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Taking note . . .

Observations about public affairs in the nation's capital by the editor of The Common Denominator

QUID PRO QUO? Tenant advocates are scratching their heads over what they say appears to be obtuse cost-cutting logic involved in Mayor Tony Williams' proposal to abolish the city's $227,000-a-year Rental Housing Commission, only to shift much of its caseload and costs to taxpayers in increased costs for operating the D.C. Court of Appeals. After all, eliminating just three of the hundreds of $100,000-a-year political appointees working in the mayor's administration would provide sufficient funds to continue the commission's important work.

Could there be more behind the proposal than a money-saving motive? Tenant advocates note that they have been battling intense lobbying efforts for the past three years by the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington (AOBA) to make the Rental Housing Commission go away.

AOBA is known for its generous campaign contributions to many of the city's politically powerful, including the mayor and several city council members. But fingers are now pointing to AOBA's lawyers, rather than the organization's campaign contributions, as one possible explanation for the mayor's timing in proposing the Rental Housing Commission's demise.

Local law firm Greenstein, DeLorme & Luchs - AOBA's longtime legal counsel - happens to include attorney Mark Policy, who represented Mayor Williams last summer at the Board of Elections and Ethics' hearings over the massive forgeries on petitions his campaign submitted to get his name on the Democratic primary ballot. While the mayor ultimately lost the challenge and had to run a write-in campaign to win the primary, Policy managed to keep the proceedings focused on the mayor's underlings. The mayor, as the candidate, was never asked to explain.

"A few of us wonder if there's any political payback here," said attorney David Conn.

BETTER THAN HEINZ: Maybe D.C. residents have reached the point of benignly accepting incompetence from their government. How else to explain why Common Denominator political columnist Diana Winthrop was recently told by a Department of Parks and Recreation spokesman that she was the first person to complain about the sign that for some time has mistakenly labeled the playground adjacent to Hine Junior High School as "Hines" playground.

The school and playground occupy one of Capitol Hill's busiest pedestrian areas - across from the Eastern Market Metro stop at Pennsylvania Avenue SE between Seventh and Eighth streets. On weekends, when nearby Eastern Market is packed, the Hine playground and basketball court host a well-attended flea market. The school, built in 1891on the site of the old Eastern High School, was named after one of the city's earliest commissioners, Lemon G. Hine. Parks and Recreation spokesman Derrick Nicholas said his department probably will replace the sign, at a cost of about $40, now that Winthrop (a native Washingtonian) pointed out the error.

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator