Tom Sherwood’s Notebook: 08/17/11

By Tom Sherwood
|  Wednesday, Aug 17, 2011  |  Updated 5:33 PM EDT
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DC Ethics Review

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MLK Memorial Opening Plans Set

D.C. and Metro officials warned Tuesday of road closures and potential long walks for people who want to attend the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial ceremonies a week from Sunday.

DC Ethics Review

The D.C. Council is wrestling with ways to toughen the city's ethics laws. The effort comes as News4 has confirmed a federal grand jury is investigating allegations of corruption in last year's mayor's race.
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This Sunday begins a weeklong celebration marking the completion of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial near the Tidal Basin.

Events will conclude Aug. 28 with the dedication and an appearance by President Barack Obama.

Before that, there’ll be marches, receptions and a formal salute to the women of the civil rights movement (long overdue), as well as many other observances.

Tuesday will be a special day for District of Columbia citizens. The memorial foundation is setting aside tickets for access to the site that the city is supposed to distribute to residents.

Mayor Vincent Gray intends to use the day to promote congressional voting rights and/or statehood for the nation’s capital.

We have a more modest goal.

We’d like to see the city’s elected leaders honor King by moving more quickly to clean up the ethics mess that shrouds our city politics.

Dr. King said on more than one occasion, “The time is always ripe to do what’s right.”

We don’t have to dig up any more quotes from King. You’ll hear them a great deal as the celebratory week unfolds.

We’re nearing September, the end of the D.C. Council recess. How long will it take the reconvening council to come up with a real ethics bill with real teeth? It should spell out full reporting requirements for any fundraising, whether a campaign, a constituent service fund or a legal defense fund.

With such a bill, the council wouldn’t just be honoring King, of course, but also the council members themselves and the people they’re supposed to be serving.

We won’t quote King again right now, but we will quote Thomas Babington Macaulay, a British philosopher and politician: "The measure of a man's character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out."

• No new street name.

The D.C. Council passed a bill to add an honorary name -- “Martin Luther King Jr. Drive” -- to the part of Independence Avenue that goes by the new King Memorial. The effort is intended to show that King’s name is not honored just east of the Anacostia River, but by the whole city.

Well, the National Park Service controls Independence Avenue, and it said it will not allow the ceremonial King placard or any other names along the roadway. Park spokesperson Bill Line told The Washington Post that there’s no disrespect; he said the Park Service won’t let California, for example, rename roadways in Yosemite National Park either.

The new Martin Luther King Jr. Drive stretches from Anacostia across the 11th Street Bridge to the Southeast/Southwest Freeway, Maine Avenue and Independence Avenue -- the bulk of which are locally controlled roads.

• The game is on.

Civic activist Marie Drissel is stepping up her effort to get the city to rethink Internet/intranet gambling in the District. She and her allies have come up with a resolution opposing the gambling law, calling for “a full public vetting” with public hearings and discussion before things move any further along.

Drissel is going to try to get advisory neighborhood commissions, civic groups and all sorts of other community organizations to support her resolution.

• New schools.

City Administrator Allen Lew should be proud, and we believe he is. Since 2007, the District has been working on a billion-dollar effort to remodel or rebuild nearly every school building in town. Over 15 years, the city expects to spend $3.5 billion on school facilities.

It’s a remarkable achievement. Whatever issues there may be with school governance, no one can truthfully say that our city school buildings as a whole are an embarrassment to public education anymore.

The first phase of the new Anacostia High School was dedicated on Monday. H.D. Woodson High School in Northeast -- once the worst school in the city -- is being dedicated on Wednesday. Wilson High School in Northwest is reopening soon, with a ribbon-cutting event set for Thursday at 11:30 a.m. And Ballou in Southeast was going to be renovated, but now it’s going to be replaced.

All of the city’s high schools have Olympic-quality athletic fields. The classrooms have air conditioning and heat.

No doubt there have been administrative missteps along the way, and money may have been wasted here or there. But no one will say that city school buildings are a joke. Instead of demoralizing students, they stand as beacons to better education.

• Hello? Hello?

A new survey shows that 83 percent of Americans now have some sort of mobile phone device, according to Pew Research Center. And 13 percent of those folks admit to pretending to be on the telephone to avoid interacting with others.

We admit to doing that, and more.

We once told then-Police Chief Charles Ramsey about a trick we have used during gym workouts.

Ramsey was remarking on how people routinely came up to talk with him when he was trying to exercise. Ramsey didn’t want to appear rude. So we told him our gimmick -- put earphones in your ears and tuck the cord into your shorts.

Of course, you could be listening to music anyway, but the ruse works even if you don’t have a mobile device. It especially works if you get a good look of concentration on your face.

The full survey is at pewinternet.org/reports/2011/cell-phones.aspx.

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