Mayor Anthony A. Williams found himself with a Tiger Woods problem last week when he did a ceremonial bell-ringing event on behalf of the Salvation Army. The group's policies on homosexuality have become a target of the city's gay and lesbian community.
Woods has been the subject of intense pressure by feminists and others to boycott the Masters golf tournament next spring because its host, Augusta National Golf Club, excludes female members. Yet he has refused to skip the event, saying last month, "I think there should be women members. . . . But it's not up to me. I don't have voting rights."
Williams, who generally enjoys strong support from the gay community, is taking the same tack in defending his decision to participate in the Kettle Campaign Kickoff for the Salvation Army. He opposes its policies on homosexuality but supports its many good works.
The charity group lobbied the White House last year for an exemption from state and local policies barring discrimination against gays and lesbians in hiring. Salvation Army spokesman Bernie Dake said the group does not permit sexually active gays and lesbians to serve as ministers but does not discriminate in other jobs. The group has declined to extend domestic partnership benefits to employees.
"Those questions never come up," Dake said. "We would never ask your sexual orientation. If you want to help people, that's what we're in the business to do."
Although it does not discriminate in providing services based on sexual orientation, the Salvation Army's Web site says, "Scripture forbids sexual intimacy between members of the same sex. The Salvation Army believes, therefore, that Christians whose sexual orientation is primarily or exclusively same-sex are called upon to embrace celibacy as a way of life."
Bob Summersgill, president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, said the mayor should boycott events with the charity. "That's not something we want the mayor to be supporting," he said. "Lots of groups do good works that discriminate."
The flap reached the front page of the Washington Blade, which catalogued the outrage of gays and lesbians. It also unearthed the tantalizing fact that the mayor's adviser on such things, Wanda Alston, knew about the concerns but couldn't get higher-ups in Williams's office to do anything about it.
In the aftermath of the bell-ringing event, which also featured D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D), mayoral spokesman Tony Bullock said the activists were blowing the matter out of proportion.
"We're taking it to the point of absurdity," he said. "The mayor needs to be free to participate in an innocent holiday event. . . . We can't drag politics into everything."
Bullock noted that the Roman Catholic Church, of which the mayor is a member, prohibits women from becoming priests and is hardly progressive on homosexuality.
"Should the mayor stop practicing Catholicism?" Bullock asked.
Action, or Dirty Politics?
In some cases, one man's trash is another's treasure. In the case of District politics, however, one community's trash recently became a D.C. Council member's trash.
Activists in the Deanwood neighborhood of Ward 7, angry about continued illegal dumping in abandoned lots, took extraordinary action to demonstrate their frustration that city officials have not moved more quickly to clean up the lots.
One evening last week, about 20 residents traveled to the home of Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) and dumped trash on his lawn, driveway and sidewalk while distributing fliers explaining their unhappiness and discussing the situation with neighbors.
"Basically, abandoned lots have been a serious issue in Deanwood for a long, long time," said Steven Dooley, an organizer for the Deanwood chapter of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).
"People who move into this neighborhood are greatly affected by this. It's an issue they want taken care of, that the city has responsibility to take care of. But nothing has happened. We've written and called and talked with Chavous, and his office promised to clean it up."
Dooley and other community activists cited an agreement ACORN signed with Rodney Streeter, a member of Chavous's staff, in which Streeter promised to have the city clean 11 lots by Nov. 28. Only two have been cleaned, activists said.
"We've called," said Courtney Wood, who chairs Deanwood's ACORN chapter. "We had meetings before. Every time we meet, [Chavous] wants a plan, but nothing comes of the plans."
Chavous was outraged by ACORN's action. He said he has been working with various community groups, including Deanwood's Advisory Neighborhood Commission and a local church, to clean abandoned lots.
Of the ACORN agreement, he said that the city has cleaned seven of the 11 lots and that the others were delayed only because of the bureaucratic procedure necessary to secure a work order.
"Their motives aren't designed to help the community but to promote the ACORN agenda," Chavous said. "I'm not going to engage them at all. I'm not going to work with them at all.
"I'll work with the [other] leadership of the community. I did get a police report done. If we are able to link the fingerprints to any individual connection, we'll press for prosecution."
Chavous's wife called ACORN members and angrily told them that they had gone overboard because people other than the council member live at the house, including their two sons.
"It's outrageous," Chavous said. "There are ways to register your disagreement. This was an insult to me and the people I represent."
Asked if the group's action was extreme, Wood replied: "It wasn't overboard.
"Every day, we have to come home and look at lots infested with trash and drug paraphernalia. . . . We want him to have compassion for the people he represents. Yeah, get upset and feel it, just as I do when I walk out of my back yard."