Monday, November 5

DC MONDAY

AFTER IGNORING IT, FENTY WANTS TO ABOLISH TAXI OVERSIGHT BOARD

[This would be the second governmental body assigned to look after citizens' interests that Fenty has emasculated in less than a year, the school board being the first. He has also shut down two semi-independent development corporations]

DC EXAMINER - Mayor Adrian Fenty is considering a drastic change to the role of the much-maligned D.C. Taxicab Commission, perhaps dissolving it or diminishing its power - just as he did with the Board of Education. . . Fenty announced Oct. 17 that the District would ditch the 70-year-old zone fares in favor of meters. At the time, he left it up to the Taxicab Commission to develop and adopt the regulations, which are its primary responsibilities under the D.C. Code. But two weeks later, the mayor rolled out the rules himself, citing a desire to move quickly.

"These are the mayor's people's regulations, in my mind," Commissioner Sandy Allen, a former D.C. Council member, said Friday, "because I haven't seen them and I haven't voted on them. I think a process was circumvented."

Commission Chairman Leon Swain said he was "given direction and authorization" to draft the regulations, which he "presented to the mayor's office for review." But observers were quick to question the commission's absence: Commissioner Stanley Tapscott said he was left out of the process completely.


CATHOLIC DIOCESE WANTS PUBLIC FUNDING FOR PAROCHIAL SCHOOLS WITH EXISTING FACULTY


WASHINGTON POST - Seven D.C. Catholic schools will undergo conversions to charter schools, Washington Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl announced. His decision means that the schools will no longer operate as religious schools but will receive public funds and be run by a charter operator. . . . The proposal touched a nerve among black Catholics who protested by holding prayer rallies and writing letters to Wuerl. They were concerned that the move by the archdiocese would limit high-quality education options for African American children. . . The archdiocese said that students and faculty will be allowed to be grandfathered and stay at the schools. . . [The plan] leave 21 Catholic schools with about 6,500 students, the archdiocese said.

The consortium was set up by the archdiocese in 1995 as a way for the inner city schools, plagued by declining enrollment, to share administrative resources. The archdiocese said it has invested more than $60 million since 1997 in the schools, which have resulted in strong academic achievements and improvements to the physical buildings. But the archdiocese has been struggling with a 19 percent decline in student enrollment, which it attributed in part to the growth of city charter schools. The District has 58 charter schools that serve more than 20,00 students.


JESSE BALTIMORE & FRIEND IN THE PALISADES


WHY DOES THE CITY WANT TO DESTROY THE JESSE BALTIMORE HOUSE?

MARY ROWSE, CURRENT - Washington, D.C., is filled with people eager for the chance to fix up the Jesse Baltimore House, a one-of-a-kind 1925 Sears "Fullerton" model at 5136 Sherier Place NW in the heart of the Palisades community. So there is no reason for the house to go anywhere despite the city's attempt to demolish it.

Although the National Park Service, the property's owner, and the city signed an agreement calling for its removal, this arrangement could be reversed if citizens demand that Mayor Adrian Fenty do the right thing, which is to return the house to the National Park Service to sell with exterior preservation easements or to ask the Park Service to give it to the city to sell for $1 to someone who will restore it, live in it and get it back on the tax rolls.

It is morally wrong for the mayor to stand by while this perfectly usable home is destroyed, when he signed a letter saying he wanted it saved and there is a line of people who want to bring it back to life.

It is morally wrong for the Department of Parks and Recreation to create an eyesore and then justify its demolition because it is one. It is morally wrong for Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh to ignore 1,000 of her constituents who signed individual letters asking that the Jesse Baltimore House be given back to the National Park Service for sale with exterior preservation easements to a private buyer who will restore it in place and get it back on the tax rolls. . .

Why is Cheh ignoring 1,000 of her Ward 3 constituents (and another 450 people across the city and metropolitan area) who have asked that the house be preserved in place? . . . Why doesn't Mary Cheh want to give the house to a city schoolteacher, firefighter or police officer for $1. . . Why can't the city ask the Park Service to give the house to the District so it can donate it to one of the many nonprofit organizations in town that provide homes for needy families at a reasonable cost - Mi Casa, Manna Inc. or the New Columbia Community Land Trust? Any of these scenarios would be better than destroying a perfectly usable home valued at $813,750 by the city's own assessment.

VICTORIAN SECRETS
- Jesse Baltimore built the Fullerton as a home for his family, which by 1930 included his wife Mary Gladys, their son Jesse Robert, Jr., and Mr. Baltimore's mother Martha. Eventually the family grew to include two younger sons, George and John. John Baltimore remembers a Palisades boyhood of games on the Recreation Center playing fields, swimming in the C&O Canal, and hitching rides on the trolley to Glen Echo Park. But the house saw tragedy, too, when young George Baltimore was laid out in the living room shortly after striking his head in a tree-climbing accident. For more than 30 years after building his home, Jesse Baltimore worked in the plumbing trade, which he passed on to his sons Jesse and John. In 1930, he was a plumber at a private school, while in 1940, he was employed by McCarthy and Son Plumbers.


DEVELOPERS NOT ONLY GET TAX DOLLARS, THEY GET TO MAKE US STAY OUT OF THEIR WAY


WALK DC - As anyone knows who has spent a bit of time on foot in DC, especially downtown, navigating construction sites is often an unpleasant and and sometimes hazardous experience. It's unpleasant because of the ugliness of all those "go-away" signs, Jersey barriers, and the like. It's hazardous because invariably many of us, rather than crossing to the other side, choose to navigate along the street, especially so when there is a wide avenue to cross. . .

Why is there such a vast difference in the experiences of DC and NYC walkers? The answer is in the vast difference in the regulations for protecting pedestrians at construction sites -- one very permissive and the other very, very specific.

The DC regulations for temporary traffic control call for signs, channelizing devices, flags, etc. to clearly direct pedestrians through or around the work site.

The New York City regulations don't offer that sort of wiggle room and require that "A sidewalk shed [i.e. covered passageways] shall be erected when a structure higher than forty feet is to be constructed or a structure higher than twenty-five feet is to be demolished."

Those differences translate into polar differences between the two cities - DC essentially content with builders putting up "go-away" signs and NYC requiring covered and lighted walkthroughs at construction sites. The consequences are evident in walking about the two cities.

HOW THEY DO IT IN NEW YORK CITY

HOW THEY DO IT IN DC


FENTY & RHEE LAUNCH WAR AGAINST WORKERS, UNIONS

[This is isn't just about the school system. The schools will be used as a model for other agencies. Further, unreported by most media, Rhee and Fenty plan to bar additional unionizing of school system workers]

GARY EMERLING, WASHINGTON TIMES - Union leaders say they will fight a plan by D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee that would allow her to reclassify and terminate some school system employees. "There is no job action that we will not consider in order to bring the full weight of working people to the table on this issue," Washington Teachers Union Vice President Nathan A. Saunders told The Washington Times. . . "We're united - every single union in DCPS," he said. . .

Union leaders said the bill does not provide due process for employees facing termination and could set a precedent that will spread to other city departments. They argued instead for using job-performance evaluations and other methods of "progressive discipline" that would better protect employees, and said they oppose the bill on behalf of all working people. . .

"This legislation is a real dampener for morale in public schools," Mr. Saunders said. "The good will we brought to bring [Mrs. Rhee to the District] has really been kicked to the curb."

The bill also will bar non-union employees in the central office from being able to form collective bargaining units, and grants the mayor's office firing authority over central office employees outside of a collective bargaining agreement and hired after 1980.

Mrs. Rhee has said she will "absolutely" seek similar power to fire underperforming union employees in upcoming negotiations.


FENTY'S LAWYER HID CRITICAL INFO ON HOSPITAL FROM CITY COUNCIL

WASHINGTON POST - In the days after the D.C. Council voted to use $79 million in public funds to bail out Greater Southeast Community Hospital, council members began having second thoughts about the deal and about the city leaders they trusted to negotiate the details. For more than two weeks, some city officials had information explaining that the city's plan to help complete a private purchase of the hospital could expose the city to greater financial risk. But council members did not receive the information until hours before they voted to approve the deal. . .

The financial risks were outlined in a confidential letter that the city's chief financial officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, sent to Peter Nickles, the mayor's general counsel, on Oct. 5. Meanwhile, the agreement was thrashed out in closed-door meetings attended by Nickles and representatives for the buyer, Specialty Hospitals of America. Even the mayor did not see Gandhi's letter, although his spokeswoman said he was briefed on its contents.


DC SHORTS

WASH POST - A key commission called for changes in the plans for a large new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, saying the complex would overwhelm the historic hilltop site in Anacostia where it would be built. The National Capital Planning Commission recommended reducing the number of parking spaces planned for the headquarters, about 5,000, and moving them off the site on the western campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital. The commission also asked the General Services Administration, which is acting on behalf of Homeland Security, to draw up an alternative plan with only 2.5 million square feet of aboveground development. The two alternatives presented yesterday envision buildings and parking that would total about 6.3 million square feet.

WTOP - The Smithsonian Institution issued a request for an outside group to renovate and operate one of its oldest buildings on the National Mall, saying the museum complex lacked the necessary money from Congress. The 126-year-old Arts and Industries Building, located next to the original Smithsonian Castle, closed in January 2004 because its crumbling ceiling was deemed unsafe for visitors and staff. Upgrading the basic shell of the structure, its windows, roof, air and fire systems, would likely cost about $65 million, according to the latest estimates.


RECOVERED HISTORY


FROM CHOCOLATE CITY TO LATTE VILLE

[From a talk at the Washington Studies Conference]

Sam Smith

Despite the Supreme Court school decision and the Thompson Restaurant case, DC in the late fifties and early 60s remained a deeply southern city. As a reporter for WWDC News, I would call the Metropolitan Police dispatcher to find out what had happened overnight. It was not uncommon to be told - and I quote - "Nothing but a couple of nigger stabbings." As late as the mid 1960s white cops were refusing to ride with black officers. Once, I covered a Brotherhood Week luncheon at the Mayflower Hotel and the only blacks in the room were the waiters.

In the white community people didn't talk about such things. It was just the way it was. Silence is a powerful weapon. You can feel the same sort of silence these days if you listen carefully enough. It's often what people don't talk about that really matters.

But things were happening. In February 1960, four black college students had sat down at a white-only Woolworths lunch counter in Greensboro, NC. Within two months sit-ins had spread to fifty four cities in nine states.

By the end of June, I was covering the desegregation of lunch counters in Northern Virginia and a protest at the Glen Echo amusement park.

Meanwhile the House and the Senate were battling over civil rights legislation. In the House, Judge Howard Smith was czar of the Rules Committee. Judge Smith had once justified slavery on the grounds that the Romans and Egyptians had used it to build their civilizations.

He was not alone. Over on the Senate side, as a filibuster went into its 69th hour, I reported that "This afternoon it was JW Fulbright who said the issue of discrimination was non-existent -- raised every four years for political reasons."

I had come to the story as an anthropology major. I had read people like Ashley Montague who strongly challenged the biological definition of race. Other anthropologists had argued the term 'ethnic group' should be used instead. I had also read a powerful book in college that wasn't on any required reading list. It was called "Stride Towards Freedom" and was written by Martin Luther King Jr. I liked the book not just because of King's moral cause but because he helped me solve a problem left over from my Quaker high school education: how to be both strong and peaceful at the same time. King wasn't just speaking about civil rights; he was speaking directly to me and about my own concerns.

And so I was pleased when a girl friend suggested we go to the Howard University campus in the late 1950s, where we sat on the lawn outside the chapel and listened on speakers to King preach because the church had overflowed before we got there.

But I considered myself a journalist - not an activist. In one of the first issues of the alternative journal I had started, I published a report by a close friend who had spent the fateful summer of 1964 in Mississippi. In 1965 I went down there myself to cover the civil right Commission hearings.

Then the local Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee announced a one day bus boycott to oppose a fare increase. It would turn out to be - as far as I can tell - the largest protest ever by local residents over a local issue.

I carried 75 people that day in my car along the Benning Road route and wrote about it later.

The chair of the local SNCC read the article and liked it. Which is how a 20-something Marion Barry ended up in my apartment talking to a 20-something white guy about his need for help in dealing with an almost entirely white press over his new Free DC movement and how I ended up on endless street corners telling reporters that Marion would surely be there in just a few minutes if they would just hang on. Once a group of us stood in a church on H Street holding hands and singing 26 choruses of "We Shall Overcome" as we waited for him.

But things could also happen in a hurry. Barry had some friendly operators at the telephone company who would interrupt phone calls if someone was needed fast. Sometime the phone rang late at night to report that Marion had been arrested again.

And while Barry was an anathema to the white business leaders and considered a rogue by the local civil rights establishment, as early as 1966 a poll found him ranked fifth by black residents as the person who had done the most for blacks in DC.

And it was about far more than just protests or local self-government. Among our futile plans was the infiltration and takeover of the Greenbelt Cooperative turning it into an inner city operation. Another project - in days long before laptops - found us sorting endless little pieces of paper on dozens of tables in a large room at Trinity College - as we tried to discover slumlords, lawyers, front corporations and their interconnections. The project never got much beyond that. Perhaps the separate directions in which various participants were rapidly going was a factor, In any event, the days of the Free DC Movement were just about over.

Years later, when Barry became the object of ridicule I would explain to people that what they saw was like a wreck of an old car abandoned in a field. Nothing about its current state told you what it had once been.

I wrote about it in a City Paper article, recalling what Jack Burden had said about Willie Stark in All the King's Men: "I have to believe he was a great man. What happened to his greatness is not the question. Perhaps he spilled it on the ground the way you spill a liquid when the bottle breaks. Perhaps he piled up his greatness and burnt it in one great blaze in the dark like a bonfire and then there wasn't anything but dark and the embers winking. Perhaps he could not tell his greatness from ungreatness and so mixed them together that what was adulterated was lost."

I lost contact with Barry as black power came along. More and more blacks were listening to Stokely Carmichael who argued that "Integration is an insidious subterfuge for white supremacy." He told a crowd in Greenwood, Mississippi, "We been saying 'freedom' for six years and we ain't got nothing."

I was one of a handful of whites at a meeting one day in the SNCC headquarters when Stokely Carmichel came in and announced that people like us were no longer welcomed in the civil right movement.

It wasn't just an announcement; it was a fact. I had been helping to open doors for others and now I was staring at one with a great big lock on it. It wasn't just at SNCC; all over town black and whites stopped seeing each other.

I had started a neighborhood paper on Capitol Hill - annoying the local restoration movement by calling it the Capitol East Gazette and including an area that was 75% black. In late 1967 I came up with the idea of pulling together the various leaders of Capitol East in a novel neighborhood coalition. Fourteen people attended the first meeting on January 31 1968: 7 white and 7 black

In February, 1968 I wrote, "As contrary as the thought is to our national self-image, it is entirely possible that we are giving up the struggle to solve the deepest problems of our cities."

On the evening of April 4, 1968, the city started to burn.

For a year and a half of running a neighborhood newspaper, I had observed, and tried to report, a part of the community seething with emotions much of the other part refused to recognize. Later I would describe the city as a place where the American dream and the American tragedy passed on the street but did not speak. Now it was worse than even I had thought and anger, frustration and helplessness washed up on my mind's shore.

The strange ambivalence of the riots -- the slashes of violence mixed indiscriminately with the sparkle of carnival, the sounds and smoke of racial war penetrating the tranquility of a white couple's home four blocks and a half blocks from disaster, our strangely ordinary experiences in an extraordinary situation, -- made the disorder a crazy amalgam that took weeks to sort out

Some people even seemed to think I had something to do with it all. One of my advertisers, the photo dealer Harry Lunn, told me late one night that if anyone firebombed his store he was going to come and personally burn my house down. He had been or was still with the CIA so I tended to take him seriously.

In the vicinity of H Street and some 124 commercial establishments and 52 homes were damaged. Another 21 businesses were damaged on or near 8th street.

During the riots, Mayor Walter Washington had been called to the office of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, where he was told to start shooting looters. Washington had refused, saying that "you can replace material goods, but you can't replace human beings." Hoover then said, "Well, this conversation is over." Replied Washington, "That's all right, I was leaving anyway."

Not long after the riots it was Easter and three local ministers held a sunrise service outside on a charred 8th Street, refusing what Albert Camus called the sin of despair.

And one year later they gave us an elected school board.

In 1970, I was invited to a meeting to discuss the candidacy of Julius Hobson for non-voting delegate to Congress, another token that the federal government had thrown our way to help calm the city down.

We met in a barren church basement hall on East Capitol Street. Just a few of us, our chairs pulled in a small circle. After a while, Julius asked on what platform we thought he should run. Someone in the room mentioned an article I had written four months earlier calling for DC statehood and explaining for the first time how it might achieved without a constitutional amendment. It was only the second time I had heard anyone mention the article. A reader had sent me five dollars, asking that it be contributed to the cause if it ever got going. That day it did. Julius listened, we discussed it for a few minutes and then he said, that's what I'm going to run on.

Julius Hobson is probably the most underrated civil rights leader in recent time - another example of how colonies not only lack power but respect for their stories.

Throughout the years of Washington's awakening, no one individual had changed the course and the psychology of DC more than Hobson. In a city where it could be said that never had so many sold out for so little, Hobson refused to compromise. Even prospect of an early death from multiple myeloma failed to chasten the man. He described the conversation he would have with the Lord, if there turned out to be one, as Hobson presenting a bill of particulars on behalf of the oppressed people still back on earth. And he concluded, "That's what I'd have to say to the Maker. And if the Maker doesn't like it, to hell with him."
Between 1960 and 1964, Julius Hobson had run more than 80 picket lines on approximately 120 retail stores in downtown DC, resulting in employment for some 5,000 blacks. He initiated campaigns that resulted in the first hiring of black bus drivers, black auto salesmen and dairy employees and directed anti-discrimination efforts against the public utilities, private apartment buildings, the Washington Hospital Center, and private business schools. In 1967, Julius Hobson won a suit that outlawed the existing rigid school track system, teacher segregation and differential distribution of budgets, books and supplies.

In some important ways, the Statehood Party that Julius had created was an extension of the biracial politics that had grown during the anti-freeway fight. The anti-freeway movement had started among white and black homeowners in a threatened Brookland. It spread across the city, one rally featuring Grovesnor Chapman of the white Georgetown Citizens Association and black activist Reginald Booker. You didn't see that often in DC or anywhere else in the country.

The movement was led by a graphic artist and old time leftist Sammie Abbott who once obtained a secret map of a planned freeway down U Street. Sammie created a huge poster headlined "White Men's Roads Through Black Men's Home" which featured a blowup of the map with the planned freeway in red identifying all the major buildings that would be destroyed including the Howard and Lincoln Theaters. The posters were plastered all over the threatened area and within a few weeks the planned freeway was dead.

In trying to understand how a biracial Statehood Party could arise in the wake of the black power movement, I eventually concluded that it was the strength of both its issues and its individuals that made ethnicity less important. The Statehood Party emphasized the pragmatic over the ideological, and implicitly shared Hobson's view that class and power often trumped race.

It wasn't that Hobson didn't see himself as a black man; he was just first and foremost Julius Hobson. I have seldom been in a group of such strong individuals who still got on together. It helped me learn that ethnicity is often inversely important to whatever else is going on.

The Statehood Party would elect officials for 25 years, despite its underlying cause being repeatedly sabotaged by a coalition of colonials, manipulators and the merely naïve. This coalition convinced many DC residents that salvation lay in one puny vote in the House - or what Hobson called sending a eunuch to an orgy.

In fact, representation had been used as a distraction for over a century. In 1888 Thomas Noyes had written in the Washington Times that "National representation for the capital community is not in the slightest degree inconsistent with control of the capital by the nation through Congress."
This is still true today.

When we almost got George McGovern to endorse statehood in the 1972 presidential campaign, some in the DC establishment successfully lobbied him not to do it. They would also be behind a failed drive for a constitutional amendment that - by ensconcing the one seat provided - would have made it impossible to get senatorial representation without yet another constitutional amendment. Some even aided in the federal seizure of the city in the late 1990s, which amounted to the greatest disenfranchisement of citizens of this country since post reconstruction days. And, of course, we have just experienced the failure of latest expensive and distracting efforts to get a token vote on the Hill.

Now I fear that the gentrification of DC is bringing with it a further acceptance of colonialism. . . . an attitude of who needs self government with all the powerful names I have on my Blackberry? We have moved from Chocolate City to Latte Ville. The silence and the lack of interest in real self government reminds me of DC in the 1950s. I hope I'm wrong but I fear DC will remain for the indefinite future, corrupt, colonial and contented.

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