Monday, November 02, 2009

Washington Post Pundit Contest - Fail

The Washington Post sponsored a pundit contest this Fall. Kind of like American Idol meets The McLaughlin Group. I spent a lot of time thinking about an entry. I write endlessly about health care and other topics, but always for somebody else to sign. This would be an opportunity for me to write about something personally important to me. My opinion? How novel.

This weekend I got the thanks but no thanks e-mail from the Post. My initial post mortem on the contest is that I made two crucial errors. First, I decided most people would be writing about health care or the war in Afghanistan. I decided a way to stand out was to write about something ELSE. So I took a local issue that bugs me - parking meters around the Verizon Center - and wrote about a problem and fix. We'll know when we see the 10 finalists posted, but I have a feeling such a local topic hurt me.

My second mistake was that I probably wasn't ornery enough. I interviewed a few people in the DC government for the sample op-ed and I did a fair amount of research, but in the end with the strict word count (400), I had to choose between including facts or flair. I went for facts to demonstrate an ability to do research beyond just being a windbag. Again, we'll know for sure when we see the 10 finalists, but perhaps windbag would have been the way to go.

Of course there is a potential third fatal flaw - the writing may not have been any good. There's always that.

If there is a silver lining in all of this it is that in talking to city officials for the story I was tipped off on another story. A brewing scandal in the parking enforcement administration. I'm not an investigative journalist, but I've seen them played on TV and in movies. Perhaps I can take lessons learned and do something with this lead I've been handed.

At any rate, here's my submission to the Post:

Parking Profiteering: DC Should Leave it to the Experts

New technology exists that can make a much needed adjustment to DC’s parking meter policies, but as with all technology, there’s a risk it could be abused, turning what is now simply an inconsiderate oversight by the city into full-blown profiteering.

The city is considering implementing a pilot project to make it easier for people attending events at the Verizon Center to park legally on the street. Utilizing programmable multi-space meters – those green kiosks that are popping up all over – the city can extend the length of time one can park during special events.

As with most of the city’s 17,000 metered spaces, parking around the Verizon Center is limited to two hours. And since there’s no meter feeding in the District – something I learned the hard way – once your two hours are up, you must move to a new space.

But with meters around the Verizon Center, Nationals Park, and other hot spots operating until 9:30 or 10:00 PM, and most events starting at 7:00 PM, you’re never going to make it in a two hour space.

Only the very lucky or extremely foolhardy would even try.

The city should program the multi-space meters to give parkers up to four hours of parking during evening events at the Verizon Center – just as they did in the neighborhoods around Nationals Park. But they should do away with the premium surcharge on event days – 450% around Nationals Park. It makes parking on the street just as pricey as parking in a lot. Which defeats the purpose of parking on the street.

Street parking is for the common man and woman. Let the lobbyists park their Acuras and BMWs in lots; let the VIP drivers idle their Lincolns in No Parking Zones, but give the rest of us a chance to park our dented mini-vans and seven-year-old cars on the street and still go to the game.

It’s one thing for a private parking garage to jack up their rates 30% on event days – which they do. They’re a private enterprise and if they want to gouge customers, that’s their right.

But when my own government charges me a premium for the same parking space just because they can? Well, that’s profiteering, and government should really leave that to the private sector.

About the Author
Michael Klein should be America's Next Great Pundit because he’s spent the last fifteen years writing other people’s opinions and he’s had it up to here. Fifteen years of writing in other people’s voices can get to a person. As a result Michael often writes about himself in the third person. Michael mixes humor, sarcasm, realism and a special brand of cynicism honed after years “on the inside.” He loves learning new things and is frequently awed by mankind’s depravity, hypocrisy, and dopiness, and he loves writing about it all.