Citizen Sindram Hyperactive Public-Hearing Witness Michael Sindram is Washington's Squeakiest Wheel

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Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

Michael Sindram, 54, regularly introduces himself at D.C. Council hearings, Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings, and other public forums around Washington as a “disabled veteran who has served his country more than most.”

But, really, that may understate his résumé. Sindram, for instance, was among the first of 389 people to be barred from filing paupers’ petitions at the U.S. Supreme Court. He says he has also been barred from the campus of the University of the District of Columbia and, he says, from the since-closed grounds of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. For three years, he was persona non grata at the main sales office of the Washington Metro system. And, he says, there was a period when he rated an escort from D.C. Protective Services whenever he entered the Wilson Building, which he does frequently.

That’s how most Washingtonians may know Sindram. The 6-foot, 5-inch, 200-pound man with a bald head is D.C.’s most prolific public witness. When the D.C. Council mulled seemingly mundane regulatory matters, he was there. When ANC 4D, in Petworth, discussed D.C. statehood, he was there, even though he’s not a resident of that district. When ANC 3F in Cleveland Park considered a nominee for the city’s Human Rights Commission, he was there, even though he’s not a resident of that entire ward. He’s cagey about quantifying his appearances at public meetings, but a glance at the Council’s recent witness lists gives a sense of just how much Sindram the city’s elected officials are experiencing: In April, the Council held hearings on 14 days; Sindram was scheduled to testify 21 times.

In Sindram’s telling, his appearances are the basic stuff of democracy. “My mantra is the A.R.T. of good governance,” he says, wagging a finger to punctuate each letter of his homemade acronym. “Accountability, rule of law, and transparency.” His actual testimony is often somewhat more granular: He recently spoke out in favor of Elizabeth Noel’s appointment to the D.C. Public Service Commission (her candidacy was ultimately rejected) and in favor of stronger city-hall ethics laws (he thinks the recently passed legislation has major gaps). Away from the witness stand, he has a habit of asking councilmembers and government employees who wander into his path whether their actions produce “justice, or just ice.”

Ice melts in the heat, he explains.

Nearly every local political scene has someone like Sindram. His story involves long digressions into unfair speeding tickets, city agency overcharges, inaccurate tax assessments, and Americans with Disabilities Act violations. Sindram has been tenacious in fighting to get what he believes is his. His entanglement with the Supreme Court, for instance, began with a $100 speeding ticket in Dorchester County, Md. Claiming the officer lacked evidence, Sindram challenged the ticket in five different state and federal courts on 27 occasions, to no avail. So he aimed higher. From 1989 to 1991, he filed 42 petitions with the Supreme Court, all of them in forma pauperis. The justices never did take up the case of the speeding ticket, but did rule, in a 6-3 decision, that Sindram would have to pay the court’s filing fees. “[T]he Court’s order in this case appears to be nothing more than an alternative for punishing Sindram for the frequency with which he has filed petitions,” wrote Thurgood Marshall in a dissent.

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But lower courts have placed similar restrictions on Sindram in years since. In April, the D.C. attorney general’s office asked the U.S. Court of Appeals to revoke Sindram’s in forma pauperis status: Last year alone, he filed 23 petitions in cases against the D.C. government, according to the attorney general’s filing. Sindram’s petitions “have diverted scarce resources,” the attorney general’s office says. Sindram disagrees—and has filed a petition against the attorney general’s request.

The system may not be granting Sindram victories. But the one thing it does offer him is a microphone. He says he first spoke at a council hearing in 2005, but can’t recall exactly what the issue was. “It probably had something to do with the Office of Human Rights,” he says. His relations with the pols who preside over hearings have been mixed. At-large Councilmember Phil Mendelson says Sindram has made a few good points during his council testimonies, though he can’t recall exactly what those points are. “Some councilmembers are afraid of him,” he says. “I think he is harmless.”

Ward 7’s Yvette Alexander has a sterner take: She recently banned Sindram from her committee office. She says two members of her staff felt threatened and uneasy by his frequent visits. “I have no problem with Mr. Sindram personally. He is very knowledgeable on the issues he cares about, but I’m going to protect my staff,” she says. Sindram says it’s payback for his having used his recent testimony to accuse Alexander of carrying Pepco’s water. She says she will revisit the ban in six months.

And it’s a good bet Sindram will be back as soon as he’s permitted. “There is no law against rocking the boat or pushing buttons,” he says. “I’m going to rock boats and push buttons. That’s my right.”

Our Readers Say

I hope this guy gets the mental help he so clearly needs. I also hope the City Paper gets the help they so clearly need and don't feel a need to do a story on every whacko in the area.
With all the important stuff going on in this city, why the City Paper spent so much time on this guy is beyond me.
@ Sally: It's because the City Paper has gone down hill to the point where they don't do any real reporting any more and realize they can churn crap like this out with minimal effort.
Seriously, CP? Sindram? Okay. I suppose it's selfish of those of us who testify at Council hearings to keep this local gem to ourselves.
Mr. Sindram is becoming a Wilson building institution, to his credit. The man is clearly brilliant in his own way, much like Barry is brilliant in his own way. I'll echo what Mr. Vaughan says, the city would be better off if more citizens took a page from the Michael Sindram playbook. While Mr. Sindram has testified thousands of times, and it may be a touch excessive, most citizens have not bothered to testify even once on any issue.

Great piece.
sally - why do you bother to come the website and read the article if City paper has gone downhill so much? go away
The guy is harmless. What has he done to really make anyone feel intimidated? He's obviously really intelligent and seems to be passionante about pet peeves. I enjoyed this piece and have a newfound appreciation for him.
The City Paper has been profiling the mentally ill people as a sort of "Bedlam" "look at the loony" concept for about two years now. It's not cool City Paper. I seriously doubt that Mr. Sindram knows he was being made fun of in this piece and that's just abusive.
@will, most of us don't testify because we have a job and pay taxes to keep this city moving in the right direction and cover medical and mental health cost of people like Michael Sindram. I'd be happy to come down and testify before the council if you cover the cost of a days pay I'd lose. Michael Sindram has done nothing but become one of many Wilson Bldg pimps. Those of you who enjoyed the article are some of his willing hoes. Hope he gives you your cut for laying on your back with your legs open. Most pimps keep all the money for themselves and give the hooker nothing!
@ WilsonWonker: What part of the story indicates his advanced intelligence to you? The part where he thinks it's smart to petition the Supreme Court 42 times to decide on his $100 speeding ticket? Or maybe the part where he gets caught for mail fraud and goes to jail for 3 years? or is the section where he makes threats against his college professors? What I'm reading highlights a person barely functioning with mental illness.
Northwesterner, if the City Paper stopped covering mentally ill people, the CP would have to stop reporting on members of the City Council, the current mayor, his immediate predecessor and the "Mayor for Life."

cutthecrap makes a good case for evening and weekend Council hearings.
He was a strong opponent of DC Marriage Equality. Testified against it. so MS go take your Cray Cray self out of DC!
The disabled should be recognized. Why exploit Mr. Sindram's perceived disability? Free speech!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This is new low for CP. You have emboldened a guy who harasses people in the Wilson building on a regular basis, has been banned from filing lawsuits in DC Superior Court, and has been banned from several offices for aggressive behavior. This is not called being a "squeaky wheel," this is called being a dangerous asshole.
I know Michael from seeing him around town and at every council hearing I've ever been to. Yes, he's a little eccentric, but I really like his passion. Its a shame that UDC Law didn't admit him. Yes he only scored a 143 on the LSAT, but the school has admitted many other people that were just as eccentric, who had lower scores than his.

I've seen Mr. Sindram at many meetings in Ward 4 over the years. He seemed to have some mental health issues, however, I admire him for have the guts and energy to stand up to the establishment. I've always wondered about Mr. Sindram's ethnicity. I don't know if he was white or a mulatto. However, I don't think he's worth been featured on the Washington City Paper front page.
I had many,many encounters with Michael over my two years working in the city. I have nothing but profound respect for him-and Lord knows we didn't agree on much. He is more honorable than most, cares deeply about his issues and I am actually happy that the City Paper devoted an article to him. I wish him well and hope his attempts to hold people to task continue.
I live in the same building as Michael Sindram. He is a pox upon our community. Those papers? He puts them there every single day, a hundred at a time. It's virtually impossible to keep up with collecting and disposing of them.

The office that's supposed to be there? The building can't afford to build it out. One of the reasons we can't afford to build out the unit is because Mr. Sindram has an awful habit of not paying his HOA fees, and then filing motion after motion after motion, racking up incredible legal fees whenever the building has taken him to court.

Adding to the problem, I've personally observed Mr. Sindram contaminate our recycling bins, and I believe he calls in the violation to the city so our building can be cited and fined.

He litters our hallways, makes vulgar gestures when he encounters resistance from neighbors, and takes advantage of every opportunity to destroy any semblance of community we try to create. He sues every chance he seems to get, people won't serve on the board of directors for fear they'll have to miss work or pay attorneys for dealing with Mr. Sindram's antics.

We've lost at least one good resident from our building because of Mr. Sindram, and unless he moves out, I expect we'll lose more.

Next time you're in the building, Mr. Anderson, try knocking on a few doors before you give Mr. Sindram a soapbox to bash our building community.
@ James: You're asking the City Paper to do actual reporting and investigate the subjects of their stories?! HA!!! If they start doing that, they won't be able to reliably produce the garbage that they've been churning out. It's so much easier to take the word of a person with mental health issues for all the "facts" of their article. I haven't read an article from them in a while out of disapointment. I want to like the local publication and hope it would eventually get better, so every now & then, I read something other than Savage Love & The Straight Dope, and every time I'm even more disapointed than I was the last time I decided to give it another chance.
@James: Yes, he is a bully who tries to intimidate, especially if someone disagrees with him.
One more thing: Bullshit. The reporter didn't take the elevator to Sindram's floor. There is no elevator.
Don't feed the troll, people! I guarantee Mr. Sindram will track down the author of every negative post and make his/her life a living Hell. I've seen him at many council hearing and ANC meetings. He's loud, rude and disrespectful---and especially intimidating to women. Some call it free speech, I see him as a ticking time bomb.
Michael Sindram seem to need so serious mental health counseling or he need to be admitted into Saint Elizabeths Mental Hospital. I've seen this guy at several meetings in Ward 4 and he appear to be mentally unbalanced. Why would the Washington City Paper waste their time and space writing an article on this guy? It sounds like many people are afraid of this guy because he's mentally unstable and might hurt or kill someone.
Seems like nothing more than an AW.
This man is a menance to society. He is a self proclaimed "veteran, who has served his country more than most" More than most what? Other societal leeches??? He is a disgrace to all veterans, especially those who are "truly" disabled. He is gaming the system and winng at our expense. As for his place of residence being unkempt...generally NOT true; this is a great building with great residents, all except one. He has sabotaged the building and created generally havoc from day one. It's a shame that HE is protected while the productive members of society are made to suffer!
My goodness. This guy is a NUT case. Seriously, he is mentally ill, off, etc. He is creepy and people are uncomfortable with him. He is disruptive in meetings, rude, loud, and strange. Claiming this guy is brillant ignores his OBVIOUS mental issues. Shhiiit CP, Hitler was brilliant. However, that doesn't mean anything when your cray cray CRAZY!

Why would CP give this nut job some publicity. He's most definitely someone who will go into a building one day and shoot it up. Yes, I'm serious. This guy is truly mentally ill.

Shame on you CP. Shame on you for giving this guy such a public platform. Blood is on your hands.
Who reads this crap? Tom Anderson is probably one of those who does not think that wounded in action American soldiers are "heroes." What is next for Sindram, an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN? Nobody would view it though since nobody is watching, just like nobody is reading this drivel either. If he is so "brilliant," write him in for POTUS, probably could not do any worse than the current bloviating dolt.
A friend of mine works for the district and he harrasses her at every turn. I dont know if he is crazy or crazy like a fox...I have watched him perform at council hearings and he is a tenant one day and a home owner the next. I dont know if its just me but he cant be both. He just seems to play whatever role with get him on tv and distract people from the real issue that appears to be his mental health status. I dont know if he is mentally ill or a sociopath. That to me seems to be a bigger issue than whether he is filing unfounded petitions. Why hasnt someone attempted a mental health intervention? If he isnt determined to be mentally ill then at least his antics would be appropriately dealt with. If he is determined to be mentally ill then he can possibly get the treatment he needs. @16th Street Heights, I am unsure of what his ethnicity has to do with anything but in the future if someone is of mixed race the proper description is bi-racial... We dont use mulatto anymore GOMER...SMH
As to the question about his racial identity he is Caucasian. He is one thing we don't miss since relocating from Ward 4.
As a resident of the Takoma neighborhood,I won't comment on Mr. Sindram's mental health as there is a colorful cast of characters that reside here. However, I will say that he must have had a stable day the reporter followed him. There was no mention of him sticking his head in mailboxes or digging through trash. When he had his car it was filled with garbage. He used to bring "donations" to the school and recreation center "for the kids" of bags of trash. When I say trash I don't mean things that others don't hold value,I mean trash,bottles,paper,wrappings,trash. I have been in forums when he has gotten volatile and put people in fear. Many people view him as harmless or misunderstood. It is not a question of intelligence,many persons diagnosed or not with mental health issues are often of higher intelligence. Though I don't think you would want to come out your house in the morning and have them ,their bike and bags of trash on your stoop.
Sindram, the self proclaimed disabled veteran, still has a car which has had Virginia plates for more than 5 years now. He is allowed to park it on the dead end street behind his condo. A privelage most DC residents are not granted. He also has a "handicapped" parking permit. Apparently the mentally ill are entitled to prime parking spaces. And sadly, yes, he still collects trash, but now he routinely spreads it out in the lobby of his condo in an effort to annoy his neighbors. The mental health agency, the police, and the courts can do nothing to keep him from harassing the productive citizens in his neighborhood unless or until he threatens physical harm. He is free to intimidate and to cause as much mental anguish as he wants (especially to women)! And society continues to pay him to keep performing his antics! The joke is on us!
I also live in Mr Sindram's building and am beyond appalled by this article.

He is the one that litters and trashes our building every day. And also the reason our building cannot afford repairs. Several residents have taken out restraining orders against him because of harassment, including a former building manager that received death threats.

I thought this paper was supposed to be progressive. You're painting this guy who is a rampant racist and a homophobe as a quirky, community activist. There should be a complete retraction of this article. Interview the victims of this maniac and you might have a story worth printing.
I am familiar with this building as I have a close friend who is a neighbor of Mr. Sindram and the man is the absolute worse neighbor you could possibly have. The first time I visited this building which is so beautiful from the outside I was shocked to see the stacks of newspapers in the entryway. My friend simply said "It's my neighbor" with a look of disgust on his face. Mr. Anderson you need to dig a little deeper because this guy is absolutely horrid.
Please take the time to get to see Mr. Sindram in action. Lurking in the dark going through peoples trash, harassing neighbors, urinating in stairways....a total nightmare. I'm one of many who can no longer live in the same building with him. Imagine coming home at 3am to find him littering the common area wi th papers and propaga and like a coward he runs off. Im tired of it and i fear for the safety of my child. I'm out! Write a real story about this NUT JOB!
This guy is the worst of the worst. Ive dealt with him on multiple occasions and have found that he is simply here to be a drain on society. Everytime he is in my place of employment he asks for handouts and "favors". Never paying a dime for any services. And on the subject of him being a veteran? I think any benefits he has should be revoked. Claiming to have served more than most??? How disrespectful!! Men and women have DIED for this country!! I served as a US Marine. I would never say that I served "more than most". Further more, the last time i dealt with him, he walked out without paying and also stole the money out of my tip jar! Come on people, stop giving this guy a spotlight and just let him disappear. Please?
All I can say is mental health issues are very true with this individual. i can't understand how the court or any councils allow such foolishness and a waste of time with a person full of CRAP! The person just sighn petiotions to take anyone to court, to get you to waste your time. When unruly in court, I do not understand why his is not locked up for not obeying courtroom rules. Someone is going to take him out one day and do us all a favor. He really needs Jesus, for truly God is the Only One Who can deliver a "fool" from the devil.

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