Every election the non-partisan Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance elicits candidate positions on issues of interest to the LGBT community. GLAA’s policy brief and questionnaire is the basis for ratings assigned to D.C. vote-seekers. GLAA will soon release scores for candidates competing in the April 1 party primaries.
This campaign cycle candidates have been asked a specific question regarding the next step in reforming the city’s alcohol licensing system for bars and restaurants. Repairing regulations to ensure the process is fixed to be fair for local businesses has long been of compelling concern to the gay community. LGBT residents have witnessed how existing rules allow infamous “Gang of 5” ad hoc license protest groups and small “citizens groups” to directly intervene, attempting to delay or deny licensing.
With LGBT voters comprising 10 percent of the District’s adult population, and likely a higher percentage of voters, candidates covet a high rating.
The question, one of 12, is as follows: “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?”
While all candidates, including those competing for Council seats, were asked to respond, here’s how the seven-of-eight questionnaire-returning Democratic mayoral candidates measured up:
• Best Answer: Mayor Vincent Gray. He’s a “YES” and demonstrates his keen understanding of the need for reform while clearly enunciating why: “Frivolous licensing protests filed with the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) stand in the way of businesses operating free of special operating protocols. Protests by ad hoc groups…should not interfere with the issuance of ABC licenses to businesses.”
• Great Answer: D.C. Council member Jack Evans. He’s a “YES” and provides a rationale: “I have heard from both residents and businesses that the ABC Board takes too long to make decisions. I think this needs to be a more decisive process…Dragging out some of these cases months and months really can be very unfair to everyone and unnecessarily divisive.”
• Good Answer: Restaurateur Andy Shallal. He’s a “YES” and utilizes his direct experience with the licensing scheme: “I am familiar with the problems that face the owners of restaurants that serve alcohol. My restaurants all serve alcohol, and I have had to deal with the ABC’s regulations for each of them.”
• Straightforward Answer: D.C. Council member Vincent Orange. He’s a “YES” – his solitary affirmative response.
• “Gets It” Answer: Reta Jo Lewis. Although beginning, “I will have to study this issue with greater detail,” she notes, “I am the daughter of entrepreneurs – small business owners. I have a tremendous respect for creating great communities through small business, innovation and entrepreneurship. The current regulations…caus[e] significant barriers for small businesses…all of our processes are convoluted and outdated. I know we can do better.”
• Most Disappointing Answer: D.C. Council member Tommy Wells. He declines to answer the question, instead stating, “This is a proposal that needs further study.” He goes on to contort the issue, failing to reprise his passionate arguments in favor of this specific proposition from the dais during Council debate leading to modest initial reforms in Dec. 2012 limiting “Gang of 5” protests.
• Worst Answer: D.C. Council member Muriel Bowser. She fails to answer the question, utilizing a politician’s “dodge,” but indicates she is “not inclined to limit their ability to protest licenses,” albeit incorrectly referencing ANCs. While Bowser has consistently exhibited reluctance, ambivalence and lack of leadership on licensing reform, she notes joining a Council majority approving “some limitations” of protest groups. Trying to play both sides, however, she “continue[s] to think they lend value to the process.”
With long-overdue reforms supported by most mayoral candidates, it is hoped that courage will strengthen Council candidate backbones. Down ballot, some remain fearful of a diminishing few shrill voices while the broader electorate grows intolerant of fealty to their shenanigans.