Connect with us

Opinions

Dupont denizens doth protest too much

Local business opponents reap what they sow at 16th Street mansion

Published

on

The Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA) has taken to running an advertising broadside in a local community newspaper berating the Embassy of the Republic of Congo for removing trees and shrubbery from the lawn of its new 16th St., N.W., Chancery location and paving over the lawn with concrete.

The controversial group last weekend announced a sidewalk demonstration for this past Tuesday evening protesting the “willful destruction of the front lawn and several large trees during renovation of [the] new embassy.”

“Be careful what you wish for” should have been painted on each of their protest signs.

It would be comical if it weren’t emblematic of a city that continues to allow the voices of so few to wield oversized influence in matters of economic development and the disruption, or even disallowance, of popular neighborhood amenities.

Businesses such as the gay-owned B&B previously operating for several years at the site were vehemently opposed and hindered by these same characters.

The backstory is less about a lawn gracing the oversized and beautifully intricate manse and more about the unintended consequences created by shortsighted small unrepresentative groups and ad hoc neighborhood obstructionists constantly battling local community enterprises.

That is exactly what happened long before the embassy purchased the five-story, 18-room limestone and brick 12,000-square-foot Flemish Revival style Toutorsky Mansion on the Avenue of the Presidents earlier this year. The building, located at 1720 16th St. and the corner of Riggs Place directly across from the majestic Temple of the Scottish Rite at S Street, was originally built in 1894 by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Henry Billings Brown. The property subsequently enjoyed an illustrious and grand history under varied usages.

The current quixotic green space dust-up reaches back to a bitter regulatory fight initiated by the usual suspects — DCCA, the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), and two of those “gang of five or more” regulatory protest groups for which the neighborhood has become infamous in the region as an example of citizen participation run amok.

The small B&B operation endured a multi-year regulatory fight during an expensive restoration process and prior to opening. The battle was fought over merely increasing the guest room count from the automatically allowed six to 10, having more than one employee on-site at any given time to manage the inn, and hosting up to one special event of no more than 110 guests per month.

A two-year D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) adjudication process resulted in a decision denying these variances to the small hotel operation owned by successful gay Washington real estate agent and entrepreneur Humberto Gonzalez.

The opponents’ complaints? Shockeroo, neighbors! Fear on the part of a couple handfuls of residents near the densely populated urban boulevard that the minor allowances to enable the modest-sized community lodging business to survive and thrive would suddenly result in a deluge of delivery vehicles, noise, traffic and parking congestion.

This despite the fact that two other inns within a few hundred feet and with 38 and 48 rooms, respectively, have not caused any problems of the sort that gay Dupont Circle ANC area commissioner Jack Jacobson, who was elected after the regulatory fight, has ever heard complaints.

It got chalked up as another victory for the darling denizens of Dupont. But, according to Gonzalez, the actual result was that the well-regarded business was denied the second phase of a renovation loan based on the BZA rejection, as the bank feared the restrictions would preclude financial success.

Undeterred, and remaining committed to both preserving the property with which he had fallen in love and operating a B&B, Gonzalez sold 12 other properties to finance the project and what would be its nearly four-year operation. Ultimately, the operating restrictions caused the B&B to shut down, forcing Gonzalez to sell the property.

“It’s a shame what I had to go through,” Gonzalez laments, a sentiment shared by community activist and gay former DCCA board member and past reform-minded president Joel Lawson.

Lawson, who was not involved in the earlier regulatory opposition to the business and had sought to mitigate the organization’s anti-business posture before resigning in frustration in 2008 after serving at the helm, says, “Sure, everyone should protest the paving now, but you could christen it a memorial garden to the short-sighted protests against the B&B.”

If only they cared as much about local small businesses — and fairness — as they do those trees.

Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at [email protected].

Continue Reading
Advertisement
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. laurelboy2

    November 17, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    While I welcome and encourage fresh writers and thoughts/ideas on The Blade’s opinion section, I have one comment on this piece: boring.

    • Rick Rosendall

      November 23, 2011 at 11:42 pm

      I welcome and encourage fresh thoughts in the Blade’s online comments, but I have one comment on laurelboy2’s attempt at a putdown: idiotic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Commentary

Sondheim’s art will be with us for the ages

Iconic work explored sadness, rage, irony, and love of humanity

Published

on

Stephen Sondheim (Screen capture via CBS)

“The only regret I have in life is giving you birth,” his mother wrote in a letter to Stephen Sondheim.

The only regret so many of us feel now is that Sondheim, the iconic composer and lyricist, died on Nov. 26 at his Roxbury, Conn. home at age 91.

He is survived by Jeffrey Romley, whom he married in 2017, and Walter Sondheim, a half-brother.

F. Richard Pappas, his lawyer and friend, told the New York Times that the cause of death was unknown, and that Sondheim had died suddenly. The day before he passed away, Sondheim celebrated Thanksgiving with friends, Pappas told the Times.

“Every day a little death,” Sondheim wrote in “A Little Night Music.”

This isn’t the case with the passing of Sondheim. Whether you’re a Broadway star or a tone-deaf aficionado like me, you’ll sorely miss Sondheim, who the Times aptly called “one of Broadway history’s songwriting titans.”

Like multitudes of his fans, I don’t remember a time in my life when a song from a Sondheim musical hasn’t been in my head.

When I was a child, my parents repeatedly played the cast album of “Gypsy,” the 1959 musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents. My folks loved the story of the show, which was loosely based on the life of the burlesque artist Gypsy Rose Lee. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Ethel Merman belt out “Everything’s Coming Up Roses!” When I need to jumpstart my creative juices, I remember that “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.”

In college, I felt that “Company,” the 1970 musical with music and lyrics by Sondheim and book by George Furth, spoke to my generation. 

As was the case with Sondheim’s musicals, “Company” didn’t have a conventional plot, happy ending, or tidy resolution. It takes place during Bobby’s 35th birthday party. Bobby, who is single, is celebrating with his friends (straight, married couples). Bobby likes having friends but doesn’t want to get married.

Sondheim didn’t come out as gay until he was 40. Yet, even in the 1970s, it was hard not to think that Bobby in “Company” wasn’t gay.

Once you’ve heard Elaine Stritch sing “The Ladies Who Lunch” from “Company,” it becomes indelibly etched in your brain.

Who else but Sondheim could have written, “And here’s to the girls who play/smart-/Aren’t they a gas/Rushing to their classes in optical art,/Wishing it would pass/Another long exhausting day/Another thousand dollars/A matinee, a Pinter play/Perhaps a piece of Mahler’s/I’ll drink to that/And one for Mahler!”

In September, I, along with legions of other theater lovers, were thrilled when Sondheim told Stephen Colbert on “The Late Show,” that he was working with David Ives on a new musical called “Square One.”

In his musicals from “Follies” to “Sweeney Todd” to “Sunday in the Park with George,” Sondheim, through his lyrics and music, revealed the internal depths of his characters and the sadness, tenderness, bitterness, rage, irony, wit, and love of humanity. Sondheim’s wordplay was so brilliant that he did crossword puzzles for New York magazine.

Over his decades-long career, Sondheim won every award imaginable from the Pulitzer Prize for “Sunday in the Park with George” to the Presidential Medal of Freedom (awarded to him by President Barack Obama in 2015). He received more than a dozen Tony Awards for his Broadway musicals and revivals as well as a Tony Award for lifetime achievement in 2008.

Thankfully, Sondheim’s art will be with us for the ages.

A remake of “West Side Story,” directed by Steven Spielberg with a screenplay by Tony Kushner, premieres this month.

Sondheim is a character in the Netflix film “tick, tick BOOM!,” directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The movie is based on an autobiographical posthumous Jonathan Larson (the composer of “Rent”) musical. Sondheim is supportive of Larson’s work.

Thank you Stephen, for your art! R.I.P.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

Continue Reading

Opinions

Publish trans employment stats

Not enough corporations that march in Pride are hiring non-binary staff

Published

on

On Nov. 10, the top-tier consulting firm McKinsey published a report on discrimination toward trans people in the workplace. The report came out with numbers that we have all known true for a long time and lead to one conclusion: Trans people have a harder time finding jobs, holding them down, and advancing in their careers. 

Specifically, McKinsey cited the fact that cisgender people are twice as likely to be employed as trans people, and that more than half of trans employees are uncomfortable being out at work. Meanwhile, cisgender employees make 32% more than trans employees in the workplace, even if those trans employees hold the same positions or higher positions. 

On top of this, trans people are 2.4 times more likely to be working in the food and retail industries, which pay entry level wages that are much less than decent pay. 

These statistics are true based on a number of factors. For one, many trans people have a harder time passing at work, and people who don’t pass well face worse job prospects. (As a side note, on top of that, the study pointed to the fact that many trans people exert undue emotional and psychological energy into trying to pass really well and not be discriminated against, which takes a toll on their mental health.) 

So what is a concrete step that corporations can take to make the trans experience in the workplace better? It’s time that corporations step up their game by publishing and making transparent the number of trans employees that they actually hire. Such numbers can be published in any kind of company document: a pamphlet, online report, or even annual shareholder’s report. As it is, most corporations do not publish numbers on LGBT employees. 

“Rainbow capitalism” is a term we know all too well: major corporations and multinationals flaunting a rainbow and trans pride flag during the month of June, but seemingly doing little to hire more trans people or give back to the community during other months. 

Every corporation surely has the time and company-wide infrastructure to get statistics on their trans employees. All they need to do is implement a company-wide survey to new hires. This takes extremely little effort and time in the grand scheme of company workings. 

If major corporations like McKinsey, Bain, Deloitte, defense contractors, and hundreds of other huge companies published statistics on trans employees, they would be held accountable for their actions and words.

If these statistics were to be published today, we would probably find out that not enough corporations that march in Pride parades are hiring trans and gender nonconforming employees. 

Turning the numbers against corporations will ensure that these same corporations finally live up to their words about workplace inclusion and diversity. It won’t cure everything about the issue of being trans in the workplace, but it’s a step in the right direction. 

Isaac Amend (he/him/his) is a trans man and young professional in the D.C. area. He was featured on National Geographic’s ‘Gender Revolution’ in 2017 as a student at Yale University. Isaac is also on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Find him on Instagram @isaacamend.

Continue Reading

Opinions

Should we be scared of Omicron?

A reminder to stay vigilant against latest mutation

Published

on

It’s Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend when I sit down to write this column. The craziness in the world continues but other than the scare of the new COVID mutation, which has been named Omicron, there isn’t one headline to grab attention. Instead, there are many, including some manufactured by the news media to gain viewers or sell papers. Some like the car rampaging through the Christmas parade is frightening but incidents like this seem to be happening all too often.  

The stock market went down 1,000 points on Friday because market players freaked out about the new COVID mutation coming out of South Africa. However that didn’t seem to stop people from spending their money on Black Friday. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) was again on the attack this time against fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) accusing her of being a Muslim terrorist. She apologized, or pretended to, but again the Republican leadership wouldn’t condemn her statements. These things seemed to be grist for the news media with no one else unfortunately really voicing concern. 

Boebert’s comments were taken as old hat. They are disgusting, offensive, and dangerous, but as long as her constituents reelect her we will have to live with them. She is joined by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.),  Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), and Paul Gosar  (R-Wyo.) who represent the worst in Congress and the worst of the American people. Yet again until their constituents throw them out we have to live with their stupidity and the absurdity of their being where they are. 

The new COVID mutation out of South Africa is potentially a game changer. But it will be important for scientists to look at this carefully to determine how quickly it spreads and whether or not the current vaccines will offer any protection against it. Countries around the world, including the United States, have quickly instituted travel bans for South Africans and those in countries surrounding it. The World Health Organization at this time has suggested this should not be done as it will have limited impact on its spreading and could have severe and detrimental economic impact on countries whose people are being banned. One thing we must learn from this is how important it is to ensure everyone all over the world has access to vaccines as we know the more people who are inoculated the harder it is for the virus to mutate. It is not time to panic yet and by Sunday there was some reporting this new mutation may not be any more difficult to deal with than the current ones and not lead to any more severe illness. The takeaway from all this is we need to keep vigilant, get vaccinated and get booster shots, and make sure we vaccinate our children. Continue to wear masks indoors and wash our hands. 

Now the other interesting stories last weekend were about what will happen in the Senate in the weeks leading up to the Christmas holidays. Remember the House of Representatives passed President Biden’s Build Back Better bill as a reconciliation measure, which means it can pass the Senate with a simple majority. That would mean every Democratic senator and the vice president. The focus is on two senators: Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Sinema (D-Ariz.). In reality we need to look at a number of others who will fight to either take out or put something into the bill the House passed. It is clear it will not pass in the current form and then it has to go back to the House again. 

Another issue that will be taken up is the debt ceiling. It may be a little easier than thought because as recently reported, “After taking a hard line and refusing to negotiate with Democrats during the last standoff over the debt limit, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is quietly looking for a way to get the issue resolved without another high-profile battle.” Then there is the budget and since none is passed Congress will have to pass another continuing resolution since the one they passed in September expires on Dec. 3. 

So for the next few weeks there will be a focus on the Senate to see what they do and how obstructionist Republicans want to be. Seems while things change, they somehow remain the same.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular