Taking Aim at Guns

District Sues Weapons Makers

A similar strategy worked for states that targeted cigarette companies. Can it work for the District as it takes on gun makers?

The city became the first jurisdiction in the region to sue gun manufacturers and two distributors, seeking tens of millions of dollars in damages for the "public nuisance" and carnage created by the sale of illegal weapons. The city says that the industry shares responsibility for urban street violence and that the government deserves to be paid back for police work, Medicaid care and other costs.

"We're supposed to have the toughest gun prohibitions in the nation, and yet our streets are flooded with guns," said D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), noting that handguns have been banned in the District for 23 years.

Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, called the suit a "cowardly solution." "I just think it's show, and it's sad," he said.

A Budget Battle in Md.

Funds for Private Schools Disputed

With $3 billion to spread around on education in Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposed budget, there's ample money for new and renovated schools--and even for a push to recruit teachers.

But it's Glendening's proposal to give $6 million to private and parochial schools that's causing a stink.

After pleas from Catholic and Jewish leaders, Glendening (D) sought the sum to help buy textbooks for nonpublic-school students. Parents of private-school students say they deserve the help because they ease the burden on local schools, paying twice, in effect--through taxes and tuition--to educate their children. But civil liberties groups say such aid would violate the separation of church and state.

Glendening's total proposed budget is 9 percent bigger than the current spending plan, and he seeks only a modest cut in taxes. He wants to spend almost half of a projected $940 million surplus on one-time projects and reserve $525 million for when times aren't so good.

But there are two hot-button issues that state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) wants to stay away from this year. He urged state lawmakers to stay away from abortion restrictions and gay-rights legislation until the U.S. Supreme Court considers the issues this spring.

The Road to Somewhere

Increases for Transportation Proposed

State lawmakers in both Maryland and Virginia are going round and round on proposals to improve roads and ease traffic congestion. And they just might get somewhere.

In Virginia, Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) wants to spend an additional $2.5 billion on transportation over six years, a plan that could create express bus service along the Dulles Access Road, extend Metrorail service to Tysons Corner and help rebuild an Interstate 66 interchange in Gainesville.

But that program isn't nearly as big as many in the Washington area would like.

"When it comes to the needs of Northern Virginia, [Gilmore's] $2.5 billion plan just isn't going to cut it," said Michael P. Carlin, chairman of Region, a business consortium.

In Maryland, Glendening's plan includes $300 million for projects in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, including widening Route 28, and it would raise the state's current spending plan by about $2.7 billion over six years. Maryland lawmakers said the largess compares to the era when the federal government was building the interstate highway system.

Across the Region

Metro Expansion; Executive Resigns

* The Metro is breaking out beyond the Capital Beltway. Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) announced plans to extend the Blue Line to Largo and committed $175 million to the project. The three-mile extension, which could open in 2004, would feature stations at Largo Town Center and Summerfield and would come within a mile of FedEx Field.

* The D.C. government is growing up and getting ready to shed its parental supervision. The District has balanced its budget three years in a row, and city and congressional leaders alike are talking about pulling the plug on the financial control board, which has looked over the city's shoulder since 1995. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) says next year will probably be the board's last.

* District Mayor Anthony A. Williams's effort to appoint the Board of Education--so he would be responsible for the success or failure of schools--was soundly rejected by the D.C. Council. Instead, the council gave preliminary approval to a plan that preserves the elected panel while also shrinking it. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) said the school board has to be both democratically elected and held accountable.

* Telling aides that he would "blow up" the system that serves mentally retarded residents, Mayor Williams fired five top managers. And then he said he would strip day-to-day supervision of mentally retarded wards from a District agency and temporarily hand the job to a coalition of private groups. "The entire mental retardation and developmental disabilities service delivery system . . . is incapable of providing quality service," concluded a study that began after accounts surfaced of unreported deaths in group homes.

* After almost three years as the top manager of Prince William County, Bern Ewert agreed to step down as county executive. Many residents liked Ewert because he tried to tame the sprawl overtaking the fast-growing area, but his headstrong ways antagonized several county supervisors.

* One of two Arlington 10-year-olds who allegedly put soap in their teacher's drinking water was sentenced to probation and counseling during a closed hearing, an official said. The second boy is to be sentenced next month.

-- Erica Johnston

Snow's Beauty and Its Beast

After a Dusting Snarls Traffic, a Blanket Becomes a Playground

First, it hardly snowed at all and Washington traffic was entrapped in near-total paralysis. Then a half-dozen inches of ready-for-sledding, snowball-packable crystals fell, and everything was just fine.

Go figure.

From the ridiculous: a five-hour commute from the District to Silver Spring. A stalled driver contemplating a pizza delivery--to her car. That was Tuesday.

To the sublime: snow of the lovely, fluffy variety. The kind that "completely changes the perspective of ordinary things," Silver Spring photographer Mike Morgan exulted Thursday, emerging from the woods at the C&O Canal in Great Falls. "It's spectacular."

The powder came courtesy, presumably, of Leesburg students whose teacher gave them a rather unusual assignment. "We did the snow dance last night," explained Michael Patania, 11. "We put our pajamas on inside out and backwards and walked around the house saying, 'Snow, snow, snow.' Our teacher told us to."

The teacher might want to knock it off. More of the white stuff is expected this week.

Jumping for Jordan

Wizards, Downtown D.C. Bank on NBA Superstar

Sure, Michael Jordan is one of the best basketball players of all time. And sure, he can out-compete and out-charm nearly anyone. But can he lift a team from the depths and bring new vitality to an entire city?

Why not? He's done it before.

As swiftly as he swept into his new role as part-owner and president of basketball operations for the Washington Wizards, the man who led the Chicago Bulls to six National Basketball Association championships raised hopes sky-high.

"He makes everybody better," said Wizards majority owner Abe Pollin. "He will not accept losing. He's going to get the best out of everybody."

And the expectations don't stop there. Some say the potent potion of Jordan's celebrity and the high-tech dollars flowing into Washington's sports franchises will attract further development.

"This is all contagious," said Douglas Jemal, a landowner in the neighborhood surrounding the Wizards' arena, MCI Center. "Jordan is a nightclub, he's fashion, he's Nike, he's everything. . . . We all know that while the downtown area should be coming back, it hasn't happened yet. Now it will."

CAPTION: Joe Kreck, who recently moved to Falls Church, examines his precariously balanced car. He said he forgot to turn and ran his car over a wall.

CAPTION: Kurt Kidd takes 6-year-old Kevin Tatum sledding at Springwoods Elementary School in Lake Ridge.

CAPTION: Michael Jordan is a new part-owner of the Wizards.