Ellie Becker has come to represent the plight of countless area residents, battling GW in an effort to preserve the character of Foggy Bottom. But after functioning as the voice of her neighbors for fifteen years through the production of the Foggy Bottom News, Becker said it is time for her to move on.
Her departure also means the end of The News, which was financed by advertising revenue and the Foggy Bottom Association. The paper, which had a 46-year run, printed its last issue in July.
“My role is to be a concerned citizen and to help protect this neighborhood that I live in,” the 72-year-old Becker said. “The paper’s role is to keep everyone in the neighborhood in touch with one another and try to, as much as possible, keep this a community that we love.”
A small newspaper started in 1958, The Foggy Bottom News was a staple of the community, informing citizens of area happenings. In recent years, the paper was a platform from which several residents denounced GW’s expansion into residential Foggy Bottom.
“We inform people of news that they wouldn’t see in something like The Washington Post,” said News advertising manager Rita Champagne.
Becker decided last year that the neighborhood association’s efforts had evolved too much into a negative fight against GW and less about talking to people about the issues residents truly care about.
“GW in all their expansions has created convents against the University that are vocal and negative,” Becker said. “I am less interested in hating the University and more interested in just preserving our neighborhood.”
Becker said she understands that the community will not be the same without the paper but that her time to move on had come.
“It is certainly going to harm the community not to have this paper,” she said. “It is widely distributed, and most people are not going to be as aware of what is going on. I’m sorry if no one else wants to pick it up, but it was time for me to step down.”
Over the last decade, Becker has seen the publication process enter the computer age. But when she first started, Becker said she used to typeset the entire paper in her room and cut and paste each article on her living room ironing board.
From her first days of distributing the paper in 1989 to her final issue in July, no one is as reliable as Becker, Champagne said.
“In all my years volunteering for the newspaper never once did I have to worry about if there would be a paper,” Champagne said. “Ellie was always there, always working her hardest to get the paper out to the community.”
“Ellie did everything,” she continued. “She was a one-man band. She did the typeset, she cut and pasted it, she sent it to the printer and then all the volunteers distributed the 5,500 copies nine times a year. She’s always been very dependable, with or without the high-tech equipment.”
While she does not want to engage in an extended battle with the University, Becker decided to resign partly because she believes that GW has destroyed her community of row houses and sleepy streets.
“When I moved here you didn’t even know the University was here,” she said. “We had a very nice little neighborhood where everyone knew everyone on the street, and GW was very quietly on the other side of 23rd Street. When enrollment started going up is when we started to see problems. More trash on the streets, people walking around at all hours of the night, more noise.”
Becker is critical of University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who she said is neglecting the residents of Foggy Bottom and ruining the neighborhood.
“Trachtenberg thinks that he is making this a great University, but he needs to think about the community,” she said. “He has no concern for the people of the neighborhood. I am sure GW is a fine institution and becoming more and more popular, but it is putting our community and neighborhood in grave danger.”
In recent months, neighbors have complained about the construction of the Ivory Tower residence hall, GW’s push to extend the hours of Health and Wellness Center and the proposal to build a dorm on F Street.
“(One) of my favorite (stories) was a two-page spread that I did on Square 43 where Ivory Tower currently is,” she said.?”It had photographs and a write up about all the houses that GW tore down to build the Tower.”
Michael Akin, one of GW’s neighborhood liaisons, said that while he did not always see eye-to-eye with The News, he respects Becker’s work ethic.
“Ellie was the Foggy Bottom News,” Akin said. “She compiled the stories, ironed the copy together in her living room and delivered the papers around the neighborhood.”
The FBA plans to continue to write a newsletter that will be mailed to each paying member of the group.
“Ellie is a tremendous person and a hard working volunteer for the Foggy Bottom community,” FBA President Ron Cocome said. “We are going to miss her activity in The News and her dedication to the community.”
Becker, who sits on the FBA board, plans to continue volunteer work through tutoring and working to preserve the neighborhood.
“Sure I’m going to keep volunteering, it’s what I do,” she said. “Volunteers never die.”