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.