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Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham is one of those politicians for whom no issue is too small. Pothole? He’s on the phone with a road crew. Someone stabbed at a nightclub? He’s all over the liquor authorities.
Dilapidated house on the 1300 block of Girard Street NW?
Graham’s on top of that one, too. Just so happens, though, that this is not just any house. It’s the long-decaying manse that belongs to Ward 1 activists Dorothy Brizill and Gary Imhoff—two people who’ve made it their business to give elected officials and other public servants a hard time.
Back in September, LL reported that the Brizill-Imhoff home, built in Columbia Heights in 1870, had attracted the attention of the city’s Board for the Condemnation of Insanitary Buildings.
At the time, LL reported the condition of the 4,200-square-foot abode as such: “Glass is missing from several front windows. The front porch is rotting away. The slate roof is bare and sagging in places. Gutters and trim have rusted into the brick façade. The entire exterior seems not to have seen a paintbrush since Home Rule.”
The board ordered the couple to come up with a plan to fix the windows and porch within 30 days. Now, unsatisfied with the pace of progress, the board voted on April 23 to officially condemn the property, and a notice was mailed to Brizill and Imhoff the next day. Under the law, they have 15 days from the time of notice to begin repairs on the house, else the board can order a city crew to make repairs and put a lien on the house for their cost.
The condemners, through it all, have had something of a cheerleader in Graham. Brizill says she has “reason to believe that Jim Graham has been pressuring [the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs] on a weekly basis, making several phone calls per week regarding my house.”
Those aren’t the wild ramblings of a beleaguered homeowner: LL’s own agency sources concur with Brizill’s assessment of the situation.
“I think they expressed frustration last time I was there because they’re trying to be professional about it and he calls down here all the time,” Brizill says. “In fairness, they made it seem that this was standard practice for dealing with Jim Graham.”
Graham declined to take LL’s questions on the matter but did e-mail a statement: “Since taking office in 1999, I have been very active in nuisance property issues.…In the case of [the Brizill-Imhoff house], the Board formally condemned the property on April 23. We are now awaiting action by the property owner. For years, this situation has cried out for attention. Now at last, there is some hope that the required repairs will be made. And that will come as a relief to those who live nearby.”
Credit Graham with expediting a bit of overdue urban renewal. In the past couple of weeks, new windows have appeared in the first floor of the Girard Street home and a scaffold has been erected in front of the sagging porch, part of which has been disassembled. A pile of lumber sits in the front yard, and a building permit has been pasted to the door. Windows on the upper floors, however, remain gaping.
Brizill says she’s been frustrated by the renovations process over the past months. “I have tried to be diligent,” she says. “I’ll tell you, I have had three different sets of people who were supposed to do work on the house—never followed through, never did it. You can spend a lot of time going down one route, and then you end up going down another.”
Michael Rupert, spokesperson for the condemnation board, says that despite the order, Brizill and Imhoff are in no immediate danger of getting thrown out of their house. “It really wouldn’t be that hard for her to get out of that process,” he says. “Essentially, if…she shows that they did the majority of the work, it can be moved off the condemnation list.”
Back in September, Brizill suggested a conspiracy on the part of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty to run her out of the house she’s occupied since 1982. She declined to go there this time around with respect to Graham: “I decided a long time ago that I can’t go shadowboxing,” she says. “I have real enemies, and I’ll deal with my real enemies, but I can’t go shadowboxing, so I put Jim Graham aside.…That’s the best I can do.”
Those “real enemies,” no doubt, have certainly complicated Brizill’s schedule as of late, most notably through a hearing in a lawsuit filed against her in Guam by John Baldwin, who, Brizill claimed, backed a 2005 scheme to put slot machines in the District. That scheme failed due to fraud exposed in no small part by Brizill’s mastery of the electoral-petitions process.
Brizill says she hasn’t attended any condemnation board meetings since late March, where she says she was “taken aback by what I thought was an effort to go out of their way to be nasty.”
“I would say things like, we’re researching where we can get the windows; as soon as we can find a supplier in the area, they will be ordered,’” she says. “The chairman looked at the calendar and says, ‘Well, I expect those windows to be here by next Wednesday.’ I said, ‘I’ll do the best I can.’…
“I just girded up my loins and said, ‘Dorothy, OK, this too shall pass.’ I was civil; I was pleasant; I responded to their questions; and then I went across the street and I got a cup of coffee and then I just went back to what I was doing.”
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Stein Club Endorsement Dra-ma!
The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club’s endorsements are usually noteworthy for no other reason than the fact they happen so damn early in the election cycle. This time though, there was plenty of drama on offer at the club’s meeting Monday night at the John A. Wilson Building.
The big scoop: Eugene Dewitt Kinlow took the opportunity to drop out of a shadow senator race he’d entered little more than 72 hours prior. That race was shaping up to be a civil war of sorts between Kinlow, outreach director for DC Vote, and Paul Strauss, shadow senator since 1994 and an old friend of Kinlow’s. LL had broken the news of Kinlow’s run last Friday and was pumped about the prospect of another contested race.
Strauss, sources tell LL, proceeded to raise concerns around town about the fact that a paid employee of the District’s best-funded voting-rights advocacy group would run for his unpaid seat. Asked his feelings on the matter, Strauss demurred: “I hope none of us in the movement would do things do divide the movement when we need to unite the movement.” He says he met with Kinlow privately after learning of his run.
Kinlow says he “reevaluated what it is I do seven days a week,” explaining that he didn’t want to drive an unpaid volunteer out of the voting-rights-activism ranks; he insists “it was a personal decision” his employer had nothing to do with.
His boss at DC Vote, Executive Director Ilir Zherka, says it was “totally Eugene’s decision both ways.”
“We told him on a personal level that we’d all support him if he decided to run for office at any point,” he says, but here’s the potential deal-breaker: Kinlow could not have kept his DC Vote job if he did so. “I think for us as an organization, whether on the board or on the staff, there are potential conflicts with any other employment,” Zherka says.
Even his abbreviated run, Kinlow says, had its accomplishments: “Since Friday, there’s been a tremendous amount of interest in this position,” he says. “Even by thinking about running I became a catalyst in recruiting more soldiers” to the voting-rights cause.
The next big surprise: Ward 8 civil-rights activist/man-of-all-seasons Phil Pannell stepped into the void after he heard of Kinlow’s decision. Pannell, who is gay and a longtime Stein Club member, had home-field advantage and forced a runoff vote for the endorsement with Strauss, which he won. But because the vote was so close, 26 votes to 21, no endorsement was made.
Says Strauss: “I was very gratified to win the first ballot, which is the one I think that indicates the true support.”
Kinlow made no endorsement, but his wife, city schools ombudsman Tonya Vidal Kinlow, rose before the group in support of Pannell. Says her spouse: “She’s a smart woman. She’s a smarter person than I am.”
• OK, so no huge drama in the Stein Club’s Ward 2 endorsements. Incumbent Jack Evans was squarely on home turf. He outflanked challenger Cary Silverman by playing up his record on issues close to the gay community over his four terms. (Evans held up to the crowd a framed ad from 1992 touting him as the gay community’s “advocate.” Asked how long he’s been toting that ad to Stein Club endorsement meetings, Evans said, “No comment.”)
Silverman did score some points with his full-time-councilmember pledge and a detailed response to a question on liquor-license voluntary agreements, but then proceeded to blow it while answering a testy question from Pannell on how the gay community hasn’t been able to get a meeting with the Washington Nationals. Silverman tried to make a point about a bad stadium deal: “We gave away the store.…I don’t know what we can do. I look forward to Councilmember Evans’ answer,” he said.
Well, Evans promised the Stein Club a meeting with Nats President Stan Kasten, to wild applause. Evans won the endorsement (and a $500 campaign contribution), 54-5, with
• As far as verbal fireworks, the highlight of the evening was certainly Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander’s questioning from Rick Rosendall and Bob Summersgill of the Gay & Lesbian Activists Alliance.
Summersgill, a past president of the group, brought up Alexander’s decision during her last election campaign to support civil unions but not marriage for gays and lesbians in the District. After citing her “devout Catholic” beliefs, Alexander said she was “willing to look at those options,” but initially was unwilling to commit to marriage. “That’s still a no!” Summersgill said repeatedly. He added: “In this town, if you don’t support gay marriage, you don’t deserve to be on the council.” Alexander finally said, “I guess I’m in support of it; I’m in support of equal rights.”
That wasn’t all, though: Rosendall, GLAA’s VP for government affairs, then went after Alexander for her support of Ward 5 colleague Harry Thomas Jr. on his efforts to keep gay strip clubs displaced by the baseball stadium out of his ward. Alexander said she tends to defer to the home-ward councilmember in such situations, but Rosendall blew a gasket at that line of reasoning: “She betrayed us on that bill!…You didn’t care about us!” he shouted, while other club members groaned. Said Rosendall, “If you’re more mad at me than at her, then there’s something wrong with you.”
Alexander won the endorsement by a show of hands, 36-3, with an abstention.
• One of the last uncommitted superdelegates in the District’s Democratic delegation has made up her mind: Anita Bonds, chair of the D.C. Democratic State Committee, had long said it was her job to remain neutral while her group assembled the delegation. Now, with that job complete, Bonds says she’s “leaning heavily” toward Barack Obama, pending a meeting with the Illinois senator.
Bonds says she hopes the meeting with Obama will happen soon—”I don’t want to have to go to West Virginia”—and she says she hopes to meet with Clinton, too. Asked if Clinton could say anything to change her mind at this point, Bonds says, “I don’t think so.”
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