- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

Two neighborhood leaders in Adams Morgan who were accused last summer of shaking down local bars and restaurants for cash are gone, but accusations of power-mongering by Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are not.
ANCs, according to one bar owner, are simply too susceptible to abuse by their elected members.
"Using the power of that office is something that needs to be addressed," said Bill Duggan, owner of Madam's Organ, an Adams Morgan bar and restaurant. "The individuals that run for those offices are looking for these small power bases."
He said the ANCs are prone to what is "essentially economic blackmail."
"It's pretty rotten," he said.
On Tuesday night, the D.C. Council conducted the first of four oversight hearings on ANCs. Leaders from each of the city's 37 ANCs are brought before the council during consecutive weeks to present their goals and show that they are operating properly.
ANC commissioners are elected to two-year terms and are not paid.
"Our ANCs are in pretty good shape," said council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat.
But in July, bar owners in Adams Morgan accused two ANC commissioners of approaching them and asking for money, knowing that ANCs have influence over the granting of liquor licenses to restaurants and can delay licensing for months by protesting licenses to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board.
The Washington Times reported in July that in 2001, Jobi Jovanka and Eleanor Johnson visited three bar owners and asked for loans of $1,800, ostensibly because Miss Jovanka was facing eviction from her home. Two of the businessmen refused; one gave $200.
"The liquor license is your lifeline," said Fasika Mariam, owner of Fasika's Ethiopian Restaurant, who paid the $200.
The actions of Miss Jovanka and Miss Johnson were referred to the D.C. Inspector General's Office, according to council member David A. Catania, who is chairman of the Committee on Public Services, which is conducting the ANC-oversight hearings.
The inspector general began an investigation, according to Chief of Staff Gloria P. Johnson, who declined to comment on its status.
In November, both Miss Jovanka and Miss Johnson were defeated in their bids for re-election to their ANC seats. Past and present commissioners said articles in The Washington Times influenced the election's outcome.
"It created quite a stir," said current Adams Morgan ANC Chairman Alan Roth. "People were aware that their commissioners had been implicated in some improprieties, and they were disturbed."
Former Chairman Andy Miscuk said: "I don't think this neighborhood is going to forget that situation."
Bar owners such as Mr. Duggan are still upset, however, over a system they say allows ANC commissioners to abuse what little power they have.
It is standard procedure for ANCs to protest the approval or renewal of an establishment's liquor license to the ABC unless an establishment has signed what is called a "voluntary agreement." This is often a "restatement of existing law with trash and noise issues," according to Adams Morgan ANC Vice Chairman Josh Gibson.
Mr. Graham said the voluntary agreements are a necessary control mechanism to hold establishments accountable but acknowledged their potential for abuse by ANC commissioners.
"There is a potential there for problems, because someone who is anxious for a liquor license might agree to who knows what," he said.
Al Jirikowic, owner of Chief Ike's, said the agreements are used to pressure restaurant owners into accepting whatever requirements commissioners feel like imposing.
"You shouldn't be able to protest a liquor license just because an owner hasn't put himself on the rack and signed something in blood," Mr. Jirikowic said. "That's extortion."
Mr. Duggan said that the only real power the ANCs have is with the ABC, and that "they use it like a sledgehammer."

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