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November 14, 2010

The Tip of the Iceberg

Dear Payers and Players:

The prosecutor said on Friday that the arrests of Jack and Leslie Johnson, and the charges made public in their cases so far, are just “the tip of the iceberg.” The problem is not limited to the charges that were enumerated in the initial indictment (, not limited to Jack Johnson, and certainly not limited to hiding cash in Leslie Johnson’s underwear — although in a few years the cash in her bra will be what will make this case memorable, just as Congressman William Jefferson’s cash in his freezer will forever symbolize his corruption case. (I just Googled “freezer cash” and got 2,440,000 results, almost all referring to Jefferson.) And the problem is not limited to Prince Georges County and the politicians in Prince Georges County, which is why it’s worth discussing here in themail, which is about DC, not PG.

Whichever specific developers and land developments will eventually be named in subsequent indictments, the problem isn’t even them, or at least it isn’t limited to them. The problem is the whole system of pay to play, in which developers who want government owned land, building permits, or funding; contractors who want government deals; and lobbyists who want government favors for their clients all have to pay politicians and bureaucrats for the privilege. They have to pay with quasi-legal bundled campaign contributions and even larger contributions to unregulated “transition” and “constituent” and “inauguration” funds, with “community amenities” that support other political projects, and in the end with unquestionably illegal bribes.

The problem is that we allow this pay to play system to continue in DC as well as in Prince Georges County. The legal barriers to it are either nonexistent or easily circumvented, and the reporting of the money, even the legal money, is incomplete and often not required. And that is what leads to our cynical dismissal of political corruption as something “they all do,” to our image of politics as a dirty profession, to our expectation that backdoor deals and favoritism are inevitable.

Gary Imhoff


In Transition — Kwame Brown
Dorothy Brizill,

Last week, on Monday, November 8, Council Chairman-Elect Kwame Brown held a press conference to launch officially “the transition process and unveil members of his transition team.” Brown’s transition effort will be chaired by Gregory McCarthy, a Ward 2 resident who is vice-president for government and municipal affairs for the Washington Nationals Baseball Club. Other members of Brown’s transition team include: Irma Esparza Diggs, a Ward 4 resident and chief of staff in Brown’s council office; Jeffrey Humber, a Ward 6 resident who most recently served as president and chief executive officer for District government contractor Delon Hampton and Associates; Natalia Ludaway, a Ward 3 resident who is an attorney and managing partner at Leftwich and Ludaway as well as vice chair of CareFirst; Neil Rogers, a Ward 3 and committee clerk for Harry Thomas’ Council Committee on Libraries, Parks, and Recreation; Walter Smith, a Ward 6 resident and executive director of DC Appleseed, a public interest organization in the District; Michael J. Warren, a Ward 3 resident and a principal in Albright Stonebridge Group, “a global strategy group”; and Roderick L Woodson, a ward 4 resident, partner at the law firm of Holland and Knight, and registered lobbyist for a host of clients in the District. For further information on Brown’s transition team and its organization, see

At the press conference, Brown also announced that he had established a separate entity to raise funds (which he estimated will total $150,000) for his transition and inauguration expenses. Although Brown has reportedly claimed that he will take the council to “new levels of transparency and accountability,” it took nearly six days of telephone calls to Brown, his council office, and his public relations firm (Swanson Communications) just to get basic information on his fundraising plans. Like Mayor-elect Vincent Gray, Kwame Brown has established a nonprofit entity, the Making a Difference Fund, Inc., Interestingly, the articles of incorporation for Gray’s DC One City Fund and Brown’s Making a Difference Fund are identical, including an obvious drafting error in Section 3(e) of both documents, and were filed at DCRA within a week of each other. The explanation for this may rest with Rod Woodson, lobbyist extraordinaire, who is a member of Kwame Brown’s transition team and the attorney for Gray’s transition.


In Transition — Vincent Gray
Dorothy Brizill,

On Friday morning, November 12, Vincent Gray’s economic development transition committee held its first official meeting at the office of committee co-chair Barbara Lang, president and CEO of the DC Chamber of Commerce. At that meeting, subcommittee members were provided with two documents that they must complete and sign by Monday. While Gray’s transition office refused to make the two documents public, the first of the two is a five-page conflict-of-interest form requesting information on a host of matters, including employment history, lobbying, and business contracts with the District government. The second document details a code of conflict and mandates nondisclosure regarding the work of the committee. Especially troubling and amusing to many members of the committee was the fact that Reuben Charles, Gray’s controversial campaign manager and transition chief, made the presentation regarding the two documents. While accounts vary as to what exactly Charles said, he did apparently urge those attending the meeting to complete and sign the documents by invoking my name and referencing “hell” in the same sentence.


Freedom of Information at the Polls
Richard Urban,

I was working outside talking to voters at Precinct 66 in Ward 5 (DC Community College, formerly Backus Middle School) throughout the day on Election Day. It is one of the largest precincts in the city. The director of that precinct insisted that all voters throw all printed materials in the trash upon entering to vote. I learned this after one voter complained to me after coming out after voting. I talked to the director of the polling place in the morning, as did the workers for Mark Jones, Ward 5 School Board candidate. I also called the General Counsel’s office regarding this early on election morning. I was ensured that this was not a correct interpretation of the law and that voters are free to bring in sample ballots, literature, or the DC Voting Guide distributed to all voters. The General Counsel’s office said that they would call the Precinct and tell them to desist from this practice. However, the precinct never did. When Councilmember Harry Thomas showed up at the precinct and I mentioned this to him, he thought it was just fine. This kind of illegal practice favors incumbents and is a violation of free speech. I interpret it as a precinct director with a swelled head plus an inept or corrupt General Counsel’s office. Does anyone have more insight into this issue? I have never experienced it before in my voting in DC for some 28 years. I believe that we have to remain vigilant against any violation of individual freedoms. Making voters trash all literature is a violation of each voter’s right to carry literature, sample ballots, etc., into the polling place to assist them in voting. I would like to see a formal disciplinary action taken against that polling place director, such as permanent dismissal from that position.


You Can Take That to the Bank
Alvin Chauncey Frost,

I disagree with Bill Turque’s assumption that those teachers that have been determined to be “highly effective” are in fact the “best educators,” These teachers have the advantage of teaching the kids who are the easiest to teach, coming from backgrounds of the wealthy, privileged, and very well connected, in most cases. They walk into the classroom with the following partial list of advantages and absence of disadvantages: 1) excellent prenatal health; 2) rich environments filled with high achieving parents, siblings and extended families; 3) very large vocabularies that they take into daycare, pre-kindergarten, after-school care, trips to museums, art galleries, national monuments, etc.; 4) continued nutritional balance and variety; 5) an absence of an environment predominated by smoking, drug use, 24/7 sirens and emergency vehicles and helicopters overhead; and 6) an absence, or lessened incidence, of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.

These are not necessarily DCPS’s best teachers, because they actually are almost guaranteed the greatest opportunity to be determined “highly effective” by a fatally flawed IMPACT evaluation tool to score highly. I do not believe that the results are fair, or unintended, but meant to achieve the results described in this article, a predominance of “highly effective” teachers in the Wards with all of the resources and opportunities for children to do well in public school, which is just a private school system paid for with public funds. On the other side of the city, the ills listed above in items 5 and 6 predominate, and the dearth of positive factors are few and far between. The kids are neither highly prepared nor ready to learn, nor are they from stable family structures, households, or communities currently prepared to send educationally prepared kids to highly stressed neighborhood schools. Young, enthusiastic, Teach for America kids, who finished college and who cannot find jobs in the fields that their “Helicopter Parents” paid in the six figures to prepare them for the real world, cannot overcome their ill preparedness to teach urban schoolchildren with a six-week intensive course in whatever!

It cannot be done, and to continue with the, on its face, ludicrous lie that teacher enthusiasm overcomes, and trumps, any family, neighborhood, or cultural issues that the kids bring to school with them, each and every day, is a lie that borders on the criminal, and yet is constantly being perpetrated upon the least of us. Hell, if they could, they would call the Ghostbusters instead of waiting for Superman. [Finished online at]

Educational reform, as currently practiced in America, is just like the Ponzi scheme that Bernard Madoff perpetrated on wealthy and supposedly knowledgeable and cautious investors. As Madoff got away with billions, and ruined thousands of lives, this current flavor of the month of educational reform will also throw away billions of both public and private resources, but will unconscionably consign millions of urban school kids to the dustbin of history, thereby guaranteeing continued billions to be made by those same Madoff victims in supporting law and order, law enforcement, the oppressive court system, and the correctional facilities, which are not even attempting to correct and/or reform, but to just be used as finishing gladiator academies for hardened criminals.

Here’s a thought. Take the supposedly best DCPS teachers, and send them to the lowest performing District schools, and replace them with seasoned teachers from the lowest performing District schools. In the business world, we send our best workers to tackle the hardest problems. If the proponents of educational reform are going to use a business model to attack the problem of urban education, without also attacking the root cause of urban distress, then act like a business and do the right thing. I can guarantee that if educational reformers were to be required to do what I just suggested, instead of punishing the teachers who have an almost impossible task, and rewarding teachers who have an almost guaranteed success, that those parents with high performing schools in their wards, will almost certainly pull their kids out of DCPS and immediately place them in private schools, even with all of the economic uncertainty in the country. And you can take that to the bank.


InTowner November Issue Now Online
P.L. Wolff,

This is to advise that the November 2010 issue PDF is available on our web site,, and may be opened by clicking the front page graphic on the home page. There will be found 100 percent of all content, including the popular Scenes from the Past feature (this month titled “The Rochambeau Lasted for Only 60 Years”) — plus all photos and other images.

This month’s lead stories include the following: 1) “$200,000 DC Grant Funding Arts District Branding Initiative,” 2) “Annual House Tour Features the Art of Living in Logan Circle,” and 3) “Dupont Circle Neighbors Join Others to Improve Life for the Homeless.” The Selected Street Crimes feature, which is separately posted on the web site, will be updated later on, at which time we will provide notification. A special half-page photo montage this month (on page 6) offers a glimpse of 17th Street’s recent fun-filled pre-Halloween zaniness — the annual High Heel Race!

The next issue PDF will publish early on the morning of December 10 (the second Friday of the month as usual). For more information, either send an E-mail to or call 234-1717.


(Dis)Trusting Gary’s Grammar
Edward Cowan,

In his second item in themail of November 10, Gary asks “Who do you distrust?”

I am confident that Gary knows that it should be “Whom.” Unambiguously, the objective case — whom — is required. It’s a puzzle. Gary is intelligent, educated, conscientious (and opinionated). Why would he knowingly use incorrect grammar?

[Thanks for asking. “Who do you distrust?” was a play on the name of the television game show Who Do You Trust?, which was hosted by Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon before they took over the Tonight Show. Obviously, if the reference is unfamiliar to youths like Ed, it is now so antiquated that it is obscure, and the attempted joke failed. — Gary Imhoff]



Smart Growth: Planning for Rising Tides, November 16
Johanna Weber,

November 16, 12:30-1:30 p.m. Sea level rise from global warming, if ignored, will have a profound impact on the built environment in the San Francisco Bay Area. Brad McCrea, the Bay Design Analyst at the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, explores the issue and describes the options for maintaining the region’s quality of life, environmental health, and economy. Free; preregistration required. Walk in registration based on availability. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at


Book signing of Downtown Silver Spring, November 17
Jerry A. McCoy,

Jerry A. McCoy and the Silver Spring Historical Society are proud to announce availability of the newly published book Downtown Silver Spring. Featuring a foreword by nationally renowned mystery writer and local resident George Pelecanos, this 96-page softcover book contains over one hundred never-before-published “Then and Now” images of downtown Silver Spring. On Wednesday, November 17, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., there will be a book signing at the Silverton Condominium, 1201 East-West Highway (at Newell Street), Silver Spring, MD. The signing will take place in the restored lobby of the 1945 Canada Dry Bottling Plant. Look for the illuminated red CANADA DRY sign. This is rare opportunity to see this amazing space otherwise closed to the pubic!

The cost of the book is $21.99, cash or check only. With the holidays right around the corner, Downtown Silver Spring makes an excellent gift for current and former residents or those who would just like to learn more about the fascinating history of downtown Silver Spring. Also available will be our 2005 book, Historic Silver Spring, for $19.99. Buy both for $35.00 (a 16.5% savings).


CPCUG Talk: “Hackers, Viruses, and Phish, Oh, My!,” November 20
Barbara Conn,

The average computer user today faces enormous online threats, from loss of privacy to malware infections to theft of banking credentials. How can you stay safe? And what about the extra vulnerabilities when you’re traveling? Tom Gutnick, Chief Dragon Slayer at Sunny Banana IT Consulting, will discuss commonsense precautions and software tools that will help, whether working at home or on the road.

Gather your friends, colleagues, and neighbors, and your questions, and bring them to this Saturday, November 20, 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) — 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 E-mail to


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