As you may recall, several of my neighbors and I met with the editors of your paper a year ago. We told you that we felt that we were portrayed as having dubious motives and unworthy objectives, and asked that the paper get our point of view and hear our side before assuming the worst about us. So when reporter Julie Wakefield called me to talk about a pool hall that briefly did business in my ANC, I agreed to speak with her, although I told her I doubted there was a “story” in it (“Behind the 8-Ball,” 1/30). As it turns out, it doesn’t matter if you get our sideyou’ve prejudged every story and will distort the facts and the words we utter to fit your worldview. Your story made me appear to be a snobby racist busybody. Great job. Too bad it has nothing to do with reality.
The real facts are these: For many years, Bosco’s Carryout operated out of a building at the corner of 11th and M Streets NW. Over the summer they closed, with a sign saying “Closed for remodeling.” Despite what the owner apparently told your reporter, there was never any lengthy attempt to find a new tenant; one day the Bosco’s sign was gone, there was never any “For Rent” sign, and the next day the pool hall sign went up. It isn’t surprising that Bosco’s wasn’t making it; they usually looked like they were closed, and the property was in terrible shape, but there was never any visible attempt to find a new tenant. I personally had no opinion about the pool hall and said so to several neighbors.
After it opened, however, I heard from several people that we had a potential problem. Apparently, there is a similar establishment in a nearby community that hosts nightly fights and frequent serious violence, and neighbors were concerned. Further, this building is located between a liquor store and a convenience store that sells beer and wine, and has long been a “hangout” corner with a nuisance public phone and the drug dealers, pimps, and prostitutes who use it. I went over to see the pool hall. It was just a large room apparently with no air conditioning, hardly the refuge from “stifling” apartments described by your reporter. If it had a bar, as the article claimed, that will come as a surprise to the Alcohol Beverage Control Division, as no liquor license was applied for or received. Of course, none was needed, with the great alcohol opportunities nearby.
I began to talk to neighbors in the immediate block of the pool hall. All objected to it and asked for my help. I called DCRA and learned that no permanent license had been obtained and that neighborhood concerns would be considered. So I knocked on every door. I asked everyone’s opinion. And everyone who lived within one block of the pool hall in all directions signed the petition, except for one family who were clearly frightened to talk to anyone official (described by your reporter only as Vietnamese). Additionally, every business I spoke to signed the petition, including the two liquor stores, the supermarket, the carryout, the travel business in the AME Church building, and the dry cleaners.
The residents of the public housing right across the street in particular were ecstatic that they could join the fight against this establishment; several fights had already occurred at the pool hall, and it had been open only a couple of weeks. People were spilling into the street and drinking and shouting every night. And the pool hall had applied for a license to operate ’til 2 a.m. on a corner that has many residents living within the block in all directions.
As I told your reporter when I sensed the direction this story was heading, this is not a story about class or race. The people who signed the petition include the residents of Frontiers public housing (mostly black), the owners of several businesses including both liquor stores (Asian and Latino), homeowners (white), tenants (all races), and the Latina resident manager of a large apartment building with tenants (virtually all Latino). Your story took my remark and cut out the bulk of what I said, suggesting that I denied that this was a racist move because “the person who brought it to my attention was black.” I am insulted and offended to have this broad public opinion twisted into what appears to be the desperate attempt of one white woman to rely on her “one black friend” to justify her views. This is just vicious.
As it happens, the pool hall was not closed due to some obscure law. In fact, DCRA took no action whatsoever. The temporary license they had obtained was expiring, and DCRA had not decided whether to issue a new one. After an informal hearing, at which the officer threw the decision back to DCRA, the pool hall owners voluntarily decided not to pursue the business there. Get the facts. Call them. Talk to their lawyer.
Instead, you relied for your information on Beth Solomon, who is leading the campaign to oppose the new location for the Washington Convention Center a block away. Perhaps you are aware that I am a supporter of that center and that Beth (who does not live within a block of the pool hall) has used many tactics to undermine support. I note that you do not have a single quote from a resident or a patron supporting the pool hall, just Beth’s suggestion that, once again, we white folks are all just out to get everybody else out of the neighborhood, that this is somehow related to prejudice against anything that isn’t “upper-middle-class.” How pathetic. Do we have to keep fighting amongst ourselves this way? I would suggest that racists and elitists are unlikely to move into black neighborhoods and stay here when we marry and have babies. They are far more likely to be found in McLean or Chevy Chase than Logan Circle/Shaw.
As for the laundromat that the owner has decided to run out of the former pool hall, it is a simple fact that most people in the area have laundry machines, and I told him so. I did not “sniff” this at your reporter. Rather, I have toured the apartment buildings to see the conditions the tenants in my neighborhood live with. I have worked with the police, DPW, and DCRA, and with the owners and managers of those buildings, to make them safer and to make sure that they are up to code. I know that most have laundry facilities. Is that simple fact somehow suspect?
Your reporter noted that, tragically, the Golden Arches declined and Starbucks didn’t return the landlord’s calls. So the fact that Starbucks and McDonald’s are not interested means that a laundromat is the only choice, and we’ve “sabotaged” ourselves by opposing the pool hall, leaving the neighborhood “hollow”? There are in fact several nonchain establishments in that very block. Some, including a Salvadoran restaurant, a Vietnamese carryout, and a hair salon aimed at Latino customers, had opened mere weeks before the pool hall. I’ve eaten at the restaurant and the carryout several times, and often stop at the Capitol Market, a long-established family business. Odd, since none are aimed at the upper-middle-class customer. I note that I’ve never seen Beth Solomon in any of them, although she has been spotted at the Fresh Fields in Georgetown.
My neighbors and I made a good-faith effort to work with you. We asked that you do a thorough job when you report on our community. When your reporter called, I assumed I would at least be treated fairly. I was obviously wrong. Go on believing that people must be racist or venal if they want to sleep through the night and not be assaulted outside their homes. Keep up the good work, reporting that only snobs work to improve their neighborhoods and drive out drug dealers and prostitutes. It seems to me that you feed off racism and classism, that you inject it into every issue and thereby diminish the seriousness of real racism. If you keep attacking people of goodwill, insulting their efforts to make their neighborhoods safer for the decent people of all races who live here, how long do you think community leaders will read your paper or give it any credence? Who will work to make things better when those who come forward to solve problems are ridiculed and insulted? Do you really want to live in the city you would make?