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March 28, 2010


Dear Well-Balanced Readers:

Do you think that you have problems getting in touch with Mayor Adrian Fenty and his administration? It’s not just you. Last Friday, Mark Plotkin interviewed Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton on his Politics Program on WTOP. Plotkin asked her about how closely Fenty worked with her. Norton replied that when Fenty was elected, she was excited to work with a young, energetic mayor, and she called him to invite him to dinner. Three years later, that dinner has yet to happen. “The mayor appears not to have conversations with other elected officials,” Norton said. “We do have some conversations with members of his administration; there seems to be a reluctance even there.” Listen at; the segment begins at 50:20 minutes.


Elected officials treating other elected officials with the same disdain they show their constituents is an unusual story, but elected officials disdaining constituents is a daily occurrence. Over the past few years, the DC government argued that US citizens didn’t have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms, and that, even if they did, that DC citizens should not have such rights, because they could not be trusted with them. DC citizens, the city argued, are too violent and dangerous to protect themselves with weapons. That argument prevailed in Superior Court, but failed in the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. The DC government responded to its loss by crafting highly restrictive regulations that are designed to make gun ownership as difficult and expensive as possible. The city has successfully defended those regulations against a lawsuit in the Superior Court, using essentially the same arguments: the people of DC are two criminally inclined, too violent, too dangerous to be trusted with guns, the way other American citizens are. The case will be appealed, but in the meantime elected officials have applauded the Superior Court decision. City Council Chairman Vincent Gray issued a press release in which he wrote: “Gray said it was further acknowledged [by the court] that the District’s laws are more restrictive than those of some other jurisdictions — which, as explained in detail in the [City Council’s] Committee Report, is a product of the fact that the District is an urban locale that faces a unique set of threats.” That’s us; we’re the unique set of threats he’s scared of.


As you follow the city council’s deliberations on medical marijuana, prepare yourself for the next step, coming soon, by reading Tim Craig on California’s vote on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use:

Gary Imhoff


Gridlock (and Worse) R Us
Gabe Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com

Driving in DC is a worse chore than usual because of idiots getting stuck by traffic in intersections when signal lights change. And when you attract their attention they shrug as though to say, “What, me worry,” as though they mysteriously found themselves there through no fault of their own. Has DC given up enforcing the “don’t block the box” law?

And driving is more dangerous than usual because of idiots running red lights. It’s common to see three cars through the intersection after cross traffic has the green. And then there’s the people using handheld phones in DC, driving so slowly as to obstruct traffic, or weaving, or otherwise being clueless and inattentive.

Wouldn’t this all be easy money for DC enforcement to raise?


What’s With Boarded Up Buildings Near the Convention Center?
Gabe Goldberg, gabe at gabegold dot com

Around 9th and H Streets, NW, near the Convention Center, there are plenty of buildings with all their windows boarded up. What’s with that? I know the city wants to build a hotel on the convenient City Center parking lot, the former Convention Center site, but is someone stockpiling buildings adjacent to the Convention Center for development? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I guess, but for now it sure blights the neighborhood.


Can Captioned Videos Increase Literacy?
Phil Shapiro,

Last year YouTube rolled out a feature that lets people add captions to the videos they upload. Can captioned videos increase literacy in our city? It might. To explore one way that it might, I captioned a talking head video I made about the Wright Brothers (see This video was inspired by the wonderful book, To Conquer the Air, by James Tobin.

To view the captioning in a larger font, hover your mouse over the red CC icon at the bottom right corner of the video. A pop-up menu will appear immediately to the left of your mouse. Choose ?Other Settings? and then click on the plus sign (+) a few times to increase the font size. Click on the minus sign (-) to reduce the font size.

Copies of Tobin’s book can be found in several library systems in our area. Tobin is a storyteller of the same caliber as David McCullough, who many of you know from public television. Do you know a youth or adult who would be interested in viewing the above-mentioned YouTube video? Would that YouTube video get them more interested in reading the book? Is a love of history something that can be ignited? What other forms of captioned videos can be produced that might resonate with fertile minds in our city? Is it possible for a mind to take flight?


A Passionate Plea to Defend Public Education
Candi Peterson,

This is an open letter (March 28) to the American Federation of Teachers national union president; Randi Weingarten. “Thanks to Thursday’s (March 25) vote of the Washington Teachers Union, President George Parker and certain WTU Executive Board members will not support the April 10 march to the US Department of Education that has been organized by Steve Conn, a Detroit public schools teacher. The purpose of the march is to defend public education by taking a stand against the attacks on teachers; black, Latino, poor, working class and middle class students of all races; end privatization of public education; end separate and unequal schools; and restore Dr. King’s vision for America.

Thanks to Thursday’s vote, Washington Teachers Union President George Parker and certain WTU Executive Board members were unwilling to allow information about the April 10 march to be placed on the WTU Executive Board agenda so that I could explain why public school teachers and their students will travel here to DC on buses to stand up for public education. I was disappointed to learn that AFT, our parent local, also will not support the April 10 march on the US Department of Education (as reported by WTU President George Parker)

This got me to thinking that, unlike teachers, neither you nor George Parker will be wiped out in July by an IMPACT evaluation that is grossly unfair to teachers, neither you nor George Parker have been wrongfully terminated at the whim of a chancellor and neither you nor George Parker will be forced to consider a contract proposal (tentative agreement) after three long years that gives more leverage to administrators to terminate effective teachers or be faced with reassignment options under mutual consent provisions. I am troubled that our current WTU president, George Parker, is unwilling to have an open discussion with our WTU Executive Board members informing them about the march simply because the AFT has not endorsed the event. I know that Steve Conn advanced this issue directly to George Parker and Monique Lenoir, WTU Communications Director, for consideration. 

For this reason, I appeal to you to let members of the Washington Teachers Union, Local 6, decide whether they want to attend this event. At a time when public education is in peril, we all need to stand together as one in solidarity and struggle. If teachers can travel from across these United States, at the very least DC teachers should be afforded the option of standing alongside our colleagues. So far the Detroit Federation of Teachers, The California Federation of Teachers, The New Haven (Connecticut) Federation of Teachers, and the Detroit School Board have signed on to lend support.

I ask you to do the following: post an announcement on the AFT web site providing details about the April 10 Washington, DC, march to the US Department of Education and send a letter to WTU/AFT members informing them about the upcoming event. As the American Federation of Teachers national union president, you have an obligation to represent all union members, not only those who share your point of view. Signed, Candi Peterson, full dues paying member of WTU and AFT.


DC Teachers’ Contract: Let Teachers Decide!
Nathan Saunders, General VP, Washington Teachers’ Union,

Washington Teachers’ Union President George Parker and DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee have been working in tandem for the past three years to vacate tenure, seniority, and the art of teaching. Minuscule test gains have been enlarged and enormous setbacks keep secret while enhanced test-taking skills (and cheating) are marketed to parents as student progress. Accepting foundation contributions for salary increases is Rhee’s business model; it necessitates at-will employment for teachers, yielding a demoralized and temporary workforce.

It is time for a vote, but teachers need a complete tentative agreement between Parker and Rhee, with a financial analysis and legal opinion. Parker has held four thousand teachers in the ninth month of pregnancy for three years with broken promises. Rhee’s benefactors have vilified anyone possessing an opposing point of view. For Parker and Rhee to succeed in securing a permanent agreement, the District’s Chief Financial Officer, Natwar Gandhi, must forget how to count and the DC city council must turn a blind eye to a $500 million deficit. Most importantly, teachers must dismiss the interests of hundreds of wrongly terminated peers and accept the high probability their family obligations, mortgages, and car payments will be unmet, because of their own impending terminations.

It’s time for teachers to speak with their vote. This protracted pregnancy has distracted attention from educating children. DCPS’ future lies in rich curriculum and instruction; not in settling for foundation crumbs, cheap election tricks, and public relations gimmicks.


Lead in Gasoline and Decline in Homicide Rates in DC Alone?
Paula Miller, Cleveland Park,

[Re: “Do the Police Deserve the Credit for Decreasing Homicide Rates,” Jack MacKay, themail, March 24] Can you please make the connection between violent behavior and lead in gasoline, in particular? I would not discount the decline in lead-based paint as one possible reason why violent behaviors and thus, a decline in homicides, are apparent. I have done some toxicological review of lead based paint constituents and lead permeating the blood-brain barrier of children, in particular, as a cause of developmental disorders and resulting behavioral aberrations. I believe lead in paints may have been the more likely cause of behavioral problems in children that, left unchecked and untreated, resulted in a propensity for violent behavior in adulthood. Other studies indicate this as well. I have not seen as many studies that reviewed the absence of lead in gasoline as a direct result of a decline in behavioral disorders. It could be that, with the removal of lead in gasoline, there was less atmospheric deposition of lead in soil and leaching into water supplies. However, we are now seeing more investigations of lead in old pipe soldering of municipal water supply lines that leaches into the water supply as a possible, and likely, cause of delayed brain development and resultant developmental disorders in children. I would not attribute the decline in lead in gasoline as the sole cause of the reduction in homicides in the District. It would be interesting to review and compare other jurisdictions’ handling of environmental lead deposition and crime rates to see if there are any jurisdictional or regional correlations.


Homicide Rates
Ron Linton,

It probably isn’t reasonable for the Metropolitan Police Department to take sole or maybe even primary credit for the decline in homicide rates in the District since 1990, but it also wouldn’t be reasonable to dismiss the department as having no serious impact in bringing about the reduction. The MPD of 2010 is not the MPD of 1970. Significant advances have been made in training and the use of technology. Case closure has improved and forensic techniques have advanced. Certainly testing the hypothesis of lead in the atmosphere as a cause of homicide reduction is worth pursuing given what we know about household lead poisoning effects on children. But that test also should include an evaluation of the department’s technical competency. As a matter of fact, what the non-policing societal impacts that may have played a role in bringing about the reduction also need to be studied.. The seriousness of homicide incidence eschews a put-down of the department.

Was the department of 1970 really bad? If being slow to respond to changing mores is bad, then it was bad. It took time for some very good chiefs to change a bureaucracy, not only of the department but of the city government, as well as survive the politics of the federal government.

As for robberies increasing, there is a difference in solving homicides and preventing robberies and it is too dismissive to say that if you can do one you should be able to do the other. Economic conditions play a role, manning levels have an impact, and response times are critical. There is no snap-of-the-finger solution.


A Minor Correction
Michael Bindner,

Tim Cooper informs me that his proposal for an expanded legislature is for 120 members, not 120 districts. I had assumed his at-large number was added to 120 districts. It is included. I regret the error and invite him to write to themail and remind us of the specifics.



Environmental Health Group (EHG) Events, March 29
Allen Hengst,

World War I munitions, bottles filled with chemical warfare agents, and contaminated soil have been found in and around the Spring Valley neighborhood of northwest DC. The Environmental Health Group (EHG) seeks to raise awareness of the issues and encourage a thorough investigation and cleanup. Every Saturday at 1:00 p.m., please join EHG for an informal discussion about Spring Valley issues in the cafe at the Tenleytown Whole Foods Market, 4530 40th Street, NW (one block north of Tenley Circle). For more information, visit EHG on Facebook at:

Monday, March 29, 11:00 a.m. Councilmember Phil Mendelson, Chairperson of the Committee on Public Safety and the Judiciary, and Councilmember Mary Cheh, Chairperson Committee on Government Operations and the Environment, will hold a joint public oversight roundtable on the “Public Safety Plan for the Destruction of Spring Valley Munitions.” The purpose of the roundtable is to hear and receive testimony on a public safety plan associated with the destruction of World War I chemical weapons found in Spring Valley. The hearing will be held in Hearing Room #120 of the John A. Wilson Building; see


National Building Museum Events, April 5
Johanna Weber,

April 5, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Smart Growth: Analyzing the Data: Smart Growth Performance in a Challenging Market. Are smart growth projects economically competitive against more traditional forms of development? Laura Cole, vice president, Robert Charles Lesser and Co., unveils national research that highlights the performance of smart growth projects and ranks consumers’ green building product preferences. Registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


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