November 28, 2012 | by Mark Lee
Did Jack Evans learn nothing from Hank’s battle?

It’s not clear that D.C. Council member Jack Evans knows who his constituents are anymore.

His lack of familiarity with the prevailing sentiment of residents new and not that he represents was apparent in his public comments regarding pending D.C. Council alcohol licensing reform initiatives, as reported by Washington Post city hall scribe Tim Craig last week.

Evans frets that the now widely acknowledged necessity of finally fixing the District’s out-of-balance liquor licensing system has somehow “swung too far away from residents.” Which residents, he doesn’t specify.

Perhaps Evans has forgotten the nearly 2,500 constituents, residents and local patrons who recently bombarded his inbox. They were outraged over the ability of only a handful of people comprising an infamous “Gang of 5” license protest group to continue their ongoing seven-year-long licensing battle against Hank’s Oyster Bar. The well-respected establishment is located in Evans’ domain.

The emails and online messages he received pleaded for both the Council member’s help with chef/restaurateur Jamie Leeds’ battle to reopen the full outdoor dining area at her popular neighborhood eatery and to repair a system that allowed a sudden protest-forced patio closure to occur at all.

Instead, the Ward 2 Council member has suddenly announced that he no longer supports even the timid and inadequate reforms in a bill that bears his name as a co-sponsor.

It’s a startling flip-flop, especially in light of his having happily touted a vibrant nightlife as central to the city’s future only the previous week at a black-tie birthday celebration for D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. The party was held at a new nightclub south of Dupont Circle in northwest Washington, also in Evans’ district. Incredulously, Evans claims credit for helping the business cut through the regulatory process, allowing the venue to open in a timely manner.

Evans represents D.C.’s center-city district stretching from Georgetown to the U.S. Capitol. It encompasses core commercial areas and the largest number of alcohol-licensed hospitality and nightlife enterprises in Washington.

His Ward 2 area includes many of the most rapidly developing residential areas in a quickly growing city. The ward experienced the highest population growth in D.C. in recent years, requiring a reconfiguration to equalize its population with other districts.

As chairman of the Council’s Committee on Finance and Revenue, Evans understands how critical hospitality businesses are to the District’s financial foundation. But instead of championing regulatory reform and supporting meaningful measures to repair the rules, Evans is wringing his hands over the overwrought bluster of an incessantly whining tiny cadre of obstinate objectors.

Worse, he ignores that it is the current broken system that allows only protesting groups to participate in the process. Instead of advocating that all voices should be heard in the open forum provided by elected Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) that already enjoy “legal standing,” Evans appears willing to preserve outdated regulations that permit tiny ad hoc groups and small self-proclaimed citizens associations to directly intervene in licensing matters.

Manipulating the process to impose restrictions inconsistent with citywide operating rules is their tactic and trademark. These unrepresentative groups utilize coercive threats of licensing delays with concomitant huge costs and revenue losses to force surrender to their demands. The result is a patchwork of irregular restrictions creating competitive disadvantages and consumer inequality.

You have to feel sorry for Evans’ colleague and companion Council member Jim Graham. While also desiring to keep the unruly paper tiger of an always-angry uber-minority at bay as best he can, Graham engaged in a months-long conscientious effort advancing legislative discussion toward restoring common-sense fairness and order to a regulatory scheme clearly run amok.

It must be frustrating for Graham, seated on a dais with Evans and other Council members twisted in knots trembling over what dwindling reform opponents might opine.

Wisdom, Council members: good stead accrues in respecting a thoughtful majority of fair-minded citizens clamoring for leadership on these issues.

We’ve long tired of watching you agonize. We’re angry that you don’t have cause to care – or possess the courage of conviction.

Most of all, we can’t comprehend why you’re filled with such fear of so few.

Mark Lee is a local small business manager and long-time community business advocate. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

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