The 10 of 13 D.C. Council members seeking re-election or aspiring to be mayor have got some explaining to do – as do their challengers.
This time their answer will count.
No segment of D.C. residents is more familiar with the long-dysfunctional manner by which the District government conducts licensing procedures for alcohol-serving establishments than the LGBT community. Gay residents have witnessed firsthand and over many years a lengthy litany of renegade objections to the bar, restaurant, lounge and nightclub businesses serving our community and the neighborhoods we populate and patronize.
For that reason, it comes as no surprise that the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) has included in the organization’s mayoral and D.C. Council candidate rating questionnaire an inquiry whether the vote-seeker supports strengthening “reform of alcohol licensing to eliminate standing for non-representative groups.”
Candidates must respond to a specific question: “Will you support strengthening Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) reforms by eliminating license protests filed by citizens associations and ad hoc groups, requiring stakeholders to participate in the community process provided by the Advisory Neighborhood Commission?”
This is not the first time that GLAA has included LGBT concerns regarding alcohol-licensing regulations in its election survey. This year’s policy statement and rating question, both released last week, have been updated to focus on the most critical area for repair.
This question is one of only 12 that will determine overall scoring for the coveted non-partisan candidate ratings issued by the respected LGBT legislative watchdog and advocacy group prior to both the April 1 primary and the general election. The full policy statement on LGBT issues is available on the organization’s website.
With the gay community comprising 10 percent of the District’s adult population, the political importance of LGBT voters to electoral success is well understood. In fact, many observers estimate that the community’s vote share is even greater due to higher participation rates.
Enlivening a discussion on D.C. politics among gay voters requires only the utterance of three words – Hank’s Oyster Bar. The infamous seven-year battle waged against the lesbian-owned Dupont Circle neighborhood venue by seven intractable opponents, many also members of a small so-called citizens association, is merely one embarrassing reminder of the need for reform.
The ability of “Gang of 5” ad hoc groups – referencing the minimum number of objectors required – and special interest “citizens groups” to directly intervene in opposing licensing applications or renewals allows a vocal minority to exercise a power greater than the community as a whole. Such protests delay licensing and cost local small businesses tens of thousands of dollars – all in an attempt to deny or delay approvals in the hope of extracting operating restrictions.
Fairness advocates, gay and lesbian business owners, and an overwhelming majority of residents support requiring “stakeholders to participate in an equitable community process, as best provided by means of the ‘great weight’ accorded” the elected Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), as GLAA specifies in its policy summary.
While some ANCs are also prone to manipulating the licensing scheme, their opportunity to offer advisory recommendations to city agency officials is guaranteed by protocol – as is their ability to file license protests. They also provide the only accessible and open community setting allowing all interested parties to weigh in with their business support or statutorily relevant concerns.
GLAA notes an important caveat to the role of ANCs in licensing matters, cautioning that the “common practice by ANCs … of using licensing protests to impose special operating restrictions on licensees dilutes equitable regulatory application, arbitrarily diminishes license value, and inappropriately establishes barriers to fair business competition.” While city officials have recently imposed some modest limits on licensing restrictions, much more needs to be done to ensure that the system is equitable and objective and governed by citywide law.
Given the muddled mess that is the D.C. liquor licensing system, it’s one step at a time.
GLAA has marked the path for the next one.