District Mayor Anthony A. Williams frequently loves to take a swipe at the book "Edge City: Life on the New Frontier" when he appears around town. He did that recently at the neighborhood "citizens summit" and at a news conference promoting the planting of trees in the city to replace the dead ones.
"Edge City" is the seminal work chronicling the biggest change in U.S. cities in a hundred years: the rise of urban centers outside the downtown core. In other words, the Restons, Bethesdas and Ballstons of the Washington region, which have all the functions of cities--including jobs--in a spread-out form.
Williams (D) believes edge cities siphon the life from the older central cities and are therefore the nemesis of the District.
"I hate that book," Williams said at the news conference attended by the region's tree conservation activists. He said the book is "pernicious" because it seems to endorse the settlement pattern in the outer suburbs, where new schools and other facilities must be built while existing ones in the city are abandoned.
The book, according to the mayor, says "the future of the world is Tysons Corner and the center city is just a big, rotting doughnut."
The book's author, Joel Garreau, is a Washington Post editor who lives on a farm in Fauquier County. He said he doubts the mayor has read the book carefully; Williams said he has.
"I am not condemning the old downtown to death, just to it becoming an entertainment center, which is exactly what's happening in the District," Garreau said. "If it's any consolation to him, I'm getting a sore back from making firewood out of all the dead trees on my place, too."
Getting an Education
It was billed as a unique opportunity on the last day of American Education Week for D.C. School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman to meet student leaders from two dozen schools and discuss the importance of education in fostering tomorrow's leaders.
The event began with about a half-dozen of Ackerman's assistants telling the students how they had succeeded in their careers despite obstacles of all sorts. Deputy Superintendent Elois Brooks, for one, told them about how she grew up in a segregated Louisiana town and was never told she could succeed until high school.
Then Ackerman took a microphone, confided that she would have been Oprah Winfrey in another life, and began taking questions from the crowd.
One student stepped up and asked how the school system would change in the next century. Easy lob. Computers, Ackerman responded. Lots of computers in each classroom.
Another student asked Ackerman why she has so many assistants. Lots of laughter. Then, asked what a superintendent does, she responded, "You can tell I do a lot because I need a lot of helpers."
So things were going swimmingly--until a 15-year-old girl named Nia Lee from Evans Middle School had her turn with the superintendent.
Lee walked over to Ackerman, but not with a question. She had a comment, or, more accurately, a complaint.
"I'd like to point out that they spelled 'tomorrow' wrong."
Oops, they had. On the front page of the program given to each child. In bright red ink. And not an incidental tomorrow, not a tomorrow that someone could miss. It was in the actual name of the event: "Students Today, Leaders Tomoroow." In large type.
Ackerman, furious that someone had not double-checked the spelling before passing them out to the students, managed to keep her cool like a good talk-show host would. "You got us," she said to Lee. "Now you spell it."
And, of course, Lee did, the right way. Later, she told a reporter she had spared the superintendent complaints about other problems with the four-page program, such as the fact that the words ran off the page on the right margin, and that some sentences were not as grammatical as they could have been.
Then Ackerman was asked: "How does it feel to be a superintendent?"
"It just feels good most of the time," she said. "Sometimes it's a challenge."
Like when you have to cover for other people's mistakes.
He may go down in history as serving the shortest stint in the Williams administration.
Ken Snyder, the mayor's director of communications who joined the administration in August then took unpaid leave in September and October, quit in November.
Williams hired Snyder to improve communication between the administration and D.C. residents, particularly in low-income parts of the city. Snyder had been the communications director for John F. Street, the former Philadelphia City Council president who won the Democratic nomination for mayor. About a month after Snyder joined Williams's staff, Street lured him back to bolster his campaign for the November general election.
At the time, Snyder said he'd take five weeks of unpaid leave and commute between Philadelphia and the District. It would be a plus for Williams to have "a friend in another big-city mayor," Snyder said at the time.
But after Street won the election, Snyder returned to the nation's capital--so he could pack up and leave again. Snyder's joining Street's administration.
"Ken Snyder went to work for John Street and in the process found other opportunities up there," Williams said.
Mayor's Mother in Musical
First she sang at D.C. churches during her son's mayoral campaign. Then last summer, she sang with "The Bea and the Bug." Now, Virginia E. Hayes Williams is going big-time, relatively speaking, in a holiday musical Saturday at the Washington Convention Center.
Williams will perform with Tony Award-winner Jennifer Holliday in a youth holiday musical hosted by her son, Mayor Williams, his wife, Diane Simmons Williams, and the Friends of Carter Barron.
Staff writer Yolanda Woodlee contributed to this report.