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Dupont denizens doth protest too much

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

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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].

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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.

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Opinion | LGBTQ Virginians advocate D.C. statehood

The right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society

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My hometown will always be Washington, D.C. It’s the place where I was born and spent all of the first seven days of my life. As a lifelong Virginian however, where I live and attended schools, I straddle two communities important to me. 

As a business owner of 30 years in Washington, D.C., I pay many of my taxes and payroll taxes to the Nation’s Capital while I also pay income tax to Virginia where I’m a citizen.

Most important of all, as a gay Virginia voter, I can think of few lifelong political goals more important to me than achieving statehood for Washington, D.C. One of the compelling reasons I still make my home in Virginia and cross the Potomac River every day of my life, is because of my right as a Virginian to vote for two U.S. senators and for a member of the House of Representatives with the power to vote in Congress.

(It is still shocking to know that, with Washington, D.C. statehood still beyond grasp, the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton who represents D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives, has never yet had the authority to vote on the floor of the House.)

At an early age, I was dumbfounded to know that D.C. then did not even have a local government. We lacked an elected mayor and city council, with almost all decisions for the District of Columbia made by the federal government. Yet today, even with a mayor and local government in place, it is breathtaking to know that my friends, neighbors and co-workers still have zero voice in the Capitol and no one to vote for them – and for us – in Congress.

Consider that one of the world’s most diverse and educated cities has so often been bullied by extreme conservative leaders on Capitol Hill who – whenever possible – turn back the clock for D.C. citizens on voting rights, abortion rights, gun measures and our civil rights including LGBTQ equality. Not a single voter in D.C. has much, if any, say over any of those decisions.

The absence of statehood and the lack of real voting rights means that the unforgivable strains of racism and homophobia often held sway not just for Washington D.C., but in denying the United States a true progressive majority on Capitol Hill too. 

Virginians get it. In the past decade, we’ve worked very hard in every county and city in the commonwealth to turn our regressive political past into a bright blue political majority. We have elected LGBTQ candidates to state and local offices in unprecedented numbers. Our vote is our power.

More significantly, through the work of Equality Virginia and its many allies, we are repealing scores of anti-LGBTQ measures and reforming our statutes and constitution to secure equal rights as LGBTQ voters, adoptive parents, married couples, students, and citizens. Doesn’t Washington, D.C. deserve that future?

Virginia needs more states – like D.C. – to join forces and represent all Americans. To achieve this, and to defeat or neuter the anti-democratic Senate filibuster rule, we need our friends, allies and neighbors, the citizens of Washington, D.C. to share in our democratic ambitions.

Long ago, Washington, D.C. resident, abolitionist and civil rights leader, Frederick Douglass declared that “the District is the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people, and by the people. Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes, just like residents of Nevada, California or any other state. Washington, D.C. residents have fought and died in every American war just like residents of Ohio, Kentucky or any other state. The District deserves statehood and Congress should act to grant it.” 

Speaking for LGBTQ Virginians, we agree. Conferring statehood is not a gift nor a blessing from the rest of us, but instead, it is the absolute right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society. As LGBTQ Americans, if we are to pass the Equality Act and other fundamental civil rights measures, we need the State of Washington, D.C. and its voters by our side.

Bob Witeck is a longtime LGBTQ civil rights advocate, entrepreneur, and Virginian, with long roots and longstanding ties to D.C.

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Opinion | Representation matters: The gayest Olympics yet

From one out athlete to more than 160 in just 33 years

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OK, I really want a Tom Daley cardigan. The now gold-medal Olympian told Britain’s The Guardian that he took up crocheting during the pandemic. He even has an Instagram page dedicated to his knit creations, MadeWithLoveByTomDaley. It’s all very adorable; it’s all very Tom Daley. 

All that aside, you’d have to be practically heartless to not feel something when Tom Daley and his diving partner Matty Lee won the gold on Monday in the men’s synchronized 10-meter diving competition, placing just 1.23 points ahead of the Chinese. And then seeing him with tears in his eyes on the podium as “God Save the Queen” played. Later that week, he knitted a little bag featuring the Union Jack to hold and protect his medal. So very wholesome

Daley is certainly one of the highest profile LGBTQ athletes in these games. Besides the diver, the 2020 Summer Olympics, now in 2021 because of the pandemic, are hosting more than 160 out athletes. A record to be sure, but calling it a record does it somewhat of an injustice. The United States sent the first out athlete to the 1988 Summer Olympics, Robert Dover an equestrian rider competing in dressage. Dover remained the only out (sharing the title once in 1996 with Australian diver Craig Rogerson) for 10 years. Then, during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the number of out athletes jumped to 15. London’s 2012 Olympics saw the number increase to 23. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro saw the number jump to 68 out athletes. And now we’re at over 160. 

So you get the trend building here. From one out athlete to more than 160. So very far, so very fast. And competing in everything from handball to sailing to golf to skateboarding. Also, noteworthy, New Zealand sent the first trans athlete, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. These are but numbers and names, but to be sure, this sort of representation, this sort of visibility, is hugely important. Not just for athletes coming up behind them, but let’s think too of those out there, not yet even out, maybe watching in their parents’ living room. Seeing Tom Daley thank his husband, mention their son, this sort of queer normality being broadcast as if it is both groundbreaking and at the same time nothing at all — the importance of this cannot be overstated. 

On top of that, growing up gay, how many times were we all told, whether outright or simply implied, that sports were more or less off limits to us. Meant to display the peaks of gender and ability, sports were not meant for those who couldn’t fit neatly into that narrative. But it appears that that narrative is slowly becoming undone. Just look beyond the Olympics, to the wider world of sports. Earlier this summer, pro-football’s Carl Nassib came out.   

And maybe I’m just of a generation that marvels at the destruction of each and every boundary as they come down. We had so very little as far as representation back then. Now to see it all, and in so many different sports, you can’t help but to wonder what the future will hold for us; and it really delights the imagination, doesn’t it? 

It is the gayest Olympics yet. And if the trend laid out above continues, it will only get gayer as the years go on. And if it’s a barometer for anything, I think we will see a lot of things getting a bit gayer from now on.

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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Opinion | Blame Mayor Bowser for violence epidemic?

In a word, ‘no,’ as the problem is nationwide

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The simple answer to the question “Does the Mayor get the blame for the violence epidemic?” is NO! This is not something that can be laid at any one person’s feet. The epidemic of gun violence is gripping the entire nation. 

The frustration and outrage I and everyone else feels are palpable. It’s frightening when you hear gunshots in your neighborhood. It makes bigger headlines when the shots fired are in neighborhoods not used to that like the recent shooting on 14th and Riggs, N.W. When the shots rang out patrons of upscale restaurants like Le Diplomate ran or ducked under their tables for cover. When shots were fired outside Nationals stadium the national media lit up to report it. The truth is we must have the same outrage every time shots are fired and people hurt or killed in any neighborhood of our city.  

Trying to lay the blame for this at the feet of the mayor, as some people on social media and in opinion and news columns in the Washington Post are doing is wrong. Some would have you believe the mayor is just sitting by and allowing the violence to happen. There are pleas “Mayor Bowser do something!” as if she could wave a magic wand and the shootings will stop. 

In a recent Washington Post column, “Bowser pressed to act after shootings,” a number of Council members are quoted including Chairman Phil Mendelson, Ward 2 member Brooke Pinto, Ward 4 member Janeese Lewis George, At-large member Anita Bonds and Ward 5 member Kenyan McDuffie. They all call for something to be done but not one of them says what they would do. It’s clear they are as frustrated and outraged as the rest of us but have no easy answers. What is clear is casting blame on the mayor and police commissioner won’t help to stop the violence and shootings. 

Again, this epidemic of violence isn’t just an issue for D.C. but a national epidemic. Recently our mayor sat beside the president at a White House meeting called to discuss what can be done about this with mayors and law enforcement officials from around the nation. No one from the president down had an answer that can make it stop right away. Many in D.C. would be surprised at the ranking of the 50 cities with the most violent crime per 100,000 residents showing D.C. with 977 violent crimes per 100,000 residents at number 27 behind cities like Rockford, Ill., Anchorage, Ala., and Milwaukee, Wisc. Crime in nearly all those cities and murder rates have gone up, in many cases dramatically, since the pandemic. 

The solution to ending gun violence is to get the guns out of the hands of those who are using them for crime but that is easy to say and much harder to do. We know ending poverty will make a difference. Giving every child a chance at a better education and ensuring real opportunities for every young person will make a difference. We must also hold people responsible for the serious crimes they commit and often courts are a system of revolving door justice where we find the same people arrested for a serious crime back on the street committing another one and the same gun used for multiple crimes.

There are anti-crime programs that might work but they need buy-in from the entire community including activists and the clergy who must work in concert with our political leadership. D.C. is funding a host of programs including ‘violence disrupters,’ job training, and  mental health and substance abuse programs. They all need more money and more support. 

In D.C., we have only 16 elected officials with real power; the Council, the mayor, the attorney general and our congressional representative. We have community leaders elected to local ANCs. When members of the council attack the mayor, some simply to make political hay for their own future election, it won’t solve any problems. 

This must be viewed as a crisis and our 16 elected leaders should sit down, agree to a series of anti-crime programs and efforts they will adequately fund, and stop attacking each other. Once they agree on the programs to fund they should bring together ANC members from across the city to a meeting at the convention center and work out a plan for what each can do to move us forward to safer neighborhoods. 

We must work together as one if we are to succeed in making life safer and better for all. 

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

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