Capital Citizen with Clinton Yates (Feb. 10)

Feb 10, 2014

Local columnist Clinton Yates takes your questions about politics, pop culture, people and whatever else you like from D.C.

Happy Monday, folks. Glad you could join us. The Winter Olympics are underway and the mayoral primary season is still in full swing in D.C. Ask a question! Let's get started.

Hello Mr. Yates, I read the intriguing Post article about the issues with the DC Fire Fighter Cadet program this Sunday, and I am interested to hear your thoughts about it. It seems like a good idea gone horribly wrong. On a personal note it was my local fire station where Mr. Mills died in unfortunate circumstances.

The reader is referring to this telling look at the cadet program that ran over the weekend by Amy Brittain. 

Honestly, this entire situation is frightening. For one, the death of Mr. Mills is something that should never ever happen. Obviously. 

And the cadet program itself is absolutely worthy of a critical look. It doesn't make sense to train firefighters without testing them prior to getting into an academy. 

What's most telling about this story, and some of the comments, as well, is the look into the entire culture of how D.C.'s Fire Department works. From the looks of it, accountability is not a priority at any level. To think that someone could be committing crimes, felonies at that, and not be subjected to discipline unless proven independently is really scary.

Firefighters aren't just random city workers. They're first responders. If those in those position are the best, most well-trained people the city can find, that's a public safety issue. It's not just about the politics of who's selected at that point. You're putting people at risk, which is exactly what happened with Mr. Mills.

I agree with the reader that this program is a good idea gone bad, but to me, the overall culture of accountability in DCFD seems to be the biggest question that Chief Ellerbe needs to address. 

Is it crazy difficult to find somewhere cheap/available for a Valentine's dinner in this town? Or is it just me?

I haven't exactly been looking, so I don't know, but it's probably not just you. 

When Valentine's Day falls on a weekend, you're always going to have an inherent problem. While on the one hand, many people will want to avoid crowded restaurants, there will be just as many who will take the opportunity to combine a day they might regularly go out on with the romantic holiday.

There's part of me that thinks Valentine's Day at a restaurant on a Friday night is kind of a bush league move, from an originality standpoint. But that's just me. 

I think you might be better off trying something at home so you don't end up with hundreds of other people ordering desserts and wines en masse. I'll be those guys who sell roses in restaurants are going to rake it in, though.

Try one of those order-in cook at home things like Blue Apron, and that will likely be more fun anyways, I'd say. 

Cecil Mills suffered a massive heart attack and FEMS staff, across the street, failed to respond to his location. Since this incident took place, much scorn has been heaped upon Chief Ellerbe--with surprisingly little criticism of the negligent FEMS staff. Why do you think that this is the case?

I'm not sure I agree with that. Just look at what the people on that very street have said about the matter. They've seemed pretty upset about the actions of that firehouse specifically from what I've seen.

As for Ellerbe, I think there's a legit cause for concern considering the current state of affairs in the department. But I think the reason why most people aren't always super vocal about criticism for firefighters is that frankly, they do jobs that many of us are too scared to do. 

That doesn't mean that I think firefighters are above reproach for mistakes. What happened with Mills was awful, but I think that's the reality of a job like that. Mistakes aren't just mistakes, they're life and death. Most people understand that, I'd say.

Winter Olympics - YAWN. Bunch of rich kid sports. Agree or disagree?

There's nothing that turns me off more from any serious conversation than a "rich kid" qualifier. Clearly, you're ignoring quite a bit about how every other country develops its athletes. 

I happen to think that the Winter Olympics are the better Olympics. Part of that is slightly morbid curiousity, part of it is because I like hockey so much. The men's hockey tournament is the best in the world, IMO.

But yeah, watching people literally risk life and limb for the sake of an Olympic medal is definitely not a yawn for me. Not even close. 


It’s the 10 year anniversary of Kayne West’ College Dropout album; where do you rank it among West’ projects?

Personally, it's my favorite. On a basic level, it just has more songs that I enjoy than any other album of his. But from a pop culture standpoint, I don't know that it's anywhere close to his best work.

I heard a song off this album the other day and it stunned me how dated it felt. Not because I knew it was old, but West has developed so much as an artist that his early work really does feel like something's missing or just not there. That's not an insult, I really do like his stuff. 

Also, I still think 'Through the Wire' is one of the most inspirational popular hiphop songs of my lifetime. The video is classic and the whole story is just wild. Jesus Walks is probably my favorite song on that album, though. That beat is bananas.

Any guesses on how things will work out for Mike Sam? Will his draft stock drop? Will he face a backlash from his eventual teammates?

I spoke about this this morning on WTOP, and I think Michael Sam is already a very important figure in the context of this discussion.

To come out publicly as gay, BEFORE he's ever guaranteed to play in the NFL is an extremely brave thing to do, IMO. I don't think that teammates of his will necessarily be very affronted by his orientation. The NFL almost more than any other league is a meritocracy. Meaning, if you're not good enough, you won't be playing. If Sam's good enough to make a roster, it'll be hard to say much bad about him. Not that there'd be any good reason to do that anyways, regarding what he does with his private life.

Who do you think has a better chance of winning? Bradley Beal in the 3 Point Shootout or John Wall in the Slam Dunk Contest?

Love this question. I must admit, I'm looking more forward to All Star Saturday night than I have in YEARS as a result of two Wizards players being in it. I feel like a kid again.

Specifically though, I think Wall has the better chance. Namely because the rest of the field in the Three Point Contest is so strong. Anything that Stephen Curry is in automatically makes him the favorite, but you never know, Beal could get hot and win one. 

John Wall's got a decent shot at winning, but Paul George is such a beast. 

It seems like an organization and culture in turmoil. I'm not sure where you start to fix it - hire a new chief? Change standards for new recruits? Bring in someone to effect organizational change?

Maybe, but the chief alone is not the only issue, as I see it. There are so many other interorganizational issues with how DCFD runs, it's hard to even consider how change is possible.

Frankly, I'm surprised this hasn't been a bigger issue overall in city politics. Ambulance shortages, understaffed and over budget, it's a mess.

It'd be interesting to see what would happen if the city took advice from neighboring counties on how to best clean up/run their system.

Pitchers and catchers report this week. Thoughts on the upcoming season?

Last season, although not a spectacular one might have been the best thing that could have happened to Nats fans. For whatever reason, so many people thought that coming off a playoff run last year, that the team was just automatically going to be a contender for every year following. Not the case.

I think organizationally, a lot of guys in the dugout might have a more realistic look on what success is like when people already know you're pretty good. 

This season, I'm excited. But I always get excited for baseball, because it's my favorite sport. Win or lose, I like watching the Nats. I think they come in second in the NL East.

Loved your column. I would add a good performing arts culture if you know where to look for it - the theater scene in particular is really outstanding. Also some small dance troupes doing creative work on shoestring budgets.

I think the reader is referring to this column.

But yes, I've always said that the District has a whole lot of things to offer. You just have to know where to look. 

Do you watch the paralympics at all? What do they need to do to raise their profile and become more mainstream?

I didn't even know they were televised, honestly. And alas, I know next to nothing about them, so it's hard for me to say how they could raise said profile. Not that I don't think that would be helpful. 

Alright kiddos, that's all I've got for today. Thanks for the questions and until then, you know where to find me. Have a good week!

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Clinton Yates
Clinton Yates is a D.C. native and an online columnist. He was born at GWU hospital the week before Ronald Reagan ended up there for the wrong reasons. When he's not covering the city, pop culture or listening to music, he watches sports. A lot of them.
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