City Agency Backs Down On Eastern Market Petitioning Ban
by Larry Janezich
The Department of General Services (DSG) has reversed a policy of prohibiting political petitioners from collecting signatures at Capitol Hill’s Eastern Market on weekends. The original policy appeared to be part of enforcement of a ban on unapproved vending which was included in the mayor’s order providing for weekend closing of 7th Street, SE, between Pennsylvania and North Carolina Avenues, SE. The closing was done in part to provide space for expansion of Eastern Market’s outdoor vending operation, much of which used to take place inside the building’s North Hall before the building’s destruction by fire and reconstruction.
In recent months, patrons of the market had noticed the banishment of the Street Sense newspaper vendors from spaces adjacent to the Market, but the issue became public in late June when petitioners were prevented from gathering signatures for an initiative to put the legalization of marijuana on the ballot. The following weekend, petitioners – including ANC6B Commissioner Brian Pate – gathering signatures for District Congressional Representative candidate Tim Krepp were allowed to operate in the same location from which the MJ petitioners had been banned. Once Pate was made aware of the disparity in policy, he suggested this might be a First Amendment issue and contacted Barry Margeson, Eastern Market Manager. Margeson directs the operation of the Protective Services Division which provides security at the Market on weekends and enforces the closing of 7th Street. Pressed on the legitimacy of the policy by Capitol Hill Corner, Margeson said that there was no written policy, and he would seek to have the issue placed on the agenda of Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee at its July 30 meeting. In the meantime, he said, he would seek clarification from DGS legal counsel.
On July 12, Margeson emailed Capitol Hill Corner, “…in regards to petitioning at Eastern Market… I’m sure you have heard it from Brian Pate and perhaps others. We are currently working on a policy regarding usage of the entire space managed by Eastern Market/DGS (roughly 7th from Penn to NC, the North Hall Plaza and the Natatorium). It will encompass vendors, farmers, solicitors, petitioners, musicians, etc. It will tie together some of the disparate permits and applications that we already have.
Until this policy has been put in place, we have asked Protective Services Division to stand down in their enforcement of petitioning. This went well last weekend. We had a small hiccup this weekend because the word did not get out to everyone. But we are back on track… I hope that we will have a draft of the policy for the EMCAC meeting if not before.”
The “small hiccup” referred to above apparently involved political petitioners again being prevented from collecting signatures, but this time it was observed by local WRC/NBC TV reporter Tom Sherwood. Sherwood not only tweeted about it but called the Mayor’s Office, Council Member Tommy Wells’ office, and the Department of General Services. You can see his report here: http://bit.ly/1pjFIMx
The upshot, Sherwood reports, was that DSG has clarified the policy to insure there are no restrictions on political petitioners at the Market. Sherwood quotes DSG spokesperson Kenneth Diggs as saying “We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to sign petitions.”