City Council member Frank Smith (D-Ward 1), who holds a pivotal vote on major tenants' rights legislation that has been bottled up in committee for over a year, said yesterday he would oppose the measure until a group of about 50 tenants apologizes for demonstrating at his home Wednesday night.
The tenants, members of a coalition of tenants' organizations known as the D.C. Housing Action Council, are supporting a bill that would give tenants limited rights to make repairs to their apartments and deduct the costs from their rents. The measure is strongly opposed by many landlords.
Smith said the demonstrators arrived at his home about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday while he was not there and scared his two children. He complained that his 12-year-old daughter "thought it was the Ku Klux Klan."
"I will never speak to you until you apologize," said an angry Smith when confronted by 15 coalition members who showed up at the District Building yesterday morning.
"Ask him how many rats and roaches up there in our apartments have scared our children," one demonstrator shouted yesterday when an aide to Smith repeated the demand for an apology.
The protest Wednesday night was touched off when Smith angered the tenant activists by failing to show up at a meeting sponsored by the Housing Action Council. Smith said he had another commitment and sent an aide to the tenant meeting.
Grace Lewis, a leader of the Washington Innercity Self-Help organization, said about 100 tenants at the meeting Wednesday night were "people who have been without heat and hot water" and have other major housing problems.
"He will not get an apology," said Lewis. She said Smith's children did not appear to be frightened, but watched the demonstration from a window of Smith's row house on 18th Street NW.
Smith said later he did not object to demonstrations, but said the group was trespassing and should not hold protests at private homes. "I am not starting out my [council] career when any three drunks can get together and call themselves a group and come to my house," he said.
The "repair and deduct" legislation died in a housing committee last year, but a new bill by Hilda Mason (Statehood-At large) is now in the consumer and regulatory affairs committee.
Committee members Mason and John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2) are supporters of the legislation, while John Ray (D-At large) and Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) are opposed.
Smith, the fifth member of the committee, has expressed qualified support for the bill but has indicated he wants to see landlords better protected on the type of work that tenants can have done to their units. The measure needs three votes to get out of committee.
"They [the tenants] are making a real mistake," Smith said. "Instead of gaining another vote, what they did is lose a friend--at least for the moment."