It’s 10:10 a.m. on a rainy April Wednesday as Sindram completes the first of four statements he will deliver that day before city officials. Wearing a blue-and-gray-striped rugby shirt and jeans, he goes through his boilerplate introduction—“My name is Michael Sindram, a disabled veteran who has served his country more than most”—then launches into complaints about rising Metro fares, holding up articles from the Washington Examiner to emphasize his points. Like many of her colleagues, Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, who’s chairing the morning’s budget oversight hearing, lets Sindram testify first, presumably reasoning that once he’s finished, she can get down to business. Bowser sits stone-faced as her constituent speaks out.
Between his committee appearances, Sindram makes the rounds of the Wilson Building. He asks several councilmembers’ receptionists if he can use the office photocopier to make duplicates of his latest complaints; only Vincent Orange’s office grants him the favor. Other bureaucrats welcome him and trade gossip. He greets most people by first name—including the D.C. Protective Services officers who, he says, used to watch him, and someone named Juan from the mailroom. “He’s a great guy,” Juan says.
Sindram huddles with Aquarius Vann-Ghasri, who serves on the D.C. Housing Authority’s board of commissioners. He gets the latest news on the Potomac Gardens public housing complex, where Vann-Ghasri lives and Sindram once worked with children as a church volunteer. “Michael Sindram is a passionate voice for the people. I think too many people judge him by his appearance, not by his message,” she says.
Sindram shakes hands with Kevin Wrege, a D.C. lobbyist, who we meet in the hall. I ask Wrege if Sindram is an effective advocate. “Everyone knows him,” Wrege says. “But I don’t know what he is advocating for.”
From the Wilson Building, Sindram and I head to One Judiciary Square so he can testify before a D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics meeting. He usually rides a gray, worn-out 10-speed bike and carries a red backpack filled with documents and newspaper clippings. Since I’m on foot, we walk together down drizzly Pennsylvania Avenue. Today, he’s incensed about Mendelson, who voted against Noel’s appointment to the public service board. Sindram thinks Mendelson should have recused himself because he owns stock in Pepco, according to his latest financial disclosure statement. The utility company opposes Noel’s appointment. “Mendelson has alienated an ally,” he says repeatedly.
Sindram breezes through the metal detectors at One Judiciary Square as he banters with a female security guard. My belt buckle, however, sets off the alarm. “You are slowing my roll,” Sindram says, miffed that he may miss an opportunity to testify before the elections board, where he attends nearly every meeting. We arrive as activist Dorothy Brizill wraps up her statements. Sindram tells the board about his concerns that recent ethics legislation passed by the council creates a gap in public disclosure. “My spirit is vexed,” he says, using a Sindram catch-phrase.
After the meeting, Sindram mingles with board members. As is his habit, he hands over supplemental materials—some of them related to his testimony, others not. Over the course of our talks, he has presented me with several issues of VFW magazine, the VVA Veteran, a photo book commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Vietnam War Memorial, the spring edition of the Our Daily Bread prayer book, and copies of the free conservative weekly Human Events (“It’s a great newspaper,” he says). He’s also shared enough highlighted clippings from the Washington Examiner and Washington Informer to fill a scrapbook. Once, I mentioned to him that I wanted to get into shape. At our next meeting, he gave me a herbal medicine guide and a naturopathic heart health handbook.
Before we break for lunch, Sindram asks if we can stop by the Metro sales office. He says Metro barred him from the sales office from 2007 to 2010 after he complained that his backpack had been stolen when he left it by the counter window. Today’s visit leads to a small victory: Sindram gets a refund for a demagnetized Metro farecard he pulls from a five-inch stack of cards in his current backpack. He says he collected the farecards during his three-year exile from the sales office, but Metro only allows him to cash in one card per day. We agree to regroup at the Wilson Building for more council testimony in the afternoon. He leaves to meet with the D.C. tax assessor’s office to discuss the status of his bankruptcy, which he filed for in 2008.
But before the next hearing, there’s a snag. A long queue of witnesses is supposed to testify at Councilmember Michael Brown’s hearing on affordable housing. Sindram doesn’t like to wait, so he leaves, heading back down the hall to testify before a different Bowser-led committee. When that’s done, he suggests we swing by the Office of Neighborhood Engagement, where he wants to check in with some contacts. It’s getting late and Sindram is limping up the stairs. We pass an empty conference room with the light on. Sindram turns it off. “Another example of government waste,” he shrugs. Then we wait in the lobby of Orange’s office to attempt an unscheduled meeting with an aide that never happens.
Sindram wants to end our day at a Log Cabin Republicans meeting where D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier is scheduled to speak. But on the way out of the Wilson Building, we run into Lanier. “We love Mike,” Lanier tells me as Sindram asks for updates on crime in his neighborhood. Since we’ve seen the chief, enthusiasm for trekking to the meeting starts to ebb.
I invite Sindram to a book reading—Drop Dead Healthy by humorist A.J. Jacobs—at Sixth & I Historic Synagogue. I have an extra ticket. I’m also curious to observe how Sindram behaves at a non-political event. I suggest we grab dinner before the reading. I ask Sindram to pick a place. He likes Chipotle. As we walk to the restaurant, Sindram pokes his finger in the slots of the parking meter kiosks. At Chipotle, I order a chicken burrito. Sindram, a vegan, says that chickens eat their own feces.
Sindram can’t stop ragging on the D.C. Council. Even as we wait for the reading to begin, he rants about “poli-tricks, not politics,” with brief interludes about the values of a vegan diet. But when the humorist takes the stage, Sindram belts out a few hearty laughs. When the night ends, he thanks me for the ticket, hops on his bike, and rides back home to Brightwood.