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July 13, 2011

Chaos Theory

Dear Observateurs:

The personal politics of the politicians on the city council played themselves out this week in a way that no one could have been predicted. Council Chairman Kwame Brown decided that he wanted to replace Councilmember Tommy Wells as chairman of the Committee on Public Works and Transportation, and he informed Wells of that on Monday evening, the evening before Tuesday’s legislative session. As I wrote in themail on June 29, Wells was ill-suited to head that committee because of his ideological commitment to making automobile transportation — a key and indispensable element of the city’s transportation policy — difficult and expensive, and of encouraging such impracticable strategies as streetcars and bicycling to replace cars.

Upon being told that he would lose the Transportation Committee, Wells immediately informed the Greater Greater Washington group, and it began spinning Wells’ story beyond recognition, as that of the “progressive,” “good government,” councilmember who was being attacked by the corrupt council chairman who wanted to punish his honesty. Wells had no past identification with good government causes, but by Tuesday that was the press narrative that had been set. The problem for the press was that the real world wouldn’t follow the narrative. When the question of whether to reshuffle committee chairmanships came before the council, Wells was alone, not only with no ally to vote for his chairmanship, but with no ally even to speak for him in the debate. In fact, there was no debate, as there would have been if the issue really were just a personal struggle between the chairman and a councilmember who had been critical of him.

What this event revealed was that the council has become fragmented. There are no caucuses, no alliances; there aren’t even any friendships. It’s every councilmember for himself or herself, and with so many councilmembers under suspicion and investigation, it will remain that way for years to come. Wells and Greater Greater Washington had tried to portray Wells as the head of a “progressive caucus” on the council; if so, this event exposed the progressive caucus as a caucus of one, like Bernie Sanders is the leader as well as the sole member of the Socialist Party in Congress. It exposed the weakness and lack of influence of the young, rich, white, urban gentrifiers who fantasized themselves both as the only demographic sliver whose interests should be served by the city government and as the natural leaders of government. But it also exposed the weakness of every councilmember, none of whom could count on the votes of any of the others. This is a council with no leaders. Under these circumstances, each issue, each vote, will stand on its own, with no better than ever-shifting and unpredictable temporary alliances. Everything is in flux, and will remain in flux.

Gary Imhoff


The Atlanta Scandal: Teaching in “A Culture of Fear, Intimidation, and Retaliation”
Erich Martel, ehmartel at starpower dot net

The eight-hundred-page Investigation Report on the Atlanta Public Schools (APS) cheating scandal, involving 178 named school-based principals, teachers and other staff links the collapse of institutional integrity to “a culture of fear, intimidation, and retaliation.” Although that culture can be found in many private and charter schools, it is a major ingredient in the growing trend of top-down, privately-funded, “turn-around” “reforms” in our public schools that view teachers, tenure rights, and union protections as the causes of educational malaise. Until reform truly engages teachers as part of the solution, we can expect more Atlanta’s in our nation’s public schools.

The Atlanta Investigation Report is an anthology of teacher disempowerment, abuse and the consequences for both students and teachers. It shows what happens when educational policy makers and governance bodies delegate broad areas of authority to celebrity or savior superintendents and then, self-satisfied with their “reform,” abdicate their oversight responsibilities, so they can bask in the glow of their creation.

[Links to the three volumes of the report and its exhibits, are at]


WMATA Will Never Get It Together Now
Rose Robinson,

Not that Metro doesn’t already have enough problems on their hands. But now Muriel Bowser has been added to their board. Oh, my God! You will be taking the steps even more now, and please watch the tracks. Kwame Brown: if a person cannot service the residents of her own ward how in the Hell do you expect her to offer help to Metro?


PEPCO Seeks $42.1 Million Rate Increase
Sandra Mattavous-Frye,

On Friday, July 8, PEPCO filed a rate request that may represent a new low for a regulated utility nationwide. Just one day after a DC council hearing on a bill aimed at addressing chronic reliability problems, and sandwiched between news reports again highlighting its “worst in the nation relationship” with customers, PEPCO requested another massive rate increase. This request comes even as consumers and public officials continue to express concerns about PEPCO’s performance.

PEPCO has received rate increases totaling over $47 million since January 2008, with little improvement in PEPCO’s performance. This case suggests that consumers should expect more of the same in the near future. In this case the company has boldly called for a 34 percent increase in distribution rates, resulting in a 38 percent increase in the customer charge for summer months and a 39 percent in the customer charge for winter months. Ratepayers are also expected to pay PEPCO for the loss of use of their traditional electric meters because PEPCO has already requested and won approval to proceed with the changeover to digital smart meters.

Ironically, PEPCO also seeks $7.4 million for a Reliability Investment Recovery Mechanism, or “RIM,” surcharge. This surcharge would allow PEPCO to recover reliability related expenses outside the context of a rate case. Ratepayers would pay a recurring fee for PEPCO’s efforts to provide service, as one consumer described it, “above Third World status.” Additionally, the company seeks $3.2 million for initiatives it has undertaken to “enhance customer service.” Again, these requests raise questions about what PEPCO has done with the monies it received in the last two rate proceedings.


Money, Media, and the Culture of Corruption
Leo Alexander, Ward 4,

Last week, Colbert King wrote a column, “Do They Deserve To Be on the DC Council?” []. I immediately took exception with this utterly ridiculous characterization, because the writer and his paper are directly responsible for creating this culture of corruption that currently exists at city hall. Of course the writer makes some valid points about why incumbents frequently win reelection, but what he fails to do is look in the mirror. King is one of the most respected members of the local media and is also held in high esteem in the black community, but he failed both by publishing a column that absolves The Washington Post of any responsibility in this current climate of pay-to-play politics.

In the summer of 2009, when I made the decision to run for mayor of the District of Columbia, I knew I had two things going against me — the lack of name recognition and money. But I also knew I had one thing that neither the incumbent or any other career politician had – a platform that would positively impact every community in the District. So our strategy was very simple, announce a year out and stay alive until we got to the mayoral debates by touching as many people as possible through coffee chats, meet and greets, and neighborhood canvassing. Our media strategy was to win the debates and then our campaign and platform would garner free media coverage. We got some from Fox 5, Mark Seagraves on Channel 50, Bruce Johnson on Channel 9, Deborah Simmons at the Washington Times, City Paper, Jonetta Rose Barras’ radio show, Kojo’s radio show, and the Afro, but only one mention in the Washington Post, from the Palisades/Foxhall mayoral debate, held on June 3, 2010. That one article was important because the writer, Tim Craig, said that, “Leo Alexander was the surprise of the evening,” so much so that the concern among the attendees was which campaign would my candidacy impact the most, Fenty or Gray. After that article, however, it was a literal blackout from the Post. No follow ups — no nothing. Even with its shrinking readership and revenues, The Washington Post still remains the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in this media market. Local TV and radio news stations plan their daily coverage by what is in the Metro section of The Post. So if a candidate doesn’t get coverage they don’t exist, and if you don’t exist you cannot raise enough money to compete.

This is why I was so thoroughly disgusted with Colbert King’s column. Post reporters are told to cover candidates only with money regardless of where that special interest dough came from; i.e., developers, unions, or the business community. Once these candidates get into office there’s rarely any investigative follow up on how these contributions affect legislation and/or contracting opportunities. Instead, what is covered is all the obvious acts of petty materialism, waste, and corruption like multiple Navigators, allegations of campaign finance fraud, and hiring scandals. This happens because this paper places more weight on money versus ideas. Money has corrupted the entire process, and The Post promotes and then feeds off this culture of corruption. That’s why DC continues to get the best politicians money can buy and then The Post hides their money grubbing hands and acts as if they weren’t complicit in steering voters to make poor decisions to cast their ballot for these common hustlers in the first place. Here is a suggestion; the next time there is a local political race all of the debates should be broadcast live by District-owned Channel 16. This way, local media cannot control the message and steer future elections by picking candidates that best fit their agenda. I support a free press that fosters an open democracy where all candidates can be heard. This allows all of the voters to decide who has the best ideas and vision for the people of the District of Columbia, not just those who can afford to buy candidates.



National Business Museum Events, July 21, July 26
Stacy Adamson,

Thursday, July 21, 7:00-8:30 p.m. The National Building Museum presents Kulapat Yantrasast, a founding principal of California-based wHY Architecture, in the next Spotlight on Design presentation. Yantrasast discusses his firm’s recent work, including the Grand Rapids Art Museum and the Speed Art Museum expansion. The Grand Rapids Art Museum is the first new art museum in the world to receive the LEED certification Gold. His talk focuses on architecture that heals, rejuvenates, and provides a new sense of clarity and strength to the surroundings and the community. wHY Architecture is doing Art Bridge at the Los Angeles River, to be built from trash salvaged from the LA River it spans (currently awaiting groundbreaking), among other commissions.

Yantrasast serves on the Artists Committee of Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in America. He is also the first architect to receive the prestigious Silpathorn Award from the Government of Thailand for outstanding achievement and notable contributions to Thai contemporary arts and culture. Prepaid registration required; walk-in registration based on availability. To register visit or call 202.272.2448.

Tuesday, July 26, 6:30-8:00 p.m. The Public Memory of 9/11, a lecture presented by the National Building Museum and the Smithsonian Institution. The upcoming tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks offers an opportunity to consider how the sites in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania are memorializing and interpreting this event. Leading representatives — Alice Greenwald, National September 11 Memorial and Museum; Jim Laychak, Pentagon Memorial Fund; and Jeff Reinbold, Flight 93 National Memorial — present the designs of the memorials and discuss the challenges in commemorating recent history. Brent Glass, director of the National Museum of American History, moderates this program.

Both events at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street, NW, Judiciary Square Metro, Red Line. $12 members; free students; $20 nonmembers. Free program; registration required; walk-in registration based on availability. To register, visit or call 272-2448.


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