Mayoral flip-flop leads to flap over Bellevue library name
Residents of the Bellevue neighborhood in far Southwest and the DC Library Board of Trustees have called for the new library there to be named after the neighborhood. But Mayor Gray, who initially stood with the residents, has changed his position to name it after a former school board member.
Mayor Gray is now supporting controversial legislation to re-name the neighborhood's new 22,000 square foot library after former School Board member William Lockridge.
"The Mayor has flipped his position," Dionne Brown, President of Bellevue Library Friends and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for SMD 8D07, says.
At a hearing last week to consider separate bills, introduced to the City Council more than six months ago, designating the library and five blocks of Valley Avenue SE after Lockridge, Francisco Fimbres, Director of the Office of Neighborhood Engagement, delivered testimony of behalf of Mayor Gray:
"[W]e are aware that the DC Public Library Board of Trustees and the Friends of the Washington Highlands Library have taken recent actions in support of re-naming the Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library as the Bellevue Library instead of the William Lockridge Library, and that the Library Board of Trustees has had a general policy to name buildings after the geographical communities in which they are located."Fimbres noted the District's public space naming statute prohibits two spaces from having the same name. Without endorsing which public space, the street or the library, should bear Lockridge's name, Fimbres offered, "the Gray administration supports the Council moving forward with only one public space designation bill," that the community and Lockridge family can support and rally around.
Later in the day, however, Gray back-stepped from his earlier statement and supported the re-naming of the library after Lockridge in a letter to Council Chairman Kwame Brown.
In fact, a public space has already been named for Lockridge; the baseball diamond at Oxon Run Park on Wheeler Road SE and Mississippi Avenue SE. The Mayor dedicated it himself. A plaque bearing Mr. Lockridge's likeness is installed there. Given the Mayor's stated position on naming only one space, no further legislation should be considered.
"[W]e respectfully request this bill not be given further consideration on the grounds that Mr. Lockridge did not tirelessly work on libraries in his community," John Hill, President of the DC Library Board of Trustees and CEO of the Federal City Council, wrote in his public testimony. Hill and others expressed that naming one of Ward 8's 21 schools after Lockridge would be more befitting.
Initially, the Bellevue Civic Association proposed renaming the library after Wilhelmina Rolark, noted Civil Rights attorney and four-term Ward 8 councilmember. They deferred to the library's policy, only to have the Mayor ignore the Board's policy and recommend a less accomplished individual.
In doing so, neither the Mayor nor City Council consulted the local Friends organization, Chief Librarian, Library Board of Trustees, Council Committee on Libraries, Parks, and Recreation or other library stakeholders on advocating the library bear Lockridge's namesake.
"The Bellevue Library Friends and the library community in general have been totally marginalized and disrespected in this process," contends Brown.
On July 27 the Library Board of Trustees voted unanimously to rename Washington Highlands Library "Bellevue" to reflect the actual neighborhood where it is located. In the fall of 2009, the Bellevue Civic Association and Friends of Washington Highlands Library submitted a name change request to Ginnie Cooper, DCPL's Chief Librarian. Cooper agreed the new library represented an opportunity to make an impact on the community's identity.
With the March 2010 shooting on South Capitol Street, across the street from the library, positive branding is needed to distinguish the Ward 8 neighborhood according to residents.
In remarks Tuesday at George Washington University, Gray attempted to delineate Ward 8 neighborhoods. "And for those who may not know, and I'm not trying to be flippant, but Anacostia and Ward 8 are not synonymous, alright? Anacostia is part of Ward 8. There's Congress Heights, there's Bellevue."
Although Mayor Gray apparently recognizes and promotes Bellevue when speaking to a downtown, academic audience, he doesn't support the neighborhood's new library bearing its own name.
"Petworth is in Petworth, Cleveland Park is in Cleveland Park, Shaw is in Shaw, Deanwood is in Deanwood," says Brown. "The library in Bellevue should be in Bellevue especially given that most city residents, including those who live in the neighborhood, don't even know where Bellevue is."
While the community has played by the rules and established processes for renaming branch libraries, the Mayor and Council Chairman are abusing their power for political patronage.
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