MORE CIRCUSES IN THE GUISE
OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT?
[from March 1999 issue]


Here we go again! This time it's going to be baseball. Whoopdie-doo! Advice to Mayor Williams and Ward 2 Councilmember Evans: Take care that you don't become another Frank Smith, Jr. baseball clone. Remember, our former Ward 1 councilmember saw the Great American Past-time as the be all and end all for all our woes.

Now don't get us wrong. Baseball is good, but in its place. And its place is not on prime downtown land bordering on the historic low-density residential area of one of the Shaw neighborhoods. Its place is at RFK Stadium, where there is already lots of space, not to say anything of a stadium that could be retrofitted, convenient to Metro and parking and the existing freeway system.

Furthermore, we taxpayers already own the land out there at RFK. Why should we give up valuable downtown land that can be put to better use and bring in substantial tax dollars (including real estate taxes). What would be better use? How about trying to market that area east of Mt. Vernon Square, between Massachusetts and New York Avenues, for high tech industry, interspersed with other moderate-density commercial, retail, and residential uses?

Instead of having our leading politicians a few weeks ago sporting baseball caps and singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" while hyping another massive, space-eating stadium that would only be used part of the year, we would have been more impressed if they had been putting on a dog and pony show to brag how they were wooing the Marriott Corporation to build its new headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue instead of letting the possibility slip away to Virginia or some other Maryland locale.

What a coup if we could have gotten Marriott. But we suspect that nobody in DC government circles ever thought about trying to develop an incentive package like the Virginia and Maryland economic development officials have been doing. Given the right deal, who's to say Marriott might not be interested in being headquartered within sight of the Capitol dome? Is anyone trying to woo high tech or anything remotely productive?

What we don't need is another speculative sports arena that can't be used in the winter, won't be used most days, and will only sit upon acres of land dark and lonely most the time with residents fearful of even walking that way to and from work because nothing will be going on except at game time. And then, come game time, the adjacent residential streets will be overwhelmed and nobody will be happy even if there are lots of people out and about making the streets safe for a few hours.

And, as for justifying all this as part of some "intermodal transportation facility," that's not a good place either; that ought to be situated in direct relation to Union Station where much transportation already converges.

No, baseball ought to be knocked out of that east of Mt. Vernon Square park. We need to develop a vibrant, mixed-use downtown. We need more of the sort of development that Doug Jemal will give us with his imaginative plan for converting the historic Woodies building into residences, stores, and restaurants. That's the kind of thing we would like to see happen in downtown's east end rather than speculating (and probably squandering) taxpayer dollars for minimal job and tax benefits. Of course, maybe our new city leadership knows something we don't about the long-term economic value of creating more opportunities for hot dog and hamburger workers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


EDITOR'S NOTE: Our Contributing Editor Michael Romanello's March "op-ed" commentary addresses an issue that we at The InTowner believe to be of concern to large numbers of our readers.

IS GAY AMERICA UP TO THE CHALLENGE OF THE 2000 ELECTIONS?

By Michael Romanello

I am going to begin this column by stating that what I write here is directed to my gay and lesbian readers. While I expect and regret that some readers, gay and non-gay, may be offended by my opinions, I do not apologize for that. This is meant to be a call to arms of sorts, and there is no way to do that nicely.

The American gay community, if there is such a thing any longer, has been under relentless, concerted attack by the Republican Party, religious fundamentalist organizations that comprise the so-called Religious Right and Social Conservative movements, and the Roman Catholic Church for nearly a decade. During this time American gays have achieved precious little in the way of real, lasting protection from discrimination or codified acknowledgment of our equality as citizens. In recent years and months, from Arlington to Wyoming, previously enacted protections have been repealed or nullified. Even such humane measures as the enactment of protection from hate-motivated crimes legislation that includes gay men and lesbians has been defeated.

To make matters worse, some perceived gay community leaders and national gay and lesbian political organizations cite the appointment of openly gay individuals--usually individuals who were Democratic Party functionaries or large donors, or who previously held board or high level staff jobs within these very organizations--to White House positions or to top slots in second and third tier federal agencies as an indication of our political successes. When a president who appealed for and received the gay vote by promising to end the prohibition against gays in the military immediately upon taking office goes back on his word (I can hardly believe I wrote that as if his word meant something), when men and women are being fired by companies like Cracker Barrel for looking or acting gay, and when gay men and lesbians are being beaten and killed in the streets with increasing regularity, to mention just a few examples, such claims are beyond laughable; they are perverse and obscene.

But our leaders and organizations are not the real problem. They are only a reflection of us.

Last spring, in response to a series of newspaper advertisements which urged gays to "change" placed by Religious Right-affiliated organizations, the Human Rights Campaign ran ads that tried to position gay men and lesbians as being "just like" everyone else. Unfortunately too many of us buy into this ridiculous belief. Certain gay members of civic associations and the several ANCs that operate in the areas served by this newspaper are perfect examples of people who in their desire to seem just like everyone else have convinced themselves that they are.

Well, we're not just like everyone else. Nearly everything about us except our physiology is different. We are, for the most part, either single, or childless, two-income couples. As a result, our standard of living is to a very great extent higher than our non-gay peers. We view our neighborhoods differently. Because so many of us are single and childless, we spend a greater amount of our leisure time out of the home, often in restaurants and bars. In many localities we pay a greater percent of our income in taxes, particularly in sales and personal property taxes. We are not protected as related heirs by inheritance laws and therefore pay a greater amount of our wealth in inheritance taxes. We can't claim our dependent partners on our income taxes. We often have to maintain multiple property insurance and auto insurance policies. No, we are not just like everyone else. In many important ways we are very different. And, the sooner we accept that reality and are guided by it, the better off we're going to be.

Which brings me to the only local aspect of this column. That the Dupont and Logan Circle gay communities are tolerating for even one minute this absurd, on-going effort by some to limit the number of gay bars in these neighborhoods is shameful. There was a time when we would all be out in the streets in front of the homes of the people behind this effort making their lives as miserable as possible. We would shun the gays involved and make them socially unacceptable. We would pack Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and City Council meetings and demand an end to liquor license moratoriums and a reigning-in of ANC authority. But we won't do any of these things, because that wouldn't be nice.

Even our bars and newspapers, once in the forefront of sounding alarms and hubs of political organizing, have become complacent. After all, things aren't so bad yet that the music should stop for a night or advertisers be offended. That will come later--maybe.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I think it's time for us all to put business as usual on hold for a time, step back from our own personal realities and analyze our situation as a people. The Religious Right and Social Conservatives have made it clear that the 2000 elections are going to be in every possible sense the last great battle for gay and lesbian equality of the 20th century. I think it is time we ask ourselves if we are ready to fight and win that battle regardless of the financial cost or the personal price some of us will have to pay.

Among the things we must each decide is whether spending our time and money organizing a Millennium March for next spring is really the best use of resources by the HRC, our largest and richest political organization in an election year? Does it make much sense to devote time and effort to pushing for same-sex marriage when we can't even get hate crimes bills passed? Are we willing to massively shift our funding priorities from anti-AIDS efforts to political organizing for a year? Are our businesses ready to assume an out-front position as venues for educating our community members about the necessity for political involvement and as political organizing and fund-raising sites?

Until we know the answers to these and other important questions, we cannot even begin to plan a strategy to defeat the Right in 2000.


More Editorials