There are signs today that The Man’s posture of salutary neglect toward Occupy D.C. might be coming to an end.
First you have Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) telling WRC-TV’s Tom Sherwood that the public is starting “to lose patience” with the protests, which are now approaching their third month.
And then you have Jim Dinegar, CEO of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, appearing today on WAMU-FM’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, offering some of the most aggressive comments to date on the ongoing protests.
• “Businesses are well past the patience point with Occupy D.C. ... The District is being abused by the Occupiers.”
• “McPherson Square will be a toxic waste dump for the next couple of years to clean that park up.”
• “People are reluctant to go downtown. ... This is tourist season and you want to attract people to the downtown area, not repel them.”
• “When you’re looking to attract that next 15 or 20,000-person convention ... these aren’t the images you want to see on TV.”
• “Unless someone begins to push back, this will continue to escalate. ... ‘Well, you got kicked out of Philly, come on down here. You got kicked out of New York, come on down here.’ No, don’t come down here!”
That is quite a departure from what have been the standard talking points to date, which have expressed “mutual respect” between businesses, residents and protesters and the need to balance First Amendment rights with the city’s desire to conduct business as usual. Question is, where is this new sentiment coming from?
Notably, a group representing the businesses and property owners most directly affected by the protests at McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza isn’t yet joining Dinegar’s calls to oust the protesters ASAP.
”We certainly want to respect the Occupiers and their rights,” said Karyn Le Blanc, spokeswoman for the Downtown Business Improvement District. “This is unprecedented and uncharted territory. We are watching and monitoring what’s going on, and we’ll continue to do that until somebody makes a determination that they will be allowed to stay for an indefinite amount of time or whether they will be asked to leave.”
Note that Dinegar in his comments did not criticize Gray and District government for their handling of the protests. His ire is directed squarely at the federal government: “More of this rests with the Department of Interior and the Park Service in giving the permits and extending it,” Dinegar said. “There is no city in the country except for the Washington, D.C., area that has accommodated these protesters to this extent.”
In other words, what you’re witnessing here is the first throbs of what could become a major headache for the White House in the coming weeks.