December 15, 2011 | by Mark Lee
‘If you don’t get it, you don’t get it’

Washington Post ombudsman Patrick Pexton penned a column earlier this month in the newspaper’s Sunday Outlook section titled “D.C. Activists: Help Us, Post” in which he detailed complaints by the Federation of Citizens Associations of the District of Columbia regarding coverage of local neighborhood and citywide issues.

The criticism by member groups centered on a self-perceived inability to “hold their city government accountable without The Post behind them.” These controversial and increasingly insular groups now appear to come hat-in-hand seeking assistance in advancing the objectives they are unable to achieve as a result of developing popular support among residents.

Missing from Pexton’s review of a meeting with the group of self-proclaimed “citizen representatives” was any reflection on the standing such groups actually command in their so-called “jurisdictions” on issues of importance to local residents. The legitimacy of their public positions is highly questionable when viewed a little closer to the ground than the altitude of a respected national newspaper with a long history of being criticized for a dearth of in-depth or robust reporting on local issues.

The Post’s ombudsman illustrated only how seemingly distant the publication is from understanding the growing irrelevance of these groups in their respective communities – especially in the context of neighborhood economic development and the availability of local commercial community amenities.

The resulting one-sided and dismaying portrayal of the representative authenticity of these small groups harkens back to a former Washington Post subscription sales advertising tag line: “If you don’t get it, you don’t get it.” The same, of course, could be said of the groups clamoring for help in promoting their signature anti-business and anti-development agendas.

Local community blogs and news publications examining community issues in greater detail and enjoying robust reader dialogue on such matters often demonstrate that these groups do not represent much more than the opinions of a tiny participating membership.

These organized antagonists are well known to readers of the Washington Blade due to extensive coverage of their mischief-making over the years battling local community businesses, including gay-owned and gay-patronized enterprises. In neighborhoods throughout the city, tumultuous and lengthy fights engendered by these groups over licensing, zoning and operational issues have become a part of common lore.

Notorious neighborhood obstructionists such as the Kalorama Citizens Association (KCA), Citizens Association of Georgetown (CAG), Cleveland Park Citizens Association (CPCA), Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance (MPNA) and the Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) have interjected themselves into nearly every conceivable business regulatory application and economic development proposal in their respective high-profile commercial and residential areas.

While acknowledging that The Post can’t cover every neighborhood dispute as extensively as hyper-local sources, enhancing coverage of community issues is a laudable goal. However, failing to recognize that self-anointed guardians of fiefdoms mostly produce a deluge of spit-sputtering amazement and anger from the vast majority of local residents is to miss the real story.

Zipcar banner generates complaint

Washington Post reporter Mike Debonis highlighted a link to a WUSA-TV video report last Friday on his widely read and well-regarded local news blog. The Channel 9 News report was reportedly prompted by a neighborhood resident complaining about a Zipcar banner displayed at one of the company’s car retrieval and return parking lots at 14th and Corcoran streets, serving the Logan Circle area.

The signage, prominently hung at the center of the lot and facing heavily trafficked 14th Street, features a yellow MINI Cooper with a rainbow license plate and is emblazoned with the slogan “Some of our best cars are gay.”

The reporter filmed reactions to the banner from several passersby. Although no one identified their sexual orientation on-camera, most considered it a benign commercial pitch. There was, however, a notable generational divide, with an older resident finding the message “very offensive” and predicting it would prove counterproductive within the LGBT community.

Although unreported by WUSA-TV News, the banner was a Zipcar affinity marketing effort in support of the first annual 14th Street “Homo Holiday Shop Hop” held the previous weekend on Dec. 3, sponsored by the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CAGLCC) and involving numerous participating retailers on the commercial corridor.

Zipcar’s specialized slogan is apparently not one that everyone “gets” – although it remains proudly on display.

Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

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