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Archive: June 2006

A Decade Later, Still the Last Days of Chinatown

Washington's Chinatown has been dying for longer than some people live. Every few years, someone writes the obituary for the neighborhood. I know: I wrote a cover story for the Post's Sunday magazine in 1995 predicting the demise of the downtown enclave that has been home to Washington's small Chinese community for the better part of a century. When I wrote that piece, the MCI Center was about to become reality and development pressure was finally starting to hit the city's East End, which had seen little in the way of building since the riots devastated the city in 1968....

By Marc Fisher | June 30, 2006; 11:04 AM ET | Comments (12)

Hornswoggled

Today's column, which is closely adapted from yesterday's item here on the big blog about Butch Snipes, the Mayor of U Street, contains the word "hornswoggle." This marks the first time I have used said word in 20 years at the Post. It is the 12th time the word has appeared in this publication since electronic records began in the mid-1970s. The last use was by Mr. Gene Weingarten in a 1998 piece about politicians and other such hornswogglers. The only Post writer who has used "hornswoggle" more than once in print is Mr. Thomas Boswell, the legendary baseball...

By Marc Fisher | June 30, 2006; 7:46 AM ET | Comments (4)

Butch Snipes, The Mayor of U Street

I first met John "Butch" Snipes back in the late 80s, when U Street was a boarded up mess, its shops blocked off from any potential customers by the years-long construction of Metro's Green Line. But no amount of inconvenience or change could wipe the smile off Snipes' face or dissolve the hope in his heart. Snipes was the unofficial mayor of U Street, a longtime merchant along that corridor of historic ups and downs, and though Snipes himself had seen plenty of trouble in his own business career, he remained absolutely certain that the Metro would bring about U...

By Marc Fisher | June 29, 2006; 7:30 AM ET | Comments (6)

High-Quality Schools and Chopped Liver

In its infinite wisdom, the D.C. Council last week pronounced a free high-quality public education to be a basic right. The vote was 12-1. The measure--a proposed amendment to the city's charter--will go to the District's voters in November for approval, pending a confirmatory vote by the council next month. Looks harmless--another feel-good gimmick by craven pols in an election year, right? Wrong. It is of course all that, but it is also so much more: As Gary Imhoff and Dorothy Brizill note in DCWatch, and as a Post editorial said over the weekend, what looks like a relatively...

By Marc Fisher | June 28, 2006; 8:03 AM ET | Comments (16)

Pepco Responds: Who Needs Humans?

This morning's post about Pepco's response to calls when the power goes out has sparked a debate about just what we ought to expect from a utility that's dealing with a zesty, long-lasting storm that, at last count, had caused outages for more than 31,000 customers. I've spent some time today talking with some of the Pepco executives who helped design and operate the company's new phone response system and here's what they have to say: Customers, regulators and Pepco bosses alike agree that the way the company responded to Hurricane Isabel a couple of years ago was not good....

By Marc Fisher | June 27, 2006; 3:05 PM ET | Comments (2)

Asleep on the Couch: The Ultimate Cable Company Customer Service Story

Don't mess with law students. Every business in the country knows that. Now, adapt that longstanding rule of thumb to modern times: Don't mess with law students who have video cams and blogs. I don't think it is humanly possible to write a story that will make readers weep for Comcast, and I won't even try. But the tale of Georgetown University law student Brian Finkelstein and the most delicious revenge he achieved against the cable TV company that so many people love to hate makes you feel for pretty much everyone involved. It starts, as so many stories...

By Marc Fisher | June 27, 2006; 11:05 AM ET | Comments (11)

Pepco: Staying Connected by Dumping Customer Calls

When the remnants of Hurricane Isabel swept through the Washington area in September 2003, popular outrage against the power company's failure to be honest and straightforward with power-less customers boiled over. Obviously, Pepco couldn't control the forces of nature; the outages were inevitable. But the least the power company could do was to let folks know how far down the list they might be, and maybe give some rough estimate of how many days it would take to restore the juice. Yet Pepco suffered a devastating loss of public confidence because the company persistently refused to give out any information...

By Marc Fisher | June 26, 2006; 9:36 PM ET | Comments (44)

"I'm Wet--I'm Hysterical and I'm Wet!"

So we're driving back into town after a week's vacation, and it's been a harrowing eight hours on the road, all but 25 minutes of it in wild, pounding rain, a 400-mile-long stationary front of grey, wet, foggy murk, and we're within 10 minutes of home, sliding down River Road from the Beltway toward the District, when suddenly lights and sirens appear immediately behind us. It's a boat. I've been driving down I-81 since the upper reaches of New York state and now I'm in Montgomery County and I am being pulled over and passed by a boat on...

By Marc Fisher | June 26, 2006; 7:47 AM ET | Comments (38)

Single-trackin' Blues on Getaway Day

"Traffic calming?" HA HA HA HA!!! Everytime I see that term I just crack right up. I get this image of whole fleets of Hummers and Tahoes and Tercels and Crown Vics in some vast spa space, flickering candlelight everywhere, New age music playing, lavender oil steam-cleaning every pore of their manifolds. Oh, wait. Right. It's the people behind the wheels who need calming, not the cars. Because cars don't kill people, people driving cars kill people. Not bicyclists. Not pedestrians. Remember that. And so, in a week when the police blotter dutifully records a ninth pedestrian death in Fairfax,...

By | June 23, 2006; 1:17 PM ET | Comments (8)

Duncan's Depressed and Getting Out

News flash from The Post's Nancy Trejos: Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan will announce this afternoon that he is dropping out of the race for governor, sources close to the campaign said today. Duncan, 50, decided to end his quest for Maryland's highest office because he is suffering from clinical depression, sources said. Duncan faced stiff competition for the Democratic nomination from Baltimore City Mayor Martin O'Malley. He will announce his decision at a press conference in his Rockville office building at 2 p.m. today. Many questions here: Is Duncan too ill to continue his quest? And, does clinical...

By | June 22, 2006; 1:02 PM ET | Comments (45)

Again With the Facebook

Truth to tell, I'm not much of a ranter. At least in public. I'm old-fashioned --- I prefer to do some of that thing we call "reporting" before I start with the blah-blah-blah blog-blog-blog. And my life? You care about my life? For instance: I have just been interrupted by the 14-year-old demanding my guidance on how he can wash his sleeping bag, which he insists is "filthy." Filthy? Honey, talk to our boys camping out in Tikrit. He wonders: What does it mean -- re-treat for water repellency periodically? Apparently, this is what they have to do to Tony...

By | June 22, 2006; 9:07 AM ET | Comments (22)

Two Facebooks

OK, here I am, Ann Gerhart guesting for the indefatigable Marc Fisher. A little trouble untangling the line for my first Raw Fish-ing expedition. Yesterday, I was absorbed by Shocking Art Headlines! and the news that Ronald Lauder (yes, the lipstick Lauder) had ponied up $135 million to buy a Gustav Klimt painting for his boutique museum of German and Austrian art -- most ever for a single painting. It's a 1907 gold-flecked portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, wife of a wealthy Jewish sugar baron and perhaps the artist's secret lover as well, as indicated by "sexual connotations" he included. Perhaps...

By | June 20, 2006; 9:31 AM ET | Comments (18)

Please Welcome The Fabulous Ann Gerhart

I'll be uncharacteristically quiet for the next week, but Raw Fisher never sleeps: Ann Gerhart--the former Reliable Source columnist, biographer of First Lady Laura Bush, writer for the Post's Style section, and now features editor of the Style section--will be here to offer piercing observations and tasty nuggets for your reading pleasure. Please treat her well, enjoy her fine work and, as always, jump in on the comment board--you'll find her thoughtful, feisty and remarkably versatile....

By Marc Fisher | June 16, 2006; 3:53 PM ET | Comments (8)

Arena Stage Slams Blogger Critic, Then Apologizes

One of the coolest gigs in town is being an usher at Arena Stage. You spend a little while before the show taking people to their seats and you see the show for free. What a deal, right? Several theaters around town offer this fine arrangement, and I have friends who've seen many seasons of Arena productions without spending a penny. Mindy Klasky Maddrey has done the volunteer ushering routine at Arena for 20 years. Last month, she ushered at a performance of On the Verge or The Geography of Yearning by Eric Overmeyer. Maddrey, a novelist who lives in...

By Marc Fisher | June 16, 2006; 7:50 AM ET | Comments (19)

Retarded? Disabled? People With?

The other day, right here on the big blog, I used these words: "mentally retarded" and "retardation." Some readers--and some folks in the D.C. government--took this as a crime against humanity. Some were not especially polite about it, but one reader, Rachel K., was exceedingly nice, so she gets her say: "Mentally retarded" is "both a term no longer regularly used in the disability community (we now use developmental or intellectual disability), and also phrased in a way that is not appropriate. In the disability community, we use 'people first' language; for example, we refer to 'people with developmental disabilities'...

By Marc Fisher | June 15, 2006; 7:16 AM ET | Comments (0)

Annals of Bad Ideas: Subsidizing Gas Stations

Your elected officials at work: D.C. Council member Carol Schwartz has proposed the "The Retail Service Station Incentive Act of 2006," which would grant entrepreneurs some very lovely tax breaks if they would kindly open a gas station in the District of Columbia. What? Government concocting a new and exciting way to subsidize the oil industry? Say it ain't so. But it is: Not only Schwartz, but also council chairman Linda Cropp and council members Sharon Ambrose, Marion Barry, Kwame Brown, Vincent Gray, Kathy Patterson and David Catania--a majority of the council--are listed as supporters of the bill. Why in...

By Marc Fisher | June 14, 2006; 12:05 PM ET | Comments (0)

Virginia Senate Winner: Mike Bushnell!

And the winner of the Virginia Democratic senatorial primary is....Mike Bushnell. What, the headlines say it was Jim Webb? Oh yes, yes, Webb won the popular vote. But we're talking the Raw Fisher Predictions Board, where reader Mike Bushnell won the narrowest of victories over two other folks here on the big blog, stanpen and kef. All three of these folks got the margin of victory for Webb over Harris Miller exactly right, at 53 percent to 47 percent. So we had to go to the tiebreakers, in which you were asked to predict the results in Fairfax, Arlington and...

By Marc Fisher | June 13, 2006; 11:35 PM ET | Comments (0)

Virginia Senate Race: Your Predictions

Predict now or forever hold your peace: With less than four hours to go until the polls close in Virginia, now's the time to display your punditry prowess. File your predicted results in the Democratic Senatorial primary between Jim Webb and Harris Miller and later tonight, we'll crown a winner. Please check in again late tonight or early Wednesday and I will announce the winner, who I hope will contact me with an address so I can send along a suitable prize. Come ahead with your predicted winner and the percentage breakdown in the final results, and please add...

By Marc Fisher | June 13, 2006; 3:12 PM ET | Comments (0)

Phil Merrill and the Vanishing Iconoclastic Publishers

At NATO headquarters in Belgium, at a Washington power dinner, or among his employees at Washingtonian magazine, Philip Merrill was the kind of boss whose arrival was occasion for a frisson of fear, the occasional rolling of eyes, and a rush of anticipation. No one ever accused Merrill--who is now presumed dead after his sailboat was found empty, his wallet still aboard, in the Chesapeake Bay over the weekend--of being a beancounter or a corporate conformist. The owner and publisher of Washingtonian magazine, the Annapolis Capital and a number of other Maryland newspapers was among the last of a vanishing...

By Marc Fisher | June 13, 2006; 7:20 AM ET | Comments (0)

America's Most Prominent Soccer Hater, Reporting for Duty

With the World Cup hoopla at full force, I figured it was time for me to do my part for the cause. So when my friend Markus Guenther, Washington correspondent for a chain of German newspapers, proposed to publish a series of interviews with me on why Americans hate soccer, I was happy to help. I didn't know the stories would dub me "America's Most Prominent Soccer Hater," right up at the top in bold black headline type, but, well, there we are and here it is. Here's the interview, as it has appeared in the Stuttgarter Nachrichten, the Westdeutscher...

By Marc Fisher | June 12, 2006; 7:18 AM ET | Comments (0)

Virginia Senate: Low Blows and the Hook(nose)

Here we are, less than 100 hours from Election Day in Virginia, and the big kerfluffle in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate is about whether one campaign drew a naughty picture of the other candidate. Oy vey! The expression is particularly apropos given that the Harris Miller campaign has spent the better part of a week trying to make a stink over a flyer from Jim Webb's campaign depicting their opponent as "Miller the Job Killer." The flyer is draw in comic book form, with caricatures of Miller, a Washington lobbyist who has pushed to protect companies that...

By Marc Fisher | June 9, 2006; 8:21 AM ET | Comments (38)

Jail Break--In Real Time

Before news organizations could get word about Saturday's escape from the D.C. Jail to their viewers, listeners and readers, the neighborhood listserv was in gear, collecting and sharing information. First word on the New HIll East community bulletin board (newhilleast@yahoogroups.com) came from Hill activist Jim Myers, who in his other life, is a print journalist--he knew, therefore, to get the info out fast: Date: Sat Jun 3, 2006 8:39 am (PDT) Subject: An Escaped Prisoner Today's Saturday morning attempt to show out-of-town guests the splendor of our Anacostia Waterfront and Farmers' Market was slightly thwarted by the report of an...

By Marc Fisher | June 8, 2006; 7:18 AM ET | Comments (6)

The Shame of St. Elizabeths

The headlines today show D.C. Mayor Tony Williams finally taking action on the horrific treatment of the mentally retarded in this city, as the mayor, facing the prospect of losing control to a court-appointed receiver, sacks the head of the District's mental retardation agency. But the shameful way in which Washington takes care of its most vulnerable citizens extends beyond the mentally retarded right into the District's primary facility for the mentally ill, St. Elizabeths Hospital, the faded jewel of an institution overlooking the city in Southeast. A new investigation by the U.S. Justice Department blasts the city for its...

By Marc Fisher | June 7, 2006; 7:50 AM ET | Comments (17)

Parent Revolt, MoCo Style: With Power Point!

Once upon a time, when parents at a school had had enough, they would write a letter to the superintendent or pack a PTA meeting to make their case. And of course those time-tested methods of parent revolt still happen and still occasionally work. But in Montgomery County, where parents are more likely than just about anywhere else on the planet to have advanced degrees, media training and at least one lawyer living in the house, parent revolts tend to have a character all their own. So school system officials have grown accustomed to hearing from lawyers about the kind...

By Marc Fisher | June 6, 2006; 7:38 AM ET | Comments (19)

The Court Speaks: D.C.'s Sign Ban Must Die

"Why doesn't the city just fix the problem?" That's U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan speaking. Wait, there's more: "No citizen in this city should have to go through what these citizens went through. No one should be confronted with this nonsense. And that's what it is, nonsense." Good stuff, huh? Yes, it's vindication and more for the American University Park neighbors whose struggle against the District of Columbia's speech police I've been chronicling in the column and here on the big blog. Quickly, what happened on Ellicott Street NW is that some neighbors got wind of what looked like...

By Marc Fisher | June 5, 2006; 7:23 AM ET | Comments (26)

The $618,000 Fine Dan Snyder Isn't Paying

In the sordid saga of Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder's decision to chop down more than 130 trees on the hillside between his Potomac mansion and the C&O Canal, Snyder, of course, has gotten off scot-free. A recent government report instead blamed a high-level National Park Service official for cutting a private deal with Snyder to approve the clearing of the hillside, even though park horticulturalists should have made the decision about such drastic action on federally protected land. Come now across the continent to Seattle, where a federal appeals court judge has been required to shell out $618,000 as...

By Marc Fisher | June 2, 2006; 12:14 PM ET | Comments (34)

Signs of Life at RFK

Even before the Lerners officially take over ownership of the Washington Nationals, even before the announced July 21 "reopening" of RFK Stadium, there are some initial signs of life at the sad old ballpark: 1. The team is playing much better, not a contender by any means, maybe not even a .500 team, but certainly well enough to escape being lumped together with the Pirates, Royals and Marlins as baseball's worst. Credit goes to a revived pitching staff--the bullpen is not nearly as atrocious as it had been through the first five weeks of the season, and maybe I'm being...

By Marc Fisher | June 2, 2006; 6:59 AM ET | Comments (46)

The ICC--Now, Maryland is for Road Lovers

There are three main arguments for building the $3 billion intercounty connector, the 18-mile highway that will link I-270 in Montgomery County with I-95 in Prince George's County, creating the first east-west route through those suburbs since the Beltway was built nearly half a century ago. All three arguments are phony. And now the road will be built anyway. 1) Traffic is awful and this road will make it better. The first part is surely right. The second is a lie. Every traffic study done so far, both by proponents and opponents of the ICC, sends up the alarm: Congestion...

By Marc Fisher | June 1, 2006; 8:17 AM ET | Comments (55)

 

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