City Desk

Councilmembers Thomas And Alexander Make Fools Of Themselves

D.C. Councilmembers Harry Thomas Jr. and Yvette Alexander are elected officials. People must have seen something in them that they liked. Maybe in Thomas' case, it was his famous name. Maybe in Alexander's case, it was her sunny personality. But since joining the council, both have gained reputations as lightweights.

Last Wednesday, on February 18, Thomas and Alexander earned their reps.

The two presided over an oversight hearing on the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). For the first hour-plus of that hearing, the two focused on the Therapeutic Recreation Center, located at 3030 G Street SE, and the non-profit Positive Nature. This past fall, the non-profit, which specializes in providing services for at-risk youth, moved into the TR Center as part of a public-private partnership with the rec department.

If there was ever a need for a safe place for at-risk kids, now would be it. Child and Family Services is only now climbing out of a backlog with a director yet to be confirmed. Last week, City Lights Public Charter School, which educates troubled kids, announced it was closing. A parent recently won a huge hurdle in his lawsuit against the city over its treatment of his son who needs special-ed services. Of course, there's Banita Jacks. These are just recent events. Pick any year and you will find many more sad stories about troubled kids not getting the help they need from the city.

Pick a topic: Funding. Education. Therapy. Counseling. After-school support. Chances are the District is failing a troubled kid or a thousand troubled kids in one or all of these areas.

If you happened to attend this hearing or watch it online, you would have thought that there are no at-risk kids in the District. All you would have heard from is an entity known as the Concerned Seniors of the Therapeutic Recreation Center. They were bused to the hearing dressed in brand new matching red t-shirts. They were there to hijack the proceedings.

For that first hour or so, they blasted the hearing with ignorant nonsense. The seniors aren't "concerned." They are furious that they now have to share the TR Center. They want their rec center back.

"I have never met any of these people," testified La Verne Hall about Positive Nature. I guess she missed the non-profit's open house last fall. Among the grievances Hall lists are the disappearance of the center's "Boo House" for Halloween and an extra lifeguard for water aerobics.

Of Positive Nature, Hall asked: "What have they offered? So far I have seen little or next to nothing."

There are few things worse than a senior-citizen turned NIMBY. In Hall's calculation, troubled kids who have been shuffled through the broken foster-care system or who have been neglected by their mothers or who suffer with learning disabilities aren't worth a few rooms in a District rec center.

Hall told me in an interview on Sunday that she'd like to see Positive Nature evicted from the facility. She really misses that Boo House. Nevermind that the TR Center still offers programming for seniors. Hall has just never bothered to figure it out. Nor has she apparently bothered to visit the three other DPR facilities dedicated to senior programs in Southeast.

Hall was joined at the hearing by Alice Love, who claims to have organized the concerned seniors group. Love admitted that she doesn't patronize the TR Center nor live anywhere near the center. This did not stop her from spouting off.

Both Alexander and Thomas then proceeded to gush over these seniors. Alexander showed up late. But this fact didn't prevent her from commenting on the testimony she hadn't heard.

“I really take seriously any concern that you have," Alexander stated, adding later: "Please know you have me as an advocate for you."

Thomas told Love: “I am so pleased you’ve taken up this charge.”

Then things turned real ugly.

A DPR employee who works at the TR Center had testified that he had received a written threat on his windshield. The threat apparently warned him about speaking out against the non-profit or something like that. There was no evidence that anyone from Positive Nature made the threat.

This did not stop Alexander from putting on her detective's badge and slandering the non-profit. “It points the finger directly at them whether it was through them directly or indirectly…that sickens me that we have a partnership …." But she added: "[There's] No evidence that it comes from them."

No evidence. We also heard Thomas introduce into the record some mysterious checks ($15 from Alexandria? Wha?) that Positive Nature may or may not have received. I wasn't sure what Thomas was talking about. He never did explain himself. Thomas also mentioned that the city has paid Positive Nature money for services. He just didn't know what those services were for.... Maybe he should have skimmed this story before holding his hearing.

Maybe Thomas should have talked to one of the city's social workers. Here is what one told me in an e-mail last night:

"PNI is one of very few providers that offers services to some of the most challenging youth in the city. Not only do they do it, but they do it well. PNI's level of commitment to each individual child and his/her family is a rarity in service provision today. I have referred several children to this program...children that no one else could reach. They are able to make the connections that are so vital to our young people's lives."

Let's see: the money is payment for running after-school programs for District kids, for taking in kids at 10 a.m. and taking them home at the end of the day, for advocating on their behalf in Family Court, etc. For being there when no one else will.

But then again, seniors vote. What pull do foster kids have with big-time D.C. Councilmembers?

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  • The Madness Shop

    Harry Thomas Jr, Yvette Alexander, Vince Gray and Kwame Brown have all made kissing the cheeks of old ladies their standard m.o.

    Seniors, especially the native Washingtonians of Wards 5 & 7 are a huuuuuge block of registered voters.

    *If we could get Kwame off his Phelps-soap box long enough to even care about other pressing issues such as the current crisis-state CFSA, DYRS & DCPS... well it would be a napoleonic miracle!

    *Harry Thomas JUNIOR, won on his daddy's name...and talk to any of the residents of Ward 5...the boy ain't his daddy! If only Thomas could put a quarter of the energy into DCPS/DYRS/CFSA that he put into legislation requiring that we remove snow/ice off our cars...hmmm.

    *Yvette Alexander, still in a battle with herself, "to be a Fenty sucker, or not to be." Pick a side and stop making us feel awkward telling people you are single at community meetings!

    Jason, I have to admitt I didn't like you very much at first. You put too much effort into being the cynicial/quirky/hippy young village voice wannabe journalist, but you're growing on me. (LL, don't get jealous;)

  • Jason Cherkis

    Thanks for the comment. I'm glad at least someone else is as pissed off as I am. ...But I have to tell you I'm no hippy! I've never been a hippie!

  • cminus

    But I have to tell you I’m no hippy!

    Maybe she meant hipster?

    And am I alone in thinking that "Boo House" should be a euphemism for something dirty, if it isn't already?

  • The Madness Shop

    You're welcome. Still something about your reaks of birkenstocks w/ socks, Burt's Bees products and Simpsons' humor.

    Anyhoodlie hoo, I too am indeed disappointed with the majority of the DC Council. I remember about two months ago, Mike did a (great) midterm examination of the Fenty administration, it would be great if you guys did maybe a "progress report" on each DC city councilmember.

    There's a laundry list of examples out there to show that most of them are "in danger of failing."

    In addition to highlighting pointless legislation, also go for revealing such bitchassness as choosing not to vote at all on certain bills and support of bills, closures that have adversley affected some of DC's most vulnerable residents.

    Or even better, go to the wards of DC City Council members, mention their names, and count the number of "Who?!?!" responses you'll get.

  • Jason Cherkis

    I'm so familiar with Burt's Bees. I am currently using CVS brand lip balm called "Chap Block." I think the name is kind of funny....

    We should also look at each councilmembers' constituent services and see what they've done for residents who have asked for help.

  • Jason Cherkis

    I meant to say I'm not so familiar with Burt's Bees. Oops.

  • The Madness Shop


  • Jason Cherkis

    Ha. Seriously! I'm a music nerd. But I own no Phish or Dead records/bootlegs!

  • CW

    Thanks for this! It's important that people understand what our elected officials are up too :)

  • Jason Cherkis

    CW: thanks for getting us back on track. When I watched the hearing on-line I was just shocked out how ill informed Councilmembers Alexander and Thomas seemed to be.

  • downtown rez

    You lost me and the rest of my .05% voting block at the no Dead bootlegs comment. Sorry.
    The only possible redemption for you is to post images of receipts for Birk re-soling. Or, you know, images of your worn-out Birks if your salary doesn't supply bucks and change for their proper upkeep.

  • brooklander

    You want failed promises to Ward residents/constituents...look no further than Harry Thomas, Jr. The Brookland neighborhood by Catholic University is in the midst of a $10.5 million streetscape project to 'beautify' the neighborhood with new sidewalks, light fixtures, curbs, streets, etc.

    For over 3 years before the work started, the community pleaded with DDOT and Thomas' office to include burying the overhead Pepco Utility lines underground for the one mile stretch along 12th Street NE. Thomas just ignored the request until the community's public rally and press coverage forced his hand. He then came and marched and showed his support. He pledged to get Pepco to bury the lines. He introduced legislation that would require Pepco use the money...only the legislation was so full of loop holes it allowed Pepco to submit an estimate that was $15 Million for the one mile stretch. $15 Million...a figure that was proven to be nearly 8 TIMES higher than industry and regional averages. A figure that was 8.5 times higher than a report that Pepco participated in two years earlier that stated it would be $1.6M/per mile in DC.

    The Brookland community, through a former ANC Commissioner, fought Pepco and DDOT in its own cost. Where was Thomas during all of this...? Completely absent. Even while Pepco completely ignored his legislation, he never once followed up on the issue. He got his picture in the paper, and then moved on to the next set of cameras.

    The result...DDOT sped up the construction work resulting in sidewalks being constructed hastefully, needing to be torn up and put back down. We have 'bulb-out' corners that are too wide for EMS/FIRE and Buses to get around. Bike lanes are now missing. The light fixtures hardly work and are tacked, hidiously, to the Pepco power poles. And, worst of all, even after continued Community uproar, they look to still want to build a median down 12th Street. A median that will cut off access to dozens of local businesses, add horrific traffic backups and prevent Fire/EMS/Police safe, quick routes to 3 major hospitals and thousands of residents.

    For the record, the Court ruled that Pepco's estimate was garbage and that a more reasonable estimate was clearly closer to $2.5M, and well within the budget to have been completed. But, since DDOT had sped up construction and now didn't he he funds available, the Court stated that the burying of the utilities underground was no longer a feasible component to the Brookland Streetscape.

    No one from Harry Thomas' office ever bothered to show up at the hearing. All were invited three times.

  • Skipper

    You want an easy way to track Council members' intelligence, read their committee reports on the budget requests of the agencies they oversee. Thomas' committee report on Parks & Libraries usually runs a whopping 6 or so pages (and that's with generous margins). Alexander has never done a committee report before (neither has Bowser). Read through the reports to see the committee chairs' thinking, logic and intelligence.

  • Hill Rat

    Great story Jason, are you in line to be the next Loose Lips? If not, you should be.

  • brooklander

    Skipper, you are right on. The information that comes out from an elected official is very indicative of how the think, feel and operate.

    Even more irksome and scary than Councilmember Thomas (who with enough pushing and enough cameras will show up to try and help) the treatment that Brookland ANC 5A is getting from its new commissioner, Carolyn Steptoe.

    If you can, you should join the Brookland listserv. There are weekly, if not daily, posts asking Ms. Steptoe for her position on community issues such as Streetscapes, Small Area Plan, Metro Development, GLBT issues...and to date, Ms. Steptoe has refused to state any postion on any issue. Demands that community members who want to ask her position or get her response show up to her SMD meetings...and then either cancels the meetings or doesn't hold them for months at a time.

    Oh, and when a meeting does occur (only one has)...she packs the agenda with far too many items than can be covered in 2 hours and then insists if you ask a question of her, her position, her political agenda, etc. that is not on her meeting agenda that you hold your question until the end...if there is time.

    Guess what...the meeting ran out of time. So, community members asked her on the listserv. She states that she, as an elected official, cannot publicly answer any question or state any position on any legal matters that involves DC elected officials, DC government officials, or DC community members. Then, she has the audacity to lump every question, concern or topic that was asked of her into one of those categories above...thus giving a blanket statement that she cannot and will not discuss her views on any of the issues.

    When pressed to use the listserv, as many members of Brookland work late, have small children, or otherwise cannot always make it to her (manatory) meetings...she simply quipped that the listserv does not provide the ability for proper discussion of topics...and therefore she would not use it to share any opinions, thoughts, or views of her positions on community issues.

    (however, whenever it suited her needs...she certainly had no problem using the when she stated that she witnessed 2 people vandalizing her election posters. Only 2 posters were vandalized. The two right outside her front door. Apparently, these 'vandals' didn't even tear down the other 20 posters they would have passed in the direction she 'claims' they ran off...)

  • The Madness Shop

    Even beyond neighborhood beautification and constituent services, look at what many Councilmembers are NOT doing in terms of the committees that they chair. Tommy Wells is the chair on the Committee of Human Services, but other than proposing to charge us an extra 5cents for grocery bags (i.e. my trash can liners) what is Tommy doing regarding improving the DC's Department of Human Services and Child & Family Services Agency. Where was he post-Banita Jacks? Tommy has called for no investigations, proposed little to no legislation or initiatives to improve agencies under the Human Services umbrella. Tommy's approach has been to stay silent, take a backseat and when something goes wrong...let the Fenty/Nickles PR machine handle it. And back to dirty Harry and Alexander...a councilmembers' intelligence, sense of logic, whether or not they know basic subject and verb agreement...well I'm back and forth as to whether or not I could care less...but what's more important is the ability to take ACTION that is valuable to ALL of the citizens that elected them.

  • Alice Love

    Re: Councilmembers Thomas & Alexander Make Fool of Themselves.

    Mr. Cherkis,
    Were you at the DPR Oversight Hearing on 2/18/09. You could not have been there because your article does not reflect what was said by the Concerned Seniors of the TR Center. The purpose of our testimony was to show how DPR has no concern for the DPR employees, the programs and the community as a whole. If you are going to write a story you should write what is accurate and not use the City Paper as your personal platform to air your feelings about the Council. You mentioned my name, you should have contacted me personally for my comments and not assume what my purpose is with the
    concern seniors. This is a group that was organized to reveal the mishap handling of this Partnership between DPR and Positive Nature. I'm most concern about the welfare and programs for the youth just as I am about the seniors. Before you get on the bandwagon for Positive Nature or any organization that is here for our youth, you should do your research and visits to make sure they are performing as need be. What you should be reporting is the condition of DPR under the directorship of Clark Ray. I have been a avid reader of the City Paper which I will continue to do so, but I will take your reporting with a grain of salt..Alice Love

  • Jason Cherkis

    Ms. Love:

    I am so glad you found my item and read it. I was not at the hearing, I watched it online and took notes of your testimony and the testimony of Ms. Hall.It's interesting that you plead with me to visit the TR Center and other facilities. I have visited the TR Center many times along with other DPR outlets.

    Why is this interesting? Because you testified that you don't live anywhere near the TR Center and do not frequent it. It seems like your group is bent out of shape based on one really weak complaint: You didn't know about Positive Nature before they moved in.

    You marshaled a lot of seniors and a lot of anger based on ignorance. PNI had an open house! They got the word out. The fact that you didn't know they were moving in may have more to do with the fact that you live in Ward 6.

    Also: DPR employees were moved to other facilities. At least the majority of them remained gov employees. Maybe some of them migrated to the three other DPR facilities that have senior programming in Southeast.

    You may not have come to the hearing to spread false rumors and ignorance, but that was the effect. The City Paper is not my personal platform to spout opinions about various councilmembers. But it is a platform to call out stupidity.

  • ryan
  • Alice Love

    Mr. Cherkis,
    I see that you are intent on seeing the seniors as a group that just want to complain. You still do not understand what their concerns are and why the community as a whole was not made of aware of the changes at the TR Center. You visited the Center since Positive Nature became a partner? Then you must have seen that there are few programs in session? I understand that you are for this organization, and believe me, I have much respect for what they have provided but it is not being done at this Center on a daily basis. Yes, there was an Open House but the majority of the community and patrons of the center was not informed. Also, yes I live in Ward 6 and the reason I do not attend the center is because and thank God, at this time in my life my health is fine. Stay tuned, more to come. You don't have all of the facts.

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