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My City in a Different Light

While I'm at it, please don't say Lee Boyd Malvo and John Allen Muhammad were two of ours. "Washington snipers," the national media likes to call them. They were, in fact, passers-through who did practically all of their "Washington" slayings beyond the city limits.

No, Wichita stands out. It's hard to come up with a D.C. resident who matches the notoriety, treachery and just plain evil of that fine, upstanding, churchgoing Park City, Kan., compliance officer and alleged serial killer, Dennis L. Rader.

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Is this column a nanny-nanny boo-boo directed at the rest of the world? Of course not. The District is confronted with problems all its own on the education, social and public safety fronts. But why, I ask from Paris, do we appear to stand out as ground zero for all that seems to ail Urban America?

In part, I think, it's because those of us in the media cover the hell out of the District. There's hardly a major news outlet, wire service, radio or TV station that doesn't keep a close eye on the city. What's more, enterprising journalists are aided in their work by a host of entities whose raison d'être is to monitor city behavior, including official shortcomings. They include, for starters, the D.C. inspector general, the city's chief financial officer, the U.S. attorney, congressional committees, public interest groups and of course, D.C. government whistle-blowers, without whom journalism would become parched and dry.

Then there's the high profile of the city itself.

People around the world notice what our local leaders do -- or fail to do. The Vista hotel, case in point.

They also know the names and faces of city officials.

Isn't it ironic that the leader of Virginia's largest -- and our region's wealthiest -- county, the jurisdiction that gave George W. Bush more Republican votes than D.C. did in the past two presidential elections combined, is less well known in suburban Maryland and downstate sections of Virginia than D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams?

Quick, name that Virginian. It's Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

So why is Williams better known? The nation's capital makes the difference. So it is with the city's problems.

Getting out of town helps bring it home. Even our halting progress on race places us well ahead of some.

Faced with statistics showing 70 percent of black Caribbean boys failing to pass five or more of their critical school tests in West London, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality proposed that black teenagers be taught in segregated classes as a way of raising their grades. A head teacher of a West London high school seconded the suggestion, calling black-only classes a common-sense approach. This in the 21st century, according to Tuesday's Times of London. Separate but equal? I don't think so.

Returning from a lovely dinner the other night with longtime friends and college classmates Dennis and Denia Hightower, we strolled through a trendy Left Bank neighborhood. There was movement in a huge mound of rags near the curb. Someone was under it, sleeping on the heating grate.

Paris, the City of Light, reminded me of my beloved Washington, D.C.

kingc@washpost.com


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