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Ping-Pong Commissioner Update: A Challenger Is Born

Just hours before the deadline for this November's ballot, a political novice has stepped forward to challenge the upper Northwest Washington advisory neighborhood commissioner who took it upon himself to be the area's video vigilante, posting on YouTube whenever he sees horrors such as a restaurant offering passersby free ping-pong games along a Connecticut Avenue sidewalk.

The prospect of ANC commissioner Frank Winstead winning another term without opposition had some neighbors in near apoplexy. But while yesterday's D.C. primary left the city with only one likely tight race on the November ballot--the drive to succeed Carol Schwartz in an at-large seat that is reserved for a non-Democrat--residents in the Forest Hills area will indeed be treated to a real contest come the general election. Winstead's challenger is Tom Whitley, a resident of the city since 1992 who makes his living as a professional tour guide, showing off the District's history and architecture by foot, bicycle and auto.

Winstead--who has crusaded not only against improperly permitted ping-pong tables but also against unattended UPS trucks and double-parked beer trucks--has steadfastly ignored all requests for interviews or comment on his unusual approach to his duties as a neighborhood commissioner. But Whitley was happy to talk about his political debut.

His political resume is limited to work on behalf of fellow residents of his Connecticut Avenue apartment building and participation in the Politics and Prose bookshop's climate action program, but Whitley has also campaigned for others, including D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) and at-large council member Carol Schwartz (R).

Whitley says he feels compelled to give neighbors an alternative to Winstead's "anything but constructive approach." The challenger says he mainly wants his corner of the city to be "a friendly little neighborhood where, if people wants a few amenities, they should have them."

On the central issue of how much street life ought to be encouraged along the Connecticut Avenue retail strip from Fessenden Street to Nebraska Avenue NW, Whitley says "it would be great if it had a little more charm, people going up and down. Of course, new activity should conform to reasonable zoning regulations, but our attitude should be that if a restaurant owner really wants to boost the community, a little ping-pong would be a wonderful thing."

Sure, the D.C. school board has been reduced to a relatively meaningless, advisory role. And yes, Congress seems intent on continuing to run roughshod over the District's home rule. But those odd little advisory neighborhood commissions are still dotted all around the city, a tiny and not always terribly effective shred of democracy in a city that can't boast of much. In ANC 3F, at least, this fall's vote will present a real choice.

By Marc Fisher |  September 10, 2008; 7:45 AM ET
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Posted by: I win! | September 10, 2008 11:40 AM

Thank god. Winstead is an embarrassment to the neighborhood and to the entire ANC system.

Posted by: 20008 | September 10, 2008 11:45 AM

How can anyone truly evaluate Tom Whitley until they see what videos he's uploaded to YouTube?

Posted by: Terry | September 10, 2008 1:36 PM

That is fantastic news, Marc. Go Whitley!

In the district in which I live, our terror of a commissioner - who has won three uncontested elections - is facing two challengers this time around!

Carolyn Slaughter for 5C12!

Posted by: corbett | September 10, 2008 1:46 PM

I disagree that the "school board has been reduced to a relatively meaningless, advisory role." The State Board of Education, in addition to its advisory role, is also responsible for approving State-level policies. If the State Board conducts itself appropriately, it will exert significant influence on, among other things, educational standards, parental involvement, special education, and suppplemental education services providers.

Posted by: Ralph J. Chittams, Sr. | September 10, 2008 2:44 PM

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