- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Muneer Choudhury fled political persecution of Bangladesh in 1996, and now he feels as if he is being persecuted again in the nation’s capital, only this time it is about money and the 16.5-acre Skyland Shopping Center in Southeast.

Mr. Choudhury, the 52-year-old proprietor of Skyland’s Blimpie franchise, has discovered that his restaurant has been deemed a blight on the city, as determined by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. Council.

This came as news to him, considering the designation is at odds with the sparkling nature of the restaurant.

You almost could eat off the floor.

If this building is a blight, in the advanced stages of decay, it is a glistening, freshly scrubbed kind of blight.

Mr. Choudhury figures he has pumped $450,000 into the business since opening 14 months ago. He figures he will be in desperate financial trouble if the city presses ahead with its absurd deployment of eminent domain.

“I have nowhere to go,” Mr. Choudhury said. “There is no way the city can put up the capital that will be necessary for me to open another restaurant, and I do not have the money because it is all in this business.”

Mr. Choudhury is not really supposed to be sitting in this restaurant on this sunny afternoon in the city, not as eminent domain is traditionally defined.

This building is supposed to be unoccupied, perhaps on the verge of collapse, with boarded-up windows. There is not supposed to be a line of customers looking to order a sub, a soda, a pizza, whatever.

Mr. Choudhury signed a 10-year lease with the building’s owner, and now he is stuck, owed nothing, really, except moving expenses, and that is only if he can afford to move to another location, which he can’t.

If the city shuts down his restaurant, he will be broke, done, finished, the victim of a cold civics lesson that has stunned him.

You see, Mr. Choudhury knows how government’s unchecked power works in so many places all across the globe. He has had to reinvent himself because of it.

He seemingly had it all at one time: social standing, connections, vast wealth and businesses. He once was an adviser to former Bangladeshi President H.M. Ershad and was posted to his nation’s embassy here in 1984.

Mr. Choudhury never could accept the authoritative politics of Bangladesh, and his resistance eventually led to his jailing in 1996 and subsequent escape through India after his release.

He lost everything: his dream home, all his businesses and a piece of who he was.

But this is America, Mr. Choudhury says. It is different here. The government is not allowed to seize the private property of its citizens, right? The government is not allowed to disregard leases, right?

That is what totalitarian governments do to their citizens in too many faraway lands. That is what the one-time government of Bangladesh did to Mr. Choudhury.

But not America. Not the land of the free.

Tell that to Mr. Choudhury. That is what he wants to hear.

He wants to embrace the America he came to know at Georgetown University, where he earned a master’s degree from the School of Foreign Service.

His vision of America is so different from the one being thrust upon him by Mr. Williams and council members Harold Brazil and Kevin Chavous. Their vision is his nightmare. He already has lived the nightmare.

Mr. Choudhury is not asking much from the city. He just wants to be allowed to make a living along this stretch of asphalt east of the Anacostia River. He has played by the rules. He has paid his taxes. He has taken a chance on a part of the city that tourists and suburbanites never see.

And this is what the city leadership tells Mr. Choudhury: Get out.

His little life and eatery stand in the way of the city’s plans to increase tax revenue from the site.

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