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November 28, 2010

Getting Bigger

Dear Niche Audience:

Tim Craig’s article, “Biking Getting Bigger in DC,”, contains one telling statistic that contradicts and undermines the entire story, though it is spun in the way most favorable to bicycling: “According to census data, the number of Washington residents who commute to work by bicycle has nearly doubled, to 2.2 percent, in the past ten years.” Wouldn’t a more accurate title for the article have been, “Few People Bike, Despite Many Government Incentives,”? It turns out that I’ve been exaggerating the importance of bicycling, since I’ve been using 3 percent as the percentage of commuters who travel by bicycle; in the future I’ll use 2 percent instead. Bicycling, as a practical mode of transportation rather than as a sport or hobby, is a niche enthusiasm. If urban and transportation planners wanted to encourage practical alternatives to automobiles, instead of wanting simply to burden drivers, they would try to make commuting by mass transit easier, more convenient, and cheaper. If planners were even more practical, they would concentrate on making carpooling easier and more convenient, since in metropolitan DC more people already carpool than use all forms of mass transit (15.8 percent versus 13.7 percent,, carpooling programs cost governments nothing, and carpooling gives people more individual control over their travel plans and costs. On second thought, maybe government planners should stay out of carpooling, since if they were in charge their “improvements” would consist of imposing carpooling licenses, fees, and taxes; dictating approved routes for carpooling; and regulating how much carpoolers would pay for rides.


There’s trouble ahead: two bills that are certain to be merged and to pass the city council, most likely unanimously, are Bill 18-770, the Bullying Prevention Act of 2010, which was introduced by Michael Brown and Gray, and cosponsored by Alexander, Berry, Graham, Cheh, Bowser, Thomas, Mendelson, Evans, and Kwame Brown; and Bill 18-1057, the Harassment and Intimidation Prevention Act of 2010, introduced by Harry Thomas, Jr., and cosponsored by Graham, Cheh, Michael Brown, Kwame Brown, Mendelson, Catania, Wells, Bowser, Alexander, Evans, and Gray. They’re very similar, and similarly foolish. Both of them outlaw physical bullying and harassment, which is already illegal under other laws, and require schools (and, in the case of Thomas’ bill, DCPS, DCPCS, DPR, DCPL, and UDC) to write “harassment” and “bullying” policies. Both bills define bullying in a way that is broad and vague, so that the resulting policies are likely to be speech codes that will catch in their nets any kind of speech that anyone may object to or that may be considered politically incorrect. Is there any provision in the Bill of Rights that this council doesn’t want to nullify? Has anyone asked school officials whether they have been unable to deal with incidents of real bullying, whether there is a growing problem with bullying, or whether they need a council law to address bullying?


It’s time for me to opine on the Diane Groomes scandal. She demanded strict enforcement of Metropolitan Police Department rules for the lower ranks, but she not only countenanced top police officials’ cheating on a test; she encouraged them to cheat. She gave them the answers to the questions. The MPD has to send a clear signal that it strongly disapproves of her behavior, unless it wants the public to perceive it as institutionally corrupt. Diane Groomes recognizes that; she issued a statement admitting that she did what she was accused of, that it was wrong, and that it brought shame on the MPD. Her supporters should recognize that, too, rather than trying to excuse or diminish the seriousness of what she did. Then, after it has been determined whether this were an isolated incident and a solitary lapse in judgment, it is time to take into account what her many supporters say — that she has been an approachable and responsive police official and a community favorite. That may properly influence the punishment she receives, but it shouldn’t influence whether or not she deserves punishment.

Gary Imhoff


Transition Leadership
Dorothy Brizill,

In addition to having growing concerns about Vincent Gray’s “very secret” ( and “slow-paced” ( transition, some Gray supporters are becoming increasingly alarmed about the composition of Gray’s transition leadership team ( and its staff. As I have previously written, when Gray’s transition leadership team was announced on November 3 it did not include a single labor or civic/community leader, and these two constituencies played pivotal roles in Gray’s successful campaign. However, within a few days of the November 3 press conference the Gray transition, after some protracted negotiations, extended an invitation to Joslyn Williams, president of the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, to join Barbara Lang and Stephen Trachtenberg as a third co-chair of the Economic Development Committee of the transition.

In recent days, a group of citizens representing a host of community and civic groups delivered a letter to Gray and transition chair Lorraine Green indicating that they are “troubled by the announcement of your transition team and the exclusion of respected community leaders and representatives.” The letter goes on to state that “from our perspective, the profile of your transition team is far too elite, affluent, and privileged, with only well-connected from finance, politics, business, and government.” To date, Gray has not replied to this letter, and the civic and community leaders who wrote to him have not been successful in securing the meeting they requested with Gray, although Gray has had several private meetings with supporters of former Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and dinners with business leaders organized by DC Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Long.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Gray’s transition leadership is its composition. Sixteen individuals comprise the “team,” and their ward residency is distributed as follows: Ward One, 1; Ward Two, 2; Ward Three, 5; Ward Four, 2; Ward Five, 1; Ward Six, 3; Ward Seven, 0; Ward Eight, 1. In a city that Gray hopes to govern under a big “One City” tent, perhaps he doesn’t consider the residency distribution of his transition leadership team to be that important. But in general, the wards that supported Fenty in the primary were rewarded; the wards that supported Gray got stiffed. Only one member of the team, John Parham, lives east of the river. Most disturbing, given the importance of education policy in the campaign, is the fact that Gray chose as co-chair of the Education Committee Michael L. Lomax, whose voting residence is in Atlanta, Georgia. Lomax is president of the United Negro College Fund, headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia. His co-chair of the Education Committee is Katherine Bradley, whose City Bridge Foundation promoted and helped underwrite Michelle Rhee’s “reforms” as chancellor.


DeBonis Claims the DC Statehood Green Party Is Withering Away, Wishful Thinking
David Schwartzman,

The Washington Post’s endorsements have not been decisive in several races in the past election; Gray, Mendelson, Cheh, and Thomas, Jr., were winners by wide margins but were not favored by the Post’s Editorial Board. But our local newspaper of record clearly has an ongoing agenda. First, the Post continues to support the urban structural adjustment program put in place by the Control Board regime, so essential needs like affordable housing and child care continue to be woefully underfunded in our budget, while the Democratic/Independent (formerly officially Republican) team of Councilmembers Evans and Catania stand firm against higher taxes for their top 5 percent income bracket. And yes, continue to blame the poorest of our residents for our budget deficit, while hundreds of millions of dollars go to unjustified corporate tax favors every year.

And we again witness the Post’s continued marginalization of the only DC Party with ballot status challenging this program, the DC Statehood Green Party. Neither I nor any other of our candidates got any real coverage by the Post in the campaign for the November 2 election. Mike DeBonis coined the phrase “token opposition” referring to my campaign and the editorial page adopted it. Now, DeBonis claims the “Statehood Green Party has withered into near-oblivion” in his column “DC Might Be Much Better Off Without Pointless Party Politics” (November 26, Really? Do the readers of the Post know that total number of votes our candidates received on November 2 for all races was 42,430, with four At-Large races, to 30,450 for the Republicans, with two At-Large Races? Is the Republican Party the party that is really withering away? (Not too much a surprise, when its economic policies are so user friendly to so many of our local Democrats). My own vote percentage increased from my run in 2008, especially in my own Ward 4 and east of the river in Wards 7 and 8. For the same percentage of the vote, if the turnout had been the same as November 2008, I would have received over 24,500 votes (based on the Pre-Certified Results of the DC BOEE). I got 22 percent of the vote of my opponent David Catania, who outspent me by over 20 to 1.

And as far as the election of Patrick Mara, who receives so much praise from DeBonis; he outpolled Dotti Love Wade by a mere margin of 1.15 to 1, while outspending her by 7.7 to 1, with Mara raising $16,802 (latest figures from DC BOEE and OCF). Maybe Mara did more canvassing than Wade, but the huge margin in campaign funds surely helped. So why not have nonpartisan elections indeed, as DeBonis advocates, when big money, especially from the corporate sector, will likely choose the winners in most cases anyway?

There is a better, more democratic way: public funding of local elections, proportional representation, and/or preference voting. And the Washington Post might try earning its reputation as the newspaper of record and fulfilling its responsibility to the electorate by making even the political playing field with meaningful coverage of issues, including voices of dissent from its own big corporate-driven discourse. And can we even dream the unthinkable, as a demonstration of born-again journalistic impartiality, that the Post’s Chairman of the Board, Donald Graham, announces his resignation as Vice President for Membership and Finance of the Federal City Council?


DC Board of Elections and Ethics and the November 2 General Election
Bill O’Field,

The DC Board of Elections and Ethics will hold a special meeting tomorrow, November 29, at 5:30 p.m. to certify the results of the November 2 general election. The open meeting will be held in Room 280-North of the One Judiciary Square Building at 441 Fourth Street, NW. For more information, the public is instructed to call the Board’s General Counsel’s office at 727-2194.

And the next day, Tuesday, November 30, at 10:00 a.m., the City Council’s Committee on Government Operations and the Environment, chaired by Councilmember Mary Cheh, will hold a public oversight roundtable on the administration of the November Election. According to the Committee’s public notice, roundtable topics will include the adjustments made by the Board in pollworker training and functioning of precincts, technological fixes, and the handling of electronic media, between the September primary election and the November general election. The public notice further states that there will be a discussion about how those adjustments ameliorated problems experienced during the September Primary Election and what further adjustments are still necessary to improve voting in the District of Columbia. The roundtable will be held in room 412 of the John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Anyone wishing to testify should contact Committee staff at 724-8062.

It will be enlightening to hear about the “adjustments” made by the Board to “ameliorate” the problems experienced in September. Will they be the same or some of the same problems that the public brought to the attention of the Board’s Chairman Togo West and Councilmember Cheh? Or do those problems remain?


Courtland Milloy
Bryce Suderow,

There is a profile of [Washington Post Metro columnist] Courtland Milloy in this week’s City Paper. It’s important because he has written a number of recent polarizing columns on race and the DC mayor’s election from the perspective of the black neighborhoods. Here is a link:


Planners Versus Residents
George Idelson,

It is time, indeed, past time, to open up the conversation on the greatest uncovered story in DC — the current rewrite of our city’s zoning laws. Yes, there have been Office of Planning working group meetings on bits and pieces of the rewrite, but most of this has been under the radar for most citizens. Is there a master plan? Most people are turned off by the details of zoning, but the concepts behind the rules are quite understandable, and they have a lot to do with the livability and uniqueness of our communities. Just a few short years ago, a new and readable DC Comprehensive Plan was introduced with much fanfare. What’s wrong with it? Are we abandoning it? About the same time a major meeting, sponsored by the Committee of 100, heard a host of aspiring councilmembers endorse the idea of an independent planning commission. Why has that idea languished? The city is changing, and that’s OK. But without citizen buy-in, tensions between the old and the new can turn into virtual fist fights. Let the conversation begin.


Planners Versus Residents? Residents Versus Residents? Or Tregoning Versus Residents?
Tom Grahame,

I was very impressed by George Clark’s eloquent letter, as chair of the Committee of 100, to the Mayor-elect []. The Committee’s major criticism’s were that Tregoning and the outgoing Administration run roughshod over zoning and land use processes in general, over the Comprehensive plan (a crucial tool of urban planning), over historic preservation precedents, and in general that they took the view that neighborhoods per se have little worth in their particular definition of smart growth.

Jesse Rauch (“Residents vs. Residents,” themail, Nov. 24) quite properly evokes the name of Jane Jacobs in his defense of current transportation policies. Jane Jacobs was a strong proponent of walkable neighborhoods, as am I, but she would be aghast at the notion of diminishing both neighborhoods and sense of local community. Her idea of a livable city is one where people know their neighborhood and neighbors, not one of dense apartment blocks where people are largely anonymous.

There are certainly some sections of the city where higher density is not just appropriate, but called for, generally near some (but not all) Metro stops, where residents of new, dense structures would be less inclined to own a car. If the adult population is going to rise, it’s a good idea to minimize the number of new cars, to minimize traffic jams and on street parking congestion. I buy this part of what the city is doing — incentivizing new residents to either not own a car or use it very little; it is just common sense when you have crowded streets. Zip Cars are great because they have the potential to reduce parking congestion and traffic congestion. I don’t want the new Administration to be hostile to those of us who own cars, but I don’t see Zip Cars as hostile. I understand why many young residents would want to bicycle for transportation, yet I also know too many people who have broken collarbones or broken shoulders. A close friend’s brother died in a bicycle accident in his 30’s, leaving his wife and two young children. I wouldn’t do it, but I don’t begrudge people their choice of transport. I think bike lanes are necessary for bicycling — even though my most recent friend with a broken shoulder was in a bike lane when the car door opened just as she went by. They are inconvenient for drivers, but not so much that I would oppose them, because they do have a purpose in livable neighborhoods.

Let’s not lump activities that are meant to reduce traffic and parking congestion, and allow people to get around without a personally owned car, with the far more pernicious policies of Ms. Tregoning. We have seen that her policies throw out all the efforts — by citizens, neighborhoods, and previous city planners — to develop comprehensive plans. Thus urban planning should be done only by the “experts” with minimal regard to citizen and neighborhood inputs. That was the Robert Moses way of doing things — how many city neighborhoods did he destroy? Ms. Tregoning’s apparent attitude is that DC should become denser by any means necessary, such as diminishing the effects of zoning — something Jane Jacobs would fight, as does the Committee of 100 — or overriding historic preservation, or discounting the importance of neighborhoods and community. Let’s not confuse such a damaging and non-inclusive impulse with more appropriate aspects of “smart growth,” such as making it easier for everyone, including those of us who own cars in the case of Zip Cars, to get around.


The Pitfalls for DC’s Planning and Transportation Progressives
Nick Kaufmann,

It appears that all of the supporters of G. Klein and H. Tregoning, and of their “progressive” urban views of transportation and planning, fail to realize that they will still be deluged and threatened by all those commuter vehicles when DC residents no longer have the ability to own and operate their own cars in DC.


Schools Are Not an Island
Richard Urban,

[In reply to Willie Schatz, themail, November 21] I would contrast self discipline, or delayed gratification, with immediate gratification; or doing things in the right order versus taking short cuts. For instance, delay sex for the long-term goal of a stable family and a good foundation for your future family. Or study hard instead of cheating. Or avoid using performance enhancing drugs and train hard without drugs. If you have sex before marriage it does not necessarily mean that you have bad character. However, it could mean that you see sex as something that is for your own pleasure without considering the happiness of and the consequences for the other person. Giving the message to youth that if you use a condom all kinds of sexual activity are okay, is a viewpoint that encourages self gratification, and is not a character building viewpoint. Encouraging waiting with the goal of marriage encourages delayed gratification and thinking more about the future, and thus helps develop good character.


Diane Groomes
Melissa Williamson,

It is amazing how people tend to overlook unethical behavior when it comes to people whom they like. What are we teaching our children? Assistant Chief Groomes admitted that she provided answers to the test. I am not saying that she should be fired, but she has admitted wrongdoing. This is why people do not take DC residents seriously. We tend to overlook misbehavior when it comes to people whom we like. Wrong is wrong, and I believe that there should be some punishment that fits the infraction. If it had been a rank-and-file officer I do believe that action would have been swifter and harsher. Assistant Chief Groomes is in the top leadership. What she did was dishonest, and honesty is one of the strongest leadership qualities of a good officer. How can she go back to the rank-and-file and regain her creditability? How can she be trusted? That is a question that needs to be asked when so much of what she does is about trust.


Restore Chief Groomes Now and Without Sanction
Susan Meehan,

I, too, cannot think of a person less likely to besmirch the name of the Metropolitan Police Department than Assistant Chief Groomes. Many years ago, I worked hard to get the police of this city to allow female members to compete for all policing jobs rather than be limited to what used to be known as “women’s” jobs. Our Police Chief and Assistant Chief are exactly the kind of strong, competent and caring women I had hoped would come forth. I have worked with Diane Groomes, admire her, and consider her to be a jewel in the MPD’s crown. What is clearly no more than a technical difference of opinion on what constitutes an open-book exam needs to be resolved immediately with Chief Groomes restored without sanction of any kind to official duty. This city needs her.



National Building Museum Events, December 1
Johanna Weber,

December 1, 12:30-2:00 p.m. The Environmental Protection Agency presents the 2010 National Award for Smart Growth Achievement, which recognizes communities that use the principles of smart growth to create better places. The award ceremony includes a panel discussion with experts from each community. Free. Registration required; register for events at Walk-in registration based on availability. At the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station.


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