Sherwood's Notebook: A No Sale at Eastern Market

Eastern Market almost lost the Notebook as a customer this past weekend.

No more buying colorful raviolis.

No more roasted chicken or fresh flowers.

No more unique bars of soap or Amish goat cheese.

No more summer tomatoes that really taste like tomatoes.

No more impulse purchases from a variety of vendors.

We considered this boycott Saturday when, arriving on 7th Street, we found police chasing away citizens who were out collecting signatures on petitions to get various candidates on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Eastern Market, by the way, is operated by the city government’s Department of General Services.


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Your Notebook attempted to take a cellphone photo of one officer who kept turning away from us. Petitioners, some of whom have collected signatures here for many, many elections, were perplexed and, in your Notebook’s view, too passive about this assault on the District’s limited democracy.

The police finally showed us a mayor’s order declaring 7th Street between North Carolina and Pennsylvania avenues to be a special events zone for the street market and adjacent properties. The order forbids any unapproved vending.

Astonishingly, police decided that political petition gathering was “vending.” And although 7th Street was fully open to the public, whether visiting as customers or simply walking through, the police were chasing away citizens engaging in our local politics.

We immediately tweeted the blunt police action. A bit of a furor erupted online. A call was made to the mayor’s office. Surely Vincent Gray didn’t intend this (he didn’t, we’re told). Others got involved, and we were told the policy wouldn’t be enforced.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

Tim Krepp, an independent candidate for D.C. delegate in November against Eleanor Holmes Norton, got an email from the market management saying the policy wouldn’t be enforced, but only while the management comes up with new, clearer rules.

And, more astonishingly, another email said those potential decrees might include “rules to allow one campaigner at a time at Eastern Market, for a fee.”

Many would say all this was no less egregious — maybe more so — than Maryland Rep. Andy Harris’ blunt assault on the city’s marijuana decriminalization legislation and our limited democracy. We have enough limitations without creating more. Ward 6 D.C. Council member Tommy Wells told the Notebook on Monday that he was looking into this curb on democracy, especially the “fee” that might be charged of those doing civic political work. “Ridiculous,” said Wells.

If anyone succeeded in imposing unreasonable limits and a fee on 7th Street for political campaigners, the only option would be just to avoid going there.

None of this should have happened. But at least there is a good-news ending to all of this.

On Monday, we contacted the General Services Department and were happily told that there won’t be restrictions of political petitioners and there won’t be any fee imposed.

“We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to sign petitions,” said agency spokesperson Kenneth Diggs. “The word has already has gone out” to police and Eastern Market employees, he said.

A formal policy will be written and available soon.

Your Notebook really likes the offerings at Eastern Market. But none is worth the loss we would have suffered.

■ Evil cigarettes. Wayne Curry is dead at 63. A three-term, forward-looking county executive of Prince George’s County, Curry succumbed to lung cancer earlier this month. In his dying days, after learning of his fatal illness, Curry joined the movement against smoking. But it was too late for him.
At his “going home” services last week, people sang sweet gospel songs and praised his leadership. The pews were filled with both regular citizens and the powerful from throughout the Washington region. Many eyes were filled with tears, and some lamented that they couldn’t get just one more day with this kind and decent man.

But it all went up in smoke. Those who interviewed him said he thought he’d be one of the lucky ones, not one of the 480,000 who die every year from smoking-related illnesses.

The mortality of smokers is three times higher than that of non-smokers, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. Smoking has been a known cause of human cancer since the 1960s.

It shouldn’t make us sad that Curry and others die from smoking; it should make us mad. And weeping seems far from sufficient to mark such deaths.

Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.

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