Let’s Save the Mall

July 26, 2011

America’s National Mall has problems. Look at the lawn. There are parts of the Mall where the grass is, well, not grass at all, but rather weeds. On some of the most visited areas of the Mall you can find several types of grass and weeds growing together in a most unappealing manner.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund has hired landscape professionals to show the public how the Mall should and can look by improving the grounds at and around the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The irrigation system we installed in the early years of the wall is now fully operational. While it costs $30,000, there was no alternative but to repair the system. The millions of annual visitors and our fallen heroes deserve inspiring surroundings and greenery. Right now we are also undertaking weed control, aeration, seeding and other work. This is being paid for with private funds.

The total area we are repairing exceeds 13 acres, which includes the wall, the knoll to the east, the area around the park ranger kiosk and the future site for the education center at the wall. The plan is to keep this area privately maintained in perpetuity with quality care.

We have taken the initiative many times, in large and small ways over the years, to help take care of the Memorial and the site since 1982. We have designed and installed two different lighting systems. We have inscribed names and conducted engineering studies. We even keep an insurance policy on the Memorial in the event of damage.

The National Park Service does not need people to complain about the Mall; it needs people to be involved. The fiscal situation impacting the Mall is simply that there are billions of dollars in maintenance backlogs in our National Parks. Places like Yosemite, Antietam and wilderness areas need a lot of help. Do we light a candle or curse the darkness?
The foresight and boundless energy of President Teddy Roosevelt started our National Park System over 100 years ago. It is up to each and every one of us to do our share by visiting these parks and by giving back, if we have the resources, as volunteers or contributors.

As comedian Lily Tomlin wisely said, “I always wondered why somebody didn’t do something about that. Then I realized I was somebody.”

Jan Craig Scruggs is a Vietnam veteran and founder of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.

‘Dismissive’ Columnist?


-To the editor:
I generally look forward to useful and interesting information regarding local real estate in your publication, but was surprised at the similarly dismissive responses from Darrell Parsons to consecutive readers’ questions, published in the 24 March 2010 “Ask the Realtor” column.

Responding to a reasonable question from Tenleytown’s Norma T. regarding recommended areas to focus her house improvement investment, Mr. Parsons seemed to go out of his way to avoid the question, while instead offering a rebuke to the reader, basing his negative remarks upon his own assumptions. Mr. Parson then added a bit of unsolicited interior design advice.

Maureen C. of Cleveland Park provided another chance for Mr. Parsons to make assumptions, while he again ignored the reader’s central question, which in this instance was about house design. Sight unseen, Mr. Parsons first assumed the price range of Maureen’s home, then suggested (twice) that she reduce her asking price!

Although I can certainly appreciate Mr. Parsons personal experience-based point of view,
I can’t help but empathize with the readers, as they might have hoped for a more sensitive ear and positive direction.

My suggestions might seem novel to the realtor: First, respect your readers, and if making any assumptions, assume that the readers are taking the time to ask because they really seek advice, and not because they wish to be made an example of Mr. Darrell’s assumptions and following conclusions, or that wish to be entertained rather than informed.

Second, when tempted to provide advice outside one’s area of expertise, refrain,
and instead provide the reader with a referral to a knowledgeable professional who might better address the reader’s concerns. If a question requests facts regarding return on investment, answer that, and leave the interior design advice to interior designers.
If a question is about house design, perhaps a referral to an architect or residential designer would be more appropriate.

Just as realtors hope to enjoy referrals from other professionals, realtors should know that sometimes, the best way to serve is through a wise referral to, or consultation with, someone who can directly address an issue.

In summary to Ms. T., Mr. Parsons promises future answers, if the readers can just “hang in there”, and signs off: “Good Luck!” I can’t wait.

Shawn Glen Pierson

The author is the founder of Architétc, a D.C.-based architecture and design firm.

Dear Mr. Pierson:
My answers to readers are subjective of course, but they are offered with the utmost respect and sensitivity to the situation of those asking the questions. Of necessity, the length of the answers is limited by the amount of space which can be devoted to these written answers. As a result, the answers are not as thorough as I would like them to be, and a certain amount of generalization is required. I can see that this might come across as making assumptions and/or being insensitive, so I will be more tuned into that as I answer future questions.

One of the downsides of writing rather than speaking face-to-face is that voice inflection and facial expression are left out. In answering Norma T., I was attempting to inject a little humor in the response. I can see that the “humor” came out like a bit of a smart-aleck. Not my intent, of course. Despite those things, my basic underlying advice is sound, and is very clear that it is important to have the work done by appropriate professionals. I disagree that suggesting neutral colors is straying into the area of “interior design advice.”

As I re-read my answer to Maureen S., I can see that she might have received my comments as dismissive. What I intended was to give her reassurance that though her house hadn’t sold yet, she shouldn’t despair, because it is taking longer for properties to sell in this market. Unfortunately, I had to guess at what she meant by “unusual design.” That required either a generalized answer or making more assumptions than I had already made. However, my attempt at relating her situation to music still raises a valid point. The more “unusual” a house is, the narrower the field of potential buyers. I did not suggest that she redesign her property, or that one design is better than other. My answer had to do with getting her house sold, and it is a common observation that a larger percentage of buyers are not looking for houses with unusual designs. Regardless of the state of the real estate market, when the potential buyer pool is smaller for a given property, it takes longer for that property to sell. This could be related to floor plan, exterior appearance, paint colors, amenities, or any number of other possibilities. My comments are not, for example, about the relative value of one color paint over another, but rather that there is a much larger field of potential buyers for a house painted in a “neutral” color than for one painted in bright orange. Skilled realtors know this sort of thing, and part of their job is to communicate it in a sensitive way to sellers.

I welcome any further comments or suggestions.

Darrell Parsons

The author is a Georgetown-based realtor and is the author of our biweekly “Ask the Realtor” column. He blogs at georgetownrealestatenews.blogspot.com.

The Economic Recovery Fantasy


-I freely confess that I regard it as a triumph if I can balance my checkbook. My father was a certified public accountant and surely despaired of his second son (the first became a CPA!) who had no head for numbers.

Like most Americans, though, I find it laughable, if not outright mockery, when the White House and the lapdog media tell me that the nation is now recovering from the recession. The media, as just one example, is bleeding thousands of jobs that are unlikely to ever return.

What I do know is that, as of Nov. 1, 115 banks have failed this year. They represented combined assets of $19.5 billion at the end of September. Most have been gobbled up by larger banks. In 1989, at the height of the savings and loan crisis, the FDIC closed 534 banks or about 10 a week.

Ron Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas, flatly says, “A false recovery is under way. I am reminded of the outlook in 1930 when the experts were certain that the worst of the Depression was over and that recovery was just around the corner. Instead, the interventionist policies of Hoover and Roosevelt caused the Depression to worsen, and the Dow Jones Industrial average did not recover to 1929 levels until 1954.”

It took ten years and a world war for America to dig out of the Great Depression.

The president’s economic team — Christina Romer, Peter Orszag, Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner and Jared Bernstein — scare the heck out of me.

I would much rather have Ben Stein running the treasury and Larry Kudlow overseeing the national economy.

The waste of billions of taxpayer dollars in the bilious “stimulus” bill was the ultimate wet dream of legislators, the opportunity to tap the treasury for every “pork” project they had been promising the voters.

Far worse, however, is the healthcare “reform,” if passed. As reported recently in the Weekly Standard, Medicare fraud now costs Americans an estimated $60 billion a year. Compare that with the annual $8 billion in profits of all the private insurance companies combined!

The Pelosi-Reid bill is Medicare on steroids, but the yet unanswered question is this: If Congress can require you to buy insurance even if you don’t want to, what else can you be compelled to do?

Christiana Romer recently testified before Congress that the stimulus bill has accomplished little at this point. The abortive “Cash for Clunkers” program has been calculated to have actually cost the government six times the rebate whose effect lasted all of a month.

Meanwhile, when its treasury notes are not bought by foreign investors, the nation buys its own debt, a scheme that is impossible to maintain. I do not loan money to myself. I either save it or spend it.

Congress should be reducing taxes — the U.S. tax rate on corporations is among the highest in the world — and taking steps to relieve the tax burden on small businesses which are the heart of employment and the economy in general.

Congress is also getting ready to raise the cost of energy for every American family and enterprise with the hideous “cap and trade” bill.

Energy in America has long been one of the most affordable elements of the economy, but the Obama administration is throwing billions at the least productive elements called “clean energy,” solar and wind, while declaring war on coal that provides just over half of all the electricity we use every day.

The figures cited for unemployment are a bad joke. Officially set at 9.5 percent, it is actually likely to be closer to 14 percent, about the same amount as during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Everyone is aware that the economy is not recovering. It is reflected in reduced inventories. It is reflected in continued layoffs. It is reflected in retail advertisements offering two-for-one deals. It is reflected in less consumer spending. On Halloween, my local mall already had a big Christmas tree on display.

I find it insulting that the government is eager to give money to people defaulting on their mortgages because they couldn’t afford them when the government was pressuring mortgage lenders to make them.

I find it insulting to be told about jobs “created or saved” by the White House when this is a pure fantasy. Only private enterprise creates real jobs. Government jobs add nothing to the economy except another layer of bureaucracy. What America needs is productivity.

I find it insulting to be told that the recession is over when it is just taking a breather before the mounting debt from White House initiatives overwhelms us all, rising unemployment continues, and senseless legislation is still in the pipeline.

None of this is good news, but it is, at least, the real news.

To A Great Height

It was a turbulent week in the world, the country and Washington. We saw a spreading oil spill and the sight of birds covered in oil. We saw grossly wealthy bankers raising their hands to testify blankly on Capitol Hill. Grief continued for a murdered teacher, the storms of heated political battles built locally over disputed school funds and nationally over immigration and financial reform.

Through all that week, the life-affirming passage of Dr. Dorothy Height, a kind of coming-out and going-up processional celebrated all over the city, steadied this community and shone the light on the best of humankind and the best kind of human being.

The life of Dr. Height, the renowned leader and champion of civil and women’s rights who passed away the previous week at the age of 98, was remembered, memorialized, and finally enshrined all week, not with great grief and sorrow, but with stories, music and warm, fond memories.

The passage took place among the gatherings of her Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters at Howard University. It took place on a day full of people who stood in long lines for a long time at the headquarters of the National Council of Negro Women on Pennsylvania Avenue, the organization which Height had led with ever-increasing effectiveness and influence for decades.

The journey continued at Shiloh Baptist Church in Shaw of a Wednesday evening, where over a thousand people gathered, many of them aging figures from the civil rights movement of which Height was a critical, if often unacknowledged, member.

That night, the spirit was as big as the sound made by a huge choir, and it was proud with memories and with the presence dignitaries, from the Clintons to the King family, to local luminaries.

And finally, people filled the pillared depths of the National Cathedral for her funeral, with President Barack Obama, the brisk-walking, living fulfillment of her dreams, the first black president of the United States, delivering a eulogy, calling her “Queen Esther to this Moses generation.”

All these places comprised the world she lived in, prodded with her insistent courage, made better for African Americans, for women, for all of us, with a dignified, moving-forward persistence of will, and unchallengeable moral vision and embracing, graceful warmth. These places were signifiers of sisterhood, of calling and profession, of duty and accomplishment, and, here in Washington, of community and the home that she made here.

If the Shaw church celebration rocked with music the final stop had a more stately cadence.

The National Cathedral is the church of the nation, where, by ceremony, service and prayer, a person is certified as belonging to the ages. Not that Dorothy Height needed verification. If many Americans did not know her fully or enough, every one in the pews, front back and center, knew her, many with real memories of her.

Reverend Willie T. Barrow, chairman of the Board of the Rainbow Push Coalition in Chicago, called her “my mentor, a pioneer, she led the way for all of us. She led the way for civil rights, and women’s rights, our rights. All of us are forever in her debt, because she was there long before there was such a thing as a civil rights movement. Yes, she was.”

Virginia Williams, herself something of a pioneer in many fields, including music and being an unofficial mother for the District while her son Anthony Williams served two terms as mayor, said “she towered over everybody. She was the guiding spirit of the fight for justice.”

A woman at least two or three generations removed from Height who had worked with her said that “we all learned from her: never stop, keep on moving forward, fight hard, don’t quit. She had that fighting spirit and she had grace.”

President Obama said she was always welcome at the White House. “And she would come over. She came over twenty times.” “She was born when slavery was a living memory, and she fought for justice when nobody else did. She was humble. She didn’t care about credit. She belonged in the pantheon. ”

“She was a righteous woman,” he said.

Poet Maya Angelou recited a psalm, opera great Denyce Graves sang and the Clintons were there, as were the Cosbys, boxing promoter Don King, a portrait in flags and bling, senators, congressmen, mayors and movie stars. Her nephew, Dr. Bernard Randolph, remembered meeting her in New York where she had come to stay with their family. He recalled a stirringly gifted young girl and was admonished to be “at our best behavior” for Miss Dorothy.

It was a bright sunlight, stately morning, and it was as if Dorothy Height, with all her long life done, had come into the light of glory for all of us, revealed for all the things she had done in her life, for all to see. The moment might have been when gospel legend BeBe Winans moved through “Jacob’s Ladder” as if it was lament and salve, all at once:
“After you’ve done all you can … you plant your feet, and square your shoulders, hold your head up and wait on him,” he sang. “After you’ve done all you can, you just stand.”

It’s what Dorothy Height did all her life, squared her shoulders, stood up.

At the end, everybody stood, and there was this sea of hats. Glorious hats.

Dorothy’s hats.

Purple, black, large and round, imposing or flirtatious. There was a movement of sisters in hats of all colors, feathery and strong all the same at once, exiting down the stairs, some to touch the funeral car, walking past a prophetlike Dick Gregory, out into the sunlight. You could hear women’s voices, girl’s voices and hats, standing on the street corner and at bus stops, young and old, talking about Dorothy Height come to glory, looking forward.
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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.

Show Us the Money

Say, you might ask, whatever happened to the teacher’s union contract?

What happened to that $34 million-dollar deficit or that surplus that wasn’t there?

And how are Chief Financial Officer Natwar Ghandi and DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee getting along?

Last time we looked, things looked mighty confusing on the budget front. Rhee and Gandhi were arguing while testifying before the city council on money matters, Gandhi arguing a) there wasn’t any surplus and b) he wouldn’t sign off on control by parties providing private funding.

But now it seems everything, we’re happy to say, is fine and dandy. Sort of.

On May 11, the Washington Post, the District schools and the mayor reported that the city was set to fund the teachers contract, its pay raises, retroactive and current. That agreement, which would cause $38 million in cuts elsewhere in the District budget, would pave the way for an eventual teachers’ union members vote on the contract, worth $140 million.

Mayor Fenty, Rhee and Gandhi appeared together at the announcement to give the appearance of unity. The solution of cuts in the budget, shifting of stimulus funds and private funds at a later date, appeared okay with Gandhi. The agreement must now await a rank and file vote by union members.

Meantime, Rhee has been busy. She announced that she will double the number of senior managers for public schools in the form of “instructional superintendents” with salaries ranging from $120,000 to $150,000. She also announced recently that DCPS would be hiring 400 new teachers.

But some answers still remain hazy. Where is all this money for new hires coming from when just a week ago we heard so much talk of surpluses that weren’t there and deficits that were? If it comes purely from budget cuts, lauded as the perfect stopgap, the District will still pull funding away from public programs on an already spare pocketbook, and just might find itself in a similar pecuniary pickle down the road. The mayor’s solution may not be as elegant as he would have us believe, and it warrants closer scrutiny. [gallery ids="99130,102678" nav="thumbs"]

Vancouver 2010

So, how do you like the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver so far?

If you’re an American, quite a bit, thank you very much.

If you’re one of the NBC sportcasters here, you like it even more, because now you’ve got an almost legitimate excuse to talk about practically nothing but Americans.

If you’re Canada, the host nation, probably not so much, for obvious and not-so-obvious reasons. If you’re from Russia, even less. You and your president are mad as hell about it all.

This has been an unexpectedly dizzying and surprising winter Olympics, at turns exposing everything that’s right and everything that’s wrong with these every-four-years efforts. If nothing else, we’ve seen a couple different sides to the host nation, for better and worse.

That image of the Canadians as bland, modest, mild-mannered folks who are patient and have things in perspective and proportion, well, that one took a small hit. They are as crazed about gold as anybody else, and carry as much bellowing national pride as the next country, which happens to be their too-good neighbor, the United States.

The Canadians, in their efforts to create a really fast luge and bobsled competition, created a course that athletes and experts complained was way too fast. It certainly proved to be too fast for a young luge competitor from Georgia who was killed when he lost control at somewhere around 90 miles an hour.

That tragedy, right before the start of the games, was a huge controversy with charges, tortured explanations, and countercharges in the midst of competition. It’s not being talked about too much any more, except perhaps in the Georgian village where they’re still mourning the loss of their hometown athlete.

The Canadians, who should be good in these events because there’s lots of ice, mountains, and snow there — as opposed to Washington — haven’t fared well. Last two times they hosted the winter Olympics they got no gold. They finally broke the spell this time, but then the United States — with most of their NHL stars playing for Russia, Sweden and Canada — managed to knock off the Sidney Crosby-led Canadian team, a huge upset.

The Russian hockey team, with Alex Ovechkin at the helm, lost to Slovakia. Russia was shut out in the medals for pairs skating, where China finished first and second, and when defending gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko, a boyish Putin look-alike in sequins, lost the gold to American Evan Lysacek in men‘s figure skating, he got peevish. He waltzed up to the gold podium at the medals ceremony then, after some comments about skaters who don’t do a quadruple jump not being manly, he walked out. Russian President Putin and his wife also complained about the loss.

And then there was our country ’tis of thee. Even if the Americans don’t win another medal, they’ve kicked butt. This would be really wonderful to behold if we didn’t have to listen to the various broadcasters point out the obvious to us, instead of letting us enjoy it.

This, in spite of the fact that this has not turned out to be the Vonncouver Olympics.

We’ve seen too much of the golden girl, in both senses of the word: her hurt shin, her pained grimaces, her bikini poses, her personal life, her long hair, all of that. She won a gold in the downhill and flashed her gutsy brilliance, fell in another race, and raced conservatively in the super-G for a bronze. Not bad at all, but just modest enough to let others shine.

Others won big also, with Shani Davis taking gold and silver in speed skating, Julia Mancuso winning two silvers and Apolo Ohno setting a record for Olympic medals with short track skating.

Then there’s Bode Miller. Remember him? Like Vonn, Miller was the hyped American athlete in Torino and crumbled like a cookie, with no medals. Here, he’s been about as good as he can get, getting a bronze, silver and gold so far, and a lot less attention, while looking like the scruffy skier Robert Redford might have played once.

Finally, there’s Shaun White, the red-headed snowboarder in a class by himself. I think I saw him working his way to the moon after one of his runs. Confident without being arrogant, articulate, shrewd and funny, he’s the coolest guy in Vancouver.

Canada has enjoyed a few victories, though. The gold medal win by dark-horse moguls skier Alex Bilodeau, the country’s first in a Winter Olympics, prompted a fire of excitement nationwide. More touching was seeing Bilodeau’s older brother Frederic, who has cerebral palsy, weep with joy when the results were announced.

One of the great things about watching ski runs is to see how the Vancouver’s mountain setting revealed itself every time. It was breath-taking. And there’s the city itself, gleamingly hip and cosmopolitan against a backdrop of fierce nature. Even if Canadian athletes aren’t sweeping the podiums, the country has the shown the world a remarkable culture full of natural beauty and modern elan. Now there’s something to be proud about.

Plus, we got to see fiddle players who could tap dance. What more could you want?

Remembering Lena Horne

In the 1980s, Lena Horne, a pioneer, legend and star in her mid-60s, put on a one-woman show called “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” which became the longest-running solo performance in Broadway history.

She brought the show to the Warner Theatre in Washington, and if you had the good fortune to experience it (and that’s the right word), you got the essence of Horne, and a pretty good idea of what courage and perseverance were required to succeed in America if you happened to be black or of mixed race parentage and if you happened to be born early in the last century.

Horne brought all of her life experience, her humor, her still-burning bright beauty, her vocal abilities and her shazam style to the performance. She sang her signature song “Stormy Weather” twice during the course of the night. “I was young when I first sang it,” she said, and sang it right there like a naïve, lovely young girl, and sang it again, all the stormy weather she had experienced herself at full throat. “This is me now,” she said.

Horne came from a mixed marriage, and was married at one time to Lennie Hayton, a top conductor and arranger at MGM when the studio’s musicals where American landmarks.

When it came to civil rights and racial history, she was a little like Zelig, being everywhere: she was a Cotton Club chorine, she was both famous and half visible as an MGM starlet and star, including Vincente Minnelli’s “Cabin in the Sky” and “Panama Hattie,” in which she sang “Stormy Weather.” She was in numerous MGM musicals, but her roles tended to have the position of production numbers, which could be cut if the films where shown in the segregated South (and they were).

In the 1940s she worked with the controversial and politically active singer and performer Paul Robeson, a man of huge gifts and anger. She made United Service Organizations tour stops (where German POWs were routinely seated in front of African American soldiers), a task at which she balked.

She took part in the dramatic civil rights marches of the 1960s and sang on behalf of the National Council of Negro Women and the NAACP.

Her music, once she stopped making Technicolor movies, was beyond category, beyond jazz and completely enduring. She recorded well into her 80s.

Through all the trials and tribulations, the difficulties that were part of her life, she never succumbed to such shallow notions as complaining. She just kept on doing what she loved, stood up tall, and was dazzlingly emblematic of class, as in classy, as in first class. [gallery ids="99131,102679" nav="thumbs"]

What’s happening to our merchants?


-Georgetown has always had its ups and downs. In the 1960s, saloons and nightclubs were a major concern to residents. In the 1970s, crime was running rampant and vendors were setting up all along Wisconsin Ave. in front of stores. But the Georgetown merchants organized and built a strong merchant association that got city hall to pay attention to what was happening to this historic neighborhood. The Citizens Association got involved in fighting crime with increased neighborhood watch programs and increased policing of the neighborhood. The realtors of Georgetown were willing to work with the small merchants. Johnny Snyder, Sam Levy, Emil Audette and other commercial realtors did not gauge the merchants, but set reasonable rents. Rick Hinden of Britches, John Laytham and Stuart Davidson of Clydes, The Georgetowner and Richard McCooey all worked together to form a strong mercantile base for the community.

By the ’80s, Georgetown was in its heyday. Business was strong. Then in the ’90s, things began to change. Rents went sky high, mom and pop stores moved out, foreign money took over the commercial sector, banks (the mainstays of the community) such as Riggs, Washington National and American Security all closed or were taken over by outside interests. The merchant association lost its importance when the BID came about. The Citizens Association became more of a social outlet. All nightlife disappeared as saloons and nightclubs were forced out. Parking enforcement turned many shoppers off. Malls in the suburbs stole business from Georgetown, offering free parking and big movie screens.

All of Georgetown’s movie theatres shut down. The Food Mart, Neam’s Market, the French Market all left. Residents had to drive outside of the community to go grocery shopping. Chain stores moved in. Shoppers did not come back. The same chain stores could be found in the suburbs, where parking was easy and free. And so, here we are today, almost at a stage where Georgetown has to start over. The merchant mix is all wrong.

As the neighborhood’s primary lobbying force, the Georgetown Business Association has to take the lead. The cit council has to wake up and see what is happening to this historic neighborhood and work with the BID and other merchant associations to improve the situation.

Let’s be a little more creative.

DC leads a just cause

It’s official. Let the weddings begin.

As of today, March 9, gay men and women could get married in the District of Columbia, and many of them probably did.

Officially, same sex marriage was legalized in the district on March 3, when same-sex couples could get a marriage license in district court and many, many of them did, from the District of Columbia and elsewhere, states where same sex marriage is not legal, the number of which still constitute a large majority in the United States.

Still, the issue of gay marriage passed a gauntlet in the District of Columbia that seemed insurmountable at one time in a jurisdiction where Congress, which had veto rights over the District budget, routinely insisted that anti-sodomy laws remain in place.

That might seem a thing of the past, but the climate for legalization of gay marriage and gay rights and discrimination is still a stormy one. For all the celebration and sighs of relief and it’s-about-time commentary that erupts whenever a jurisdiction legalizes same-sex marriage or equivalent rights, there’s always an event, a fight, a comment, a slur, a legal battle or maneuvering that reveals just how far gays have yet to go to achieve rights that to them and to most reasonable people seem just.

To many religious organizations and institutions, same-sex marriage threatens their beliefs and threatens the family, an ill-defined word in these contemporary times where divorce among straight people is alarmingly high. And there is always the religious fringe whose hatred of gay Americans, or gay people in general, appears to know no bounds.
That’s why, for instance, the Supreme Court is set to deliver a free speech verdict, no less, on the fate of rabid (there’s no other word for their cruel use of speech) anti-gay protesters who routinely show up at military funerals with hate-filled signs like “God Hates Your Tears” and “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” (among milder examples). The groups, members of Kansas’ Westboro Baptist Church, believe that 9/11 and U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq are God’s punishment on America for tolerating gays in America. Needless to say, they are not fond of same-sex marriage, either.

A family of one dead soldier who sued the protesters and initially won a $5 million verdict is appealing a U.S. district appeals court decision that overturned the verdict on First Amendment grounds, saying that the signs had “imaginative and hyperbolic rhetoric” which was protected.

Meanwhile, Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli II, who had toned down his ultra-right rhetoric during the recent election campaign, has written letters to Virginia higher education officials asking them to back off policies against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, causing a furor among students on public university campuses.

And the unworkable and painful “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy about gays in the military remains in place, even though some of the highest ranking officers in the military have spoken out against it.

All of these landmark efforts on same-sex marriage, legal rights and recognition are essentially about making gays and lesbians a part of mainstream America, a notion that absolutely terrifies anti-gay forces. If gay people have the same visible rights and place as other members of the community, it becomes impossible to marginalize them with slurs, rhetoric, oppression, discrimination and open hateful acts. If gay men and women come into the community light in terms of equal rights and responsibilities, it forces bigots to slink into the dark, where they belong.