Eastern Market To Permit Political Petitioning Pending Implementation of New Policy
Issue Exposes Tension Between Petitioners and Vendors
by Larry Janezich
Wednesday night, Eastern Market manager Barry Margeson told the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC), that a draft policy regarding the rules and regulations for “everybody who is on our space” was currently under review by city lawyers and the new policy takes effect, Eastern Market will permit political petitioning. It was unclear whether petitioners will be restricted to a certain area or areas under the Market’s control.
Until the draft policy is made public, it is also unclear what other changes will be made and how it will address the complaints of the sellers of the newspaper Street Sense, who in recent months have been banned from vending on 7th Street between Pennsylvania and North Carolina Avenues. SE. One seller who was present Wednesday night, Conrad Cheek, Jr., complained he sold Street Sense near Eastern Market until he was “kicked off the corner.” Cheek claims the restrictions have cost him one-third of his income, and vowed to appear on his old corner near the market this weekend; “I will be here selling my paper,” he told the EMCAC meeting, hinting that he has consulted a lawyer.
Broadening the policy to permit – (at least) political petitioning – will not come without some grumbling by the Eastern Market street vendors who view the petitioners and other vendors as problematic because they interfere with access to their businesses. Artist Joe Snyder who operates a stand on 7th Street on weekends said petitioning is a distraction for vendors. Vendor Anita Jefferson said petitioners impede traffic and thus impede public safety.
The petitioning issue illustrates some of the multi-dimensional tensions that exist between Eastern Market and the community which are being addressed in a piecemeal fashion, speaking to the need for a new stronger market governing structure to better coordinate the resolution of problems as the Market moves forward in a more competitive environment which is characterized by a changing demographic.
The outside vendors contribute substantially to the financial stability of the market, but often fail to acknowledge the sacrifices the community makes in order to provide them with space to operate – e.g., the closing of 7th Street – and the parking difficulties nearby residents encounter on weekends as the market becomes more of a destination rather than a walk-to food outlet. And although a more rigorous enforcement of the parking policy in the spaces between the market and the natatorium has made more parking available to shoppers on weekends, the inside merchants are not convinced that the closing of 7th Street to accommodate street vendors has worked to their benefit. ANC6B is currently working with DDOT to develop a parking policy to help protect weekend parking for residents close to Eastern Market.
ANC6B Commissioner Ivan Frishberg said that the petitioning issue went beyond leaving it up to lawyers who can find a way to defend anything, noting “this is our town square.” He said “we don’t want anything promulgated without EMCAC and ANC(6B) review.” Frischberg said he would like to see the draft policy at the next meeting (which won’t come until near the end of September). Margeson agreed to refer the draft policy to the ANC.
The petitioning issue received city-wide attention owing to a recent news report by WRC/NBC TV reporter Tom Sherwood who witnessed the prevention of political petitioning on space controlled by Eastern Market.
Sherwood not only tweeted about it but called the Mayor’s Office, Council Member Tommy Wells’ office, and the Department of General Services. He subsequently received assurances from DSG that they had no intention of banning political petitioning at the market.