Tuesday, December 26, 2006

On Boxing Day: The Self-Inflicted 9/11

It's official now: The US military death count in Iraq today passed the number of fatalities on September 11. Of course, if you include dead US civilians and allies, that milestone would have been passed some months ago. Then there are all those dead Iraqis--who knows how many? 60,000? 100,000? Who's counting, anyway?

This morning on the Today show, this event got maybe 10 seconds of air time and then our affable hosts went on to spend about 15 minutes on the Tragedy of Job Burnout and another 15 or so on how to take advantage of post-Christmas shopping.

Where's the anger? As someone who was part of the Vietnam generation, I just can't understand why there's such apathy about the mendacity and criminal incompetance of this administration. Maybe it's the absence of a draft, so if you go to Iraq, it's basically your own fault. Maybe its greater corporate control of the media, so that the news media look the other way and give us happy talk--and besides, how many people pay attention to main stream media anymore? Maybe people just don't give a damn.

Oh well, whatever. At least the War on Christmas is going pretty well, and marriage is still protected from the gays.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Restaurants: Let's hear it for the V's

Two recent restaurant meals, both successes.

I may be the last person in the neighborhood who hadn't been to Vegetate, the vegetarian restaurant on 9th Street (just behind the Giant). I actually really like vegetables, but somehow it just seems like a restaurant should be have them in supporting roles, not as the main attraction. Also, I had heard sort of mixed reviews from people who had eaten there, so I hadn't been all that anxious to give it a try.

I'm glad to report that my qualms were baseless, and I really enjoyed the dinner. The dining rooms are handsome and stylish, but comfortable. The server was knowledgeable and ready for a little banter with our group, and showed none of the hipper- and holier-than-thou attitude I half expected. And the food was very good indeed.

For an appetizer I had a delicious creamy gratin of leeks and jerusalem artichokes. Don't know if it actually had dairy in it (Vegetate is ovolacto vegetarian, not vegan--though there are some vegan dishes), but it was so good that I would happily have made a meal of it had it been a little bigger. The main course was a kind of torte on a polenta base, with black beans and roasted sweet potatoes--also excellent. I particularly liked the spicy sauteed collards that accompanied it--would love to have the recipe. I also sampled someone else's potato gnocchi served with mushrooms and broccoli raab--very good as well.

Vegetate still doesn't have its liquor license, despite the "emergency legislation" passed by the DC council--so no alcoholic drinks are yet available. But I had the terrific homemade ginger ale, very fresh and spicy. The bar is ready when the license comes through--hopefully fairly soon--and they have a special event license for New Year's Eve.

I believe the bill for our group of five was about $130 (some had only appetizers), plus tip and without desserts. Definitely worth it. So if you have a lingering doubt about a vegetarian restaurant, get over it and check out Vegetate.

A bit further afield and higher up the price scale, we also recently tried out Viridian at 1515 14th Street (next to the Studio Theater) and had another very happy experience there. The restaurant is in a former Hudson car dealership (traces of its former life still visible if you look hard enough) and the dining room is a big elegant space decorated with enormous empty baroque frames on the wall. Be sure to check out the infinity of mirrors in the unisex restrooms.

Service was attentive and professional, but unpretentious and not too chummy. We were presented with an extremely minimalist "amuse bouche" consisting of two cherry tomatoes sliced in half and sprinkled with a little vinagrette and fresh oregano. I skipped the appetizers ("Sketches"), but got bites from my fellow diners and liked what I tasted. Unfortunately, I didn't get to sample much of the main dish ("Major Works") offerings since everyone in our party ordered the same one: a big juicy chunk of roasted pork loin sauced with a pear-pinot noir reduction. But we were all very pleased with our choice. The side dishes were also quite good: roasted mushrooms, wild rice with cranberries, and couscous with pistachios.

Nobody had room for dessert but we had French press coffees and tea, and left very content. The tab was about $200 for four, including tip and pre-dinner cocktails. They make a very decent martini.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


The Fenty Town Meeting last week may have been little more than a feel-good session without much real consequence, but I think it was useful in at least one respect: It revealed that when it comes to real issues that affect our daily lives, there is a huge amount of common ground and very little disagreement among community residents. I shared a table with Barbara Curtis and Mary Sutherland--both strong allies of Leroy Thorpe--and the discussion was friendly, respectful, and quite free of the tensions that have distorted so many recent public meetings in our neighborhood.

This got me thinking: If we can have a real conversation in that kind of setting, why do the other meetings have to be so contentious and hostile? In this same vein, In Shaw has an interesting post contrasting the divisions within our community and the atmosphere in ANC2C meetings with the situation just the other side of New Jersey Avenue. Her conclusion: It's the leadership. I think that applies to my first question as well.

The only real issue in the recent election was Mr. Thorpe. All of the ANC2C races--not just his own--were really about him. He has set the tone for the ANC meetings and has completely dominated the proceedings, instructing his allies on the commission exactly what to do and browbeating anyone who expresses the least criticism. Now he has lost his seat, but is still doing his utmost to make sure that everything still revolves around him.

In case anyone hasn't been paying attention, let's review what happened last week:
First, Mr. Thorpe was so keen to be president of something that he was willing to stomp all over one of his supporters, Mrs. Betty Newell, to set himself up as president of the East Central Civic Association in a bogus election. This "election" was not on the published meeting agenda and no notice of any election had been distributed to members; the president of the ECCA (Mrs. Newell) was taken totally unawares; Mr. Thorpe was speaking as ANC Chairman when it occurred and had no standing within ECCA to call any election--much less preside over one; no one could produce the by-laws governing elections; there was no call for other nominations; there was no certified count; only the presidency came up for vote--there was no mention of the other offices which should also have been voted upon in any real election. The astounding thing was that the officers of the ECCA did not make a peep to prevent this travesty. If they won't defend the integrity of the organization, then maybe it's time to let Mr. Thorpe preside over its empty shell.

The next step was at the ANC meeting on Dec. 6, where Mr. Thorpe rammed through a grant request to buy laptop computers for the same ECCA that he had just taken over two days previously. Never mind that there is documentation that the ECCA received an ANC grant less than two years ago to buy 4 desktop computers and also received two laptops from a private donor. Never mind that no one could account for those computers. Never mind that the ECCA has no website or e-mail address and was unable to show what use had been made of the computers already received. Never mind that Mr. Thorpe had been daintily admonished by the DC Auditor in 2005 for filling out and signing ANC grant requests himself (lest "there be an appearance of impropriety.)" This time there wasn't just an "appearance of impropriety"; this was the genuine article.

The icing on the cake arrived when, as expected, he resigned the ANC chair and used his 3 votes to name Doris Brooks as chairperson and treasurer and Barbara Curtis as vice-chairperson and secretary. This move takes advantage of the rule that if an ANC cannot elect a new chairperson, then the one from the previous term continues in that position. The calculation here is that the votes of Mssrs. Padro and Chapple will be cancelled out by those of Mmes Brooks and Curtis, thus assuring deadlock. But it gets better. Ms. Brooks then named Mr. Thorpe to be both her "parliamentarian" and executive assistant and to use Mr. Thorpe's phone number as the official phone number of ANC2C. The expectation plainly is that the "parliamentarian" will control the meeting agenda and settle any question in favor of Guess Who, while remaining at the table to continue giving stage directions to Ms. Brooks and Ms. Curtis. Laugh or cry about it, you gotta admit the man has a pair.

What motivates all this is for someone else to figure out, but I think it shows contempt for both the residents of this ANC and for the democratic system. Mr. Thorpe always vociferiously denies that he's a politician, which of course is nonsense because he's a very talented one--though he may have overreached a bit this time. The question is whether he's going to use his undeniable gifts to help bring this community together or if he's going to continue roiling the waters and exploiting the underlying suspicions held by so many people. It doesn't have to be that way. He has done a lot of good in the past to make the community a safer place, and he could do a lot of good in the future if he wants to. If only he could acknowledge that his isn't the only voice that counts.

Blogger's note: Up through the election, I've tried to keep my posts as objective and factual as I could and refrain from editorializing or criticizing any candidate (though obviously other commenters have not been so restrained). However, I think these particular actions are so shameless that they demand commentary.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Chapple Confirmed As Winner

It's been reported a number of places elsewhere (such as here), but the recount verified Kevin Chapples' 5-vote win over Leroy Thorpe. The final tally is: Chapple 275, Thorpe 270.

Congratulations to Kevin. Now the challenge is to make this mean something.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Spite Politics; or: How to Win by Losing

Well, we knew what was going to happen, and this time the spectacle did not disappoint.

Fresh from hijacking the East Central Civic Association on Monday, ANC2C chairman commissioner Leroy Thorpe convened what may be his last meeting as titular chairman before an overflow crowd. The warm-up acts were humdrum and a little tedious except for watching a couple of big developers squirm over whether they had made enough concessions to the Chinese community (which was unrepresented at the meeting) for a project at 600 Mass Ave in a block that has never contained any Chinese businesses or residences. Oh, and some discussion over whether to use ANC grant money to buy computers for the recently-taken-over ECCA to replace others bought previously (which from all appearances have never been used for ECCA business). Questions about what the equipment would be used for were indignantly dismissed, and the motion passed, comme il faut.

But the main event was the Resignation Foretold of Mr. Thorpe as ANC Chairman. True to his promise, he relinquished the office and immediately nominated Doris Brooks to succeed him as Chairperson, Barbara Curtis as Vice-Chairperson, Doris Brooks as Treasurer, and Barbara Curtis as Secretary (to take the minutes that are never published or distributed to constituents, one supposes). The votes were predictably 3 to 1, with Alex Padro dissenting.

But wait, there's more. Ms. Brooks then proceeded to nominate Mr. Thorpe as Parliamentarian for the 2007-2008 term and moved to use his phone number as the main telephone number for the ANC. Passed again, 3 to 1. (There may have been something else handed over to Mr. Thorpe--I sort of lost track in the growing hubbub.)

Reaction among the audience ranged from smiles of smug satisfaction among Thorpe supporters to howls of outrage and helpless laughter from his critics.

What all this essentially guarantees (assuming Kevin Chapple's 5-vote victory isn't overturned in tomorrow's recount) is that the ANC will probably be even more dysfunctional than it already is, and that Mr. Thorpe will continue to call the plays. (Perhaps employing those helmet radiophones that NFL coaches use to tell their quarterbacks what to do. There will have to be something like that, since Mr. Thorpe currently gives audible stage prompts to Ms. Brooks and Ms. Curtis on their every move.) The commission will likely be divided 2 and 2 with Mssrs. Padro and Chapple on the other side--likely insuring paralysis. If Mr. Thorpe should win the recount, of course, everything will be as it was--with the additional sense of invincibility.

Or maybe not. The weird thing about all this is that there are never any actual issues debated. It's always all about the ego trip and being the Alpha Dog and making sure the capo's ring gets kissed. There's really no reason that the four commissioners couldn't agree on most things that come before them. The question is whether Mr. Thorpe is more interested in asserting his preeminence as community leader than he is in advancing the interests of the community. He certainly has the resources at hand to screw things up. What he decides to do with them remains to be seen. Who'da thunk George "Macacawitz" Allen could provide a model for accepting a closely fought electoral defeat gracefully? If only.

Well, it certainly was worth the price of admission, which was, of course, nothing.

Monday, December 04, 2006

ECCA Meeting, 12/4

Quite a night at the ECCA meeting this evening!

The meeting was following the printed agenda until during ANC Commissioner Thorpe's presentation, he recognized one of the attendees, who made a motion that Mr. Thorpe be elected president. Since there was no election on the agenda, someone asked president of what? She said that she was nominating him for president of ECCA.

Most of the 20 or so people in attendance appeared stunned by this development, including current president Betty Newell who indicated that she had no idea that this was in the offing. A number of questions were asked about when the election was supposed to take place and what the procedures were, but others said that changing the agenda was legitimate. Mr. Thorpe (who was running the meeting at that point) called for the question and asked for those in attendance to raise their hands for, against, or abstain. I heard no numerical count, and it appeared that at least several people (self included) did not raise their hands at all. Mr. Thorpe was declared the winner. There was no election for the other offices of treasurer and public relations (currently held by Lillian Gordon and Eloise Wahab, respectively) and no discussion of them. Mr. Thorpe is to take office in January.

The emotional temperature also was raised when during the police report, another attendee (and long-time Shaw resident) spoke about his car being broken into twice recently and, becoming more passionate, made some intemperate remarks that many interpreted as being disparaging about the neighborhood and used profane language in threatening what might happen if his car was broken into again. He then exited the meeting, followed by Mr. Thorpe. Many of those in attendance were offended by language, and several people remarked that this just proved the kind of attitude that too many people held. Mr. Thorpe returned and defended the person, saying he had known him for many years and that he had made a lot of contributions to the neighborhood and that he respected him for speaking what was on his mind.

There was also some discussion about last Saturday's workshop on crime held by the Ward 2 democrats. One of the ladies who attended it said was a very useful session that encouraged real dialogue that helped break down the us vs. them attitude. Mr. Thorpe (who had not been at the event) was more critical, which led the original speaker to suggest that he shouldn't be so negative as he had not been there to see what happened.

Sean Howard, who is the Fenty Transition's Ward 2 coordinator, also encouraged people to come to the town hall meeting for Ward 2 scheduled for Thursday evening at 6:30 at the Kennedy Recreation Center. He added that the mayor-elect is really looking for input from the community and that the meeting would be organized to elicit that. Mr. Thorpe asked how he could know what community concerns were if the transition team hadn't consulted community leaders such as himself and others. Mr. Howard replied that he and others on the team had been going door to door and that he thought they had been getting a pretty good sense of what people were concerned about. There was also some criticism that the town meeting had not been better publicized, which Mr. Howard admitted was at least partly justified. (This blog published a notice about it last week.)

The meeting provided a forum for Mr. Thorpe to serve notice (which he expressed quite plainly) that he would remain a major force in the community regardless of the outcome of the election recount to take place Thursday night. He indicated that his announced resignation as ANC chairman to take place at the Wednesday meeting would allow him to assure that one of his allies on the ANC would take his place, anticipating a commission evenly divided if his opponent, Kevin Chapple, were declared the winner after the recount. He said several times that those who opposed his re-election were "only screwing themselves." He also reiterated that there is a great need for a real dialogue within the community to try to bridge divisions.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Gay in Shaw--Happy Hour on Friday?

Following up on our September get-together, my partner and I are offering to host a very informal happy hour this coming Friday, December 8 from 6:00 to 8:00 or so. We'll provide some wine, beer, soft drinks and munchies. In-kind contributions are welcome, but certainly not necessary. Straight friends and neighbors are welcome as well.

If you'd like to come, please send me an e-mail to: vzepunmc@verizon.net and I'll reply with address and other info. I know there's a lot going on this time of year, but hope you can come by for a while anyway.

I met some great people at our September get-together and look forward to meeting others and helping build a community.

ANC Recount: Waiting to Exhale

The Mount Vernon Square blog has posted the latest info about the recount for the ANC2C02 race, which reportedly will take place on December 7.