In the months preceding the pandemic, two Petworth sisters launched a campaign against installing Capital Bikeshare racks in their neighborhood. They claimed the bike racks would take away their neighbors’ parking spaces and further congest traffic in Grant Circle near their home.
They offered public comments at their Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) meeting at the Petworth Neighborhood Library in Northwest and collected more than 70 signatures opposing the bike racks. They also invited then-Ward 4 Council member Brandon Todd (D) to check out the proposed installation area.
All the while, the sisters, who are elderly African American women and long-time District residents, said they withstood what one of them described as constant bullying from ANC 4C10 Commissioner Jonah Goodman.
One of them, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Goodman posted photos of their backyard on Twitter and persuaded hundreds of Twitter followers into speaking derogatorily about them and other Black residents.
She said the bullying continued well after the duo successfully blocked the installation of the Capital Bikeshare racks. It reached the point where the sisters and other residents brought the issue before ANC 4C and compelled a sanction of Goodman.
In the following months, Goodman allegedly continued to bash neighbors online and insinuate that the elderly residents threatened his life.
“It’s like these people came and took over and did things their way without us having any kind of say,” the woman said.
“It was just devastating. It was horrible. How far do we take this? We won but did we have to go through this until the end of our days? I can go along with the change, but it was ridiculous.”
Ensuring Transparency in a Changing Neighborhood
As ANC 4C becomes more racially and economically diverse, tensions have increased between the white, upper-middle-class newcomers and their older Black working-class neighbors that have lived in the Petworth community for many years.
Concerns among most of the white residents include traffic safety and gun violence. While the older, Black residents share similar concerns, they disapprove of the influx of bike lanes and what residents describe as a noise ordinance that has impeded economic development along Upshur Street.
An arguably more important matter in ANC 4C involves a long-existing relationship between ANC commissioners and local developers that critics believe has exacerbated gentrification and displacement of Black and low-income families.
In the term preceding the election of seven new commissioners, ANC 4C created policies through which the commission could solicit financial contributions from developers in exchange for official actions. While the incumbent commissioners explain that the funds given by developers went to the Housing Production Trust Fund or a Ward 4 nonprofit, ANC 4C07 Commissioner Paul Johnson said incomplete records exist that show what transpired, including data and comprehensive meeting notes.
Last year, a letter from the D.C. Office of the Attorney General (OAG) ’s Legal Counsel addressed to ANC 4C03 Commissioner Ulysses Campbell described such an arrangement between ANCs and developers as illegal.
The reasons outlined include ANCs lack of authority in regulating development projects. Additionally, ANCs solicitation of financial contributions from developers wasn’t authorized by the D.C. Council, nor does it align with the D.C. Code of Conduct and the ANC Act.
Another issue that pitted Johnson against his ANC colleagues involved land surplus and disposition agreements, through which the mayor petitions for privatizing public land.
A process facilitated by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) determines whether there’s any other public use for the land in question. This process requires the inclusion of residents in the immediate areas. However, ANC 4C commissioners in the past have deliberated on surplus and disposition agreements without community input.
As Johnson recounted, one such situation involved Old Engine Company 22, a public-owned asset near Georgia Avenue and Missouri Avenue in Northwest. Johnson said he and ANC 4C01 Commissioner Vanessa Rubio differed on whether to notify the greater ANC 4C community, including Petworth, Brightwood, and 16th Street Heights, about the DMPED surplus hearing.
Johnson said that Rubio, the owner of property behind Old Engine Company 22, admitted on multiple occasions about offers made to her by Georgia Crossing, the developers of a proposed $200 million, eight-story property to be constructed below Georgia Avenue and Missouri Avenue.
Rubio declined to comment further on this matter.
In July of last year, seven months into his tenure as ANC commissioner, Johnson’s colleagues removed him from the helm of ANC 4C in a special meeting. In speaking to a neighborhood media outlet about the change in leadership, the other commissioners cited what they described as Johnson’s contentious leadership style.
Although he would retain his position as ANC 4C07 commissioner, Johnson currently faces a new challenger. Brittany Kademian, a Petworth mother and wife, received the endorsement of eight of Johnson’s ANC colleagues.
In a Twitter thread this month, Goodman said Johnson spoke rudely to current ANC 4C Chairperson Namatie Mansaray and that he didn’t answer constituent emails. Mansaray also declined to talk on the record. Goodman didn’t respond to an inquiry about his endorsement of Kademian.
Since becoming ANC commissioner in 2021, Johnson has worked with Ward 4 D.C. Council member Janeese Lewis George (D). He introduced an ANC 4C resolution to install a four-way stop sign at the intersection of 5th and Webster Streets in Northwest.
He co-founded Petworth PorchFest and successfully advocated for Main Street Grants for the Upshur Street, Middle Georgia Avenue, and Petworth business corridors.
In April, months after taking part in the redistricting process, Johnson organized a community event honoring Paul Robeson and Allen Uzikee Nelson, a local sculpture artist responsible for “Here I Stand (In the Spirit of Paul Robeson),” a large structure that stands on the corner of Kansas Avenue, Georgia Avenue and Varnum Street in Northwest.
Amid recent developments in ANC 4C, Johnson continues to knock on constituents’ doors, host events at his house, and attend campaign forums where he touts his community engagement record on transparency, public safety, and opioid abuse.
He said that his ANC 4C colleagues tend to overlook his achievements in that area because it doesn’t align with the vision they have for the community.
“The policies in practice of ANC 4C lead to outcomes related to development that are inequitable, unfair and [displace people] because of the lack of meaningful and fair community engagement,” Johnson said.
“The Old Engine 22 surplus disposition process was one example of that,” he continued.
“People, in addition to me, recognized that and worked against that to say it’s not the business of one block of residents what happens to the Old Engine firehouse.”
Looking Ahead to November 8
Kademian, an ANC 4C07 resident of nearly a decade who works in the federal government, said she first explored the possibility of running for commissioner in March. She recounted speaking with Goodman and other ANC 4C commissioners.
She also spoke with constituents who complained about Johnson not responding to their pressing concerns.
If elected, Kademian would continue in her role as vice president of Petworth Peanuts, a Petworth-area parent support group. She also pledged to be as inclusive as possible in her advocacy, citing virtual and monthly informal meetings at Grant Circle to include a wider range of ANC 4C residents.
Other priorities include addressing community violence in collaboration with other ANC commissioners and looking into vanishing trash receptacles and the absence of businesses in the single-member district.
Fulfilling this role, Kademian said, requires responding to constituents.
“Answering constituents’ emails and being communicative is a pretty low bar,” Kademian said.
“Instances when the constituents [with questions] attended the meetings, Paul Johnson wasn’t there. If he was there, maybe he could help.”
Though he doesn’t live in Johnson’s single-member district, Kenneth Slaughter described Johnson as a breath of fresh air on an ANC that continues to marginalize long-time Black residents. He, too, spoke about Goodman’s treatment of Black constituents while extolling Johnson’s efforts to hold his colleagues accountable.
In acknowledging what some described as Johnson’s shortcomings in responding to constituents’ emails, Slaughter called him the best hope for an ANC. He said that some of the other Black commissioners lack awareness about the changing dynamics and how others have been able to monopolize influence.
“The ANC doesn’t comply with open meeting requirements to allow citizen scrutiny of their work,” said Slaughter, a 12-year resident. “They just started making recordings and transcripts of their meetings available.”