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In October, the denizens of Sheridan-Kalorama had a mini political crisis on their hands. The area’s only two advisory neighborhood commissioners, Lance Salonia and Marlis Carter, were stepping down, and in an act of collective apathy, no one had bothered to try to replace them. The Sept. 6 deadline for filing nominating petitions had come and gone with no candidate emerging for either seat.
Sheridan-Kalorama residents, however, aren’t starting the new year without a say over single-container liquor sales. On Jan. 2, two new commissioners, elected by write-in votes, were sworn in. The turnaround was the work of the neighborhood’s behind-the-scenes power broker: Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.).
Gordon, a chatty 53-year-old, is an unlikely player in D.C. politics. The nine-term congressman, who represents Al Gore’s old district in Middle Tennessee, doesn’t serve on the House Appropriations Committee for the District of Columbia. In his 18 years of living in D.C.including five in Sheridan-Kaloramahe has never attended an advisory neighborhood commission (ANC) meeting.
Still, he says he was appalled when he read an October newspaper report saying that the two ANC seats were in danger of going empty. As an official resident of Murfreesboro, Tenn., Gordon was ineligible to run for office himself. So he set about recruiting candidates.
With help from his old friend Ward 2 D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans, Gordon convinced longtime Sheridan-Kalorama resident Mary Eva Candon to run as a write-in candidate. Candon, an attorney who jets around the globe to represent clients such as the government of Guam, is already an at-large Democratic National Committeeperson and a former chair of the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Advisory neighborhood commissioner, she concedes, “is not a seat I have ever striven for.” But with a little encouragement from Gordon, Evans, and a few other residents, she agreed to runand in turn persuaded her friend Sandra Perlmutter, executive director of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports under Bill Clinton, to run with her.
Playing neighborhood kingmaker is a natural extension of Gordon’s growing influence in Sheridan-Kalorama affairs. He’s been most active in the renovation of Mitchell Park, a run-down patch of sod at 22nd and S Streets NW. The Mitchell family donated the land to the city in 1918, with one stipulation: The District was not to disturb the remains of Bock, the family’s brown French poodle. The grave is still there, in the middle of a barren play area, under soil so compacted that grass doesn’t grow. The park once had play equipment, Gordon says, but it was so decrepit that the city took it away.
In January 2002, Sheridan-Kalorama became part of Ward 2 as a result of redistricting. Gordon wasted no time paying a visit to Evans, accompanied by several fellow members of Friends of Mitchell Park, a citizen group. Evans eventually managed to appropriate $1.2 million for upgrading the park.
No neighborhood issue is too small for Gordon. Evans recalls that he, Gordon, and another Sheridan-Kalorama resident spent a rainy evening in Mitchell Park deciding which trees should be left standing. In the future, Gordon says, he would like to take on the restoration of police call boxes and filling empty tree boxes.
Gordon, Evans says, stands out from the average do-nothing members of Congress who reside in the District but act as if they didn’t. “Ted Kennedy lives [close to] Mitchell Park,” Evans says. “You think he’s moving back to Massachusetts when it’s over? Why doesn’t he do something? These people walk around in a cloud or something. This is their neighborhood. They should get involved.”
The transplanted Tennesseean credits his grandfather for his penchant for grass-roots organizing. “He used to say: ‘The most important road in the county is the one that runs in front of your house.’” CP