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The proprietors of a methadone clinic proposed for Good Hope Road SE in historic Anacostia certainly never expected a warm embrace from residents of the surrounding neighborhood. Still, they looked a bit shell-shocked when confronted with the hostility that boiled over at a hearing on the clinic Aug. 15 before the city’s State Health Planning and Development Agency.
Clinical Director Darryl Satterwhite sat before a packed crowd and attempted to persuade the detractors that their opposition to the facility, known as the Good Hope Institute, was ill-informed. “A lot of you really, really have a misunderstanding of what we’re trying to do,” said Satterwhite, who vowed that the clinic would assist local heroin addicts with the “physical, mental, and even spiritual aspects of recovery.”
Satterwhite had much more to say, and Anacostians didn’t care to hear any of it. “This is our ward; we don’t want it,” jeered one man.
“Our children are going to be mixed up with this mess,” said another protester.
“Take it where you live at,” screamed yet another.
Thus was coined the anthem of D.C. community politics for the summer of 2000. Although the District has never suffered from a shortage of NIMBYs, opposition to social-service facilities has raced across the city in recent months like a fleet of DPW workers at quitting time. Check out the battle fronts:
* Kalorama residents in June killed a proposed halfway house on 19th Street NW.
* Capitol Hill activists in June fought unsuccessfully to prevent a chapter of Boys Town USA, which runs group homes for foster children, from opening a facility at Potomac and Pennsylvania Avenues SE.
* LeDroit Park residents in July quashed a proposal to locate a “community supervision center” for D.C. parolees at 3rd and Rhode Island Avenues NW. “We have a bad record of keeping the offenders under control,” says nearby resident Geneva Perry. “We got quite a few offenders sitting on the street right now.”
The flare-ups have driven home a poignant lesson about our liberal-minded politicos. Although they’ll blather on endlessly in the abstract about serving the underprivileged, they’ll side with NIMBYs over addicts, foster children, and criminal offenders every time. And in doing so, they are putting off reckoning with a powerful dynamic in D.C. demographics: While the city has exiled a good chunk of its law-abiding middle class over the last decade, its swollen population of needy residents has continued walking gentrified city streets in search of community-based services.
Councilmembers know exactly what’s at stake when a group of activists solicits their support to oppose social-service facilities. “As a ward councilmember, if you’re perceived as not protecting the residential character of neighborhoods, you are probably not going to be a ward councilmember very long,” says Ward 6 rep Sharon Ambrose, who led community opposition to the Boys Town project and testified at last week’s hearing on the Good Hope Institute, which lies in the east-of-the-river segment of her ward. “This is the wrong business in the wrong place at the wrong time,” thundered Ambrose, prompting cheers from the crowd of methadone clinic detractors.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who is trying to build a constituency east of the river, told LL the same thing, in his own vocabulary. “That is not an example of good neighborhood planning,” said Williams.
And hell, even nonelected civil servants are offering to fall on their swords over the methadone clinic. “If they put the clinic in there, I’d be forced to resign,” says Lamont Mitchell, the mayor’s emissary for east-of-the-river development. Mitchell is hoping that the State Health Planning and Development Agency rejects the Good Hope Institute’s application for a “certificate of need,” which is required to dispense substance-abuse treatment in the District. In determining whether to issue the certificate, the agency must gather community input on the facility.
Williams says he’d locate the treatment center in just about any spot other than on Good Hope Road. “The fact of the matter is that we have to provide services, and everybody around the city should do their share,” says Williams. “[Anacostia residents] have got a great case that they already do.”
In fact, just about every neighborhood east of Rock Creek Park can compile a pretty convincing case—especially if it’s Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, the king of D.C.’s NIMBYs, who’s addressing the jury. Graham is proud to note that he supported Kalorama residents “100 percent” in their campaign against a halfway house and brags of single-handedly derailing the court services satellite office on Rhode Island Avenue. When the councilmember caught wind of that project, he called John “Jay” Carver, the former head of the Court Services and Offender
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“I told him we’d fight it tooth and nail,” recalls Graham, who insists that that particular spot in his ward hosts “five social-service facilities within 500 yards.”
Graham will need to keep making that argument over the next few years. After all, pressure from government agencies and nonprofits to locate social-service facilities in D.C. neighborhoods is unlikely to abate anytime soon. Start with parolees. According to Robert Murphy, media specialist for the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, the “supervised population” of D.C. residents—the folks on parole or probation who flood into the criminal justice system’s neighborhood offices—is supposed to rise dramatically in each of the next five years.
Nor will the new Boys Town outfit have trouble filling its halls. The tally of D.C. foster children jumped from 1,680 in 1988 to 2,200 in 1995 to 3,300 in 2000, according to Tom Wells, director of the Consortium for Child Welfare.
Corresponding hard figures on substance-abuse patients don’t exist. However, the number of District residents who present themselves for treatment at city facilities has increased over the past decade, according to Dr. Larry Siegel, senior deputy director for substance-abuse services at the D.C. Department of Health. “The idea that it’s less of a problem is incorrect,” says Siegel.
Mark Perrino, president of the American Methadone Treatment Association, tried at the hearing to deliver the same message to opponents of the Good Hope Institute. Crime and dislocation wreaked by heroin addicts, Perrino told the crowd, is the problem of the community.
“No, it’s the users’ problem,” came an agitated voice from the crowd.
* Washington Post Metro reporters have a thing for Shaw Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner “Mahdi” Leroy Joseph Thorpe. In recent years, the paper has turned to Thorpe for comment on all Shaw-centric issues of the day, whether it is police coverage, a proposed baseball stadium, or the new convention center at Mount Vernon Square. Along the way, the Post apparently didn’t notice that the commissioner had discredited himself by flip-flopping on the convention center, the biggest development issue ever to come before the District.
And in a council hearing last year, Thorpe referred to At-Large Councilmember David Catania as a “faggot.”
Last week, Thorpe extended his streak as a touchstone for the Post. This time, the Shaw commissioner provided a skeptical viewpoint on incumbent Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans and deplored the gentrification wrought by the convention center, which he originally opposed, then supported, and now apparently opposes again.
“In the past, we’d quoted him as if he was the voice of Shaw,” says reporter David A. Fahrenthold, who penned the piece on Evans’ prospects. “But given that Thorpe was an elected official, we thought it was fair to use him and make the point that his voice is rare.”
* LL finds Mayor Williams guilty on one of the two following counts: sheer cowardice or complete disarray in his political operations. Evidence for the verdict comes from news that former At-Large Councilmember Bill Lightfoot will forgo this year’s race for president of the newly constituted Board of Education. On June 27, D.C. voters approved an initiative under which the board’s president will be elected citywide and the board itself will shrink from 11 to nine members, with four appointed by the mayor.
Williams drained a whole pool of political capital in pushing for the initiative and vowed to recruit candidates for the five elected positions. In late July, he met with Lightfoot to discuss teaming up on the city’s broken schools. “It was a fabulous meeting,” recalls Lightfoot. Following the meeting, Williams promised to “get back with” Lightfoot on whether he’d endorse the two-term former councilmember for the president’s seat.
“I never heard from him [again],” said Lightfoot on Wednesday, just a week before candidate petitions are due at the Board of Elections and Ethics. “It’s too late now,” says Lightfoot.
Mayoral Chief of Staff Abdusalam Omer devised some brilliant dodges in attempting to explain Lightfoot’s nonendorsement from One Judiciary Square. “All of us who aspire to be leaders…have to put themselves out there and get support from wherever they can,” said Omer. But isn’t that just what Lightfoot was trying to do? “He is not a candidate, and therefore we cannot support him,” replied Omer.
Instead of placing a call to Lightfoot, however, Omer & Co. apparently rang up none other than renowned local arts patron Peggy Cooper Cafritz, who last Friday picked up candidate petitions in preparation for a face-off with current board President Robert Childs and parent activist Larry Gray, along with two no-namers. When asked whether Cafritz was acting with Williams’ blessing, Omer spun once again: “I think Peggy has the quality to lead the Board of Education.”
“Do you think Peggy Cooper Cafritz just out of the blue decided to run for the school board?”
asks Ambrose. Cafritz contributed $2,000 to Williams’ 1998 campaign and this year received an appointment to the University of the District of Columbia’s board of trustees.
Perhaps the mayor has shaken off his racial insecurities and simply decided that a white woman is the best choice to run an almost entirely minority school system. Or, more likely, he fears that Lightfoot’s tenure as board president would serve as a prelude to a Lightfoot-for-mayor campaign in 2002—even though Lightfoot has publicly ruled out any such scenario. “I’ve never seen such paranoia,” says Ambrose. “Never.”
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