Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Folk and Punk Rock Compliment Art at Bobby Fisher Building in Bloomingdale-Eckington

At around 9:30 p.m. last night I happened to be walking by the the Bobby Fisher Memorial Building (1644 N. Capitol Street N.W.) and noticed that the place was abuzz. Another underground anarchist art exhibit? Turns out it was a pre-opening event.

According to John, painting this exhibit shown here, there will be an art exhibit this Wednesday from 8 p.m. to midnight, plus several bands will be performing. If last night's pre-event is any indication, stopp
ing by Wednesday will be worthwhile.

As I walked in, Matty Pop Chart was finishing up his last two songs, which gave off Paul Simon vibes, although I am told his music is primarily classified as indie pop.

Around 10:15 p.m., the Max Levine Ensemble (website here and Wikipedia entry here) took the stage (okay, so there wasn't really a stage and in fact lead vocalist David C. asked everyone to come forward as close as they felt comfortable).

This pop punk group rocked with incredible energy, their website recordings do not reflect what occurred last night given that the band will be releasing a new album in October. The crowd was alive with movement, and it was clear that several people in the audience knew the lyrics to the band's songs. The Ensemble plans to return to the Bobby Fisher building in September.

This venue began with a rough start this past May by hosting a glorification of graffiti exhibit in our graffiti-stricken neighborhood. I am hopeful about the potential for this venue to maintain its edge without feeding the Borf fad.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Some North Capitol Pedestrians Believe Convenience Outweighs Risk of Death

As many neighbors are aware, on July 15, Quincy Lewis Gatling was struck and killed by a vehicle on the 1800 block of North Capitol Street after climbing over the railing to cross the street. Pedestrians may use crosswalks one block north or south of this location, but S Street and Seaton Place are not intended to be passable.

Yesterday, I saw a man preparing to walk between the railing and around the wrought iron fence in the median along North Capitol Street just feet away from where Gatling was killed (click on photo for larger view). I called out for him to wait, and ran up to him. "Are you aware that two weeks ago, a man was killed doing just what you are about to do?" I asked him. "Yes, I know," he replied. He then vaulted over the railing and proceeded across the street.

As is too often the case, it takes a death in order for everyone to focus on safety issues, but as this incident yesterday indicates, some people won't necessarily change their routines.

I think that installation of the iron fence was an excellent idea from the D.C. Department of Transportation, for both safety and appearance reasons. The fence must be extended two blocks further north, because then it will be too inconvenient for neighborhood daredevils to cross.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

NCMS Applying for Grant to Improve Appearance of North Capitol Business Cooridor

The following is the text of my letter to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, in support of North Capitol Main Street, Inc.'s bid for a NIF Target Area Project Grant (TAPG):

I urge you to act favorably on the grant application of North Capitol Main Street, Inc. (
NCMS). The grant is designed to implement physical improvements to our neighborhood business district through the installation of fencing around treeboxes and the planting of trees. My ANC single member district includes North Capitol Street between New York Avenue and T Street.

I have met with several current and prospective business owners this year. The potential of the area is evident, but, due to years of physical neglect, North Capitol Street continues to reside in an economic purgatory. Improving the streetscape would remove a substantial psychological hurdle faced by prospective business owners. Residents are ready to “buy local” and support small businesses, as evidenced by the success of Big Bear CafĂ© at 1st and R Street N.W.

Approval of the NCMS grant application could transform our area from one that has long “had potential” to a vibrant economic community that has arrived. Please feel free to contact me at (202) 302-7343 if you have any questions concerning the views of residents in my district.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Chung Fundraiser a Success

I attended last night's fundraiser for the Chung family, which raised more the $64,000 towards the attorney's fees incurred by the defendants in the case Pearson v. Chung.
The presence of the security guard (to protect the famous pants) added a bit of circus to the atmosphere, but, on the other hand, one can't be too careful these days.

The judge's order dismissing the plaintiff's lawsuit can be found on the superior court's website. It's a document that every member of the D.C. Council should read. The spirit of the law has been twisted to the point where one too-clever lawyer can bankrupt a business over a pair of pants. The situation demands a legislative response.

The most striking moment from last night came when Chung attorney Christopher Manning said he'd like to give the Chungs an opportunity to say a few words. After each member of the family was introduced, each person had only one thing to say as he or she slightly bowed her or her head: "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you . . ." There were no eloquent victory speeches, but simple words of heartfelt gratitude-- such a rare display in this city of lawyers and politicians.

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Fundraiser to be Held this Tuesday for Ward Five Dry Cleaning Business Hit by $54 Million Pants Lawsuit

By now, most people have heard about the now-famous $54 million dollar lawsuit filed by a D.C. administrative law judge against a dry cleaning business in Ward Five for allegedly losing his pants. The case (legal analysis here and latest news here) made international headlines and has become a symbol of the dangers of clever lawyers manipulating laws intended to protect consumers in order to advance a personal vendetta with no restraint or remorse. The plaintiff continues to appeal his loss of the case.

This Tuesday, July 24th, from 6:00 until 7:30 p.m., the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform and the American Tort Reform Association will host a fundraiser for the Chungs to help pay their $82,000 in legal fees. The event (you can register here) will beld at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 1615 H Street N.W. I encourage all supports of Ward Five businesses to attend this event if they can afford to do so.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

District Appeals Second Amendment Case to Supreme Court

This morning's Washington Post reports that the District has decided to appeal the recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision that the city's prohibition against residents keeping handguns in their homes violates the Constitution.

I find this issue particularly interesting because my senior thesis in college concerned the constitutionality of gun control. At the time, it was clear that any Second Amendment case would be dead on arrival in federal court because so many courts of appeal had ruled that way (after a very short analysis). But since that time, abundant scholarship laid the groundwork for recognizing that a right to bear a firearm is an individual right separate from an organized militia. Then, in 2001, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals released a long scholarly opinion finding that an individual right exists.

Although Mayor Fenty has the impression that District residents uniformly support the ban on handguns in the home, the anecdotal information I have is that some residents do support an individual's right to a handgun. After asking for any crime issues that residents wished to raise, I asked an open-ended question concerning the gun ban to every resident at the door I reached in 3 hours (13 people). Five people supported the right, while eight support the District's ban. The supporters of gun rights were three black males, one white male, and one black woman, and supporters of the gun ban were just as diverse. However, supporters of the gun ban tended to be more passionate about their viewpoint.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Councilman Phil Mendelson to Speak at Tomorrow's ANC Meeting

At-large Councilman Phil Mendelson is scheduled to speak at the monthly Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5C meeting tomorrow. He is the chair of the Public Safety and Judiciary Committee, so I expect that much of his presentation will concern crime issues. In preparation, I walked in the neighborhoood for a few hours yesterday knocking on doors and asking residents about crime issues.

Please note that ANC 5C does not meet in August. Here is the time and location of tomorrow's meeting:

Tuesday, July 17, 2007
7:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Edgewood Senior Building
Crawford Hall, 9th floor
635 Edgewood Terrace, NE

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

DC Economic Refugees Welcome on North Capitol Street

Early this morning I met with Joe Vamboi, the erstwhile owner of Joe's Steak & Egg Restaurant on 9th Street N.W.

Joe is an economic refugee, a symptom of an overbearing and compassionless District of Columbia government. Everywhere Joe looks-- the Mayor's office, Councilman Jim Graham, Ward One advisory neighborhood commissioners, and assorted community leaders --they all pat themselves on the back for having forced Joe to "voluntarily" close his restaurant.

Councilman Graham in particular exerted extreme pressure upon Joe’s Steak & Egg Restaurant due to a June 28 fatal shooting on the premises. You can read an in-depth articles here and here. Graham called for the DCRA to revoke Joe's business license and asked the D.C. attorney general to investigate the business.

Councilman Graham and others in the community seem to believe that businesses exist at the pleasure of government and that no evidence of wrongdoing is needed to close a restaurant on account of violent crimes committed against its customers. Rather than meeting with the business owner and trying to find solutions, Graham decided to slander the business as a "crime magnet" and demand that every regulatory tool of government be used to wipe this small business off the face of the earth.

Joe hired security to cover his store over the weekends, but he couldn't afford full time security. When I asked Councilman Graham what he expected Joe to have done, he wrote that the owner should have hired fulltime security, but at the same time Graham acknowledged that it was unaffordable. Sounds like a version of "If you can't afford to take the heat, get out of the kitchen."

The North Capitol Street corridor between New York Avenue and Rhode Island Avenue welcomes business owners with an entrepreneurial spirit. While starting a new business in Eckington-Bloomingdale is not an easy task, residents will welcome responsible business owners with open arms—and will open a dialogue if concerns arise. North Capitol Main Street, Inc. provides businesses with assistance on a wide range of matters ranging from developing capital to improving the business interior and facade.

I want business owners everywhere to know that neighbors here are committed to working with businesses to make them better, rather than grinding them under a regulatory heel. Simple respect and decency require nothing less.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Some Modest Anti-Crime Proposals

Last month, I attended four community meetings that were either held exclusively about crime or delved into the subject deeply.

► ANC 5C Chair Anita Bonds held a special anti-crime meeting on June 5th that brought together various leaders who operate within the criminal justice system. My hat is off to her for having the vision and energy to bring all of these individuals together.

► The June 12th Eckington Civic Association meeting featured a strong police presence and discussion. I got to know Sgt. Tyshena Wallace better as she took questions and requests from residents, and she went the extra mile by writing down the names of numerous officers serving Eckington.

► I attended the June 14th Le Droit Park safety committee meeting, which was held in conjunction with numerous PSA 501 personnel and dozens of residents.

► Finally, Officer Black attended my single-member district meeting on June 18th. Only a handful of residents showed up, but they had many requests for Officer Black to write down.

The Le Droit Park meeting in particular was well-attended in part due to the latest brazen robbery on Windows Cafe (located at 1st and Rhode Island Avenue N.W.) and the serial muggings of Le Droit residents within the past month. The police interaction at these meetings has been exceptional, as has their protection of Windows, which is a symbol of progress in this neighborhood. The repeated robberies of Windows owner Hunegnaw Abeje and his wife are severe blows to the neighborhood's morale and economic vitality.

Nevertheless, I didn't get a clear sense at any of these meetings about effective ways for residents and business owners to fight back. I suggest that we consider the following three ideas that do not require any change in District law, but may provide an effective deterrent in many circumstances:

1. Pepper Spray-- Residents have the right to carry pepper spray provided that it is properly registered. If a mugger does not have a gun (and many do not), this method is extremely effective. The attacker could be incapacitated for a sufficient amount of time for the police to respond to a 911 call. Pepper spray would have been effective in the Le Droit Park muggings, where the assailants reportedly did not possess weapons.

2. Community-sponsored Self-Defense Classes-- I am looking for a sponsor to offer reduced-cost or free self-defense classes to residents. I took classes myself soon after moving into the neighborhood, and successfully employed verbal defense technique on one occasion. Classes can range from verbal self defense to defense against knives and guns (when you don't have a weapon).

3. Shotgun Possession by Business Owners -- District law generally prohibits the possession of all handguns and any functional shotguns and rifles. However, the nonfunctionality requirement does not apply to firearms kept at one's place of business. Yet many business owners are not exercising their rights to operate a shotgun or rifle. Criminals often believe, correctly, that they can rob a business with impunity because there will be no armed resistance.

This is a matter best left to the discretion and comfort level of the business owner, but general knowledge that a particular business owner has firepower behind the counter gives the criminal a strong incentive to avoid robbing that business. Whether customers will feel uncomfortable with the knowledge that a gun is on the premises is again a business call.

If a store owner does believe a shotgun fits with his/her business plan, the firearm must be registered with the police department. I strongly encourage such individuals to be fully acquainted with gun safety principles and to discuss use-of-force guidelines with D.C. police.

These proposals are only a beginning (I often hear concerns about loitering... more on that later). But more than proposals, we need people actively doing positive, proactive things in the community. Earlier today, I received an e-mail from Ted McGinn, who writes:
I will be speaking to a group of 50 gang members from all over the city this week at Emery on race and class issues within their communities that have resulted in them committing crimes. I will be talking to them about how they can learn more about the past heritage of their family through a DNA mapping project at Howard University that has a database of DNA from all over Africa and can test them to find out where they came from. Part of the problem is a lack of grounding of our young men, a sense of pride in their roots as a foundation to build on. . . . This group is part of the City funded summer jobs program.
Self-defense techniques are tools of protection, but they only treat the symptoms. The activities by devoted people like Ted are needed for crime prevention and cure.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

District of Columbia Cracking Down on Illegal Fireworks

Happy Fourth of July from our Nation's Capital, where half a million residents of this country continue to live without effective representation in Congress. But I digress.

Once again, the neighborhood listservs are lit up with the annual discussions of the pros and cons of firework activity this time of year. Some residents are upset with the noise disturbances while others call the neighborhood fireworks "the best in the city, far better than the display on the mall." I am fairly tolerant of fireworks given all of the other matters competing for attention, but I did feel compelled to call 911 yesterday when two cannon-like explosions erupted with a force loud enough to set off car alarms.

Today's Washington Post reports that a task force has successfully shut down an illegal fireworks distributor, netting 55 boxes of fireworks worth more than $50,000. Ten people were arrested.

What fireworks are legal? According to Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin, sparklers less than 20 inches long, fountains and cones are okay. But "anything that explodes, cracks, moves, shoots projectiles or sprays sparks higher than one foot is illegal." That summary sounds like 95% of fireworks that will be set off tonight. Rubin suggested that the District might want to ban all fireworks.

For whatever reason, the laws simply have not been an effective deterrent on July 4th. I recall driving up North Capitol Street two years ago and seeing illegal firework activity on every block. Providing security on the Mall, directing traffic, and maintaining order likely compete for police resources.

Two days ago, I was walking on S Street N.W. when I was approached by a girl, approximately 14 years old. "Do you believe in fireworks" she asked. "I believe they exist," I replied. "Do you want to buy some?" she asked, referring to types banned in D.C. We should figure out how to guide that entrepreneurial spirit in our young people towards positive ends.

For what it is worth, the following is information from the article stating how residents can report firework activity:

The task force will continue working in the District today and will have 30 police recruits patrolling neighborhoods. The group encourages people to report illegal fireworks activity by calling the fire department's tip line at 202-321-2653. Callers are guaranteed anonymity.

DCRA Pledges to Inspect and Catalog All Vacant Buildings by Ocober 31

Vacant properties are never good for a neighborhood. Often, they are not properly maintained, are a visual blight, and provide a venue for drugs and other illicit activity. In order to deter property vacancies, D.C. law requires that such property owners register their properties, which are subject to a far higher tax rate.

However, as D.C. residents have discovered in recent weeks, the District has not effectively enforced the registration of properties and the higher tax rate. Some properties even receive the homestead deduction, which is available only to owners who live on site.

An article in today's Washington Times reports that one advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 6 discovered that only 15 percent of vacant houses in his neighborhood are paying the higher tax rate.

According to the article, Linda K. Argo, the acting director of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), has pledged that DCRA officials "will inspect all vacant buildings in the District by Oct. 31 to create a comprehensive and transparent database." I welcome any residents in our neighborhood who wish to join me in gathering a list of vacant properties to assist the DCRA with its cataloging efforts.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Bloomingdale Civic Association Leadership Summit Missing Leaders

I attended the Bloomingdale Leadership Summit this past Saturday at 10 a.m., a component of the $12,000 grant awardeded by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5C last year.

For reference, here is the announcement again: You are cordially invited to join your neighbors and others at a Community and Leadership Summit on June 30th at the Harry Thomas, Sr. Recreation Center. The purpose of this session will be to find out how to strengthen and maintain a sense of community in transitioning neighborhoods. We will be advised by experts in the field and then break into small group sessions where individuals will have an opportunity to put forth their vision of the future of our neighborhood.

First of all, hats off to the leaders of BCA for putting together this novel and interesting program. However, the program needs to be tweaked in order to be a complete success.

I looked around and did not recognize anyone other than Commissioner John Salatti, Edgewood Civic Assocation's Rashidi Christian, and three of BCA's leaders (Commissioner Defoe did drop by later). I assume that Commissioner Davenport was working hard at Big Bear Cafe. I did not see anyone from Eckington Civic Association, Hanover/Truxton Circle, or North Capitol Main Street Inc. Love 'em or not, the leaders of those organizations are critical to any discussion about how to improve our neighborhood. Based on the Evite, some of these leaders were in fact invited, but some were not.

Participants at this forum likewise brought up race relations. Overall, most residents relate with each other reasonably well, although there is always room for more open minds and hearts. However, Commissioner Salatti and I were the only white people in the room, so any discussion of race would be truncated.

I recommend that Bloomingdale Civic Association reach out to Eckington Civic Association and Hanover Civic Association about a co-sponsorship of all future events. Dual billing will stimulate interest and bridge the gaps in our neighborhood.

A quick recap-- Mary Morris Hyde, PhD, noted some factors that indicate a sense of community of community building:

- Do people believe that they can leave a flower pot out on the front porch without it be stolen?
- What is the quality of street level interactions between residents?
- When a neighbor witnesses a code violation, does he/she call 311 or bring up the issue with the neighbor first?
- The identifiable leadership aspect: what percentage of people agree on who the leaders in the neighborhood are?
- The number of social events and activities that focus mainly on socializing, and the percentage of residents participating in those events.
- Institutional breadth and compentency in the neighborhood