City Desk

Chatter: Graft Brewing

What you said about what we said last week

In last week’s paper, Loose Lips columnist Will Sommer read the tea leaves scattered by U.S. Attorney Ron Machen when he charged former at-large Councilmember Michael Brown with bribery following a months-long sting operation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While D.C. politicos may be sleeping more fitfully now, one reader pointed to a local government program that may have made Brown’s brand of corruption all the more tempting: the Certified Business Enterprise system. “Get rid of this factory of corruption and abuse and you’ll clean up a big part of D.C. government,” Bodiddly wrote. StrangeFruit didn’t buy that argument: “It wasn’t the CBE Program the took the bribe, it was a government official who was elected by the people to represent their interest, not his!”

Brown could serve more than three years in prison, but reader sbc predicted we may see him once again on local ballots. “By dropping out of the [April special election] Brown was able to avoid pleading guilty while on the Council. This means that he can run again for Council in the future.” But Anonymous, Too wasn’t so sure Brown would have won had he stayed in that race: “Much more likely, the District would have had Elissa Silverman sitting on the Council instead of Anita Bonds. That’s what Machen’s last-minute meddling did for D.C. residents.”

All of the Blights

For last week’s Housing Complex column, Aaron Wiener surveyed the more than 600 “orphaned” homes in D.C.—vacant houses whose owners cannot be found. Unfortunately, many of these properties stay empty for years as they mount greater and greater tax bills, leading some readers to wonder why the District government doesn’t sell them more frequently at so-called “junk sales.” “The vacant/blighted taxes are supposed to encourage owners to fix up properties,” wrote MLD. “In the case where there is no owner, there is nobody to collect from, so the idea that the property has somehow accumulated more in tax owed than the property is worth is ridiculous. The city should just get on it and auction this trash heap off to the highest bidder and recoup whatever they can at auction.”

“Amen to that,” echoed danmac. “A junk sale that moves these properties is in order even if it reduces participation in the tax sales. Getting these properties back into productive use will increase the tax income and help the neighborhoods and should be the priority.”

Wiener’s story took a close look at a vacant rowhouse in Park View that has harmed the property values of its neighbors’ homes. One of them chimed in. “I live on this street, which is an otherwise idyllic one-block street in Park View,” wrote Manor Place. “It is a major bummer for the street to have this one vacant property, and there’s no question it hurts the value of all of our homes. It does seem to be a flawed process to continue to tax an essentially ownerless home, rendering it unbuyable. I’ve talked to brokers who’ve looked at it, but no one seems to be able to get over the hump of that big tax bill. And it’s a shame. This house and all the houses on the south side of the street have giant backyards—among the biggest you’ll find in the city. Whoever buys it can do something amazing with it. If they can ever buy it.”

Critical Science

Chris Klimek was hard on The Hampton Years in his review of this play currently on stage at Theater J, but one reader appreciated the close look. Comparing The Hampton Years to another recent play about artists-in-progress, Mme Bahorel wrote, “I don’t want this to be an American Pitmen Painters (the outcomes are so very different, after all), but Lee Hall and the various directors (I’ve seen two productions) have solved the two issues of context and art in a better way than [Hampton Years playwright Jacqueline E.] Lawton and [director Shirley] Serotsky have thus far. The audience has to see the art, and we have to see the art in two contexts: the art movements of the time and the difference in the students.” She continued, “I very much want this play to succeed, and I really think it can, and I’m grateful to Theater J for taking a chance and getting it in front of audiences and critics for this kind of useful criticism to come out. I’m also grateful to the critics for treating it as the obvious workshop production that it is and being respectful about the flaws.”

Department of Corrections

Due to a reporting error, the review of The Hampton Years incorrectly referred to Elizabeth Catlett as a living artist. She died last year.

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