Never coming home again

The Washington Times reported Jan. 12 that Washington Redskins officials insist the team is not coming back to its namesake city anytime soon. If true, it would be a major disappointment to many, particularly Ward 2 D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans, who lately has been pushing a plan to bring the Skins home. Evans is calling for the highly valuable land below the current stadium in Landover to be sold, with profits used to construct a new stadium with a Super Bowl-ready retractable roof on the RFK site.

One would expect D.C. residents to groan mightily over more stadium construction. Getting public money for the waterfront ballpark was painful enough; the thing isn’t even finished and the D.C. United soccer team already is jockeying for its own stadium at Poplar Point in Southeast. Now we’re going to let Redskins owner Dan Snyder mess around at RFK?

Evans insists his proposal wouldn’t cost a dime. And, unlike with the Nationals and the United (a majority in the District did not want the former and is indifferent to the latter), D.C. residents actually like the Redskins.

Redskins attorney Dave Donovan told the Times that the Redskins “don’t have any other options because we’re bound” by a 30-year lease with the Maryland government.

Residents of D.C.’s southwestern quadrant can tell you what a long, binding lease with the government means: nothing! There, the value of near-stadium real estate compelled the National Capital Revitalization Corporation — a quasi-public D.C. corporation — to cut short a decades-long lease on a large parcel of land in order to keep less than two acres, worth up to $30 million, and let developers take a swath worth many times more. It’s not a perfectly analogous situation, but the relevant lesson is this: Give the government some valuable property and the government will let you do what you want.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation on Jan. 10 to prohibit the San Francisco 49ers from moving to Santa Clara, Calif., and to keep their original name and city affiliation. “You can’t move to Santa Clara and call yourself a 49er,” the senator proclaimed.

If it passes, the Football Fairness Act of 2007 will let the NFL restrict the relocation of any team, but it won’t mean you can’t move to Landover and call yourself a Washington Redskin. Quite the opposite: The bill would allow the NFL — if it wanted — to prohibit the Washington Redskins from relocating to the District.


 AppleTree allowed to expand

The D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment has agreed with an appeal by the AppleTree Institute of Education that its permit to set up a school on 11th Street S.E. was incorrectly denied. The decision is a disappointment to neighbors who didn’t want a school overrunning the neighborhood with screaming children and traffic. But AppleTree is pleased.

“We see this as a good decision for anyone in the city concerned about lowering the barriers for quality pre-school education,” the managing director of AppleTree, Russ Williams, said. He pointed out that access to pre-school education is something Mayor Adrian Fenty supports.

The ongoing fight is currently in limbo: AppleTree has not decided what it plans to do in terms of building a school, and the neighbors have not decided whether they will appeal the decision.  

In October, Williams alleged that zoning administrator and former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Bill Crews was in cahoots with the neighbors via current ANC member Cody Rice. Neighbors denied this allegation and nothing came of it.


 Get our outrage straight

Last week voting-rights advocacy group D.C. Vote sent a letter to House leaders and D.C.’s nonvoting congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton asking her to stay on-message. After the November election, House Dems toyed with the idea of a rules change to give Norton the power to vote on amendments to legislation in the Committee of the Whole. 

“We are writing to urge you to pursue full voting representation in the House for District of Columbia residents through legislation” and not a rules change, reads the Jan. 16 letter from D.C. Vote director Ilir Zherka.

“The vote on the Committee of the Whole has been kind of confusing to some people,” Zherka told HillScape. “People have asked whether we want one thing or another.”

The pending D.C. Voting Rights Act will give Norton the ability to vote on amendments anyway. Norton’s office refers queries to a Jan. 4 statement, which says the congresswoman is focusing her energy on the Voting Rights Act. But the rules change may happen anyway — it’s not her decision.  

To make things even more confusing, Norton had a “public spat” with Adrian Fenty at the mayor’s Jan. 19 press conference over his plan for a voting-rights march in April, which is too late by Norton’s voting-rights clock. Spokesmen for both parties since have insisted the two are on good terms. 

District residents are not united on the best way to win voting representation anyway; take the cantankerous (but much smaller) Stand Up for Democracy coalition, for example, which wants the D.C. Voting Rights Act to die. Stand Up spokesman Bill Mosley says his organization’s goal “is to work for full democratic rights in the District” — in other words, not just a vote in the House, but a vote in the House, representation in the Senate and full-blown home rule.

“This particular bill would let Congress off the hook too easily,” Mosley said. He’s got a point; it’s hard to imagine that Congress will be receptive to a push for Senate representation immediately after giving us a vote in the House. But that is exactly what D.C. Vote intends to push for. Stand Up takes a principled stand, but so far you can’t beat D.C. Vote’s incremental, compromising approach for effectiveness. They better hope a rules change allowing delegates to vote on amendments won’t be a monkey wrench in their plans.


Inhospitable to hospitality

Are people staying away from bars because of the smoking ban? Hospitality honchos say yes!

“A lot of smokers are drinkers and a lot of drinkers are smokers,” according to Lynne Breaux, executive director of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington. She says the ban hasn’t hurt restaurants so much as more bar-based businesses like the Hawk & Dove and the Tune Inn. With the recent football games, Breaux says many regular customers have decided to stay home with store-bought beer and cigarettes to watch their teams.

“It’s sad because our country was founded in taverns by smokers and drinkers, and many close to the Hill,” Breaux said. It’s a far fall to go from founding the country to standing out in the cold with your bad habit, isolated and shamefaced.

A cursory survey of bartenders on the Pennsylvania Avenue strip so far has not seconded Breaux’s gloomy outlook. They say they’re doing fine.

The Capitol Lounge has not had to add the words “NO SMOKING” to its “NO POLITICS — NO MILLER LIGHT” mantra. The place has rigged up an enclosed, well-heated patio that is basically indistinguishable from an interior room.

At least one pro-smoking bartender has a novel coping method. At the 18th Amendment, suds-slinger John Sharkey (a friend of mine) will take all of his customers outside with him when he wants a cigarette.

The lawmakers behind the ban insisted their concern was the health of restaurant workers, which seemed absurd given that most of them smoke. But I did see the payoff of this parental policymaking the other night: Sharkey was having a noisy, hacking phlegm-fit. “I don’t smoke as much as I used to,” he says, “and all this s—- is coming up.”

The smoking ban: forcibly expelling germs from your body.