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March 16, 2011

Ulysses S. Grant

Dear Historians:

Ulysses S. Grant had one of the most troubled presidencies in the history of the United States. The nation didn’t have to fight a war — it had just fought the Civil War. It was a time of major economic expansion and growth, but of financial uncertainty because of a complex web of government and private corruption that ruined the markets and a series of scandals that unsettled the nation. If not for his overwhelming popularity as the commanding general who won the Civil War, Grant could not have won reelection to his second term, and he chose to withdraw from consideration rather than run for a third term that he likely would have lost.

Grant’s failure as president was that he surrounded himself with dishonest people, considered them his friends, and rewarded them with his personal loyalty. When Grant’s friends used their positions in his administration or their connections to his administration to benefit themselves personally, Grant did not act decisively to cut them off and to punish their wrongdoing, and sometimes he acted to protect them from punishment. The scandals they hatched ranged from market manipulation to the selling of government contracts to fraudulent land grants to tax evasion and bribery to nepotism. Grant was not a reformer, and he acted more often as an enemy of reformers than as their ally. Yet if Robert Trout had done a report on the Grant administration, with the same legal standards and standards of proof that he used in his report on the Fenty administration’s contracting procedures with regard to Fenty’s friends and fraternity brothers, Trout would have come to the same conclusion with regard to Grant as he did with regard to Fenty — it’s not possible to prove any direct connection between him and the scandals or to show proof that links him directly to benefiting from them.

Fenty’s advocates are touting this report as a vindication of Fenty and more — as clearing Fenty’s allies of any wrongdoing and clearing Fenty’s administration of ever having had any scandals. Sinclair Skinner, a key figure whose acts have been referred by Trout to the US Attorney’s Office, is bold enough to claim that the report justifies him and, on the basis of its conclusions, to demand apologies from Mayor Gray and the councilmembers who requested Trout’s investigation. The Washington Post’s editorial board, which shares Mr. Skinner’s code of ethics and close ties to Mayor Fenty, editorialized on Monday about “the shady deals that weren’t,” and also called for apologies from those who dared to question those shady deals,

Let’s get it straight. U.S. Grant was never proven to have personally participated in or benefited from the scandals of his administration, but that didn’t wash clean the sorry record of his administration. It was still scandal-ridden and on balance a failure, and only those whose sense of honesty and integrity was subservient to their political partisanship ever tried to deny it.


In the last issue of themail, I argued with the Washington Post’s editorial board’s misstatements about the Board of Elections and Ethics’ procedures and processes. The Post was alarmed that the BOEE would accept the challenge against Patrick Mara’s petition to be a candidate in the special election to elect an at-large councilmember, because Mara is a Republican, and the Board would act as Democratic partisans against him. I wrote, “Regardless of party, the institutional bias of the Board of Elections has always been to accept petitions and to put candidates on the ballot if any reasonable argument can be made to accept their petitions. To prevail, complainants have to present overwhelming evidence that petition signatures are bad and that there aren’t sufficient valid signatures on the petitions — and in my experience even overwhelming evidence may not be enough to convince the Board. The Post’s insinuations that partisan bias influences the BOEE’s decisions on this point are simply unsubstantiated.” Now the BOEE has issued its ruling on Mara’s petition and, as I predicted, it gave Mara the benefit of every doubt — and gave him the benefit even when there wasn’t any doubt — and allowed him to be placed on the ballot as a candidate. Read the decision at

Gary Imhoff


Chief of Staff, Part 1
Dorothy Brizill,

It was somewhat anticlimactic when Vincent Gray walked into the press room in the Wilson Building today at 5:00 p.m. to announce that he had requested and accepted the resignation of his chief of staff, Gerri Mason Hall. In a written press release issued this evening, Mayor Gray indicated that “the action was taken to allow the Gray administration to move forward with the business of the city.” He went on to state that, “the distractions of the past few weeks have overshadowed the important work of this government.”

Gerri Hall’s firing was the last twist in a day that surprised even longtime Wilson Building observers and left them speechless. At 10:00 a.m., Gray had held his regular weekly press conference in the press room. Hall, who usually attended the press conference, had not been present because she was at Councilmember Mary Cheh’s performance oversight hearing on the Office of the City Administrator and the Executive Office of the Mayor. Cheh grilled City Administrator Allen Lew on a host of issues, including the high salaries being paid to senior members of the Gray administration and how the children of Gray officials secured positions in the District government. Hall sat calmly in the audience during Cheh’s questioning of Lew, and she indicated that she would return to the hearing at 3:00 p.m. to testify and respond to questions regarding the EOM.

In the meantime, Gray abruptly ended his morning press conference after about an hour, after letting it slip that he had to attend a meeting with thirty-five business leaders. I was curious about the meeting because it had not been posted on Gray’s public schedule, so I went to the 9th Street office of the DC Chamber of Commerce to learn more about the it. The Chamber’s president, Barbara Lang, hosted the meeting with two other business organizations, the Federal City Council and the Greater Washington Board of Trade. Afterwards, Lang very diplomatically indicated that the purpose of the private meeting was for the business community to raise to concerns with the mayor about the impact that the recent snafus and scandals were having on his administration. However, the real purpose of the meeting was that the three business groups are demanding changes within the Gray administration. To that end, for the past week, the leaders of the three organizations have met secretly to discuss which members of the Gray administration they wanted replaced, and to come up with business-approved replacements for them. For example, prior to today’s meeting with Gray, they had developed a short list of substitutes for Gerri Hall, including John Hill, CEO of the Federal City Council; Robert Bobb, former City Administrator under Mayor Williams and now emergency financial manager of Detroit’s public schools; and Herbert Tillery, former Deputy Mayor in the Williams Administration. Certain members of the business community have even indicated that they would raise substantial funds to help “promote” their approved candidates to the community and the media.

Shortly after Gray returned to the Wilson Building, rumors spread throughout the building that Gerri Hall would not be testifying at Cheh’s afternoon hearing and that she would be resigning. Gray denied any nexus between his meeting with the business groups and Hall’s resignation. At his afternoon press conference, he appointed Paul Quander, the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, as the interim Chief of Staff. This weekend, Gray’s cabinet members and senior staffers in the EOM will be going on a retreat to discuss, and perhaps resolve, some of the problems of the past two weeks, so sometime next week we may know whether there will be any more vacancies in the administration, and perhaps get some insights into who will emerge as replacements.


DC’s Child Homelessness Rates
Mai Abdul Rahman,

The recent enumeration count of the Metro area’s homeless population offered a one-day snapshot of the homeless population in Washington, DC, and surrounding counties. According to the report, on January 27 11,774 people were counted and identified as homeless in the Washington, DC, metropolitan region — living in shelters, streets, alleys, bridges, parks, and campsites. Most alarming, of the 1,536 homeless families counted in the entire Metro area, 800 (52.08 percent) were Washington, DC, homeless parents of 1,536 children under the age of seventeen. Washington homeless child rates are likely to be much higher, since the enumeration count does not include unaccompanied homeless youth.

Many of these children are attending DCPS schools, and measures must be in place to ensure this considerable school population receive its equitable right and access to education as non-homeless students. Homelessness has a devastating impact on the future prospects of children whose education is hampered by social and economic circumstances that are beyond their control and negatively influencing their mental, social, and emotional well being — exposing them to great social risks and several negative outcomes including abuse and neglect, behavioral and socio-emotional problems, physical health problems, developmental delays, and sexual exploitation.

In addition, DC’s school closures and consolidation policy may be gravely contributing to young homeless children’s poor performance, high turnover, and dropout rates. This was recently identified as a factor in the increase rates of child homelessness, dropout rates, frequent school change, instability, and poor performance in several cities pursuing similar school policies; see and

Our legislatures and school district must begin to recognize this alarming phenomena and must initiate efforts to address the social and educational needs of the most vulnerable of our city residents trapped in deep poverty and a promise of a grim future.


Call for Submissions to the 38th Annual Conference on DC Historical Studies
John H. Muller,

The 38th annual conference on DC Historical Studies will be held on November 4 and 5, 2011. Submit your proposal(s) now for individual papers/presentations and panels. In addition to papers, you are encouraged to submit new films, walking tours, author talks, and workshops of practical advice on research and preservation. The deadline for submissions is June 1.

The conference is the forum to consider the latest work on the history of Washington, DC, and its surrounds, with lively presentations including new research, oral history, walking tours, films, new publications, and the History Network. All topics are welcome that are related to local DC area history and the history of federal government history or the history of the nearby Northern Virginia and Maryland suburbs, if clearly related to the history of local life. Past speakers have addressed art, music, archaeology, biography, military, legal, social, architectural topics and many more.

For a flavor of these past conferences, see the following programs from previous years:
(2007) (2006) (2005)

Individual presenters should submit an abstract of the paper, professional title (if applicable), and affiliation, contact information (E-mail), and audio-visual/IT equipment needs. Panel proposals should submit a brief description of the session, contact information, titles and affiliations of each panelist (with a primary contact). The annual History Network on Friday provides space for historical, archival, and community organizations to display brochures, fliers, and other materials explaining their activities and research. Proposals should be E-mailed to conference committee at



UDC Law School Open House, March 19
Joe Libertelli,

The School of Law will hold its Spring 2011 Law Day-Open House Program on Saturday, March 19, at the School of Law, 4200 Connecticut Avenue, NW, in Building 39, 2nd floor from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The program will allow Law Day participants to experience a law class taught by one of our professors; listen to and speak with students who will talk about their experiences in law school — from how they’ve manage law school stress and exams to providing tips about how to succeed in law school; and talk with and receive information and advice from admission and financial aid professionals.

The application fee will be waived for those participants who attend this program and apply. Register on our web site today. If you have any questions or need additional information please contact the Office of Admissions at 274-7341 or


Woman’s National Democratic Club Luncheon, February 22
Tonya Butler-Truesdale,

Voices for Peace and the Environment: Gearing-Up for 2012. Alice and Lincoln Day will present a short film: What We Are Leaving in Iraq — An Iraq War Veteran Speaks About What He Saw, an interview with former Sergeant Michael Fitzpatrick, illustrated with selections from the three thousand photos he took during his two deployments, 2004-2008. Alice and Lincoln Day will also announce the forthcoming public TV screening in April 2011 of their film, Scarred Lands and Wounded Lives — The Environmental Footprint of War. There will then be a panel discussion on the pursuit of peace and protection of the environment. Panelists include Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies; Brent Blackwelder, Friends of the Earth; and Kevin Martin, Peace Action. $18 members; $23 non-members. Hot and cold hors d’oeuvres will be served; there will be a cash bar. Thursday, March 31, 6:30-8:30 p.m., at the Woman’s National Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW. Make your reservation online at , send an E-mail to, or telephone 232-7363 ext. 3003 to contact Patricia Fitzgerald.


National Building Museum Events, March 23-24
Stacy Adamson,

Wednesday, March 23, 6:30-8:00 p.m., Women of Architecture lecture celebrates Women’s History Month: Annabelle Selldorf: Architecture and Context. Annabelle Selldorf, FAIA, founding principal of Selldorf Architects and designer of the Neue Galerie New York, will discuss her current work, including 200 Eleventh Avenue, a residential tower in Manhattan’s West Chelsea neighborhood; the SIMS Municipal Recycling Facility, New York City’s principal processing facility for recyclables; as well as a museum renovation and research center at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Beverly Willis, FAIA, president and founder of the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, and a founding trustee of the National Building Museum, will provide opening remarks and recognize Women’s History Month. $12 museum members, National Museum of Women in the Arts members, and students with valid ID; $20 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.

March 24, 12:30-1:30 p.m., Putting Smart Growth to Work in Rural Communities. Free, registration required; walk-in registration based on availability. Many rural communities are facing challenges, including rapid growth at metropolitan edges, declining rural populations, and loss of working lands. Anna Read, of the International City/County Management Association, and Stephanie Bertaina, Environmental Protection Agency, present strategies that can help guide growth in rural areas while protecting natural and working lands and preserving rural character.

March 24, 6:30-8:00 p.m., For the Greener Good: Historic Preservation vs. Sustainability. Saving existing buildings is an inherently green strategy. But how does a community balance the historic fabric of vernacular architecture with the need to bring older buildings up to modern environmental standards? Can we have it both ways? $12 members. Free students, $20 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required. Walk-in registration based on availability.

All events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro station. Register for events at



Landscaper and Bricklayer
H. and T. Foster, Petworth,

We are looking for a couple of people to help us out this spring. We need a quality, affordable landscaper to turn under (plough up) the grass (we believe it is fescue) in about a quarter-acre backyard prior to completely replanting and re-sodding it for a combination of perennials and possibly some vegetables.

We also need to replace our front and back walkways. Currently they are plain concrete but we want either brick pavers or flagstone. Let us know of any good experiences you have had with contractors who do this kind of work.


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