- The Washington Times - Friday, July 26, 2002

The D.C. inspector general is investigating complaints that two elected leaders of the Adams Morgan neighborhood solicited bar owners for hundreds of dollars in what one proprietor describes as a "shakedown."
Three bar owners told The Washington Times this week that Eleanor Johnson and Jobi Jovanka, who are members of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, asked them for money in visits to their establishments and in phone calls in November. Two of the bar owners refused, and the third said he "contributed" $200.
The inspector general is investigating their complaints because such solicitation by ANC members not only is barred by city law, but also raises questions in light of the statutory role the ANCs play in the renewal of bar and restaurant liquor licenses.
Both Miss Johnson and Miss Jovanka deny any wrongdoing to The Times.
The District's 299 ANC members are elected to two-year, unpaid terms and serve a largely advisory role in city politics, but the neighborhood groups' recommendations on restaurants and bars are given great weight by the city's alcohol board during the liquor license renewal process.
Three bar owners Bill Duggan of Madam's Organ, Fasika Mariam of Fasika's Ethiopian Restaurant and Al Jirikowic of Chief Ike's Mambo Room say their liquor license renewals are among the seven in Adams Morgan that earned a thumbs-down in the spring from ANC 1C, the nine-member board of elected officials that represents the Northwest neighborhood.
Mr. Duggan, whose 18th Street bar is one of the city's most popular, apparently was the first to be solicited by Miss Johnson and Miss Jovanka. Miss Johnson phoned him, he said, asking him to "loan" $1,800 to her friend, Miss Jovanka.
During a conversation that was inadvertently recorded on Mr. Duggan's answering machine, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, Miss Johnson tells Mr. Duggan that Miss Jovanka needs his help. "She's got a rap for eviction, and I want to ask you to loan her some money."
"No. No. I don't know her," Mr. Duggan said on the recording. "I am not in the business of loaning money."
The next day, he said, the two women visited him at Madam's Organ and again requested a loan for $1,800. Mr. Duggan says he refused and asked why the two had chosen him. Miss Johnson answered: "'Because you're a really nice guy and you have all the cash,'" said Mr. Duggan, who later called the visit a "shakedown."
Miss Johnson, a self-described professional artist, denied any wrongdoing during an often contradictory phone interview with The Times on Wednesday. Asked if she had approached neighborhood bars for money, she at first said, "Generally not." She quickly amended that to "No, not at all."
She then said Mr. Duggan's account was an "absolute lie," and that "I never asked Bill Duggan for a loan."
Asked to explain the recording of her asking Mr. Duggan for $1,800, she said she had never heard it.
Miss Jovanka, who told The Times that she, too, is a professional artist, as well as a pet-sitter, also initially said that she and Miss Johnson had never approached Mr. Duggan. When told of the recording, she said: "Well, whoop-de-do. Nothing happened."
She then said she and Miss Johnson had visited Madam's Organ but only to offer Mr. Duggan some of Miss Jovanka's artwork. She said that Miss Johnson "was so excited" about the artwork that she got "got a little pushy."
Mr. Jirikowic, of Chief Ike's Mambo Room, said Miss Jovanka called him repeatedly, asking for help to pay her rent. The amount she sought, he said, was "over $1,000."
Though he said he considered her a friend, he turned her down. He said he was surprised to learn that she had solicited help from people she didn't know. "It's amazing what little people will do, with the little power they have," he said.
When the two women came to Fasika's Ethiopian Restaurant, Mr. Mariam said he recognized them as members of the commission that would be voting in a few months on a recommendation for his liquor license renewal.
He said he gave the women $200 as a "contribution."
"The liquor license is your lifeline," he told The Times.
Miss Johnson disputes Mr. Mariam's account. She said she never asked him for money but then added: "If Fasika is helping someone in a rental crisis, what's wrong with that?"
Miss Jovanka would not say whether they had accepted any cash but voiced surprise that Mr. Mariam had spoken about it.
"We've been friendly toward him, we've been helping him out," she said.
At an April 16 meeting, Miss Jovanka and Miss Johnson broke with the rest of the neighborhood ANC, which voted to protest Mr. Mariam's liquor license. Miss Johnson voted against the protest, and Miss Jovanka abstained. The rest of the commission cited Fasika's as having an "adverse effect on peace, order and quiet."
Mr. Duggan showed up at that meeting and told the commission that he had been "harassed" by Miss Johnson and Miss Jovanka. He asked that the two recuse themselves from any vote on his license.
The two members refused, and at a meeting two weeks later, they joined the rest of the commission in protesting Duggan's license.
The protest vote requires that Mr. Duggan take the extra step of defending himself before the Alcohol Beverage Control Division a lengthy process that sometimes involves lawyers and costs running into the tens of thousands of dollars.
"I figure it's going to cost me $10,000 to $15,000," said Mr. Duggan, whose representative appeared before the liquor board Wednesday. Mr. Duggan is scheduled to appear again in September, and Mr. Mariam is to appear before the board Aug. 11.
"Before all of this started, I've never had a protest about my bar or even a complaint," Mr. Duggan said.
A spokesman for Inspector General Charles C. Maddox said the office does not comment on ongoing investigations, but sources tell The Times that the watchdog agency is looking into the complaints, which were dismissed last month by Adams Morgan ANC Chairman Andy Miscuk.
"There's nothing the ANC can do to discipline its own members," Mr. Miscuk said. "I can't tell [Miss Johnson] not to call him anymore. I can't tell them the two women not to go over there anymore."
Alan Roth, a neighborhood commissioner in the same district as Miss Johnson and Miss Jovanka, was asked whether it is standard practice to ask bar owners for money for personal use.
"Oh, no," he said. "If a commissioner were to go to a bar owner or to any person with a public business asking for money, it would be highly inappropriate behavior."
City law prohibits the commissioners from accepting more than $25 from any single political contributor.
Brian DeBose, Guy Taylor and Jon Ward contributed to this article.


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