Topher Mathews, publisher of neighborhood blog The Georgetown Metropolitan, has launched a bid for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E, running to replace retiring longtime Commissioner Joe Gibbons.
Since 2008, Mathews has observed the comings and goings of the Georgetown neighborhood, cataloguing them all on his website. Mathews also served on the board of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, a neighborhood organization promoting safety, beautification and historical preservation, from 2011 until 2020, chairing the transportation committee. He was inspired to run after Gibbons announced his retirement this year.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s deleterious effect on the neighborhood, including Georgetown restaurants, also spurred Mathews’ campaign. He said he supports expanding outdoor dining to help the food service industry bounce back safely. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s (D) plan allowing indoor service at 50% capacity poses a health risk, according to Mathews.
“With the pandemic, obviously it’s hitting the restaurants in particular the hardest. I certainly support the efforts to provide safe places for them to continue their business,” Mathews said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “I would say I am skeptical, or I do not agree fully with the Mayor’s steps to aggressively bring back indoor dining. I don’t agree with that, I think that’s not appropriate at this point.”
Mathews would also like to bring the Slow Streets initiative, a program launched in June by the District Department of Transportation, which limits traffic and provides more space for pedestrian social distancing, to select streets in Georgetown with restaurants open for outdoor dining.
“I think we should go further to make the streets around the streateries, particularly the ones that are not on Wisconsin or M Street, more pleasant,” Mathews said. “I would definitely be for bringing Slow Streets to N Street, because you have Martin’s Tavern on one side, Cafe Georgetown on the other.”
The constituency Mathews would represent if elected, Small Member District 02, is home to many Georgetown students living off campus. Mathews sees students as residents just like anyone else he would represent.
“Ultimately, students living in the neighborhood are still just regular people living in the neighborhood, and they shop at restaurants and stores and ultimately are no different from people who are not students,” Mathews said. “The things that I would fight for would appeal to them just as much.”
Another question facing the Georgetown neighborhood is how to aid people experiencing homelessness. Citywide, family homelessness has decreased over the past five years, while at the same time, the rate at which families exit homelessness has also decreased, according to Street Sense Media.
Just policies would restore the housing status and mental health of the homeless, according to Mathews.
“I certainly support the construction of more housing for people that can’t otherwise find it,” Mathews said. “And certainly there’s a mental health aspect to a lot of people who are experiencing homelessness that can be addressed from a housing perspective but also really has to be addressed from a public health perspective.”
This summer saw a nationwide backlash against racial injustice and the police killings of unarmed Black people, with Black Lives Matter protests organized throughout Washington, D.C. Although Mathews supports shifting some duties away from law enforcement, he does not endorse defunding the police.
“I would not say I support the general proposition of that, but I certainly support a lot of the elements of that,” Mathews said. “Primarily shifting a lot of the responsibilities away that are not ideally served by somebody with a gun, away from that, and with the increase of social services serving a lot of those roles; I certainly support those aspects. It’s hard to buy into a motto like that without necessarily knowing what the specific provisions would be for MPD specifically.”
Another hot topic Mathews weighed in on is the management transfer of Duke Ellington Field in Burleith from District of Columbia Public Schools to the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation. After a DPR controversially granted a local private school privileged access to another field in the neighborhood, residents worried students might lose access to Duke Ellington Field too, although DPR maintains access will remain the same.
ANC 2E weighed in with a resolution calling for the city to prioritize public school access to the field. DPR is better suited to manage the field, according to Mathews.
“I definitely support the shifting of Duke Ellington over to DPR,” Mathews said. “I know there’s a lot of concerns from people in the Burleith neighborhood of the ramifications of that, but I think it would be an asset better managed by the department that runs it as its primary responsibility.”