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Archive: February 2009

Hang That Shirt On The Wind Energy Drying Device, Will You, Honey?

RICHMOND--Never doubt that your elected representatives are trying to improve your life and our planet. Here in Virginia's capital in the waning hours of this year's legislative session, the forces of things good and green sought to make a basic change in the lives of millions: Free the people of northern Virginia to use wind energy drying devices. Ah, finally, a movement for justice in our time. For many northern Virginians who live in communities where homeowners associations are in charge, it has been against the rules to use wind energy drying devices, which violate the associations' sense of...

By Marc Fisher | February 27, 2009; 7:27 AM ET | Comments (7)

Cobbling Out A Future In Tough Times

Just down from Arin Simon's place, two storefronts are empty now. An auto parts store vanished a few weeks ago, after nearly half a century on Fenton Street in Silver Spring. The hurt is visible on nearly every block. Simon sees it all around him, but the bell on his door keeps ringing. "Can you do anything with these?" people ask, and they hand him old and well-loved boots, loafers with soles nearly gone, even cheap plastic Chinese shoes they bought at the discount place. Simon, who has run Arin's Shoe Repair for more than 30 years, knows what all...

By Marc Fisher | February 26, 2009; 11:30 AM ET | Comments (0)

U.S. Taste Police Nix D.C. Glass Library

The arbiters of taste at the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts just can't stop themselves. Much as they protest that their primary goal is to provide "expert advice" to help "preserve the dignity of the nation's capital," the federal commission serves mainly to prevent the city from evolving over time as any living place must. Fresh from their latest rejection of Apple's design for a store it wants to open in Georgetown, the commission has turned its zealous defense of the look of the past to the D.C. Public Library. Last week, the commission rejected the library's plan to...

By Marc Fisher | February 25, 2009; 8:15 AM ET | Comments (9)

D.C. Vote: As Constitutional As You Want It To Be

The D.C. vote train has left the station. Sixty-two senators this morning pronounced themselves ready to push ahead with a vote to give District residents a voice in the House of Representatives for the first time since the federal city was carved out of Maryland and Virginia in the formative years of the republic. By week's end, both houses of Congress are expected to create a voting representative in the House for Washington's half-million residents. Next battle: Is this move constitutional? Answer: It's as constitutional as you want it to be. The beauty of this country's Constitution is its...

By Marc Fisher | February 24, 2009; 1:47 PM ET | Comments (29)

Did Free Trip Blind Fenty To Dubai's Bias?

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty says he went to Dubai for a week because, well, "I always wanted to go." And hey, the government of the United Arab Emirates was paying for the trip. The mayor came home with a lovely gift, a crystal memento of his visit with the chairman of the Department of Municipal Affairs for Abu Dhabi. Fenty and family even got to watch some of the Dubai Tennis Championships, one of the world's top tennis events. So what's the problem with the mayor of the capital of the free world taking a week of R&R in...

By Marc Fisher | February 24, 2009; 8:20 AM ET | Comments (28)

I-66 Follies: How Many Lanes Are Enough?

The strange story of Interstate 66--the highway that became a symbol for both sides in the eternal war between proponents of urban density and suburban development--just got a whole lot stranger. Just as the Obama administration's stimulus plan is pumping unfathomable riches into transportation projects all around the country, the planners who decide what roads get built in the Washington area have decided to say No, thanks, to any quick start on widening I-66 inside the Beltway. For decades, one of the most maddening bottlenecks in one of the nation's most congested road systems has been the bizarre narrowing...

By Marc Fisher | February 23, 2009; 8:34 AM ET | Comments (56)

Va. Governor: McDonnell's Reach For The Center

Democrats don't yet claim Virginia as their own, but they have won two straight governor's races, both U.S. Senate seats, two out of three House seats in the Washington suburbs and a majority in the state Senate. So who does the Republican Party choose to pry the door to the Washington suburbs back open? How about a hard-core social conservative who was groomed for politics at the Rev. Pat Robertson's Regent University law school, a man who has spent most of his adult life in Hampton Roads and Richmond, a clean-cut fellow with a military bearing and an unabashed conviction...

By Marc Fisher | February 22, 2009; 9:19 AM ET | Comments (6)

D.C. Libraries: New Buildings, Fewer Hours

What if they built new libraries and couldn't afford to let folks use them? The D.C. library system's latest predicament isn't quite that dire, but the economic crisis is pushing the long-troubled system into a painful irony: Even as libraries director Ginnie Cooper celebrates the fact that six new libraries will open in the city in 2010--more new projects than anytime in almost half a century--budget constraints are forcing the existing branches to cut their hours, and more service reductions could be coming. How can it be that the same system that is charging ahead with a $225 million...

By Marc Fisher | February 20, 2009; 8:40 AM ET | Comments (0)

Soccer Stadium: Great For Fans, Lousy For Taxpayers

In the end, Mayor Adrian Fenty decided it wasn't worth a fight to keep D.C. United in Washington. Fenty, no fan of the deal to build a baseball stadium in the city, was even less enamored of using the District's financing power to put up a soccer stadium, which has far less ability to spark economic development. So United has moved on to Plan C (Virginia was the team's second choice, according to executives involved in the search for a site, but governments there have been unwilling to commit public financing to sports projects). The result, an agreement with Prince...

By Marc Fisher | February 19, 2009; 8:00 AM ET | Comments (6)

D.C. Teachers Fire Pebble At Rhee Media Machine

"I do want the very best for my students," insists an earnest-sounding young man in a new radio ad paid for by the Washington Teachers Union. The ad, which manages to be both awkwardly defensive and bracingly aggressive, is the first salvo in a media campaign the union is launching against D.C. schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and her drive to impose a merit pay system on the city's teachers. The radio ad, along with a web site that is strangely lacking details on the union's counteroffer to the system's proposal, are part of a drive by the local and...

By Marc Fisher | February 18, 2009; 3:04 PM ET | Comments (6)

O'Malley, Death Penalty & Maryland's Cultural Divide

Looking for a state divided against itself? In this part of the country, Virginia's the usual go-to place for such culture wars; the commonwealth's politicians have been going at each other over God, guns and gays for decades, and things have gotten so bad that folks all over the state grumble about secession. In comparison, Maryland usually gets completely overlooked in the upstate/downstate rivalries and jealousies that pepper the news menu. But just because Maryland is essentially a one-party state doesn't mean there isn't a significant and growing cultural divide. Today, Gov. Martin O'Malley goes before lawmakers to argue...

By Marc Fisher | February 18, 2009; 7:42 AM ET | Comments (1)

Three Deals In Three Years: Nats Seek Better Food

Adam Dunn's bat isn't the only upgrade the Washington Nationals are making this season. The team has parted ways with its food concessionaire at Nationals Park and has cut a deal with its third food operator in three years. Chicago-based Levy Restaurants, which already holds the contract for high-end dining at Abe Pollin's downtown sports arena as well as six other major league baseball stadiums, is taking over from Centerplate, the company that ran the show during the inaugural season at Nats Park. As these job listings for everything from general manager to sous chef illustrate, the new concessionaire...

By Marc Fisher | February 17, 2009; 6:15 PM ET | Comments (2)

Binary Man: Should Marion Barry Go To Jail?

Should Marion Barry go to jail for failing--yet again--to file his tax returns? His last stint in the clink didn't seem to have much of an impact on the former mayor. As recently as 2005, he tested positive for marijuana and cocaine use. And in 2002, U.S. Park Police said they found crack cocaine and pot in Barry's Jaguar. Should Barry be jailed for doing yet again exactly what got him placed on probation in 2006? That time, after he failed to file federal and D.C. income tax returns from 1999 to 2004, a federal judge let him off....

By Marc Fisher | February 17, 2009; 8:00 AM ET | Comments (37)

Did Overeager Twittering Blow GOP Chances?

As a story of our times, the saga of the overzealous Twitter by the chief of Virginia's Republican Party was too good to pass up. The fact that it may not have been true hardly seemed to matter. Jeff Frederick is an impulsive and energetic young legislator from Prince William County who rose to become chairman of the state's GOP with the promise that he would shake things up and drag the party into the modern era, both strategically and technologically. He's all over the web, with emails, videos of himself and his family, fundraising appeals, and, most recently,...

By Marc Fisher | February 16, 2009; 8:46 AM ET | Comments (1)

Can McAuliffe's Brash Dash For Cash Win In Va.?

If the presidential race had gone his way, Terry McAuliffe says, he might be secretary of commerce now. "Jeez, I would have loved to be vice president," he muses. McAuliffe thinks big and acts even bigger. Okay, so he picked the wrong horse for president, sticking with Hillary Rodham Clinton and shouting it out from coast to coast on cable TV night after night, even after the race was clearly over. Stuff happens. McAuliffe marches on. He's running for governor of Virginia now. (What? He has zero experience in state politics? This matters to you? "Honestly, nobody asks me about...

By Marc Fisher | February 15, 2009; 9:11 AM ET | Comments (6)

"That Guy Didn't Even Signal!" (Actually, He Didn't Have To)

It's the classic righteous motorist's cry of frustration when some jerk cuts you off on the highway. "That maniac didn't even signal!" Don't tell anyone, but in Maryland, that maniac actually didn't have to signal before changing lanes. Maryland law does require drivers to signal their intent to turn at an intersection or from a shoulder. But there's nothing in current law that speaks specifically to signaling when changing lanes. Two Montgomery County delegates in Annapolis now want to fill that gap in the law, and their House Bill 67 is floating around, awaiting action that may never come....

By Marc Fisher | February 13, 2009; 8:19 AM ET | Comments (4)

D.C. School Counselor In NFL Family Feud

In Washington, Lucille Hester is a middle school guidance counselor and the athletic director at Hardy Middle School. She's a longtime activist in local youth sports programs and president of the Pigskin Club, a charitable organization celebrating black achievements in sports. But in Texas over the past couple of weeks, Lucille Hester has become a mysterious and controversial figure at the center of a sad and ugly family feud involving the beloved football star Bob Hayes, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Jan. 31. Hester says she is Hayes' sister; some of the football...

By Marc Fisher | February 12, 2009; 1:15 PM ET | Comments (2)

Is D.C. Still A Jacket & Tie Town?

If New Yorkers want to go the way of Los Angeles, may God have mercy upon their souls. But here in Washington, the gents who run the city's jacket-and-tie restaurants say they will not go the way of Manhattan's famous 21 Club, which announced the other day that although ties are still "preferred," they are no longer a prerequisite to eating one of 21's $30 burgers. "We are not going to sell our soul to the devil," says Buzz Beler, owner of the Prime Rib, the K Street meat-and-potatoes spot that has maintained its jacket-and-tie rule for 33 years. "We...

By Marc Fisher | February 12, 2009; 8:36 AM ET | Comments (5)

No More 'Can I Use The Phone?'

That strange piece of equipment college freshmen encounter when they first set foot in their dorm rooms is called a land line. It is a telephone you cannot carry around with you, a phone you must share with others. But breathe easy: Such explanations may not be needed much longer, as colleges are moving to spare students the trauma of conversing while tethered to a wire. The College of William and Mary announced last week that it is cutting the cord, joining dozens of other colleges across the country in saving money by dumping the land lines in their...

By Marc Fisher | February 11, 2009; 8:42 AM ET | Comments (15)

What Conspiracy? Talk Radio's Roar, From Right & Left

Bill Press is a smart and thoughtful liberal who has had a long and successful career in the TV and radio punditry biz. Yet there he was in Sunday's Post bemoaning the loss of "Obama 1260," the left-leaning Washington talk radio station that morphed into an all-financial advice outlet this week. The way Press tells it, the loss of that format on WWRC, which had so few listeners it sometimes didn't register at all in the Arbitron ratings, amounts to an unfair allocation of the public airwaves, even a conspiracy to silence voices from the left. Press is so...

By Marc Fisher | February 10, 2009; 8:21 AM ET | Comments (46)

Binary Man: Chocolate Or Flowers?

Binary Man has come to our planet to settle disputes, solve problems and make life better. Got an issue for him? Post it below or e-mail him. Valentine's Day has always given Binary Man pause: Romance is not something you write onto a calendar. It is not a scheduled event. So Binary Man envies those who have made pacts with their loved ones to deny the Feb. 14 imperative and instead deliver tokens of love whenever the muse visits, with nary a glace at the calendar. For the rest of us, there is this coming Saturday, an occasion on which...

By Marc Fisher | February 9, 2009; 8:53 AM ET | Comments (3)

Va. Governor: Can Moran Prevail Against McAuliffe's Cash?

In the Moran clan, the gospel teaches that politics is about relationships. For 12 years in the state capital, on endless trips across Virginia as leader of the Democratic caucus, Brian Moran built and nursed bonds with sheriffs and mayors and business owners, all leading to this moment, to his drive to succeed Mark Warner and Tim Kaine as the state's third consecutive Democratic governor. Even if Republicans chuckled at the notion of a liberal from Northern Virginia winning statewide, Moran was ready. He positioned himself as the biggest environmentalist in the race, opposing a coal-fired power plant in southern...

By Marc Fisher | February 8, 2009; 10:04 AM ET | Comments (0)

Down Nostalgia Lane: When Illegal Immigration Was Big

Remember way back in 2008, when the big issue was illegal immigration? Seems so long ago. When times get tough, politics can go either way, capitalizing on the public's anxiety by joining the search for scapegoats, or concentrating instead on finding more palatable ways to make ends meet. So far, at least in Virginia, where the illegal immigration issue took center stage over the past couple of years, the trend is to drop that issue as if it had never existed. In Richmond, for example, the number of immigration-related bills has plummeted this winter, from 130 in the 2008...

By Marc Fisher | February 6, 2009; 9:35 AM ET | Comments (22)

Virginia House: Put Jesus In Police Prayers

After emotional pleas from both sides in a debate that cited Jefferson, Jesus and Jacob, Virginia's House of Delegates yesterday voted 66-30 to let state police chaplains pray in the name of Jesus. For half an hour, delegates traded ideas about what freedom of religion really means and whether, in a public, state-supported setting, it's more important to let each person express his faith in full, or to guarantee to people of all faiths that their state will not lend its authority to any one denomination. The proposal, House Bill 2314 by Del. Charles Carrico (R-Grayson), himself a retired...

By Marc Fisher | February 5, 2009; 1:32 PM ET | Comments (5)

166 Chances To Do The Right Thing

I've been over the 19 minutes of security cam video seven times now, and by my count, 166 people walked past a man who lay motionless on the sidewalk outside a busy District supermarket one afternoon last week. Eleven of those passersby took at least one step out of their path for a closer look at the man, who was flat on his back, his head at the curb on a busy stretch of 14th Street NW in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. One pedestrian lingered for a few seconds. Another chatted briefly with two others as they stood over the...

By Marc Fisher | February 5, 2009; 8:26 AM ET | Comments (18)

Good Riddance: Juicy Campus Dries Up

JuicyCampus.com, the Internet gossip board that turned into a vehicle for vicious personal attacks on college campuses across the country, is dead. The site, which I wrote about last year, drew a million or so unique visitors a month to its mix of routine college gossip and stunningly personal libels of students by full name. Cause of death: The fairly common web disease of lacking a consistent source of revenue. In his farewell note, JuicyCampus founder Matt Ivester credits the company with generating "meaningful discussion about online privacy and internet censorship," and that's true to some extent, but any...

By Marc Fisher | February 4, 2009; 6:28 PM ET | Comments (3)

Va. Tech Ignored More Cho Warning Signs

It's been clear almost from the start that Virginia Tech's counselors, administrators and professors had seen far too many warning signals about Seung-Hui Cho's unstable mental condition in the months before he shot dead 32 students and professors in April, 2007. But a new investigation by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, based on an archive of records to be made public this month under the state's legal settlement with families of the victims, reveals that the number of chances the university had to see that something was terribly wrong was larger--and the failure to act more appalling--than we had previously known....

By Marc Fisher | February 4, 2009; 9:42 AM ET | Comments (18)

Binary Man: Dump All Special Elections?

Binary Man has come to our planet to settle disputes, solve problems and make life better. Each week, he will confront an issue, weigh the arguments and present a verdict. Got an issue for him? Post it below or e-mail him. In Fairfax County Tuesday, a whopping 100,000 or so voters out of a population of one million people took time out to vote in a special election to determine the top official in the largest jurisdiction in Virginia or the Washington area. That's a shoddy showing by any measure. This off-cycle election was held because Gerry Connolly, chairman of...

By Marc Fisher | February 3, 2009; 9:03 PM ET | Comments (10)

Annals of Bad Ideas: Letter Grades For Restaurants

Come with us now as we venture into that dark and sad place where politicians try to win votes by latching on to ideas that sound great, even if turning those ideas into law would actually diminish a community's quality of life. Today's example: The proposal, being presented to the D.C. Council today by council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), to change the city's health inspection system so restaurants would receive letter grades on their compliance with food safety and health requirements. Businesses would have to post their A, B, C or worse in their front windows, a practice...

By Marc Fisher | February 3, 2009; 7:57 AM ET | Comments (16)

DC Schools: Skip Learning From Lincoln, Just Cram For Tests

Ford's Theatre will celebrate Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday next week with a day of performances and educational programs featuring recitations of the 16th president's greatest speeches by students from District and Maryland schools. Seven charter and private schools will participate in the day's activities; not a single D.C. public middle or high school accepted an invitation to join in. Two D.C. public elementary schools will take part, but the middle and high schools turned down the invitation from the theater because "the public school principals told their teachers not to go on any field trips from February to April...

By Marc Fisher | February 2, 2009; 8:50 AM ET | Comments (2)

Deeds: A Rural Embrace of Northern Virginia

Creigh Deeds expects to have less money than any other candidate for governor of Virginia. In the Washington area, he's probably the least well-known of the bunch. In a state that is rapidly becoming more suburban, more Democratic and more affluent, he's the only candidate from a rural, Republican, lower-income area. These days, as the state senator scrambles to attract voters' attention ahead of June's Democratic primary, he spends many a night in an upstairs bedroom at a buddy's house in Oakton. There's even a brass plaque on the door that says, "Deeds' Bedroom." But home is in rural Bath...

By Marc Fisher | February 1, 2009; 10:09 AM ET | Comments (0)

 

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