Sherwood’s Notebook: “Do You Live IN the City?”

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When traveling, as the Notebook has been doing recently, the question comes easily as soon as you say you’re from Washington, D.C.

“In the city?” The inquisitor’s eyebrows pop up. The eyes widen just a bit as the information is processed. “In the city?”

It’s a remnant of the District’s waning but ever-present reputation as a drug-, crime- and murder-infested place. Who would live there, people indirectly ask. And when you casually say the city has gained 100,000 new citizens in the past dozen years, the questioner can be incredulous.

We are a long way from the halting turnaround that began with the federal control board and Mayor Anthony Williams, continuing with every mayor since. But the widespread misunderstanding of the nation’s capital remains.

It’s no help that the country as a whole holds the federal government here in low regard. In total, it amounts to a high bar for those who seek congressional voting rights or the elusive statehood.

■ Stealing the good image. We probably have enough government agencies, but maybe we need one more. It would go after any person or group that appropriates our city for its own purposes, commercial or otherwise. We’re looking at you, National Harbor, and you, Washington Redskins, and all you suburban residents who claim you’re from D.C. when you really live on 10,000 Endless Boulevard somewhere in Virginia or Maryland.

When we challenge those suburban residents, many often say, “Well, I used to live in Washington,” or worse, “I’m a native Washingtonian” as if that granted some sort of dispensation. Yes, you may be a native, but your address has a suburban ZIP code and your taxes collect in Annapolis or Richmond.

■ Speaking of ZIP codes. The U.S. Postal Service used to have ZIP codes in D.C. that bled over into suburban Maryland addresses. More than a few businesses in Bethesda or Takoma Park had official Washington, D.C., addresses. Under pressure from then-Mayor Marion Barry in the 1980s, the U.S. Postal Service realigned the boundaries. It may seem like a small matter, but our own pride of place is a prerequisite for the rest of the nation caring about us.

■ Howland hauls it in. The director of the D.C. Department of Public Works this past week announced he’s calling it quits after 11 years on the front lines of leading the agency. He began with Mayor Williams and stayed around for Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray. Both he and Mayor Muriel Bowser say it was Howland’s decision to call it quits, even though he has no other job lined up. Still, it’s believable because Bowser hasn’t been shy about assembling her own team, and Howland set his own departure date for later this month.

The Washington Post quoted Bowser praising Howland on Saturday at a public works event: “Bill has served with excellence for four mayors of the District of Columbia. We are very grateful … .” Despite all of the troubles the city has had with snow removal and trash collections, Howland has made the department run far better. Best wishes to him.

■ Waving the flag. Each year, about 100,000 American flags are hoisted above and hauled down from the U.S. Capitol, according to the architect of the Capitol. The ceremonial flags are given away as souvenirs by members of the House and Senate.

Now, the practice could be coming to the District as well, thanks to new Ward 6 D.C. Council member Charles Allen. "After constituents asked me how to get a DC flag flown over the Wilson Building, I discovered we don’t have this program in the District," he said in announcing his bill to create the practice. He noted that many states also have similar programs. But there’s a difference for D.C.

"The flag’s iconic design — three red stars over two red bars on a white field — was rated as America’s best flag by the North American Vexillological Association," Allen said. "While an impressive honor, it is also an ironic one, as the best flag in the nation belongs to a jurisdiction that is still denied voting representation in Congress."

■ A final word. When Jim Vance, Doreen Gentzler or any other front-line anchors have spoken on the NBC4 studio set, their words easily could have come from Angela Oakley, a clear-headed journalist and warmhearted human working in our newsroom.

The newsroom was devastated this past week when Angela died after a long battle with cancer. If it were possible, she probably could have put her skills to work making this final word better said. But she's not here anymore. And we're all very sad about that.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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