Informer Fights City Agency's Contract Decision

James Wright | 8/22/2012, 12:02 p.m.

"It is our view that targeting a specific ethnic group does not meet the requirement of a newspaper of general circulation," he said.

Washington Informer supporters vehemently disagree with Giddis.

"The Washington Informer speaks for the entire community," said Nick McCoy, a political and gay rights activist.

"I generally get the newspaper on 14th and P Streets, N.W., but you can get it on Connecticut Avenue, in Bloomingdale and on Alabama Avenue in Southeast. The statement that it is not a newspaper of general circulation should be retracted."

John Zottoli, who lives in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Northwest and who is white, said 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, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, concurs, saying that the founders of The Washington 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 "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 Washington Informer helped him get back into school when he was kicked out because he wore dreads and that "The Washington Informer stands up for the people."

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

Johnny Barnes offered a detailed analysis of the paper's legal standing in this matter. The request for the stay of the Times contract is based on the fact that The Washington 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 Washington Informer serving a "specific ethnic group" may be in violation of District and federal civil rights laws. The Washington Informer is a Certified Business Enterprise in the District and has priority in contracts whereas the Times is not; The Washington 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 added that the basis of awarding 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 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."