Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 10/29/08

Police to be on hand

On Monday, we dropped by the Board of Elections and Ethics office, where about 5,000 people have already voted absentee, with the wait about an hour or more.

That’s a fraction of the expected crowds and potential wait time on Election Day. Elections board counsel Kenneth McGhie told NBC4 that he’s expecting America to experience a "turnout tsunami."

The Kerry-Bush turnout in the District four years ago was 62 percent. In 2000, the hard-fought Bush-Gore campaign drew 70 percent. McGhee said this year "could easily" top 80 percent.

Elections officials say they and police are poised for anything.

There are extra poll workers and extra security, and there have been extra preparations for balloting that could last well past the official 8 p.m. cutoff time. (Anyone in line at 8 will be allowed to vote no matter how late it gets.)

Officials acknowledge that crowd frustration could be high if the lines are long and there are problems with casting electronic or paper ballots. Police will be on hand to ensure order is maintained.

City police also say that they are prepared for any out-of-line celebrations that might arise in this heavily Democratic town should Democrat Barack Obama win nationally. (One officer mentioned those rowdy street demonstrations at the University of Maryland, where students have celebrated athletic victories by burning couches in the street and taking other unsafe actions.)

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There’s concern, too, that should Obama lose, protests could erupt, requiring a public-safety response. Police say they don’t expect this, but it is part of their full-scale planning.

We hope everyone votes and that it’s a proud day in America, no matter what the final results.

Going, Going, Gone

The Notebook will be celebrating the beginning of the end this week for the old “Tower of Power” that was H.D. Woodson High. If there is a symbol of mismanaged school resources or bad ideas, this is it.

The building in northeast Washington was constructed in the 1960s, and it has all the flavor of a concrete prison. Many students succeeded in spite of their surroundings, but the building is a soul-sapping embarrassment.

Mayor Adrian Fenty and D.C. Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization director Allen Lew are scheduled to be on hand this week for the ceremonial first whack at the demolition. A new $99 million school will rise in its place, one that we hope will honor students, rather than hobble them.

The 'Public' In 'Public Schools'

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray is trying to make sure that the public has a real say in the public education budget.

When the council voted to allow the mayor to run the schools, the new law did not maintain an old provision that the schools and the mayor must seek public comment on the proposed school budget. Last spring, when considering school closings as a way to save money, the mayor and Chancellor Michelle Rhee held a bunch of public hearings all around town on the same night, but they were able to make it only to some of them.

Gray’s new bill would require Rhee to post a preliminary budget on the school system Web site and in each school at least three weeks before the mayor submits it to the council. And the mayor would have to hold a public hearing within that time.

No Advice For You

The city’s biggest labor organization is essentially taking a pass on this year’s at-large D.C. Council races.

The Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO did endorse Democratic incumbent Kwame Brown for re-election. But voters get to choose two at-large candidates. For the seat now held by Republican Carol Schwartz -- who’s running a write-in campaign after losing the primary -- the labor group declined to endorse anyone and didn’t offer a reason.

May We Help You?

The city’s Cultural Tourism DC organization got an unusual call recently. A caller from Nebraska said several members of his family were on the National Mall right then and all the museums had closed.

"They need to go to the bathroom. Do you know where they could go?"

The kind folks at Cultural Tourism DC suggested Macy’s up 12th Street or a Starbucks on 7th.

"Please tell your boss you were very helpful," said the Nebraska caller.

It all just calls attention to the embarrassing lack of facilities on and around the Mall. Fortunately, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and the Trust for the National Mall are working on providing restrooms, food service and benches.

But for some things, people can’t wait.

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