July 12, 2012 at 11:13 am EDT | by Robert Turner
Reeves Building should house LGBT community center

Frank Reeves was a lawyer for the NAACP who served on the legal team that ended school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education.  He also got Marion Barry out of some legal troubles before Barry was an elected official.  For both of those reasons, he’s the namesake of the municipal center at 14th and U streets.

It would be fitting, just as the NAACP has endorsed marriage equality for gays and lesbians, for the Frank Reeves Municipal Center to house the DC Center, which provides services for the local LGBT community. Gay organizations such as the Mautner Project and Whitman-Walker Health, along with community groups such as the Meridian Hill Neighborhood Association and the U Street Neighborhood Association, backed the move.  DC Log Cabin Republicans happily joined that list of supporters.

Nine of 13 members of the D.C. Council—Jim Graham, Jack Evans, Mary Cheh, Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, David Catania, Michael Brown, Vincent Orange, and Phil Mendelson—signed letters supporting the move. Unfortunately, the municipal building decided to go with the highest bidder, rumored to be a restaurant.

On the one hand, this seems odd. A municipal building should be giving priority to public projects, and the DC Center would seem a better candidate for the space than a chic eatery. This would seem doubly so with so much of the Council behind it.

On the other hand, this is Washington, D.C. Our local government spent about $10.4 billion in FY 2011. The city of Los Angeles, despite serving about 3 million more people and covering several hundred more square miles, got by with $6.9 billion. The issue at hand is that our Council spends a bloated budget with remarkably little oversight: no county board of supervisors or state government reins in the Council. D.C. Council members get tremendous leeway to reward donors.

A shrewd restaurateur, in all likelihood, has quietly donated money to various Council candidates (who won’t be removed by voters but by federal investigations). Of course, the restaurant owner would spend a few thousand dollars on a Council race.  Given that the “jumbo slice” places frequently clear $10,000 in a single weekend, getting space in a prime location like 14th and U is a no-brainer.

The worst that is likely to happen is that these various Council members will issue press releases saying harsh things about the restaurateur, who will cry all the way to the bank. As for D.C. taxpayers, those future press releases will mean as much as the Council members’ previous letters of support for the Reeves Building hosting the DC Center: nothing.

Robert Turner is president of the D.C. chapter of Log Cabin Republicans. Reach him at robert.turner@dclogcabin.org or @DCBigPappa.

  • Before capricious and spurious accusations are hurled around about bribery by ANY business owner, I think it’s important to recognize that the “gravy train” days are over in the District. The commercial business — whether a restaurant or any other type of commercial enterprise — can pay market rate for the space, something the Center cannot do. Instead of always looking to go on the government dole, the Center should get busy with fundraising and looking at alternate creative partnerships in locating space. Casting bitter aspersions in the wake of being outbid for the space is unseemly.

  • In addition to what Tom has said, writing like this is beneath the dignity of the supposed queer newspaper of record. The author makes a string of serious allegations based solely on speculation. Also, while I do not usually jump to the defense of the D.C. Government, comparing municipal finances between D.C. and L.A. is pointless unless you take into account the services that the latter receives from its state, its county, and its single-purpose governments such as the LAUSD.

  • Further, I would add that if the DC Center was fairly reimbursed for the services it provides the city for free, they most likely would be able to pay full-market rent. In other cities when non-profit organizations provide services to the city – such as cultural competency trainings, police trainings, technical assistance to agencies, victim assistance to crime victims that can’t otherwise get culturally appropriate services, substance abuse and mental health referrals … the non-profit organization is PAID a fair price to provide these services to the city. And that money makes it easier for them to pay their rent (or more likely their mortgage).

    The City has an obligation to make sure all District residents have equal access to city services. But more often than not, when the city falls short (such as a failure to provide adequate services to male victims of domestic violence. requiring technical assistance to make appropriate mental health referrals at the Office of Victim Services, or not having adequately trained on how to take care of LGBT crime victims, non-profits are expected to provide these services for free. And is that really fair? LGBT folks have a right to expect the same service from the DC Government that straight people get. Why should we be required to financially subsidize the DC City Government just to get the fair and equal treatment we deserve.

    If the city’s budget is in such bad shape that they can’t afford to pay non-profits for these services (and clearly the budget is not in such a state of repair that this money could not be found, but that is the excuse non-profits are most often given), than the least they can do is assist non-profits by giving them reasonably affordable (and currently unused) space in a public building.

    There is certainly precedent for them to do it. The International AIDS Conference enjoys thousands of square feet of free office space from the city. In the Reeves Center alone, there are numerous organizations that have free office space.

    The DC Center did not ask for free space as these groups did. They simply asked for reasonably affordable space.The real question is why do some non-profit groups get free space, while other non-profit groups that come with cash in hand are turned away? Why the disparity?

  • And lastly I might add that nobody is looking for a ‘gravy train’. Honestly, it would be nice if the DC Center could provide even a fraction of the services that most civilized cities offer at their local LGBT community centers.

    Nobody wants to get on ‘the dole’ as one comment so callously suggests. And nobody gets rich-quick helping people at a community center. Yes, every non-profit should raise money through individual donors, grants, and diverse funding streams, but the city must also do it’s part.

    Wait until it is your neighbor who is attacked in has their face bashed in, and then come tell me that we need to solve this problem on our own and not expect any help from our government. Perhaps you can plan the bake-sale that will address this problem? I would be curious to see it.

    Yes the community must (and is) doing it’s party. So must our city.

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