Treat, No Trick: Georgetown Nightlife Important for Business

November 6, 2012

Georgetowners are lucky to be within walking distance from nearly everything they might need. Some of the best shopping, dining and nightlife opportunities in Washington are only a short walk away. It makes life easier and fun to have such great resources. Our shopping, dining and historic attractions also bring people from all around the region and the world to our town. They are happy to be here, and most of us are happy to have them.

Nevertheless, the bar and nightlife scene in Georgetown has always been a point of contention between residents, business owners and visitors. Last year’s Halloween night brought gun shots, a melee at the Foggy Bottom Metro corner and a teenager who died later from gunshot wounds. Before that, the ghoulish night was peaceful for years, after D.C. police changed its crowd-control strategy: leaving the streets moving with vehicular traffic and people barricaded back on the sidewalks.

Nightlife in Georgetown is vibrant and classic at the same time. As with anything, there are also negative aspects to it. Like it or not, that includes drunkenness which can lead to bad behavior. (While this may mostly involve loud noise in the neighborhood, it can move up to property damage or physical violence quickly.)

Obviously, this is not beneficial to businesses, residents and others who just wish to have a good time. Controlling nightlife should not be an all-or-nothing discussion: consumers’ interests should be taken into consideration among those of others.

One opportunity for discussion of Georgetown nightlife is the recently launched D.C. Hopper, an evening shuttle bus that travels from Bethesda to Georgetown and Dupont Circle and back. Services like D.C. Hopper often have people upset that many bar-goers are going out primarily to drink and get drunk. There are only so many bars in Georgetown, and only so many ways to get to the neighborhood. The D.C. Hopper is an innovative way for transportation that circumvents expensive taxicab rides and sometimes-undependable Metrorail options. Instead of denouncing D.C. Hopper completely, concerned citizens should promote an open dialogue about what can work for everyone.

In July 2011, the Georgetown Business Forum on Nightlife and Hospitality was an effort by the business community and residents to have a constructive conversation about the careful balance that needs to be maintained so that everyone wins.

The Georgetown community needs to support local businesses that attract people to the
neighborhood, while controlling the less desirable aspects of nightlife. There could be any number of measures taken to prevent the bad behavior that rises from nightlife, but there will always going to be a range of both good and bad that happens. People who want to come to Georgetown to support local businesses should be welcomed. Today, there are lots of choices of where to go in Washington and the surrounding metro area after dark. We should be proud that Georgetown is a center for nightlife, too.

Salute our veterans

September 13, 2012

From the Halls of Montezuma,
To the shores of Tripoli;
We fight our country’s battles
In the air, on land, and sea.
-United States Marine Corps Hymn

When President Woodrow Wilson first declared in 1919 that Nov. 11 would henceforth be recognized as “Armistice Day” — renamed “Veterans’ Day” in 1954 — who could have imagined the historic role the armed forces of this emerging, young nation would come to play in the 20th century and beyond? Who could have imagined that the Stars and Stripes of the United States of America — and the soldiers who proudly hoist it high — would become known worldwide as a symbol of liberty over tyranny?

Although select members of political establishment shy away from proclaiming “American Exceptionalism,” this nation in its short yet glorious history declare otherwise. And no other sector of this nation embodies that exceptionalism more than the United States Armed Forces.

Whenever tyranny arises — whether its Nazi fascism in Germany, communist totalitarianism in Russia and Asia, or radical Islamic extremism in Afghanistan, Iraq, New York City, or Fort Hood, Texas — American soldiers faithfully rise against it. In a world of increasing uncertainties, the American serviceman has remained steadfast and true.

As people of America look back at all of the places where the cry of freedom has beckoned its soldiers to battle — “from the Halls of Montezuma, to the shores of Tripoli,” from the blood-soaked beaches of Normandy to the rugged mountains of Afghanistan — our only response can be gratitude and awe.

So on Veterans’ Day last week, and every day of the year, it was, and is, altogether fitting that Americans pause in reverence to thank veterans young and old for the willingness to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

Can We Agree to the Campus Plan? With These Conditions …

December 31, 2011

Georgetown University’s 2010-20 campus plan is now in the hands of the D.C. Zoning Commission. After all the points and counterpoints, we find ourselves not quite in agreement with anyone. We have previously stated on this page in July: “We agree that an overwhelming majority — and most definitely freshmen and sophomores — should be required to live on campus and be guaranteed on-campus housing. But 100 percent of all undergraduates? Sorry, no.”

With that said, we are in agreement with the Citizens Association of Georgetown that increased trash pick-up and improved shuttle, as cited by the university, is a less than spectacular response to the neighbors’ anger with student’s behavior after hours along their streets.

Here is but a bit from CAG of what some Georgetown residents report.

Michelle Galler: “I am writing as a resident of 36th Street, and a victim of multiple vandalism incidents involving drunk Georgetown University students. Once again, last night, at precisely 2:38 am, a band of drunken, loud students removed the plants from the planters in front of my home and maliciously threw them around the premises. They have done the same with my plantings in the past, as well as urinating on the front lawn and screaming and throwing loud street parties well into the night. . . . We are helplessly being surrounded by callous, entitled students who are not being sufficiently penalized for their bad behavior.”

Walter Parrs went further: “I have lost hope that GU will implement any enforcement plan that will address the extensive problems that Burleith and West Georgetown face. How can any university – or anyone for that matter – control literally hundreds of steaming-drunk college students spread over two neighborhoods? I understand why GU cannot propose an enforcement plan: There is none that will work.”

The university mailed brochures to Georgetown residents a month ago outlining their new efforts. The brochure displayed a headline which read: “We value you as neighbors.”

You think? Sounds kind of condescending.

We know the university is an invaluable plus to this neighborhood, Washington, D.C., and the nation. No doubt about that: one of the greatest schools in America. Its campus plan mostly gained approval from the Washington Post, which wrote in October: “Imagine a city telling its largest private employer — one that pays millions in taxes and salaries, strives to hire local residents and voluntarily does community service — that it can’t grow anymore, that it might have to cut back. That seems far-fetched in light of today’s scary economy, but it’s essentially what D.C. officials are telling Georgetown University by insisting it either house all its students or cut back enrollment. The District seems distressingly disinterested in promoting a knowledge-based economy.” Again, we find it hard to disagree with that.

Here’s the catch: students who live on campus walk back along Prospect, N and other streets from events, parties and bars. That will not change. Homeowners will hear their drunken cries at 2 a.m. It is the city, the partly youthful nature of Georgetown is a good thing. For students who live in off-campus houses and get repeatedly cited by neighbors and the likes of CAG, expulsion must be in play. (We haven’t even touched upon traffic, a new playing field or boathouse, among the many other proposals.)

University administrators must totally upgrade and update their mindset — promoting campus events, offering courses, crafting programs to its closest neighbors (not just those across the city or the globe), who are their “trustees” to the world just as the students are the university’s “representatives” to the neighborhood. We are here; we are not leaving, either. Ten-year plan? We think the university should be in close, continual conversation with local leaders and neighbors. No more closed doors: politics is local, after all. Time for the administrators to open their schools and minds to the neighborhood with an active wooing of — and union with — groups and citizens to the point that Georgetowners say, “We value you as a neighbor.”

Editorial: We’ve had our Fill of Philly

July 26, 2011


-Geez. Can’t Mehmet Kocak just give it a rest?

Rumors, arresting as the scent of melted mozzarella, have seeped out and spread fast among
neighbors that the former owner of the irreparably besmirched Philly Pizza has again filed papers for an operating license at the same location he was forced to board up just six months ago. At the time, Kocak so vehemently defended his rights as a restaurateur he began to seem a kind of self-styled paladin of pizza.

You can’t say he doesn’t get points for effort. However, it’s one thing to stick to your guns for a time, and another to remain totally intractable when backed into a corner — literally — by residents on all sides. When the neighbors are inviting the mayor out to see you off, isn’t it time to throw in the towel?

Kocak maintains that this time around, his proposal is for a different, more innocuous sort of operation — a kind of hot sandwich shop — but the signs are ominous, most notably his request for a 550-degree conveyor oven three feet wide. You want pepperoni with that?

At the height of the fiasco earlier this year, we sat down with Kocak to make sure we understood his side of the story. His argument — essentially that he was being singled out — was a little maudlin, a little put-upon, but on the whole well reasoned and worth a listen. That, however, was before an organized coalition of neighbors, ANC commissioners and city officials, including the attorney general, mayor and DCRA chief, ordered him out. In the process, he huffed, dragged his feet and even operated on a suspended license until he was threatened with jail time. In a word, Kocak played bad politics in a town where politics matters.

Now, to put it bluntly, we’re as tired of this perpetual debacle as the households of Potomac Street. Exactly why Kocak would want to rekindle a neighborhood feud and further strain relations between the University and neighbors is a mystery, but it seems more and more to have to do with a misguided and self-interested pursuit of profit. While we applaud the growth of small businesses in Georgetown, it must take a back seat to the welfare of its residents, without exception. Philly, or whatever its latest genesis, has worn out its welcome.

A Broken Blade


-The Washington Blade newspaper has announced that it has published its last edition. Needless to say, it came as a complete surprise to its loyal readers, not to mention its loyal staff, who just a few days previous were celebrating their 40th anniversary.

We once attended a gathering at the National Press Club where Ted Turner was the guest speaker. The CNN founder stated it was “all over” for newspapers, and predicted that they would soon be a thing of the past. This was in 1981.

People have been predicting that newspapers would soon be dead for years. And every year, several more die. Now people are predicting that print newspapers and magazines will be gone within ten years. Turner predicted print publications would be dead by 1991.

Okay, so he was a little off, but the fact remains that many major and minor newspapers and magazines have gone out of business over the past 20 years or so, and prospects for many other major dailies are not looking promising. Just look at our very own Washington Post. Its pages are diminishing every month. The City Paper has gone through equally tough times in recent memory.

In our five and half decades of service to the community, we have seen the Washington Evening Star go under, as well as a myriad of weekly and bi-weekly publications including the stately Uptown Citizen, The Hill Rag, O. Roy Chalk’s publication, and many more. ?Here at Georgetown Media Group we are encouraged that our advertisers and readers have been loyal.

We are now in our 56th year of publication, and while we have undergone several changes over the years, we are confident that our publication has a place in the community and we will remain a voice for the residents.

Last Thoughts on Philly

So, the great pizza affair finally looks like it’s drawing to a close. On Feb. 19, the city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs served an illegal use notice to Potomac Street’s Philly Pizza Company, echoing a Board of Zoning Adjustment decision a few days earlier to close the University’s favorite huckster of sauce and cheese on the grounds that it was operating as a fast-food establishment, not as the sit-down restaurant for which it is zoned. It had been a lingering, painfully slow fight — last November, Philly suffered a similar ruling but lucked out with a temporary reprieve until the BZA could reconvene this month. Clocking in at over seven hours, the final hearing was one of near-mythic proportions, a kind of neighborhood armageddon where the issue’s major players could take the field, voice their side and duke it out one last time. Neighbors were finally given the opportunity to speak (in the interest of time, citizen testimony was not heard at the November meeting), and ANC commissioners again submitted their two cents, reinforcing the claims of their unhappy constituents. Of course, Philly owner Mehmet Kocak and his legal team took the floor as well, arguing that the handful of cocktail tables dotting the cramped pizza parlor cemented its status as a proper restaurant.

When the dust had cleared, the neighbors came out on top, and while Philly might have enjoyed a few days’ respite until the city could enforce their decision, the DCRA notice three days later effectively put to an end all the revelry, the good times for students and headaches for everyone else. At that particular corner, at least.

For the record, it’s worth noting that Kocak’s cooperation and diplomacy on this issue had been lukewarm at best. He seemed to hardly notice the clamor over his late-night clientele until the blogs, populace and community boards were all screaming about it. Even then, the solutions he offered were cursory: roll a few trash cans in the street, ask a bored policeman or two to check in every once and a while and hope the situation works itself out. The whole time, his put-upon attitude earned him few friends or allies. Georgetown students, when the ruling was reported on the University blog Vox Populi, seemed to shrug their shoulders and move on. There are other places in town to grab a slice.

To be sure, the BZA’s decision was the right one. Philly had been operating beyond the parameters of its license and indirectly made lives miserable for its neighbors across the street — all of whom have lived on the block for far longer. The community, however — the ANC, neighbors, students — will have to work hard to prove that this wasn’t an isolated lynching. The precedent set by the ruling must be upheld when dealing with similar problems at Tuscany, Domino’s and others, which very likely will inherit the crowds once commanded by Philly. After all, inebriated, early-morning revelers bent on greasy food will gravitate toward the nearest alternative.

Which warrants a word or two about the early-morning revelers: as those directly responsible for the complaints of neighbors, they bear much of the responsibility here, and deserve to be held accountable more than they have been. We urge the neighborhood boards (the ANC and BID especially) to allocate the necessary funding to ensure, if problems continue to arise, that officers are regularly on hand to halt the littering and noise at the source.

High Hopes for Health Care


-In a recent New York Times op-ed, Paul Krugman, echoing Abraham Lincoln, remarked that the case for universal health care was “an appeal to our better angels, urging politicians to do what is right, even if it hurts their careers.” His politics and bias, whether you agree with them or not, are immaterial here. More important is to understand his use of a phrase now firmly ensconced in the American rhetorical canon, one which may help us to see how the passing of a landmark piece of legislation on Sunday fits into the larger picture of American social policy.

Better angels. It’s a Lincoln original, a curious turn of phrase he used, against the advice of his Cabinet and colleagues, to describe an aspect of America’s internal conscience. It implies the smallest lozenge of good residing within everyone, heavenly, metaphysical, one we strain to hear over the din of heated argument and impassioned emotion. Our ongoing struggle with this innate empathy also calls to mind a stark truth: that American crusades for civil and social justice, the ones we now deem unshakable and sacrosanct, were never popular with contemporaries.

At the turn of the 19th century, those who had fought so hard to guarantee free speech in the Constitution faced its erosion by sedition laws. In Lincoln’s own time, emancipation was reviled by the South and thought imprudent and reactionary in the North. A century later, a handful of legislators, state politicians, and citizens showed they would go to any length to curb the presidency’s quest for civil rights chartered by law. To question the spirit of these movements today, now removed from any political or prejudicial skew, would be to question what is now snugly assimilated into the country’s heritage.

Do we possess the prescience to feel certain the cause for health care will be remembered similarly? No, but we have a feeling it will be. Of the three fundamental rights Thomas Jefferson ascribed to humanity, life and liberty are the most easily stripped by the vindictive, heartless, cutthroat side of mankind. We must never allow that side to take ground. We must recognize for ourselves and for each other that the cause for life, like the cause for liberty, will be threatened constantly by the shallow, inhuman interests that lurk on the fringes of a harsh world. We must pledge to never lie beholden to these. We must pledge to take the steps necessary to ensure that our citizens, one and all, have the resources they need to preserve their own life and the lives of loved ones.

This may require us to quiet ourselves for a moment and listen within to that which binds us together as Americans, and as human beings. The better angels of our nature.

Liquor Moratorium Needs Loosening


-May we request a moratorium on, you know, the moratorium?

Meaning, of course, ABRA’s liquor moratorium for Georgetown, which begins at Wisconsin and N Streets and applies to every restaurant within a third-mile radius, and is now up for its five-year renewal later this year. Several weeks ago, the ANC gave its blessing to a renewal, with the recommendation that two more available licenses be issued in order to, as ANC 2E05 Bill Starrels put it, “dampen the bidding wars.”

Such a comment touches on the larger issue at stake: that any restaurant hoping to sell liquor within the heart of Georgetown must bid for a finite resource. Too finite, in our opinion. Currently, new establishments seeking a license must purchase it at a premium from defunct restaurant owners, who may hold onto their license as long as they like until they get the price they want.

You can see where simple economics comes into play. Demand is skyrocketing, while supply remains dismally low, not to mention hoarded for profit. A Georgetown liquor license nowadays goes for $70,000. And insofar that any restaurant larger than a take-out sandwich joint cannot hope to profit without liquor sales, we can expect any prospective eateries to set up shop elsewhere, where they won’t immediately be set back a hundred grand.

Which is a shame. As Ginger Laytham of Clyde’s remarks, “This is not just a restaurant issue, it’s a whole community issue.” We agree. With a struggling retail market that seems to only attract national chains, this neighborhood more than ever needs to facilitate the establishment of locally owned restaurants and bars where Georgetowners, their friends, and visitors alike can gather to socialize and enjoy the cachet unique to this community. While we are sensitive to the notion that establishments selling alcohol may be catalysts for disorderly conduct, we also point out that incidents like the recent Philly Pizza fiasco don’t always require getting liquored up.

Does all this necessitate a complete repeal of the moratorium, or the handing out of licenses carte blanche? No, but we believe the law could do with a bit of curtailing. We urge ABRA and the city council to issue more liquor licenses to Georgetown, and to enact legislation that would lower the value of those already issued — by adding expiration dates for defunct licenses, for instance — so they are less of a cash cow and more of a transferable, affordable resource.

A New Shade of Gray

Well, city council Chairman Vincent Gray has gone and done it.

After months of prodding and speculation in the media and among political types in the District, Gray has decided to take on incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty and run against him.

He made his announcement at a spirited rally where the key rhetorical elements were “one city” and “we can do better,” which got the people in attendance at Reeves Municipal Center going, but didn’t give too many clues on substance or policy difference that Gray might have with the mayor.

Still, the announcement accomplished at least two things: it ended speculation about Gray and transferred it to speculation about who was going to run for Gray’s chairman position.

The one certain thing is that Gray will not be chairman next year, and that’s the big risk in his decision: that he could become Linda Cropp, the sitting council chair four years ago who decided to run for mayor and got soundly trounced by Fenty, managing to lose every precinct and ward in the city. Now that he’s opted to run against Fenty, Gray cannot run for re-election as council chair, an election he was a sure bet to have won. He could be a man without a job if he fails to unseat the sitting mayor.

Gray is obviously optimistic about his chances. On the surface, his is in the very least a serious candidacy, although the probabilities for success remain very, very iffy. Gray may have been encouraged by a recent poll that showed a decided unhappiness among voters with Fenty, but it was a poll from which you could extract mixed meanings.

Many district voters and residents, many of them in the poorer and majority black areas of the city such as Ward 8, 7, 6, 5 and 4 (Fenty’s own ward), are not happy with the way Fenty has governed, even if quite a few others praise his action-fueled ways, citing favorable homicide and crime stats, a major school takeover and reform effort that’s beginning to show favorable results in some areas and general quality of life improvements. It was a poll that seemed to say “we like some of what you’ve done, but we don’t like how you did it.” Which is to say that Fenty was perceived as distant, somewhat arrogant, a “does not play well with others” (especially the city council) kind of leader, often high-handed, secretive and single-minded. A poll also showed that in a one-on-one race against Fenty, Gray would narrowly win.

Yet these objections, while heated, also seem somewhat ephemeral — they’re not the sort of thing you on which you can place a big political bet. More troublesome may be the results of an investigation into Fenty’s bypassing the council in awarding contracts on parks and recreation projects. And just this week, the anger of residents where four people were killed in mass shootings was high after Fenty — rumored to be vacationing in Jamaica — failed to show up at the site. To be fair, the mayor’s presence at scenes of tragedy and trouble has been consistently high in the past.

Then there’s the question of how legislation will fare on the council when a number of its members are engaged in running for office, and that would be especially in the case of Gray. It’s budget time, and Fenty last week presented his budget for fiscal year 2011 to the council and to the public, a budget fraught with potential controversy, given its unsightly $500 million-plus deficit. At the meeting with the council, Fenty greeted Gray with a hug, the first time the two men apparently had seen each other or talked in months.

Fenty’s relationship with the city council — especially Gray — has deteriorated drastically, beginning with the choice of Michelle Rhee as public schools chancellor, the selection of which the Washington Post knew about before Gray was informed. Rhee’s own drastic reform efforts, which include high doses of national publicity, the mass firing of teachers and stalled contract talks with the teacher’s union, seemed to mimic Fenty’s style.

Such treatment obviously rankled Gray, especially after he supported Fenty in his school takeover effort.

But Fenty is also a tough, high-energy campaigner with a big war chest of nearly $4 million. This late in the game, that’s a lot to catch up with, although Gray is rumored to be trolling for support with the Cafritz family and folks like Judith Terra, a former Fenty supporter.

Then there’s Don Peebles, the bucks-rich developer who may yet run, which might distract the focus of voters, if not the contributors.

Gray — now dubbed Vince Gray on his campaign website — is a careful sort who likes building consensus. Fenty, at least if the polls are correct, is seen as someone who likes to act and make decisions and not look back or apologize.

Gray’s decision sparked a scramble among candidates looking at his council chairman seat in an increasingly volatile city council. Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, the council’s longest sitting member, has already unequivocally said he will run. Solid rumors have it that Kwame Brown, the appealing and popular at-large member will also run, and there are speculations about Phil Mendelson, another veteran at-large member who faces a re-election challenge, is also considering a bid for the seat.

That speaks to a certain instability on the new council, which recently celebrated its 35th anniversary under Home Rule. Six council members are up for re-election this year, many of them first timers. That makes this year’s budget deliberations a possible arena for political combat.

In this atmosphere, and with this late start, what are the odds on Gray’s run? It remains a long shot, but there are some things he can (and some that he must) do to give himself the best chance. The most difficult might be catching up in the financing sweepstakes. He (and Fenty) must also be careful to not let their differences create a have-and-have-not political climate. But Gray has to do more than complain about Fenty’s style. Fenty and Gray represent two different political generations in Washington, something that can favor Gray, who can draw support from folks used to being politically active. But he has to, at some point, make policy distinctions between himself and Fenty. It’s one thing to be prickly about Rhee and her methods, or Fenty and his methods. He’s got to show how a Gray administration would be different in substance, not just style. Both Vincent and Vince have to show up at the candidate forums which are a hallmark of D.C.’s election campaigns.

The Blame Game, Again


-Remember that big, rollout announcement that the Washington Teachers’ Union and Chancellor Michelle Rhee had finally reached an agreement on the teacher’s contract?

The pact announcement was a big feather in the caps of both Rhee and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who are joined at the political hip in their quest for reforming District schools.

So what’s happened? Well, nothing, sort of.

The pact, which would need to have the approval of CFO Natwar Gandhi and the city council, as well as ratification by the teacher’s union membership, remains in limbo. The problem — actually, make that problems, are:

Among other things, the pact calls for 20 percent pay increases over 5 years for the teachers. Part of that money was supposed to come from private funding, the rest from DCPS.

Except it appears — and appears is the operating word — the money isn’t there. Not according to Gandhi, who’s also objecting to the private funding. Initially, Rhee had stunned everyone by announcing that there was a surplus in the budget, which led to a lot of acrimonious revisiting of the firing of nearly 300 teachers last fall.

But Gandhi says there is no surplus, and that there is, in fact, a deficit. Both Rhee and Gandhi testified last week, but could only offer uncertainties. Councilmembers complained that no one seemed to have a handle on the numbers.

Gandhi complained that the private funding comes with unacceptable conditions and allows the funders too much control.

Rhee and some council members blamed the CFO’s office for not providing accurate numbers. Union leaders fretted over the confusion, which holds up a contract vote.

All parties are searching for ways to cut the DCPS budget, and to find additional moneys.
Meantime, there’s recrimination — again — blame gaming and confusion. That’s certainly not a healthy way to conduct either contract negotiations or budget planning.