Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 11/19/09

News and notes from D.C. politics

We were standing along the banks of the Anacostia near River Terrace on Monday in Northeast Washington.  The sun was shining. It was pleasantly warm.

Members of local families who go back generations ambled across Anacostia Avenue, some with canes but all with purpose in their strides.  Among them was 84-year-old Major Anderson, who has lived in River Terrace nearly 60 years. He recalls families playing on the riverbank, many people swimming or fishing in the cold Anacostia waters.

“It’s polluted now,” Anderson said with a sad face. The former private who served with the famed Tuskegee Airmen looked wistfully at the river. He hopes he’ll live long enough to see the Anacostia come back, becoming again the natural habitat neighbor that it once was.

And now the city believes we may get there, starting with one nickel at a time.

Mayor Adrian Fenty kicked off a six-week, public education program Monday to remind folks that the new nickel bag tax will go into effect Jan. 1. Closer to the date there will be radio and TV spots with the message, “Skip the Bag, Save the River.”

Major retailers, including Safeway and CVS, are gearing up to pass out more than 120,000 reusable bags that will help customers avoid the new bag tax.

Craig Muckle, a spokesperson for Safeway, said the grocer decided early on not to fight the legislation, but to help lobby for its passage.

Ward 6 D.C. Council member Tommy Wells, who drafted the bag bill earlier this year and led the council passage, said city tax officials estimate that about $3.6 million will be collected in the first year of the tax. By the third year, that amount is expected to drop to $1 million.

That’s fine by Wells. He says re-educating District consumers is more important that the money that will be collected. He says some studies show that a plastic bag is used for only about 12 minutes on average before it’s discarded.

The council member -- like everyone else -- knows that a nickel bag tax could never raise the hundreds of millions of dollars that likely would be needed to clean up the Anacostia.

But if a journey of a thousand miles starts with one step, then the first nickel collected on Jan. 1 will head the city and the river in the right direction.

• What About The Bottles?

The Notebook always rains a little bit on the bag-tax parade. That’s because we feel we always have to mention that most of the trash we see along the river is made up of plastic bottles.

But there’s no move -- yet -- to reopen the war over returnable bottles and bottle deposits. We doubt that the retail industry will be as accommodating about bottles as it has been about bags.

• What About Yvette?

Missing from Monday’s news conference in River Terrace was Ward 7 Council member Yvette Alexander. River Terrace is in Ward 7.

It turns out the mayor’s office did not invite the home council member to the news conference.

“We didn’t know about it until it was over,” said Alexander spokesperson Andre Johnson.

Council member Alexander was more blunt. “Things were good at one point,” she said of her relationship with the mayor, “but now it seems we’ve taken a turn for the worse.”

Alexander did not just support the bag-tax bill. She pointed out that she was a willing proponent who combated those who claimed the bill would affect low-income and seniors unfairly. ‘It’s very disappointing,” Alexander said.

How did she learn of the news conference? Her constituents in River Terrace called to tell her.

Not inviting ward council members to events is nothing new for the mayor. But if he or his staff thinks they’re making political points, they might rethink the policy. What good does it do to irritate more than half the council on such things? We don’t have an answer. We assume the mayor has one.

• An Elected A.G. For D.C.?

Another bill has been dropped into the congressional hopper to allow District citizens to elect their attorney general.

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has introduced the bill into several sessions of Congress since a 2002 advisory referendum in which the whole city voted for the idea. But the bill has never gained traction on the Hill.

“She introduces it every year, and it never goes anywhere,” said WTOP political analyst Mark Plotkin. “She doesn’t push it.”

Plotkin was among the first citizens to call for the attorney general to be elected -- an enhancement of the city’s home rule. “Maybe we’ll have somebody who actually lives in the District,” he said.

That last sentence is a little swipe at current D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles, who has a home in the suburbs but, for the time being, has technically moved into the city and lives in a downtown rental apartment.

Contact Us