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December 8, 2010

Reappointments or Not

Dear Appointees:

Today brought several stories about appointments and non-reappointments of department heads:,, I have no real information to add to these stories, except possibly for the press release from the Gray transition team announcing the appointment of Allen Lew as City Administrator and of Gerri as Chief of Staff,; and the E-mail that Gabe Klein, the director of the Department of Transportation, sent to his staff after Mayor-elect Gray told him he was not going to be reappointed, You may have information or opinions about any of the new appointees or departing department heads, however. Share them with us in themail.


Jonetta Rose Barras has a particularly provocative column, “Whatever Happened to Family Preservation?” in today’s Examiner, I’ll give several quotes, but read the article itself. “More and more the District government has been assuming the traditional roles and responsibilities of parents, said Ward 6 DC Councilman Tommy Wells.” “Three-year-old children are placed for the entire day in the care of the public schools. If they attend after-school programs, they don’t get home until late evening. Many receive all their meals — breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks — in some nondescript cafeteria. There are other examples of child snatching by the government. ‘The general feeling is the parent doesn’t know best,’ Wells told me. ‘We’ve decided children are better off with [the government] than with their parents.’” “The government-as-surrogate-parent is an expensive proposition. It accounts for the large and ever-increasing costs of entitlements.” “The new mayor and council might also explore the role government should play in protecting children. They may also consider how to achieve that goal without supplanting the responsibilities of parents and weakening the most critical element of a healthy society: a strong family structure.”

What is most astonishing about these statements is that they are coming from Tommy Wells, and Councilmember Wells has been in the forefront of the nanny government movement. He has always seemed in the past to believe that government officials knew better than individuals how they should lead their lives, and were therefore justified in regulating and prescribing the most private details of citizens’ lives. Have we finally reached the limits of in loco parentis government, even in the District of Columbia?


My friend, the Queen of Nerds, begs again not to have her comment published or attributed to her, but wants to give her opinion on Richard Rothblum’s example that he attributed to the subjunctive mood in the last issue of themail, “Let X be a number from one to ten.” She writes that this is not an example of the subjunctive. “I believe the verb is in the imperative mood, not the subjunctive. Your example expresses a command, not a doubt or condition contrary to fact. Verbs have four moods in English — the indicative, imperative, infinitive, and subjunctive.” She also writes that she tried hard not to comment on this, but that it is like crack cocaine to her. Speaking of which, I’ve continued to ponder, as has Willie Schatz, below, whether “stick-in-the-muds” is the correct plural form of “stick-in-the-mud.” I’ve concluded that it is, no matter how strange that “muds” sounds. The catch is that the “stick” isn’t a stick that is sitting there in the mud; it is the present tense of the verb “stick,” describing whatever is being stuck there in the mud, so the plural is properly formed by adding an “s” at the end of the phrase.

Gary Imhoff


Subjectivity, Continued
Willie Schatz,

Well, I wanted to continue this thread. But, according to Merriam-Webster, I can’t, because “the word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary.” That sure put me in one foul mood regarding that mood. And so much for the case for that no-case.

Regarding the noun: take heart, Gary. At least one other subscriber uses the subjunctive. Which, upon further review, makes you and I (along with the self-confessed Queen of the Nerds) sticks-in-the-mud. Or should that be stuck-in-the-mud? Further, if we were the chief legal officer of three states, would we be attorney-generals or attorneys-general? (I know, but I won’t tell.)


A Lesson to Students in DC Electoral Politics
Eric Woods,

Politicians need to be careful in their word and message selection when they are running for mayor, the highest office in DC, and when a key part of their platform is education reform. They should be especially careful when addressing DCPS kids who have legitimate concerns about the quality of their education, given the poor national ranking of the system. Take Democratic-nominee Vince Gray, for example, who answered my daughter’s public questions about the rapidly deteriorating state of Hardy Middle School at two Town Halls with a public acknowledgment that “a mistake was made” when Principal Patrick Pope was removed this year and “no explanation” was ever provided. He added to those comments that he would not get in the business of “micro-managing” schools and will defer such decisions to the Chancellor’s team. He also accepted my daughter’s offer to give him a guided tour of Hardy and stated that he was well-informed about the Hardy situation.

How has Mayor-Elect Gray followed up on his public pronouncements? While a member of the Gray team provided contact information to my daughter, no one (including Gray) has even acknowledged her follow-up communications. Interim Chancellor Henderson has informed Pope that he will not be returning to Hardy — thereby allowing the school to continue its rapid descent to an also-ran from the top performing middle school in the city under Pope. Mayor-Elect Gray has not given a public “explanation” for Pope’s removal or for Henderson’s failure to reinstate him and correct the “mistake.” Why am I discussing this even before Vince Gray is sworn in as mayor? Because during this transition period, detailed conversations are taking place in every agency and his voice is being heard by an interim chancellor that is likely applying for the job. Moreover, DC is not like most other lawmaking jurisdictions that have a school board overseeing school matters. The buck stops with the mayor. The mayor cannot outmaneuver criticism over bad decisions or “mistakes” made by the chancellor by passing it off on some other elected body that did not accept his recommendations.

If Mayor-Elect Gray is truly concerned about education, he must acknowledge three realities and demonstrate leadership by taking action. They are: 1) many students at Hardy, including my daughter, are watching closely to see whether he will make good on what he stated publicly. Hardy teachers and DCPS parents who remember the DC council hearings last March, are wondering if his words were uttered just for political expediency and getting elected. 2) Dramatic changes must be made this month or shortly after schools resume in January. Otherwise, Hardy’s continued demise will require many years to pass before parents and teachers will again have confidence and faith in the quality of education at Hardy. 3) An entire generation of District students and parents are watching to understand his view of education reform. They are tired of being pushed aside and marginalized by the Rhee/Fenty regime and its undelivered promises and lack of transparency. Support for participatory government and school system gains hangs in the balance.


Traffic Deaths and Chief Lanier
Jack McKay,

I’ve complained before (themail, October 17) about Chief Lanier’s insistence on taking credit for the decline in DC homicides in recent years, even though that decline began long before she became Chief of Police, and is observed nationwide, not just in DC. (The Chief doesn’t say much about robberies, which are higher now by 12 percent than under her predecessor, Charles Ramsey.) Now she wants credit for reducing traffic deaths. “We have reduced traffic fatalities in Washington, DC, by 54 percent in two years. I have to say I think a lot of that is through the automated enforcement . . . (which) a lot of people get so frustrated with but is saving lives.” She didn’t say “traffic fatalities have decreased,” but “we have reduced traffic deaths,”

Well, take a closer look. Traffic fatalities in DC have been decreasing since 2001, dropping by 50 percent to 2008. I personally don’t recall lots of speed and red-light cameras popping up ten years ago. Furthermore, in 2001 traffic fatalities began decreasing nationwide, not just here, indicating that the cause isn’t red-light cameras in DC. The most likely reason is that automobile safety measures, such as air bags, were mandated around 1998 by the Federal Government. As older cars have gradually been replaced by new, safer automobiles, the automobile fatality count has declined. If automated traffic law enforcement were responsible for the drop in traffic deaths, one might suppose that pedestrian deaths would also decrease, as, presumably, drivers do less speeding and red-light running. But no such decrease is evident, pedestrian deaths having fluctuated around a constant 10 per year since 2001. That’s consistent with the idea that the decrease in automobile fatalities is due to automobile safety measures, because air bags save drivers’ lives, but aren’t much use to pedestrians.

It’s not evident that automated traffic enforcement is actually saving any lives, either automobile drivers or pedestrians. Chief Lanier may think that she’s reduced traffic deaths in the District, just as she thinks that she’s responsible for the decrease in homicides, but, as in the case of homicides, it’s more likely coincidence. She simply happens to be chief of police while these favorable trends are taking place.


Evangelism Versus Optimality
Richard Layman,

Actually Gary, my fervor with regard to bicycling (and walking and transit) with regard to sustainable transportation planning in center cities such as Washington, DC, have everything to do with optimal mobility and efficiency measured through people throughput, not zealotry. It’s derived from a recognition that successful center city revitalization and neighborhood and economic development is most dependent on compact development that is complemented by transit. In particular, experiencing the impact of the New York Avenue infill subway station on improvement in the H Street neighborhood made me shift from commercial district revitalization planning to transportation.

Cars take up a lot of space. People on foot or on bicycle don’t. One forty-foot bus carries about fifty to seventy people, while this amount of space fits about two to three cars, and typically those cars carry fewer than two people on average. Articulated buses are sixty feet long, and carry more people. On H Street NE, about 24,000 vehicles carry about two thirds of the people traveling through the corridor, and 280 buses, a mix of forty-foot and sixty-foot buses, carry about 15,000 people. It’s true that as income increases, more people buy automobiles and prefer private transportation. However, economic development initiatives of China and India are behind the drive to increase automobile production, sales, and usage in those countries; it isn’t just some natural phenomenon. Studies on income do show that the more resilient regional economies worldwide are located in areas where the center cities have robust sustainable transportation modalities in place and in high use. Most people in Zurich use public transportation or walk or bike and they don’t feel the least bit demeaned. In fact there was a letter to the editor in the Financial Times about the attractiveness of cities like Zurich over London because of the livability qualities and robust transit system.

For center cities to be successful, they have to prioritize pro-city policies. The real issue is how to “consume” center cities. Exchange doesn’t work that well in the city if mobility policy is focused on automobility. Promoting the least efficient urban transportation mode — automobility — is anti-urban and therefore a policy and practice that shouldn’t be privileged within city policy at the expense of better modes and superior policies.

[I’m calling a temporary end to this discussion in themail, because I feel we’re going in repetitive circles. Maybe we’ll have fresh things to say when the transportation policy of the Gray administration becomes clearer; Gabe Klein’s non-reappointment gives a clue, but not a definitive one. Let’s wait until more is known. — Gary Imhoff]



Benefit Concert for Empower DC, December 10
Parisa B. Norouzi,

There will be a benefit concert on Friday, December 10, featuring performances by Head-Roc and Tarica June, at RAS Restaurant and Lounge, 4809 Georgia Avenue, NW. Donations will be accepted at the door — no one turned away, and no age limit. The first thirty people who donate any amount at the door will receive a copy of the Empower DC Project CD.

Support new local business RAS Restaurant and Lounge and local Hip-Hop icon Head-Roc, who will be performing songs from his Empower DC Project. It’s the soundtrack for DC’s most effective community grassroots organizing force: Empower DC! The Empower DC Project is comprised of expertly written and produced songs to inform and inspire organizing efforts within the US progressive movement and culture around the issues of affordable housing, childcare, education, Public Property Organizing (Join An Organization). The mission of Empower DC is to enhance, improve and promote the self-advocacy of low and moderate income DC residents in order to bring about sustained improvements in their quality of life.

The “Empower DC” Project is a not-for-profit publication designed to popularize and promote organizing as a way to obtain Justice for People of Culture in Chocolate City and worldwide. Listen to it at More info about Empower DC at


Community Meeting on Violence and Abuse Against Women and Girls, December 10
Kathy Henderson,

A community meeting and forum on violence and abuse against women and girls: who is doing it and what can be done about it, will be held on December 10, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at Trinidad Recreation Center, 1310 Childress Street, NE (at Holbrook Street). The moderator will be Jackie Bensen, News 8, and participants will include Police Chief Cathy Lanier; 5D Commander Lamar Greene; Daryl Lowe, MSW; Dr. Darryl Harris, Howard University; Jamille Bigio, US Department of State; and a representative from the US Attorney’s Office.

Every day, women and girls are verbally abused, physically abused, raped, tortured, or killed. Violence against women and girls is pervasive and can happen whether you are eight or eighty. Do not wait until it happens to you or someone you love. Find out what you can do to spot abuse and violence and stop it before someone gets hurt. You need to be a part of this important discussion. For more information, contact Kathy Henderson, 556-5823.


Seeing the World Through a Writer’s Eye: Deborah Clearman, December 13
George Williams;

On Monday, December 13, author Deborah Clearman will discuss her new book Todos Santos. Clearman’s book gives readers a rare look into a world few Americans will ever experience — those parts of Guatemala that extend beyond the picturesque postcard images visited by most tourists. Clearman will read from her book and hold a discussion about how to turn a travel experience into a piece of literature by observing the trip with a writer’s eye. The event will begin at 7:00 p.m. at the Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library, 5625 Connecticut Avenue, NW. For more information, call 282-0021.



Who Wants Yesterday’s Papers?
Bell Clement,

No, really. I subscribe to a number of the Usual Suspects (The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, Atlantic, Harpers). I have about six months’ worth of these stacked up for the recyclers (and will have another stash waiting every few months), but it seems a waste to send all that fine prose for pulping after one reading. With the exception of an occasional coffee stain, or missing NY’er cartoon, these are pristine. Anybody have anyone who might be interested? (School; waiting room; assisted living space; group home; collage-makers?) Or should I just head out to the dumpster?


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