Potomac Confidential

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, November 1, 2007; 12:00 PM

Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion by Metro columnist Marc Fisher, who looks at the latest news with a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.

Fisher was online Thursday, Nov. 1, at Noon ET Fisher was online Thursday, Nov. 1, at Noon ET to look at the D.C. taxi strike, slots in Maryland and Tuesday's elections in Virginia.

Today's Column: A Place Unfit for a Congregation, Much Less a Historic Designation and latest Raw Fisher: Pretend Primary: Illegal Immigration

Check out Marc's blog, Raw Fisher.

In his weekly show, Fisher veers wildly from serious probing to silly prattle, and is open to topics local, national, personal and more.

Archives: Discussion Transcripts

A transcript follows.


Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks. What a busy moment. So much to chew over.

Pants Man loses his job--finally. But we're not done with Roy Pearson yet--he's still appealing his case against Custom Cleaners, even after the dry cleaners is closed forever.

Lots of comments and questions about today's column on the District's effort to preserve as a historic landmark the Brutalist Christian Science church on 16th Street NW near the White House. Should churches have the right to determine the shape and style of their place of worship? The Clinton administration pushed through legislation that prohibits government from taking churches through eminent domain in most cases, so is there a problem with the converse situation: Does government have the right to tell a congregation it must stay in a particular building because that building has historic value?

Virginia elections are coming up Tuesday. Do state legislative elections carry a message for the national vote the following year? Will your attitudes about the president and the war play any role in your decisions at the polls on Tuesday?

In Maryland, the slots debate is heating up--is a statewide referendum on slots a fair and efficient way to settle this years-long battle, or should legislators do what they were elected to do and make their own decision?

Was the D.C. taxi strike a success? Was it outrageous for the cabbies to strike on one of the two nights a year when they are most seriously engaged in preventing drunk driving deaths?

On to your many comments and questions, but first, let's call the Yay and Nay of the Day:

Yay to the D.C. police and the ShotSpotters technology that they use in various high crime areas of the city--that technology has allowed investigators to determine at least tentatively that the police gunfire that killed 14-year-old Deonte Rawlings was not the first shot fired in that incident. The police officers' version of the story is sounding ever more solid in what remains a terrible tragedy, but may not be quite the miscarriage of justice that the bereaved family perceives it to be.

Nay to the business manager at Moten Center, a D.C. public school in Southeast, where a school employee is now charged with stealing $30,000 in donations that readers of my column made to the student chess club. After a column I wrote in 2003, many of you were generous enough to donate funds--$70,000 worth--to make it possible for a group of talented kids to attend a chess tournament. The kids did get to go to the tournament and it was by all accounts a transformative and delightful experience. I and the remarkable chess coach, Vaughn Bennett, are grateful to all of you who gave so freely.

But now federal prosecutors have charged school business manager Sandy Jones with ripping off a large chunk of the money, as the Post's David Fallis and April Witt report today.

I of course want to apologize to any reader who feels wronged by this sorry episode. I kept in close touch with the school's then-principal for at least a year after the initial column ran, and the principal provided me with regular reports on the money you all contributed and how it was spent. Obviously, the school business manager found a way to tap into that money and to rip off children. I cannot imagine how she lives with herself.

Your turn starts right now....


Alexandria, Va.: Yay to extending DST past Halloween. Nay to whoever didn't think of this 30 years ago.

Pulling into my neighborhood at 6 p.m. it was still light out so I didn't have to worry as much about watching out for kids running into the street. And daylight until almost 7 allowed for normal dinner time and condensed trick or treating to about and hour and a half.

Marc Fisher: I'm very pleased that bit by bit, we're extending daylight time. This is going to be a long slog, but Congress is finally waking up to the fact that we haven't been a nation of farmers for a very long time, and that there are dozens of great reasons why we should have daylight time year-round. A few weeks added on this year, a few more down the road--we'll get there.

_______________________ Former Office of Judge Who Had Sued Over Pants Is Targeted ( Post, Nov. 1)

_______________________ Ex-Worker Charged With Stealing Donations to Student Club ( Post, Nov. 1) and Freed by Chess, Cornered by D.C. Priorities ( Post, April 29, 2003)


Crofton, Md.: Can I get a ruling from the chair on the propriety of neighbors who go out trick or treating with a full gaggle of kids, friends, parents and other adults (bringing extra bags to replenish the door-knockers as they fill up), but don't leave anyone at home to pass out candy at their own place? From my high horse, it just seems really lame.

Marc Fisher: That's a real dilemma--as a parent, when the kids are little, you want to be there with them as they wander the neighborhood, mainly to see what fun they're having and to check in with neighbors. It's a good opportunity to connect with folks you don't see too often. But you don't want to leave an empty, dark house behind, and leaving a basket of candy on the doorstep is a lousy option--some kid inevitably takes half the stash. Ideally, one parent goes with and the other stays behind to man the fort. Some years, we would switch those roles midway through the trick or treating.

Anyone have a good, tough moral stance on this burning issue?


Candy: Where is the real Marc and what have you done with him?

There is no way someone that hates Dippin Dots as much as Marc can possibly like candy corn.


Marc Fisher: Here's the distinction and I'm sticking to it:

Dippin Dots, being made from fine virgin plastic pellets, are a petroleum product, whereas candy corn is a natural, organic item that is actually extruded from trees found only in a small area of Baja California. I therefore claim candy corn in the name of all that is natural and good, whereas Dippin Dots are the essence of evil.


Washington, D.C.: Is the Christian Science church mentioned in your column ugly? Probably yes. Am I advocating for its continued existence? Not necessarily. But it's so RARE in this city for unusual architecture of any kind to exist that I don't think that the Historic Preservation Office should be vilified automatically. Why other cities and countries (Spain springs to mind) can have abundant modern, interesting architecture and D.C. (outside of the monumental core) offers such architectural dreariness is beyond me.

Marc Fisher: Well, ok, we are short on modern, daring architecture around here. And we blew a grand opportunity to get a great Gehry design at the Corcoran museum. And we muffed it with Norman Forster's design for an undulating glass canopy at the courtyard of the American Art Museum--a far lesser version of the canopy is under construction after the federal design police stepped in.

But that doesn't justify the landmarking of just any modern building because it happens to be a bit daring. Quality matters. So does function.


Washington, D.C.: I'm confused by the story about the Christian Science church. The design wasn't what the congregation wanted, but they built it anyway? Am I missing something?

Marc Fisher: That appears to be the case. The records provided by the church indicate that church members weren't thrilled from the start by the Brutalist design of the building, but were essentially cowed into going along with it because this was Important Architecture by an Important Architect and anyone who stood in its way was by definition a philistine. But the record is pretty clear that this was not what church members wanted.


Washington, D.C.: How about we let the preservationists save the Christian Science church on 16th Street if they let us blow up the hideous Hubert Humphrey Building at the foot of Capitol Hill?

Marcel Breuer's brutalist monstrosity has been an eyesore for three decades and an insult to the man for whom it was named.

And while we're at it, can we airlift the aptly-named J. Edgar Hoover FBI building to the Green Zone, where it would blend in just fine?

Marc Fisher: The Humphrey building I can take or leave, but the FBI is, I think, pretty universally despised. It's actually a terrific teaching tool for architects and urban planners alike--just take a walk in a couple of blocks in all directions from that Pennsylvania Avenue monstrosity and you'll see quite dramatically how one building can have an amazingly deadening effect on street life. You can literally watch as people walk out of their way so as not to walk alongside the FBI structure. It's that imposingly offputting.



Washington, D.C.: Cab Strike: I didn't have any trouble getting cabs last night -- the biggest problem were the drivers that seemed to think the strike superceded the zone system and they could charge more money because supply and demand levels were (supposedly) reversed...

Marc Fisher: What'd they do, declare themselves a snow emergency?

This is indeed the flaw in the zone system--the lack of an easy way for passengers to call crooked drivers on their attempts to rip off the rider. But a GPS meter would have handled that flaw quite easily.


Arlington, Va.: Considering you're the only person in virtually any respected media organization who supports the cab drivers ability to rip off the IRA, cab riders, etc., why on earth was yesterday's work stoppage a success? All it did was piss off tourists, the people who live in the area could have cared less.

Marc Fisher: I don't think the strike was a success at all. The streets were relatively clear all around town--many commuters probably thought the strike was a lovely break from the usual traffic. And the sidewalks were unusually bustling in many areas, which made for a nice energetic feel. I'd like to see them strike like this every few weeks.

But I do understand the drivers' frustration, because they know what too few riders understand: The switch to meters will eventually bring about a change that no one will like--a diminution in the number of taxis in town and a commensurate increase in fares.


Ballston, Va.: Marc,

Why does The Post keep referring to the taxi cab [situation] as a strike? A strike is when a group under union membership decides to stop working against their employer. If you are self-employed it is by definition impossible to strike. What the cab drivers did yesterday is blatantly illegal under labor laws. On top of putting more drunk drivers on the street, they should be ashamed of their actions.

Marc Fisher: Yes, they should be ashamed of themselves for picking Halloween, but no, they did nothing illegal. As you say, they're not in any union and are in fact not organized in any formal way. This was just a case of a bunch of folks deciding not to work that day--nothing illegal about that.


Rockville, Md.: Grandparents. That's the answer to trick-or-treating. My in-laws came over and handed out the candy so our entire family could go trick-or-treating.

Marc Fisher: Another reason why it makes sense to live where your extended family resides. And I say that as someone who does not. But as you catalog the many reasons for our declining quality of community, certainly the extreme mobility of the past couple of decades is a major contributing factor.


Parents and kids and empty houses...: Well, if you're a single parent or your spouse has to work late, it's really not fair to expect you to stay home and dole out candy and either keep your kid from trick-or-treating or let a small child go around in the dark alone.

If you know and trust your neighbors, maybe letting your kid go around with other parents is okay. But if your kid is very small? Come on. There are enough childless folks and families that CAN split up the doling/traveling duties and families with older kids to handle candy distribution. The kids in our neighborhood certainly weren't doing badly (at our house alone -- I overbought candy again...but that's beside the point.) And if your kids are small, you're probably not doing a lot of trick-or-treating, or you're taking 'em around early, so you'll be home later on.

No one should have to feel guilty about not giving out free candy if they don't want to or can't manage it. Lots of us enjoy doing it -- let us do it and let the ones who can't or don't want to alone.

Marc Fisher: Sure, you're right, but there's also nothing wrong with a little gentle social pressure on neighbors to take part in a fun activity that plays a big role in building connections to neighbors who too often don't know each other. All those folks who lament the loss of community can and should take advantage of easy ways to make those links, and Halloween offers a very good one.

We had a particularly good trick or treating flow last night, and thanks to my son's friend Joey, we had a great game going in which all the kids who came to the door picked a number from a big bowl and the number determined the type of candy you then received--and a few big winners who picked the Number of the Night got mega-prizes, including the one that made parents groan, the half-pound chocolate bar.


Silver Spring, Md.: Assuming there are two parents, so that one can stay home. In my lovely neighborhood, there are enough houses/candy to go around so when my house was dark, it wasn't a big deal. Me and another parent split so I did give out candy later on. G

Marc Fisher: That's another good way to do it.


Arlington, Va.: Speaking of Daylight Savings Time, did you read the item in the Health section Tuesday? It offers another perspective. Body's Clock Never Adjusts to Daylight Savings Time ( Post, Oct. 24)

Marc Fisher: All the more reason to pick one time and stick with it year-round--and make that the time that gives us long, light summer evenings.


Laurel, Md.:"Marc Fisher: I'm very pleased that bit by bit, we're extending daylight time...that we haven't been a nation of farmers for a very long time, and that there are dozens of great reasons why we should have daylight time year-round."

Couldn't we achieve the same results by working 8-4 instead of 9-5; having primetime TV start at 7 instead of 8; and opening malls at 9 a.m. instead of 10?

Let's move our schedules, not put "high noon" at 1 p.m.

Marc Fisher: But that would defeat one of the main benefits of DST--being able to sleep later. Now, if we could only get schools and school bus schedule writers to accept what all the brain research tells us and let teenagers sleep later in the morning, we'd really be making some progress.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Marc. Can you please explain WHY meters will lead to fewer cabs on the streets?

Marc Fisher: Here's why so many executives of big taxi fleet and insurance companies were so eager for D.C. to switch to meters:

With meters, it suddenly becomes possible for a big company to want to do business in the District, because they will finally be able to track what drivers are really earning out there. The zone system made it all too easy for drivers to hide their real incomes from the IRS and from any boss.

So this is the foot in the door. The big companies will make it much harder for immigrants and others with little capital to start their own businesses as individual independent owner-operators. Big fleets will mean better quality cars and service--at first. But then, those cab companies--and this is no secret, they will happily tell you this straight out--will seek to have the city place some limits on the number of cabs in town. They will argue that there are too many taxis here, and by the standards of the fleets, there are.

With reduced numbers of cabs, the companies will also seek increased fares. For riders, this will be the worst of all possible worlds--less service at a higher price. D.C. cab service will look more like that in most similarly-sized cities, and our fabulous zone-system-assured wealth of service will be gone forever.


Washington, D.C.: This isn't really what your chat covers, but kudos to your colleague Hank Stuever for his opening paragraphs for his Robert Goulet story:

"In the shower, any man is Robert Goulet.

Out of the shower, though, no man is Robert Goulet, because there isn't that kind of singing star anymore, or really even that sort of man. They don't make them that tall, that blue-eyed, that sunny; they don't all have preternaturally black mustaches forever and ever. You step out of the tile acoustics and into America's never-ending teen talent show auditions, a world of imitators imitating imitators, the Michael Buble types.

These new crooners tap some innate need in popular culture to keep nearby the luscious, soothing, retro love songs. But Goulet's baritone was purer, deeper and stronger than what you hear in neo-Rat Pack lounges. It was love, all melty and warm. He was Barry Whitest."

Those last two sentences are great. The Voice From a Now Near-Mythic Time ( Post, Nov. 1)

Marc Fisher: Quite lovely. Hank's a gem. Read the whole piece.

Then check out the Will Farrell SNL bit doing Robert Goulet singing the latest hiphop hits. It's on YouTube and it's a delight.


Anonymous: Dippin' Dots aside, you're obligated to take a baseball comment, so here's one: the grass is going in at Nationals Park today. The infield is already filled in. Looks great.

Dark Construction

Marc Fisher: As wonderful as that is, they should have waited til a good cold day--the contrast would have been delicious.


Bethesda, Md.: I'm thinkin' that the coming elections in Virginia will be the occasion when Fairfax joins the other inside-the-Beltway jurisdictions as a Dem stronghold -- but I haven't seen any polling to confirm or deny that. Do you have any info?

Marc Fisher: The polling I've seen or heard about indicates some fairly tight races in the most hard-fought Senate contests. There are some absentee ballot request numbers that the party insiders are taking to show a Democratic edge in some of those tough battles, but that's a level of tea-leaf reading that's a little much of a stretch for my taste.


Silver Spring, Md.: Any chance that Maryland loses the ICC suit? I was cheered by the judge asking more questions of the state's lawyers than the opposition. Also, any chance that O'Malley wakes up and pulls the plug? I've lost my faith in him because of this matter.

Marc Fisher: O'Malley was pro-ICC from the start, so there's no question about any flipflop. As for the court case, I wouldn't put much stake in seeing any kind of halt put to the road construction. At best, you might see some requests for further environmental ameliorations, which will only drive up the already obscene cost of the highway. What's ultimately so tragic about the ICC is that by the time they fought through the decades of battles, it had become clear to most folks that this road will do little or nothing to relieve traffic.


Arlington, Va. -- Idiot drivers went on strike for no reason: How could these dolts go on strike before even knowing what the base fare will be on the meter system? As one driver said last night, things could be better for us all around, we have no idea, so why are my fellow drivers continuing to complain before knowing all the facts?

Marc Fisher: Most of the drivers are not angry about the money--they may well make a good bit more with meters than they do with zones. The meters are very much rigged to move the advantage over to the drivers. For the first time, D.C. riders will have to pay for sitting in traffic, which is always free with zones.

The issue is the one we chatted about above--the impending loss of the independent owners and the vast increase in the role of big companies who will want to reduce the number of cars on the road.


Cab Meters: Isn't the other reason that meters favor big business fleets that they can afford to buy a lot of meters for their fleet but small independents can't afford them?

Marc Fisher: Yes, some individual owners say they can't afford the meters, which cost in the $300 to $500 range. That's one more barrier to entry that will help the fleets crowd out new independent drivers.


North Bethesda, Md.:"The switch to meters will eventually bring about a change that no one will like -- a diminution in the number of taxis in town and a commensurate increase in fares."

Again, you make a statment based on unsaid (and unrealistic) assumptions. Moving to meters will NOT result in fewer taxis. Movement to a medalian system COULD result in fewer taxis.

At this time, does not the DC Cab commission require licenses? Could they not limit them? If they don't now, why would they later?

Marc Fisher: Whether you choose a medallion system or some other method of limiting licenses, that's what meters will bring about because with meters, the companies will be able to make a strong case that the average driver is not pulling in enough money, or certainly not as much as in some other cities. So the city will likely say ok, we'll limit the number of new licenses. The flaw in that reasoning is that thousands of cabbies manage to make a living with the current system (though one reason they're able to do so is that the zones allow them to hide revenue from the tax man, which is admittedly not something you want to base an industry on.)


Considering you're the only person in virtually any respected media organization who supports the cab drivers ability to rip off the IRA: Cab drivers were ripping off the Irish Republican Army? Pretty brave group of people...

Marc Fisher: But it made for some very exciting late-night confrontations.


North Bethesda, Md.:"With meters, it suddenly becomes possible for a big company to want to do business in the District, because they will finally be able to track what drivers are really earning out there."

So, they why were you in favor of GPS meters and zones? Wouldn't that also allow companies to track their employees. If you agree with GPS meters, your defense for the above statement evaporates.

Marc Fisher: I was trying to be, um, reasonable. The tax man should get his share. The rider should be able to know what the fare will be. And the driver should be able to keep his job. A little stab at compromise 'twas all it was. But now that's history.


Washington, D.C.: Marc,

You stated earlier -- yet again -- the cabbie's talking point: "The switch to meters will eventually bring about a change that no one will like -- a diminution in the number of taxis in town and a commensurate increase in fares."

This is a baseless assertion that you continue to repeat. The mayor and others have said they will everything they can to keep the independent drivers in business. But you're claim that meters somehow would be worse for them than the GPS-zone meters you love so mcuh, I just don't see it.

I don't think you have any real numbers or evidence to back up this claim other than what the cabbie's union gives you.

Marc Fisher: The cabbies don't have a union. And the guys who led the strike don't make the argument I make. Actually, I can't figure out what their argument is. You know, these are the folks who didn't know that Oct. 31 is Halloween.


North Bethesda, Md.:"Yes, some individual owners say they can't afford the meters, which cost in the $300 to $500 range."

If they can't afford a $300-$500 meter, what else can't they afford on their car (i.e. brakes, shocks, etc.) If they can't afford a meter, I don't want to be in that car and I don't think it should be on the street.

Given the cost of a new car, $300-$500 isn't that much and could easily be added to the car loan.

Marc Fisher: Seat belts.

Air conditioning.

Window cranks.


Olney, Md.: PLEASE, let's NOT encourage DST "creep." I have an atomic alarm clock that still thinks DST started last weekend! Let's just do away with it all together, it would be MUCH less painful, as most devices have a setting for the few areas in the U.S. that don't (didn't?) observe DST at all. Let's not legitimize this nonsense about "losing" and "gaining" an hour by trying to trick people out of it.

Marc Fisher: Yeah, all the automated clocks in the house flipped last week. If we can get Congress to change the time switch every year, we could eventually have houses in which all the appliances offer different times for a few weeks each fall. Then we could hire consultants to come in and regularize everything. Another little fix for the economy!


Alexandria, Va.: Regarding DST, I agree, pick one time and stick with it.

Can we just fall back a half hour this weekend and be done with it forever?

Marc Fisher: I love places where the time differs by a half-hour. If I were governor for a day, I'd make that the top priority. Way to get your state on the map.


Mr. Lebowski, AKA The Dude: The fact that Roy Pearson is still appealing his pants case just blows my mind. He's lost everything -- his job, his credibility, not to mention he's taken the Chungs down with him. Regardless of who's truly to blame in this case, the plain fact is that he's made a laughingstock of himself by pressing the issue as far as he has. Does he honestly think he can achieve anything, or is he purely motivated by ego at this point?

Marc Fisher: You ain't seen nothing yet. Now that he's been sacked, Pearson has all the time in the world to pursue his legal fantasies. The folks who fired him from his judgeship were worried about this from Day One, which is a big part of why it took so long for them to make their move, and which is why they are now claiming that his sacking had little or nothing to do with the Pants Suit. (Yeah, right.)


Metermaid: Marc, you are being disengenous with your comments about the cost of meters if you do not mention that the mayor has pledged to assist cab drivers in acquiring the meters.

Your bias on this is clear and it's an absolute turn-off to reading anything else you have to say.

Marc Fisher: To the contrary, it's the cabbies who are being disingenuous. Let's say the mayor does offer to subsidize the cost of meters--that's very nice of him, even if as a D.C. taxpayer I consider that an egregious waste of tax dollars. The cabbies will still be ticked off. They don't like to spend a penny on their cabs, if you haven't noticed. That's why they have those silly CALL POLICE lights on their roofs--that was the cheapest option the District offered drivers back when the city decided that there should be New York-style bulletproof barriers between passengers and drivers.

The drivers hate the meters for the reasons mentioned above--the fact that they will have to report their incomes in full, and the fear that big fleets will push them out of business. The cost of the meter is just a smokescreen.


No Slots, Md.: Any chance that the gambling advocates will finally give up and go home if slots are defeated in a voter referendum? I find the articles declaring that we haven't been able to "settle" the slots issue in five years to be laughable. We've settled it five times. The slots folks just keep coming back. Unfortunately it's an uneven playing field. The gambling proponents only need to win once. Then we're stuck. The slots opponents have to go undefeated.

Marc Fisher: No, the slots folks won't go away. In fact, they will continue to come at Maryland harder and harder, because big, big casino companies are pumping money into buying Maryland tracks on the assumption that they will get their slots licenses. The reason this issue never goes away is the unfathomably huge profits that slots bring--and shouldn't the state get a much bigger return from the companies that get those licenses?


Vienna, Austria: Marc, I'm a D.C. native living abroad for a few years. I read The Post to keep in touch with things at home, but your column about the church in NW reminded me more of the WWII Nazi-built flak towers strewn throughout Vienna. See one of them here:

Vienna Flak Tower ( Wikimedia)

Marc Fisher: Battle Brutalism, huh? Maybe they could turn it into a church.


Washington, D.C.: Regarding Brutalist architecture, we still have the FBI building. Now there's an eyesore. And, of course, the wretched MLK public library. So I don't think the church building will really be missed.

Marc Fisher: The MLK library is actually an interesting piece of architecture. It's always made for a lousy library, but there are lots of good ideas out there for how it could be converted into some other use--museum, offices, gallery. It's a far better building than the Christian Science church and more important, it's owned by the city, which could easily find another use for it. The church, in contrast, is useless for most any other function, and it's privately owned, so the owner ought to have some say in whether it is kept.


Chevy Chase, D.C.: It just strikes me as so unfair that the city can landmark a structure, thereby taking value away from its owner, without having to give any compensation whatsoever. This capricious landmarking process is initiated by self-designated preservation organizations, who want to enjoy the architecture, but don't want to pay for it. The city would be a lot more judicious in landmarking if they actually had to pay for the reduced value.

Marc Fisher: Quite right, and especially true in the case of a church that's very much in decline. As Paul Schwartzman's Page One piece earlier this week noted, a bunch of dying churches around town have discovered gold in their downtown properties; why shouldn't the Christian Scientists be permitted to take advantage of their only real monetary asset?


Washington, D.C.: Quadruple shooting drive on 14th in the heart of Columbia Heights at 10:20 last night and it's buried at the end of another article in The Post? Wow, nothing must shock us anymore. Who cares about schools when we can't even walk down a supposedly gentrifying street anymore without being shot. That block is notorious. Why can't the city just get rid of some crime-infested housing?

Marc Fisher: That was very likely a factor of the hour of night and the edition of the paper you received.


Hoboken, N.J.: Nothing to do with what you're talking about, but I've always liked reading your columns and a local guy from the "Star-Ledger" here in New Jersey (I lived in D.C. for 15 years, why I still follow D.C. area news). His name is Paul Mulshine, and while you guys probably disagree on a ton -- he's a libertarian Republican -- you two tend to approach topics from the same angle. You two should get together and write a joint column. Anyway, keep up the good work, love keeping up with the local D.C. news by reading your stuff.

Marc Fisher: Thanks--very kind of you. I don't know his work, but I'll check it out. The Ledger is a splendid paper that is one of the leaders of the industry in finding creative ways to move the newspaper into the online world.


Virginia: Lots of folks don't realize how important this election in Virginia is. If the Dems take back the senate, they'll be in place to do the re-districting. This might help to make this still red state a little more blue. In my senatorial district, the Republicans have a delegate runninging in something like three of the 39 precincts. Without Democratic Delegates feeling the heat, they aren't working as hard to get out the vote. Fewer voters for Democratic Delegates, ususally translates into fewer voters for Democratic Senators. For want of a voter, the state was lost - or kept Republican.

Marc Fisher: It's a very important election no matter which party you identify with. Unfortunately, the turnout in Virginia's pre-presidential year elections is rarely strong. Only New Jersey and Virginia hold elections in the year before a presidential race; that makes for good copy for those of us in my business, but I'm not sure it's what's best for democracy.


Washington, D.C.: Can we declare the zone system a historic landmark, since we're one of the few cities who have it? Then the city would be forced to keep it.

Marc Fisher: Ha! Excellent.


They don't like to spend a penny on their cabs: I was in a cab this week and something felt really odd and eery about it. I realized part way through my ride that my feeling was due to the cab being immaculately clean, nothing rattled, and there were no holes in the floor. Wow.

Marc Fisher: You should have looked carefully. It was a Virginia cab.


Silver Spring, Md.: Marc -- your comment about the taxi "strike" was very interesting.

"The streets were relatively clear all around town -- many commuters probably thought the strike was a lovely break from the usual traffic. And the sidewalks were unusually bustling in many areas, which made for a nice energetic feel."

This sounds like a great argument for reducing the number of taxis in D.C. I think D.C. has too many of the independent operators that you like to romanticize about. Many of them drive terribly and create congestion problems for other drivers on the streets. I won't be sad to see their numbers reduced, if that's what happens when the meter system is fully in place.

Marc Fisher: The only reason downtown had that light and easy feel is that the strike was not very well publicized. If you had a permanently reduced taxi fleet, you'd see a lot more folks driving into the city and a lot more buses and other alternatives popping up to serve tourists and other visitors--in the end, you'd have much more congested streets. As many traffic studies show all around the country, taxis play an important role in keeping more commuting cars off the roads.


The fact that Roy Pearson is still appealing his pants case just blows my mind.: Why? This is what crazy people do. I think he will pursue this until he ends up homeless. We'll see him living on the streets, muttering about his pants.

Marc Fisher: Maybe. But he's a smart guy--he'll find a way to muddle through. He managed to pull off the whole Pants Suit while holding down a judge's job.


Adams Morgan: Just a couple of comments -- First, I LIKE and PREFER "Daylight Wasting Time" or EST. Consider that. And although the debate is over preservation designation, the Brutalist Church building is much more stimulating and legitimate as architectural history than the 2nd worst, ugliest buildings in D.C. -- the New Executive Office Bldg and the U.S. Court of Claims (hideous bookends). While folks are trying to replace the church building, why don't we all get a movement together to rid us of those other two uglies, as well. (The FBI Building is the winner and Number One Ugly -- talk about brutal.) Thanks Marc.

Marc Fisher: There's more on DST and health in a discussion going on at our sister site,, even as we type.

I'm with you on the Court of Claims. Somebody had a really cozy deal with a brickmaker on that baby. Man, is it awful. I've always wondered whether there isn't some kind of secret phone or electrical installation in there behind that blank wall.


Alexandria, Va.: Stealing money from kids--vile, contemptible, lower than low. We have to share our air with people like her live on our planet?

Marc Fisher: Alas, we must. And from kids who are trying desperately to lift themselves from some difficult circumstances, under the guidance of an inspired teacher making next to nothing for his efforts.


Washington, D.C.: The taxi strike yesterday was not only not a success, but it also showed why the cabbies' position is wrong, and why D.C.'s service is horrible. It showed why calling them "entrepreneurs" is an insult to the word. An entrepreneur is somebody who brings innovative ideas to the market, and tries to change it for the better, providing better service and higher quality, all the while improving profit levels. The cab drivers in D.C. are no more entrepreneurs than the guy standing at the corner holding a sign telling you "MATTRESSES AT DISCOUNT PRICES, TURN RIGHT!"

As somebody who works in the taxicab industry, I can tell you that your position on the D.C. issue is wrong in most every sense. First of all, just to let you know, from the view of the taxicab industry, Washington, D.C., is known as a joke and a disgrace. This is said not only by people in the U.S. industry, but also internationally. Additionally, Red Top is known as one of the Crown Jewels of the industry, with top service, and great brand recognition. Barwood used to be in that level too, but this has changed in recent years, due to bad management, not regulations that prevent competitors.

Adding meters to taxicabs will not usher in the new era of "big companies," as you say. Your claim that "companies try to track their cabs and charge them a percentage of their meter" is flat out WRONG, and shows you know nothing about the business. As someone who works in this industry, I can tell you that cab companies could care less about exactly when and where their vehicles work: the paperwork needed to track this itself would cost more than monetary benefit to it. The only reason cab companies want to know where their vehicles are is to ensure that service is given all throughout the city. The only city in the U.S. in which companies charge their drivers a percentage of the meter is Las Vegas. Everywhere else, including in my company, drivers pay a set weekly fee.

Putting meters in cabs will not bring in the big companies because big companies don't care about meters. Big companies care about market control. And no big company worth its name would step into D.C. with the lack of safety regulations and lack of control on the number of cabs.

Finally, you keep saying that it's so nice that you see so many cabs on the street all the time. But that is precisely why cab service is so shoddy. Because there are so many cabs, drivers have to fight over fares, because they aren't making enough money to make a decent living. One of the main reasons for controlling the number of cabs is to ensure that every driver has enough fares to feed himself and his family. In fact, the NYC Taxicab Commission last year added, I believe, about 500 or so extra cabs to the city's fleet, and the drivers there were up in arms about how it would reduce their income. Having unlimited cabs in the city is neither good for the passengers nor for the drivers.

I realize this comment is long, but I hope that you post it for people to understand the taxicab industry from the perspective of an insider...

Marc Fisher: Thanks very much for your contribution--here it is, folks, a taxi industry insider making the case for reducing the number of cabs in the city.

If your idea of good service at a fair price is Red Top and Barwood, then you should thank your lucky stars that you are employed at one of those companies. Because you'd be hard pressed to find any actual passengers who agree. Maybe suburban standards of taxi service allow for that lazy, expensive approach, but in a big city, people want to be able to hail a cab--at any time, anywhere. That's the level of service we have in some parts of Washington, and that's what we will soon lose.


Silver Spring, Md.: Marc,

Is it me or has the celebrity/TV gone wild. It's just way to much. There is no real news. (a la Britney went out last night). Has TV sunk to the lowest common denominator? It's really sad. It used to be certain shows. What are we to do? Turn off the TV set?

Marc Fisher: Good idea.


Washington, D.C.: On stadium parking: have you heard anything about possible floating parking garage(s) on the mighty stinky Anacostia? They're building similar stuff in the Netherlands that'll be open next year. Few years ago PA of NY/NJ proposed similar ideas but was killed?

Marc Fisher: That's new to me. Somehow, I can't quite see our federal overseers approving floating garages--heck, the folks who wanted to provide water taxi service from Alexandria to the new ballpark have thrown up their hands in frustration because they can't get the feds to move on the idea. A floating garage would likely face decades of government inaction and resistance. But it's a really fascinating idea.


Arlington, Va.: As immigrant parents we know very little about the 'rules' of trick-or-treating although we've been here almost 10 years. Having lived in D.C. Apt. most of the time we never had anyone knock on our doors on Halloweens. However, our older son is 3.5 and demanded we go trick-or-treating last night so we did. Being in a condo forest neighborhood, we decided to just knock on every townhome's (there's only one SFH on that street) door regardless the lights were on or not. And we don't know and never even seen these neighbors before. But man what a fun night. It warmed my heart to see people are so nice and generous to our kids.

Marc Fisher: That's terrific--what a great story. Thanks for sending that along.


Maryland's Eastern Shore: Without food, we can't eat. And when we can't eat, we die. Agriculture is the biggest underpinning of society. Meanwhile, when a journalist retires or dies, society is not disturbed in the slightest. Who cares that Walter Lippmann, Drew Pearson, Joe Kraft, Rowland Evans and Carl Rowan are not around to spread their jottings in the newspapers? The world will get along quite well when Robert Novak, David Broder and even Marc Fisher no longer grace the Washington Post. Do you agree?

Marc Fisher: Yes, obviously the world will get along just fine without any given set of writers. But I don't see the connection you're making. Did Rollie Evans and Carl Rowan have some sort of animus against farms? I often criticize subsidies to farmers, but that doesn't make me anti-farm. I just don't think government should be in the farming business.


Silver Spring, Md.: What do you think of the proposed health club tax in Maryland? It seems to punish people for having a healty lifestyle. The state will pay a lot more in health costs in the future by creating obstacles to exercise. If anything the state should give a tax credit for health club memberships. If high end health club memberships must be taxed then earmark the money to build more recreation centers in poor areas.

Marc Fisher: Not a bad idea. I like the idea of taxing health club memberships--it's the opposite approach of slots. It's a way to find and tax more affluent folks rather than relying on the poor to cough up their relatively scant dollars at state-sponsored gambling halls.


Arlington, Va.: I also don't like the Brutalist architecture, but take a minute to consider. One French art critic famously said he ate lunch at the Eiffel Tower every day because that was the only place in Paris he could go and not see it. Also, a generation ago, Norman Rockwell was considered a kitschy joke; now he is considered to have been a serious artist. The point is, opinions change. I think the historic preservation people are just doing their job. Where we stand today, the whole Brutalist thing is completely discredited. Who knows about 50-100 years from now?

Marc Fisher: Quite right, and that's why there are any number of ugly or currently disliked buildings that are landmarked because they represent the highest achievement of some particular school of design. But the Christian Science church is nobody's idea of the pinnacle of Brutalism. And since it was never much appreciated and since it was opposed at every step of the way by the church members, and since the church says it cannot afford and doesn't need such a big place, there's not much argument left for keeping it.


Has TV sunk to the lowest common denominator?: What? There's so much to watch. Reality dating shows. Reality dancing shows. Reality singing contests. Reality chef contests. Reality survival shows. Reality interior designer contests. Reality comedian contests.

There is so much variety.

Marc Fisher: And so much more reality programming soon to come, now that TV writers are heading out on strike. Yum.


Marc Fisher: Gotta run, folks--we're way over our alloted hour. Many, many taxi comments I just couldn't get to today--my apologies. We could have easily done the whole hour on taxis. Not much interest out there on the Virginia elections, so I'm not holding my breath for a huge turnout Tuesday. But for those who live and breath politics, I'll be here on the live board Tuesday night to talk about and lay some results on you--check in throughout the evening and we'll do some punditry together.

And check out the latest installment of the Pretend Primary in the presidential race, now on Raw Fisher.

Thanks for coming along and write if you get work.


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