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'Informer' Fights Contracts Agency's Decision

James Wright | , WI Staff Writer | 8/20/2012, 3:46 p.m.

John Zottoli, who lives in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Northwest and who is White, said that he's surprised with the board's reasoning.

"I am a faithful reader of the Informer," said Zottoli, 66. "I pick up the Informer at the Safeway on Columbia Road. I read the newspaper for the editorial and news sections."

Zottoli said that "he was offended" by the unspoken assertion that because he is White, he does not read the Informer.

Nathan Saunders, the president of the Washington Teachers' Union, said that the founders of the Informer gave the newspaper its name for a reason.

"Calvin and Wilhelmina Rolark did not name it the Washington Black Informer," Saunders said. "It is designed for all of Washington. It would not have lasted this long if it were only for blacks."

Roach Brown, an activist for the District's returning citizens, said that "you cannot find the Washington Times in Ben's Chili Bowl" and "the Washington Informer goes to federal penal facilities across the country."

Trayon White, who represents Ward 8 on the D.C. State Board of Education, said that the Informer helped him get back into school when he was kicked out because he wore dreads and that "the Informer stands up for the people."

"We need to support the black press," said White, 28.

Johnny Barnes filed legal documents asking for a stay or delay of the director's decision. He based the stay of implementing the contract to the Washington Times on the basis that the Informer has been a newspaper of general circulation as defined by the D.C. government since 1981; the language of Section 5 of the District law that applies to the situation "makes it clear that the Washington Informer qualifies as a newspaper of general circulation"; the decision by the contracts board's director on the basis of the Informer serving a "specific ethnic group" may be in violation of District and federal civil rights laws; the Informer is a Certified Business Enterprise in the District and has priority in contracts whereas the Times is not; the Informer has deep roots in the District and the demands for an automatic stay for discovery and a hearing have not been addressed.

Johnny Barnes said that the basis of the awarding of the contract is flawed.

"None can argue that anecdotally the likely subscribers to the Washington Times are conservative and Republican - the anecdotal opposite of the population of the District of Columbia, which is overwhelmingly Democratic and progressive," he said.

"If the Washington Informer newspaper can be disqualified because it appeals to a specific ethnic group, a similar disqualification can be leveled against the Washington Times, which some might subjectively argue appeals only to a certain ideological group. In truth and objectively, neither newspaper should be disqualified for such a reason, not permitted by law."