Washington Informer: Too Black for 30K Contract in 60% Black City?

Washington Informer: Too Black for 30K Contract in 60% Black City?

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By James Wright 

A group of community activists and leaders has staged a rally to protest the denial of a city contract to the largest District-based African-American newspaper solely on the basis of it not being a “newspaper of general circulation.”

Keith Silver, a Ward 6 advisory neighborhood commissioner and civil rights activist, and noted attorney Johnny Barnes, held a press conference on August 20 in front of the Judiciary Square Building in Northwest to protest a recent ruling by the director of the D.C. Office of Contracts to award an unclaimed property advertising contract worth more than $30,000 to The Washington Times instead of The Washington Informer.

Silver demanded that the board “review and reverse its procurement decision.”

“I challenge the assertion that The Washington Informer serves a specific ethnic group,” said Silver, quoting a part of an e-mail that Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes received on July 30 from Joseph A. Giddis, director of the contracts office, as to why her newspaper did not receive the contract.

However, shortly after the demonstration and after Barnes filed legal documents requesting that a stay or a delay be granted by the District of Columbia Contract Appeals Board on the contract agreement, The Washington Informer received a response from the contract appeals board that said the matter is “moot” because the Times already published the advertisements in its August 13 and August 20, 2012 editions

“In addition, the District responded that urgent and compelling reasons existed to continue with contract performance of the contract,” according to the response.

The Washington Informer, located in Southeast, was co-founded by Calvin and Wilhelmina Rolark in October 1964 to publish positive stories about the District’s Black community. In 1981, under the leadership of Wilhelmina Rolark, a D.C. Council member, a law was passed that allowed newspapers other than The Washington Post to bid for city listings of tax and unclaimed properties on the basis of being a newspaper of general circulation.

As recently as September 2009, The Washington Informer published the D.C. Unclaimed Property advertisements and in June 2011, it ran the D.C. Tax Sale advertisements.

In June, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer’s Office of Contracts issued a solicitation bid for the publication of the city’s unclaimed property listing to “a newspaper of general circulation” that is “widely distributed in the District of Columbia.” The Washington Informer, the Times and two other publications submitted bids.

On July 24, the contracts office sent an e-mail to Denise Rolark Barnes stating the bid “is expected to be awarded to The Washington Times.” On July 30, Giddis e-mailed Rolark Barnes, saying that “in this solicitation, only one awardee was anticipated, and the requirement for the publication is a newspaper of general circulation.”

That day, Rolark Barnes responded by e-mail stating that The Washington Informer has a general circulation and has been recognized as such by the contracts agency since 1981.

On Aug. 2, Giddis responded to the publisher via e-mail saying, “The Washington Informer was found non-responsive based on the fact that the Washington Informer serves a specific ethnic group.”

“It is our view that targeting a specific ethnic group does not meet the requirement of a newspaper of general circulation,” he said.

Washington Informer supporters vehemently disagree with Giddis.

“The Washington Informer speaks for the entire community,” said Nick McCoy, a political and gay rights activist.

“I generally get the newspaper on 14th and P Streets, N.W., but you can get it on Connecticut Avenue, in Bloomingdale and on Alabama Avenue in Southeast. The statement that it is not a newspaper of general circulation should be retracted.”

John Zottoli, who lives in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Northwest and who is white, said he’s surprised with the board’s reasoning.

“I am a faithful reader of the Informer,” said Zottoli, 66. “I pick up the Informer at the Safeway on Columbia Road. I read the newspaper for the editorial and news sections.”

Zottoli said that “he was offended” by the unspoken assertion that because he is White, he does not read the Informer.

Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, concurs, saying that the founders of The Washington Informer gave the newspaper its name for a reason.

“Calvin and Wilhelmina Rolark did not name it The Washington Black Informer,” Saunders said. “It is designed for all of Washington. It would not have lasted this long if it were only for Blacks.”

Roach Brown, an activist for the District’s returning citizens, said “you cannot find the Washington Times in Ben’s Chili Bowl” and “the Washington Informer goes to federal penal facilities across the country.”

Trayon White, who represents Ward 8 on the D.C. State Board of Education, said that The Washington Informer helped him get back into school when he was kicked out because he wore dreads and that “The Washington Informer stands up for the people.”

“We need to support the Black press,” said White, 28.

Johnny Barnes offered a detailed analysis of the paper’s legal standing in this matter. The request for the stay of the Times contract is based on the fact that The Washington Informer has been a newspaper of general circulation as defined by the D.C. government since 1981; the language of Section 5 of the District law that applies to the situation “makes it clear that The Washington Informer qualifies as a newspaper of general circulation”; the decision by the contracts board’s director on the basis of The Washington Informer serving a “specific ethnic group” may be in violation of District and federal civil rights laws. The Washington Informer is a Certified Business Enterprise in the District and has priority in contracts whereas the Times is not; The Washington Informer has deep roots in the District and the demands for an automatic stay for discovery and a hearing have not been addressed.

Johnny Barnes added that the basis of awarding the contract is flawed.

He said, “None can argue that anecdotally the likely subscribers to the Washington Times are conservative and Republican – the anecdotal opposite of the population of the District of Columbia, which is overwhelmingly Democratic and progressive.”

“If The Washington Informer can be disqualified because it appeals to a specific ethnic group, a similar disqualification can be leveled against the Washington Times, which some might subjectively argue appeals only to a certain ideological group. In truth

16 COMMENTS

  1. Although our non-profit civic agency attempted to celebrate our 16 Year Anniversary with a festival, which we were hosting open and free to the general public, the Benjamin Banneker Music & Poetry Festival, this past Sat., Aug. 25, AND are the faciltiators of the $138 million renovation of the entire half mile, L'Enfant Plaza/Banneker Overlook Park site, including the 1158 car/75 tour bus Intermodal Transportation Center, aka parking lot, that's going to be built at Banneker Overlook Park, we were denied a permit for the event by the city.

    In the 15 or our 16 years that we have worked to upgrade the site by securing federal funding in the form of a U,S, Dept.. of Transp, TEA21 grant, which are funneled into DDOT, we have never received as much as a thank-up from any of the of the three Mayors in power since signing off on Jan. 12, 2000 on the MOA [Memorandum of Agreement] which is paying for the rehab work that has been en progress at the site for the past several years.

  2. We have also never received one cent [aside from two ads taken out in a Program Guide for an event we gave honoring Dr. Dorothy Height and when we conducted our juried charette to select our Artist of Record for the memorial] in our 16 years of submitting requests for funding to the city. Each and every one of the many proposals we've submitted over the years for funding, in various areas of request — community development, art, historic preservation, culture, estate funds, etc. have been denied. EVERYONE.

  3. Even the Panel of Five, a consortium of developers who have projects in the southwest corridor, as recently as two weeks ago, again denied our request for funding, and have told us repeatedly that they will never give us another dollar above and beyond the one procured on our behalf 14 years ago by one of our sabateurs to conceal the plot.. And although they are "allegedly" organized to help communal projects, especially non-profit ones, most organizations know nothing about them, especially black organizations, as they are tucked quietly away in the basement of the Republic Properties building next door to the Mandarin Hotel they built, and basicly only fund the projects of their cronies.

    Our elected officials and so called "leaders: have totally excluded disenfranchised businesses from benefiting from the multi-billion dollar public overhauls underway in the nation's capital, and have made is abundantly clear that we can pay the price to pave the way for johnnie come lately's usurpation, and write well enough to secure funding grants received from proposals written to benefit corporate scions, but not well enough to even receive crumbs from the tables of the usurpers and/or government grants.

  4. Let's face it. blacks are locked out of everything in this city, and our elected officials, who are on their way out too, have aided and abetted in locking the disenfranchised out forever, no matter what you bring and have brung to the table, even a nearly 50 year old ,highly awarded and respected newspaper. And, by the way, what is a general market newspaper? Can't anyone buy the Washington Informer just as anyone can buy the Washington Post?

    AND, how is it that a non-profit organization that is not only endeavoring to provide a long overdue upgrade to a memorial honoring a man who helped found this city, America's First Black Man of Science, and A Man of Many Firsts, Benjamin Banneker, and in the process deliver $138 million dollar federal grant to do so, which clearly states on its cover that the funds and project is to make way for the Benjamin Banneker Memorial, not even be able to get a permit for a festival, let alone a free festival with major acts and talent performing, at the site their 16 years of work is paying for?

  5. AND, WHY IS IT THAT ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON HAS BLOCKED WHAT IS USUALLY A PERFUNCTORY RE-AUTHORIZATON OF A COMMEMORATIVE ENDEAVOR, IN THIS CASE THE BANNEKER MEMORIAL, FROM BEING RE-AUTHORIZED FOR OVER SIX YEARS NOW? AND, WHY DOES SHE AGGRESSIVELY BLOCK EVERY OTHER MEMBER OF CONGRESS WHO HAS ATTEMPTED TO DO SO AS WELL? SO FAR ONE DRAFT AND ONE DROPPED BILL HAS BEEN WRITTEN UP AND/OR INTRODUCED, BUT HAS BEEN BLOCKED BY HER VEHEMENTLY VOICED OPPOSITION TO THE ATTEMPTS TO PASS THE BILLS?

    AND TWO OTHER AGREEMENTS TO SPONSOR LEGISLATION BY TWO OTHER MEMBERS OF CONGRESS BLOCKED BY HER.CAUSING THEM TO BACK OFF FOR FEAR OF HER WRATH.

    The answer to a lot of these issues, I would venture to say, stems from the insulting and shameless legacy of "gentrification" and the power of those who have no respect for black people AT ALL exercising there unbridled power to get their way. And, their tactics know no boundaries.

  6. So, Washington Informer, you're now getting first hand experience of the blatant systematic exclusion we've been trying to get the black community to understand that the Banneker Memorial has been experiencing for 16 years, and the assault on our effort has not just been unfair, but boundless and personal. L'Enfant Plaza/Banneker Overlook Park is the most sought after piece of public real estate in America now, and it has been made very clear to us that we are now expected to relinquish the space we've paid for "literally" with tens of thousands of dollars of investment, hundreds of meetings, and the lost of a personal fortunes, to now walk away quietly into the sunset to turn over L'Enfant Plaza/Banneker Overlook Park to the "entitled" as this park is much too good for the man it was named for 41 years ago, and because it is not a GENERAL MARKET PARK, JUST AS THE WASHINGTON INFORMER IS NOT A GENERAL MARKET NEWSPAPER.

  7. Why does Eleanor Holmes Norton’s Southwest Waterfront Revitalization bill H.R. 2297 authorizing the overhaul of DC’s southwest waterfront protect the Lobster Memorial and the Titanic Memorial along the southwest waterfront while she blocks the re-authorization of the Benjamin Banneker Memorial for six years on the same southwest waterfront?

    Yet, she boards about graduating from Banneker Middle School for many years, and says that the Banneker Memorial is long overdue in her public appearances? Is this type of betrayal all too common among elected officials to their black constituencies because blacks do not hold their elected officials accountable?

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