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Archive: May 2009

After 1,250 Columns, The End

The first of 1,250 columns, nine years ago, spoke of a time that seems impossible now, of heady young tech moguls flush with money and drunk with possibility, instructing the chef at The Palm in Tysons Corner to spell out "Netscape" for them -- in crabmeat. Today's is my last column, and as I scan the archives, I see stories of public arrogance and private foibles, but mostly, I see stories of people poking their way through life -- a quest I've tried to capture here a few times each week. Those first columns covered topics that seem all too...

By Marc Fisher | May 30, 2009; 11:55 AM ET | Comments (6)

The Iron Fist Of Cleveland Park's Politburo

A classic Only-In-Washington story is shaping up in Cleveland Park, where Not In My Backyard zealots have managed for years to stymie plans to upgrade a pathetic 1950s supermarket for fear that people might actually drive to it and use it. A relative handful of residents have been able to turn their opposition to Giant's expansion plans for its shop on Wisconsin Avenue NW into a virtual roadblock--and that has so frustrated supporters of the plan that some of those supporters decided if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Recently, they signed up as members of the Cleveland Park...

By Marc Fisher | May 27, 2009; 8:24 AM ET | Comments (28)

In Virginia, Who Votes Will Decide Who Wins

At the last three campaign events I've gone to, I've heard exactly the same opposing views from Virginians contemplating the June 9 Democratic gubernatorial primary: "It's only governor, so I don't think I need to vote" runs slam into "I'm tired of politics after last year, but this is for governor, so I guess I better get out there and vote." In the Washington suburbs, attitudes toward local and state government are different from those in most places around the country. Because of proximity to the District and the large number of people who have some connection to the...

By Marc Fisher | May 26, 2009; 7:42 AM ET | Comments (3)

Michael Steele's Academic Misadventure

He hasn't exactly held high office, and he's neither a policy leader nor a brilliant campaigner, but former Maryland lieutenant governor and Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is a hugely charming storyteller, and in a video to appear this weekend on C-SPAN, Steele keeps an audience of high school students spellbound with the scary yet inspirational tale of the time he was booted out of Johns Hopkins University. The heroine of Steele's story--as is often the case--is his mother, Maebell Turner, who managed to scare him onto the right course without ever deigning to look at her son...

By Marc Fisher | May 22, 2009; 8:10 AM ET | Comments (10)

Political Tiff Blocks D.C. School Reforms

The biggest difference between many D.C. public schools and their suburban counterparts is the enormous and too-often-ineffectual infrastructure the city system has built to deal with a few kids in each classroom who throw tantrums, assault teachers or otherwise disrupt the proceedings. Over the years, the D.C. schools have tried everything: suspensions, alternative schools, uniformed police, security guards, walkie-talkie-wielding deans of discipline, counselors and a hugely expensive expansion of the number of kids declared to be in need of special education. Now, just as Mayor Adrian Fenty and Chancellor Michelle Rhee have hit on a strategy that gets at the...

By Marc Fisher | May 21, 2009; 8:20 AM ET | Comments (1)

Tip To Candidates: Change Your Names

In politics, image trumps substance much of the time. Candidates will do virtually anything to adopt the image they believe voters want to see. So why don't more candidates change their names? When the candidates for governor in Virginia take the stage today for The Washington Post debate in Annandale, it'll be a Terry, a Brian and a Creigh vying to take on a Bob in the fall election. A nifty new NameMapper tool demonstrates that we've got just what you'd expect: A choice of guys whose names peaked in the 1950s and 60s and have sunk down toward...

By Marc Fisher | May 19, 2009; 8:26 AM ET | Comments (3)

MoCo Strikes Back At D.C. Charity's Big Spending

Montgomery County has registered its outrage over the huge salary paid to the chief of the Food & Friends charity, which serves meals to AIDS and cancer patients throughout the Washington region. The county has stripped Food & Friends of a $55,000 earmark that helped the group serve meals to Montgomery residents. The move is a protest against the $357,000 in salary and benefits that the charity gives to its executive director, Craig Shniderman, in the most recent year for which public records are available. Shniderman's pay more than doubled in less than a decade, putting him at a...

By Marc Fisher | May 18, 2009; 8:05 AM ET | Comments (11)

Look Who's Partners On Gay Marriage

Lying on his cot in the Longworth House Office Building in the small of the night, Jason Chaffetz had a scary dream: The conservative Republican from Utah had beaten the odds, defeated an incumbent and made it to Washington, only to end up by some bizarre twist of events arm-in-arm with Marion Barry, the crack-smoking laughingstock former mayor of the District of Columbia. "Oh man, if I had run a campaign saying I'd be working closely with Marion Barry, I don't know that I would have been elected," Chaffetz says. The nightmare turns out to be reality: Chaffetz, once the...

By Marc Fisher | May 17, 2009; 9:11 AM ET | Comments (4)

McDonnell & Kaine Agree (On Cute Kids)

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Bob McDonnell's new TV commercial touting his nice family guy credentials for being elected governor of Virginia is a tribute to the folks who made Gov. Tim Kaine's very similar spot just four years ago. But if imitation in the advertising craft is seen as something closer to plagiarism, then McDonnell's "Family" spot is a sign of a campaign that's trying way too hard to divorce itself from the Republican party's damaged image as a collection of socially conservative sourpusses. Here's the McDonnell ad, which features the GOP candidate sitting...

By Marc Fisher | May 15, 2009; 9:37 AM ET | Comments (3)

Mucking Around For Votes: Clinton At The Pig Sty

The regular weekday visitors at Frying Pan Park come for the tractor ride and a look at the goats and the pigs. Yesterday, immediately next to the pigsty, there was a bonus attraction: the former president of the United States and his buddy, who is running for governor of Virginia. Most of the park's visitors chose the pigs. (A helpful sign assured all that you can't catch swine flu from visiting Porky.) The farm park just east of Dulles International Airport in Herndon is a magnet for young mothers looking for a diversion for their preschoolers. The campaign visit by...

By Marc Fisher | May 14, 2009; 8:49 AM ET | Comments (0)

A Capital Success: How Did Leonsis Do It?

Last year around this time, I foolishly wrote that a Game 7 is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a climax that summons everything a fan has to give and brings strangers together in a frenzy of hope, desire and expectation. Well, here it is again. The Washington Capitals, in case you haven't noticed, have gone from just another lousy D.C. sports team with thin, fickle, and emotionally uninvested crowds to the talk of the town. You don't have to look back too many years to find all manner of news stories and blog items speculating that Washington's hockey team would be...

By Marc Fisher | May 13, 2009; 11:28 AM ET | Comments (48)

D.C. Lets Church Tear Down Brutalist Atrocity

In the eternal battle between the people who live in the city and an arrogant elite who think they know better, score one for the people: Mayor Adrian Fenty's representative yesterday sided decisively with members of the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, ruling that they must be allowed to worship in the church building of their own choice, despite efforts by historic preservationists to landmark the much-loathed structure. D.C. planning director Harriet Tregoning has ruled that historic preservation zealots trying to force the church to keep its concrete bunker of a building on 16th Street NW near the White...

By Marc Fisher | May 13, 2009; 7:30 AM ET | Comments (38)

Your State's Rock Song: Orioles, Dave Matthews, U2?

A reader writes that he was visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland last week on the day news broke that Oklahoma has adopted an official state rock song. At the rock museum, there's an exhibit noting that Ohio was the first state to declare an official state rock song, "Hang On Sloopy," by The McCoys. Apparently, the song was adopted not because Mr. Sloopy lives "in a very bad part of town," but because the song's authors are from Ohio. State legislators generally having a passionate desire to pass some law, any law, other states...

By Marc Fisher | May 12, 2009; 8:37 AM ET | Comments (13)

Barry, Obama & The Winding Road To Gay Marriage

When the history of this country's journey toward acceptance of same-sex marriage is written, much will be made of the startling swiftness with which one state after another embraced gay marriage in a matter of a few months in 2008 and 2009. A huge shift in popular attitudes toward homosexuality has happened in what history will eventually see as a blink of an eye. But those same historians will find a dissonant note in this social revolution: What will they make of prominent leaders who rose to power as early advocates for gay rights, but then tempered their views...

By Marc Fisher | May 11, 2009; 8:25 AM ET | Comments (34)

Moran And Dulles Taxi Politics

J erry Schaeffer wasn't born yesterday. Play around in a tough business like the D.C. taxi industry for half a century and you get to see just how power really works. Sometimes, when you're trying to land a contract, merit isn't enough. There's a reason God invented lawyers, Schaeffer knows. But when Schaeffer lost the contract to provide taxi service at Dulles International Airport in 2007, he says he was the victim of a power play that trumped any measure of merit. Schaeffer says he lost that deal as a result of a political alliance that Virginia voters should consider...

By Marc Fisher | May 10, 2009; 9:30 AM ET | Comments (3)

Binary Man: Add Food To Metro's Mix?

Binary Man is torn: He loves Metro's tough-guy attitude in sticking with its total ban on food and drink in Washington's train system through all these years. On the other hand, having grown up riding New York City's subways, he also relishes the pleasure of eating lunch while reading the paper and riding to his next destination. In the end, Binary Man's antipathy toward rats wins out. Metro is hardly rodent-free, but it's a far sight better on that count than some of the country's more permissive transit systems. Keeping food out of Metro has worked just fine. So...

By Marc Fisher | May 8, 2009; 8:32 AM ET | Comments (14)

Honest Bet: Put Slots At Mall, Not Horse Track

Through all the years, as Republicans and Democrats alike schemed to legalize slot machines in Maryland, politicians desperately tried to cover their big money grab with high-toned purpose. Slots, they said, would benefit our kids; gambling would save the state's elegant horses and the picturesque farms on which they were raised. Always, slots were presented as a strictly limited vice, anything but a steppingstone toward full-blown casinos. Now we're seeing how empty all those promises really were. We're learning -- as if we needed proof -- that the politicians are happy to put thousands of slot machines at a shopping...

By Marc Fisher | May 7, 2009; 8:41 AM ET | Comments (6)

Psst...The President Ate Here Last Night

The word first got out via a text message sent with great urgency on Friday night. The president of the United States had stopped in at a neighborhood chili joint in Bethesda. Barack Obama had taken his children to an event at the Imagination Stage children's theater and then "came across the street to visit Hard Times Cafe, where he had chili and wings," according to an email that repeated the text message. That email begat another email and onward through the ether. Obamamania being what it is in certain circles, pretty soon a couple of Washington Post reporters...

By Marc Fisher | May 6, 2009; 7:55 AM ET | Comments (4)

Study: Md., Va. Prep Kids For Success. D.C. Doesn't.

Maryland is among the best places in the country in preparing children for success in school and beyond, according to a new study by Save the Children, the Washington-based non-profit. Maryland ranks eighth among all states and the District in measures such as parental encouragement, preschool participation and quality of home environment. Virginia landed 13th on the list and the District was way down at the bottom, at 42nd in the nation. Overall, the report paints a dismal picture of parenting and schooling in America. It finds that 68 percent of American fourth-graders are not reading at grade level--64...

By Marc Fisher | May 5, 2009; 7:48 AM ET | Comments (9)

Out-of-State Students: Boo! Out-of-State Dollars: Yay!

In their increasingly desperate search for messages that might win them some votes in ever-more Democratic northern Virginia, Republicans think they've hit paydirt with an appeal to parents stressed out about getting their kids into the state's universities. Over the past decade, out-of-state students have been given an ever-increasing portion of the seats at the University of Virginia, George Mason University and the commonwealth's other major colleges. Now here's a red-meat issue politicians can grab hold of: Force the schools to reserve more of their places for genuine Virginians and just watch the votes of grateful citizens roll in....

By Marc Fisher | May 4, 2009; 8:28 AM ET | Comments (18)

Flu Not As Contagious As Fear

Swine flu is in the air, but the bug to watch out for is the germ of fear. The school year was coming to a close, and federal health officials, having convinced the president that swine flu was likely to infect huge numbers of people in just a few months, were racing to make a good vaccine for children. So in May of 1976, doctors at Children's National Medical Center turned to kids they knew best. The president of the hospital's board had his kids at Beauvoir, the private elementary school on the grounds of the National Cathedral. The principal,...

By Marc Fisher | May 3, 2009; 12:52 PM ET | Comments (0)

Kemp: A Rare Advocate For The District

Jack Kemp's mind was naturally focused on football as he led the Buffalo Bills to the American Football League championship in 1964, but he was paying enough attention to politics to realize that his fellow Republicans were making a mistake that would haunt them for decades to come: By opposing the Civil Rights Act that year, Republicans sent a message that rang loud and clear among black Americans. That, Kemp would argue for decades to follow, was the moment when his party lost the bulk of its black support, and the legacy of that choice remains the party's most...

By Marc Fisher | May 3, 2009; 8:31 AM ET | Comments (7)

How Many Don'ts Does It Take To Ruin A Friday Night?

Restaurants and bars pour big money into their images--the logo on the sign outside, the look inside, the acoustics. Then along comes the government to order nightspots to clutter up their showcase entryways with signs announcing that the establishment doesn't serve anyone under 21, that pregnant women shouldn't drink, that the business doesn't discriminate and that people shouldn't smoke. Now, the District's Alcoholic Beverage Control board wants to add one more sign to the flurry of announcements greeting folks headed out for a good time: Board member Mital Gandhi has proposed that all eateries and bars licensed in the...

By Marc Fisher | May 1, 2009; 7:22 AM ET | Comments (13)

 

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