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Year in Review

By LaWanda Stone, WashingtonPost.com Staff

The Blizzard of 1996
It was a completely uncharacteristic Washington day. The streets were silent. Offices and schools were deserted. A year ago on January 7, the Blizzard of '96 blanketed the District and surrounding areas with snow at a rate of two inches an hour. With 17 inches reported at National Airport, the storm ranked among the top four storms ever to blast the area. Giant Food recorded the biggest one-day sales in its history: "At times, people were even lining up for shopping carts," said a Giant vice president. And at least three deaths were linked to the storm: A Metrorail operator was killed when his train slid on ice and rammed a parked train; an 83-year-old man died in Alexandria of an apparent heart attack suffered as he shoveled snow, and a 92-year-old Silver Spring woman died in a car crash on Interstate 66. Due to safety concerns, the blizzard also prolonged the shutdown of the federal government. Utilizing sophisticated computer program models, satellites and advanced radar systems, the National Weather Service predicted the Blizzard of '96 with precision.

In related news, February also saw the lethal crash of a MARC commuter train which collided with an Amtrak passenger train in Silver Spring; 12 were killed, many of them teenagers from the Harpers Ferry Job Corps Center.

The D.C. Control Board Takeover
The control board took over D.C. finances in October 1995, but it didn't stir to life until 1996, when it decided to break the "cycle of inaction" within the D.C. government. "We are no longer waiting for the mayor," said John Hill Jr., the control board's executive director. "For the first six or seven months [since the control board was appointed], we have been in the position of deferring to the elected leadership for their ideas. There is tremendous respect for home rule and sensitivity to the fact that the board members were not elected. But there comes a point in time when you just can't wait any longer." The control board has since developed its own plan for the city, influencing changes in contracting procedures, the operation of major agencies, and a radical overhaul of the school system that included the firing of the superintendent and the demotion of the school board.

The Washington Redskins Stadium Deal
It wasn't the New Year, and April Fool's had come and gone. It was October 1, 1996, and the Washington Redskins announced they were leaving the District for the suburbs. Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke bought the 200-acre Wilson Farm in Landover, Maryland, after long negotiations and several unsuccessful attempts to find a home for his team. The purchase of the property for $4.1 million enabled the team to move into Prince George's County. The $180 million stadium, financed by Cooke, will seat 78,600 -- with 60,000 general seats, 15,000 club seats and approximately 3,600 seats in the executive boxes. The Redskins' current home, Robert F. Kennedy Stadium, seats 56,454, making it the smallest in the NFL. The Redskins have commitments for all 60,000 general season tickets, affording two tickets each for only about 4,000 of the 49,000 people who have been on a waiting list for decades. The Jack Kent Cooke Stadium opens next fall.

Virginia: A Model of Welfare Reform
Virginia served as a national model for federal welfare reform in 1996 and claimed credit for putting 2,600 Virginia welfare recipients in jobs. Because of the area's sizable welfare rolls, high-skill economy and steep cost of living, Virginia would prove to be an important testing ground for these kinds of initiatives. Gov. George Allen claims success in the placement of 30.4 percent of Virginia's 63,000 welfare recipients in some kind of "work activity" in exchange for the benefits they receive. Virginia's welfare rolls have dropped 16 percent since the reforms took effect.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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