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June 4, 2014


Dear Washingtonians:

There were a couple significant political developments this week. First, the DC council passed Councilmember Tommy Wells’ “Ban the Box” bill on its first reading. This bill bans businesses in the District from inquiring into the criminal records of councilmembers applying for employment.


Second, the DC Court of Appeals overturned the city council’s action postponing the first election for an independent attorney general. The charter amendment that was approved by 75 percent of the voters establishing the independent Attorney General office required the first election to take place “after January 1, 2014,” which everybody and the Court of Appeals read to mean in 2014, but which the current (non-independent) Attorney General, Irv Nathan, argued meant in any year after 2014, not necessarily in this century. The Court of Appeals’ decision is a victory for Paul Zuckerberg, the only person who announced as a candidate to be Attorney General, who brought the lawsuit to force the city council and the Board of Elections to obey the law. Because the decision allowed Zuckerberg to declare victory and because of what Council Chairman Phil Mendelson on Newstalk called Irv Nathan’s “stubbornness,” which he corrected to “persistence,” the Office of the Attorney General has announced that it will appeal the decision and ask the full Court of Appeals to rehear the case en banc.


In the last issue of themail, one letter in a link was wrong, making the article by Lark Turner on the Zoning Commission’s hearing on McMillan Reservoir unobtainable. The correct link is

Gary Imhoff


The Arrogant City Council, Part I
Dorothy Brizill, 

Within the District government, the Public Service Commission is charged with regulating utilities, including electric, natural gas, and telecommunications companies, in the city. With its broad mandate, the work of the PSC touches the life of every resident and every business that operates in Washington. Several weeks ago, I wrote in themail about my concern regarding the work and composition of the three-member PSC. PSC chairman Betty Ann Kane’s term as chairman was going to end on June 30, although she could continue to serve as a holdover member of the PSC for an additional 180 days after her term expired. Another seat, previously held by Richard Morgan, had been vacant since December 2011. But on Thursday afternoon, July 5, with virtually no advance public notice, Kenyon McDuffie, chairman of the council’s Government Operations Committee, held a confirmation hearing on two nominations to the PSC that Mayor Gray forwarded to the council just this past Thursday. Detailed below are excerpts from my E-mail correspondence on Thursday morning with Mr. McDuffie and his staff asking him to delay the confirmation hearing until there was adequate public notice.

First, I wrote: “Early this morning, while reviewing the council’s calendar on its web site, I was shocked and surprised that a confirmation hearing was taking place today at 2:00 p.m., with little or no public notice, for two nominees to the Public Service Commission. . . . The council’s web site indicates that the two confirmation bills (PR 20-811 and PR 20-812) were introduced in the council last Thursday, May 29, at the request of the mayor. Council records further indicate that the two nominations weren’t referred to the council’s Government Operations Committee until just this past Tuesday, June 3. Now, on June 5 at 2:00 p.m., you are holding a confirmation hearing for these two positions. A review of the posted witness list confirms the lack of public notice, since the only witnesses currently scheduled are the nominees themselves. At the very least, citizens should be afforded an opportunity to comment on Betty Ann Kane’s tenure as chair of the PSC for the past four years and should have time to review the background and qualities of Willie Phillips. I urge you to reschedule the confirmation hearing and provide residents and the business community adequate public notice before rescheduling it.”

I got a reply from Ronan Gulstone, staff director of the Government Operations Committee, that “Councilmember McDuffie plans to continue with the roundtable, however we will be keeping the record open longer than originally anticipated to accept further comment.” I wrote back: “I am disappointed in your reply to my E-mail. Many of us have been concerned about the seat on the Public Service Commission that has been vacant for nearly two years. Moreover, any consideration of Ms. Kane’s reappointment to a new four year term must include a thorough review of her tenure to date as PSC chairman. . . . You wrote that certain members of the council and council staff knew about the nominations in advance, even though the public wasn’t informed. And the timetable you detailed — the nominating resolutions were filed by the mayor with the council on Friday, notice of the plans to hold a roundtable were filed by the Government Operations Committee with the Secretary of the council on Monday, and notice of the Thursday roundtable was posted on the council web site on Wednesday — is shockingly rushed and confirms my belief that there was a deliberate effort to conceal these two important nominations and discourage public participation in their consideration. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if you keep the record open after the hearing for the submission of written testimony. The die is cast when citizens are denied the ability under council rules to participate in a confirmation hearing simply by not giving the public adequate advance notice of the hearing.”


Overhead Power Lines
Clyde Howard,

This is in reference to the articles on streetcars (themail, May 28). Why is it no one wants to talk about the fact that the DC government is in gross violation of the Federal Law issued by the 50th Congress that forbids the erection of power lines of any kind over the streets, alleys, and avenues of the City of Washington. Allow me to provide the Law as was written. The Law of July 18, Ch.676, 25 Stat. 314, providing for the District of Columbia appropriations for the 1889 fiscal year, included language requiring that, “The Commissioners of the District of Columbia shall not, after the fifteenth day of September 1888, permit or authorize any additional telegraph, telephone, electric lighting or other wires to be erected or maintained on or over any of the streets, Alleys or avenues of the City of Washington (etc.)”

The language appeared on page 323 of said statute. Also the last line of the statue reads, “such privileges as may be granted hereunder to be revocable at the will of Congress without compensation and no such authority to be exercised after the termination of the present Congress.” Which means that the mayor or the DC Government (DDOT) cannot overturn or modify this law by any initiative or bill; only congress can. The question then becomes why DDOT is continuing to plan to extend the streetcar lines into the City, knowing full well that once they cross the City Boundary they cannot power the streetcars from overhead power lines.

There are other dangers that involve overhead power lines. Potential health risk concerns about overhead power lines were first raised in a 1979 study which associated increased risk of childhood leukemia with residential proximity to overhead power lines. Farmers have reported that the electrical magnetic fields (EMF) that emanate from high-power power lines that convey DC voltage have had effects on their cows producing milk. Also, the overhead power lines disrupt the sight lines when you want to view the city on a clear day. If you want to see the effect of overhead power lines on a city, all you have to do is look at the pictures of Baltimore before and after they got rid of the electric buses that traversed the city.


Sucker Stadium
Clyde Howard,

At last Mayor Gray is leaving public office before he gives away all the money the city has in its bank account. Whatever gave him the idea that the building of the soccer (sucker) stadium would bring commercial development in and around it where it is envisioned to be built? Only a fool would believe that. Stadiums built in the last two decades in Maryland and DC have done nothing for the communities in which they are located. The greedy developers will be the only ones that will reap the wild wind while they ease away with pockets full of our money. To build a stadium that for four months will have games and remain dark for the next eight months — some attraction it isn’t. Just look at M Street, SE, after the stadium was built for baseball. Do you see vast amount of commercial businesses taking shape around National Stadium? Once a sucker, always a sucker. We never seem to learn.


Good Government
Robert Ebel,

[In themail, May 28, Gary wrote: “Every once in a while, the DC government surprises us and does something right, or at least refrains from doing something stupid.”] Why do you have to be so negative on DC? I would expect to — and, indeed do — hear, such comments from a Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, Hawaii, or Minnesota resident (all places I have lived in at one time or another) — that is, from someone in one of those states one who does not know how local government works.

But to have this sort of negative statement come from an expert such as you via themail is most disheartening. I have worked all over the country and the world with local governments, and the reality is that DC ranks among the very best as a well- run, financially sustainable, and participatory government. A bit of cheerleading is merited.


Good Government
Ed Meyers,

In themail, May 28, Gary wrote: “Every once in a while, the DC government surprises us and does something right, or at least refrains from doing something stupid.”] This sounds like something we have come to expect from a DC-bashing suburban author, and not from someone who knows DC from an intensely urban perspective. Yes, “stupidity” is our reputation out there among many, whether deserved or not. We read and hear daily the many jokes about our supposed stupidity. When traveling, people sometimes tell us that they can’t imagine why we would live inside “third world” DC. We know what that means. It is all code and has been that way for many decades. Let’s not allow ourselves to be subservient to that pernicious misperception.

DC is faced with a variety of poverty-related issues that the ’burbs can only begin to imagine. Yes, the suburbs do have poverty issues to a lesser extent, but they managed to zone out many of those issues long ago. The suburbs are still benefiting financially (although not morally or ethically) from their explicit governmental and social decisions. We are perceived as stupid and bumbling to those who do not face the challenges to the extent that we do.

DC is thriving, relatively speaking (compared to many urban jurisdictions). Our workforce is diverse, and largely dedicated and intelligent. We cope with our urban issues much better than could many of the suburban people who routinely laugh at us. Our elected leaders also face a variety of difficult issues, and they get it right much more often than they are given credit for. We live within our means, financially speaking, while helping those who need our help the most. I am grateful that we are ridding ourselves of much corruption among our elected leaders, and the trend is excellent in that regard as well. We can and should be a state, especially with our growing population and economy, although we are dependent in that regard on the US becoming a more enlightened nation. We also must be more positive in how we regard ourselves.

Are we usually stupid, as you imply? We are not only not “stupid” but we are rather wise and far-sighted in most our actions. Of course, we all must be ever vigilant, and I appreciate all you do in that regard.

[All I can say to Robert and Ed is that Pangloss was a piker. If we live not just in the best of all possible worlds, but under the best of all possible city governments, we must be blessed beyond measure. Even Voltaire could not have imagined our good fortune. — Gary Imhoff]



Hispanics: A Rising Tide of Diverse Voters
Susana Baranano,

A roundtable on Hispanic voters will be held at the National Woman's Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, on Tuesday, June 10, 6:00-8:00 p.m. Cost $15, members; $20, non-members, with one complimentary drink. Keynote speaker, Congressman Xavier Becerra (D), California 34th Congressional District. Moderator, Margaret (Peggy) Sands Orchowski, Ph.D. Panelists: Mark Hugo Lopez, Director of Hispanic Research, Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends Project; Esther Aguilera, President and CEO, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute; Laura Maristany, DC Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs, NALEO Educational Fund; Ethan Roder, Executive Director, New Organizing Institute.

Please join us for a panel discussion to answer “What Kind of Voting Block Are They?”

The Hispanic voting block is growing, powerful, and fluid. Investment in them will hold the future balance of political power in the presidential, congressional, and local elections. There are great opportunities for Democrats to capitalize on this growing political influence. Today, there are nearly 53 million Hispanics in the US, of which 34 million are US-born Hispanics and an additional 2 million are foreign-born US citizens. California alone has 14.5 million Hispanics and the states with large Hispanic population are among the swing states: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania. Come listen to experts discuss the demographics of the Latino voters, their process of immigration to integration and full participation, including as elected officials, the issues important to them and how to outreach to them.

Reserve by telephone, 232-7363, ext. 3003 or online at


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