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January 26, 2011

San Francisco, Boston, and Us

Dear Washingtonians:

In the introduction to the last issue of themail, I wrote about Benjamin Wachs’ and Joe Eskenazi’s article in the San Francisco Weekly, “How the Happy Meal Ban Explains San Francisco,” Wachs and Eskenazi explain that the profusion of bans that intrude on peoples’ lives are superficial and do no actual good, but, “If you’re already a politician amenable to intrusive government, there’s an incentive to being the most intrusive. By contrast, substantive legislation even less Sisyphean than improving school lunches is maddeningly difficult and doesn’t get you big headlines. If the aim is actually to solve a problem, then it’s worth it. But if the goal is to remind voters that you’re taking on somebody or something they don’t like, why do the extra work? A politician just needs to look busy.” That explains not just San Francisco’s politicians, but also councilmembers in DC, who pursue liberal causes through illiberal means and are ambitious to control citizens’ lives. All the while they pretend their intrusions will save the world and ignore menial local tasks that don’t interest them, like monitoring the performance of DC government agencies, balancing the DC government budget, and making the lives of citizens easier.

Walter Russell Mead has written a parallel article on the Puritan political tradition of colonial New England, where “the construction of a godly society was the first order of business. The state was not the enemy of liberty; the state was society’s moral agent,” Mead draws a direct parallel between the religious fervor of Puritan pastors and that of today’s “smart growth” advocates: “In the nineteenth century Bostonian literary puritanism was so focused on sex that ‘Banned in Boston’ was a label that helped sell books around the country. Today’s Puritans want to regulate ‘hate’ speech on college campuses and engage in tortured debates over topics like ‘heteronormative’ discourse not unlike the hairsplitting theological debates their ancestors were famous for. But there was never any doubt in the New England mind that the State was the chosen instrument of the righteous in the ongoing mission to make a better world. Then as now New England loved urban density; in the 17th century the divines wanted laws passed to force settlers to live close to the town center to ensure better social control. These days they support a ‘new urbanism’ aimed at preventing the diffusion of Americans out into the exurbs where they will live as they please rather than following all the rituals and requirements that the New England mind knows are best. The godly must keep the rabble in line or intellectual, political, and social chaos will ensue. The Bostonian mind doesn’t just believe this; it knows it, and the path of duty is clear.”


Kevin Robillard of TBD points out that, “Apparently, the DC at-large special election is all about who can be more like former DC mayor Adrian Fenty. Republican Ward 1 State Board of Education member Pat Mara, former Fenty staffer Josh Lopez, and interim councilmember Sekou Biddle are all trying to sound like Fenty and former schools chancellor Michelle Rhee when they speak about education reform. Lopez, for one, is explicitly pushing this angle and is asking Mayor Vince Gray (who has endorsed Biddle) to drop the ‘interim’ before interim Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s title. Henderson, a former Rhee deputy, is considered the best hope to carry on her reforms. (Mara has made the same request.)” ( It’s an interesting political gamble — three of the highest-profile candidates for the at-large councilmember seat are all vying for the support of the same small segment of the electorate who voted for Fenty’s school plan. And Mayor Vincent Gray is asking his supporters to work for Sekou Biddle, who advocates that same school plan, which Gray’s supporters actively opposed in the primary and general elections.


Alan Suderman writes about the Inspector General’s report on Ximena Hartsock,, Fenty’s nominee to be the director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. The city council refused to approve of her nomination, leading to ugly and unfounded accusations by her supporters that anyone who questioned Hartsock was racist. Now the IG’s report, as summarized by Suderman, says that Hartsock “lied on her I-9 form about her home address [and her DC residency] and improperly hired a close friend while ‘living rent-free’ in the friend’s basement. . . .”

Gary Imhoff


Patrick Mara
Dorothy Brizill,

Following his victory in the November general election, Patrick Mara was sworn in on January 2 as the Ward One representative on the State Board of Education. Within seventeen days of his swearing-in, on January 19 Mara went to the DC Board of Elections and Ethics to declare his candidacy and to pick up petitions in the April 26 special election to fill the vacant at-large council seat that had been held by Kwame Brown. There is currently a crowded field of eighteen candidates in this race, including Dorothy Douglas, who is the Ward Seven member of the State Board of Education. Mara, however, is considered by many political observers to be a major contender in the crowded contest, since he will have the backing and financial support of the Republican Party and since he already has citywide name recognition, following his defeat of Carol Schwartz in the 2008 Republican primary and his subsequent candidacy for the at-large council seat.

Currently, the District government is facing a growing deficit, projected to be five hundred million dollars, and renewed pressures to reduce government expenditures. Against this backdrop, the DC BOEE has estimated that the cost of the April 26 special election could be as high as $829,000, even though only $595,000 has been appropriated for it by the city council to date. Thus, in order to cut costs, the BOEE has scheduled three special elections for April 26: the at-large city council seat and the Board of Education seats from Wards 4 and 8. The BOEE’s executive director has been told to trim costs. Should Mara win the April 26 election, however, then another special election will have to be held to fill his Ward One seat on the State Board of Education, at an estimated cost of $250,000. When I spoke with Mara this afternoon, I asked him about his short tenure on the school board, his commitment to his work on the board, and whether he had considered resigning from his seat now, so that the BOEE could schedule a special election in Ward One for his seat concurrently with the other elections, on April 26. During most of our conversation, Mara wanted to talk about what he felt he could accomplish as a Republican member of the city council — for example, saving the District money (he could not offer specifics), pushing school reform, and advancing District statehood. Finally, he admitted that prior to declaring his candidacy on January 19, he had communicated with the BOEE executive director, who had informed him that the cost of another special election in Ward One could be as much as $250,000. Armed with this information, Mara still decided to pursue his long-term political ambition to be a member of the city council, and formally declared his candidacy.

Mara will be the guest speaker at the Strengthening Ward One Together (SWOT) meeting on Friday, January 28, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Columbia Heights Youth Club at 1480 Girard Street, NW. SWOT ( is made up of Ward One nonprofits, community activists, and individuals working together under the auspices of the Columbia Heights/Shaw Support Collaborative (


The Stadium and Our Straits
Ron Drake,

The Tuesday, January 25, Washington Post article by Tim Craig describes the District’s desperate financial straits, According to that article, District finances are so dire that UDC’s junior college programs will be severely curtailed if additional money is not found. In this recession, with the high unemployment rate among those in need of the job skills and training taught by the community college, there can be no higher priority for District policy makers.

Which brings us full circle back to the baseball stadium controversy. Sell it. Start by selling whatever perks were reserved by and for the benefit of government officials. That includes special boxes, seats, and tickets. Appropriate those proceeds for job training. For those who burdened this city with this stadium and who now say it can’t be sold, they should be called to account for the harm they have done to the financial health and well-being of this city and the desperation to which they have abandoned the most vulnerable among us. And for what? To satisfy a former mayor’s ego in search of a monument to himself.

They were creative enough to find a way to exceed the supposed cost limit for the stadium. Now let them be creative enough to find a way around the giveaway contract they signed for the benefit of the non-District-resident owners of the baseball team. One possible approach could be the force majeure doctrine to abrogate this unfair contract, especially if it in fact prohibits sale. If they cannot do so, they forfeit any claim that they represent the best interests of our citizenry. They certainly subordinated the just claims of the needy to the claims of the not needy.


Assault and Robbery on the 90 Bus
Bryce A. Suderow,

One afternoon about three weeks ago one of the 90 busses was heading south on its run to Anacostia Station. The bus was crammed full of people all the way up to the bus driver’s seat. All of a sudden he heard screaming, “Stop the bus! Open the door! Open the doors!” At that point everything was shouting, and of course he could not tell what was happening, so he opened the doors. Two teenage boys burst out the back door and ran off.

It turned out that one of them had attacked another boy. When the boy fought back, a second kid joined his assailant and the two of them overpowered the kid and stole his money. Other passengers, afraid the violence would escalate, yelled for the bus driver to open the doors. The robbers have not been caught.



Tenant Celebration, Talent Show, and Cook-Off, January 28
Monica Marcela Buitrago,

Join us for this talent show celebrating tenants in the DC area. We are looking for people interested in showcasing their talent or joining the cook-off challenge! Please contact Monica at

As rents in the Washington region reach their highest level in twenty years, the Latino Economic Development Corporation (LEDC) and residents from across the District are organizing a Tenant Celebration, Talent Show, and Cook-off to celebrate victories won by local tenant associations in 2010 to preserve affordable housing. The show will be held on January 28 at the Trinity AME Zion Church from 6:30-9:00 p.m.

The event will also preview “We Own This!,” a fifteen-minute documentary highlighting how DC tenants have used DC’s tenant purchase law to become homeowners and save their housing amid pressures threatening DC’s dwindling affordable housing stock. Come early for a tenant cook-off, and stay for great live music, resounding success stories, and lots of local talent. There is a $10 suggested donation. See you there!


Woman’s National Democratic Club Luncheon, February 3
Tonya Butler-Truesdale,

Ambassador Mark Miceli speaks on “Seven Thousand Years in Fifteen Minutes,” at an evening reception at the Woman’s National Democratic Club, 1526 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, on Thursday, February 3, at 6:00 p.m. Ambassador Micelli proposes to take his audience through seven thousand exciting years of Mediterranean history tracing the most significant milestones in Malta’s economic and political development. He intends to keep his talk relaxed with plenty of question-time and discussion. Register at


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