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May 12, 2010

Clang, Clang, Clang Goes the Trolley

Dear Clangers:

Streetcars, of course, are a failed urban transportation alternative from the past, happily abandoned decades ago by nearly every American city that had them. Streetcars run on fixed routes that can be changed only at great expense; their tracks are costly to build and maintain; and they don’t share the road well with automobiles, motorcycles, or bicycles. Because of their short, limited routes, few people can use them as their major transportation option without transferring to bus or subway lines, and the requirement to transfer makes commutes or shopping trips longer and more expensive. Cities that have preserved a few streetcar lines, like San Francisco, keep them as novelties, as tourist attractions, and it is the tourists rather than the locals who use them. In DC, however, we’re not debating whether or not to spend millions on streetcars. That decision has already been made, and we’re debating only whether to use an outdated overhead wire technology that spoils our vistas with a tangle of ugly lines or a buried wire technology that is even more expensive.

What makes the streetcar mistake inescapable is the theology of the current crop of transpiration and urban planners. DC’s planners hate automobiles, which allow people to choose their own routes and timetables for travel, and prefer mass transit, which forces people to use the travel routes and schedules chosen by the planners. Planners refuse to believe that automobiles won the competition with streetcars because people preferred them; they believe the urban myth that streetcars were sabotaged by a conspiracy of oil company monopolists, and think that this time around shiny new streetcars will persuade urban dwellers to abandon their cars. They think that streetcars are a “clean” technology because they don’t use gasoline; they ignore the coal-fired plants that generate the electricity the streetcars use. For them, the fact that streetcar tracks make roads more difficult for cars to navigate the streets isn’t a problem; it’s a desirable feature, a major advantage. We’re stuck with streetcars, at least for the next few decades, until a new generation of more sensible transportation planners lets us rip up the tracks, tear down the ugly overhead wires, send the streetcars to the junkyards, and repave the bumpy streets to make them smooth again.

Reason Magazine writes about Cleveland’s streetcar plan ( “This is, in a nutshell, why virtually every town, state, and federal government in the US is more broke than an electric football game on the day after Christmas. As Matt Welch likes to put it: we are out of money. And we’re not going to change that by lapsing into some damn-the-torpedoes-when-the-going-gets-tough-the-tough-go-shopping spree. In fact, that’s only gonna make things worse. . . . And when your local councilman or mayor or senator or president or Better Business Bureau fundraiser comes around and tells you the only thing that keeps your hometown or state or region or country from being world class is the lack of a 19th-century technology that costs bazillions to build, bazillions to operate, and bazillions to tear down and start over when the monorail is the nostalgic wave of the future, tell ‘em to lower your taxes, cut stupid regulations, and go to hell.”

Gary Imhoff


The Latest BOEE Nominee: Mital Gandhi
Dorothy Brizill,

On November 30, 2009, Mayor Adrian Fenty nominated Mital Gandhi to fill a vacant seat on the three-member Board of Elections and Ethics (PR 16-626). When the city council failed to approve the nomination within ninety days, it was deemed “disapproved without council action” on March 25, 2010. Fenty reappointed Gandhi (PR 18-792). The council Committee on Government Operations held a hearing on his confirmation on April 26. Gandhi is a Republican; the other two BOEE members are Democrats, and by law not all three members of the Board can be members of the same political party. He is a resident of Ward 3 and is currently a member of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, having been appointed by Fenty in March 2007. He is also an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC 3F05); although he testified at his confirmation hearing that he would resign from his seat on the ANC that day or the next, more than two weeks later he still hasn’t.

A critical review of Gandhi’s background raises serious concerns that he does not meet the qualifications for appointment to the BOEE that are detailed in the Omnibus Election Reform Act of 2009: “When appointing a member of the Board, the Mayor and Council shall consider whether the individual possesses the integrity, independent, and public credibility and whether the individual has particular knowledge, training, or experience in government ethics or in elections law and procedure.” Traditionally, members of the BOEE have demonstrated their political independence by not being involved in partisan politics and by staying at arms length from elected officials. However, Gandhi contributed $200 to Mayor Fenty’s 2006 campaign and $300 to the mayor’s current 2010 campaign committee. He also made campaign contributions to Councilmembers Jack Evans and Muriel Bowser and to council candidate Patrick Mara. He also, although he didn’t reveal it in his committee questionnaire or in his confirmation testimony, was a principal organizer of a meet-and-greet fundraiser for Fenty’s campaign on August 27, 2009, at the W Hotel ( When he was asked at his April 20 hearing whether he would recuse himself from matters before the BOEE involving an individual to whom he was a contributor, Gandhi replied that he didn’t see a need to recuse himself from a matter unless someone involved was a childhood friend, or had been a friend for decades. Gandhi also acknowledged that he approached the mayor and discussed his interest in being appointed to the BOEE. Within three months of the August fundraiser that he hosted for Fenty, the mayor nominated him to be BOEE.

Since March 2007, Gandhi has been a member of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, which raises a number of serious issues regarding his appointment to the BOEE. First, the regular monthly meeting of the BOEE is on the first Wednesday of each month, which conflicts with the hearings of the ABC, that are also held on Wednesdays. Second, the Omnibus Election Reform Act specifically precludes anyone from serving on the BOEE board who holds any “other paid office or employment in the District government.” Gandhi receives a stipend of $45 an hour for serving on the ABC Board. At his confirmation hearing, Gandhi refused to accept Mary Cheh’s suggestion that he resign from the ABC Board, instead mistakenly believing he could deal with the prohibition by not accepting the stipend. As an ABC Board member, Gandhi has the worst attendance record of any board member. In a review of incomplete attendance records for 105 ABC Board meeting from 2008 through 2010, I found that Gandhi didn’t attend 29 percent of the meetings (31 out of 105), arrived more than two hours late or departed more than two hours early from 18 percent of the meetings (19 out of 105), and arrived more than one hour late or departed more than one hour early from 13 percent of the meetings (14 out of 105).

When questioned at his confirmation hearing about his attendance at Advisory Neighborhood Council meetings in his two terms between 2004 and April 2009, Gandhi said only that he believed he had attended “more than half the meetings.” In 2006, Gandhi’s nominating petitions for his ANC seat were challenged by a fellow member of his ANC, Karen Perry. ANC nomination petitions require only twenty-five signatures; Gandhi collected only thirty, and Perry challenged ten of them. The challenge was upheld in a preliminary review by the DC Registrar of Voters and was referred to the BOEE’s Office of General Counsel. A prehearing on the matter was scheduled, but Gandhi didn’t appear. When he was reached by telephone, Gandhi said that he would withdraw the petitions. (He subsequently ran as a write-in candidate in an uncontested race, and won the seat.) In her challenge, Perry questioned the ten signatures because the voters were either not registered voters in the District or not residents of Gandhi’s single-member district. My review of the petition sheets also reveals a number of signatures that appear to be in the same handwriting, and that could have been examined for forgery. At his confirmation hearing on April 26, Gandhi claimed to have only a vague memory of the incident, but placed the blame on the individuals whom he said signed the petition while “falsely” claiming to be registered voters in his single member district. (All but two of the signatories on the petition sheets list Gandhi’s apartment building as their home address.)


Barn Dance
Clyde Howard,

Gabe Klein, the Director of the DC Department of Transportation, is an idiot. He is going to place in the intersection of 7th and H Streets, NW, a pilot test of a supposedly new method of crossing the street. Little does he know that this method of providing crossings at an intersection was in vogue back in the 1960’s, but the traffic engineers at that time eliminated it as being too dangerous. It was called a Barn Dance. The same system of crossing was put in place at 13th and F Streets, NW, and at 14th and F Streets, NW.

That is the problem with hiring young, dumb persons to lead our agencies. They have no sense of history; they do not know what went before, and they won’t ask anyone. The same can be said of their staffs. This is typical of the Fenty administration, and it will become its lasting legacy.


Lemon-Lime-Mango Sorbet
Paul Walters,

You probably know this one, but just in case:

Simple syrup (bring to a boil 1 cup water with 1 cup sugar, and cool)
Fresh squeezed lemon juice (5 lemons)
Fresh squeezed lime juice (2 limes)
Fresh mangos (2)
Zest of one lemon

Blend the mango pulp and citrus juice in a blender. Add the simple syrup and zest. Cool well in the fridge, then freeze in an ice cream maker. Devour.


That Was Refreshing
Star Lawrence,

That sorbet recipe opening was lovely. It reminded me of a story I once did for the Washingtonian on ice sculptors for their “what to do in summer” section many decades ago. I can still see the chef back behind the Hyatt on the Hill lashing into a three hundred pound block with a chain saw, chips zinging around like shrapnel. I remember asking him, “Do you smooth it out?” He looked at me like I was a moron. Nuts — warm DC air smoothes it out. I am an idiot!


Freudian Slip?
F. Lancaster,

Re: Mr. Austermuhle’s latest posting on gun control versus the vote [themail, May 5], and I quote: “Congress simply should not try to substitute its political judgments . . . for those of the courts.” Ah yes, that’s the problem, isn’t it — Congress substituting its pesky political judgments for the political judgments of the courts. Speaks reams about the evolving nature of our court system (witness the Ninth Circuit), and those who would happily trade democracy for the magistocracy of unelected judges.


Statehood, Not Voting Rights
Malcolm Wiseman,

In response to Ilir Zherka’s pointing out a “prime example” for why we need voting rights [themail, April 28]: Most people know or can figure out that granting the District one vote in the House will not prevent Congress from exercising its odious, undemocratic control over us. Even if Mr. Zherka’s “voting rights” were to include full representation, which by definition is nothing less than two senatorial votes as well as representation in the House, the controls the scoundrels have over our budget and lawmaking, our very lives, would still exist. We would still be unequally treated. Three votes in a sea over five hundred would not be enough to float the boat.

Voting rights is not the solution. Only statehood can provide equal protection. Most people in DC know this, but they are too lame to fight for it. Wake up, Colonists!

Know this, my fellow serfs and democracy incrementalists. No constitutional amendment is necessary to make us in whole or part of a state, a simple act of Congress will do the trick. All you have to do is focus on the prize and have the gonads to fight the battle! Everything else is a waste of time and resources.


Is This Bill Nutty Or Not?
Bryce A. Suderow,

In the latest issue Gary referred to the liberal fads the council has been involved in. Here’s my favorite: Mary Cheh wants to tax soft drinks at a penny per ounce. Thus, if you buy a twenty-ounce coke, the city rips you off for twenty cents. The money is supposed to go towards a lunch program for school kids. Cheh is proposing this at a time when the city is awash in red ink and has just laid off a hundred child care workers.

It strikes me that liberalism is like a disease. People inflicted with it simply can’t help trying to spend everyone else’s money. It’s a basic drive inside them, like the sex drive. Of course, the bill will affect poor people the most, but I’m sure Cheh and her supporters won’t care. They will probably say it’s for their own good because it will make them drink fewer sodas, or some such nonsense.


Make All Budget Discussions Open Meetings
Tina Marshall,

Please sign on to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s letter urging DC Council Chairman Vincent Gray to make all budget discussions open meetings for the public to witness. We need your name and the name of your organization by Wednesday, May 12. If you’d like to sign on to our letter, please contact Tina Marshall at The letter reads: “We, the undersigned organizations, are writing to request that you make all meetings of the DC council on the Fiscal Year 2011 budget open to the public. As the council struggles with very difficult decisions about how to craft a fair and balanced budget in this challenging economic environment — debating which services to cut or enhance and which taxes and fees to increase or reduce — it is critical these deliberations be open and accessible to the public. We are encouraged that you are one of seven DC council members who cosponsored the “Open Government Is Good Government Act of 2010,” introduced by Ward 4 Council member Muriel Bowser in March. The bill would make any meeting attended by a quorum of members, such as the budget deliberations, open to the public. We are asking that you show your support for this bill by making the FY 2011 budget meetings public. We understand that at least one such meeting has been scheduled for the week of May 17.

“Many of the most important decisions about the budget are made in these closed-door sessions. During budget deliberations last year, many of the meetings of the full DC council held outside the official chambers were open only to the press. Though we welcome press coverage of these discussions, having the press as a public witness is not sufficient. Budget decisions have many impacts that go beyond daily news stories and will not be covered by the press. If the meetings are not open to the general public, the public does not get a chance to offer insight and feedback on how their tax dollars will be spent before the final vote. Transparent government is a good and effective government, and we believe public meetings are crucial to this.

“We urge you to open these meetings to the public. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Elisa Silverman at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, 408-1095, ext. 389. Thank you for your time and consideration.”



Northeast Library Open House, May 15
Martha Saccocio,

Come celebrate the opening of the new Outdoor Reading Room at the Northeast Library, Saturday, May 15. The Friends of the NE Library will host a used book sale from 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Jali D, The Drum Talker, will perform at noon . David Foreman, aka ‘Jali-D,’ is an accomplished percussionist and spoken word artist who combines his talents into an art form he calls “Rappercussions.” His intelligent and creative rhymes have entertained and educated both children and adults nationwide. And join Mother Goose for story time. The Northeast Library is located at 330 7th Street, NE, near Eastern Market.


St. Alban’s Annual Outdoor Book Sale, May 15
Patricia Bitondo,

St. Alban’s annual outdoor book sale will be held on Saturday, May 15, 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. (Rain date, Saturday, May 22.) There will be a large selection of current fiction, history, cookbooks, classics, coffee table books, children’s literature, and more. At St. Alban’s Church, 3001 Wisconsin Avenue, NW (corner of Wisconsin and Massachusetts Avenues, NW).


Big Read DC Town Hall Meeting, May 15
George Williams,

The DC Public Library invites you to attend a Big Read DC town hall meeting and reception on Saturday, May 15, at The Washington Post Building, 1150 15th Street, NW. Have a discussion with panel guests about the link among literacy, law, and juvenile crime as we compare A Lesson Before Dying to DC teens today. Ron Charles, Book World editor at The Washington Post, will facilitate. The discussion starts at 11:00 a.m. A reception will follow. Visit for more information.


Internet Law for Your Professional Online Presence, May 15
Barbara Conn,

Do you maintain an online presence as part of your professional and business life? Whether you blog, podcast, operate a web site, publish an E-mail newsletter, or offer original content on a social networking site, you should know how to stay legal online and how to protect your online interests. In this presentation, attorney and author Joy R. Butler will discuss legal issues that arise during the establishment and maintenance of your online presence, including how to protect your original content and your domain name, how and when you can use other people’s materials online, and what your legal obligations are to your online visitors (with regard to privacy and spam, for example).

Gather your colleagues, friends, neighbors, and your questions, and bring them to this Saturday, May 15, 1:00 p.m., gathering of the Capital PC User Group (CPCUG) Entrepreneurs and Consultants Special Interest Group (E&C SIG). These monthly events 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), Washington, DC — just over a block south of the Cleveland Park Metrorail Station on the Red Line. For more information about the seminar, the speaker, and CPCUG (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization), visit To RSVP, send an E-mail to


Ward One Democrats to Elect Executive Committee Members, May 15
Bill O’Field,

Ward One Democrats will hold a convention to elect the members of their executive committee on Saturday, May 15, from 12:00 to 3:00 p.m. at the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center at 2000 14th Street, NW. The election will be held in the Edna Frazier Cromwell Community Room on the second floor of the Reeves Center.

Ward One Democrats will elect a Chairperson, Vice Chairperson, Recording Secretary, Corresponding Secretary, and Treasurer. Only Ward One Democrats registered with the District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics will be eligible to vote.


Bill Plante to Talk at Gonzaga, May 16
Michelle Phipps-Evans,

The Father McKenna Center, in conjunction with the Gonzaga Mothers Club, invites you to its Spring Lecture Series featuring CBS News White House Correspondent Bill Plante. He will explore the theme of news coverage in a multimedia world.

A CBS News White House correspondent since the administrations of Ronald Reagan (beginning 1981), Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, Plante’s reports are seen regularly on The Early Show, where he is senior White House correspondent, and the CBS Evening News With Katie Couric.

This event will be in the Upper Commons at Dooley Hall at Gonzaga College High School, 19 I Street, NW, on Sunday, May 16, at 4:00 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. For more information, please call Tom Howarth at 842-1112 or visit the web site,


Buckminster Fuller at the National Building Museum, May 16
Johanna Weber,

May 16, 1:00-2:30 p.m., An Afternoon With Fuller. Celebrate one of the world’s greatest inventors, R. Buckminster Fuller, through this special afternoon for families. Enjoy a special preview of Arena Stage’s production of R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe. Discuss the play through a dialogue with cast member Rick Foucheux, then try your hand at challenges and activities that explore engineering and design. $10 per child, members; $12 per child, nonmembers. Ages eight and up. All children must be accompanied by an adult. Tickets for adults are free. Preregistration required. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


Election 2010: Open DC Government to the Public, May 20
Melissa Davenport,

We know DC government needs to become more transparent — do the candidates? The DC Open Government Coalition, along with cosponsors the DC Federation of Civic Associations and the Committee of 100, will be hosting an event to turn a spotlight on transparency in the upcoming District elections. The event will feature Councilmember Mary Cheh and Legislative Director Spencer Maguire from Councilmember Muriel Bowser’s office discussing open government legislation that has been introduced in the council this session. In addition, the DC Open Government Coalition will be releasing the results of its recent audit that analyzes how well the District is complying with certain aspects of its Freedom of Information Law. And we’ll provide more information about what to ask candidates about their stance on opening up the DC government.

Thursday, May 20, 6:30 p.m., the Charles Sumner School at 17th and M Streets, NW (Farragut North Metro), in the Great Hall. There will be light food and drinks at a reception following the event. Please see the Coalition’s web site,, for updates to the event’s program and participants. Feel free to contact me with any questions at 489-8576 or


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