Peculiar Postal Problem Possibly Preventing Progress

Capitol Hill residents eagerly anticipate the development of Reservation 13, a long-underdeveloped section of the Hill East area. The Anacostia Waterfront Corporation (AWC), a quasi-public entity charged with developing land along the river, has been planning residential and commercial development for the site. Residents are onboard.

Capitol Hill residents eagerly anticipate the development of Reservation 13, a long-underdeveloped section of the Hill East area. The Anacostia Waterfront Corporation (AWC), a quasi-public entity charged with developing land along the river, has been planning residential and commercial development for the site. Residents are onboard.

“Our general view has been for Reservation 13 to be a mixed-use area with an extension of the neighborhood that would connect the neighborhood to the river,” says Scott Cernich, chairman of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

Before that can happen the District has to get the land the land from its current owner, the federal government. It’s one of many federal parcels that Congress is handing over through legislation passed by the House in September. Identical legislation is pending in the Senate.

But to the disappointment of the AWC, the Government Reform Committee added a section to the bill requiring that the district find 12 acres for a mail-screening facility for the Architect of the Capitol (AoC) before it can have Reservation 13.

“Nothing was snuck in at the last minute,” says reform committee spokesman Brian McNicoll. He says that though the mail-facility provision was absent from the original markup, everybody with a stake in the situation — like D.C.’s nonvoting delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and city executives — was aware of the architect’s mail-screening needs from the beginning.

Adrian Washington, president and CEO of the AWC, would characterize the situation differently. He was indeed aware that the AoC might want a mail-screening facility, but he didn’t know they really wanted it: “We didn’t have confirmation that it would be in the bill until the last minute,” he says.

There’s nothing anyone can do about it. Reservation 13 is only one of many parcels being given to the district in this bill, so the AWC doesn’t want to screw it all up by objecting to this one condition. Trying to have the offending section removed could derail the whole process, which would have to start over next year with the next Congress. The bill doesn’t say where the facility would have to go, and another condition is that a study must be undertaken to determine whether existing federal properties could do the mail screening. So concerned parties are just crossing their fingers.

“Basically, the Architect of the Capitol wants the city to find a site” for the facility, says David Zaidain, an officer of the federal National Capital Planning Commission. He says all sides involved have legitimate concerns. “The problem is that it’s holding hostage other things the city’s trying to accomplish.”

There would be a huge stink if it looked like a giant federal mailbox were really coming to town. Neighbors and the AWC agree that such a building would be an abomination.

“I can tell you that the [Advisory Neighborhood] Commission is confused and perturbed,” says Scott Cernich.

Confusing and perturbing: apt words to describe the “peculiar institution” that is the federal government’s relationship to its capital city.

Keeping an eye on the staffers

If you work in the Rayburn or the Longworth building, you’ve seen him: “Brother Bronson,” a tall, middle-aged black man with a sign at the top of the Rayburn’s horseshoe driveway. He’s been standing there every day since Halloween last year — the day after Rosa Parks was memorialized in the Capitol Rotunda.

“I’m here from 8 a.m to 4:30 p.m. five days a week, by his grace and mercy,” Bronson says. “He” being The Lord.

What Rosa Parks has to do with the message on his sign is a little unclear. It’s a letter addressed to President Bush, which Bronson recites verbatim in his booming voice. In it he compares himself to the Old Testament’s Jonah, who disobeys an order from God and spends three days in the belly of a “great fish” before being redeemed. The conclusion of Bronson’s message is that the House, Senate, and Supreme Court have an opportunity to raise themselves to some kind of higher standard.

I tell him I don’t really get it. He says his other sign would explain things, if it hadn’t been “confiscated and suppressed” in 1997.

“Once that sign surfaces, everything becomes crystal clear,” he says.

Bronson was standoffish at first and remained cagey throughout our interview last Wednesday. He wouldn’t tell me his full name, his hometown, or much of his life history (why should he?). But he is not unfriendly; while I was there he bantered with a man who appeared to know him and he gave me a firm handshake when I left (after refusing to do so when I arrived).

“He doesn’t disturb anybody,” says a House staffer who works in the Longworth building, who sees Bronson from a second-story window every day and hasn’t figured out what he’s getting at in over a year of watching him. “I’m just surprised that the Capitol Police let him stake out there.”

Capitol Police officers standing in front of Longworth last Wednesday said they don’t know anything about Bronson, except that he doesn’t bother anybody, so they don’t bother him.

Where there’s a Will, there’s also a Wells

The mood was upbeat ahead of the announcement of ballot counts at New York Pizza on Pennsylvania Avenue last Tuesday, where Ward 6 City Council candidate Will Cobb held an election-night party.

The beer was flowin’, the pizza was steamin’, and people were chanting Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”

Then, around 9:30, Voice of the Hill managing editor Patti Shea showed Cobb the early returns. He had only 25 percent of the vote.

“It doesn’t look good,” said Cobb. I had always thought this guy seemed too earnest not to be phony, but at this moment, while he was trying to put on a stoic face, he seemed utterly sincere.

“I’m thinking of what I’ll say to everyone here,” he said.

There wasn’t too much reason to expect victory, but the Cobb campaign did put up more of a fight than people expected. One Wells campaign staffer referred to it as “an insurgency.”

Ward 6 City Councilmember-elect Tommy Wells and victorious at-large incumbent Phil Mendelson delivered their victory speeches at Marty’s on 8th Street. The Democrats were pumped. The party was ragin’.

“It truly is a passing of the torch,” Wells said — on odd remark for him to make, considering the most significant criticism of his candidacy was that his tenure on the council would be an extension of outgoing Councilmember Sharon Ambrose’s aloof reign.

(Wells’s campaign, of course, has proven him an energetic man — Ward 6 residents should look forward to seeing him out and about.)

After the speech, Cobb called Wells to concede.

“We was very gracious,” Wells said. The two talked about getting together for a cup of coffee.

Wells’s other opponent — Republican Tony Williams — didn’t bother to have an election-night party in Ward 6. The D.C. GOP consolidated its misery by bringing all its candidates together for one big party at the fancy-pants St. Gregory Hotel in Northwest.