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Tim Krepp’s Activism Works Because He Gets How Absurd This City Is

Tim Krepp’s Activism Works Because He Gets How Absurd This City Is
Tim Krepp pushes kids down Capitol Hill during the protest that led to Congress overturning a longstanding sledding ban. Photograph by Michael Reynolds via Alamy.

In September, when Orange and Silver Line trains began skipping the Stadium-Armory stop at rush hour due to a transformer fire, Metro dispatched workers to the station for a couple of days but soon left riders to their own devices. Many passengers got all the way to the platform before discovering they’d have a 12-minute hole in their commute.

This was a job for Tim Krepp. A professional tour guide, former Navy officer, and erstwhile congressional candidate, Krepp is a self-appointed activist for matters relating to livability around Capitol Hill. Accompanied by his seven-year-old daughter, he walked down to the station and taped up notices at the top of the escalators. The photocopied note, beginning ATTENTION METRO RIDERS!, might have been a station manager’s ad hoc attempt at informing the public, until the cheeky kicker—”Good luck!”—that stuck the landing.

Krepp’s small-bore betterment efforts often come with an upbeat, almost snarky tone that captures the absurdity of living in a city dominated by the federal bureaucracy and yet without much of a say in the government that sustains it.

“It’s the appendix of governmental relationships, a vestigial organ that makes no sense in today’s environment,” says Krepp, who finds Washingtonians “a little whiny about it.” In Krepp’s worldview, “it’s low-hanging fruit for comedy.”

And comedy is fodder for protest. When John Oliver made an impassioned plea for DC statehood on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, in August—ending the segment with children warbling singsongy statehood anthem—some DC parents quickly marshaled their kids to sing the tune on the Capitol steps to drive Oliver’s points home to Congress. (“Let them have gun laws! Let them have weed! Let them decide the things that they need!”) On the resulting You Tube video, celebrated on local blogs, Krepp plays Oliver’s role.

#singfreeordie for DC Statehood

Did you miss John Oliver's fantastic segment on District statehood last week? Catch our own homegrown version, brought to you at the Capitol this morning by a distinctly Ward 6 cast. #singfreeordie

Posted by Charles Allen on Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sometimes his civic action—whose motto might be “Oh, come on!”—actually works. Krepp was a ringleader last March when kids defied a Hill police ban on sledding down the Capitol’s front lawn. The prohibition was overturned in May.

Krepp is careful to explain that he’s only the mouthpiece for what he insists are neighborhood efforts: “The other conspirators tend to be the chief of staff to whoever. I’m the one guy who can be the face of it.”

Krepp, 41, grew up in New York and North Carolina. He attributes his leadership bent to seven years of Navy service, two of them at the Office of Naval Intelligence in Suitland. On retirement, he sidestepped defense-contractor jobs in favor of a househusband’s life. He “stumbled upon” his second career leading school tours in 2006, delighted to make use of his George Washington University history degree. “The thing about guiding is that it’s retail history,” he says. “If you can’t sell it to an eighth-grader, then what’s the point?”

Krepp’s championing of the city, professionally and on behalf of his neighbors, prompted some of them occasionally to write him in at the voting booth as an alternative to Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s unsinkable nonvoting delegate to the House. Last year, Krepp decided to make a legitimate run as an Independent.

On Twitter, where he spends a lot of time getting into arguments over city issues—often consequential ones, but just as often ridiculous ones—Krepp's followers delighted at seeing his name printed on a ballot, coining the hashtag #Kreppmentum.

His campaign was self-effacing from the outset, probably a wise move for a candidate with improbably long odds. Its logo was a drawing of his weighty eyebrows and his slogan read "Seriously? Seriously." But Krepp himself took it seriously: he met with voters in their living rooms, raised nearly $8,000, plastered curbs with signs, and challenged Norton to debate, which she didn’t acknowledge. He got 9,101 votes, placing third; Norton won with 81 percent of the vote. While his loss was almost guaranteed, he wonders what he might have done had he pulled off the unlikeliest of upsets.

"I would have had so much fun with that seat," Krepp says. "I’m not really interested in power, but the power to fight something and make a difference. We don’t set high standards for ourselves as a city, and we set mediocre standards and fail to achieve them across the board."

Krepp says he has no plans to run again—jokey write-in votes aside—but he hasn't exactly shaken off the politician-speak.

“I’m not going to sit here and badmouth Eleanor Holmes Norton because I don’t have a problem with her," he says. "I think she’s fine. I just don’t think she’s going to come up with any new ideas.”

Even though Krepp's political career is on ice (for now), "Kreppmentum" has been noticed by some of the city's actual elected officials.

"Take the sledding thing, for example," says DC Council member Elissa Silverman. "My aunt in Massachusetts saw that story and she was cheering him on."

Krepp's latest notions have been about the redevelopment of the RFK Stadium site, where he’d like to see something other than another NFL facility. That potentially pits him against DC mayor Muriel Bowser, who wants to repatriate the football team that currently plays in Landover. Krepp doesn’t have anything big planned yet, but when he does, he says, he’ll “have fun with it.”

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.