiner, and it has already been commented on by Sommer Mathis in DCIst,, and Harry Jaffe in the Washington Examiner, But it hasn’t been commented on by you yet. The whole poll has been put online by the Examiner at How do you interpret it? Is Fenty in trouble? Will his long and unending line of scandals make his position untenable? Can any announced or unannounced candidate overcome Fenty’s advantages of incumbency and a huge campaign war chest?

Jason Cherkis summarizes Attorney General Peter Nickles’ response today to Judge Emmet Sullivan in the cases of Chang v. US and Barham v. DC, (Nickles’ whole declaration is available on the Legal Times blog, As Cherkis points out, the response consists primarily of blaming attorney Tom Kogan for all the problems in the case. Cherkis notes that Nickles says he is committed to “a vigorous and independent investigation of what happened and remedial action intended to ensure that the mistakes do not occur again.” But he notes that all the investigations Nickles promises are to be conducted by DC government employees, and wonders how vigorous and independent they will be. A pseudonymous commenter on Cherkis’ story, Straight Shooter, has a good perspective on the major problem with Nickles’ handling of the AG’s office: “Nickles expects AG line lawyers to litigate cases the same way Covington and Burling lawyers defend wealthy corporate defendants: take no prisoners and use scorched earth tactics. Savvy as he is, however, Nickles seems oblivious to the fact that Covington & Burling assigns large, highly paid teams of lawyers and paralegals to accomplish its goal. In contrast, AG lawyers are provided with virtually no support staff and carry huge case loads. Under the circumstances, it’s unseemly for Nickles to lay the blame on Koger. Judge Sullivan repeatedly emphasized that he thought highly of Koger and that Nickles should either properly staff the case or settle it.” The scorched earth policy may work for some private lawyers, and Nickles’ supporters on the city council, like Jack Evans and David Catania, may appreciate it. But attorneys who represent the government are supposed to be concerned with justice, not with winning at any cost. Legal sharks who are devoted to winning by wearing down their opponents, regardless of the merits of their case, shouldn’t be trusted with the power of the government. That’s the attitude that got DC into this predicament.

Gary Imhoff


DC’s Hidden Tax
Paul Diego Craney,

The DC council recently increased the DC sales tax to 6 percent, and earlier this year they eliminated DC’s two tax free holidays. Councilmembers explained that they needed revenue to pay for the unexpected budget deficit. This past weekend, Virginia offered consumers a tax free weekend in preparation for back to school shopping. Virginia’s sales tax is less than DC’s, and most consumers in Virginia enjoy free parking. Councilmembers increased taxes once again and District residents and businesses are left with paying for their bloated budget. The District’s budget has increased 42 percent since 2004. What has also grown is how much we pay our elected officials. This is a “hidden tax” that makes living in DC so expensive.

If Council Chairman Vincent Gray (Dem) and Mayor Adrian Fenty (Dem) were governors, they would be the second and third highest paid governors in the country. California pays their governor $206,000, but the current governor doesn’t take his full salary, so it is possible Mayor Fenty would be the highest paid governor. When Mayor Fenty was asked recently on the Kojo Nnamdi show if he would lead by example and take a pay cut while raising taxes, his response was “no.”

Our part-time councilmembers make more then the average United State governor. Councilmember spend $700,000 annually each for their staffs. Again on the Kojo show, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh (Dem) said that she wishes she had more to spend on her staff. Most DC residents are aware of Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry’s (Dem) girlfriend who was awarded a council staff contract worth $5,000 each month. How does this impact your wallets? On average, each DC registered voter pays over $26 annually for council staff, council salaries and the mayor’s salary. The average DC registered voter pays about 44 cents each year just for the mayor’s salary. Compare this figure to other big cities, where the average residents pay one to four cents for their mayors’ salary.

You will never heard about our councilmember giving themselves pay raises, because their pay raises are automatic. Councilmembers have a cost-of-living pay increase every year. This year, many councilmembers said they wouldn’t take their pay raises, yet they have not made their tax returns public. Maybe they should, if they have nothing to hide. District residents shouldn’t have to tolerate our councilmembers giving away staff contracts to romantic interests or going on popular radio shows to drum up support for increasing their $700,000 staff salaries. District residents deserve better. Until we begin to switch political parties and vote our elected officials out of office, DC’s “hidden taxes” will continue to increase.


No Complaints
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

There are no complaints from the neighbors on my block to the construction of new sidewalks. The old sidewalks were in bad shape and had some very hazardous spots. As for the curbs, the new ones look great but have that sharp exposed edge which is dangerous to anyone falling against the curb or tires that hit the sharp corners. All this construction along Massachusetts Avenue, NW, from Ward Circle to Westmoreland Circle is a prelude to repaving the entire length of Mass. Ave. between the Circles. That, too, is badly needed in many spots due to the erosion of the concrete, which creates sonic booms and bone rattling vibrations when lightly loaded trucks hit those spots. The construction crews are working very fast and they work hard. The only person standing around and observing is the DC DOT inspector.


Still At It
Ed T. Barron, edtb1@macdotcom

Despite notification to the Parking Enforcement folks that the yellow painted curb in front of Janney School on Albemarle Street, NW, depicts a Bus Parking area when school is in session and is not a Fire Zone, DC’s overzealous Parking Enforcement personnel continue to write Fire Zone ($50 fine) tickets on cars legally parked there. I noted this on Thursday, on my return from a volunteer assignment at the Newseum. It’s likely that many of those ticketed will not bother to go to the Motor Vehicle office on C Street to get a hearing to contest (and win the appeal, by the way) the ticket. This provides more money for those in the city council to give to Barry for his girlfriends.

[This was first noted in themail on April 29. The commander of the Metropolitan Police Department Second District wrote that he recognized the problem, and would instruct his officers not to ticket parkers in that area unless school is in session. But the woman who was ticketed and to his case he was responding has written to me: “I am the woman mentioned in the Janney School ticket piece today. While the 2D commander says he would try to pull back tickets, they in fact can do nothing since the tickets are released daily. I was told to protest the ticket and, unlike Ed Barron, I lost at my hearing and paid the fine. Of course what the 2D commander thinks is irrelevant as evidence. Yesterday, as well as this morning, there continued to be tickets on the cars in the offending area. This is the first time tickets were ever written there.” — Gary Imhoff]


Fire Drills
Deloris Anderson,

This is in response to Jeff Norman’s post questioning the need for fire drills in private apartment buildings [themail, August 9]. I think they are necessary. I also think the apartment complexes should have written evacuation plans that are shared with tenants. There really should be a comprehensive safety plan for each apartment building complex. The Fire Department will come out and conduct training. Five years ago there was a fatal fire in the building where I live. I was so upset because my neighbor did not leave the building. At the time she was 85 or 86 years old. She told me that she put a rug at the bottom of the door and tied a white cloth on her balcony railing. I thought she was crazy. When the Fire Department conducted the training later we were told that if the fire is not in our wing then we could do just as my neighbor did. Recently we had another fire and my sister did not leave our apartment. She is asthmatic and the smoke is too much for her. She dampened a towel and put it at the bottom of the door. She informed a neighbor that she and our elderly neighbor across the hall were not leaving. The fire was in another wing. A fire fighter came up to our floor to check on my sister and our neighbor. She told them it was safe to remain.

Although there are supposed to be fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, we know that often the detectors do not work and the extinguishers are missing. So it seems to me a periodic check of the equipment is prudent. After the fatal fire, I asked management to prepare an evacuation plan, which to date they have refused to do. I informed them that I thought it was wise to identify where the elderly and those people with disabilities live. That way, fire personnel can check their units. Since management refuses to develop such a plan, we check on our neighbors and make sure when anything happens that we check on them to make sure they are all right. We do this because some of us will never forget the man running out of the building carrying the limp body of a toddler. He handed her over to the fire fighter but it was too late. In terms of fire, I do not think there is enough we can do to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of tenants.


Too Many Parks
Thomas Hardman,

[Re: introduction to themail, August 9] This is something we are seeing in all of the local blogs that seem mostly to be run by people with degrees or jobs in the urban planning community. Basically, they are all making and repeating standardized arguments that are all aimed at removing all urban spaces that are not owned by private interests. At least this is one facet of it. Personally I think we need more public green space, even if it’s just a ten by ten foot patch of grass with one park bench and a memorial plaque.

These postings come from what I call “the beehive people,” by which I mean they seem to want to turn the world into one giant apartment building. Again, this is just once facet of it, but it’s very noticeable. See also for Montgomery County, see and all of the blogs they send people to read.

It’s like the blog space has mostly become one giant billboard for the developers, builders, and their political backers/peons. I think we need to all get wise to this, and hunker down for the long haul, or there won’t be a shrub left in town in ten years.


Parks, Shopping, and Cars
Denise Wiktor,

I have to agree with Gary on pocket parks and Mr. Chittums on the shopping [themail, August 9]. The 1700 block of Park Road has a pocket park that is, with little exception, maintained totally by the neighbors. (The exception is that a DPR contract crew comes out twice a year to mow. One year they mowed all the azaleas; this year they hedge pruned the lavender and killed half of it.) We found that neighbors who don’t want or can’t work in the park will donate to plantings. As a result, we have a vibrant perennial garden and this year two crepe myrtles to replace dead dogwoods. We have beautiful cherries donated to Mainstreet and have watered our trees. As a result, we have people reading in the park, talking in the park, and having a shaded wait for the bus. It has made it a pleasant refuge for everyone. It has also reduced the heat island effect of the park greatly. Curb trees alone will not reduce the city’s heat island or produce enough oxygen. When I was with DDOT public space, one of the things we saw with a great increase was neighbors nurturing these pocket parks as places of beauty, refuge, and utility.

As an avid Costco shopper, we already buy most of our staples in Virginia, despite the tax on food, as it is cheaper. The sales tax is 4.75 percent, so it is definitely cheaper on the bulk paper products. For large meals we try to find a comparable restaurant in Virginia or Maryland to avoid the 10 percent tax on meals. That is another meal at the table when you get above five people. We buy our gas there at least half of the time (we have found one competitive gas station in DC), and once that tax kicks in will probably go 100 percent to Virginia. Since I own a hybrid and use an electric scooter, I gas up only about every two weeks. My husband who smokes (no comment from me) will continue to buy cheaper cigarettes in Virginia and will stop entirely buying “emergency packs” in DC. Next, we will have to weigh whether to continue to use the local Target and Giant for other than small items once the bag tax goes into effect. Not only will we weigh the cost of the bags versus the food tax (or go to Maryland) but the fact is that we use those bags for daily needs. The plastic ones line trash cans, the paper one we use to stack our recyclable newspapers and cardboard. So we would have to either go back to washing trash cans (no liners) or buying plastic liners. Additionally, what about those newspapers plastic bags — why have they been exempted? Not being a dog owner, there are limited uses for them. Right now they are tying up our tomato forest (mulched with the Washington Post). Another consideration is mail order. I could not find the required “uniforms” for Hardy Middle school in the District to fit my daughter. The Target in Virginia carries shoddily made ones that would last only half a year at best, but Amazon, Lands End, and Old Navy have anything above grade school on line. Right now many on-line retailers are offering free shipping, and uniforms on sale, and several of them do not charge sales tax. The quality that arrived was better than anything I could find in the District at the same or less cost.

Finally, just to put my two cents in on a city without cars. I have multiple sclerosis. It is an “invisible disability,” as most people who know me professionally are unaware of my limitations. Both a blessing and a curse. I cannot use public transportation in weather like we are having, as I cannot be out in the heat. There are times when either pain or lack of muscle strength makes it difficult for me to ambulate. What am I supposed to do, spend a fortune on cabs? My car is low cost, with minimal maintenance and minimal insurance. I could not substitute the maintenance and insurance for cabs; that would pay for only 120 one-way cab trips a year (what used to be crossing one zone), or one round trip a week. Even if I were paying interest on my note it would only be at most two trips a week. No Costco, no Shenandoahs, no South Dakota. I am not that old and, as I saw yesterday at a job fair for the disabled, I am certainly more ambulatory than many. I am not eligible for MetroAcess, and it is unreliable anyway. The young and bicyclist and flex car crowd do not think of the disabled or the elderly in their planning and vision of the city of the future.



Department of Parks and Recreation Events, August 13-15
John Stokes,

August 13, 4:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m., Douglass Community Center, Frederick Douglass Court and Stanton Terrace, SE. Douglass Show Stoppers Fashion/Cook Out for ages six through seventeen. Youth will model and showcase their talent and food and drinks will be served. For more information, call Barbara Jones, Site Manager, at 646-3980.

August 14, 11:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., Raymond Recreation Center, 915 Spring Road, NW. Summer Camp Closing Cookout for ages five through twelve. Summer camp participants will be transported to East Potomac Park for a day of fun including; swimming food and drinks. For more information, call Ellsworth Hart at 576-6856.

August 14, 7:00 p.m.-12:00 a.m., Riggs LaSalle Community Center, 501 Riggs Road, NE. Citywide Teen Night Back to School Jam for ages thirteen through nineteen. Fun and games, live entertainment, music and food! For more information call Lou Hall, Teen Programs, at 671-0451.

August 15, 12:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m., Brentwood Recreation Center, 2311 14th Street, NE. Second Annual Back to School Day for ages three and up. Participants will have an opportunity to receive school supplies, clothes, and other materials for the upcoming school year. For more information, call Lorenzo Carter, Site Manager, at 576-6667.


Dance DC Festival, August 28-30
Ebony Blanks,

The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities is pleased to announce its sixth annual Dance DC Festival: Experience Global Movement. The festival will highlight fifty of the city’s most talented performers at over fourteen venues throughout the District of Columbia from August 28-30, and will feature a wide array of folk and traditional music and dance forms from various cultures. Genres include hip-hop, salsa, swing, tango, and many more. Performances as well as interactive workshops will be free to the public over this three-day event. We hope you will join us for an exciting weekend full of dynamic and inspiring dance performances! Go to for more information. All events and workshops are free; no RSVP required.



Cleaning Lady Available
John Albert Hughes, johnalberthughes at gmail dot com

I’ll be moving in a few months and leaving my excellent cleaning lady Cecilia with a free day in her schedule. She’s worked for me for over ten years, is absolutely trustworthy, and completely OCD about cleaning, doing a wonderful job. She is Panamanian and her English is utilitarian but she gets her point across. If you’re interested in having her come by to meet her and get her rate, drop me a line at johnalberthughes on google’s mail system.


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