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“ANTI-GAY,” “ANTI-BUSIness,” and “anti-Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC)” trivialize the issue of whether the District should lease public space to a tavern in a residential area (“Who Fought J.R.’s?,” The District Line, 9/8). Recasting the question raised by the J.R.’s Bar and Grill application as bias and bigotry does not make the issue go away, it will not stifle debate, and it will not silence dissent.
The ANC’s view on public space permits matters because the Public Space Commission is required to solicit ANC input and the input of several other District agencies on every application. Applications are forwarded to the ANC and other statutorily designated entities, and decision is withheld for 30 days pending responses. In the case of J.R.’s, by the time the application was forwarded to the ANC on June 28, the ANC had already held its hearing (June 14) and forwarded its decision to the committee (June 21).
Why the hurry? Because after May 24, there was no “deliberative democratic process of decision-making by the ANC” to be had. On May 20, ANC Chairman Henry Fernandez came “to an agreement on the issues we discussed at mediation” with J.R.’s. “In fact, [J.R.’s] has agreed to all the points proposed in a memo I circulated one month ago.” Fernandez wrote three weeks before the issue was put up for community hearing and five weeks before the committee referred it to the ANC:
Three other DuPont [sic] Circle ANC commissioners have expressed support for the concept I have outlined to them. Thus, J.R.’s appears to have at least four votes on the seven man commission for its proposal to use public space.
Thus, indeed, the vote was not surprising. A list of six existing CT-licensed establishments with public space permits was circulated at the June ANC meeting to buttress and distinguish this application from the application rejected by the ANC in 1994. In fact, all six are in commercial zones. One has no public space permit at all and, if it had one, would find itself in a commercial zone. Moreover, in none of the applications was the committee aware that the applicant held a CT license.
So, obfuscation notwithstanding, Dupont Circle does have a case of first impression on a significant public policy issue that rightfully merits full debate and public examination. It also has an issue of “process” and, as events have unfolded, an issue of the right to speak freely without intimidation.
ANC Commissioner Kyle Pitsor represents many residents directly affected by the J.R.’s application. With two other commissioners who also represent directly affected residents, Pitsor opposed the J.R.’s application. He could not debate the issue June 14, nor could he persuade the chairman to forbear calendaring the matter until it was referred to the ANC for action. The vote was 4-2 on an issue not before the ANC. Thereafter, Pitsor appeared before the Public Space Committee to present these facts.
It is common knowledge that Fernandez harshly criticized Pitsor for undermining the presumption of “great weight” accorded ANC decisions by placing the fairness of the ANC’s underlying process under scrutiny before the committee. It is less common knowledge that Chairman Fernandez went much further. The day after the committee hearing, Fernandez wrote:
I am asking you to reaffirm the deliberative process and the great weight of its decisions—which you pledged to do when sworn-in to office—perhaps you should consider resigning.
Because he would not recant or resign, Kyle was removed as vice chairman Sept. 13. The vote—again 4-2—was taken as an “administrative matter” and therefore brooked no public comment.
Lockstep in Dupont Circle? Anti-gay? Anti-business? Through decades of finding ourselves on varying sides of issues, we have come to reject as hopeless the stereotypes used to drive people into rigid political and ideological camps. This community works because we are issue-oriented and long ago gave up typecasting one another. There are not enough “types” in the world to define this community.
Kyle Pitsor is my friend and he is my predecessor as president of the Dupont Circle Citizens Association. My respect for him, his integrity, and his courage is limitless.
Dupont Circle Citizens Association, Dupont Circle