Sherwood's Notebook: Wringing and Drying Out

It was hard to take seriously a storm named “Sandy.”

Such a name doesn’t evoke scenes of evacuation and destruction.

Yet, every meteorologist — on commercial television and radio as well as from the National Weather Service — was singing the same tune.

Get prepared. Stay home. Pay attention. It seemed at deadline that all citizens in the Washington region were doing just that.

■ Bloomingdale’s misery. The quickly gentrifying neighborhood near North Capitol Street and Florida Avenue NW has seen its share of flooding. Only long-term solutions, involving new storm drains and curbing, will truly bring relief.

Ward 5 D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie was out on the streets late last week trying to reassure neighbors, while calling for more immediate intervention by Mayor Vincent Gray and the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority. But there is little government can do in the short term.

One thing it can do is keep storm drains clear of trash and natural debris like leaves.

An News4 news crew was in the Bloomingdale neighborhood just off Rhode Island Avenue Friday when we saw 72-year-old Inez Wilson desperately sweeping her street curbs free of leaves. A few steps away, her husband of 50 years was also doing his part. They were hoping the leaves wouldn’t clog the storm drain. When the sewer clogs, she said, her row-home basement floods.

Mrs. Wilson told us that she had flagged down a passing government truck — she was unsure from which agency — and had asked for help with the leaves. “He told me, ‘Do the best you can,’” she said dejectedly. “Do the best you can.” She looked down at her little pile of leaves. “I’m so sick and tired of this.”

Who knows where that government worker was headed? Maybe he was on an urgent run. Maybe he had worked 12 hours straight. Maybe he was worried about his own home somewhere.

But the cold rejection of a senior citizen standing in the street is uncalled for. He could have said he’d pass along her urgent request. He didn’t have to give false hope, but why in the world did he respond so dismissively?

That’s only one employee. We’re sure countless other workers were out in communities all over Washington, helping our city prepare. In fact, city workers were still swarming the Bloomingdale neighborhood into the weekend. But it takes only one callous response to cast contempt on whole departments.

Days later, we can’t get the image of Mrs. Wilson out of our mind.

■ Vote. Sandy caused the elections board to cancel early voting on Monday and Tuesday. That was the sensible thing to do.

Less sensible were reports over the weekend that several of the early voting sites were overwhelmed by voters. It wasn’t just because people were anxious to vote before the storm arrived. There simply were not enough voting machines ready to allow a significant number of people to vote in any precinct.

For example, at the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center in Ward 8, there were only two machines set up for voters from the immediate neighborhood As many as six other machines — configured for other precincts around the city — sat unused. A similar situation was reported in Columbia Heights.

Bottom line: It seems that if you’re going to encourage any voter to go to any of the eight early polling places to cast a ballot, then those voters ought to be able to vote without standing in long lines caused only by the elections office’s poor planning.

■ Big Gulp? That’s a registered trademark for the 7-Eleven corporation, but it’s also a big issue beginning to brew in Washington.

At-large D.C. Council members Vincent Orange and Michael A. Brown said at a recent forum that they’d support a ban on soda drinks larger than 16 ounces, a policy that got lots of attention when New York City adopted it.

The New York measure bans sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces in restaurants, other eateries and concession stands that are covered by the city’s Health Department.

In New York and here, you’d still be able to stock up in grocery stores and other retail outlets that simply sell rather than serve such drinks.

The ban is part of the fitful efforts various governments are making to fight alarming obesity rates among young people.

Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh, who spearheaded the Healthy Schools Act a few years ago, said a ban is worthy of consideration. She added, however, that her legislative calendar is full and she is not likely to take up the soda wars until next year.

But critics of any ban here already are fuming.

“How is it that America, the land of the free, is turning into a nation of food nannies dictating what you choose to buy and consume?” said Julie Gunlock of the Women for Food Freedom project, part of the conservative Independent Women’s Forum. “It’s time to stop the insanity.”

Others think it’s insane to let the obesity trend keep growing.

The battle here is just beginning.

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