- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

Grass-roots politics is getting very testy in Washington. But not Washington proper, the federal city that, in the eyes of the world, is defined by Congress and the White House, although both of those institutions have substantial roles in the current mix of things. For that Washington, business as usual moves apace.

The Washington that is in a state of heated debate is what the media constantly refers to as the inner city buzzwords that automatically drum up images of cloistered poor little black kids and crime-ridden neighborhoods starving for economic development and good schools. Yet, to the contrary, this other Washington more accurately refers to D.C., where a broad spectrum of taxpayers who want public schooling reformed with all deliberate speed.

This Washington has no economic or racial demarcations, but it does have another message: No nude bars or sex-oriented clubs in our neighborhoods.

That message from the grass-roots movers are shaking up the local status quo. Whether D.C. lawmakers and the mayor, Adrian Fenty, can cool our jets, will come to define D.C.

Mr. Fenty knows Washington has two faces, and he has in his five short months as mayor confused them on more than one occasion. The first mayoral omen was at President Bush’s State of the Union address, where the city’s mayor traditionally sits with the first lady, regardless of political affiliation. But, oh no, not Mr. Fenty. He rejected the president’s invitation out of hand and instead was a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, where a rainbow of cultural issues color that city.

Now the mayor needs the president’s help. Specifically, he needs the president’s signature on congressionally approved legislation that would grant hizzoner near-absolute control of public schooling.

The school-reform measure, which has had D.C. hot under the collar since the dead of winter, isn’t the only issue that will fall under the purview of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. A member of the local legislature, whose identity is essentially inconsequential at this juncture, has introduced a bill that would grant special exemptions to sexually oriented bars that were displaced by a baseball stadium. Some of the clubs want to open house in an area of the city where residents and the clergy have yanked the welcome mat for obvious reasons.

While some opponents of the bill have proclaimed that D.C. will not become the San Francisco of the East Coast, the over-arching opposition stands on solid principles: 1) the D.C. home-rule charter states that the voices and the positions of the city’s grass-roots panels, called Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, shall be given “great weight” during lawmakers’ deliberations; 2) liquor licenses can’t be automatically transferred from neighborhood to neighborhood; and 3) clustering sexually oriented bars is a zoning concern in the Ivy City-Trinidad neighborhood, which abuts Capitol Hill, and permitting a red-light district to come into play would prove counterproductive in an area that is in the throes of considerable economic revitalization.

The first vote on the nudie bar legislation is schedule for June 5, just a few days away. The mayor has neither publicly nor forcefully voiced his opinion on the bill, which some proponents have come to paint as anti-homosexual. And the longer the mayor stays quiet the louder the voices of the opposition, especially in light of the fact that he is in the throes of trying to get them to get on his school-reform bandwagon by holding a series of town hall meetings.

More importantly, the nude bars opposition isn’t anti-gay. Indeed, at a community meeting on Wednesday night, a standing-room-only crowd of 300-plus residents made that perfectly clear to not only their council member, Harry Thomas Jr., but to proponents of the bill who were in attendance as well.

“We’re concerned about souls,” said a spokesman for a congregation that would be affected by the clubs.

“We worked closely with Abdo [development company] for residential properties,” said a resident of the affected neighborhood.

“I grew up in Ivy City and we never had a recreation center,” said a young father who doesn’t want sexually oriented establishments defining his child’s neighborhood.

The issue is not whether such establishments cater to homosexuals.

Nobody wants outsiders peering into their bedrooms.

What some folk in City Hall, most notably the powers-that-be who deliberately have been looking the other way, have seemingly forgotten is that residents in the Trinidad-Ivy City neighborhood and the taxpayers elsewhere in Ward 5, fought hard to rid their surroundings of the scourge of open-air drug markets and nuisance properties. We didn’t fight that good fight only to have those problems that degraded the quality of life to be replaced with sexed-up establishments and other uninvited guests.

Some opponents of the nude bars are living just enough for the city, barely keeping their heads above economically disadvantaged waters. But their grass-roots bottom line is as definitive as that of residents who live in wealthy neighborhoods, neighborhoods where the owners of sexually oriented establishments would not dare impose themselves.

Where the mayor stands on this issue will not affect those already opposed. But sooner or later the mayor will have to speak up. And for his young, very young administration it behooves him to let residents know whether he really and truly stands on their side of such quality-of-life issues, or whether he will jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. It should be a no-brainer.

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