February 12, 2014 | by Mark Lee
Most mayoral hopefuls favor liquor-licensing reform
Mova, gay news, gay politics DC, alcohol, ANC, Adams Morgan, liquor license, licensing

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. (Washington Blade file photo by Pete Exis)

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.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

5 Comments
  • I liked my answer better: "
    I would eliminate the ABC and liquor licensing. If McDonald's wants to serve wine as it does abroad, it should be free to sell it and D.C. residents should be free to buy it, just as if they were in Quebec or Paris

  • I liked my answer:
    I would eliminate the ABC and liquor licensing. If McDonald’s wants to serve wine as it does abroad, it should be free to sell it and D.C. residents should be free to buy it, just as if they were in Quebec or Paris.

  • Mark, is there any scenario under which you think a challenge is legitimate or that a license should be restricted or denied? You seem to be as unilateral in your laissez faire approach as the neighborhood groups that you chastise are in their total prohibition approach.

  • Serving liquor entails certain obligations and responsibilities, but not all business owners operate with this understanding, and it is wrongheaded to cut off one of the neighbors' few means to hold them accountable. Case in point: a strip bar called the Macombo Lounge, which stands at the corner of my block. Its patrons routinely urinate on my neighbors' lawns and throw trash on the ground up and down the street. They congregate outside the entrance b/c they cannot smoke inside, so they draw panhandlers, dealers and loiterers. The corner is filthy (the club never sweeps) although a public trash receptacle stands nearby. They drop pornographic flyers along Georgia Ave. every Saturday night, in the path of families walking to the several neighborhood churches on Sunday morning. The crowd on the corner harass women passersby; my daughter walks home down a dark alley to avoid that corner. Shortly after the club closes their drunk patrons tromp down the street yelling and arguing or idling in their SUVs blaring aggressive music. They break into the residents' cars and homes in the half hour after the club closes, and drunk drivers careen down the residential street, damaging residents' cars and fleeing the scene (my own car, parked in front of my house, was totaled by at hit-and-run driver between 2-2:30 am last year). Last fall a woman leaving the club died from a stabbing by an acquaintance waiting for her outside. So your rating of the candidates turns the neighbors' problem on its head. Suddenly the neighbors are the problem. Muriel Bowser came out to the neighborhood after the stabbing (didn't see any other candidates out there). I believe she understands our concerns, and the other candidates do not, the exact opposite of what you've suggested here.

  • Spring is in the air and so is an election. How do I know this because all the Chap-stick is missing from the local CVS stores being used by the candidates to bend-down and get you’re vote!

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