AS A FORMER ANC commissioner, neighborhood activist, and 12-year resident, I am compelled to correct the inaccurate picture painted by “Who Fought J.R.’s?” (The District Line, 9/8). The article gave the impression that the community is evenly split about this issue. This is simply not true. In fact, the real issue is whether a conservative, autocratic, anti-business, and homophobic small group will rule over the progressive majority.
These self-appointed anti-business individuals quietly took over the Advisory Neighborhood Commission and most neighborhood associations. The realization that they were taking actions out of sync with the majority compelled me to run for ANC commissioner. While on the ANC, I was a minority of one fighting to bring balance and democracy to the ANC. I wrote letters and produced newsletters exposing the undemocratic practices of existing ANC commissioners. A prime example is holding a so-called “town meeting” and then only inviting those who agreed with certain ANC commissioners. Finally, in November 1994, Dupont Circle voters overthrew the autocrats and elected a group of progressive, democratic ANC commissioners.
The small anti-business group, when controlling the ANC, fought for several years against J.R.’s and impeded the business. Now this group is expressing its opposition through neighborhood associations. These associations, which have hundreds of members (we have joined these organizations for their excellent work on neighborhood beautification and fighting trash and rats), operate in an autocratic manner when it comes to controversial issues such as J.R.’s. Their members are never consulted. The issues are rarely discussed at open meetings.
In contrast, the democratically elected ANC commissioners conduct open meetings and seek input and feedback from their constituents. During my ANC term, a monthly newsletter was produced and hand-delivered by block and building liaisons to all residents. This newsletter outlined each neighborhood issue and sought feedback. The feedback I received during my ANC term on the J.R.’s issue was overwhelmingly positive.
The anti-business group hides behind the technical distinction of a tavern (CT) vs. a restaurant (CR) license. Most residents believe that this technical distinction is irrelevant in considering public-space use. More importantly, the lax enforcement of the Alcoholic Beverage Control division of its own regulations makes this issue a distinction without a difference.
On major issues, I urge residents to contact their ANCs to give their views. I would urge the Public Space Commission and Washington City Paper to research further how these neighborhood associations operate and who they really represent.