A contested election pops up in Petworth's ANC 4C

A flyer posted in SMD 4C08.

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions can be boring, and they can be dramatic. It’s all up to the various commissioners and their behavior and decisions. In the upcoming election on November 6th, one Single Member District, 4C08, looks to now have a contentious race suddenly pop up with a write-in candidate going up against long-time incumbent Commissioner Timothy Jones.

Flyers for Leah Anderson have appeared around the SMD, with the lines “Ask Tim Jones why he hates lemonade stands,” and encouraging people to write in her name for ANC Commissioner.

There hasn’t been a concerted effort at a write-in campaign for Petworth’s largest ANC for quite some time, and Timothy Jones hasn’t had much of a credible threat to his incumbency since Michelle Escumbise ran against him several years ago. So why now?

Commissioner Jones has an up and down reputation in his SMD, both as someone who will work for their needs, and for being unresponsive, negative, and uncommunicative with news and updates. He also has a reputation for trying to get block parties in trouble, which is where this challenge originated.

Leah Anderson

“Tim is an elder who has been committed to a position for so long, I don’t want to offend his intelligence,” Leah Anderson said. “We can’t write him off, and still have a need for him and his presence. But he’s inaccessible and non-responsive, and he doesn’t engage residents, offer assistance or collaboration. It’s been hurdle after hurdle with him, and the final straw was getting the permit [for Blocktoberfest] revoked. We’re not angry, so much as just motivated.”

Right before this popular block party was scheduled to occur on October 13th, Timothy Jones contacted the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to have the street closure permit revoked. Commissioner Jones admits he did, saying it was the music performance, drinking of alcohol and asking for donations that caused him to seek to have the block party permit revoked, believing a “special event permit” was required instead.

“In a neighborhood with a paucity of recreation and amusement activities, e.g., bowling alleys, skating rinks, movie theatres, arcades and one of the fastest growing youth populations in the city, the glamorization of adult public alcohol consumption bodes more harm than good,” Jones wrote in a response to questions when Petworth News reached out to him.

Commissioner Timothy Jones speaking at a recent ANC 4C meeting.

“I was taught there is only one way, the right way,” he wrote. “You make the call. The rules apply to everyone equally. The event has historically been a Special Event masquerading as a Block party. Hypocrisy is rampant in the Petworth Community. A true block party is what I've been doing. No live entertainment, no alcohol, no donations accepted the day of the event, no ticket sales. Open to the public, no RSVP for food or beverage. I can go on if needed. There will never be true community in Petworth unless everyone plays by the same rules.”

According to an email response from DCRA that Jones received on October 7th, there are several differences between a block party and a special event.

LaVerne Steward, a DCRA assistant special events coordinator, wrote Jones that a “special event is when you plan to sell food or merchandise, sell or serve alcohol (apply for an Alcohol and Beverage license), provide live entertainment, accept donations, conduct ticket sales, host a health fair and work shop to the general public, and request a street closure of more than one block. Also, if you are erecting tents, stages etc., using propane and or generators, there are supplemental permits required to meet public safety needs in the District suggests a business license [sic]. The same activities identified above, taking place on private property, require the Special Events license.

“A block party is when you are a resident or a business within a block, residing and or existing for 6 months or more in that block, are requesting a one block street closure inviting the (community), to come to a free for event, where there is no live entertainment and or selling of goods and or services to the public.”

Blocktoberfest, an Oktoberfest party on the 600 block of Randolph Street NW, did have live entertainment this year and last, but otherwise wasn’t selling anything this year. Dan Blair, one of the organizers, previously said that “Blocktoberfest was started as a backyard Oktoberfest by a block resident for friends and neighbors who love a good German Brew. Over years the crowd started getting larger and the backyard smaller. This is when the idea of a grassroots Petworth Blocktoberfest emerged. The fest has transformed from one person planning and hosting to the block neighbors volunteering their time to host the block party.”

At last year’s event, children set up lemonade stands to raise funds for breast cancer awareness (a neighbor had recently passed away), as well as for Changing Perceptions, a non-profit.

Commissioner Jones took umbrage with the lemonade stands at the block party, saying they made the event no longer be a “block party” because they were fundraising. When asked, his only response to the question was sarcastic, “What do I have against lemonade? Sugar.”

This year, beer was available if a person made a donation, but was to be consumed at homes on the street. Food was free, as was all the entertainment, from music, bouncy houses and a rock-climbing wall. According to resident Grayson Dixon, organizers were able to get the October 13th block party’s permit reinstated after some last minute efforts.

Leah Anderson has lived on Randolph Street in Petworth since 2002 and has four children, aged 23 to 10 years old. Her husband, Keith Anderson, is the Director of DC’s Department of Parks and Recreation. While she wasn’t interested in the ANC before, she said it’s different now.

“I’m doing this as a community service, not a political move,” Leah said. “We would like positive change, that’s what this is about. When I first moved here, people didn’t come outside. Now, people are out on the street, going to events and block parties, meeting each other. We need new energy on our ANC. If elected, I’ll work to update the community on what the ANC is doing, making sure we’re communicating, and engage with local schools. We have two neighborhoods, old DC and new. I want to get them together,” she said.

When asked about Anderson’s campaign, Jones wrote, “That's her right. It seems she is seeking political capital from my oath to protect and defend the laws of the District of Columbia, without fear or favor, in attempting to stop a Special Event flying under the color of a Block party. If it does so be it. I've learned early in life ‘If you can stand to cop you can stand to blow.’”

Jones disagreed that he wasn’t active in the community. “I campaign actively daily, picking up trash, keeping my block clean, assisting seniors, mentoring and counseling youth. Working to make this the community I enjoyed going to school and growing up in.”

The election is Tuesday, November 6th. If you want to vote for Timothy Jones, he’ll be on the ballot. If you want to vote for Leah Anderson, you’ll have to write her name in. Either way, make sure you vote!