themail.gif (3487 bytes)

May 28, 2014

Good Government

Dear Governors:

Every once in a while, the DC government surprises us and does something right, or at least refrains from doing something stupid. This week, there were two such pleasant surprises. The DC council cut city government financing for the streetcar system in half, logically determining that the city didnít need eight billion dollars in streetcar financing over the next few years because it didnít have a sensible plan to spend the money, and therefore couldnít show how it would build a useful streetcar system. Eleven councilmembers voted for Council Chairman Mendelsonís proposal to allow taxpayers to keep half the money in the form of tax cuts for middle income and lower income taxpayers; only two councilmembers voted against it. Councilmember Marion Barry voted against it because he wanted all of the streetcar funds to be redirected to social programs, and Councilmember Tommy Wells voted against it because he wanted the streetcar system to get all the funding, regardless of whether the city had good plans.

The second surprise was that the DC Zoning Commission signaled its disapproval of the Vision McMillan Partners plan to develop McMillan Park for housing and office buildings. ďThe commission expressed strong concerns about the height of medical office buildings planned for the site, especially as they relate to nearby rowhomes adjacent to the development. They also cast doubt on VMPís plans to bring in more transit for people living, working, and accessing the site.Ē (Lark Turner, ďZoning Commission Not Ready to Approve McMillan, Asks For More Details,Ē

Gary Imhoff


H Street Overhead Streetcar Wires
Tolu Tolu,

H Street Overhead Streetcar Wires have ruined the beauty of the city. Have others taken a look at the new H Street skylines. They are a throwback to the old DC streetcar days with the overhead wires that the whole country (I thought ) had decided to get rid of.


Streetcars Can Be Practical
Richard Layman,

Streetcars can be practical, but in DC streetcars can be both practical and have tourism dimensions, just like San Francisco. For what itís worth, in cities like Toronto, Portland, and increasingly Seattle, streetcar routes are created to support intracity mobility with minimal consideration for how they may be appealing to tourists. In Portland and Seattle streetcar lines were built primarily to support economic intensification of previously underutilized districts proximate to the central business district.

That being said, DC, being a highly visited city, has the opportunity to reach the tourist segment as well, as San Francisco does, with a mix of tourist oriented streetcar lines (F line, cable car) as well as light rail that functions as streetcar like service. (SFís light rail is higher capacity than DCís streetcar will be.) It happens that I first suggested accommodating tourists as an element of streetcar planning in a post in 2006 (, and last year I wrote a couple of posts about city visitor transportation services more generally and especially in the vicinity of the National Mall and how a San Francisco-like F line service could be implemented there (


Broadening Political Representation Within DC
Richard Layman,

With regard to Perry Reddís posting in themail [May 14], over the years I have made a number of suggestions about how we could change the cityís political structure to bring about greater opportunity and more and different representation. Hopefully this would bring about greater representation in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, etc., but of course there is no guarantee,

First, probably there should be more wards. Second, Iíve suggested that each ward should have two councilmembers, with one up for election in each election cycle. Third, there should be an increase in the number of at-large members. While I hesitate to expand the council this much, if DC truly wants to make the case that deserves statehood, having a council function more like a legislature would be a point in favor. An advantage of a larger council would be making it harder to pass legislation, which would provide a useful check on the current process. With an expansion of the council, you could move to a part-time positioning and cut the salary. Or you could keep it full time. An advantage of having two councilmembers per ward would be an increase in intra-ward political competition rather than the somewhat authoritarian system we have now, where the councilmember is also the ward boss, for all intents and purposes, and some people are boxed out of participation.

I havenít recodified my latest thinking on some of these issues, but I do think that DC could consider having a system like New York State, where candidates for office can run under more than one party line. While the New York Times criticizes this, I think it would be a benefit here because the dominance of the city by ďDemocratsĒ (including me) means that candidates for the most part donít really have to have a platform. Running on multiple party labels (like Working Families, Statehood-Green, etc.) would allow for a more careful parsing of candidate positions presuming that the other parties would require adherence to and support of specific positions in return for endorsement,

I have been a proponent of an elected Attorney General for some time, although I argued the position should be up for election in the non-mayoral election cycle. Separately, I have suggested abolishing the Inspector General and the DC Auditor and replacing them with an elected Public Advocate, like in NYC, with full investigative powers, but also independence, which clearly is needed, given the current system.

With regard to primaries, in Seattle they donít have official party affiliations, although people do in fact have affiliations. But the primaries are open, and the top two vote receiving candidates move forward to the general election for each open position. Shockingly, in Seattle this past fall that ended up resulting in the general election win by a candidate affiliated with the Socialist Alternative party. She was second in the primary but ended up winning.


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 ó one or two brief paragraphs would be ideal ó 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)