- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 27, 2002

Two elected leaders in Adams Morgan under investigation from complaints that they solicited money from neighborhood bar owners can continue to vote on liquor license renewals under D.C. law.
The Washington Times reported yesterday that the D.C. inspector general is looking into complaints that Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Eleanor Johnson and Jobi Jovanka approached three bar owners for hundreds of dollars in November in what one proprietor described as a "shakedown." Two of the bar owners refused, and a third said he "contributed" $200.
Both women have denied any wrongdoing to The Times.
City law prohibits the commissioners from accepting more than $25 from any single political contributor.
"The allegations here go well beyond street-corner extortion. This enters felony status," said Pat Patrick, who has lived in Adams Morgan for 30 years and was president of the Adams Morgan Business and Professional Association from 1992 to 1998.
ANC members are elected to two-year, unpaid terms and cannot be ousted through voter petitions in the first or last six months of their terms, according to Bill O'Field, spokesman for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics.
Miss Johnson and Miss Jovanka are up for re-election in November and can be removed from office before then only by the elections board, said Mark Wright, vice chairman of the Adams Morgan ANC.
Otherwise, they will continue to serve in their ANC-member functions during the inspector general's investigation, Mr. Wright said. They will have full voting capacities on the licensing of community institutions.
"The ANC is an advisory body. It's not like we're the U.S. Senate, where you can vote for a censure," he said.
Miss Johnson was first elected to the ANC in 1999. Miss Jovanka was appointed to replace the previous commissioner in her district and has served less than two years.
At a meeting in April, the women broke with the rest of the board in protesting the license of Fasika's Ethiopian Restaurant, whose owner, Fasika Mariam, said he gave the women $200.
Bill Duggan, co-owner of Madam's Organ, said he refused when the woman approached him about a loan. He asked Miss Johnson and Miss Jovanka to recuse themselves from voting on his license renewal at the meeting. They refused, and two weeks later, they joined the rest of the commission in protesting Mr. Duggan's license for Madam's Organ.
Al Jirikowic of Chief Ike's Mambo Room, who said he also turned down a solicitation of money from the women, is to appear before the board next month.
D.C. Council members say the situation raises important issues about the power neighborhood groups have over restaurant liquor license renewal.
"There's always some kind of friction going on between ANC groups and various bar owners," said D.C. Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat. "I think there's enough smoke here that we've got to see if there's a fire."
Mr. Brazil said he wanted to see the inspector general's findings.
"If these particular allegations are true, then certainly the persons involved need to be dealt with," he said.
The 37 ANCs across the District serve a largely advisory role in city politics, but their recommendations on restaurants and bars are given great weight by the city's Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Association, which votes on license renewal.
D.C. Council member Jim Graham, a Democrat who represents Ward 1, where Adams Morgan is located, said the neighborhood has more bars than anywhere else in the city.
"We must have absolute integrity in the issuance of [liquor licenses]. Any abuse or corruption of that process is of great concern to me," he said.
Mr. Graham said he was surprised by the complaints against Miss Jovanka and Miss Johnson but that he wants them to have "a full and fair review."
Mr. Patrick said the commissioners in Adams Morgan are "famous" for their close relationships with neighborhood businesses, referring to Cocktail Charities, a nonprofit run by Andrew Miscuk, chairman of the Adams Morgan ANC.
Cocktail Charities raises money for various local charities by asking bars to donate a designated night's tips.
Mr. Miscuk has brought in D.C. Council members such as Mr. Graham, David A. Catania and Carol Schwartz, among other local figures, to guest bartend as an attraction and has heavily promoted the weekly parties. Cocktail Charities has raised more than $70,000 during the last three years.
Mr. Miscuk said he's doing nothing wrong because the cash is coming from individual bartenders who are earning the tips, not the establishments themselves, although occasionally a bar will offer a donation.
Cocktail Charities events are never scheduled at a bar that has a liquor license renewal pending before the ANC, he said. He also said he and six other commissioners voted recently to protest an application for substantial change at the Blue Room, even though events held there have produced 20 percent of Cocktail Charities' overall donations.
"I feel very comfortable about this," Mr. Miscuk said. "I think if any of the bar or restaurant owners were uncomfortable, we would have heard about it."
Mr. Catania, at-large Republican, said that while the accusations against Miss Johnson and Miss Jovanka are "extraordinarily troubling," the two are innocent until proven guilty and the city should not to jump to conclusions about the ANC system.

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