Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Meet the man who wants Ramon Estrada's ANC seat

For the past eight years, Ramon Estrada has represented the constituents of ANC2B09. During that time he has cultivated his share of admirers and detractors for his strong positions and occasionally outspoken views. Love him, loathe him, or feel ambivalent, there's no denying that Estrada has played an integral role in the ongoing transformation of the 14th and U Street corridors throughout the past decade.

Now, however, Estrada finds himself in somewhat unfamiliar territory, for himself and most ANC commissioners: he's in a contested race.

Sunit Talapatra, a resident of the 1400 block of Swann Street NW, will be challenging Estrada for the ANC2B09 seat on the November 2 election. Given that Estrada has been something of a lightning rod in neighborhood politics over the past eight years, you might expect his challenger to be something of raging anti-Estradaite: pro-liquor license, anti-voluntary agreement and generally less confrontational. The differences between the two candidates, however, are a bit more subtle. Recently, 14thandyou had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Mr. Talapatra over coffee at the Mid-City Caffe to find out why he's running, what he'd do differently, and what he thinks about nightclubs with rooftop decks staying open until 5 AM. (Hint: he's not a fan.)

14thandyou: What initially drew you to the neighborhood?
Sunit Talapatra: In 2002, I was looking for a new place to live in DC, and I had narrowed by choices down to Georgetown, Adams-Morgan and Logan Circle. Georgetown felt a bit too established, while Adams-Morgan felt like a place I had passed in my life. In Logan however, I found a neighborhood that was being revitalized, wasn't unsafe, was walkable and central to everything. It had all of the aspects i was looking for in a neighborhood. I ended up buying a place near 14th and P, where I lived with my wife until we had children and needed more space, which is why we moved up to Swann Street.

14th: Why elect to run for the ANC2B seat now?
ST: Now that I've lived in the neighborhood awhile and have gotten to know the history, it's so much more interesting watching the things change, and I want to be a part of it. I want to be involved in the back-and-forth between the residents, businesses and the city, to foster partnerships between those group. And I want to be informed.

14th: Ramon Estrada seems to invoke rather strong feelings from those who have observed neighborhood politics over the years. Are you running against Mr. Estrada, or are you simply running for a seat that happens to be occupied by him?
ST: There's nothing that Ramon has done that makes me want to say "stop". In fact, I admire his years of civic service to the residents of the neighborhood. There's not much substantively different between us; ours is really a difference of style. I'm not challenging him because of who he is, there are simply some things I would do differently. For example, the ANC plays such a substantial role in the experience of residents in the neighborhood, but there's so little reporting on what the ANC is doing or why it's doing it. My focus is going to be on communication between residents and the ANC--to hold regular meetings with residents of my single member district (SMD), which is currently not being done; to own and operate a blog communicating what the ANC is doing; and so forth.

14th: A question that gets discussed frequently, on this blog and elsewhere, is the proper role of ANCs in the regulation of commerce in the neighborhood. What do you think is the appropriate role for an ANC commissioner to play in regards to regulating businesses in the neighborhood?
ST: I believe that the role of the ANC commissioner is to communicate the viewpoint of the SMD as a whole. One, two or three people should not be able to hijack an ANC, and a commissioner should be able to separate his or her own personal views from those of the SMD. If, for instance, I polled my constituents and discovered that they were supportive of a nightclub having a rooftop deck open until 5 AM, I would vote to support it. Although you can believe that I would be at every ABRA meeting as a neighborhood resident opposing it.

14th: Reading the candidate's statement on your Facebook page, you made a comment that I found interesting. You stated that you are "literally up at night thinking about ways to keep the noise and traffic off our streets." Can you expound on that?
ST: Actually, think I said that the traffic is keeping me up at night. (Ed.note: it is in fact the former.) But there's really not much you can do to keep noise and traffic off of 14th Street. I would like to increase the use of public transportation--Metro, MetroBus, the Circulator line--which would help keep fewer cars off the street. And I'm very supportive of the 14th Street streetscape project, with wider sidewalks that will hopefully increase foot traffic.

14th: In your candidate statement, you discuss the importance of building "healthy, respectful relationships" between businesses and residents. What do you think are the hallmarks of a healthy, respectful relationship?
ST: Well, for one, "no" is not an acceptable answer. You cannot go to a business owner who has the lawful right to do something and simply tell them "no." You should adopt a posture of cooperation. Businesses can help raise property values and improve the quality of life in a neighborhood, whereas restaurants need residents to patronize their establishments if they are going to succeed and prevent the neighborhood from deteriorating. If you say "no" to a proposed restaurant, you need supporting evidence beyond simply proximity. You need to take the pulse of the residents of your neighborhood when making a decision. It's not easy--this takes work.

14th: Speaking of restaurants, one thing that I've increasingly heard from people is that they feel the voluntary agreement process is flawed. So, do you think VAs work?
ST: Well, with VAs, it's pretty clear that most residents like them, and most businesses don't, mainly because they don't view them as "voluntary." I think there are aspects of the VA process that need to be changed. Otherwise, we risk losing businesses throughout the neighborhood.

14th: I don't know how much you have been following the efforts to brand the neighborhood as an "arts district." (Note: more info here.) Do you have any thoughts on that?
ST: Honestly, I haven't been following it very closely. However, I do believe that branding can help establish a community's identity.

14th: What would your message be to someone considering a move to the 14th and U street area?
ST: I would tell them that it's a fantastic neighborhood with everything you could want in an urban neighborhood: wide sidewalks, boutiques, restaurants, farmer's markets, professionals, artists. It's a very diverse neighborhood--i think the word I would use is "bohemian." It's a great neighborhood for people who don't want to live in the suburbs!

14th: Any final words you'd like to share with people regarding the upcoming election?
ST: I think the neighborhood needs a commissioner who can harness the wave of excitement surrounding our neighborhood. And I'd encourage people to visit my campaign website,


Mistr Knucklz said...

Are you going to give Estrada equal time?

Joe Neighbor said...

@ Mistr Knucklz: Mr. Estrada has plenty of time to voice his views over the last few years. He's a known quantity, to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Estrada has, in fact, prevailed in a previously contested race in his SMD. Much like Mr. Talapatra, the former opponent, showed no gumption in attending ANC meetings or volunteering in the community prior to announcing his candidacy. The rumor on the street is that the same disgruntled Swann Street neighbor who supported Mr. Estrada's last opponent,urged Mr. Talapatra to run, even though Mr. Talaptra's day job hardly allows the time needed to keep up with neighborhood issues.

Anonymous said...

I think this is an endorsement of Mr. Talapatra? If so good for you. Ramone is a career politician. Sure he has done some good bad and ugly but I think its time for change. Out with the old in with the new. Mr. Talapatra has my vote.

Mr. 14th & You said...

This is not an endorsement of Mr. Talapatra. I reached out to Mr. Estrada with a similar set of questions, and he did not respond. I would have been happy to include Mr. Estrada's responses had he gotten back to me.

Joel Lawson said...

I'm always amused by "the rumor on the street," which from Anon above clearly is in reference to me, as I've had a difficult time getting the kind of representation I would like, as a constituent, from my own ANC commissioner. I've also been greatly troubled by the actions he has sanctioned in the past, including videotaping bar patrons and filing protests that include license plate checks on cars parked in our neighborhood, all of which undercut residents no matter their opinion on various developments.

That having been said, I was delighted when I read on the DCBOEE site that my neighbor Sunit Talapatra had filed to run for ANC. I was even more delighted when two highly-respected longtime activists on our block emailed me to endorse and introduce Sunit to all of us.

Sunit has been subsequently endorsed by GreaterGreaterWashington, and more respected neighborhood activists, including Lee Granados. If the incumbent wishes to believe all of the people supporting Sunit are devoid of their abilities to make intelligent, independent decisions in a neighborhood matter, that speaks more of them, and more loudly, than Anon "rumors on the street."


PS For the record, additionally, I did not support the last challenger to Commissioner Estrada, but in hindsight certainly now view that lack of support as an error.

Anonymous said...

In response to:
Anonymous - "Mr. Talapatra to run, even though Mr. Talaptra's day job hardly allows the time needed to keep up with neighborhood issues."

So the new standard is that ANC commissioners must be retired, unemployed or unemployable?

LOL LOL I smell desperation.

Anonymous said...

It's unfortunate that the Blade and Joel Lawson continue to spread the falsehood that Ramon Estrada videotaped anyone.

I recently read that two revered past DCCA presidents, Bill Glew and Rob Halligan (who also served as ANC rep), who served multiple terms, have endorsed Ramon Estrada.

Anonymous said...

Of course, anyone who meets the eligibility criteria can run, but I'm voting for the candidate with experience. Too many people assume that they have the time to devote to community issues, but then burn out. ANC Commissioner is not a paid position.

As an attorney, who works 70 hours per week, I don't have the time to attend every meeting. I need a representative who is responsive and responsible. And, I've found Estrada to be both.

j & c said...

Sunit seems really nice and good for him for throwing his hat into the ring. Nonetheless, we will vote for Ramon, who helped us navigate the DC government maze to get approval for the addition to our row house.

Joel Lawson said...

"Anon": I stated that Commissioner Estrada SANCTIONED those highly-questionable tactics of his spouse, Elwyn Ferris, and the published facts are clear and supportive in that regard.

"Anon" and Mr. Estrada himself, to me directly, claim no association with his own spouse's nighttime videotaping of young LGBT bar patrons, or the running of license plate checks on cars, and other tactics.

Yet these and other highly questionable and clearly unprofessional tactics, and their resulting lengthy protest documents, required weeks of effort. For anyone to claim that Mr. Estrada had no knowledge of his own spouse's efforts, had no ability to suggest they were going too far--on matters directly impacting his role in representing us--is laughable.

Mr. Estrada had time to stop such nonsense over his eight years in office, but didn't. Mr. Estrada had eight years to hold a single SMD meeting, but hasn't. Mr. Estrada has had eight years to poll every residence outside of election time, but hasn't.

The question of time is clear: time for new energies, time to vote TODAY for Sunit Talapatra.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I wrote the first Anon entry and I have no idea who Joel Lawson is or why he took claim to my entry.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I wrote the first Anon entry and I have no idea who Joel Lawson is or why he took claim to my entry.

Anonymous said...

Confusion is understandable: there's a lot more than one resident of Swann Street displeased with the incumbent. I've received emails, seen facebook posts, and yard sign supporters on the block adding up.

Doug R. said...

Why do Ramon supporters post Anonymously? It's cowardly, and I value your views as much as those of scribblings on a restroom wall. I was Mr. Estrada's previous opponent and remain engaged in the neighborhood...serving on the DCCA board and attending ANC meetings. If you would like to splatter mud, use your name coward.

allison said...

Gee, I don't see any mud spattered here except by Sunit's named 'supporters'.

rich said...

Bill Glew's endorsement of Estrada speaks volumes.

Doug R. said...

Well Allison, I consider this MUD when it's not true: "Much like Mr. Talapatra, the former opponent, showed no gumption in attending ANC meetings or volunteering in the community prior to announcing his candidacy."

Doug R. said...

And thank you "Allison" and "Rich" for putting your names out there...well at least half of your names. It's really brave of you.

Joel Lawson said...

"We support Sunit Talapatra...Talapatra would represent the district in a more inclusive and collaborative way."

"...Given my involvement the past few months with the community and 17th Street Festival, I feel compelled to reach out this time. Sunit Talaptra is running against Ramon Estrada for ANC. He is a young and vibrant father of two who believes that living in an urban environment means working hard to collaborate with residents and businesses to maintain great neighborhoods. Sunit brings a strong commitment and vision that will represent all of us, not just a select few."

- Lee Granados, co-organizer of the 17th St Festival

Jim said...

I've attended many neighborhood meetings facilitated by Commissioner Estrada and whenever I have a question or issue that required his help, he's been there.

He's also worked effectively for balanced growth.

There's nothing wrong with someone new stepping up, but bashing a guy who has unselfishly served four terms (and as the Commission Chair for a good portion, chosen by the other commissioners)seems downright mean spirited.