The mayor’s memophobia

During his successful mayoral campaign, Adrian Fenty said that he would make public a 2004 legal opinion by former D.C.
Attorney General Robert Spagnoletti on whether the District would recognize a same-sex marriage performed in another state. Former mayor Anthony Williams kept it a secret, and so far Fenty has kept it under his hat as well. But Ward 1 D.C. Council member Jim Graham is not relenting in his push to have the memo released.

“I have pressed Mayor Williams and now I’m pressing Mayor Fenty to issue that opinion,” Graham says. “It’s just a matter of fundamental fairness to let people know what the status is of such a marriage in the District of Columbia.”

The memo has remained secret presumably because it says something Congress does not want to hear — that the District would recognize a gay marriage from Massachusetts. Attorneys General from other jurisdictions, such as Rhode Island, have not generated backlash by advising their states to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. But, as in all things, D.C. is different.

In 2005, Spagnoletti advised a gay couple that they could file their taxes jointly, prompting Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to tell The Washington Post, “I guess we will deal with something now in D.C.”

Spagnoletti immediately retreated, lest Brownback utilize any of Congress’s unlimited options to “deal with” the District. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever over the District, so the city has long been a testing ground for members’ pet policies and pet peeves. This year (and last year, too) Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.) introduced a bill to prevent the District from legalizing same-sex marriage.

But Graham thinks that the 110th Congress doesn’t present the same obstacles that past Congresses have, because Democratic policies are perceived to be friendlier to gays.

“I don’t think Congress is the same issue this year as it was last year,” Graham says. Releasing the opinion “would be no more provocative than it would be in New York or Rhode Island.”

The mayor’s office did not respond to a query from Hillscape.


Lumps of coal for Congress

On June 14 a coalition of environmental advocacy groups staged an anti-coal protest near the Senate side of the Capitol building, drawing about a dozen people. The groups’ plan had been to dump a ton — literally, a ton — of coal on the ground, but the U.S. Capitol Police prevented that from happening. 

“They told us we could only have two lumps of coal per person,” said Ted Glick, a coordinator for the U.S. Climate Emergency Council.

The protest’s specific target was congressional plans for numerous coal-to-liquid subsidies. Glick said they may protest on the other side of the Capitol in the future, where the Capitol Power Plant is burning coal and contributing more than its share of pollution to the city despite providing no power to anybody.


Washington wins Noisy Dozen award!

The city of Washington has joined the ranks of municipalities and personalities like Youngstown “Noise Hell” Ohio and California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, the “Boom Car Congressman.” Noise Free America (NFA), an advocacy group based in Madison, Wis., hands out a “Noisy Dozen” award each month to a person, place or entity that NFA deems in need of shushing. In June, NFA named the District “The Capital of Noise.”

Youngstown has “blaring music, incessant barking dogs, junky cars without mufflers, thunderous backyard fireworks shows, rumbling motorcycles, and loud gunshots.” Issa, founder of Directed Electronics and voice of the “Viper” car alarm, won in 2003 for promoting “useless and annoying car alarms,” among other things.

D.C. takes the prize for mega-amplified street preachers, or rather what some call a loophole in the city’s noise law that allows them to blast their message on H Street NE for hours on Saturdays. The group generating most of the hoopla calls itself the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge (ISUPK).

If you haven’t seen them in person, here is one of their teachings pulled from a blog:

“God is a racist and only loves the Nation of Israel.”

But it’s not the content generating complaints; it’s the volume. H Street resident David Klavitter has waged a courteous crusade against the preachers’ use of excessive amplification for the past two years. Discussion with the preachers is difficult (they drown you out) and they have failed to show up at mediation sessions with District officials and community members. So on April 3 Ward 6 D.C. Council member Tommy Wells introduced legislation to make excessive volume illegal.

Wells’s bill presents a free-speech quandary, as labor and civil rights groups oppose anything that might infringe on the First Amendment. There is a hearing in July.

Even if the bill is such an infringement, this is better treatment than the ISUPK might expect if they brayed where elite whites live, in Georgetown. Imagine how fast the business community there would chase them away. (Klavitter staged a how-do-you-like-it protest at N Street and Wisconsin Avenue NW last year and encountered fierce opposition and a tomato-projectile from Georgetowners.) All the H Street community wants is for the ISUPK to turn it down a notch.

NFA Director Ted Rueter sees “The Capital of Noise” as part of an emerging crisis of loudness in America. He says that when Klavitter contacted him about recognizing the District, “It was a pretty easy sell.” 


Our common enemy: water

The summer thunderstorms have begun, and the government is taking action to prevent a repeat of last June’s big watery mess, when a storm debilitated the Metro and partially wrecked the National Archives and IRS buildings.

The National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) united the Department of Homeland Security, the General Services Administration and the District government in a two-day “Floodwater Forum” at the Ronald Reagan building downtown last week. The event had a middle-school feel to it: The walls were covered with sheets of magic-marker-scrawled paper, and an elected spokesman from each of the previous day’s “breakout sessions” offered a report on obstacles discussed by each particular group.

But NCPC Chairman John Cogbill indicated that the various agencies are taking the possibility of a repeat deadly serious:
“Water is our common enemy,” he said, a glint of determination in his eye.