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January 12, 2011

Walled Off Washington

Dear Washingtonians:

The current online issue of The National Journal has a pointed article by Yochi Dreazen on “Walled Off Washington,” Dreazen chronicles how Washington has been turned into a garrison state, with formerly public buildings and the public streets around them being walled off from the city’s residents and the citizens of the United States, and asks, “But Washington’s decades-long habit of reacting to horrific attacks by installing costly new security measures raises a difficult question about the future of American democracy: how free can a society be when its elected officials are kept further and further away from those they represent?” Dreazen writes how the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords has given rise to calls for even stricter security measures to protect elected officials from close contact with members of the public, “Political leaders who have security details quickly discover that they are an effective way of limiting their exposure to the media and preventing journalists from getting close enough to freely question them.”

This would be a good time for our city’s local elected officials to speak out on behalf of Washington as an open city — and, by extension, of the United States as an open society — but local officials seem to be interested, instead, in increasing their own security details and detachment from the people, and don’t seem to be objecting to any measures to lock down our city. Mayor Gray, for example, has increased the size of his security detail back to the highest level it reached under Mayor Barry, after both Mayors Williams and Fenty decreased it. He has also moved the mayor’s office back to the sixth floor of the Wilson Building, saying that he wants to make the office welcoming to visitors — except that the whole sixth floor is off limits to uninvited visitors, who are forbidden access by armed security guards. The only hopeful statement has come from Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who deserves praise for saying, “I don’t take this one event to mean that 440 of us are in trouble. And if we do, we need to get into another line of work,”


Freeman Klopott notes the discordance between Mayor Gray’s rhetoric and his actual practice, “DC Mayor Vince Gray invited the press to the first meeting of his full cabinet Monday afternoon, handed out a copy of his open government memo and then kicked reporters out.”


US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan “said Monday that he hopes interim DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson stays in the position ‘for the long haul,’ endorsing her strongly while Mayor Vincent C. Gray deliberates on his permanent choice for a new schools leader. Duncan’s praise of Henderson, in an interview with The Washington Post, injected the Obama administration into one of the new mayor’s most critical appointments,” Maybe I’ve misunderstood the politics of home rule. Aren’t we supposed to be highly offended if any federal official injects himself into the local decisions of this city? Aren’t we supposed to protest some fed’s telling DC government what policy it should pursue or whom it should appoint to its own positions? So where’s the outrage at Duncan’s presumption? Where are the outspoken press releases from Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and DC Vote telling Duncan to butt out of DC’s business? Where are the speeches by city government officials saying that the decision of whom to appoint as chancellor is our business, and not the federal government’s? Where is the Washington Post’s editorial saying that the federal government would never tell any state whom it should appoint to its state positions, and shouldn’t treat the DC government with such contempt? Or is this so-called bedrock “principle” of federal noninterference merely empty rhetoric and a cover for partisanship? Does it just mean that Republicans should keep their hands off, while Democrats are welcome to dictate policy and personnel to DC? The Post’s actual editorial on Monday,, didn’t chide Duncan for his presumption, but praised him for his “welcome words on DC school reform.” It called his stance “refreshing.” It excused his obvious direction to Mr. Gray as not being an attempt to “micromanage.” Does anyone think that if a Republican federal official, say John Kline, the new Republican Chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, were to name whom Mayor Gray should appoint as Chancellor of DC public schools, that DC Vote, Mayor Gray, Delegate Norton, and the Post would thank him graciously for his welcome suggestion? Why should DC citizens take home rule rhetoric seriously, when the people who preach it most vociferously don’t take it seriously themselves? Hypocrisy rules.


In the last issue of themail, I speculated about whether Sekou Biddle could win the special election to keep the at-large councilmember’s seat that he won at the Democratic State Committee’s election last week. I wrote that, “Biddle wasn’t well known to the members of the DSC before this election, and he still isn’t known to members of the voting public. There’ll be several other Democrats on the ballot, including most likely Vincent Orange himself. A Democrat who hasn’t even announced yet, but who has money and a small corps of energetic campaign workers, can enter the race late and sweep all the chips off the table. Besides, the ballot in the special election won’t have party identification labels to guide yellow-dog Democrats away from the shunned Republican party. DeBonis suggests that Patrick Mara, who defeated Carol Schwartz in a Republican primary race, may run. A more likely scenario is that Schwartz herself could win the special election if she decided to run. With her name recognition and popularity among many Democrats, she’d do better than Mara. She would certainly give Biddle a hard time.” Bruce DePuyt, of NewsChannel 8, enterprisingly called Schwartz in West Palm Beach, where she is wintering. She said that she wasn’t interested in spending her winter back in DC to run, although she sounded as though she agreed that she’d do well in the election if she were to run, I thought what I wrote about Schwartz was clearly my speculation about how she would fare if she ran, and not an announcement that she was running, but apparently I wasn’t clear enough for everybody. Elyssa Silverman, of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, used Carol’s statement that she wasn’t running as an occasion to attack not merely me, but also Dorothy, who didn’t write the piece. Elyssa Twittered that, “Hope this will also end people relying on Gary and Dorothy for political insight.” Ohh, where did that snark come from?


William Lockridge, the Ward 8 member of the State Board of Education, died this evening in George Washington University Hospital,

Gary Imhoff


Election Watch
Dorothy Brizill,

On Wednesday, January 19, Mary Cheh’s Government Operations Committee will hold a hearing on a proposal by Rokey Suleman, executive director of the DC Board of Elections and Ethics, to change voting procedures for the April 26 special election to fill Kwame Brown’s at-large council seat. The hearing will focus on a letter and memorandum Suleman sent to Cheh on January 7, concerning the cost of holding the special election (

Under current District law, voting in the special election would take place at the usual 143 polling sites throughout the District. The estimated cost, according to Suleman, will be $829,000. As a cost-cutting alternative, Suleman recommends that voting take place at just sixteen voting centers (two in each ward) over a three-day period on April 23, 25, and 26. He estimates the cost of this alternative at $624,000).

While it is useful to have a public discussion on measures to cut the cost of the special election, given the District’s fiscal constraints, a larger issue must be addressed first. Under District law, it is the DC Board of Elections and Ethics that sets policy regarding the conduct of District elections, not the city council, Mary Cheh, or Rokey Suleman, who is an employee of the Board and not legally empowered to make policy on its behalf. How could Suleman, an employee of the BOEE, send the January 7 memo to Cheh when the Board never held a public hearing, meeting, discussion, or vote — as required by law — on such a substantial change in the District’s election procedures. Moreover, as Chairman of the Council’s Government Operations Committee, Cheh is supposed to provide legislative oversight of the BOEE, not supplant the role and authority of the Board.


More Bogus Parking Tickets
Jack McKay,

A longstanding dispute (approaching three years) with the Department of Motor Vehicles over a parking ticket has been complicated by a bizarre characteristic of DC parking tickets: it’s commonly impossible to tell exactly what violation is being charged. Parking tickets don’t specify the Municipal Regulation that has been, according to the ticketing officer, violated. The officer notes instead a three-digit code, and those codes are supposed to correlate to specific Municipal Regulations. You and the ticketing officer are supposed somehow to know which one.

P055, “No Parking Anytime,” seems to be a favorite code cited by both DPW Parking Enforcement officers and the MPD. I’ve accumulated eight such tickets, and constituents have shown me more. P055 is popular because the ticketing officer doesn’t have to specify why parking was prohibited “anytime” at that location. It just was, the officer says so. How is one supposed to muster a defense against such a vague charge? In the case of my ongoing ticket dispute with the DMV, it’s clear that the Traffic Adjudication Appeals Board, assessing (and upholding) the ticket, doesn’t know what violation is being charged, nor what Municipal Regulation is applicable. Everybody’s just guessing, because the ticket doesn’t say.

Well, it turns out that there exists a secret decoder ring that allows one to correlate these three-digit codes with actual parking regulations. But good luck finding it. Only in response to a Mount Pleasant ANC resolution calling on the MPD, and DPW, to specify on parking tickets the actual regulation violated, did the MPD provide me with the decoder document, rather opaquely designated Circular 07-04, “Civil Infractions for Moving, Parking, and Hack Violations”. There one can discover that P055 is not the blanket, all-purpose “no parking anytime” that officers like to think it is. On the contrary, this code corresponds specifically and exclusively to 18 DCMR 4019.1. Well, that’s easily found on-line, and turns out to ban parking on three specific locations in the District, namely parts of Woodley Road NW, Okie Street NE, and Branch Avenue, SE. That’s it. Nowhere else in the District.

Hence, no parking ticket specifying P055, if it is written for cars parked anywhere but at the three locations cited in this municipal regulation, is legally valid. It doesn’t matter what parking regulation your parked car may actually have violated. If you weren’t at any of those three locations, then it wasn’t a P055 violation, and any ticket specifying that code is invalid. The appropriate statement for denying the ticket is this: “The stipulated facts on the ticket are inconsistent [with] or do not support the violation.”


It Is Time for the Biddle Hate to Stop
Eric J. Jones,

I must first say as the Executive Vice President of the DC Young Democrats (the first group to endorse someone in this process) I find it not only upsetting but also insulting to say that we as members of the DC Democratic State Committee only voted because we were intimidated or coerced to do so by our locally elected officials. First off this is not true at all. Just like in times past during any important vote before the State Committee some members received calls, E-mails, letters and cards on behalf of the candidates for the position. While some may have received personal calls, E-mails or were talked to by elected officials many of us received nothing at all. The fact of the matter is that the Honorable Vincent B. Orange was not selected by a group of his peers who is selected by the registered Democrats in this city to be their local leadership and voice. This was the announced process and it is what was carried out.

Instead of trying to paint some picture of scared state committee members voting on a man they knew nothing about because they were fearful of retribution folks should instead seek the truth. In a race in which most if not all knew that there was no sure way of knowing how someone voted unless you watched them fill out their ballot, there was no true way to hold someone who voted for or against a certain candidate accountable so this in and of its self is a flat out lie. Secondly, the fact that Mr. Orange started his speech by apologizing for his previous campaign tactics and strategies actually highlights something that it seemed many in this city have failed to realize. Mr. Orange and his campaign team upset many in this city including many who hold votes on the DCDSC. It was these same individuals who were then tasked with selecting someone who they feel best represents not only the interest of the party but someone they can believe in. It is in this light that Mr. Biddle was elected Thursday night. While it was great to have our elected officials in the room, they did not have a positive or negative impact on many in the room as only half of the groups truly caucused together and honestly those individuals still did not have that great of a swing in the vote. From the first ballot to the third, Mr. Biddle picked up five or six votes which is just part of the number of votes which were open after Mr. Mays name was removed from the ballot.

Instead of attacking Mr. Biddle for having the audacity to run along with the other candidates who braved the process or those DCDSC members who voted for or against any particular candidate I would instead challenge that we all began the process of trying to repair the relationships of our city. I think that it took balls for Mr. Orange to stand up and apologize the way he did and hope that we would all take a lesson from him in that stand point and decide to move our city forward.

Currently, we are truly facing tough economic times which have lead to increased unemployment, increased crime, increased homelessness and true separation of the values that once held this great city together. In these times we all need to find a common bond to come together on which should be the betterment of our city. No matter who you hoped the State Committee selected in its appointment process or who you wish to support in the upcoming special election of those who so far have announced their interest:

The important things are that 1) we all come out and exercise our voice and vote in April during the special election, 2) that we give our mayor and city council members (no matter whom you supported) our help and support as all of our futures depend on it.

[This message was originally sent to the Google Groups “DC Democrats” group and copied to themail — Gary Imhoff]


Estate Tax
Richard Stone Rothblum,

One point that comments on the estate tax seem to miss is that the estate tax is virtually a voluntary tax. Estate taxes can be entirely avoided, but at a cost to both the testator and to society. An avoidance strategy (perfectly legal) used by business owners is to purchase large, single-payment life insurance policies using money borrowed against their estates. This reduces the net value of the estate, and the insurance proceeds are not taxable.

It is also very difficult to prevent people from giving away their money while they are alive without having to pay gift taxes, using trusts or stock transactions. The really rich pay little in estate taxes, and certainly not the confiscatory levels that are, in principle, levied in many parts of the world. So, although in theory the very rich are the targets of excessively burdensome tax rates, in fact, it is the moderately well-off who will bear the brunt of these taxes or of the expense and disruption of avoiding them.

In the case of the District, legislators should consider not only the incentive to leave the city, but the disincentive that excessive taxation gives to those who might otherwise locate within the city. High estate taxes give business owners an incentive to liquidate productive assets so as to protect from taxation. It is well and good to ask those more fortunate to help the less fortunate. It is something else to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs.



Judith Viorst, Unexpectedly Eighty, January 18
Tonya Butler-Truesdale,

Judith Viorst, Unexpectedly Eighty: And Other Adaptations, a luncheon at the Woman’s National Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, at 11:30 a.m., Tuesday, January 18. Judith Viorst was born and raised in New Jersey. She received a BA in history from Rutgers University, and in 1981, after six years of study, she graduated from the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute. Many of her books, for adults as well as for children, have been published abroad. Several of her children’s books have been made into short films. Mrs. Viorst lectures widely on a variety of topics, ranging from loss and growth to children’s literature and the subject of control. Members $25, nonmembers $30, lecture only (no lunch) $10. Register at


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