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September 26, 2010

Waiting for a Superhuman Facade

Dear Waiters:

There will be a lot more discussion this week about today’s Meet the Press, which had a segment featuring Chancellor Michelle Rhee; Robert Bobb, DC’s City Administrator under Mayor Williams; US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; and American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten ( Courtland Milloy was quick to write a column about it, “Rhee Needs to Take a Look in the Mirror,”, which has a smart take: “She readily accepts credit for success while always attributing failure to the shortcomings of others. . . . DC residents who pushed back were just uncomfortable with change and would rather have ineffective teachers in the classroom. Such distortion is nothing new for Rhee. In fact, lots of young, hard-charging reformers in all fields find it easier to blame their clients rather than take responsibility for failures. The stakeholders really didn't want to change, they claim. The problem with owning up to a mistake is that it might cause the reformer's superhuman facade to crumble, revealing some emotionally vulnerable, in-over-their-head inner child.”

Rhee has nothing to complain about. She specialized in firing teachers on grounds that were arbitrary and capricious, and proceeded to fire and move teachers because they weren’t on the Rhee team, because they questioned her questionable educational theories and methods. Rhee’s one completely true rule is that teachers should be held accountable for their work; she ruined even that by pretending that she was the only person who ever felt that way. All employees are held accountable for their work. Teachers should hold students accountable, principals should hold teachers accountable, superintendents should hold principals accountable, and boards of education should hold superintendents and chancellors responsible. If there is no Board of Education that can hold a chancellor accountable, if the chancellor is accountable only to a mayor who indulges her and does not hold her responsible for her work, then both the chancellor and the mayor need to be held responsible by the electorate. If Rhee feels that the electorate’s evaluation of her and her job performance was arbitrary, capricious, and ill-informed, then perhaps she can finally sympathize with the teachers of DC Public Schools, and appreciate how they have felt for the past few years.


We had Robuchon’s mashed potatoes for dinner, Robuchon’s recipe embodies the one rule that makes a great restaurant chef better than a home cook: go to excess. Use more of the ingredients that taste good — butter, cream, salt, etc. — the good things that the superstitious nutrition naggers would forbid you to use at all. “Moderation in all things,” said Terrence, although the quote is usually attributed to Aristotle; but Petronius (who advised Nero on matters of luxury) improved on it: “Moderation in all things, including moderation.”

Gary Imhoff


Why I Voted for Vince Gray
Vic Miller, Adams Morgan,

I voted for Vince Gray despite my deep and long-lasting respect for the Fenty family and what they have contributed to their community. I do not agree that Mayor Fenty is arrogant. However, he has delegated substantial authority to many people who have used that authority to hurt the communities I know and participate in. These persons have acted and continue to act in a high-handed fashion. I do not know Mr. Gray, but people I respect tell me his is honest and intelligent, a good listener and a good leader. Good enough for me.

My primary problem with Mayor Fenty himself is that he has accepted the over-optimistic revenue estimates presented to him and then has spent even more than those estimates would suggest to be reasonable. We will have to have a tax increase soon because of those missteps, a tax increase despite being one of the few jurisdictions in the country that have weathered the economic downturn without significant pain to our fiscal or economic base. My property tax, which doubled early in the Williams administration, has now grown ten percent this year. It will grow again, dollars directly out of my family's pocket. And for what? The following are some of the specific actions in my small part of the world that I observed, that cost us money, and that I cannot understand.

Adams School. Adams School was emptied, declared underutilized, and transferred for the use of places north and west of the park. My neighborhood gets zero. The children in the school were told to go, well, somewhere else. Since then, they have put a ton of my taxes into the school, including an all-weather soccer facility that kids in this neighborhood have no access to. And yes, the combined Oyster-Adams complex is where Chancellor Rhee sends her own children. One of my daughter's excellent teachers. a community resident whom my daughter had stopped in to help for the twenty years since she was in her first-grade class, was transferred to a school in Anacostia. This teacher quickly retired, and is moving back to her family home in Iowa.

Oyster School. The Latina principal of the school was summarily fired over the protests of the Hispanic leadership of the school. As usual, Chancellor Rhee told us she could not discuss it, since it was a personnel matter. Hispanic children achievement has decline in the school despite the overall resources it receives.

Bancroft School. A few years ago the community, with the assistance of some money from the city and about a hundred volunteers, upgraded the playground. Last month, with no warning, bulldozers totally destroyed this community playground without any warning, to provide a new playground, again, with my tax money.

Mount Pleasant Library. The very substantial and costly changes to this library are being made over the protests of both the Mount Pleasant and Adams Morgan communities, including their ANCs. No one in the community knows why it is being done, and why so much is being spent.

Jelleff Boys and Girls Club. The Fenty administration spent twenty million dollars to buy the Boys and Girls Club facilities, again my tax money. Fenty then assigned almost exclusive rights to the field to Maret School — the field being most of the cost. And the wonderful Board that used to run the place, and wanted to keep running it at a nominal cost, is being shut out; the Boys and Girls Clubs were offered a six hundred thousand dollars plus annual contract to run it (that offer has now been put on hold). Jelleff is one of the best community facilities I have ever seen, and the Fenty Administration has actively worked to eliminate it. The above are just from my immediate living space. These stories can be repeated all over the city.

This city's personal income tax base grew more than that of any non-oil/gas state in the decade of the 2000’s, and kept growing through the recession. My real estate taxes will soon be triple what they were in 2000. Both income and property taxes are pouring money into the city's coffers. And yet, we will have a tax increase after the election — it won't be avoidable — because Mayor Fenty didn't know how to say no to ribbon-cutting events. In supporting him for his first election, I had assumed that Mayor Fenty would treat the city like he did Ward 4, as a source of information as to what was wanted and what was wasted. I was wrong.


Fed Up With the "Change is Hard" Refrain
Eric Woods,

When will the Fenty apologists and so-called reformers, including Rhee, cease with the "Change is Hard" slogan as an explanation for why so many DC residents wanted to end the Fenty/ Rhee leadership? This excuse just does not compute with reality. It is patently ignorant for these folks to believe that parents in poor performing schools would rather maintain schools in the pre-2006 state rather than reform them. Therefore, I submit that the "Change is Hard" explanation is being directed at the wrong audience.

Change is hard for Fenty and Rhee — autocrats who acted as if the people did not deserve to have a reform plan communicated to them. Change is hard for Fenty and Rhee, who seemed to execute their reform strategies haphazardly without explaining to the people the reasons for and the benefits of such actions. Change is hard to explain when it was applied to high performing schools such as Hardy Middle School, with negative impact on the children, while many poorly performing schools remained unimproved. Change is so hard for these two unapologetic, overwhelmed individuals that they failed to change even when they recognized that failure was staring them in the face. They forgot that politics is always local.


The Media’s Racial Narrative, Shallow and Malicious
Mai Abdul Rahman,

In DC the media has led a flawed debate. Instead of seriously considerating and analyzing the reasons why voters chose to decline giving Fenty a second term, even though many recognized some of the good initiatives his administration has implemented, the media chose the easy way out — they played the race card. That successfully diverted attention from serious evaluation of Fenty's policies, and sidesteped the important task of engaging the city in discussing the policies and initiatives that should be considered by the next Gray administration.

According to the media analysis, Fenty lost because black voters in the city were angry that he turned their backs on them, while whites voted for Fenty because of the soundness of his reforms. This charge is heavily laced with racism and drips with contempt for voters (black and white). It depicts DC voters as incapable of casting their vote according to their educated judgment and is an over-reaching generalization. Consequently, countless articles, editorials, listservs and blog postings hold only one group of people responsible for the mayor’s loss. This simple explanation misses the opportunity to sincerely address the reasons behind Fenty’s demise. It also fails to provide contextual reasons why others who are neither black nor white chose to vote for Gray. Especially when considering our city’s diversity with many ethnic groups that do not fit so neatly in the black and white race categorization including Hispanic, Ethiopians, Indonesians, Indians, Thai, and Vietnamese voters — to name a few — who collectively make up about 17 percent of our population. Many of them have worked tirelessly as volunteers or community organizers this last election — are they of less value and less relevant than the white and black voters? The media’s attempt to explain Fenty’s loss in pitting whites against blacks is disconcerting for its lack of depth and potential malice.

Furthermore, who is white? White is a definition I personally reject — since it is only descriptive of the color of my skin and offers little beyond that. My white skin did not persuade me to vote for Fenty and did little to help me advocate for his administrative style. On the contrary, for more than three years I advocated for community engagement and wrote extensively on how poorly planned and implemented Rhee’s school reform initiatives were and how burdensome to tax payers and ineffective Fenty’s educational bureaucratic structures and agencies were.

The media failed to explain their own shortcomings in accurately covering, analyzing, and evaluating the Fenty reforms. They underestimated the power of democracy, the public demand for full disclosure, transparent rule, responsive leadership, and voters’ resentment of Fenty’s lack of trust in a city that overwhelmingly supported and entrusted him to lead the city just like he did as a councilmember — open, approachable, caring, and responsive to his community. In addition the media wittingly or unwittingly is responsible for deluding Fenty, who was convinced that the obviousness of the reforms he sought and pushed for and his determination to implement them quickly with little public involvement would be favorably received granting him a second term. Both the media and Fenty failed to understand that without a concerted district-wide effort to involve and engage constituents of the value added, cost and risk involved when each initiative is introduced, Fenty’s success will be limited and constrained by the average citizen — left-out voters exercising their democratic right to vote — they voted for Gray. And no they were not all black.


$40 Cab Fare vs. $39 Plane Flight
Phil Shapiro,

I'm curious to hear if anyone in this online community can recall a $40 cab fare they paid for (in the past few years) here in the DC area? If so, thanks for telling me where you were picked up and left off. I'll share that info back to themail. (Or you can just tell me the approximate number of miles you traveled by cab for a $40 fare.)

The purpose of this is to compare to this $39 plane flight from BWI to Boston:


Voter Registration Deadline Is October 4
Bill O’Field,

October 4 is the District of Columbia’s voter registration deadline for the upcoming November 2 general election. A DC resident can register in person at the Board’s office in Room 250-North of the One Judiciary Square building at 441 4th Street, NW, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

The voter registration form can be downloaded and printed from the DC Board of Elections and Ethics (DCBOEE) web site at By law, the DCBOEE must have an applicant’s original signature on the form for it to be valid. And forms are available, also by law, at the District’s public libraries, fire houses, and police stations. All applications must be postmarked no later than October 4.

Anyone who has a question about registering or about his or her registration status should call 727-2525, or go to to check registration status.


BOEE Ignores Fraud in Catania Election Petitions
Richard Urban, DC Council At-Large Independent Candidate,

On September 23, the DC Board of Elections and Ethics issued a ruling rejecting my assertions that fraud was involved in the signature collection process of the Catania Campaign and that ballot access should be denied. I argued that the Board should investigate the signature collection practices of the Catania campaign and that Catania did not submit three thousand valid signatures on August 5. Therefore the second submission of 1052 signatures should have been rejected.

The Board summarily rejected the assertion in an affidavit by forensic expert Michael Robertson that ten petition sheets bearing the signature of Nicholas T. McCoy were not actually signed by McCoy. The Board gave no rationale for rejecting this affidavit, other than saying that McCoy signed an affidavit refuting it. The Board did not address at all the issue of scratched out/illegible Circulator Dates on nine petition sheets. This may have indicated pre-signing of petition sheets circulated by non-qualified individuals (not DC registered voters). Neither did it address the issue of a blank date on sheet 101 of 267, which may have also indicated a pre-signed petition sheet circulated by a non-qualified person. It also ignored other evidence, such as a the petition signer who said that a friend of hers, and not the person who signed the Circulator affidavit, signed the sheet. The Board could have deposed this person, but instead made no mention of this evidence in its ruling. Other evidence included one circulator’s submitting as many as five partial sheets on one day. In general, a petition circulator will finish one sheet before starting the next one. However, if multiple non-qualified persons were circulating the petitions, and they were signed later by a qualified person, there would be many partial sheets.

In its initial ruling on September 23, the Board incorrectly stated that 5302 signatures were submitted on August 5 (the number was 4229). The Board also stated incorrectly that Catania never had fewer than 4095 valid signatures. Richard Urban asserted that less than three thousand valid signatures were submitted on August 5. On Friday, the Board issued its final ruling, which did not substantially change its initial ruling. Voters should expect integrity in every aspect of a campaign. The above problems with the Catania campaign petitions indicate a lack of integrity in the petition process. This reflects poorly on Catania as a candidate. I believe that the voters will make their decision on election day based on Catania's integrity, his voting record and work while in office, and his character in general. I am offering a clear choice that exemplifies character, leadership, and integrity. See for details and documentation.


Back of the Bus, Y’All
Bryce A. Suderow,

Here's a bit more on what the mayoral primary probably means for white people. First, I urge all of you to read Jonetta Rose Barras's piece in the City Paper,"They Love the Eighties: For 12 Years, Successive Mayors Have Tried to Yank DC into the Future. But the Political Establishment Is Still Partying Like It's 1985," Here's a quote: "Suffferers of the 1985 syndrome . . . in their world there are no Hispanics and Asians, and whites should be at the end of the line. . . . They are locked in a time warp. Ask them to describe their ideal mayor . . . and most . . . [say] ‘Marion Barry with sense.'"

Second, Marion Barry's priceless quote after the election: "To the victor go the spoils. We demand more than our fair share because we've been neglected so long, it's as simple as that."

Third, here is my experience of what "our fair share" and "the end of the line" means on the 92 bus after the election. I should point out that the bus is almost entirely patronized by blacks. And all of them dread 3:00 p.m. when the kids get out of school. No one likes the kids because they are violent and foul mouthed. I got on the bus at 3:30 p.m. I stayed near the front so I could get out at my stop. In front of me were four teenagers. And they were making fun of me. I glared at them. One of them ordered me to go to the back of the bus. I replied, "Blow me." Next thing he was on his feet thretening to punch me. I stood my ground and he sat down muttering about how he was going to get off with me and beat me up. When I got to my stop I said to him, "I'm getting off here." He said, “If you say one more word I'll hit you." I smiled and walked away. The thing that struck me was every black on the bus — however they hated the kids — took his side and blamed me. At that moment I wanted to kill them all.

White people: back of the bus y'all.


Fight for Statehood Unifies, Right When We Need Unity
Samuel Jordan,

Essays claiming to analyze the Gray/Fenty contest for Democratic Party mayoral nominee are beginning to fall into several groups. There are the "Hogwarts commentaries" ordering a “pox on both your houses” for failing to give proper attention to (name your own most important issue). There are the “this black-white division stuff has got to stop” demands usually expressed without a recommendation more credible than Rodney King’s who asked “why can’t we all just get along?” I tend to favor the articles that cite concrete statistics when arguing that, “Many African American voters did not simply vote their feelings, but had serious issues of under service.” Nevertheless, the complaints that “Fenty is just a reflection of his primary voter base in Wards 2, 3, and 6” rank a close second in their ability to pique my interest. Sadly, we have all seen or heard too many of the “Blacks don’t know their rear ends from moles in the ground” explanations for Fenty’s loss, which may be more representative of authoritative political analysis than we care to believe.

To these, I want to add another genre of analysis for the Fenty loss. Here goes. “All politics is a struggle over the distribution of resources” is a mantra from my first campaign for city council at-large in 1992 on the DC Statehood Party ticket. I resurrect it here to toss my explanation into the ring of analyses. There is nothing intrinsically evil about white voters supporting someone whom they think understands their requirements of local government. The entire electorate should vote its self-interests, preferably real versus merely perceived. Black voters who cast ballots for Vincent Gray because they lived next to a new recreation field, but still had monthly sewage surges in their public housing apartment (I kid you not), were voting their self-interest. They may even have been choosing substance over symbol — which probably took some thought. More Gray voters of all stripes came out to advance their self-interests than did Fenty voters. It helps to keep the analysis simple.

Fighting for one’s self-interest is admirable. When others similarly situated join the fight, the prospect of a favorable outcome gains in probability. Movements provide that communal satisfaction elevating the individual to collective status. Social gains following that model are collective victories. The forty-hour work week, Social Security, medical marijuana, and the right to vote for Africans in America and women are but a few examples. In each case, the proponents reached beyond their immediate friends, families and neighborhoods to form alliances with others similarly situated and attracted by the promise of gains in self-interest. What could be simpler? The formula works almost every time.

Post Gray vs. Fenty-Rhee-Nickles, Washington, DC needs a struggle for self-interest that requires us to rise above the concerns of our immediate friends, families and neighborhoods. We could use some elevating communal satisfaction. The struggle for statehood provides just that.

One of the issues in the mayoral primary was the city’s deficit — six hundred million dollars and still drifting south. Another was the 650,000 non-resident wage earners who have the jobs that elude DC residents. Yet a third issue was the need to maintain restrictive gun ownership and registration laws. Each of these sore points impacts the entire District, not just a few friends, families, or neighborhoods. Mr. Gray had the surer hand at discussions of statehood, Mr. Fenty tended to pooh-pooh the idea. After all, “Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly supported statehood, got arrested and nothing came of it,” he said more than once on the stump. He clearly didn’t compare the benefits of statehood against his budget struggles, his defeat at the hands of the Congressional gun lobby in his “voting rights” campaign or the need for workforce training programs that graduate participants into real jobs.

When Mr. Fenty expressed his preference for one-seat voting rights (one vote for DC in the House of Representatives, one vote for Utah and continued Congressional intermeddling) without complete autonomy in all things judicial, budgetary and legislative or statehood — he was choosing symbol over substance — not our best interests.

Chief Financial Officer Gandhi has testified that the District would lose $1.2 billion in federal funds if the District were a state. He didn’t add that statehood also gives the District the right to tax the incomes of the over 650,000 daily commuters and those who work in the District but claim domicile elsewhere – $1.8 billion in revenues. In addition, not enough attention was given to the free services the District performs for the federal establishment including roads, water, sewer, security, fire, etc. — a $700 million tab. Could a net $1.3 billion help us in the District meet our collective self-interests? You bet. What of guns? Congress can’t interfere with a state’s laws as it can with the District’s. Repeat after me: “Statehood equalizes, statehood empowers, and statehood is worth it.” Let’s build the movement and bask in communal satisfaction while enjoying more of the resources we deserve. All of us.


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