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July 18, 2010

Private Lives, Public Duties

Dear Private Citizens:

Councilmember Kwame Brown can safely be called the leading candidate for chairman of the city council in the upcoming primary. WRC’s Tom Sherwood had a nice little scoop ten days ago,, when he discovered that Brown was being sued over about $55,000 in credit-card debt. But the scoop didn’t get much traction, because these days it’s not unusual for even a guy solidly in the middle of the middle class to be $55,000 in debt. That much debt isn’t just for rich people anymore. But today, Mike DeBonis built on that scoop spectacularly,, revealing that Brown’s total personal debt isn’t just $55,000, but closer to $700,000. That much debt is still impressive; you have to be really rich to afford to be that poor.

Sherwood’s and DeBonis’ stories raise a question about covering politicians and political races. Is a politician’s personal life ever fair game for news stories? To me, the answer is clearly yes. Politicians are our employees; we hire them to manage our public business. Politicians’ private lives are our business at the same point that employees’ private lives are the business of their employers. When their private lives are messy enough to affect their judgment or the performance of their duties, we should know about it. When there’s a factor that would give us good reason to distrust an employee, we should know about it, whether it’s Brown’s massive debt or rumors of Fenty’s marital strife, and we should know whether or not the stories that we hear whispered about are true so that we can make up our own minds about whether those stories are important to us.

So what is your opinion? Do Sherwood’s and DeBonis’ revelations about Brown’s finances affect your judgment about his reliability and trustworthiness? Will they affect your vote? If not, why not? If you have doubts about Brown, what could he say to reassure you, and do you want to hear it now?

Gary Imhoff


Deterioration at Franklin School
Joe Browne,

The Franklin School building “is empty and deteriorating,” according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s newsletter Preservation Nation. The article, “Adolf Cluss School Is in Limbo,” highlights the deterioration of the building since the DC Board of Education arranged for its exterior renovation in 1990-92. A leaking roof, broken or open windows, and lack of climate control are factors causing concern for the building and its historic features, including the 140-year-old murals on three walls of its Great Hall. The article quotes me, the chair of the Coalition for Franklin School. I wrote to Mayor Adrian Fenty on March 7, asking how the DC government, the owner, plans to address the problems that threaten the building. The mayor has not responded with a plan for stabilizing Franklin School.

Franklin School is on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated a National Historic Landmark. The school is one of just thirteen historic buildings in the nation’s capital with a landmarked interior. The article explains, “Unfortunately, this protection does not require the city to uphold any maintenance standard. The city’s Prevention of the Demolition of Historic Buildings by Neglect Amendment Act of 1999 officially prevents owners from neglecting such properties,” but the Preservation Nation article quotes Rebecca Miller, head of the DC Preservation League, who said, the law “is very difficult to enforce.” For a copy of the Preservation Nation article, see

Franklin School is the work of Adolf Cluss, the District’s signature nineteenth-century architect, whose Eastern Market and Sumner School are among the District’s most cherished public buildings. Opened in 1869, Franklin pioneered new programs for District schools, including a teacher education school (housed at Franklin for forty years), Washington’s first public high school classes, and successful adult education programs. For more information about Adolf Cluss, see, and for more on the history of Franklin School, see The Coalition for Franklin School, an ad hoc group organized in November 2009 to oppose the city’s plan for private, commercial development of the Franklin building, represents a cross-section of District of Columbia citizens and area residents.


DC’s Primary Date Will Have to Be Changed
Jeff Norman,

I just wanted to alert everyone about a new federal statute, the Military and Overseas Empowerment Act (MOVE), that President Obama signed into law in October 2009. Among other things, the new law requires that all absentee ballots must be mailed to all overseas voters (both military and civilian) at least 45 days before each election. DC got a waiver for 2010, but will have to start complying with the new law in 2012. This means that DC will have to change its primary dates.

By way of an example, in 2010 the primary is September 14 and the general election is only 49 days later, November 2. In order to comply with the new federal law, DC (if it didn’t have the one-time waiver), would have to mail the general election ballot to those overseas absentee voters by no later than September 18, which is practically impossible. It usually takes a few weeks to certify the primary election results and print the general election ballot. This means that DC will have to move its Primaries back to August at the latest. I don’t want a primary in August because too many voters will be out of town on vacation. I talked to Councilmember Cheh, who chairs the appropriate council committee. She prefers to move the primary to June in line, with the practice of many states.

I also favor the June date. Even though I am a strongly partisan Democrat (and served for two years as Treasurer of the DC Democratic Party), I am not thrilled to live in what is basically a one-party state. The Republicans will probably not be very successful in the foreseeable future. But by pushing back the primary date, we may open the door to more independents entering the General Election. Rather than taking their reelections for granted in the General Election, Democratic candidates will have to prove to the voters why they should be elected, especially if they get strong independent opponents.


School Progress?
Cherita Whiting,

The “Adequate Yearly Progress” reports of the No Child Left Behind program have been posted at The link can provide you with the following information:

Among elementary and middle schools, Aiton, Bancroft, Beers, Brookland, Browne, Bruce-Monroe, Burroughs, Deal, Emery, Ferebee-Hope, Hart, Hendley, Jefferson, Kelly-Miller, LaSalle, Luke C. Moore, MacFarland, Maury, Miner, Oyster, Powell, Ronald Brown, Roosevelt, Seaton, Shaed, Springarn-Takoma, Truesdell, Walker-Jones, Webb, Whittier, and Wilson, have not met AYP in math or reading for 2009.

Brightwood, Janney, Stoddard, and West did not make AYP for reading for 2009.

Amidon and Hardy have not meet AYP for math for 2009.

Among high schools, Anacostia, Ballou, Cardozo, Coolidge, Dunbar, and Eastern have not meet AYP in math or reading for 2009.


Thank You Mary Cheh!
Karl Jeremy,

Mary Cheh is at it again! She really savors her power to legislate the way people behave and live. Her latest effort is a bill that would create grocery police to ensure grocery chains and individual markets are providing the freshest and best quality fruits and vegetables available. Residents of the District should be on their knees thanking her for being such a good social engineer. By the end of her tenure on the Council, Mary will have cleaned up the Anacostia River and your health problems. Thank you Mary Cheh! See the Washington Business Journal article:


The Media Blackout
Leo Alexander,

Last Thursday, July 15, I was a guest on WPFW’s DC Politics Hour show with Jonetta Rose Barras. It was a special two-hour show. I took in-depth questions from the panel and her listeners for the first hour, and the mayor and the chair had a mudslinging contest for the last hour. It was political theater at its worst, with each character essentially arguing that the other is more ethically unfit to serve as mayor. If you weren’t within earshot of the radio or someone else hadn’t told you about the show, you probably didn’t even know until now that I was the first guest. As far as the Washington Post is concerned, the first hour never happened, even though one of their reporters was on the panel. I don’t believe in coincidence when it comes to news coverage. After more than a dozen years in the broadcast news business, I have a pretty good understanding of how it works. Make no mistake about it, what’s happening now in this year’s race for DC mayor is by design. In this town, if the Post doesn’t cover you then the voters don’t know you exist — so it’s difficult to raise money. This way nothing ever changes, except the names of the safe establishment candidates.

For example, on June 3 I was invited to participate in the Cleveland Park, Foxhall, and Palisades mayoral candidates’ forum with the aforementioned characters. The Post reported that I was, “The surprise of the evening. . . .” The organizers of the event even stated that their concern was which candidate, Fenty or Gray, I would hurt the most. If that’s the story, that a credible new candidate for DC mayor had emerged and therefore could possibly impact the outcome of the Democratic primary, wouldn’t this new development warrant a follow up? Don’t the readers deserve to hear more about this “surprise” candidate and his progressive platform that was refreshing to some and a concern to others? Apparently not.

The reporter who covered that debate finally called our campaign office Friday July 16, but to complain that a supporter had posted some “offensive remarks” on the Post’s web site. He wanted to know, “Does she work for your campaign?” I told him, “No, she doesn’t work for me, but she is one of my most vocal and committed volunteers.” So then I said, “I’ve been on the campaign trail for ten months, and the first time you or anyone else from your paper calls me is to ask me about this nonsense?” And then he gave it up, “You don’t have any money and we equate support with money and the polls.” Then I countered, “You’re absolutely right, I don’t have any money and I can’t tell you how hard it is to raise money when the Post doesn’t cover all of the candidates.” Then he said, “Well it isn’t our responsibility to help you raise money.” And then I said, “No it isn’t, but it’s your responsibility to tell the whole story — that’s why the readers depend on your paper.” Again, silence. The conversation ended with my giving him the number to reach the volunteer and his giving me his editor’s number. I called and left a message requesting a return call. Again, and not to my surprise, more silence.

In spite of the blackout from that 800-pound gorilla in this media market, I must commend the coverage we have received so far from WPFW’s Jonetta and WAMU’s Kojo, FOX5, NewsChannel8 and USA9, along with The Afro, The Washington Informer, The Washington Times, The Washington Examiner and several of DC’s bloggers. These media outlets have retained their commitment to objectivity in their coverage of the most important mayor’s race since the beginning of Home Rule. They recognize that even without money, this “Movement for Change,” as our volunteers have dubbed it, has been able to penetrate the consciousness of a growing wave of disgusted potential voters who are sick and tired of the same two equally flawed career political characters. This time, DC voters have a legitimate option. They don’t have to enter the voting booth on September 14, close their eyes, hold their noses, and play eeny, meeny, miny, moe between the present (Fenty) and the past (Gray). This year, the choice can be the future (Leo Alexander) — for all Washingtonians.


Does the DMV Know, or Care, What’s Actual, Current Law?
Jack McKay,

In the July 1 issue of themail, I complained that the Department of Motor Vehicles Traffic Adjudication Appeals Board cited, in rejecting my appeal of a parking ticket, a law that was repealed almost four years ago. I refer to the “Parking Enhancement Amendment Act of 2006,” sponsored by Councilmembers Schwartz, Ambrose, Graham, and Brown, passed by the District Council in July, 2006, published in the DC Register in August, submitted to the usual Congressional review, then made District law L16-0186, effective November 16, 2006. This act adds this item to Title 18 of the Municipal Regulations: “2411.21 Vehicles displaying a valid residential parking permit may park at all times, within a designated residential permit parking zone, twenty-five (25) feet or more from the intersection.” That’s “at all times,” not “between 10:00 p.m. and 7:30 a.m.,” as the DMV Appeals Board wrote in their June 14 letter rejecting my assertion that my car was legally parked. Concerning that specification of hours during which such parking is permitted, the act of council is terse: “Subsection (a) is repealed.” What part of “repealed” does the DMV not understand?

I complained about this behavior to a neighbor, who rolled her eyes and asked me, “How long have you lived in the District?” Essentially, incompetence is an accepted standard of performance at the DMV, and I’m being really naive in imagining that anybody downtown cares about their being years out of date in their knowledge of traffic and parking laws. Indeed, my July 6 E-mail to the Director of the DMV, Lucinda Babers, copied to a member of that Adjudication Appeals Board, protesting this ignorance of the law, remains without even an acknowledgment of receipt, much less a reply. They don’t care.


Encourage Pedestrians, Not Cars
Richard Layman,

With time even the most hardheaded person is capable of learning. While I haven’t yet had a chance to experience for myself the Barnes Dance intersection in Gallery Place at 7th and H Streets, NW, I think that Ted Gest is unreasonable in expecting that a car-dominated nation can understand immediately and without trial and error how to deal with and negotiate a pedestrian-centric intersection. Given that there are but a handful of such intersections across North America, it is fair to say that most people are inexperienced with this kind of transportation facility.

Comparably, the media is full of stories about how difficult many people find it to negotiate traffic roundabouts. For the most part, with time and experience, people end up learning new behaviors. And roundabouts (and traffic circles) are far more prevalent across the country. With regard to the Barnes Dance Intersection, it is fair to point out that a “walking city” should promote walking over driving. And that means prioritizing pedestrians, especially at intersections.

Whether or not the police department or the DC Department of Transportation have done enough in terms of education and notice (are there advance notice signs posted on H Street and 7th Street in all directions, etc. — like I said I haven’t been down there lately) is a completely different issue from whether or not it is important to prioritize pedestrian movement at the core of the city, and a priority with which I wholeheartedly agree.



Ward 5 Democrats July Meeting, July 26
Hazel Thomas,

The Ward 5 Democrats will have their regular monthly meeting a half-hour early at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, July 26, at the Michigan Park Christian Church, located at 1600 Taylor Street, NE. In addition to the business meeting, Ward 5 candidates for council (Kathy Henderson, Delano Hunter, George Jackson, Kenyan McDuffie, Harry Thomas, Jr., and Tracey Turner) and candidates for council chairman (Kwame Brown and Vincent Orange) have been invited to speak. Should you have questions or need additional information, please contact Ward 5 Democrats Chairperson, Angel Austin, at or 315-6057.


How to Start Your Own Business Seminar, July 27
Alison Bayley,

Take a long look at your workplace. Business is conducted with efficiency and high quality. You and your coworkers are among the best in your profession. The organization is profitable and competitive. Now ask yourself how your workplace got this way. Since there is no such thing as the Business Fairy, that means someone, or several someones, had an idea. They took that idea and turned it into a moneymaking reality. Every time you walk into a commercial establishment of any kind, remember how it got that way: by hard work, taking risks, business savvy, and perseverance. At this one-of-a-kind seminar, Professionals in the City invites you to learn how to start your own business from some of the sharpest entrepreneurs in the country! If you’ve been thinking about “someday,” that day is now!

In a single evening, you will explore your own potential as a business owner and learn insider secrets about how to become a successful entrepreneur and be your own boss! Yes, today’s economy can seem daunting, but new business ventures are still flourishing because of the know-how of the business’s founder. You can be one of those that makes it! Perhaps you already own your business and are considering expansion; this too will be covered in this can’t-miss seminar.

If knowledge is power, then Professionals in the City has acquired a panel of experts who have both qualities and want to teach them to you. Michael Karlan, president of Professionals in the City, will be our moderator. Our distinguished speakers will be: Beth Berk, CPA and Independent Recruiter, CPA Ambassador, State of Maryland; Don Chernoff, Engineer, Inventor, and President/Developer of SkyRoll,, Best Product of 2001 (Business Week Magazine); Ivor Heyman, Executive Director, Center for Nonprofit Success, Educational Seminars for Nonprofit Leaders Around the Country; Michael Karlan, President of Professionals in the City, Lawyer and Entrepreneur, Jack Kern, Managing Director, Kern Investment Research, Managing Partner, Stone Lion Trust (Capital Provider); Bhavesh Naik, President, Chief Innovator, Trainer, Ambica Human Resource Development and Training; Stuart Sorkin, Attorney, CPA, Business Consultant, Co-author of Expensive Mistakes in Buying and Selling Companies.

If you want to learn, come and learn from the best! This may be the most important evening of your life! All information is subject to change. Tuesday, July 27, from 7:00 p.m.-9:30 p.m., 888 16th Street, NW (on the corner of 16th and I Street), in the Valenti Room (McPherson Square and Farragut West Metro stops). Please visit for more information and to order tickets.


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