themail.gif (3487 bytes)

July 3, 2013

Concentrate on Poetry

Dear Poets:

In the latest issue of Travel and Leisure,, our city, Washington, comes up at number nine on the top-ten list of snobbiest cities. "To determine which city has the biggest nose in the air, we factored in some traditional staples of snobbery: a reputation for aloof and smarty-pants residents, along with high-end shopping and highbrow cultural offerings like classical music and theater. But we also considered 21st-century definitions of elitism: tech-savviness, artisanal coffeehouses, and a conspicuous eco-consciousness (say, the kind of city where you get a dirty look for throwing your coffee cup in the wrong bin)." Specifically about Washington, Travel and Leisure writes, "The locals ranked as some of the unfriendliest in the nation, but the cultural scene — such as the no-admission-charge Smithsonian — is very democratic, and the city ranked first in the survey for free things to do. If you want to dine like a local power broker, though, check out the mod Rasika West End, which exemplifies the city’s fine ethnic cuisine and counts Michelle Obama as a fan."

What makes us snobby, then, is mostly that we are unfriendly. Are we really? I don’t see it; do you?


Liz Farmer, formerly of the Washington Examiner, has landed on her feet as a finance writer for Governing magazine. In the current issue, she contributes a profile of Natwar Gandhi as he retires from being Washington’s Chief Financial Officer, Farmer lauds Gandhi’s accomplishments: "Today the city boasts 16 straight years with a balanced budget (including every year of Gandhi’s tenure), has been out from the shadow of the control board for nearly a dozen years and holds a $1.5 billion rainy day fund and a double-A general obligation bond rating. It’s a turnaround story that has earned him many honors, including being named a Governing Public Official of the Year in 2007, and has been the envy of cities across the country struggling with their own fiscal health following the recession." But she also takes full note of his low points, "Gandhi, whose resignation in response to the [Hariette Walters] revelations was rejected by then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, calls that time ‘one of the darkest moments of my professional career.’ The lesson he learned, he says, is that one must be eternally vigilant. Additionally, a government can have all the controls in place but until that matching mindset and a code of ethics is truly embraced by employees, there will always be holes. After all, Walters didn’t act alone — she and ten co-conspirators in the scheme eventually pleaded guilty to theft. ‘You can teach them all that [ethical] stuff and we do every year,’ Gandhi says. ‘But until it’s part of their psychic makeup, way of life, then no matter what you do, you always have people who want to cheat.’"

The news in the article is Gandhi’s retirement plans: "He added he has ‘a new love’ in his life, referring to Panna Naik, an Indian poet and a longtime family friend whose husband passed away in 2011 (Gandhi was widowed in 2009). During a trip to India over the past winter holidays, Gandhi says the two agreed that with whatever time they had left, they would concentrate on poetry."

Gary Imhoff


Companion Pieces
Richard Layman,

Thanks for linking to Jonetta Rose Barras’ piece on a proposal by some councilmembers for a public campaign financing bill. I agree that the legislation doesn’t seem so great. Where I would feel a lot better about "trust" in local elected officials would be if they started building high quality and robust participatory democracy into various civic processes.

It’s telling that a number of councilmembers, including Councilmembers Grosso and Bowser, prevented a change in the primary election date to June, from the now-too-early April date. Maintaining the April date preserves the edge for incumbents, by cutting two to three months out of the potential campaigning period.

Similarly, no councilmember is stepping up and recommending using "participatory budgeting" processes for either constituent service grants or the setting of priorities for funding to community organizations. Participatory budgeting processes engage citizens in setting priorities and making decisions about how to spend public monies. Some councilmembers in New York City and Chicago are using PB processes, I’m sure we can come up with a list of many other similar and important ideas that could be implemented in ways that strengthen local democracy.


Campaign Finance
Vance Fort,

You are correct [themail, June 30]. Compulsory public campaign contributions standing alone will not solve the problem of campaign finance corruption. There will continue to be private contributions, and therein lies the problem. Absent a constitutional amendment prohibiting private contributions, or allowing the states and the District of Columbia to prohibit private contributions, there will be unaccountable dollars for secret and unsavory purposes.

That said, it is important to heighten public awareness of the fact that our democracy is becoming a commodity where political decisions are bought and sold in a ravenous marketplace. Political ideas have become secondary to political contributions. Citizens pay to play or they don’t get to play. Public financing is an attempt to give candidates a chance to get their message to voters when their message has not been bought and paid for by special interests. To that extent public financing is a step in the right direction. It will not stop corruption, but it may empower the voices of candidates that otherwise would be effectively silenced.


themail@dcwatch is an E-mail discussion forum that is published every Wednesday and Sunday. To change the E-mail address for your subscription to themail, use the Update Profile/Email address link below in the E-mail edition. To unsubscribe, use the Safe Unsubscribe link in the E-mail edition. An archive of all past issues is available at

All postings should be submitted to, and should be about life, government, or politics in the District of Columbia in one way or another. All postings must be signed in order to be printed, and messages should be reasonably short — one or two brief paragraphs would be ideal — so that as many messages as possible can be put into each mailing.


Send mail with questions or comments to
Web site copyright ©DCWatch (ISSN 1546-4296)