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Midsummer is generally a bad time to leave refuse rotting at your stoop. In 100-degree heat, milk goes sour faster than ice melts. But don’t look to the Department of Public Works (DPW) for seasonal sensitivity. Thanks to an overdue contract for spare parts, 12 of the city’s 40 trash packers are sitting idle on the garage floor, according to DPW solid waste official Leslie Hotaling. The same contract snafu has also mothballed all but five of the agency’s 33 street-sweeping machines. Hotaling stresses that DPW employees are working overtime to keep a lid on the problem. “The guys are working ’til dark,” she says. “They’re really busting their buns.” Pamela Graham, who monitors DPW’s finances for Chief Financial Officer Anthony Williams, says the agency failed to gather funding in time to keep its fleet intact. While some critics say the holdup highlights the poor oversight exercised by the city’s nonelected leaders, activist Marilyn Groves remains optimistic: “We went a full year with no interruptions, and that’s an improvement. People forget what it was like when our leaders played politics with this.”
“NOTICE,” blares a flyer posted at stores around Dupont Circle, “The Metropolitan Police Department is employing tactics such as area covert surveillance, rooftop surveillance, decoy operations, physical electronic stakeouts, covertly placed cameras and uniformed tactical patrol in this area.” Say what? Even the police couldn’t explain the Big Brother lingo. “I really couldn’t tell you what that means,” says a sergeant at the 3rd District station when asked to define “physical electronic stakeouts.” He adds, “And even if I could tell you, that would defeat the purpose.” Another officer, reached at the police’s public information office, referred calls to the 3rd District’s Youth and Community Services office. A homicide officer answers that number and says the community services division “no longer exists.” The only straight answer came from a rent-a-cop: The signs are a “crime deterrent, that’s all,” says Bernard Gibson, head of security at a Connecticut Avenue office building. An employee at the swank Benetton store nearby, where one of the fliers is posted, says the area could use any and all such threats, real or alleged. “We were robbed 12 times last year,” the employee says.
Minister Louis Farrakhan, head of the Nation of Islam, usually draws thousands of enthusiastic folk to his sermons of righteous rage. Last Saturday, Farrakhan appeared at the D.C. Convention Center to denounce recent congressional restrictions on home rule, but he ran smack dab into a wall of municipal ennui. It was an unusually small crowd to begin with, compared to Farrakhan’s normal audiences, and the attendees turned shy when donations were collected at the beginning of the event. The pitchman started at $1,000 and was met by a thundering silence. The floodgates only cracked when he lowered the bid to $100. Once Farrakhan finally hit the podium, he modestly stressed that he “was not a resident of Washington” and consequently did not have the answer to D.C.’s financial crisis. With that out of the way, Farrakhan promptly launched into a screed against white America for demonizing and “crucifying” Marion Barry. “What happened in Washington that is negative cannot be laid at the feet of a people who have already had too much garbage laid at their doorstep,” said Farrakhan.