Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Upcoming Meetings: Shaw Main Streets and PSA 308

Shaw Main Streets is holding a community forum on Wednesday, Sept. 27 from 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the Maya Angelou Charter School, 1851 9th Street, NW. All residents are welcome to attend. This is a good opportunity to find out about plans for the O Street Market project, Howard Theatre, and other neighborhood projects.

Also, on Saturday morning Sept. 30 from 10:00-12:00, Officer Tommy Barnes is holding a PSA 308 (our area) Summit--Partnership for Problem-Solving at the 3rd District Station, 1620 V Street NW. Full details are on the Mount Vernon Square blog here.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Mount Vernon Square Potluck

Kudos to the Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association for organizing the neighborhood potluck/barbeque on Tuesday evening, and special thanks to Tonya Gonzalez for being such a welcoming and gracious host. I particularly appreciate the effort to reach out to include those of us who live outside of the MVSNA area and provide an opportunity to meet neighbors in an enjoyable and informal event like this. I'd love to see more of this kind of occasion to help build bridges and foster communication among area residents. Good job!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Taggers at Work

It looks like taggers from the 5th and O crew were busy over the weekend. I noticed at least four places on Sunday morning with new graffiti—there are probably others as well—near that corner and in the 1400 block of 5th Street.

At the various meetings on crime, residents have been urged to report such graffiti to the Department of Public Works and get them removed. It probably wouldn’t hurt for more than one person to call in.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Town Meeting on Crime, 9/14

I was late for the meeting (6:00 start times are tough for us working folks), so I won't attempt a comprehensive recap. But I got there in time for most of it, and the refrains were familiar, though attendance seemed down a bit from last time.

One recurring theme was the complaint that the police aren't following up on information provided by residents, and therefore people aren't calling the police because they think there will be no response. Another was that there are a number of fine police in the district (officers Barnes and Brown were specifically cited), but also too many who are lazy and ineffective. The need for community policing was cited again. (The police representatives cited the new out-of-car patrols, mounted police presence, etc. to show something was being done of this sort.) [Comment: I can't say I've seen much of that--has anyone else?]

One resident suggested that night courts were needed to process people when they are arrested rather than force the arresting officer to return in the morning to do the paperwork. The judge on the panel said that this was unnecessary in a city this size and not an effective use of resources, but Chief Ramsey said that he thought we should have "night papering" because the current system was a big disincentive to making arrests. The Chief also said that he needs specific information on ineffective cops, not just vague complaints, and reiterated (as he did in June) that if people want to remove criminals, they need to report the information that they know about the crimes.

ANC2C chairman Thorpe got praise for his anti-crime efforts, and noted (as did others) that the new surveillance cameras had caused the problem hang-out locations to shift to other corners. He again cited the Lincoln-Westmoreland and Kelsey Gardens apartments as places where drugs are being dealt openly and where other crimes are recurring problems. (He pointed out that both these places are in Alex Padro's district, claiming that Padro's area had the most crime, while his was the safest. Padro then said that actually Barbara Curtis's district had had the most shooting. I thought I detected some eye-rolling in the audience during these statements.)

Councilman Jack Evans said he would convene another meeting probably in January or February after the new Fenty administration was in place and promised to have the new mayor and council chairman there.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Thoughts on the ECCA Meeting

I haven't posted anything on Monday's ECCA meeting partly because I've been busy and partly because I wanted to think about it first. There's a thorough recap on the Mount Vernon blog and lots of commentary on In Shaw.

I had to leave early, so I didn't personally hear everything that went on, but I heard enough to be stunned by the degree of anger being expressed by older residents (in the sense of being here for a long time) against newcomers. I think that's really what it is because newer black residents also came in for lambasting as well, even though what came out was put in mostly in black vs. white terms.

It's as if the two sides (for want of a better word) are speaking different languages. What set things off, was when a (white) resident asked the 3rd district police representative what his advice would be on dealing with people hanging out on the street at 1 or 2 in the morning, playing loud music or setting off firecrackers. That seemed like a reasonable question to me.

However, other residents obviously heard this as code language for something else, and they responded with accusations that white people moving into the neighborhood have no regard for African-American culture and regard all black men as criminals and have no respect for the people who have been living in the neighborhood for many years. Evidently, the rest of the meeting went on pretty much in that vein.

Well, there undoubtedly are white people who hold such views, but I would be very much surprised if any of them were attending the ECCA meeting that night. It seems to me that if someone takes the time and effort to attend a neighborhood association meeting then that indicates a desire to be part of the community, not stand apart from it. I had assumed that the ECCA was there to represent all of the residents within the area it serves and therefore would want to encourage newcomers to join and participate. Unfortunately, the way this meeting went seems likely to do exactly the opposite--the natural response would be to say who needs this and never show up again.

I have always thought ECCA President Mrs. Betty Newell to be a kind, welcoming, and fair-minded person, so I was surprised to hear that ANC2C 02 candidate Kevin Chapple was not allowed to speak except very briefly at the end of the meeting when people were leaving and other activities were taking place. His opponent, incumbent ANC2C chairman Leroy Thorpe spoke at great length, as did Mary Sutherland who is running against Alex Padro for the ANC2C 01 position. It seems only fair that Mr. Chapple should be given adequate time to present his ideas to those present, and I hope he will have that opportunity at the next meeting in October.

But back to the original observation about the anger that came out at the meeting, I really think that many newcomers have little idea about the resentments expressed nor understand much about where the hostility is coming from. Clearly, there is a problem here. I don’t know exactly what needs to be done to remedy the situation, but increased estrangement between newer and older residents certainly isn’t going to help anything.

Monday, September 11, 2006

ANC Campaign Gets Ugly

I woke up this morning to find two fliers stuck together in the fence out front. One concerned something called "Great Streets"--a program of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Development. The other was distributed by "HALT (Homeowners Against Leroy Thorpe" and contained material about a court case more than 20 years ago and remarks he was reported to have made about 9/11.

Several things bother me about the latter. The main one is the anonymity of the flyer and who "HALT" consists of. This sort of stuff smacks of the 'Swiftboating' that was directed at John Kerry in the last presidential election. I don't know who HALT is, but by remaining anonymous, the group creates suspicions that Mr. Thorpe's opponent and anyone who may support him may be involved in this flyer even if they had nothing whatever to do with it. I should note that an anonymous flyer of a similar nature was passed around a couple of months ago by something called the "ANC 2C-01 Dump Padro Committee", which alleged that Mr. Padro wanted a gay nightclub next to a church daycare center and is against the black people and poor people of Shaw.

Second, the material on the flyer really has little, if anything, to do with the issues of the ANC. The court case appears to have been resolved and settled two decades ago. I don't agree with the remarks on 9/11 Mr. Thorpe was reported to make, but he was within his rights to make them. In any case, they are no worse than similar pronoucements made by prominent so-called "Christian" preachers like Falwell and Robertson.

My point is that this kind of thing just adds to the tensions within the neighborhood and promotes suspicions and hostility. We don't need that. Everyone should remember that what goes around, comes around.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

ECCA Meeting Monday 9/11; Town Meeting on Crime 9/14

The East Central Civic Association (ECCA) will meet on Monday, Sept. 11 at 7:00 p.m. at the Third Baptist Church (5th and Q). The area covered by the ECCA is roughly bounded by New Jersey Ave., Rhode Island Ave., 7th, and N. Meeting are normally on the first Monday of every month, but this one was delayed a week due to the Labor Day holiday.

The follow-up Town Meeting on Crime organized by Councilmember Jack Evans will be held on Thursday, Sept. 14 at 7:00 at the United House of Prayer for All People (6th and M). Chief Ramsey is supposed to be there as well as representatives from city agencies, including DCRA. This meeting was intended to gauge if there have been positive results since the first meeting held in June.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Reflections on the ANC meeting

First of all, sincere thanks for all the kind and supportive comments. It’s nice to know that people are reading this blog and that at least some of you like what you see.

To me, the most depressing thing about this whole affair was how quickly the discussion (if we can call it that) at the meeting turned into a racial thing. I guess I can understand how that could happen, but it’s still frustrating. What I also heard was basically this: We long-time [black] residents stuck it out here through the really bad times and worked to improve this place and now that things are safe enough you [white] gentrifiers are moving in here and trying to change everything.

Well, I’m not going to argue that there isn’t some truth in that. Most of us newcomers have other financial options—we didn’t have to be here, we chose to be here. Yes, if this neighborhood were still as dangerous as it used to be, many newcomers probably wouldn’t have made that choice. And yes, we owe a big debt to the folks who have been here all along and helped make those positive changes.

But here’s the thing: I don’t think it’s quite that (pardon the expression) black-and-white. There are quite a few white folks around here who stuck it out through the drug wars as well. By no means are all of the “gentrifiers” (a term I really despise) white. Take my little condo development, for example: The developers were black, the realtor (and all his team) were black, the settlement attorneys were black, and half of the home owners are black. And if the white folks who did move here didn’t want to be around black folks, why would they have moved here in the first place?

Moreover, I think the things the newcomers want for the neighborhood are really the same things the older residents want. When I go to neighborhood meetings, this is what I hear—mostly from long-time residents: We want adequate police protection so that we can walk the streets without fearing for our lives; we want the drug dealers out of here; we want the police to get out of their cars so they can relate to people in the community, show up promptly when something happens, and take our complaints seriously; we want good and reliable services from the city and we want a response when we have problems; we want a decent education for our kids and we want them to have positive recreational opportunities to help them stay out of trouble; we want to have better and more diverse retail shops and restaurants in the community. Of course, there are other things, but those seem to be the biggies.

So if everyone basically wants the same things, why can’t we work together to achieve them? For one thing, I think that too often new and older residents don’t know each other well enough to help get past the suspicions each holds about the other. Only a small percentage of residents turn up for neighborhood association and ANC meetings, and there don’t seem to be very many other natural opportunities to mix and mingle.

How does all this relate to the ANC? Here’s what I think: The ANC commissioners are our first level representatives in the city government, and they’re supposed to reflect the will of the community. But let’s be honest, this is a community that has lots of tensions because of the changes it is going through. Our ANC commissioners should be providing leadership that helps bridge divisions and reduce those tensions. It should be possible to have disagreements without becoming enemies. It should be possible to express an opinion without having it put down because of the race of the speaker—all white people don’t think alike and neither do all black people. If someone has an idea or a project that benefits the community, what difference does it make who started it—let’s get behind it and try to get it done. Call me naïve if you want, but that’s what I’d like to see.

If the current ANC commissioners can provide that kind of positive leadership, then great—let’s keep them in office and build on their experience and community knowledge. If not, then maybe it’s time to look elsewhere.

This is going on too long, so I’m going to stop. Comments are welcome, but as I said before, let’s keep it civil and please identify yourself somehow—by initials, if nothing else.

Shaw Gay/Lesbian Get-together

Thanks to all who came to our patio party last night--and thanks for all the food and drink contributions you brought. I was delighted to meet a number of neighbors I hadn't known before and came away thinking 'What a terrific bunch of people we have in this neighborhood!'

I had a great time and hope others did too. I'd love it if we could do something like this periodically--what do you guys think?

For anyone who couldn't make it last night, but would like to be added to the listserve I'm putting together, please send me an e-mail to vzepunmc@verizon.net.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

ANC2C Meeting 9/6

Well, this blog got a bit more attention than I had bargained for when it became a subject for heated discussion at the end of the ANC2C meeting last night. It began when one attendee objected to critical comments directed against Commission Chairman Thorpe, who then observed that the person responsible for the blog was sitting at the table and said that the blog was spreading malicious allegations that would divide the community. Several other people spoke up to praise Chairman Thorpe’s activism and his key role in reducing crime in the area, noting how different the situation was today compared with only a few years ago.

When I was finally recognized to speak, I acknowledged that I was the blog’s author, but pointed out that I had never written anything disrespectful or critical about Mr. Thorpe in the blog and specifically had never posted anything claiming that he was “homophobic,” but I do not control what other people say in their comments. I added that I saw the blog as a way of getting out information to people in the community, particularly newcomers, who are unaware of neighborhood issues and developments and who might not even know, for example, that the ANC exists or what it does.

I spoke with Mr. Thorpe after the meeting, and I believe that things are okay between us.

To any readers who may be upset about comments others have posted to this blog, let me say to you what I said to Mr. Thorpe: He has my great respect and appreciation for all of the work he has done for many years to turn this community around and to try to make it, in his words, clean, safe, and drug-free. I believe that is a goal that everyone—black or white, gay or straight—can agree on, and one we should all work together to achieve.

I have tried to be as fair and even-handed as possible in what I post here. I consider this blog to be something of a forum and I believe that having people informed about issues, problems, and achievements in the community can help neighbors get to know each other and get more involved in neighborhood affairs.

I also believe people have a right to express their opinions and will allow anyone to post comments (as Commissioner Thorpe himself has done) as long as they do not appear to be obscene, grossly offensive, or obviously untrue. So say what you want to say, but please, let’s keep it civil. And kindly identify yourself in some way when you post a comment.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Gay/Lesbian in Shaw? Meet-and-Greet on Friday.

In an earlier post, I noted that several people have told me that they'd be interested in having an informal get-together of gay and lesbian residents of the neighborhood as a way of getting to know other members of the community better.

To try to help get things started, my partner and I have offered to host a little patio party after work: 6-8 p.m. on this coming Friday, September 8. Nothing fancy--just a chance to get to know some neighbors you might not have met before.

Kindly let me know if you can join us by sending an e-mail to vzepunmc@verizon.net so we'll have an idea who will be coming. Based on the response, I'll start a list serve and get back to everyone by e-mail with our address and more detailed info. If you can't come on September 8, but would like to be added to the list serve, please send me an e-mail anyway.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Meeting the ANC Challengers

I finally got to meet Kevin Chapple, who is running for the ANC2C02 seat currently held by Leroy Thorpe, at John Tinpe’s reception on Friday. He also dropped by the house during his rounds knocking on neighborhood doors on Saturday afternoon.

Kevin is a very sharp and very nice guy, and I like the fact that he’s starting out by asking what residents are concerned about in the ANC rather than pushing an agenda from the outset. Any plans for a meet-and-greet soon, Kevin?

I told him that one thing I would like to see is an end to all the fighting and invective and more focus on cooperating to reach common goals. Too often it seems that ideas that are of clear benefit to the community become casualties of ego-driven pettiness. Right now, the atmosphere in the ANC meetings is so toxic that a lot of residents don’t want to subject themselves to it. Obviously, crime is a big issue, but it’s not the only thing.

John Tinpe had a nice gathering on Friday to talk about his run for the seat currently held by Doris Brooks. He’s trying to mobilize residents of Penn Quarter and Gallery Place, who apparently feel neglected and unrepresented in the ANC. (There’s a post on this in the Gallery Place Living blog.) As noted previously, he’s an owner of the Burma Restaurant on 6th Street (between G and H) and served food from the restaurant at his reception. (Yum!)

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Worst Fears Confirmed: BeBar is GAY!

We stopped by BeBar on its opening night (our invitation to the VIP pre-opening on Thursday night must have gotten lost in the e-mail). I can report that the fear-mongers were right about one thing: It is indeed a gay bar.

The clientele: A very high twink quotient—kinda JR’s East. Probably 90% of the crowd were in their twenties or early thirties; we probably raised the median age by at least five years when we walked in the door. Almost totally male—a few women were interspersed about, looking a little nervous. Overwhelmingly white—I’d say 95%.

Bartending: The bartenders were young, handsome, and pretty frazzled. I elbowed my way up to the bar and after five or ten minutes managed to make eye contact with one of them and ordered a classic martini for me and a beer for my partner. The bartender said that the olives “hadn’t been delivered.” I said, okay, how about a twist or an onion. No dice for that either. [Comment: There’s a 24-hour Giant across the street, for cryin’ out loud. They sell olives.] The beer choice was pretty minimal—had to settle for a Bud; which seems pretty lame. The tariff was $13, which, amazingly, is fairly standard these days. From what I could see, BeBar seems to specialize in sweet drinks the color of kiddie watertoys that are served in martini glasses.

Décor: Eclectic self-conscious hip. The place is a long, fairly narrow space with a bar that extends along most of one side. There’s a long banquette with lots of cushions along the opposite wall, with small tables (in ironic styles) in front and a few chairs and stools that probably came from Design Within Reach—you know, the Phillippe Starke “Ghost” Louis XVI armchair, acrylic stools, etc. On the tables, there were large flower bouquets in big vases with doomed live goldfish swimming around in them. There’s a set of some kind of antlers on one wall and enigmatic, ironic cartoons are projected on the wall above the banquette. On the ceiling, there are translucent acrylic panels covering colored lights that run the length of the space. A raised section at the rear is for a dance floor, but no one was dancing while we here there. Pulsating techno music makes conversation difficult, but most of the guys just seemed to be checking out each other rather than talking anyway.

Overall: We’re certainly not the target demographic, but BeBar is a pretty classy addition to the neighborhood, and it will bring some life to an area that has been mostly deserted after dark. So wilkommen, bienvenu, welcome!

Well, the dogs needed walking, so we finished our drinks and left about 11:30. No protesters had gathered (of course, it was pouring rain), and the sky had not fallen.