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June 20, 2010

Style Is Substance

Dear Stylistas:

Several DC reporters and pundits have weighed in recently on the DC mayor’s race, all with the same message. They haven’t endorsed Mayor Fenty, not exactly, but they have all scolded those DC voters who, they believe, prefer Council Chairman Gray to Fenty on the basis of their personalities. On Friday, Kojo Nnamdi, the host of the Politics Hour on WAMU-FM, made a rare revelation of his personal political preference in defending Fenty ( “In Fenty’s case, the hatred is so vitriolic that his detractors will tell you that they know for certain that he’s done something worse than kicking a dog, and that Cathy Lanier got to be a police chief by promising not to tell . . . even though they have absolutely no evidence. . . . In a city where we can’t summon the passion to get mad as hell and face down the Congress over our lack of voting rights, blacks can get mad as hell over Adrian Fenty’s arrogance in the same way that whites were mad as hell over Marion Barry’s arrogance. I guess we may be united after all. We all seem to choose style . . . over substance.” In reporting Nnamdi’s remarks, Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post expressed some bewilderment over voters’ disappointment with Fenty ( “Why is it that Fenty has generated such deep anger in some parts of the city? Why did Tony Williams and Sharon Pratt get pretty much the same reaction (if not quite as vitriolic). Why can’t he claim credit for the new facilities in majority-black parts of town? Why is he getting booed? Is it all personality, or is it policy, too? On that last question, keep this in mind: Marion Barry, for all the love he engendered among black voters, was during his 1980s heyday absolutely beloved in the development community — the same folks Fenty foes sneer at for supposedly wagging the dog.”

Tom Sherwood, who reports for WRC-TV, writes a column for the Current Newspapers, and cohosts the Politics Hour on WAMU-FM with Nnamdi, wrote in the June 16 issue of “Tom Sherwood’s Notebook” ( about the Ward 3 Democrats candidates forum: “Gray is supposed to be the nicer guy who would be just as good a mayor as Fenty, just more pleasant to be around. But Gray was loud, stalking Fenty, pointing fingers and scowling too much for some uncommitteds in the audience.” Jonetta Rose Barras, a columnist for the Washington Examiner, has come close to endorsing Fenty several times, never closer than in April when she addressed the personality issue most directly ( “A warm smile and a soft touch can camouflage a rogue, my grandmother warned me. Despite her admonishments, there were times when, blinded by exterior attributes, I ignored substance. Her advice came to mind again as I listened to the collateral chatter about the differences between Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and DC Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray — a newly announced mayoral contender. Pundits, civic leaders, and others have complained the incumbent executive isn’t warm and fuzzy. They have said he’s arrogant, remote and secretive. African-American respondents in recent opinion polls have said they don’t trust him. Gray, on the other hand, has been characterized as more inclusive and friendly. . . . The District has made great progress during the past decade. But, it faces significant challenges over the next four years. You can bet those won’t be solved with charisma, glib talk, and glad-handing.”

All of these reporters and commentators seem sure that voters should choose candidates on the basis of their positions on issues, that politicians’ personalities are superficial and not worthy of consideration. They have it wrong, especially in this mayor’s race. As I’ve been saying for months, there is almost no political issue on which Fenty and Gray differ sharply; neither has yet named a policy disagreement that defines a difference. Even in races in which there are sharp differences on issues, voters know that the issues that are in the news today will be gone tomorrow, and other issues will take their place. Voters have to judge politicians on how they believe that politicians will make their judgments on unknown future issues — in other words, on politicians’ character.

This is where style is substance. “Personality” isn’t superficial; it is the essence of a person. It is the same thing as character; when we want to take it seriously, we call it character, and when we want to trivialize it, we call it personality. We try to predict how politicians will act in the future on the basis of how they have acted in the past — on the basis of their personalities, their characters, of who they are at heart. Does the politician make friends or enemies; does he listen to the voters or ignore them; is he open or secretive; does he deal with all people equally or practice favoritism; is he honest or not? The pundits who claim that voters shouldn’t judge between Fenty and Gray on the basis of their personalities have it exactly wrong. Personality, character, is exactly the right basis on which to cast a vote.

Gary Imhoff


Campaign Notebook: Straw Polls
Dorothy Brizill,

In any citywide election in the District, Ward 3 plays a pivotal role. As of May 31, the ward has 54,535 voters, and it consistently has the highest voter turnout of all wards. For example, 67.08 percent of all Ward 3 registered voters cast a ballot in the November 2008 presidential election. Although it is possible to win a citywide election and not carry the ward, in addition to the votes of Ward 3 residents, their campaign contributions are of great importance and what they define as major issues can shape an election. As a result, any candidate who polls well in Ward 3 has instant credibility and must be considered a major contender.

On June 10, the Ward 3 Democratic Committee held a mayoral candidate forum and a straw poll open to all Ward 3 Democrats. On June 17, the votes in the straw poll were tallied and Vincent Gray, the presumed underdog in the Ward, beat Mayor Fenty by 174 to 168 votes (Leo Alexander got 4 votes and undecided 11 votes). In a separate vote of just the members of the Ward 3 Democratic Committee, who are elected to represent their precincts, Gray did even better. Gray received 40 votes, Fenty 15 votes, Leo Alexander 1 vote, and no endorsement 6 votes. (However, because Ward 3 Democratic Committee rules require a candidate to get at least 75 percent of all the members’ votes cast to get the Committee’s endorsement, the Committee will not endorse any candidate in the September primary.)

In recent weeks, Gray has prevailed over Mayor Fenty in other straw polls. Gray defeated Fenty by 59 to 49 votes in the Ward 8 Democratic Committee’s straw poll on May 15. (Fenty won the preliminary results, because of a large number of provisional ballots that were cast by young voters who were organized by the Peaceoholics and Ron Moten to register on the day of the straw poll; the Ward 8 Democratic Committee board reconsidered the decision to allow provisional ballots, which overturned the preliminary results.) The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club endorsed Gray on June 14 after he received 63 percent of the votes cast by the club’s membership. And, in a major citywide straw poll conducted by the DC Democratic State Committee on June 12, Gray received 703 votes, Fenty 190, and Alexander 75. Contrary to a lot of early media reports and speculation, it seems that Gray has been able to put together a formidable campaign structure and to out-organize Fenty, even though he had a late-starting campaign and a disadvantage in financial resources.


Jack Evans and Patton Boggs: Questions of Conflicts of Interest, Part Three
John Hanrahan,

The local press is obsessed with Marion Barry’s transgressions, as it should be. But when a powerful council member other than Barry has not one, but two, actual (or, at least, appearances of) conflicts of interests over high-stakes deals that involve actual and potential expenditures of hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds, that strikes me as news.

When the issue of his outside employment (permitted under the DC Charter for all council members, except the chairman) came up during his 2006 election campaign, Evans deflected it by saying he had only two full-time jobs — on the DC Council and as a single father of three children. I know of no one who disputes that Evans is a hardworking, full-time council member and devoted father. And therein lies the problem: what exactly does he do for Patton Boggs for his $240,000 — $20,000 a month, almost $1,000 per working day? Is this some sort of no-show job for which he is overcompensated by a high-powered lobbying firm not known for expending large amounts of cash and expecting nothing in return? Or do the Northrop and Marriott cases reflect a serious intertwining of interests that give us a glimpse into what that private job entails? Reporters with daily access to the council should be asking Evans these questions.

As a former reporter for the Washington Star and Washington Post, I frequently investigated and reported on conflicts of interest and ethical problems in the Maryland General Assembly. I also am the former executive director of the Fund for Investigative Journalism. I think I have enough reporting experience to know when an elected official appears to have crossed the line into a conflict of interest and to point out that the local mainstream press is inexplicably giving Evans a free pass on this issue. Over the last two months I have sent this information to five reporters or editors at four different news organizations, and have had no response thus far.

I believe all DC citizens want clean, open, conflict-of-interest-free government, and many have been troubled as I have been by Evans’s other past transgressions. These include the “Jack Pac” investigation, which then-Post reporter Serge Kovaleski explored so thoroughly several years ago. See I hope I am proved wrong, but as of now it appears all the Serge Kovaleskis have left the building.


Agitation in Ward 3
Karl Jeremy,

The Ward 3 Dems have me agitated with their inability to endorse a mayoral candidate, but I’m not alone. Tom Smith, chair of the Ward 3 Dems, also appears agitated. If you recall the photos of the Gray mayoral announcement, Smith’s face was almost as prominent as the candidate’s. Now Smith says he’s on the fence about which candidate to support. Actually, having him move to the Fenty camp would be the best thing for the Gray campaign. There is no room for ego bloat in the Gray camp — that belongs to the guys in the green hats.

Two recent straw polls have Gray as the winner. Too bad it’s not the September primary, but that leaves time for residents to focus on the mayor’s management style, his preoccupation with physical training, and his inability to connect with anyone but a fraternity brother. If there is any doubt how bad things have been, take a look back at last year’s failed summer jobs program, the snow fiasco, the parks and rec contracts, and the former agency heads who didn’t jump fast or high enough.

While Smith is writing to Tom Sherwood about getting measured for his green hat, his membership is casting about for the dynamic brand of leadership that existed under the former Ward 3 Dems chair. Keep calm until January when there will be new leadership in the Wilson Building and less agitation in Ward 3.


Washington Teachers’ Union Election Tampering: Time to Impeach George Parker?
Candi Peterson,

The June 16 E-mail below was sent to WTU President George Parker and copied to me by an elected member of our elections committee. It condemns Parker and his failure to hold union membership meetings as promised and required under the WTU Constitution and by-laws. Thomas O’Rourke, who is a teacher and building representative, notes that the elections committees’ efforts to conduct our union elections have been impeded by President George Parker’s failure to turn over the necessary documents (i.e., membership lists and nominating petitions). This correspondence reiterates what Claudette Carson, WTU Elections chairperson, has been saying all along — that Parker’s refusal to cooperate with the elections committee has effectively canceled this years scheduled union election (due to be held in May, rescheduled by AFT to June) and will prolong his term in office beyond June 30, which O’Rourke notes is a “theft of our union resources.” O’Rourke states that Parker deserves impeachment, which I believe is a constitutional remedy for dictators like Parker. He (O’Rourke) demands an immediate convocation of a trial committee to be formed to address the crimes Parker has committed and believes that his E-mail to Parker will fall on deaf ears, as he often ignores the requests of union members.

I can only imagine that our American Federation of Teachers’ national union President Randi Weingarten and Al Squire, AFT representative, will continue to duck their heads in the sand, all the while taking close to a million dollars in WTU dues monies, claiming they don’t want to get involved in local matters.

O’Rourke’s E-mail to Parker reads: “You have either forgotten to call a General Membership Meeting this month or never intended to do so, in which case you were lying to us (again) at the last delegate meeting. Your cynical manipulation and trampling of union democracy and worker tradition is both sad and disgusting and is directly responsible for the continuing decline of this union. In addition, your blockage of the election committee’s duty to stage an election for officers, thus prolonging your term in office is theft of union resources — unless you take no salary between the official end of your term and installation of either yourself or a new slate — for which you will be held accountable. You deserve impeachment for these crimes against our union, conviction of said crimes, removal from office, ouster from this union and any and all working class organizations, and to be forever seen as an agent of management and traitor to the cause of the unionism. I am thoroughly disgusted with your crimes and demand a convocation of a trial committee to specifically address these charges against you. I know that, given the great amount of power under this Constitution you have, you will likely ignore this E-mail and go on about your way, but know this: I, and others will make it our business to let the entire membership know of your nefarious conduct, your lack of accountability or even shame, and your cynical lies. I demand your immediate action on this demand of a trial committee or your resignation in which case, your final, official action shall be to turn over the necessary information to the election committee so that a democratic election be held immediately.”


Ron Linton,

Good public policy doesn’t emerge out of backhand mocking of an agency management action, particularly if it fails to enhance public knowledge. Lumping the rebranding of WASA with service charges, treatment capacity, and water main breaks does a disservice to the public’s need to understand the underlying basis for policy debate. When I became a member of WASA’s initial board of directors and the second chairman, other board members and I quickly realized we had been handed a dysfunctional agency on the verge of collapse well beyond what had been publicly revealed. The city council had seen fit not to raise rates for fifteen years while costs escalated and the city was under a plethora of EPA sanctions and Federal Court orders. Many water mains had long passed their useful life, while even newer ones were subject to fractures from sudden freeze and thaws and drop forges pounding away in nearby construction sites. Blame could be thrown around with abandon, but the challenge was policy change to set a course for correction. The tragedy of the lead incident was the failure to provide an immediate public alert and a corrective plan. When there is error, it is best to admit it and deal with it. If the leadership can’t, then it should get out of the way so others can.

The debate on rising rates is whether they reflect appropriate costs. The matter of water main breaks is not whether they occur, because they will, but how quickly you can mitigate them. Sewage treatment capacity is a complicated matter of population, usage, and technology and the agency’s responsibility is to explain the issues to the public so the public can make appropriate priority decisions through the political process. Name change is a “feel good” action, but won’t relieve the agency of the need for honest public information. Let’s help them by not trivializing the matter anymore than WASA is.


Street Cars and the Future of the City
William Haskett,

I find our own discussion perverse and without context: I recommend that we start from a different base, suggested by the article by Christopher B. Leinberger in the current Atlantic Magazine, “Here Comes the Neighborhood,” Leinberger’s article is built around certain simple and factual propositions. As the magazine summarizes the article, “Conventional Suburbs are overbuilt, and out of favor. In cities and suburbs alike, walkable neighborhoods, linked by train, are the future. Here’s how a new network of privately funded rail lines can make that future come to pass more quickly and cheaply — and help reinvigorate housing the economy.” The argument is built upon certain explicit historical facts: “In the early 20th century, every town of more than 5,000 people was served by streetcars. . . . Real-estate developers, sometimes aided by electric utilities, not only built the systems but paid rent to the cities for the rights-of-way.”

This last was not, of course, altruistic in the least. They were paying for increases to their own property values, as access drove increase in land values. Discussion would be welcome.



Department of Parks and Recreation Events, June 21
John Stokes,

June 21-August 20, 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., Hearst Recreation Center, 3600 Tilden Street, NW. Summer Soccer Camp for ages six through thirteen. Opportunity for youth to learn the fundamentals of soccer; Campers will learn the rules and regulations of the soccer and engage in physical game play. For more information, call Malcolm Tito at 282-2207.

June 22, 5:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m., Riggs LaSalle Recreation Center, 501 Riggs Road, NE. Chicken feast for seniors. Come enjoy a variety of prepared chicken dishes. For more information, call Shirleta Settles at 576-5224.

June 23, 6:00 p.m.-7:30 p.m., Riggs LaSalle Recreation Center, 501 Riggs Road, NE. Ice Cream Social for ages six through twelve. Enjoy the cool multiple flavors of ice cream and toppings. For more information, call Shirleta Settles at 576-5224.

June 25-27, 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., Wise High School, 12650 Brooke Lane, Upper Marlboro, Maryland. AAU National Qualifier Meet. Athletes compete in track and field events that qualify an athlete for the 2010 AAU Olympic Games. In order to qualify for the AAU National Olympic Games which are held in Norfolk, VA, each athlete must compete and place in the top four in their respective events. For more information, call Edgar Sams at 671-0314.


Judge Mary Terrell at the NWDC, June 22
Patricia Bitondo,

On Tuesday, June 22, at the National Woman’s Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, the luncheon will feature the Hon. Mary A. Gooden Terrell, Associate Judge, The Superior Court of the District of Columbia, who retired in June 2008. She will discuss International Judicial Training in the area of Alternative Dispute Resolution and Judicial Assessment. Judge Terrell has traveled to Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania, South Africa, and Mali to work with judges in these countries. She has worked extensively through the African Judicial Network she created with assistance from the US government’s Education for Development and Democracy Initiative.

Judge Terrell is an active member of the community and has received numerous awards and recognitions for her efforts. She is Past President of the Washington Bar Association Judicial Council and a former member of the DC Advisory Commission on Sentencing. She founded the High Tea Society for elementary and junior high school at risk girls in DC. These proteges learn etiquette, attend writing workshops, visit college campuses, and go to Broadway plays and regular tea socials. Judge Terrell has a distinguished career, including appointment by President Clinton to the DC Superior Court in 1997, and served earlier as Assistant United States Attorney. Judge Terrell received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University, Masters of Arts in Teaching from Antioch College, and her law degree from Georgetown University School of Law.

The bar will open at 11:30 a.m.; lunch will be at 12:15 p.m. Members $25, nonmembers $30.


DC Community Heritage Project Summer Symposium, June 22
Elizabeth Hill,

Don’t miss the Humanities Council of Washington, DC’s, sixth annual summer symposium, Tuesday, June 22, from 5:30-8:00 p.m., at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Library, 901 G Street, NW, Washingtoniana Room. The Nuts and Bolts of Creating a House History: Research, Documentation, and Resources; History Goes Mobile: create a dynamic cell phone tour for your home, neighborhood, or museum; and A Place of Faith: record and share the story of a historic church, synagogue, or temple. Free; reception from 5:30-6:00 p.m. RSVP 387-8391 or


Multiple Sclerosis Involvement Group for Young Adults, June 22
Megan Vanderbur,

My name is Megan Vanderbur, and I, along with Alyssa Lee, will be starting a free involvement group here in DC for young adults, aged eighteen to thirty, who have a parent or guardian with Multiple Sclerosis. Our first meeting will be Tuesday, on June 22 at 6:00 p.m., at the National Chapter of the MS Society, 1800 M Street, NW, Suit 750 South, near the Farragut West Metro station on the blue and orange lines and the Farragut North station on the red line.

Through our group, we hope to share our common experience, knowledge, and strength with other young adults who have a parent with Multiple Sclerosis, in order that we might feel greater support and more empowered when dealing with the effects of the disease in our lives. Our broader goals include: 1) providing information and discussions regarding having a parent with MS, 2) providing support for our peers who share the experience of having a parent with MS, and 3) providing opportunities for involvement in the MS community.

We will be serving light refreshments. Future meetings will include happy hours, volunteer work, and guest speakers. For information about the first meeting and our group in general, individuals can call the National MS Society at 296-5363 and select option 2 or visit the web site at


National Building Museum Events, June 22-27
Johanna Weber,

June 22, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Building in the 21st Century: Building Materials and Sustainable Design. Peter Doo, AIA, LEED AP, examines the potential for building materials to contribute to sustainable design strategies, including passive solar heating and cooling. Learn more about how the materials used in rain screens, solar shades, and more can deliver sustainable solutions through design. Free; registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.

June 23, 6:30-8:00 p.m., House of Cars: The Future of Parking. James O’Connor, AIA, principal, Moore Ruble Yudell Architects and Planners; Gabe Klein, director, District of Columbia Department of Transportation; and Lisa Delplace, ASLA, principal, Oehme van Sweden Landscape Architects discuss plans for green parking lots and structures, new parking technology, and innovative designs for parking cars and bikes. $12 members, free students, $20 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.

June 25-26, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., June 27, 11:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Museum Shop Warehouse Cash and Carry Sale. Get great deals on designer items, accessories, books, and much more during a special sale in the award-winning National Building Museum Shop. Cash only. Member discounts do not apply to this sale. Prices apply to select items only. All sales are final and all items are sold as is. All events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at



Litigation Aide
Tolu Tolu,

I am looking for a litigation-type person to analyze research and write briefs for a pro se plaintiff.


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