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Since the CVS chain invaded D.C. earlier this decade, the East Coast conglomerate has spread like drugstore kudzu, entangling neighborhoods and devouring beloved local pharmacies and landmarks. Nowhere has the battle between the pharmacy chain and the community been more pitched than in the tony Palisades section of Northwest, where CVS last week opened a store in the old MacArthur movie theater.
Judging from the contentious Oct. 17 launching of the MacArthur Boulevard store, CVS appears to be hiring its employees from the Eddie Bauer Academy of Consumer Sensitivity.
When a Palisades teen walked into the new CVS store carrying a can of Coke, a store official immediately accused him of shoplifting the soft drink. The CVS employee apparently hadn’t had time to check out her own stock before the grand opening. Some Palisades residents claimed that the store didn’t even have Coca-Cola on the shelf for sale that day.
The accused youth, a student at the nearby Lab School of Washington for learning-disabled children, protested that he had just purchased the soda at a nearby Safeway. Eventually, a Safeway checkout clerk confirmed the boy’s purchase and the matter was dropped. At least they didn’t make him take off his shirt.
“It was very upsetting for the student, and for the school,” Penny Pagano, president of the Palisades Citizens Association, said of the incident.
Calls to the CVS regional headquarters in Springfield, Va., got rerouted to the chain’s corporate headquarters in Rhode Island. There, CVS spokesperson Joan Cronin said, “A whole bunch of kids came into the store together. One of the kids had a soda in his pocket and couldn’t produce a receipt.” Cronin claims the store owner took no further action.
But the Coke caper was but the latest skirmish in the war between the community and the pharmacy chain that broke out when CVS leased the cherished MacArthur theater earlier this year and announced plans to convert the Palisades landmark into a drugstore. Pickets and protests by Palisades residents failed to deter CVS. Now area residents are trying to mount a boycott of the Palisades location.
“We heard from Word 1 that they were not a friendly neighborhood entity,” says resident Judy Rosenfeld.
Just days before the store’s opening, CVS added insult to injury by plastering cars in a nearby parking lot with warnings that the D.C. Department of Public Works would tow vehicles found there after the store opened Oct. 17. Some residents called the pharmacy’s bluff, pointing out that the city doesn’t tow cars from private lots.
The lot had been leased to the MacArthur theater, which, in a good-neighbor gesture, had allowed staff members at Our Lady of Victory Elementary School and the Lab School to park there on weekdays. Although CVS got access to the lot in its lease of the building, the pharmacy is still awaiting permission from the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) to use it for customer parking, according to Pagano.
The lot is currently zoned residential, which prohibits its use by CVS shoppers. Palisades residents are fighting the zoning change requested for the lot. CVS’s Cronin says the chain will donate spaces in the parking lot to the schools if CVS gets BZA approval to use it.
On opening day last week, CVS regional real estate director Joe Monaco phoned Pagano to ask for help from the Palisades Citizens Association in speeding up the zoning case.
“Having been mistreated by CVS for many months, this was surprising to us that they would suddenly ask for our help,” Pagano related.
CVS may not have every human need in stock, but they apparently never run out of chutzpah.
OR TIPPLING HOUSE?
Fighting has renewed in the bitter decadelong battle between the Dupont Circle community and the Mansion salon/bed & breakfast at 2020 O St. NW. The intense warfare between residents and Mansion owner H.H. Leonards has long divided the otherwise tranquil neighborhood west of Dupont Circle and threatens to continue into the next millennium.
The Mansion, which critics say skirts the city’s private club and liquor laws, has become a popular spot for the rich and famous, as well as a favored venue for political fundraisers. President Clinton, White House staffers, leading Fortune 500 execs, and many D.C. pols have ventured to the O Street spot despite the ongoing controversy. But the Mansion’s popularity has sparked complaints of neighborhood congestion, violations of city liquor laws, and kid-glove treatment for the mansion’s covetous owner and hostess.
Last year, D.C. councilmembers, led by retiring four-time mayoral loser John Ray, pushed through legislation that allowed the Mansion to seek a permanent liquor license even though it had lost an earlier license bid before the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board and the D.C. Court of Appeals. Leonards is trying to free herself of the unwanted task of obtaining one-day licenses for Mansion events by petitioning the ABC Board for a permanent license under last year’s liquor law revisions. The board has scheduled a hearing on the case next month.
In preparation, Leonards’ lawyer Steve O’Brien has succeeded in barring ABC Board member Dennis Bass from participating in a decision on the Mansion’s current liquor-license application. O’Brien argued that Bass was biased against his client because, before being appointed to the ABC Board, he served as head of the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission when that ANC voted to oppose the mansion’s previous license application.
The board’s legal adviser, D.C. Corporation Counsel lawyer William Bennett, did not conclude that Bass’ prior actions as ANC chair required him to recuse himself. But four of Bass’ seven colleagues on the ABC Board, including former Ward 8 Councilmember Eydie Whittington, sided with O’Brien and voted last week to bar him from participating in the Mansion case. Bass, although upset by the vote, refused to discuss his removal.
“I think H [Leonards’ nickname] and company would do better to have him there,” notes a city official. “Dennis is not a close-H-down person. He is more in the vein that she can operate but she has to be sensitive to the neighborhood.”
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Nobody can accuse Leonards of standing pat in the face of community opposition. According to Mansion foe Marilyn Groves, Leonards recently got hold of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association membership list and invited every member to lunch at the Mansion during last weekend’s Dupont Circle home tour. Those who showed up got more than just food and drink: They were treated to some arm-twisting by Leonards to sign a petition supporting her liquor-license bid before the ABC Board, according to Groves.
Despite the never-ending controversy over the Mansion, the place continues to prove irresistible to local pols. Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen was treated to a birthday bash at the estate last Saturday afternoon, hosted by Bob Bethea, her top aide and fiancé. Bethea said the event was not a fundraiser, and he was charged only for the food, not the champagne that flowed freely. So the freely flowing champagne was free?
“That was [Leonards’] gift, in essence, for the party,” says Bethea.
Leonards’ largess with alcoholic beverages would seem to be a problem without a license, but the issue is not “cut and dried,” claims Bennett. He said Allen’s birthday bash probably “leaned closer” toward requiring a liquor license.
“The woman has not had a liquor license, even a one-day license, since a year ago June,” claims Groves .
That hasn’t stopped Leonards from wining and dining the rich and well-heeledalong with those who might have a vote on the future of the Mansion.
•After combative foster care receiver Jerry Miller quit in May just as he was about to get the boot for his near-total lack of management skills, D.C. child-care specialist Wilfred Hamm stepped in to temporarily fill the vacancy. Hamm quickly accomplished what U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan had hoped for and restored calm to the city’s child welfare bureaucracy following Miller’s brief, stormy tenure.
But when Hogan balked at naming Hamm the new foster care receiver last month, he became the target of menacing letters from bureaucrats warning of a revolt within the agency if the judge failed to give the nod to Hamm. D.C. child welfare workers also staged a noisy protest outside Hogan’s court.
Those actions sealed Hamm’s fate. Hogan, reportedly convinced that Hamm had become too cozy with the same old bureaucracy that had dragged foster care into receivership in the first place, passed him over for former Maryland social services official Ernestine Jones.
“The judge was really ticked,” said one source close to the skirmish.
•During his weekly Wednesday session with reporters Oct. 15, Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. announced he had begun a juice fast in honor of the Nation of Islam’s Day of Atonement the following day, and would continue fasting until Friday morning, Oct. 17. But the next afternoon, in the midst of the Oct. 16 Day of Atonement, Barry couldn’t resist when offered cookies and sandwiches during a meeting with D.C. financial control board members.
Hizzoner had gone to the control board to review previously secret consultants’ reports on the mayor’s administration that the board, under pressure, had decided to make public. But control board sources said Barry seemed more interested in the food than the reports and wolfed down the food without the slightest atonement for breaking his fast.
•While on the D.C. Council, Ray railed against congressional interference into local matters. He was particularly hot when Congress set aside his 1986 law that would have forced insurance companies to insure D.C. residents suffering from AIDS.
But now that he’s a lobbyist, Ray no longer finds such federal intrusions objectionable. The D.C. spending bill currently before Congress limits the amount of money juries can award in medical malpractice lawsuits. Ray got the limits into the bill on behalf of his new client, the Medical Liability Reform Coalition, a group of local medical associations pushing for a cap on damages.
At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz has also gotten her fingerprints on the spending plan. U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), chair of the House Appropriations D.C. subcommittee, credits Schwartz for the bill’s provision reopening Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, over objections from the Clinton administration.
“We need to do something to not only fix the traffic jams but to also give an opportunity for both residents and tourists to enjoy America’s main street,” says Schwartz.
Schwartz, the lone Republican on the council, always claimed to have clout with GOP leaders on Capitol Hill, but she’s going to have a tough time getting past the Secret Service.
•Perturbed over being excluded from the closed-door meetings of the management reform team overseeing the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), At-Large Councilmember Harold Brazil informed control board vice chairman Stephen Harlan that he planned to crash the Oct. 1 meeting. Harlan, dubbed by some “Chief Harlan” since he is the control board member in charge of MPD, phoned Brazil after office hours and left a message warning him not to show up because “there won’t be a seat for you at the table.”
Now that’s cold.
Brazil, apparently not wanting to stand through the meeting, heeded Harlan’s warning.
Brazil aide Mary Rudolph said her boss “only wanted to attend one meeting, not every meeting.” She said the councilmember and mayoral hopeful wanted to see how the group reached its decisions, especially after the reform team sent draft legislation to the council last summer that re-established a citizens complaint review board for MPD composed entirely of retired D.C. Superior Court judges.
The legislation, introduced by Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, a member of the management reform team, stalled amid objections from Brazil and Allen that citizens needed to be a part of the review process. Allen has offered a rival bill that would create a review board consisting of from 12 to 40 citizens, with no reserved seats for retired judges.
•Rep. Ron Dellums, the San Francisco Bay-area Democrat who chaired the old House District Committee during the 1980s, now has a second portrait hanging on Capitol Hill. A portrait of Dellums was previously painted to adorn the D.C. Committee hearing room. The congressman was considered a hero back in pre-control board days for his refusal to allow congressional oversight of D.C. In reality, his stubbornness contributed to home rule’s demise.
The second portrait of the liberal lawmaker was hung on Sept. 24 in the House National Security Committee room. Dellums chaired the committee from 1993-95, when it was called the House Armed Services Committee. That apparently was long enough to earn a portrait, painted by Andrew White, one of the congressman’s Oakland constituents, for $25,000.
“What I’m most appreciative of: It’s not pretentious,” Dellums said at the recent ceremony, according to the Sept. 25 edition of Roll Call. “I see my own humanity in the picture.”
He said “humanity,” not “humility.”CP
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