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March 19, 2014

Least Objectionable Program

Dear Viewers:

For decades, I’ve used the phrase “the least objectionable program” to describe what I was looking for when I searched for what to watch on television. Wikipedia provided me with a reminder of where I got the phrase originally. “In an article ‘Why You Watch What You Watch When You Watch’ (published in TV Guide in 1971), [Paul L.] Klein [an executive of audience measurement at NBC] explained that viewers consume the medium of television rather than television shows, treating the medium as the end of their consumption itself rather than using the set as a means to access specific programs they like the way they might choose a book from a shelf to access the story within. Since the introduction of television, the same percentage of sets are in use on, say, a Thursday evening at a certain hour, year after year, regardless of what content is broadcast. This is because unlike the way people use books, museums, or the cinema as means of consuming desired content, audiences consume television, the medium, as the desired object. TV viewers turn the set on, deciding to ‘watch television,’ and then seek out something to watch from what is available, flipping around, not until they find ‘something they like’ — because television programming is in fact very rarely satisfying, and viewers rarely watch anything they actually like — but until they find something that doesn’t offend them enough to make them flip to the next channel. (Viewers almost never turn off the set as a result of finding nothing tolerable and judging every program available boring or otherwise objectionable. Viewers commonly watch programs they describe later as unbearable, everything else on being even more intolerable. A more common response to a whole spectrum of equally unendurable choices than choosing to abandon the medium is to continue to flip frequently until new choices become available.) Thus, for programmers of television channels, Klein recommended understanding that audience attraction was a matter not of pleasing the greatest number of viewers but of offending the fewest (driving the fewest away to the competitors who may repulse them less). The television audience is in a kind of partial trance. A network will do better worrying less about not giving an audience enough to like, to be surprised and delighted by, and to engage their attention, than about avoiding, as Klein said, ‘disturbing their reverie’ with something that causes them to change the channel. Thus, even as channel choices proliferate alongside numerous easily accessed out-of-schedule viewing options, successful television programs remain, as they have always been, formulaic, cliche, ‘instantly familiar,’ predictable, and monotonous in tone.”

What brought this to mind was the quandary presented by April’s primary, that Larry Lesser discusses in his message below. How do you apply the theory of “the least objectionable program” to the city’s politics? How do you choose which channel to switch to, or whether it’s time for you to switch at all? Perhaps, I’d suggest, the situation has changed in politics the way it has in television programming. We’re not limited anymore to switching among the limited choices that programmers present to us. If we don’t like what’s being broadcast at any particular time, we can change to any of the choices available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, or cable on demand channels. DC voters choose among the Democratic candidates as though those are the only options available. They act as though the winner of the Democratic primary will also be the winner of the general election, so the Democratic primary is decisive. I’d suggest, if there’s nothing you like on any of the broadcast or cable channels, maybe there’s a better alternative. If there’s nothing you like among the Democratic candidates, maybe there’s a candidate from another party or an independent who won’t be just the least objectionable candidate, but the objectively better candidate.

Gary Imhoff


Jack Evans
Dorothy Brizill,

To continue my comments on the major Democratic mayoral candidates that began with Muriel Bowser in the last issue of themail, I am focusing on Jack Evans in this issue. Jack Evans is the longest serving member of the city council — twenty-two years. He was first elected in 1991 in a special election for the Ward 2 council seat to replace John A. Wilson, who had been elected chairman of the council. For most of his tenure on the council, Evans, a fiscal conservative, has been the chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue. During the Control Board years, Evans and his committee worked with the Board to turn around the District’s finances. Evans is considered to be an expert on the intricate details of the city’s budget and finances, but recently he has been criticized for providing poor council oversight of the office of the Chief Financial Officer, which has been embroiled in a series of scandals (e.g., among others, the awarding of the lottery contract and the embezzlement of $31 million by Harriette Walters). He is a member of the DC delegation that visits the Wall Street bond-rating agencies annually.

Evans is not a full-time councilmember. Currently, he holds the position “of counsel” in the law firm of Patton Boggs, which provides legal services to the DC government and also lobbies the DC government on behalf of its clients. Evans’ salary at Patton Boggs is $190,000, which eclipses his council salary of approximately $125,000. During his early years on the council, Evans was a law partner at the firm of Baker and Hostetler. For nearly ten years, beginning in 1999, he also served as the registered agent in DC for an insurance company based in Columbus, Ohio, Central Benefits Mutual Insurance Company, that paid him $50,000 a year. Evans has been an ardent supporter of the position that work on the council is and should be part-time; he refuses to acknowledge any conflict between his work at the law firm and his council duties, but he also refuses to make public enough details regarding his clients or work at Patton Boggs in order for the public to be able to judge for itself whether there are any conflicts of interest.

Jack has also been accused of other ethical lapses. For eleven years, he controlled a political action committee, Jack PAC, established in 1993. It received donations from deep-pocketed individuals, including lobbyists, developers, and businessmen, who were doing business with the city. He used the funds from Jack PAC to pay personal expenses including restaurant meals, wedding gifts, vacation travel, first-row Washington Nationals season tickets ($12,960), and even $6,772 for the travel expenses of a former girlfriend who accompanied him to China when he visited as part of an official delegation from DC. Evans has also been widely criticized for misusing his constituent services fund, especially with regard to buying tickets to various sports events. From 2002 through 2011, Evans’ constituent services fund spent $135,897 on tickets to the Wizards, the Washington Nationals, and the Washington Kastles tennis matches. Moreover, when pressed, Evans could not provide a list of District residents who may have received any of the tickets. Given that the general intent and purpose of a councilmember’s constituent services fund is to help DC residents who are in dire need (e.g., with food, shelter, and funeral expenses), complaints about Evans’ expenditures have been filed with the DC Office of Campaign Finance, which is supposed to oversee the use of constituent services funds, but the OCF has declined to take any actions.

Evans has been a council supporter and close friend of every major developer in Washington. Contributions to his political campaigns and constituent services fund detail their support of him. In return, Evans has been an ardent supporter of every major capital project in the District, and has prided himself on being a dealmaker. He has proudly claimed that, “but for me, this (fill in the project) wouldn’t have gotten done.” He has claimed major credit for the new Walter Washington convention center, the new Marriott Marquis convention center hotel, the Washington Nationals baseball stadium, and the Verizon Center. At one time, he even tried to broker a deal to turn the old Woodward and Lothrop store at 11th and F Streets, NW, into an opera house and home for the Washington Opera. In the coming months, it is clear that Evans will use his council position to facilitate the land swap and municipal financing needed to construct a soccer stadium in southwest for DC United. Evans’ critics argue that he spends little or no time promoting less grand projects, such as affordable housing or business projects that promote small businesses. As a result of Evans’ largesse, the DC government is fast approaching its legally mandated debt ceiling, and in the near future will not be able to borrow money for worthy capital projects.

Every ten years, following the census, the boundaries of the city’s eight wards have to be redrawn to account for population shifts. For nearly two years, in anticipation of the redistricting that would occur following the 2010 census, Evans had large maps hanging in his private council office showing the boundaries of Ward 2 redrawn to shift Shaw and its largely black and poor neighborhoods to Ward 6. Jack then lobbied to be appointed to the three-member council committee (along with Mendelson and Michael Brown) that oversaw and developed the new ward boundaries. As a result of his efforts, the residents of Shaw are now in Ward 6 along with Capitol Hill and the southwest waterfront, and Ward 2 is now comprised of the mostly white upscale neighborhoods of Logan Circle, Dupont Circle, downtown, and Georgetown.


Save McMillan Park, Stop the Surplussing
Daniel Goldon Wolkoff

What is that mysterious place with the concrete silos on North Capitol? McMillan was the first integrated park enjoyed by the city from the early 1900’s to World War II. It is on the National and District Registries of Historic Places, and part of the Senate Parks plan for the National Mall. You can read the National Register of Historic Places nomination at The plan for an “Emerald Necklace” of green outdoor recreation was never realized east of 16th Street, where the city provides one fifth of the park land than it lavishes on the privileged Upper NW section. McMillan is a hybrid of Clean Water Utility and Olmsted designed park. People enjoyed meeting, taking a stroll, sports, concerts and the breezy sunset vistas, even sleeping out on hot summer nights.

As the federal government felt that DC’s water system was threatened by sabotage during World War II, it fenced off the site in 1941. The engineering miracle that saved DC from disease and provided safe water was converted to a “fast filtration” system using more chemicals in 1986, and the federal government sold McMillan to the District of Columbia for over $9 million. The Department of Interior wanted to protect the DC Reservoir and keep the site as a “green space” by placing restrictive covenants on the sale. Since 1986, for over twenty-eight years, the DC government has robbed the people of the use and enjoyment of twenty-five acres of desperately needed outdoor recreation park land. They kept up a barbed-wire-topped fence surrounding our park. We own it, and it should be reopened and redeveloped according the principals of creative, adaptive reuse that guide the international environmental movement of sustain ability from Paris to Istanbul, and from Seattle to the Highland in New York City. Instead, Mayor Gray’s VMP development plan for McMillan will demolish the twenty acres of underground water filtration galleries, and over-urbanize the site with fifty buildings, including thirteen-story condos. The community struggle to Save McMillan Park, preserving the Olmsted designed surface park and existing twenty acres underground, creates the exciting potential for large scale “indoor agriculture” and a family fish network. With proven vertical indoor growing technology we could convert the McMillan/Olmsted Park caverns to a fully functional, local food production facility, making it a truly sustainable site. Imagine superior organic fresh fruit, vegetables and family farmed fish, freshly produced right here in DC , no longer trucked from California, Florida, and Mexico. Please see this fascinating video on the vertical farming process at

We need McMillan for arts, urban agriculture, a Glen-Echo-style community education, and cultural campus, concerts, and music festivals. We can train young people and the underemployed to gain healthy careers in building trades restoring the historic structures, and start a rehabilitation/renovation service community youth corps. The potential for benefit to DC and the nation is unlimited. We have to stop Mayor Gray from “surplussing” the land to VMP, the private development conglomerate that does not need the subsidy of millions more in public money. Say no to the “give away” of our billion dollar asset. Call your city councilmembers and demand our park for our needs, no “surplus.” See to help start a transparent community based process for our park, our families, and our kids.


Open Letter to the DC Public Charter School Board
Erich Martel, retired DCPS high school teacher), ehmartel at starpower dot net

On Thursday, March 6, the DC Council Education Committee is conducted an oversight hearing on the DC Public Charter School Board (DCPCSB) and DC public charter schools. In response to questions submitted by the Council Education Committee, the DCPCSB submitted responses, which are posted at For the past several years, I have noticed that, as cohorts of charter high school students advance each year from ninth grade to twelfth grade and final graduation, their numbers drop, with some losing more than 50 percent of their starting enrollment, sending most to DCPS, which cannot reject a school-age resident. Some charter schools have a particularly low percentage of male students in grade ten (the only high school grade for which gender reports are available, the most recent being 2011).

During the February 26 Education Committee’s DCPS oversight hearing, Councilmember Catania reported that, among African-American students, the male graduation rate was 17 percentage points below the female rate; and among Latino students, the male rate was 13 percentage points lower than the female rate. He characterized these gaps as “unacceptable” and noted that none of the witnesses came prepared to discuss this problem. It seems logical to expect that DCPCSB Executive Director Scott Pearson and Board of Director Chairman John McKoy should provide the Education Committee with graduation data broken out by school and gender and discuss solutions for significant gaps.

Since these privileges remain largely unnoticed and unreported behind the publicity barrage of selectively reported, out-of-context data, this is a good time to specify and request the data from the charter board’s executive director. Until complete data are made public, the council should entertain no increases in charter school funding. The council should request, and the public charter school board provide, the following information: 1) the numbers of students transferred out of each charter high school each year, by grade level, gender and destination; 2) the graduation gap between male and female students for each charter high school for 2011, 2012, and 2013; 3) Thurgood Marshall Academy’s last three graduation cohorts or classes (2011-2013) were 31 percent male when they were in tenth grade. What was the male-female size, when they were in ninth grade and when they graduated? Has the Public Charter School Board allowed Thurgood Marshall to set a quota on the maximum number of African-American male students that are allowed to continue past ninth grade; 4) the numbers of students admitted into cohorts after the grade nine enrollment audit, by gender; 5) the numbers of repeat ninth graders in each charter high school, by gender (it appears that charter high schools have very few repeat ninth grade students); 6) when the Public Charter School Board aggregates the data of all charter schools, why does it omit the data of schools that have been closed; 7) why is a school like Maya Angelou (Evans and Shaw) allowed to switch back and forth between listing students by grade level and then as ungraded; 8) what measures does the PCSB take to ensure that teachers’ grades are not changed by school administrators? Has the DC PCSB investigated any reports of grade changes? If so, where are the reports? Did the DC PCSB investigate the allegations that teachers were pressured to raise grades at Friendship Tech Prep Charter School? The DC PCSB received mathematics teacher Caleb Rossiter’s letter of resignation. Please report what action it took. 9) Does the PCSB have a position on students getting credit for short-cut courses like credit recovery? How many graduates per school needed at least one credit recovery course in order to graduate and receive a high school diploma? How many did not? 10) what were the last three years of test results on the SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate exams; 11) why are lists of graduates per school not publicly posted? A high school diploma is a public document attesting that a student has met the requirements for high school graduation. Are high school teachers allowed to review graduation lists? What steps does the PCSB take to ensure that diploma recipients have met SBOE requirements? 12) what is the teacher turnover rate for each charter school? What is the rate of classroom teachers teaching grades and classes they are certified to teach and have had a major or minor in college? How many classes, by subject, are supervised by paraprofessionals or out-of-field teachers? How many classes are primarily “blended learning” classes? 13) Why are charter school salaries and benefits not publicly posted on Public Body Information? What is the reason why these schools that are funded out of public revenues are not publicly posted?


What’s an Undecided Voter to Do?
Larry Lesser,

The incumbent mayor has governed during a pretty good period for the District, but he’s disqualified from being reelected because it looks like he cheated — I mean seriously cheated — in his winning campaign four years ago. I realize he’ll be getting much more due process before it’s official, but the there’s a very dark shadow on his tenure; a darker shade of Gray.

Now we hear from Dorothy Brizill and others that Muriel Bowser’s record doesn’t show that she would make a competent leader for our city. I haven’t heard much that’s positive about Jack Evans and I know very little about Tommy Wells. What I know about Vincent Orange also isn’t very positive.

So much for the councilmembers, except Catania. Hmmm. Interesting. What about the guy new to politics — Shallal? Also interesting.

I’m still undecided but I intend to vote for someone by the time November rolls around.


The Zoning Issue in themail
Dan Gamber, Dupont Circle,

The zoning rewrite has been going on for years, and has involved many community meetings. I have been at several. Stop telling people otherwise.


Zoning Matters, a New DC Blog
Alma Gates,

For the past seven years, the DC Office of Planning has been writing a new set of zoning regulations for the city known as the Zoning Regulation Review (ZRR). The ZRR is regarded by many as a complete revision and reorganization rather than a review of the zoning code, and the ZRR proposes some unwelcome changes to the way zoning is approached currently in the District of Columbia.

Sue Hemberger, who has reviewed and weighed all sides of the arguments on the ZRR proposals, recently created Zoning Matters, a blog about zoning/politics in Washington, DC.

For those who have been unable or unwilling to comb through the 980 pages of text, and formulate the issues of concern presented in the ZRR, this blog is a welcome and relatively accessible way into the issues. It can be found at


InTowner March Issue Content Uploaded
Peter Wolff,

The March issue content can be viewed at, including the issue PDF in which will be found the primary news stories and museum exhibition reviews — plus all photos and other images. Not included in the PDF but linked directly from the home page is Stephen A. Hansen’s “What Once Was” feature — this month about the Galt family and its Dupont Circle presence going back over 140 years.

This month’s lead stories include the following: 1) “DC Library Trustees Select Architectural Team for the Long-Awaited Reconstruction of MLK Central Library at Gallery Place”; 2) “Newly Formed Neighborhood Group Seeks Ways to Curb Excessive Nightclub Noise”; 3) “HPRB Approves Design Concept for Addition to Dupont Circle’s Historic Patterson Mansion.” Also to be found on the web site pages are the “Reservations Recommended” and “Food in the Hood” columns, along with the recent real estate sales feature, which will be posted on Wednesday.

Our editorial explains our mayoral and at-large council member endorsements for the April 1 Democratic primary election. Your thoughts are welcome and can be sent by clicking the comment link at the bottom of the web page or by E-mail to letters [at] The next issue PDF will publish early in the morning of April 11, the second Friday of the month, as usual. For more information, either send an E-mail to newsroom[at] or call 234-1717.



Open House, Jobs Forum, Symposium on Poverty, Perez Rauh Lecture, Auction, March 22, April 4
Joe Libertelli,

Thanks to the awesome support of our alumni and friends, over 180 people are now signed up for our Law Day Open House. It is this Saturday, March 22, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. But there’s still room for a few more! Register for that at

Immediately after the Law Day Open House, at 3:00 p.m. on March 22, the School of Law will be hosting a public forum entitled Job Creation: to Redress Income Inequality and Reinvigorate Our Communities, featuring Congressman John Conyers and NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton. Reverend Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus has also just confirmed. Garland Nixon (of national Fox TV and WPFW) will moderate. This forum is the first in a series that will focus on specific legislation proposed to address issues relating to low-income, working-class, and other regular folks — the 99 percent. It is being organized in conjunction with our local Pacifica radio network affiliate, WPFW, and is cosponsored by a number of local and regional organizations. For more information and to register, please go to:

On Friday, April 4, we have a series of public events all on one day. Our law review annual symposium, Renewing the War on Poverty 50 Years Later begins at 11:30 am. For more info and to register, go to The 22nd annual Joseph L. Rauh, Jr., Lecture will serve as the capstone address for the symposium. For info on past Rauh Lectures — last year’s was given by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and the one before that by Hon. Sonia Sotomayor — see This year’s Rauh Lecture will be delivered by US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez at approximately 7:00 p.m. There is a separate registration for that at A reception will follow the Rauh Lecture, which will, in turn, be followed by our annual Summer Public Interest Auction, a rollicking event that raises funds to provide financial support to all our first year law students at nonprofit, government agency, and judicial placements. For info on that program see


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