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April 18, 2010


Dear Severers:

Sinclair Skinner, Mayor Fenty’s close friend, was campaigning with the mayor later in the week, but on Thursday he spent a few hours explaining his company’s business and business practices to Robert Trout, the special counsel who had been hired by the city council find out how Skinner got lucrative subcontracts to do work for the city, and to determine what work he actually did ( The problem was, Skinner couldn’t explain anything because he couldn’t remember anything. “I don’t recall,” was Skinner’s answer to most substantive questions, and it was the watchword of the Wilson Building on the day he testified, or avoided testifying. Skinner emphasized how small his business was, consisting of just himself and one employee, yet he couldn’t remember how he got the contracts, whom he spoke to, or what the discussions were. He couldn’t remember a check for over a quarter million dollars that his company got last year, or what work the company did to earn it. He couldn’t distinguish between two people he worked with, because he couldn’t tell them apart, until Trout asked whether he met with the father or the son — which caused Skinner’s own lawyer, A. Scott Bolden, to laugh at him. How could Bolden have been so cruel? His client is obviously afflicted with one of the most severe and complete cases of early onset Alzheimer’s on record; he is to be pitied, not mocked.


Critics of HR 157 complain below and in the Post’s editorial today that the cost of “DC Voting Rights,” which is what they call giving a floor vote in the House of Representatives to Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, is too high if it would prevent the DC government from denying Second Amendment rights to its citizens. They are especially aggrieved that the courts would be likely to invalidate the portion of the bill that they like (“DC Voting Rights”) as unconstitutional, and that citizens of DC would be left with their full Second Amendment rights instead. Critics should read the bill ( before they make this criticism. Section 4 of the bill is a “nonseverability” provision. Most bills have a severability provision, so that if one clause is declared unconstitutional, the others will still have the force of law. The “nonseverability” provision reads, instead: “If any provision of this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, is declared or held invalid or unenforceable, the remaining provisions of this Act and any amendment made by this Act shall be treated and deemed invalid and shall have no force or effect of law.” If the courts invalidate the provision giving the DC Delegate a floor vote in the house, it will also have the effect of continuing the DC government’s denial of Second Amendment rights to its citizens.


Mike DeBonis, the City Paper’s Loose Lips, has an excellent column this week ( on the demise of one of Mayor Fenty’s good innovations, the CapStat program. CapStat, modeled on a Baltimore program, measured city programs against explicit, detailed standards. The results were published on the city government’s web site. Agency and Department directors participated in videotaped question and answer sessions with the mayor, and the sessions were broadcast on the mayor’s cable station. But the program has now been hidden behind a wall of secrecy; the results are not made public, and the CapStat sessions are no longer broadcast. DeBonis traced the cover-up to contumacious Attorney General Peter Nickles, a consistent opponent of government transparency and openness, whose rationale to DeBonis is that the sessions were part of the “deliberative process,” and therefore secret.

Here’s an alternate explanation, from agency and department heads and staffers who have participated in recent CapStat sessions. Their take is that the CapStat sessions have become increasingly ugly and contentious, and that the mayor and members of the Executive Office of the Mayor have become intent on disparaging and humiliating anyone not in the EOM. They believe that the CapStat sessions have been hidden behind a wall of secrecy because they give such an unflattering picture of the mayor and his aides.

Gary Imhoff


The Sorriest Moment in DC Voting Rights History
Timothy Cooper,

DC Delegate Norton’s decision to bring her foolhardy voting rights bill to the floor for a vote next week — a decision cheered on by DC Vote, LCCR, and others — represents political opportunism at its most craven and, yes, most dangerous. Last week, a New York Times editorial called Norton’s initiative, “a cynical, sickening compromise.” The Washington Post labeled it a price “too high.” It appears that Ms. Norton has lost all sense of good judgment as she is ready, willing, and able to trade local citizenry safety for her constitutionally suspect single vote in Congress. And one which will likely lead the city to no additive vote in Congress and less restrictive gun laws after a vigorous constitutional challenge. If there was ever a reason to be truly cynical about self-serving politicians, this is it.

Ms. Norton has shockingly placed her own political ambitions and her next reelection campaign ahead of the security of ordinary people by supporting the passage of legislation that will make legal and accessible to young adults living in the District the very same kinds of weapons — 9mm Glocks and 22P Walthers — that were used in the Virginia Tech massacre. And that’s just for starters. AK-47s? Not a problem. They’ll be able to buy them, too. Whatever is Ms. Norton and DC Vote thinking? Have District of Columbia taxpayers shelled out millions of dollars to DC Vote over the past few years to have it now endanger our lives with this loony proposition? Has the District elected Norton ten times to have her propose achieving such ignominious results? Good grief. Does the voting rights brain trust actually believe that winning minimal representational rights in Congress ranks higher on the scale of achievement than protecting public safety and ensuring the right to life?

Norton’s bill is a public disaster. New leadership and better ideas are required to move the voting rights cause forward. This is the sorriest moment in two hundred years of DC voting rights history.


Death Should Not Be an Option
Sam Jordan,

I share my condolences with Kenneth Barnes [founder, ROOT], and all others who have lost loved ones from gun violence. I support wholeheartedly your aversion to the “one-vote-for-gun-rights” trade off Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC Vote and the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights are poised to offer Congress for passage of the DC Voting Rights bill. Perhaps, most important in the debate inspired by the bill is the failure of the measure’s sponsors to concern themselves with the wishes of the people of the District. In 1982, by a substantial majority, the constitution for the state of New Columbia was ratified. It is still the only official, citywide registration of voter sentiment on the matter. Promoters of the DC Voting Rights bill have yet to explain why they have not taken their proposed legislation to the electorate. The answer may be found in the terms and mechanics of the bill itself. It appears to offer little of value to the people of the District.

A voting seat in the US House of Representatives for the District and an additional seat for the state of Utah provide the defining architecture of the bill. No persuasive rationale is offered for the gratuitous seat granted to the state of Utah. If passed, the bill will accentuate the District’s continuing crisis in democracy. Furthermore, the additional seats will be grossly dissimilar. An analysis of the DC Voting Rights bill reveals six critical shortcomings: 1) a single vote in the House of Representatives will give the District no additional control over our local affairs, although greater local control is the goal of democratic representation; 2) Congress will continue to exercise its discretionary authority over the District’s budgetary, legislative, and judicial matters. No Congressional district in the country is exposed to such arbitrary intervention; 3) there will be no DC delegation of Senators and Representatives and, unlike Utah, DC will have no additional Electoral College vote. As a result, the seat will carry little legislative negotiating leverage; 4) the bill does not acknowledge the action taken by the people of the District in 1982 when voters ratified a constitution for the State of New Columbia; 5) Congress can repeal DC voting rights at any time. Statehood cannot be repealed; 6) should the DC Voting Rights bill be enacted then challenged successfully in court, severability provisions may permit Utah to keep its additional seat because it is a state. In addition, the gun amendments may also become local law. In that scenario, the District will be left with no vote in Congress, further loss of local control and burdened with the mayhem of easily available guns.

In spite of President Obama’s stated support of the DC Voting Rights bill, Congressional representatives vulnerable to the pressures applied by the National Rifle Association have promised to attach an amendment that will erase the gains the District made in 2008 when DC council and the mayor enacted restrictions on gun ownership, registration, and portability. These restrictions enabled the District to experience its lowest number of deaths by gun violence in almost forty years. As Kenneth Barnes has asked, should the District surrender any further control of its local affairs in exchange for a symbolic, second-class vote in Congress? When will DC voters be trusted to decide what is in our best interests? Death should not be one of the options offered by the DC Voting Rights bill.


DC Vote Responds to President Obama’s Support of DC Voting Rights
Alexandra Ludmer,

President Barack Obama publicly announced his strong support for DC voting rights on Friday. We would like to wholeheartedly thank the president for serving as a champion for this important issue as we continue our long fight for District voting rights. We are greatly encouraged by his show of support, and are optimistic as the DC Voting Rights Act is scheduled for a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives next week.

DC Vote and our coalition partners have worked tirelessly over the past year, including sending more than forty-one thousand petitions to the White House, and we believe our message was heard and now amplified by the President’s statement. We are also extremely grateful for the steadfast support and leadership of Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) as we celebrated DC Emancipation Day on Friday and look forward to final passage of the bill.


Let the Show Begin
Valencia Mohammed,

This has been a rough week for me, trying to explain and convince people that regardless of whether there was a DC Public Schools surplus or not, the fired teachers were not going to be reinstated. My sister said, “You were on the Board of Education in the ’90’s. Whatever happened then doesn’t apply now.” But I knew with the wisdom I gained for my short time on the board that when the DC government has a deficit, all city agencies play an integral part to help it recover. My sister, like most residents, was caught up in the media frenzy. I knew from experience that if the so called surplus were evidenced before the RIF, the council would still request the surplus and an additional amount from the school system (if needed) to help offset the city’s deficit. This is exactly what happened to DCPS during the Sharon Pratt Kelly era and in the following term under Marion Barry, who inherited debts caused by her administration. All agencies had to meet the demands the council put forth to close the deficits, regardless of whether there was a surplus in that agency or not. With a sizable surplus, DCPS was forced to RIF, close vocational and adult education schools, cease the hot lunch program, and furlough administrative staff. Whatever it took to make the District government solvent was our ordered mission.

Recently, I watched as the mayor appeared on several networks answering the same question over and over again. “Will the 266 teachers fired be returned?” Without flinching the mayor replied without hesitation, “No.” Next, Councilman Harry Thomas spoke to articulate his position about introducing legislation that will “demand” the reinstatement of most of the teachers. But the fact of the matter, regardless of his pontification, is that the council gave full powers to the mayor and there’s nothing they can do about the RIF except hold another hearing for a dog-and-pony show. Next, the chief financial officer claimed the reported surplus is not a reality. This also points to the inefficiency of the council’s check and balance system. What is the purpose of our city council with relation to the school system? How does it conduct oversight without checking all budgetary matters? This council may have lots of name recognition, but in my opinion as a resident this is one of the weakest and worst councils in our short elected history.

Now Vincent Gray hurls demands to the mayor with full knowledge that the council has no power. In one of the important hearings, in February 2007, New York City Councilman Charles Barron warned the council not to give absolute power to the mayor over the school system. Barron knew firsthand how things would add up, considering NYC’s school system was living through the same horrors. “I warn you, absolute power yields absolute corruption,” said Barron. The council, in its arrogance and ignorance, gazed at their counterpart in disgust. Now that the “chickens have come home to roost,” the culprits and designers of the takeover attempt to distance themselves from the activities of the school system. On the contrary, the lack of proper oversight of the school system by the council is what has led to this recent fiasco. While the focus has been on a possible surplus for future teacher raises, hundreds of DCPS bus drivers and attendants wait for retroactive pay that was approved by the council two years ago.


Michelle Rhee: Time to Call It Quits
Richard Urban,

Michelle Rhee reported to the DC city council on Tuesday that she knew in February that there were surplus funds available. However, she did not report that information to the council. This revelation comes on the heels of the contention that Ms. Rhee knew very well that teachers would have to be laid off (266 were laid off) to accurate her hiring of nine hundred new teachers. Michelle Rhee has shown contempt for honesty and transparency.

In November 2007, ULTRA Teen Choice, the nonprofit that I co-founded, was told to stop our programs at DC Public Schools ( because “there is a moratorium on all outside health providers.” It turned out that there was no such moratorium. I attempted to ring the alarm bell about an administrator who subverts rules and due process to suit her own agenda. It turned out that Ms. Rhee was upset that I did not support new health standards that required teaching that same sex relationships are normal, beginning in the sixth grade. This spring, I found out that Ms. Rhee, instead of following DC law, which specifies that after-school providers that work with DCPS do not have to have their own liability insurance, forces providers to carry a million dollars in liability insurance. When I brought up the point that DC Code does not require this insurance, the out-of-school time office simply said that those were the rules that the Chancellor was applying, law or no law.

Ms. Rhee has repeatedly shown contempt for oversight, transparency, due process, parental rights, and teachers rights. In the name of supposed reform, she has created distrust among administrators and teachers. She has blocked many community organizations that want to help youths in DC Public Schools from working in the schools. At Ludlow Taylor elementary school, she met with parents who didn’t have children in DCPS while ignoring parents whose children were currently enrolled there. Ms. Rhee has accused teachers in DC Public schools of sexual misconduct, while covering up for her fiancee, Kevin Johnson, who was accused of making sexual advances on AmeriCorps students under his supervision ( It is time for Michelle Rhee to call it quits, and for DC Public Schools to be returned to the control of an elected school board.


Make-Believe Budget Numbers
Tom Grahame,

Here’s a question regarding the shifting budget numbers for the city and for DCPS (“Deception” in themail, April 14), where a large deficit becomes a large surplus a few months later in a time of revenue hardship.

If I remember correctly, Mayor Fenty (and presumably Peter Nickles) have had a policy of not providing city employees to testify on many matters before the council, even when the council asks specifically for their testimony. I’m not an insider on this, so I can only ask a question, and hope someone more in the know can answer it: to what extent has the failure of the city government to provide individuals to testify caused the council to be unable to figure out what the real budget numbers were? Or is the council’s ability to fully understand budget projections inadequate, even with greater cooperation from the mayor, to have uncovered the apparently manipulative budgetary behavior on the part of DCPS?

It is important to know which of these is true — and I have no preconceived notion of which alternative is most at fault here (could be both). If the problem is mayoral refusal to provide witnesses, a council with backbone could pass legislation dealing with the issue. If the problem, ultimately, is the council’s capability, a different solution is needed. Knowledgeable opinions, anyone?


Lack of Accountability of DC’s CFO
Mary C. Williams,

Why should anyone believe what Chief Financial Officer Gandhi says? His record has shown that he can’t manage the city’s finances. Shortly after the final tally of Harriet Walters’ historical tax office embezzlement scheme was revealed to be about $50 million, DC’s Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi was quoted as saying that this amount was insignificant when you consider that the city had an annual $2 billion budget. He appeared to be downplaying Walters’ theft as a minor blip on the financial scene in this city. And when this city undertook a study of the controversial financing of the National Baseball Park, it was Gandhi’s $462 million budget figure that convinced officials that it could be done for such a “reasonable” amount. And as the housing market began to collapse all around us in 2007, it was Gandhi who assured the residents that DC revenues were not going to be adversely affected by the downward turn that hit almost every other major city in the world. What about the fact that a company that employs his son has a very lucrative contract in this city? And now, the CFO is denying that his office provided the school district with bogus financial data that has been at the center of our latest education controversy. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the CFO provided the erroneous financial data to the School District. Gandhi has a long record over the last ten years of producing and magically eliminating large sums at his personal whim. To date, Councilmember David Catania has been the only elected official who has consistently called Gandhi out on his voodoo economics and questionable financing practices. Given this record, how can anyone believe what Gandhi says? We know that we can’t count on the city’s annual private audit to serve as a check and balance of the CFO; remember that Harriet Walters would have gotten away with her grand theft for many more years if she hadn’t brought in all of her relatives, who then got greedy. It was a bank official who sounded the alarm and prompted the investigation. Isn’t it time that Gandhi be made to account for his actions?



Nuisance Bill Criminalizes DC Residents, Pushes Gentrification, April 19
Parisa B. Nourizi,

Turn out Monday, April 19, 11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m., at the Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Keep the DC council from criminalizing workers, youth, and the homeless. Tell the DC council to withdraw portions of a bill that would allow private citizens to go after people whom they think are “public nuisances” in DC court. Under the Neighborhood and Victims Rights Amendment Act, any community group would be able to file a lawsuit or obtain an injunction against someone they think constitutes a “nuisance” — a concept so broadly defined it could cover many lawful activities, such as hanging out on a corner with friends or waiting for work in a park or parking lot. There are already laws on the books in DC prohibiting loitering. This proposal will only put the law in the hands of vigilante groups who seek to harass vulnerable members of the communities. Contact Ruth Castel-Branco, DC Jobs with Justice,, or call 974-8281 if you would like more information.


Africa Gathering, April 23-24
Edward Scotcher,

Africa Gathering is an exciting two-day event that brings technophiles, thinkers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and everybody else together to talk about positive change in sustainable development, technology, social networking, health, education, environment, and good governance in Africa. Come and join us and our excellent speakers to network, be inspired, and have fun!

Africa Gathering will be held at the Letelier Theater, 3251 Prospect Street, NW, Upper Courtyard, on Friday, April 23, 5:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m., and Saturday, April 24, 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. For tickets, go to; for more information, go to


National Building Museum Events, April 24
Johanna Weber,

April 24, 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m., Construction Watch Tour: District Department of Employment Services. Located on Minnesota Avenue in northeast DC, the District of Columbia’s Department of Employment Services will help spur economic development in Northeast. Forrester Construction’s project manager Aaron Johnson leads a tour of this 225,000 square-foot building, which is seeking LEED Silver status. $25, Members only. Prepaid registration required.

April 24, 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m., Meet the Artist: Andrea Panico. During this special trunk show, meet jewelry designer Andrea Panico of Pico Design and see items from her collection Little Architecture — modern jewelry for design conscious women. Free; no registration required. Trunk show will be held in the Museum Shop. Both events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


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