The Exquisite Timing of Mood Lounge

On Wednesday, The Ethiopian Times, which describes itself as “the only English newspaper in the United State serving the Ethiopian community,” published a little jeremiad under the headline “Mood Lounge was not found quilty [sic]“:

“The Mood Lounge has been under much scrutiny by the ANC  and a select group of neighbors, some of whom have been very vocal in their mission of shutting down Mood Lounge amidst allegations of noise violations.   Despite these accusations and the relentless harassment by this group of neighbors that accompany them, to date, the Mood Lounge has not been found in violation of any noise provisions.”

The editorial began by expressing “shock” and “sadness” over the double stabbing that occurred at the de facto nightclub on Dec. 30, 2011, despite ample evidence that Mood Lounge knew very well what was going on there, did very little to put in place the measures to have prevented it, and then impeded investigators, according to the ABC Board.

While published without a byline, the post speaks in the first person:

“We are compelled to make this statement because much of what has been speculated or reported on blogs and to some media outlets related to this incident, and Mood Lounge in general, is wrong.”

One might logically question whether this “newspaper” was relying on a ghost writer with extremely close connections to the editorial’s subject, if you know what I mean.  But that’s beside the point.

And yet, Mood Lounge The Ethiopian Times was just winding up with its caterwauling about the nonexistent harassment:

“The true issue appears to be the perception perpetuated by select neighbors that the Lounge’s patrons are undesirable.  It is unfortunate that in 2011 and 2012 that a person’s skin color or attire can cause them to be prejudged as undesirable and somehow unsafe.   The Mood Lounge is patronized primarily by Ethiopians and African Americans over the age of 21.”

(Slight digression. “Primarily” must be the operative phrase, because police discovered a 19-year-old was among the patrons on the night of the stabbings.)

Ah, yes, the nuclear option of modern politics: utterly baseless charges of racism.  It’s craven, dishonest and disgusting.  It’s intellectual laziness, a sure sign that you’re losing the argument.

You’ve heard of Godwin’s Law, right? It states with only mild irony that every online discussion will eventually degenerate into somebody comparing somebody else to Nazis or Hitler.  Maybe it’s time to propose “Mimi’s Corollary,” named for the scofflaw owner of Mood Lounge, Ababa “Mimi” Beyene.

There are a host of establishments within the boundaries of ANC 2F, past and present, that have had primarily African American or minority clientele. Not a single one of them in recent memory has generated even a sliver of a slice of the complaints, pandemonium, and violations of law and regulations that Mood Lounge has inflicted on the community with relative impunity.

I have received literally hundreds if not, by now, thousands of emails from neighbors who have been on the receiving end of this abuse.  ANC 2F has heard from them at multiple meetings, and many commissioners have spoken with them outside the context of official meetings.  Not once have I heard any of them utter a single word that would call their motives into question.  It’s awfully rich that Mood Lounge The Ethiopian Times would brilliantly deduce that ”skin color” is at the root of this, when the neighbors themselves are an extremely diverse lot.

So let’s put this putrid little canard to rest, stop putting the accusers on trial, and start focusing on the issues at hand, shall we?

Instead, let’s get back to the exquisite timing alluded to above.

Just one day–one day–after this pathetic and invidiously crafted protestation of innocence, the ABC Board released its ruling on noise violations at Mood Lounge, stemming from a “show cause” hearing on Dec. 7, 2011.  To put it mildly, the Board wasn’t buying it.  Let’s skip to the ironic dessert before we enjoy the tasty entree:

“[W]e find that the Respondent guilty [sic] of the violation described in Charge I.”

In its Conclusions of Law, the ABC Board put the smack-down on Mood’s see-no-evil, hear-no-evil shtick:

“We find that the Government has shown through substantial evidence that the Respondent violated the terms of its Voluntary Agreement by playing music audible in The Nine condominiums and failing to cure the noise issues within the 30-day cure period. [...]

“[T]he Board can only conclude that the Respondent has failed to cure the violation.

“We are not persuaded by the Respondent’s arguments that its actions in this matter were reasonable or that the noise and vibrations observed in The Nine are not a material violation of the agreement. The Respondent’s arguments regarding reasonableness are irrelevant in this matter. Section 6 of the Voluntary Agreement is clear that the neighboring residents should not hear noise or vibrations from the establishment in their residences. The establishment had 30 days after receiving notice from The Nine condominium owners to resolve the problem; yet, the noise issues returned two to three weeks after the sound test on May 19, 2011. As such, because the establishment failed to cure the violation, it is liable for violating the Voluntary Agreement.

“In addition, we also find that the noise experienced by The Nine condominium owners is a material violation of the Voluntary Agreement. [...]

“The Voluntary Agreement is clear that the establishment’s neighbors have a right not to hear noise and vibrations in their residences. Thus, this prohibition is an essential term of the agreement, and necessary to ensure the neighborhood ‘s peace, order, and quiet. Any other interpretation would deny ANC 2F the benefit of its bargain with the Respondent.”

Sadly, despite the tongue-lashing, the ABC Board has been far too timid and, in the opinion of at least some ANC commissioners, is breaking the law by not permitting the commission to offer the advice to which we are statutorially entitled during last month’s hearing–not to be confused with the December hearing–in the wake of a double stabbing outside Mood Lounge.  The Board’s response to that bloody night in December was essentially to ask Mood Lounge to abide by the security plan that they were required to have in the first place.  Their response to the noise violations ruled upon today: a $500 fine.

Clearly something is wrong with this picture.

Meanwhile, the hits just keep on coming:  Yet another show-cause hearing is in the offing for additional noise violations, and ABC actions regarding still more violations are also pending.  One of these is Mood’s failure to keep a required log of the multitude of complaints that have been lodged against them.

Another, which the ANC voted upon this past Wednesday, relates to an assault that took place on Oct. 30, 2011, the alleged perpetrator of which was the promoter of the event that evening at Mood Lounge.  Teferi Getu Desta has reportedly been arrested in connection with the incident.

So ANC 2F has been engaging in “harassment”? Nonsense.  We’re just doing our job.

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Councilmember Thomas Resigns; Swamp a Little Shallower

The views below are mine alone and are not intended to speak for the entire ANC 2F.

So Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. has resigned.

Good.

I blogged about this a couple of months ago.  However, I didn’t call for Thomas’s resignation.  Yes, it was the right thing to do, but as a resident of Ward 2, I felt the opinions of his own constituents and his colleagues were more important than mine.

What is surprising and disappointing is that prior to today, only one-quarter of Thomas’s fellow councilmembers had publicly called on him to resign.

While everyone is entitled to a presumption of innocence, there is nothing different about today’s announcement of criminal charges than what we already knew this past summer.  The District’s attorney general made the same allegations in June, yet other councilmembers didn’t add their names to the “resign now” list until news about a pending plea bargain and Thomas’s offer to resign were already well known.

The Council failed to seize this golden opportunity to bolster its integrity and to regain the public trust.  In short, it was a failure of courage.

My blogging lately has focused on both this issue and the pressing need to revoke the liquor license of Mood Lounge.  Ethics and regulation of liquor licensees might seem unrelated, but for me, a common thread runs through them both.  I moved into the District from the ‘burbs because I was proud of and impressed by the progress DC was making toward good governance, lower crime and economic development.

But the current ethical climate, and the blight Mood Lounge has brought to my neighborhood, are both examples of “two steps forward and one step back”–maybe even one step forward and two steps back.

I don’t want Washington to return to the bad ol’ days.  We have come way too far to go back there.

While I’m at it, why on earth are DC councilmembers allowed to continue serving in office even after a felony conviction (albeit, not while in prison)?  Under federal law, if you commit a felony, you lose your right to own a gun.

In other words, if you commit a felony, the government wants to ensure that you won’t threaten your neighbor with physical violence at the barrel of a firearm.

But if you’re a member of the Council of the District of Columbia and you commit a felony, your government will still allow you to threaten 600,000 people with corruption, malfeasance and gross abdication of your oath of office.

Am I alone in thinking that any councilmember who takes up this cause could almost write the ticket for his or her own reelection?

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Liquor Licensees: The Good, the Bad and the Violent

A post on Shaw Deserves Better that Nick brought to my attention asks the following: “Why do problematic bars not get closed before people die?”  The question at hand was the deadly violence yesterday at Heritage India in Dupont Circle:

Anybody familiar with the “broken windows” theory of urban planning knows that, in summary, small, unenforced violations of the law lead to bigger violations. So, as these three previous violations did not (that I am aware) result in a fatality, using that theory, it becomes increasingly evident that there was some reasonable expectation that it might escalate to that level. [...]

So, the question is really this: almost every bar that’s been affiliated with a fatality in my recent memory had been before the ABRA Board more than once. Certainly, there are many establishments who appear multiple times and still have no body count years later. However, it begs the question – with so many solid liquor licensed establishments in the city, why not put in a “three (or five, or ten) strikes you’re out” style law to kill off these repeat offenders? As is, even when ABRA gets an establishment permanently closed, often times a new establishment opens under the same license in the same location, prolonging suffering, and risk, to the surrounding residential community.

The blog post goes on to mention the ongoing problems at MOOD Lounge on Ninth Street NW, with which this ANC is very well acquainted, and concerns that the establishment might follow the same violent path as the one in Dupont.  The author notes, accurately, that some neighbors are so fed up with the situation–literally sick and tired–that they intend to oppose all new liquor licenses.

The following is a comment I added to the blog post:

Ask anyone on Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2F, and they will tell you that MOOD Lounge has been the worst of the bad liquor-license actors in the entire history of our service on the commission.

The license transferred to MOOD in January 2011, and only weeks later, the complaints began pouring in, the worst of which being noise violations. You would know that MOOD had a CT (tavern) license, because it is operating–illegally–as a CN (nightclub).

Other issues include drunken and disorderly conduct and loitering long after closing hours, fights and assaults, public urination and vomiting, and even one reported case of sexual intercourse on the hood of a car. These incidents happen again and again and again, and the management routinely disregards and fails to respond to the entreaties of nearby residents who lose untold hours of sleep.

The ANC has tried for months to get the city to sit up and take notice, but it has been incredibly frustrating, and the processes and bureaucracy that are put in place make it far too difficult to deal with even such a blatant scofflaw. One would think that after even a fraction of these kinds of instances that some sort of summary action could be taken against the licensee.

The ANC has been working with Councilmember Jack Evans, the MPD, ABRA and DCRA to address this. Thankfully, it is now squarely on the radar of those such as the ABRA director and MPD Chief Lanier. But it should not have taken this long.

I have long contended that the situation is unacceptable and out of control and, as the post above indicates, it is a matter of when, not if, a killing occurs that is tied to the activities in and around MOOD. Shaw and Logan Circle have made far too much forward progress in the last several years to allow our neighborhoods to slip back down the slope again.

That being said, blanket opposition to all future licensees won’t be a helpful or, frankly, a successful approach. As a matter of course, ANC 2F will “protest” new liquor licenses. I don’t like the term “protest” because it implies an adversarial relationship between the licensee and the community from the outset. But a protest is the only way the ANC or neighbors can have standing to ensure a licensee operates in a way that’s compatible with nearby residences. (As a general rule, we tend not to protest licenses in the downtown business district, unless there are extenuating circumstances such as an operator with a poor track record.  We also don’t protest if a Voluntary Agreement can be reached before the ABC Board considers the application.)

Protests and Voluntary Vgreements (another term that I dislike, in that the hurdle for a licensee becomes much higher if they don’t take this “voluntary” action) allow us to balance the needs of businesses and residents. But without them, we cede any input that we might have to the ABC Board, which unfortunately sometimes without enough regard for or knowledge of the needs of the community.

Protests should be undergirded by the law, ABRA regulations, logic and a solid basis for the terms sought in a VA. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek additional safeguards, such as new laws that make it easier to deal with bad actors. But if protests are arbitrary or seen as based upon whims, the ABC Board will begin to tune us out, and the problem might actually get worse–the law of unintended consequences, if you will.

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