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D.C. Official: Outdoor Seats At Pizza Place Will Mean Rapes And Murders

When a Washington neighborhood commissioner staged a nighttime surveillance of a Northwest pizza place and put the resulting video up on YouTube to prove what a threat to public safety an outdoor ping-pong table posed, the image of a ping-pong ball rolling out onto Connecticut Avenue was chilling enough.

But this week, that same commissioner, Frank Winstead, ratcheted up the scare rhetoric in a big way: At a meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F Monday night, in front of the largest crowd in the ANC's history, Winstead accused the owner of Comet Ping Pong of seeking to turn this quiet stretch of Connecticut Avenue in Forest Hills into a haven for rape and murder.

The crowd of about 100 residents--mainly fans of the pizza place--fell into an uproar and drowned out Winstead following this exchange, which you can hear for yourself on the audio recording of the meeting:

A supporter of Comet addressed the commission, which was considering owner James Alefantis's application to extend his opening hours deeper into the evening, provide musical entertainment inside his restaurant, and add a patio for outdoor seating out front. The woman asked the commissioners why they would want to restrict Comet and other local businesses so that she has to travel 25 blocks away to find a late-night place for food and drink. "Why am I denied the privilege and the pleasure of a venue less than a block and a half away?" the resident asked.

Winstead, who has taken it upon himself to act as the guardian of clear and quiet streets in his section of Northwest Washington, replied: "Safety. James is trying to turn this into Adams Morgan, with the murders, the rapes...." At this point, the crowd's roar overwhelmed the commissioner's remarks.

But Winstead wasn't done. Twice more during a 45-minute debate on the merits (and technicalities) of allowing a restaurant located on a commercial strip well apart from any residences to serve its loyal customers deep into the night, Winstead took off on Alefantis. He accused the owner of "filling up his fat wallet." Then Winstead started yelling about Alefantis spitting on customers' food. "He's lying, cheating!" the commissioner shouted.

Commission chairman Jane Solomon kept trying to rein in her wayward colleague ("Frank, that's not helpful"), but it was rough sledding for a while.

In the Forest Hills-Tenleytown area, the idea that a restaurant might stay open late, provide entertainment for its customers and--horrors!--even let folks sit outside on a summer's eve is a shocking invasion to some residents. But for once, the District's byzantine form of neighborhood democracy--which heavily favors the tiny group of people who despise any street life, cling to the notion that they live in a suburb, and have nothing better to do than attend ANC meetings--produced a result that reflects the wishes of the great majority who choose to live in the city expressly for the busy street activity Alefantis seeks to foster.

By a 4-3 vote, the commissioners approved everything Comet Ping Pong's owners sought. The eatery, if the city's alcoholic beverage control board agrees, will now be allowed to stay open till 2 a.m. on weeknights and 3 a.m. on weekends instead of until midnight. And Comet will be allowed to sponsor musical events as well as put up outdoor seating on the sidewalk where the ping-pong table stood until Winstead asked the D.C. government to have it removed. (Ping-pong tables will remain in the restaurant's large back room.)

"I don't think I've ever seen that much support for any establishment before," says Mital Gandhi, a commissioner who led the push for more lenient rules for Comet. Gandhi says the community made its distaste for Winstead's actions and words quite clear. "The whole crowd was just booing this guy. They were all disgusted."

Under the new agreement, the ANC has given Comet the leeway it needs to serve its customers and make a profit, and has made certain that neighbors are protected by getting Comet to hire a security person to assure that those leaving the restaurant late at night are quiet. "There is a balance with everything," Gandhi says. "I'm happy we found it with Comet."

Opponents of the new rules for Comet accused the restaurant of breaking its current restrictions by hosting bands before getting city permission to do so. And commissioner Cathy Wiss--who said she supported expanding Comet's hours because her younger neighbors want to be able to eat and drink at a place that's open late--nonetheless fretted that letting Comet stay open could "disturb the peace. We have gangs of American University students that walk down the middle of my street at 2 a.m. Fridays, Saturdays, yelling, screaming, singing, and my sense is that they've been out drinking somewhere," she said.

The trials and tribulations of life in leafy upper Northwest simply never cease to amaze--imagine, college students singing on their way home late at night. Could there be another community in the nation wracked with such problems? A ping-pong table on a sidewalk, a pizzeria that wants to put up outdoor seating, and of course, all those murders and rapes that naturally follow if people are permitted to dine after midnight. Surely there must be some solution to these urban ills.

I'm thinking, you know, checkpoints or something like that.

By Marc Fisher |  June 18, 2008; 7:25 AM ET
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"Then Winstead started yelling about Alefantis spitting on customers' food. "He's lying, cheating!" the commissioner shouted."

Sounds like MAJOR grounds for a lawsuit right there. That will be a great use of my tax dollars. This also sounds like DC has a psycho holding a position of power.

The question is: When will the people get fed up enough to give this guy HIS walking papers? And remind him he needs to keep walking. There are laws against loitering, right?

Posted by: DC Voter | June 18, 2008 7:47 AM

Great to see residents actually standing up to the ninny nanny NIMBYs on the ANC. If more residents showed up to these meetings, less idiocy would ensue. What Marc left out - which you couldn't tell from the audio recording - is that Winstead was wandering around the audience yelling at people during the meeting. Which brings up a question: Why aren't ANC meetings video recorded? Maybe if the ANCs knew people could watch their shenanigans, they'd exercise some responsibility and common sense.

Also, the guy's name is Mital Gandhi, not Mitra. And he just ended Winstead's political career with his audio recording of the meeting.

Posted by: To the Barricades! | June 18, 2008 7:55 AM

Great post Marc. Good to see that the right decision prevailed. The only nit I have to pick is the comment about the drunk college kids singing in the street. Having lived next to a group of college kids in a rental, this is NOT a fun situation. Regardless, good follow-up and hopefully Winstead will just disappear.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | June 18, 2008 7:59 AM

i think the residents that support comet should chain this idiot to the nearest tree, gag him and force him to watch people having fun. it would be torture this idjit

Posted by: nall92 | June 18, 2008 9:07 AM

Wow, and to imagine people eating, drinking and conversing in a city.

Winstead has to go. I loved the "If you don't like it, vote me out. I dare you".

Great stuff from someone who will certainly be going away soon.

Posted by: Lukas | June 18, 2008 10:03 AM

In a prior life was Winstead known as Pants Man? What an a-hole.

Posted by: Spectator2 | June 18, 2008 10:46 AM

The suburbs offer all the quiet that some of these folks seem to want. It's certainly a reasonable choice. But why do people choose to live in a "lively" city then want to eliminate the liveliness?

Posted by: ah | June 18, 2008 11:24 AM

D.C. should do away with ANC commissioners, are they not doing the work of "Councilpersons"?

They tend to be disrespectful blow hards that retard progress and embarrass their local neighbors with their, sometimes vulgar, verbal attacks upon city leaders.

Posted by: Concernedaboutdc | June 18, 2008 11:29 AM

I also believe the ANC needs to be rethought. Some act like they do the work of the council, which they don't. I found that as soon as my ANC rep introduced me to my police lieutenant, the school administration, the zoning people, the business association, then I didn't need them. I have a lot of issues with oligarchical bodies creating themselves as community voices when they are nothing of the kind, the community needs to have real input in the form of publicly elected officials who can work with businesses and others, but it's quite obvious in this case that Winstead does not have the support of his constituents and therefore is acting in an undemocratic fashion.

I have been asked many times to run for ANC, but a volunteer position with about 90 minutes of work per day is not what I want out of life.

Posted by: DCer | June 18, 2008 11:48 AM

Frank is up for reelection this fall and yes he is nuts and a complete weirdo (I have been to the meetings)and trust me, he really doesn't have anything better to do. But this is not his first term. He has always been "out there" to put it mildly and the same folks keep re-electing him and I suspect they will again. The ANCs need term limits. I think people would be shocked to know how many commissioners have been "serving" for decades.

Posted by: Frank isn't going anywhere | June 18, 2008 11:50 AM

Who were the morons, besides Winstead, who voted against Comet?

Posted by: Stick | June 18, 2008 12:13 PM

Arlington- We were all in college once, most likely sung while walking down sidewalks at some point and it's part of living in a close in neighborhood. As long as it's on the weekends, why is it such a huge annoyance?

If you don't like it find a cul-de-sac in the outer suburbs with nothing near by. That way you can just hear crickets.

That goes for everyone complaining about a lack of quiet. Buy earplugs or move.

Posted by: Alex, VA | June 18, 2008 12:17 PM

This story is just priceless. Not only is Winstead a complete jackass (and doubtless he's such an egomaniac he is reading ALL of these comments repeatedly), but he lost!

Ha ha. Loser, loser, loser! The forces of license and degeneracy are on the march. There's nothing you can do to stop us!

Posted by: Pizza + Jackass = Entertainment | June 18, 2008 12:49 PM

When is it an annoyance? When you have college kids not singing but cursing loudly, throwing bottles, piling into cars obviously drunk, throwing up and urinating in your front yard and then getting upset with you when you start mowing your lawn at 10 am on a Saturday. This is what many of us have to deal with in the Clarendon neighborhood.

I have no problem with people having fun and most people do respect the people in the neighborhood. However there's always a few who don't care and then pile in their cars for the drive out to Fairfax or Reston leaving us to clean up their mess.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | June 18, 2008 12:54 PM

We have our share of college students, and they do have parties once in a while, but we just close the windows and turn on the fans. (We hosted a party or two during our college days!) Younger people with no kids add a bit of vibrancy to our neighborhood, which would otherwise be pretty Mayberryesque. Also---maybe since we don't call the cops on them every time they play guitar on the front porch?--they sometimes toss a football with our kids and have even been known to babysit! I kind of like having them around.

Posted by: Glover Park, DC | June 18, 2008 12:58 PM

Well like I said- if that's what you have to deal with in Clarendon (an area close to a lot of bars and restaurants) then either find some way to put up with it or leave.

If they are piling into cars and you don't think there is a designated driver call the police with the tag number. If they are urinating in your yard put up a fence or notify police so they can be around the next weekend to defer them.

I just think there are other options then trying to completely shut down neighborhoods by 9pm. This is the only major city I can think of (and I include Alexandria and Arlington in the city title) where there aren't places open to eat late at night.

Posted by: Alex, VA | June 18, 2008 1:10 PM

Mital Ghandi is a member of the ABC Board and should not even be participating in ABC-related issues in his duties as an ANC Commissioner...

Posted by: Adams Morgan | June 18, 2008 1:13 PM

Make DC a state and the first thing that will happen is that ANCs will be seen as an unnecessary evil and will be SLICED OUT OF THE EQUATION AND PEOPLE LIKE AS SWHO LE WINSTEAD WILL FIND THEIR JOYS WANKI NG OFF TO KIDDIE PORN.

Posted by: ANCs -- out! | June 18, 2008 1:14 PM

If you don't want drunk college kids messing up your lawn or singing late at night, don't buy a house near a campus. DUH! Just like those morons who buy near a hospital and complain about those inconsiderate ambulances, lights and sirens going full blast, trying to save peoples' lives. Sheeesh.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 18, 2008 1:15 PM

Classic. I only wish I lived in this ANC area so I could run against him. Great to see a victory against NIMBYs

Posted by: DCJim | June 18, 2008 1:22 PM

I'm sorry Alex, VA, but you're wrong. Sure, people making noise once in awhile is one thing - we all do it. But it's another thing to live next to college kids that drink heavily then shout, scream, curse, play sports, and play drinking games with a house full of people both inside and out until 3 or 4 in the morning, every weekend, and many weekend nights in between. At that point you're showing a complete lack of consideration for the other people that share the neighborhood and making them suffer at the expense of your own good time. Instead of showing some common sense and courtesy, a lot of these kids feel entitled that it's their god given right to raise as much hell as they want and everyone else be damned. A little common sense and courtesy can go a long way.

Posted by: Ballston | June 18, 2008 1:24 PM

And...DUH...a lot of the people that live in Arlington have owned their homes long before it became a public toilet for binge drinking 20 somethings. So by your logic, if people that don't like noise should move to the suburbs, then people that do like it should show the same respect when they visit those neighborhoods.

Posted by: Ballston, VA | June 18, 2008 1:32 PM

I won't post again but this issue can be beat to death butI do agree with Ballston. I've lived in Clarendon for 25 years - long before the bars and the restaurants were there. I'm not asking for them to shut down at 10 pm in fact I love having late night dining options. My problem is simply with the lack of respect that a few people have towards those that live in the neighborhood around these areas. I don't want cops patrolling and issuing tickets but I would like for some of our younger residents and visitors to show a little respect to those of us outside of the 18-29 age bracket who have to get up in the morning. Have your fun, sing your songs in the streets but move it inside quickly. Unfortunately this is a concept that is too difficult for some people to fully understand.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | June 18, 2008 1:41 PM

To Adams Morgan: Yes, Mital Gandhi is both an elected ANC commissioner and an appointed member of the city's ABC Board. Because of that potential conflict, he recused himself from sitting in judgment of Comet's application to the ABC Board so that he could discharge his duties at the ANC on this matter.

Posted by: Fisher | June 18, 2008 2:58 PM

Ugh, I think this guy might be my commissioner. I need to start attending these meetings.

I did my best to vote against the NIMBY candidate the only time I remember voting for ANC, but it's not easy to get information on these things. The only way I could decide was to vote against the candidate who opposed locating some kind of public facility in the neighborhood.

We need more urban life, not less, in that part of NW.

Posted by: csdiego | June 18, 2008 3:03 PM

Pizza kills.

But if you don't like living with college kids around, I suggest not buying a home near college kids.

Also, as an added benefit, if you don't like airplane noise, don't live near an airport.

Posted by: Capt. Obvious | June 18, 2008 3:29 PM

The ridiculous thing about the 'rape and murder' crack was the way Winstead gestured at the 150+ people at the meeting. Like WE were the rapists and murderers. What an officious prig.

Posted by: nwdc | June 18, 2008 4:01 PM

There is a solution. Start turning old people into soylent green. It's bad enough I have to pay for their prescription drugs and their Medicare to keep them alive even longer.

Posted by: JB | June 18, 2008 6:46 PM

Marc - You hit the nail on the head with this article. Winstead needs to go -- I was at the meeting and he even dared us to vote him out of office. His remarks were disgraceful about Rape and Murder.

Also, I think Ghandi handled this very well. If it wasn't for his leadership (and vote) Comet would have had a long road ahead of them. People were thanking him when they were leaving. Someone had asked who the other Commissioners are that voted against it: It's Karen Perry, Dan Klibanoff along with the craziest of them all, Frank Winstead. Vote them all out!

Go Comet! I love their pizza and will love it even more after midnight and a jazz band playing in the background. Whatever happens we need to get this knucklehead Winstead out of town.

Posted by: Comet KING | June 18, 2008 9:16 PM

Jane Soloman, Susan Banta and Mital Ghandi are the heroes of that ANC. If all of the ANC Commissioners citywide were like them, the institution would be highly respected.

Posted by: and | June 18, 2008 10:48 PM

Winstead needs a shadow. Not a stalker mind you. But people need to keep an eye on him. Nobody is that perfect and sooner or later the idiot will mess up. Maybe he doesn't recycle properly. Maybe he doesn't clean the snow off his sidewalk or keep his grass cut short enough. Maybe he drinks a bottle of wine with dinner and then drives home.

When he does mess up, and he will, post it here on Marc's blog.

It doesn't matter if it is relevant to the current topic - people who have read this blog for a while know that the current topic just gets people started and off they go on a tangent.

And if he is doing something illegal call the police.

We need to know all we can about this bozo before the next election. And maybe we can get him a few tickets issued in the meantime.

Posted by: DC Voter | June 19, 2008 7:51 AM

Sorry Capt Obvious, but that's an overly simplistic take on it. Sure, if you move across the street from "State U" then you should know what you're getting into, but it's another thing when longstanding homeowners have to put up with disrespectful and disruptive packs of drunks because suddenly a hangout opens up nearby that is popular with college kids.

Respect goes both ways; what's annoying is that sense of entitlement that is implied in posts like Alex, VA above - I'm in college, and I'm going to be loud and drunk as I want to be, so if you don't like it then you need to put in earplugs or get out of my way. Blech - what a selfish attitude.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 19, 2008 9:27 AM

Honestly, no joke - someone please run against this lunatic. If no one does, he'll be back in office.

Posted by: Andrew | June 19, 2008 9:34 AM

After Frank the Freak goes, then it's time to set sights on Karen Perry, another whiner who cannot accept that DC is a city. She is almost as bad as Winstead, and needs to go also. This is the year we take back our neighborhoods, and break up their little, pathetic clique. Very few support you, Perry/Winstead, and you're about to find out how few.

Posted by: Disgusted in NW | June 25, 2008 1:48 PM

Maybe government shouldn't even exist at this micro level. Hour long discussions about outdoor cafes... that's not helping anyone, anywhere. It's dysfunctional nitpicking. And if you give the wrong people (Winstead) the power to oversee this minutia, the result is humorless overthinking...and overregulation.

It's great that Marc Fischer is highlighting how absurd this is. No one normally pays attention to how ridiculous this can get, but more people probably should.

In other parts of this same city, kids are carrying guns. Step back and get some goddamn perspective.

Posted by: Murderer/Rapist | June 29, 2008 10:20 PM

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