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The Ward 1 D.C. Council race pits longshot opponents against well-funded incumbent Brianne Nadeau, and one of the key campaign issues, in the eyes of challenger Kent Boese, figures to be responsiveness to community concerns such as blight and public safety.
So Loose Lips spent a few days recently in an area of Ward 1 that Nadeau knows to be a problem area, but which Boese, chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1A, knows like the back of his hand.
Boese, a law librarian, spends much of his free time in the neighborhoods, in community meetings, and in the faces of government officials responsible for addressing his community’s concerns.
Among those concerns is an uptick in crime in an area where an otherwise gentrifying D.C. confronts its rundown past. Vacant and blighted buildings, including the destined-for-demolition Park Morton public housing complex, and a rough mix of street activity mar pockets on and off Georgia Avenue NW on either side of its Metro stop.
Ward 1 is one of the most diverse city wards. In the mix: older black residents, affluent white families, young white renters, and low-income Latinx and black families who reside in older brick apartments, duplexes, or fading houses they inherited from their middle class parents.
A central hub of this ward is the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro Station and its environs, comprised of a large condo complex, a stretch of long-standing restaurants and carryouts, convenience and liquor stores, nail salons, nouveau dive bars, and a strip club. The areas surrounding this hub have seen horrific drug wars in the past, but now attract illicit activity that Boese believes requires more than just police presence.
Outside the CVS two Fridays ago, Boese points out broken sand bags around sewer grates that he says WMATA won’t remove and pavers he says he had the city install, but are now sinking because of rat burrows. The CVS has been tagged. A condom, rubber glove, and upended grocery cart are among the litter near the bus stop. There’s a listing low fence around a treebox that he says no one will repair or replace.
For Boese, all of these conditions are interconnected and related to quality of life in a changing area that has even more entrenched problems.
Public safety is tricky, as it relies on police resources amid shifting conditions and demographics. This part of Ward 1 used to fall within the Third Police District, says Boese. In 2011, however, then-Chief Cathy Lanier re-districted a portion of it into the Fourth District, which had less crime. East and west of Georgia Avenue, police respond from the Fourth District if a call comes from north of Park Road NW, but the Third District if a call comes from south of Park.
“It’s confusing for the community, and you have to drill down on crime statistics,” Boese says, noting the D.C. police website no longer shows percentage increases or decreases in crime. “We talk a good game about transparency, but people are smart enough to know what the stats mean. Why remove such a feature?”
At a recent community meeting, Boese says a police officer told a group of citizens there are two officers detailed north of Park Road NW, and that the area needs more like seven. Crime stats support this assertion.
Though crime is down in the Fourth District over all, according to D.C. police data, in Police Service Area 409, which is shaped like a bowtie with the Metro as its knot, violent crime and property crime are both up, especially in the last 60 days. Boese says he has also seen complaints about prostitution over Third District listservs, and residents in PSA 409 have voiced similar concerns.
He walks south to the 600 block of Park Road, where vacant houses deteriorate across the street from the graffitied Park Morton complex. A basement door on one of them has been kicked in before, he says, and another has been used as a drug den. Boese says the closure of an unsecured parking lot and new construction across the street from Park Morton have pushed drug activity to nearby streets.
Through a narrow passage between a condominium and a vacant on the 500 block, Boese trudges through an overgrown backyard with scattered rat traps. Making his way to Bruce-Monroe Elementary School at Park View, a dual-language school, he notes that vandals torched the playground some time back. A brick wall is topped with weeds. Garbage bags are piled around a lamp post. The city does not address these matters as quickly as he’d like.
Boese ventures onto Newton Place NW. Earlier this month, 41-year-old Antwaun Smith was shot and killed inside an apartment at 615, allegedly by a stepbrother who suspected him of snitching. Boese has hounded public officials about this block for years. A pair of police SUVs roll slowly by. The stop sign at Newton and 6th NW has a 13—indicative of the MS-13 gang—spray-painted on its back.
Around the corner, Latina mothers push baby strollers. Up a rise, outside Park View Rec Center, young men silently disperse when approached. PSA 409 needs more than policing, Boese says. “We have political boundaries, but communities don’t function that way,” he says. “And regulatory agencies don’t have the staff or resources to monitor everything.”
Last Friday, on a solo visit to Newton Place NW, a woman is passing out fliers for a vigil for Smith. She says they were cousins. Two D.C. police officers stand at Newton and 6th, presumably in anticipation of the expected gathering. Two young men, one of whom is heavily tattooed, linger in and around a parked sedan, where a woman in the front seat is handing them fliers to post.
Boese sees Newton Place as one example of activity that radiates from transit hubs and commercial corridors.
Nadeau, the incumbent, also sees the connection between blight and public safety. “We have been working closely with MPD in regards to properties in the neighborhood that were brought to our attention and are very grateful for MPD’s continued work to help address the public safety concerns,” writes one of her staffers to Boese, in a Sept. 13 email that details coordinated agency efforts such as a Ward 1 Intervention Group to “build trust with individuals in our community who may be hesitant to engage with government services.”
The following day, Boese replies, “I strongly believe that we need to get the situation on Newton Place under control before we are going to see much improvement from the agencies and their efforts … and yes, this means a dedicated effort from MPD and undercover officers. As I am typing, I have been informed from one of our neighbors that there is an active situation on Newton Place involving someone who is high on drugs with a knife which MPD is currently addressing. This is not a situation where we have the level of safety necessary for agency staff to be productively engaged.”
Nadeau is not backing down from such challenges to her grassroots commitment. In an email to Loose Lips, spokesperson Tom Fazzini details collaborative legislative and regulatory efforts to address the issues: “[Nadeau] has been focused on vacant properties since her time as an ANC when [they] impacted quality of life for adjoining neighbors and became full on nuisances and havens for crime. As a Councilmember she works with the ANCs, MPD and Attorney General and U.S. Attorney’s offices when necessary.”
Yet Boese believes being out in the neighborhoods more frequently is what separates him from Nadeau. “She sees herself first and foremost as a legislator, but the more genuine part of the job is to be a problem solver, out in the community,” he says. “Legislation isn’t where you start, it’s where you end when nothing else is working.”