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Item in The Washington Post, 11/30/00

Tower Fight Turns Heated

Debbi Wilgoren

In D.C. Superior Court, American Tower Inc. is battling Mayor Williams over his decision to revoke its permit to build a huge telecommunications tower just off Wisconsin Avenue NW in Tenleytown.

On the street, however, the enemy is not only Williams but the Tenleytown residents whose protests prompted the mayor's action early this fall. And the company has landed some unlikely allies.

William Reed, president of the Business Exchange Network and a longtime advocate for minority businesses, has signed his name to an advertisement that has appeared in The Washington Post and elsewhere accusing Williams of "pandering to the wealthy residents of Ward 3" in stopping the tower while allegedly ignoring the needs of inner-city neighborhoods.

The blistering letter to the mayor is short on facts--it doesn't mention, for example, the mayor's recently announced plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars improving neighborhoods in Wards 4, 6, 7 and 8--and long on invective.

"Word is out, Mr. Mayor," the headline blares. "Your Administration's favoritism toward affluent voters is inexcusable." Reed--a self-described Republican and "longtime friend" of former mayor Marion Barry's--is passionate about the issue, but not so passionate that he would pay out of his own pocket the thousands of dollars it must have cost to run the ads in The Post, Washington Times, Northwest Current and elsewhere.

Reed said "responsible citizens who are concerned" paid for the ads--not him. He would not elaborate.

The national anti-tax advocacy group Citizens Against Government Waste, which also has taken out ads decrying the tower stoppage and the lawsuit it has spawned, did not pay for Reed's ad, a spokesman said.

An official with the public relations firm hired by American Tower -- which is anything but a minority business--said the company also had nothing to do with the ads, though it did arrange some radio spots that ran on two local stations this month.

A spokeswoman for Williams said he had no comment on the ads.

On his Web site, Reed rails that Williams has replaced black city officials hired by Barry with white aides, and questions whether the mayor is "black enough" to lead this majority African American city.

"I wonder if he remembers where he came from," Reed said in an interview. "I think it needs to be pointed out to him."

Reed said he saw the tower issue through a similar racial lens.

Not surprisingly, the Tenleytown residents disagree. They say they persuaded the city to halt the project because it was approved in error, was being built dangerously close to the sidewalk and was simply too big for its lot.

Race, class and geography, they insist, had nothing to do with it. Indeed, Williams recently angered equally affluent residents of Cleveland Park, also in Ward 3, by allowing a controversial apartment building project to go forward.

"Fight us on the merits, surely. Fight us on the racial insinuations? No," said Tim Cooper, a leader of the Stop the Tower coalition. "It's just unseemly and unsightly and just totally inappropriate."

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