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Gay couple seeks to block U St. liquor licenses

Nightlife advocates say ban on new bars stifles development

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Alcohol, drinks, gay news, Washington Blade
Marc Morgan, Log Cabin Republicans, Republican Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Gay Republican activist Marc Morgan said a moratorium on liquor licenses would hurt economic development in his area. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gay former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Ramon Estrada and his partner, civic activist Elwyn Ferris, are playing a key role in what many believe will be a heated battle over whether the city should ban all new bars and restaurants with liquor licenses from opening in the rapidly developing 14th and U streets, N.W. corridor.

The recently formed Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance, for which Ferris serves as secretary and Estrada is a member, and the lesser known Residential Action Coalition, filed a petition in December with the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board calling for the moratorium.

Gay nightlife advocates, who strongly oppose such a moratorium, acknowledge that the proposal isn’t directed at gay bars or the gay community. But similar to their straight counterparts, they say the proposal would stifle economic development in a vibrant area where large numbers of LGBT people have moved because they embrace the nightlife amenities.

Neither Estrada nor Ferris returned a call from the Blade seeking their views on the issue.

Joan Sterling, president of Shaw-Dupont Citizens Alliance, said Estrada and Ferris are working with her in advocating for the moratorium. She said the moratorium is needed to help reverse what she believes is an alarming rise in crime, parking problems, trash and neighborhood disturbances due to the “over concentration” of liquor serving establishments.

“The issuance of further licenses in the zone would only exacerbate the problems that already affect our neighborhood,” said Sterling, who co-signed the 18-page petition her group and the Residential Action Coalition filed Dec. 10 with the ABC Board.

Opponents of the moratorium have lined up close to 800 people who signed an online petition urging the ABC Board to reject the proposal. Many of them, including gay nightlife advocate Mark Lee, argue that it’s unfair to blame all or most of the crime and other neighborhood problems on bars and restaurants.

They note that existing liquor license moratoriums in Georgetown, Dupont Circle, and Adams Morgan have not curtailed the problems they were supposed to address and, in some instances, resulted in vacant buildings that could have been occupied by restaurants.

“The Logan Circle, U Street and Shaw neighborhoods with large numbers of gay and lesbian residents overwhelmingly support the diverse dining, socializing and entertainment options we enjoy much more than we are willing to tolerate a tiny pseudo citizens group claiming to represent us while pressing for a liquor license moratorium,” Lee told the Blade.

“We don’t want to freeze development in a huge swath of our city with a rapidly growing population,” he said. “We want existing venues to grow and new establishments opening to meet rising demand and attracting other retail businesses…We want to preserve the vibrant community life that caused us to make these areas our home.”

Lee is a regular Blade columnist.

Sterling dismisses these arguments, saying there are 107 existing liquor licenses in the proposed moratorium zone.

“How can anyone claim this won’t remain a vibrant area for bars and restaurants?” she said.

The proposed moratorium would cover a circular area with an 1,800 foot radius, with the middle of the 1200 block of U Street being at the center. Small sections of neighborhoods in Dupont Circle, Logan Circle and Shaw would be covered along with U Street between 15th Street and 8th Street and surrounding streets.

In its northern most point, the area would extend to Clifton Street and its southern boundary would extend to R Street.

Gay ANC Commissioner Alexander Padro, who also serves as executive director of the community group Shaw Main Streets, Inc., said the proposed moratorium’s ban on new restaurants would have a harmful impact on Shaw.

“Restaurants are an important part of the quality of life that residents are seeking and supporting with their dollars,” he told the Blade. “Making it impossible for a newly constructed or newly vacant retail space to house a restaurant or bar could result in a long-term vacancy that would have serious repercussions for the property owner and the community.”

Under provisions of the city’s liquor law, the ABC Board is required to give “great weight” to the views of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions on liquor licensing matters, including a proposed moratorium. Padro’s ANC, ANC 6E; ANC 1B, which covers the 14th and U Street area; ANC 2F of Logan Circle, and 2B of Dupont Circle will all be weighing in on whether or not the moratorium should be approved.

Representatives of each of the four ANCs told the Blade they are currently assessing the views of the residents of their districts on the matter. Matt Raymond, chair of ANC 2F, and Noah Smith, a member of ANC 2B whose district is within the proposed moratorium area, said the four ANCs may hold a joint public hearing on the moratorium proposal in the next month or two.

“If we come to similar conclusions, our great weight will be ever greater with the ABC Board,” Smith said.

Gay Republican activist Marc Morgan, who was re-elected in November to his ANC 1B01 seat, said he too believes a moratorium would hurt businesses and economic development in his ANC area.

“We want to come up with a strong plan to address the problems raised by the advocates for a moratorium,” he said. “I don’t think a moratorium is the best way to address those problems.”

None of the ANC officials contacted by the Blade were willing to predict how their commissions would vote on the moratorium. However, sources familiar with the ANCs impacted by the moratorium have said at least three of the four ANCs are leaning against such a moratorium and would likely vote to oppose it.

If the ABC Board should vote to deny the moratorium petition, the matter would end, according to observers familiar with the process. However, if the board votes to approve it, the D.C. City Council has the authority to make the final decision on the matter.

Gay D.C. City Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who chairs the committee that oversees liquor licensing matters and in whose ward most of the moratorium zone is located, said he wants to hear from his constituents on the issue before taking a position. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) feels it is “premature” to weigh in on the issue, according to his communications director Mark Bjorge.

Kathryn Eckles, president of the Residential Action Coalition, told the Blade that although she and her group strongly support the moratorium, the RAC did not hold a meeting to officially vote to file the moratorium petition with the ABC Board.

ABC licensing consultant Andrew Kline, who specializes in liquor licensing and liquor law issues, said the law requires organizations filing a petition seeking a liquor license moratorium to hold a meeting with an advance notice to give all members of the organization an opportunity to vote on the issue.

It couldn’t immediately be determined whether the RAC’s apparent failure to hold a meeting to vote on the issue would disqualify the group from having legal standing to file the petition.

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District of Columbia

Capital Stonewall Democrats backs Robert White over Bowser

LGBTQ group endorses Erin Palmer over incumbent Mendelson

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Council member Robert White won the backing of Capital Stonewall Democrats in his bid for mayor over incumbent Muriel Bowser. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, announced on May 17 that it has selected D.C. Council member Robert White (D-At-Large) over incumbent Mayor Muriel Bowser and political newcomer Erin Palmer over D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson as its endorsed candidates in the city’s June 21 Democratic primary.

With Bowser and Mendelson as well as White having longstanding records of support for LGBTQ rights and Palmer expressing strong support for the LGBTQ community, local observers say the LGBTQ Democratic group’s 163 voting members appear to have based their endorsement decisions on other pressing issues facing the city rather than only LGBTQ specific issues.

In other races, Capital Stonewall Democrats, formerly known as the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, which was founded in 1976, voted to endorse incumbent Ward 1 Council member Brianne Nadeau over gay former D.C. police officer Salah Czapary and community activist Sabel Harris who are running against Nadeau.

In the Ward 5 Council race, the group has endorsed gay D.C. Board of Education member Zachary Parker in a five-candidate contest for the seat being vacated by incumbent Council member Kenyan McDuffie, who ran unsuccessfully for the office of D.C. Attorney General.

The group has also endorsed Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who is running unopposed in the primary; D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who’s favored to win re-election against two lesser-known opponents; and D.C. shadow U.S. Rep. Oye Owolewa, who’s also favored over a lesser known opponent.

Capital Stonewall Democrats announced it did not make an endorsement in the Ward 3 and At-Large D.C. Council races and in the D.C. Attorney General race because no candidate received a required 60 percent of the vote under the group’s longstanding rules for endorsements.

By not endorsing in the At-Large race, the group passed over incumbent At-Large Council member Anita Bonds, a longtime supporter of LGBTQ issues. Bonds is being challenged by Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Lisa Gore, former D.C. shadow House member Nate Fleming, and former D.C. Council staffer Dexter Williams.

In the hotly contested Ward 3 Council race, nine candidates are competing for the seat being vacated by incumbent Mary Cheh, another longtime LGBTQ rights supporter.

In the race for attorney general, three prominent local attorneys — Brian Schwalb, Ryan Jones, and Bruce Spiva — are competing for the AG position being vacated by incumbent Karl Racine, who chose not to run for re-election.

Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsements follow a series of five LGBTQ candidate forums the group held virtually in which most of the candidates running in the various races attended.
In the group’s mayoral form, Bowser was the only one of the four mayoral contenders that did not attend. Her supporters said she had a conflicting event organized by gay Democratic activist Kurt Vorndran that prevented her from attending the Stonewall event.

Those who attended the mayoral forum were Robert White, D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Trayon White (D-Ward 8), and former attorney and community activist James Butler.
A detailed vote tally released by Capital Stonewall Democrats shows the vote count for each of the endorsed candidates as well as candidates in the races for which the group did not make an endorsement.

In the mayoral race, Robert White received 120 votes, or 74.5 percent. Bowser came in second place with 37 votes or 23.0 percent; Trayon White received just two votes or 1.2 percent, with Butler receiving just 1 vote at 0.6 percent. One vote was cast for no endorsement.

In the D.C. Council Chair race, Palmer received 89 votes or 60.1 percent, just surpassing the 60 percent threshold needed for an endorsement. Mendelson received 48 votes or 32.4 percent. Eleven votes were cast for no endorsement.

In the Ward 1 Council race, Nadeau received 100 votes or 69.4 percent compared to gay candidate Czapary, who came in second place with 23 votes or 16.0 percent. Candidate Sabel Harris came in third place with 9 votes or 6.3 percent, with a no endorsement selection receiving 12 votes or 8.3 percent.

In the Ward 5 contest, gay school board member Parker received 91 votes or 64.5 percent. Candidate Faith Hubbard came in second with 31 votes or 22.0 percent. The remaining candidates received fewer than 10 votes each, including former At-Large and former Ward 5 Council member Vincent Orange, who received 5 votes or 3.5 percent.

“Since Capital Stonewall Democrats has only 221 members, and only 163 bothered to vote, this is clearly not representative of the LGBTQ+ community in the District,” said gay Democratic activist Peter Rosenstein, who is supporting Bowser for mayor.

But longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights advocate A. Billy S. Jones-Hennin is among the local activists who view the Capital Stonewall Democrats’ endorsement of lesser-known challengers – most of whom have progressive, left-leaning views – as a reflection of changes in the demographics of the LGBTQ community and the Stonewall group’s members.

“At the forefront for voters is who they feel can address core problems like crime, open drug transactions, and increased homeless populations,” Jones-Hennin told the Blade. “Just asking voters for support based on their support of the LGBTQ+ community in the past does not cut it,” he said. “We are multi-faceted voters looking for new, more progressive and aggressive leadership.”

The Capital Stonewall Democrats list of endorsements as well as races with no endorsement can be viewed below:

• Mayor: Robert White, with 74.5% of the round one vote
• DC Attorney General: No Endorsement
• DC Council Chair: Erin Palmer, with 60.1% of the round one vote
• Ward 1 Council: Brianne K. Nadeau, with 69.4% of the round one vote
• Ward 3 Council: No Endorsement
• Ward 5 Council: Zachary Parker, with 64.5% of the round one vote
• Ward 6 Council: Charles Allen, with 83.2% of the round one vote
• At-Large Council: No Endorsement
• Delegate to U.S. House of Representatives: Eleanor Holmes Norton, with 69.7% of the round one vote
• U.S. Representative: Oye Owolewa, with 66.1% of the round one vote

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District of Columbia

Pannell resigns in protest from Ward 8 Council member’s LGBT Commission

Says Trayon White has no out member of his staff

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Phil Pannell resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Longtime D.C. LGBTQ rights activist Phil Pannell announced on May 6 that he has resigned as a member of the Ward 8 LGBT Commission created by D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8) on grounds that White does not have an LGBTQ person on his Council staff.

White’s office has said the Council member created the commission to “focus on the specific needs of this community” in his role as a supporter of LGBTQ equality.

“For me, this is a major issue of inclusion, affirmative action and diversity,” Pannell said in an email message announcing his resignation. “I as a Black Gay man cannot in good conscience continue to be a member of my Councilmember’s LGBT Commission when he has no one from my community on his staff,” Pannell’s announcement message continues.

“This is hypocritical at best and structurally homophobic at worst,” he said. “I deeply resent and refuse to be used as anyone’s homosexual prop for any purposes. Therefore, I resign from the commission effective immediately.”

In response to a request by the Washington Blade for comment on Pannell’s resignation, Julia Jessie, White’s director of communications, said White’s Council office “follows all legal HR procedures and hires based on experience and skillset.” Jessie added, “As an employer, we do not discriminate or consider a person’s race, color, religion, or sex, including sexual orientation or gender identity, when making decisions about employment qualifications.”

According to Jessie, “We do, however, harvest a safe and inclusionary work environment where employees who wish to voluntarily disclose their sexual orientation of gender identity feel comfortable doing so.”

White’s office released a statement from the Ward 8 LGBT Commission’s chair, Marvin ‘Rahim’ Briggs, saying the commission “regretfully accepts” Pannell’s resignation.

“The Commission will continue to focus on and address issues affecting Ward 8 LGBTQ,” Briggs says in the statement. “We’ll continue to organize to promote acceptance of LGBTQ community diversity and to foster respect and appreciation for each member of the community residing in Ward 8.”

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District of Columbia

Two gay candidates disqualified from D.C. primary ballot

Republican, Libertarian activists withdraw from races

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(Blade archive photo by Aram Vartian)

A member of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, D.C.’s largest LGBTQ local political group, mounted a successful challenge before the D.C. Board of Elections earlier this month that resulted in a gay Republican and a gay Libertarian Party activist withdrawing as candidates for public office in the city’s June 21 primary.

James Harnett, 24, a member of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee and a member of the staff of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), filed challenges to the candidacy of gay Libertarian Party activist Bruce Majors, who was running unopposed in the June 21 primary for the office of both D.C. Delegate to the U.S. House and chair of the Libertarian Party of D.C.

The Board of Elections upheld Harnett’s challenge claiming that Majors failed to obtain a sufficient number of valid petition signatures needed to be placed on the ballot for both offices, according to elections board spokesperson Nicholas Jacobs. Majors withdrew his candidacy for both offices rather than contest the challenge.

The Board of Elections also upheld a challenge filed by Harnett against the candidacy of gay Republican and D.C. Log Cabin Republicans organization member Andrew Desser, who was running unopposed in the primary for the position of Ward 1 Chairperson of the D.C. Republican Committee.

Desser told the Blade he acknowledged that he fell short in obtaining the needed number of valid petition signatures and would not contest the challenge.

Harnett, who appeared to be acting on his own behalf and not representing the Capital Stonewall Democrats in his challenges to Majors and Desser before the election board, did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment.

Board of Elections records showed that he also successfully challenged six other candidates seeking ballot placement in the June 21 primary, one of whom, Lori Furstenberg, was running for mayor as a Republican and another, Corren Brown, was running for mayor as a Statehood-Green Party member.

The others Harnett mounted a successful challenge against were GOP candidates running for the Ward 2, Ward 4, and Ward 7 GOP Chairperson positions; and Leniqua ‘Dominique’ Jenkins, a Democrat running for the at-large D.C. Council seat, who was the only Democrat challenged by Harnett.

Harnett, a former ANC commissioner in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood, ran unsuccessfully in 2020 for the nonpartisan office of D.C. Board of Education for Ward 2. Among the candidates he ran against was gay education advocate Allister Chang, who won that race.

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