Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Chinatown: On Hold

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Progress seems to be on hold in Chinatown. Specifically, here's what I learned at Monday's Chinatown Revitalization Council meeting:
  • Renovation of the future Chinatown Park (5th and Massachusetts Avenue NW) is on hold. This project, which would incorporate Chinese themes into the park and make it a well-suited gateway to the neighborhood, has been anticipated for a decade. There's still little movement because its ownership and control by the National Park Service makes putting as much as a sculpture in it an Act of Congress. We discussed seeking support from the DC Council and Congresswoman Norton to transfer the park to the D.C. government. In addition, Downtown BID is short funds for restoration by about $20,000. I suggested requiring the developer of the DC-awarded 5th and I lot to include this among the likely package of community amenities.

  • The International Lantern Festival is on hold. This was a new idea, which has the support of the Taiwanese government, was tentatively schedule for May 2009. It is on hold until the new Administration is on board.

  • Repair and restoration of the Chinatown archway is on hold. Mayor Fenty pledged to pay for needed repairs to the arch, but there is no money included in the 2009 budget.

2009 is the Year of Ji Chou, the Ox (the Chinese New Year begins January 26) , which is characterized by perserverence, hard work, and sustained effort. Let's hope that pays off with progress for Chinatown in the year ahead.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

So let me get this straight...

A suspect who recently turned 18 years old, let's call him M.A.R. to protect his privacy, is suspected of robbing 20 DC residents, coming up behind them, knocking them to the ground, taking their I-pods, cell phones, money. On robbery No. 21, the suspect is yet again taken into custody. The police, who have to their credit managed to catch this guy, are worried that he'll be let out onto the street and will instantly rob again. You see, he's been taken into custody before and released back into the community before.

Well, MPD Inspector Delgado takes community policing seriously and he's concerned, so he sends out an e-mail to the Third District listserve urging residents to e-mail our now official Attorney General Peter Nickles to beg him not to release this guy again. (Full text of e-mail following this post)

Nickles' reaction, to paraphrase, is "Stop e-mailing me! It's annoying and not helpful." An exact quote to the Washington Post, "I haven't touched them. I told my secretary to put them in a pile." Anyway, he must have thought, we have the guy in custody and he's not going anywhere anyway. Right? Right? So Nickles picks up the phone the next morning. Wrong. Oops, the prosecutors let him go. "No papered" - apparently there was not enough evidence, despite video footage, and the U.S. Marshals missed missed the memo to hold him.

So what do we learn from this situation? Number 1. I'm tired of having prosecutors and marshals who are FEDERAL employees. These folks are accountable to no one. They work for the U.S. DOJ and they are theoretically overseen by Congress. I bet if we had an elected attorney general, who had full prosecutorial power, we would not have this B.S. You know he would get voted out in a New-York minute for this continuous arrest-and-release law enforcement. You can envision the campaign ad. Same goes for our judges. They ought to be appointed by the Mayor with the consent of the DC Council, not appointed for a 15-year term by the president. These officials come from all over the country -- many are not from DC and they are likely to live in Maryland or Virginia. Perhaps they'd think twice if they took this kid into custody and he was let out for #22 on their street.

Seriously, enough. And I don't care what mental health or other problems this guy had that a court found him incompetent to stand trial. And there's lots of others who don't want to hear lame excuses for and defenses of the alleged criminal when a score of people have been beat over the head. The answer is to put him someplace secure where he can get help, not put him out there to rob again.

The e-mail:
Fri Nov 21, 2008 11:39 am

Good Morning Neighbors

I write this email to inform you that the Third District made yet another arrest for robbery, however the circumstances surrounding this latest robbery you will find upsetting. The facts are reported as reported below:

In the earlier this year the Columbia Heights neighborhood experienced a rash of violent robberies. This particular suspect approaches people from behind and hits his victims. Once the victim is down, stolen are cell phones, money and IPODS. The suspect was also identified as committing six (6) robberies within the METRO Rail System. Once this suspect was developed as a viable suspect in the METRO robberies, DC Police began to look at the suspect on several robberies as well. The suspect was was subsequently identified in thirteen (13) robberies in Columbia Heights. The suspect, who was a juvenile, was released from jail because he was found to be incompetent to stand trial.

The suspect was released back into the Columbia Heights Community where he committed another 6 robberies. The total number of robberies at that time stood at nine teen (19) robberies. Well the suspect was released back into the community and was placed in a halfway house where he absconded and came back to the Columbia Heights neighborhood. Well, I was never notified that he was released or even absconded from the group home. Recently, he committed yet another robbery, this time within the grounds of Cardozo High School. This is a total of twenty (20) robberies that this suspect has committed and I am concerned that if this person released again he may commit more robberies or worse harm one of you. I find this lack of accountability by the juvenile justice system to be a travesty and a disservice to the community.

Please view the enclosed OAG Organizational Chart and I ask that each of you write an email or letter to the Attorney General Peter Nickels and every supervisor, manager, and attorney under the “PUBLIC SAFETY CLUSTER”

Please remember that the email address is the First Name then a dot then the last name @ DC. Gov.

I expect each of you to flood the email system today because time is critical in this matter. Let them not release this criminal yet again into the community. You can refer to this juvenile as M.A.R., they will know whom you are talking about. I also ask you to forward this email to which ever person you think will assist in this matter. Remember flood the system….

Edward Delgado
Third District Sub Station

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nobody lost service yet

I just received this alert from the DC Emergency Management Agency:
WASA reports a 16" water main break at Manor Pl, NW in Georgetown. Water was gushing into the street, now shut off. Nobody lost service yet;low water pressure in area. Roads are ok but muddy. No ETA yet on repair.
I have to say, use of the word "nobody" jumped out at me. While I might say "nobody was home" or "nobody answered the phone" when speaking informally, I can't remember the last time I've used it or seen it used in the written word. The consensus seems to be that although "nobody" and "no one" have the same meaning and can be used interchangibly, no one is more formal.

I also appreciate the optimism - nobody has lost service yet.

Friday, November 21, 2008

But really, how much?

By now, everyone has heard or read an article about the astronomical prices at which DC area residents are offering their homes for rent during inauguration week. The going rate on Craig's List seems to be about $2,000 per night for a 2-bedroom condo in the city, but some are listed for substantially more. There's a bit of randomness to the amounts - with some places well outside DC charging just as much or more as similar homes or apartments in the downtown area.

I've read enough about what people are offering. I'm more interested in knowing -- is anyone actually paying these prices?

If you posted a listing on Craig's List or somewhere else - sound off. Is your e-mail box full and you are sorting through references? Or did your ad go into oblivion, vanishing silently into the depths of the internet?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

That's News? No. 1.

In what will be a regular feature, I'll draw attention to questionable local reporting. This one is called, "That's News?" I may also have another edition called, "That's Reporting?," to highlight those all-to-often local news stories that fail to ask probing questions, understand the issue, or go beyond the surface.

Did you read today near front page story in the Examiner going nuts on the Fentys? Apparently, someone looked very closely at photos taken of their nursery for the Washington Post Home Section in which the crib is filled with pillows, blankets, and toys and had a gotcha! moment. The Fentys apparently join baby-dangling-off-the-balcony Michael Jackson in the irresponsible parents section. Why? Fluffy things in a crib pose a suffication risk for a baby.

"We were like crazy when we saw it," said Betty Connal, executive director of SIDS-Mid-Atlantic.

"That crib is just not a safe place for a baby to be sleeping in."

Ok, but get a grip, it was an arranged photograph and THE BABY ISN'T EVEN BORN!

Well, the SIDS advocates are doing their job by bringing attention to the issue, so I'm not sure I fault them other than going over the top. But how does this warrant a story on the cover page of the regional section? Maybe a blog, maybe.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I'm even more appreciative I bought that space heater... this is just wrong. The Washington Post is attributing the loss of heat to an operator error. And it's not the first time we are hearing about major Washington Gas issues in this area of Shaw, as discussed here or here. To whom exactly is Washington Gas and its management accountable?

District, Washington Gas Work to Resolve Problem, Care for Residents

Washington, DC - A serious interruption of gas service in a section of Northwest and affecting more than 400 households in the Shaw neighborhood has Washington Gas officials and several DC city agencies pulling together.

Currently, the outage affects residents in an area between U Street to Rhode Island Avenue and 8th Street to Vermont Avenue NW.
Emergency Management officials have obtained space at the Kennedy Recreation Center to be used as a warming center. Kennedy is located at 1407 7th Street, Northwest.

Officials are surveying individual residences in the affected area to determine their heating needs. Many residents may be using alternate heating methods, such as space heaters. Fire officials remind that if space heaters are being used, at least three feet of space should be allowed around the heater. Also, if you leave the room, you should turn the heater off.

Fire officials also remind that if anyone ever smells an odor of natural gas, please call 9-1-1. If anyone is in need of medical transport, call 9-1-1..
Further updates will be given as necessary.

An Active Street Life, But No Residential Proposed for Mt. Vernon Site

Paul Millstein of Douglas Development presents plans for
Squares 450 and 451 in the Mt. Vernon area.

Last night, the Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association heard a long-awaited presentation from Paul Millstein of Douglas Development on the project that includes property they had amassed over the last fifteen to twenty years in the area just east of the Washington Convention Center. In September, the Washington Business Journal discussed the scope of the project and speculated on what might come to an area that is full of vacant property and parking lots. I highlighted some of the reported details on Life in Mt. Vernon Square.

Millstein provided an underwhelming few more details last night. The Triangle blog provides the specs and a map of the site. I won't repeat that information here.

The project is still very much in the conceptual stage. There were no detailed renderings available, just the massing sketch from 30,000 feet visible in the photo above. Douglas Development plans on presenting this concept to HPRB next month, but I would not be surprised if the presentation is postponed. Mr. Millstein committed to returning to MVSNA with more information in the future. This project is still far off -- at least 6 to 12 months as the concept develops, they'll need HPRB and Zoning approval, then add a year for permitting -- 2, most likely 3, years until groundbreaking. They do not yet have financing.

For the time being, Millstein was receptive to considering improving lighting on the 600 Block of L Street, which is near pitch black and experiencing increased pedestrian traffic between the metro and CityVista/Yale Lofts. They are also open to temporary uses of the property, such as the Fringe Festival hosted at AV Restorante earlier this year.

Here's a few things we learned about the project. Douglas Development is DONE amassing property. They've thrown in the towel on some of the hold outs, such as Marakesh, the corner lot at 6th and New York, and one of the historic properties on the 1000 Block of 7th Street NW. They do own property including The Eagle and the club formerly known as Avenue. There are still a few properties on which to close.

Mr. Millstein reported that Douglas Development has given up on the property they own on the northwest corner of 6th and L Streets NW. MVSNA had reviewed a proposal for housing at that location about a year or two ago - it includes a historic house where Thurgood Marshall reportedly lived at some point, a vacant lot, and a small condemned structure that is sometimes used as an illegal billboard. Apparently, the site is now considered unbuildable for financing reasons. Sad and disappointing. The house is falling apart. I guess it joins Carter G. Woodson's home on the list of dilapidated and forgotten black history.

So back to the project. It involves:

  • Fully restoring the historic properties along 7th Street;
  • Literally picking up and consolidating several historic properties to make room for new buildings;
  • Retail, restaurants, I believe, a hotel, and entertainment at the ground level with offices above. Regarding the entertainment anchor, Milstein said, "I think they have a phenomenal entertainment venue" lined up that would open at 7th and New York Avenue. What it is, however, he could not yet say. Past articles have noted the potential for a House of Blues in the project;
  • Below-grade parking (no amount discussed); and
  • Zero, none, zilch residential units.

That last bullet is likely to be the most controversial aspect of the project. Currently, zoning laws would require a residential component -- it's part of the push to create a living downtown. Mr. Millstein mentioned seeking something called a "CLD," which would apparently allow them to forego the residential requirement by paying money to support housing somewhere else. Does anyone know how this works?

Should a project of this size and at this location include a residential component?

My initial reaction is mixed.

On the one hand, DC has come great lengths since I first moved down here from the-city-never-sleeps NY and was surprised to find a downtown ghosttown. Incorporating residential into Penn Quarter certainly helped. DC's population has increased to about 580,000, but that is still far short from its historic pre-riot high of over 760,000. There is plenty more room to grow. It would seem the portion of the project on the 600 block of L would be ideal for residential. Currently, the plan for that block is to use it for loading docks and a parking garage entrance for the retail/office frontage on New York Avenue, continuing the dead zone. Think the 1400 Block of Church Street in Logan Circle, where they turned the Rainbow auto repair shop into a unique condo.

On the other hand, has the massive condo and apartment explosion maxed out, particularly in the area surrounding this site? Over the past few years, in addition to the Penn Quarter units, we've seen condos and rentals come online at 400, 450, and 555 Massachusetts Avenue, the Sonata, and the Whitman. Most recently, Yale Laundry, CityVista, and Madrigal Lofts have opened their doors. (Note: Yale has filled about 65 of 140 units so far). Yale II is under construction. How much more housing can the area sustain? What will the current financial market allow? As Mr. Millstein notes, there's plenty of unfilled demand for retail and restaurants in the area. It's amazing how consistently packed Bus Boys & Poets is within weeks of opening.

At some point, the community will be asked to weigh in on a request for zoning relief from the residential requirement. Let the debate begin.

Monday, November 17, 2008


With the gains Democrats made on the Hill and our incoming president's support of voting rights, the District might actually get a vote in Congress in the foreseeable future. Under the proposal that came up just a few votes short, the District would receive a voting seat in the House of Representatives, along with an additional seat for Utah. That means DC would have 1 vote out of 437 (the percentage above).

Now, that's the power to make a difference. Not. (Is it even constitutional, well, that's doubtful).

There's a reason why the Constitution provided for a U.S. Senate - so that residents of states with smaller populations would have at least some real influence in the Nation's governance. Wyoming has less population than DC and it has two senators. Several other states have populations just slightly larger than DC, such as North Dakota and Vermont, but they are not excluded from what is considered the more deliberative body of Congress. Alaska's population exceeds DC by just 95,000, yet we may soon have a Senator Palin telling us how to run our local affairs. You betcha! ;)

So what is the solution?

Well, first, why don't we talk more about achieving real Home Rule given the favorable political climate and higher faith in our local government? That means that our officials should be pushing hard for legislative and budgetary autonomy for the District, so that every law our D.C. Council-passes is no longer subject to Congressional review before it takes effect. It makes our legislative process a confusing, time-consuming nightmare. And it's a repeated slap in the face.

Second, let's achieve full self governance when it comes to our judges, our prosecutors, our courts, and our parks, much of which are controlled by the feds. These are incremental steps we can take toward greater Home Rule and there should be political will to achieve them.

Folks, these things do not require a Constitutional amendment.

Third, as we move toward Home Rule, let's also push for meaningful representation in the U.S. Congress. That may require thinking out of the box. What if we gave citizens of the District the opportunity to vote for one Senator in Maryland and one Senator in Virginia, rather than create two new seats in the Senate, in addition to a voting representative in the House? At least then, we'd have meaningful representation.

Or maybe we need to rethink the District's boundaries, creating a smaller federal district limited to the area immediately surrounding the mall, Capital, and White House, and a larger state encompassing some of the area retroceded to Virginia in 1847 as well as a portion of Maryland inside the beltway. I realize this may be a practical and political stretch, but it at least looks like a viable state -- with industry beyond government, lawyering, advocacy, and politics. It's about as likely as retroceding most of D.C. back to Maryland for the purpose of voting rights. We might as well talk about it.

I fear that achieving such a small step forward as a House vote may hurt momentum for true Home Rule and meaningful Congressional representation. Am I wrong?

Friday, November 14, 2008

DC Council: "I Want to Tear Off Your LIMS!"

This is not a threat of violence, but a reference to the D.C. Council's Legislative Information Management System, aka "LIMS."

LIMS is what citizens use to pull up legislation being considered by the council and check its status. Now, maybe it's because I am a lawyer and policy wonk who has every state legislature's bill tracking website hotlinked at work, but I think transparency and knowing what the heck they are passing in the Wilson Building that will impact our lives for better or worse is of particular concern. But the old DC Council website was probably the worst in the country. Good luck finding out where legislation stands, who amended what, and what is becoming law.

So I was excited to hear that the Council was finally working on bringing their website out of the year that Al Gore invented the internet. When the new website came online a few weeks ago, I was pleased. Then again, the website had no where to go but up. Today's average fifth grader at a non-failing DC public school could have substantially improved it.

Would the new LIMS actually tell me the accurate current status of the legislation? Would it allow me to pull up any amendments and the vote on each? Might it provide the testimony submitted to the council? Would it alert me to upcoming hearings? Might it even include links to the video of past hearings? Wow.

I click the link. Damn it, same old LIMS. It's back to the future, the best in technology circa 1993.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Finally Going to Fix Dr. Woodson's House?

Built in the 1890s.
Dr. Carter G. Woodson's home between 1915-1950.
Offices of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History until the 1970s.
Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
A neighborhood eyesore for over three decades.
Photos Left to Right: 1976, Library of Congress; 2006, Richard Layman.

The National Park Service is holding a public "scoping meeting" for the Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site today from 6-8pm at the Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage, 1816 12th Street, NW. The purpose of the meeting, according to Shaw Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Commissioner Alex Padro, is to gather input from neighbors and Washingtonians at large regarding their hopes for the house and surrounding area and suggestions for the future use of the house and adjacent buildings.

It's a disgrace that this historic site, the home of the father of black history at 1538 9th Street, NW, was allowed to deteriorate for so long. It took an Act of Congress to save the home, which NPS purchased in 2005 for $465,000. The plan includes incorporating the two adjacent houses north of the Woodson home at 1540 and 1542 9th Street into the historic site. NPS acquired these two properties from Shiloh Baptist Church, which owns numerous other vacant properties in the immediate area, to house a visitor center and administrative functions.

CityCenter DC (aka the Old Conventer Center site): Update and Plans

Top: Arial view.
Second row: Ground level master plan.
Third row: NW Park (NY Ave. & 11th St.), Alley, Central Plaza

This week, Hines, the developer of the Old Convention Center site known as CityCenterDC, will hire its general contractor. The schedule has slid back a few months, but they have entered the permitting process. Bidding for subcontractors will begin in January or February 2009. Ground breaking is anticipated to occur in June 2009. The project does not yet have financing in place, but Hines is hopeful this will occur as the process moves forward.

Here are some of the details on the project:

Parcel A (between H & I Streets):
Retail: 250,000 square feet
Rental Housing: 458 units (20% affordable)
Condos: 216 units (20% affordable)
Office space: 463,000 square feet
Private below grade parking: 940 spaces
Retail/public parking: 700 spaces

Parcel B (between New York Avenue & I Street):
Hotel: 400 rooms
Retail: 110,000 square feet
Parking: 400 spaces

Gould Parcel:
Office & Retail: 600,000
Parking: TBD

Merchandising Mix: Restaurants/cafes, market foods/specialty goods, fashion, home furnishings, electronics, and entertainment.

Critical Plan Elements: Maximize street oriented retail, pedestrian friendly streetscape, urban public space that is attractive and compelling, storefronts that are exciting and interesting, actively programmed public space, unique goods, services, and experience in an utrban setting.
As this project takes off, Mount Vernon Triangle will continue to grow, O Street Market ("CityMarket at O") will take shape, and the Marriott Convention Center Hotel will come to life. In addition, Douglas Development may soon be ready to develop the area immediately east of the convention center, including the 600 Blocks of L Street and New York Avenue NW and the 1000 Block of 7th Street NW.

As a member of the Residential Advisory Committee for CityCenter at O, I'll be helping make sure that this project delivers on its potential benefits to the community (jobs, retail, a vibrant street life) and to minimize the disruption during construction.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Borderstan Public Safety Meeting & Yet Another MPD 2D Leadership Change

If you live along 15th Street at the Logan / Dupont Circle line, the next Borderstan public safety meeting is this Thursday, November 13, at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church at the northeast corner of 15th and R Streets NW.

This is a follow up to the first Borderstan meeting on August 6 — meeting postings here and here. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and MPD representatives will attend, including Assistant Chief Diane Groomes.

Borderstan is split between two MPD districts and two PSAs:
West Borderstan (west of 15th Street NW): Second District and PSA 208
East Borderstan (east of 15th Street NW): Third District and PSA 307

In addition, Borderstan reports that MPD's Second District, which includes Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, Chevy Chase, Cleveland Park, Palisades and Spring Valley, and was recently expanded to include Dupont Circle, has a new acting commander, Matthew Klein. DCist also reports on the "switcheroo." Klein will be the third Second District Commander in a few short months.

Michele Molotsky Moves to DPR

I learned today that Michele Molotsky, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans' longtime Director of Constituent Services, has left for a position at the Department of Parks and Recreation. She is now serving as DPR's Director of Senior Services.

I came to know Michele when I was active in Logan Circle. Michele worked extremely hard for Ward 2 for so many years, and, regardless of the campaign, I always praised her as I spoke with community groups. She was the go-to person of the councilmember's staff and we miss having her there.

If you are a senior, this is a good time to take a stroll to the park.

Thank you, Michele.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Convention Center Hotel Cometh

View of the future Washington Convention Center Hotel from Mount Vernon Square.

Massachusetts Avenue View

Ninth Street View

L Street View
Renderings: The Cooper Carry - TVS Collaborative

The Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing on the plan for the Marriott Marquis Convention Center Hotel on November 24, 2008. It will be one of three Marriott Marquis hotels in the United States designed to offer "dramatic, entertainment-oriented destinations" with "a broad range of high-end social and business experiences." The hotel is scheduled to open in 2012. Marriott has not received the $300 million needed in financing yet, but they don't think that will be a problem, according to the Washington Business Journal. They have received $134 million in tax increment financing from the District - in which the city sells bonds serviced by future tax revenue anticipated from the project.

Here are some of the details:
  • Hotel Size: 765,400 square feet of gross floor area
  • Guest Units: 1,166
  • Meeting and Assembly Space: 100,000 square feet
  • Height: 130 Foot Maximum, 45 degree setback above 110 feet
  • FAR: 9.3
  • Underground Parking: 2 levels, 400 spaces
  • Special Features: An underground pedestrian tunnel will connect the hotel to the convention center below Ninth Street between Massachusetts and L Streets.
  • Historic Element: The American Federation of Labor building at Ninth and Massachusetts will be incorporated as a boutique hotel linked to the main hotel, including 42 guestrooms and a restaurant/bar.
  • Retail/Restaurants: "Proposed project will have streetscape animated by outdoor seating areas associated with food and beverage outlets." Floor plans envision a specialty restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue and 10th Street, a corner bar at Massachusetts and 9th Street, a coffee shop on 9th Street just north of Massachusetts Avenue, a sports grill at 9th and L Streets, and a full-service restaurant mid-block on L Street.
  • Main Entryway to Hotel: Massachusetts Avenue.
  • Environmental: Will achieve LEED silver certification.
  • Bus Drop Off Area: Mid-block on L Street NW.
  • Loading Dock: Below ground.
It is my hope that the headquarters hotel will revitalize 9th Street. The convention center design has a fatal flaw that, in my opinion, tremendously set back 9th Street when it could have spurred a positive change. That's because the great white elephant has no retail or restaurant frontage, or any interaction with the street whatsoever, on a 2-block stretch along 9th Street between Massachusetts Avenue and M Street (aside from the problems in getting its own retail up and running). The result is that the design cuts off the convention center foot traffic from the rest of Shaw and makes it very difficult for businesses on that stretch to do well because retail on both sides of the street is important, if not essential, for a vibrant business corridor. So today, five years since the opening of the convention center, the west side of the 9th Street remains lined with vacant storefronts and small businesses that are struggling to survive (the 7th Street side is long waiting for development as well, and has been bought up piece-by-piece by Douglas Development).

If done right, the convention center hotel has the potential to drive pedestrian traffic from downtown, DC up into Shaw from Massachusetts Avenue up to the soon-to-be-coming renovated O Street Market at P Street. Wouldn't that be something?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Farewell Lt. Smith... and Thank You!

Tonight, Lt. Michael Smith will ride into the sunset. After 27 years of service, he'll be retiring with his wife, dog, 3 cats, parakeet, and newly-acquired beta fish to Florida. Lt. Smith demonstrated each and every day a passion for his job that went beyond belief. He viewed his mission as not just to be a good police officer, but to do whatever needed to be done to make the (his) neighborhood safer. For the last several years, Lt. Smith served PSA 307 - the Logan Circle neighborhood, but he lived in Shaw, his preceding assignment, and he was a 24/7 officer, radio around his neck, laptop in hand. And he wasn't one to let anyone or anything stand in his way, which is why he had troublemakers file complaints against him and occasionally got into hot water with higher ups. The community always had his back, just as he had ours.

Here's an except from a 1996 Washington CityPaper story entitled, "Bad Boy":
Adams Morgan residents first noticed something funny about Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Lt. Michael Smith when he started passing out cards bearing his beeper number. Then, burgled neighbors—long accustomed to waiting out five or six loads of laundry before seeing a cop—found Smith responding before they could add bleach. Things really got out of hand when Smith, armed with a nail gun, personally boarded up several Columbia Heights crack houses. He also helped residents rid their streets of burned-out cars and implored judges to send juveniles offenders to community-service programs. Now, Adams Morgan community leaders say MPD officials, who looked like slackers next to Smith, have conspired to make him pay for his good deeds with a recent transfer to the graveyard shift in Shaw. While the department insists Smith's transfer was routine, 3rd District Lt. Michael Gallahan says Smith was out of line. "[He] went out there with an agenda to develop...a fan club," explains Gallahan. "Mike would respond to every call he got. But community policing is about making residents aware of the resources out there to help themselves. A lot of those people [in Adams Morgan] need to get off their duffs and take care of their own business."
And so he arrived in Shaw and he kept pushing. From another article, entitled “The Beat Goes On: With all the drugs, prostitutes, and public urination in Shaw, it's a wonder anyone moves in. That's why Lt. Mike Smith won't move out”:

If you break the law frequently in Shaw, Smith probably shares a long saga with you…. He knows your name, alias, street address, family, personal history, and addictions (if applicable). Residents around the District are still demanding the intense "community policing" that Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Charles H. Ramsey promised when he accepted his position over five years ago…. But the department has undoubtedly given it to Shaw residents, whether they wanted it or not, in the form of a live-in lieutenant, Mike Smith. He's taken community policing to the extreme, and, in the process, has inspired glowing praise, a bit of protest, and two transfers…. "I live at 1203 7th St.," he tells the dozen or so ex-convicts. "I tell everybody that: thugs, criminals, and citizens. Everyone knows I live there. The 7 and O Crew members knew I lived there. They're gone; I'm still there. Somebody shot out my apartment window a few days ago. It didn't wake me up. It didn't even wake up my dogs. Some officers called and told me what happened, and I was pissed they woke me up for it."

I remember years ago how when I had the opportunity to present Lt. Smith with the Logan Circle Community Association's service award. I joked how they ought to make Lt. Smith Super Hero action figures, because they'd sell out.

Last night, there was a farewell party for Lt. Smith, bringing out about 150 people. This retirement party, however, was filled with neighborhood residents, not just fellow officers. I learned a few things. Officers repeatedly how Michael Smith was the rare officer who upon becoming a lieutenant continued to use his handcuffs and go to court. Lt. Smith apparently earned the nickname "big bird" early in his career initially for a bright yellow jacket he received as a gift from his father, it got locked in when he tackled a perp from a rooftop and the interview report with the fleeing suspect read, "this big bird..." I also learned that knowing perps fled over a certain fence in the neighborhood, he greased it up.

If you've been at any sort of community function with Lt. Smith, and he attended them all, regardless of whether he is on or off duty, you just expect him to run out at some point, handle a situation or make an arrest, and then return. He led by example and was one of the first riding his bike on patrol.

Lt. Smith, thank you for all your work on behalf of our neighborhoods, for making them safer, for being such an integral part of the community, and, for your continuing friendship. Enjoy scuba diving in Florida!

Friday, November 7, 2008

School Choice: When it Comes to the President

In my last post, I speculated on whether the Obamas would send their kids, Malia, 10, and Saha, 7, to DC Public Schools, particularly given the next president's praise for school reform and charter schools in DC. Today, The Examiner includes an article speculating on where our soon-to-be neighbors would send their kids.

Well, it won't be Stevens Elementary, the only public school in recent history chosen by a president to send his child, Amy Carter. Stevens was one of the two schools closed in Ward 2 this term. It's a shame, since not only is Stevens just a few blocks from the White House at 21st & K Streets, sending the Obama children there would truly bring its history full circle. That's because Stevens was built in 1868 solely from public funds for the education of “colored” youths and, at its closure, was the only one still standing and operating in the United States. When it opened, Stevens was probably the only choice. Today, it could be a real choice, and for a president.

Since Amy Carter, every president has sent their children to one of the area's private schools. That is, every president except fictional President Matt Santos, who West West Wing writer and producer Eli Attie says was based on Obama. Will fact follow fiction, particularly Episode 152, in which the new president, after visiting two private schools, is pleasantly surprised and enrolls his kids in one of the better public schools?

The Examiner considers whether the Obamas might choose Francis Stevens Educational Center at 2425 N Street NW, which is the K-8 school created when what was left of Stevens (a primarily out-of-boundary school used by many who work in downtown DC) combined with Francis Junior High School. This Dupont Circle school is the "in boundary" school for the White House. Other speculation includes one of the District's public charter schools, such as Oyster-Adams (81% reading, 69% math), the bilingual program where Chancellor Michelle Rhee sends her own children. Otherwise, the new first family may be looking at some of the District's private schools.

The Obamas might also consider where the District's own elected public officials send their kids.

All are above average schools, but there's quite a range. At-large Councilmember Kwame Brown sends his two children, Lauren, 7, and Kwame II, 5, to Langdon Elementary School (69% reading, 75% math). At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson sends his 8-year old daughter, Addie, to Eaton Elementary (67% reading, 57% math). Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr.'s children, Raye, 7, and Kai, 4, attend Bunker Hill Elementary (44% reading, 39% math). The District's abysmal average is 36% proficiency in reading and 31% proficiency in math in 2007.

Mayor Adrian Fenty's twin sons, Matthew and Andrew, 8, have attended a private elementary school since they were 2, although the Mayor pledged to move them into a public school during his campaign. Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans' triplets, 11, attend two private schools with Katherine and Chistine at National Cathedral School and John at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day.

School choice for presidents -- it could be one of the first, difficult decisions of the Obama transition.

UPDATE 11/11: From the N.Y. Post.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Our Newest Neighbor, Barack Obama

Barack Obama campaigns at the old convention center site in September 2007.
precentorpium on Flickr.

There's tremendous excitement as we learned last night that come January 2009, DC's Ward 2 will have a new resident of particular prominence, President Barack Obama. President Obama will move into a historic white house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. It is a charming historic home with a nice view of the park and the National Mall, and within walking distance to downtown living, including Foggy B0ttom and Dupont Circle. President Obama will live and work just 2 blocks from my office and about 14 blocks from my home. I doubt I'll run into him at the new CityVista Safeway, but I'm very happy to have him as my new neighbor.

This is a tremendous day of momentus importance for our country and for Washington, D.C. Truly, the American dream remains a reality and, after eight years of heading down a mind-boggling, hair-pulling wrong path, we will hopefully move in the right direction with educational opportunity, support for small businesses, equality, and economic revitalization. Let us also hope that Obama's presidency, coming with Democratic gains in both the House and the Senate, also means that disenfranchised residents of the District of Columbia will finally attain full voting representation in the U.S. Congress. [UPDATE: Congresswoman Norton believes the legislation to give the District a vote in the House has a good chance given Democratic gains last night].

By the way, any thoughts on where he and Michelle will send their kids to school? As you may remember, during the final debate, he praised Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee for undertaking an ambitious plan to improve our city's public school system and their support for charter schools.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Another Hit on Community Policing

Just when I think MPD is moving in the right direction with more foot and bike patrols, up comes another instance where it is giving lip service to community policing, the idea that if police officers and residents get to know each other and work together, they can be more effective in combating crime. The latest hit is the transfer of Lt. Phil Lanciano, who led the Police Service Area (PSA 207) that includes Foggy Bottom and the south western portion of Dupont Circle.

I don't personally know Lt. Lanciano, but during my campaign for Ward 2 on the DC Council, I repeatedly came across residents who sung his praises. By all accounts, including The Examiner article today, he was a model police officer who had come to know his community over many years and earned their trust and respect. Now, he's being moved for unexplained reasons, to the other side of the city.

I've seen this all too many times before. In some instances, excellent officers are reassigned because there is someone out to get them. Case in point: MPD was under pressure for years to assign Lt. Michael Smith who is a hero in Logan Circle because a certain individual with a vendetta filed numerous complaints against him. Ultimately, when the PSA was split in two between Shaw and Logan Circle, Lt. Smith found himself on the Logan Circle side rather than in the Shaw side where he lives (congrats to Lt. Smith who is retiring and moving to Florida this month and THANK YOU for all your hard work! Read about Lt. Smith in this 2003 Washington CityPaper cover story).

In other instances, I've seen some of the best officers promoted from Ward 2 to other areas of the city. I've been told by one MPD Third District commander that this is (or was) a matter of police policy. According to that official, MPD prefers that those who are promoted be reassigned so that they do not supervise their ex-colleagues and so that they learn about another area of the city. While I can understand this reasoning, the entire concept of community policing is thrown under the bus when effective officers are reassigned from an area in which they have, over many years, come to know the criminals, the suspects, the residents and activists, the community groups and churchs, the illegal activity, and the places to hide. In each case, the community mobilizes to fight the transfer, with mixed success. Will Foggy Bottom get to keep its Lieutenant? I hope so.

Slightly off the topic, but there's more MPD and the DC Council can do to strengthen community policing. It's time to redraw some of our PSA boundaries so that they actually fit the neighborhoods that they are intended to serve. The greatest example downtown area is PSA 101. This PSA covers everything from Capital Hill to the White House below New York Avenue. The PSA even pops up to N Street in the Mount Vernon Square area between 1st and 4th Streets NW, apparently due to a gerrymandered Ward 2/6 line. That makes what is known as the "chimney area" easy to forget on patrols, as it is an island across New York Avenue. But the greatest issue is that Chinatown/Penn Quarter does not have its own PSA. While administratively, MPD has in some ways split the PSA between an east and west side, the area still shares officers and leadership with a vast area. That needs to change.

You Can Feel it in the Air!

Wouldn't you know it, I'm starting off this blog with an elections post. I just returned from the Martin Luther King Library, where I am supporting two candidates in separate races for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2C, Theresa Sule (in photo on left) and Jessica Lanza (I am also supporting Kevin Chapple who is running in another precinct), who are running for the Shaw, Mount Vernon Square, and Penn Quarter areas. Of course, all so much of the excitement is on the presidential campaign, but please don't overlook your ANC races. ANC's have a tremendous impact on day-to-day life in the District. From small development projects like construction next door to you to the large ones like the old convention center site, as well as licenses, permits, park renovations, pedestrian access during construction, street repairs... ANC recommendations carry "great weight" with government agencies. They also get thousands of your taxpayer dollars that they can use for neighborhood projects and can negotiate with developers for community amenities. They are nonpaid, government officials and they can make a real difference. While I'm extremely excited about the outcome of the presidential election tonight, as well as Congress, I'll be watching our ANC races closely.

For several years, I've spent time working the polls and this one immediately strikes me as different. I passed by Shiloh Baptist Church at 7am this morning and the line wrapped around the block. The wait at MLK was about 45 minutes to an hour between 7am and 9am. Typically, turnout in the general election is about double that of the primary in presidential election years, but still, this one is going to break records. There's also an electric atmosphere. You can just tell that people are excited to vote.