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Ideas for Reeves Center future stir debate

Building must be home to DC Center, market, daytime commerce

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Reeves Center, gay news, Washington Blade
Reeves Center, gay news, Washington Blade

If the Reeves Center is to be redeveloped, it should be as a commercial building providing daytime commerce to U Street. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

I have known Mark Lee — another columnist whose writing appears frequently on this page — since the 1980s. His philosophy then, and now, is pretty much what is good for business is good for the people of D.C.

In his Dec. 20, 2013 Washington Blade column, Lee suggests that the private sector should have full reign in the disposition of the publicly owned Reeves Center at 14th and U. Lee says in so many words, “Just stand aside neighbors and communities—let business and developers dictate your well-being. Government doesn’t know what it’s doing. We know what’s best for you.”

The Blade identifies Lee as a “business advocate.” True enough, but in this case for what business is he advocating?

Is it the big guys on K Street? Maybe, but I doubt it. Since daytime commerce on U Street doesn’t, we can assume that he doesn’t give a hoot about hardware stores, cleaners, design shops and lunch places.

I think, once again, Lee wants alcohol to be king, with rents that only nightclubs can afford. Lee wants to return U Street to exclusive nightlife economy and with much less daytime commerce that outcome will be assured.

I am all for bars and restaurants but neighborhoods need balance.

What is all of this about anyway? Somehow the uncompetitive sale of the Reeves Center — certainly one of the top prime properties owned by the D.C. government — has become part and parcel of an elaborate adagio intended to bring about a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point.

If the Reeves is to be redeveloped, it should be as a commercial building providing daytime commerce to U Street. Also, it must include the DC Center, the weekend farmers market and the U.S. Post Office facility.

Lee rejects that with florid turn of phrase, “Graham behaves as an old-world Soviet apparatchik, insisting on defined private sector build-out to suit his command economy proclivities. He demands that the project consist of commercial office space instead of residential housing, including non-profit offices. He also specifies a seasonal farmers market on a public plaza not part of the plan – or likely economic feasibility… Step aside Mr. Graham, this is enterprise at work – again benefiting our city.”

Well thank goodness for the democratic process and some semblance of the collective and public good — a concept Lee dismisses as “Soviet.” The community gathered on all of this on Dec. 17 at the Reeves Center.

I remind Mr. Lee of several points:

• There is no “deal” until the Council approves one  — where, by the way, I have a vote. Until then, all options are on the table.

• The sale of publicly owned land is a big deal and should be made with full transparency.

• The Dec. 17 community meeting was a good first step in hearing directly from the residents and business owners. In a near unanimous voice, they wanted daytime commerce.

• Also, this is no time for us to proclaim “Mission Accomplished” at 14th and U. The area is very attractive to commercial office development. In a new building, at 7th and T N.W., the United Negro College Fund has established its headquarters. That and more is possible at Reeves. Can you imagine the interest Reeves would generate if it was put out to auction as a commercial building property, to all bidders?

Jim Graham represents Ward One on the D.C. Council.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Richard J. Rosendall

    January 15, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    I do not recognize Mark Lee’s published viewpoints in Mr. Graham’s characterization. No he did NOT say what is quoted in so many words. Graham talks about the sale of public property, but the proposed deal is a land swap that crucially includes the city obtaining private property to build a soccer stadium. For Graham to make a long list of demands for the redevelopment of the Reeves Center site is ludicrously unreasonable. He might as well overtly try to scuttle the deal. There is no shortage of regulations for developers in the District. Jumping all over a complex deal and trying to complete one’s Christmas wish list at the expense of one of the parties is a gross overstepping of the proper government role. But at this point it is hardly a surprise.

  2. Kevin

    January 15, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    I’m not a big supporter of CM Graham but to be fair he is not — at least in this opinion piece — trying to fill a “wish list.” The only new thing he is asking for is offices. The others (“DC Center, the weekend farmers market and the U.S. Post Office facility”) are already there. It’s hardly a “Christmas wish list” to want to keep what we have.

    I am a supporter of the stadium deal, in concept, but I am also a longtime resident of the U Street area. I think including some office space in the redevelopment of the Reeves Center property, but I’m also OK with residences, too, as long as some are affordable housing. And ground level retail makes sense but here I agree with Graham: no bars/restaurants. We have plenty..and more are coming in nearby.

    I don’t know if the councilman actually believes the entire project should be offices but that is really unlikely.

    This is a community asset. Our community SHOULD have a say in what comes next.

  3. Richard J. Rosendall

    January 15, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    Kevin, again, the deal already gives the District the big thing it wants, which is the land for the stadium. The value of what it is giving in return is decreased, or at least burdened, by insisting that the private developer across the table must do all those things, which will indeed all be new for the developer.

  4. Steve

    January 16, 2014 at 2:39 pm

    They should continue to build expensive apartments/condos. Im so tired of all these poor people waiting for the bus at that intersection. The U street from 20 years ago doesnt exist.

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Commentary

Sondheim’s art will be with us for the ages

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

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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.

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Opinions

Publish trans employment stats

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

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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.

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Opinions

Should we be scared of Omicron?

A reminder to stay vigilant against latest mutation

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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.

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