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Gay man seeks Dupont ANC seat Wednesday

Dito Sevilla, Abigail Nichols disagree over nightlife issues

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Dupont Circle Fountain

A little-noticed race for a vacant ANC seat in Dupont Circle will be held Wednesday. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gay restaurant manager Eduardo “Dito” Sevilla and civic activist Abigail Nichols have expressed differing views on the city’s liquor licensing policies and nightlife issues in a little-noticed race for a vacant seat on the Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission.

The new commissioner for the ANC’s Single Member District 2B05, which covers most of the 17th Street, N.W., commercial and residential strip near Dupont Circle, will be chosen in a special election Wednesday, March 13, between 7:15 and 9:30 p.m. during the ANC’s regularly scheduled meeting at the Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Ave., N.W.

District 2B05 stretches from Q Street, N.W., between 15th and 17th streets on its northern boundary along part of 18th Street at Massachusetts Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue, almost to the White House gate, as ANC observers like to point out.

Sevilla has worked since 2004 as restaurant and bar manager at Floriana’s, a popular restaurant on the 1600 block of 17th Street, N.W. in the heart of the 17th Street commercial strip. Sevilla also lives on 17th Street one block from where he works.

Nichols has lived a few blocks away on 18th Street near Connecticut Avenue for 33 years, according to information posted on her website. She has worked for 20 years as a policy analyst and manager at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

She serves as treasurer of the D.C. Chapter of the League of Women Voters and is co-founder of the Alcohol Sanity Coalition D.C., a recently formed group that, according to its website, favors stricter city regulations over bars, restaurants and nightclubs. She has also served as chair of an ANC 2B committee that monitors liquor licensing issues.

In an interview published by the Dupont Circle news and civic blog Borderstan, Nichols said she didn’t have a position on one of the most contentious issues facing the Dupont Circle ANC — whether a longstanding city-enforced moratorium preventing new businesses with liquor licenses from opening along the 17th Street strip should be continued or allowed to expire.

She said she would study the issue and talk to residents before making a decision on the matter when it comes up before the ANC later this year.

Sevilla, when asked about liquor moratoriums by Borderstan, said he doesn’t discuss moratoriums. He told the Blade on Saturday that he personally favors allowing the 17th Street moratorium to expire. But he said he would recuse himself from voting on the issue if he’s elected to the ANC because his job at Floriana’s, which has a liquor license, would be viewed as a conflict of interest.

Ironically, Sevilla said, a continuation of the moratorium would be advantageous to Floriana’s and all other existing bars and restaurants on 17th Street —  including three gay bars and a gay restaurant — because it prevents competitors from opening. However, as a resident and concerned citizen of the neighborhood, he said ending the moratorium would improve the area by allowing responsible and “resident-friendly” restaurants and cafes to open in several spaces along the street that have been vacant for a long time.

“I think a little café or a bakery that served beer wouldn’t be the worst thing on earth,” he said. “It would be better than the vacant spaces that have been left there.”

The moratorium is scheduled to expire later this year unless the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) renews it. Under city law, ABRA makes the final decision but is required to give “great weight” to the views of ANCs.

Nightlife advocates, both gay and straight, have expressed concern over Nichols’ positions on liquor licensing issues as the lead spokesperson for her group Alcohol Sanity Coalition D.C. The group opposed a number of provisions in a City Council bill last year seeking to reform the city’s liquor law.

One of the provisions Nichols opposed called for disqualifying ad hoc groups of as few as five citizens from having legal standing to challenge a liquor license application or renewal of an existing license if the applicant and the ANC reach an agreement and the ANC approves the application.

D.C. Council observers say support for the provision in the liquor bill to restrict the powers of small, ad-hoc groups to block liquor licenses emerged from a bitter fight over a proposal by Hank’s Oyster Bar, a popular seafood restaurant at 17th and Q Streets, N.W., to expand its outdoor patio.

An ad hoc group blocked the proposal for several years, even though nearly all nearby residents and the 17th Street community as a whole supported the patio expansion, according to residents familiar with the dispute. In December, over the objections of Alcohol Sanity Coalition D.C., the Council voted to retain the provision restricting the authority of ad-hoc groups to challenge licenses. The Council passed the bill itself by a unanimous vote.

Sevilla said Nichols, who lives in a condo building just off Connecticut Avenue next to a bustling commercial area where nightclubs and bars are located, appears ready to support overly restrictive regulations on all businesses with a liquor license on the entire ANC district.

“We don’t have the issues on 17th Street that she has where she lives,” Sevilla said. “I absolutely believe in my heart of hearts that [the moratorium] should be discontinued. I think some people like to jump on a bandwagon that lifting the moratorium would immediately turn us into Adams Morgan,” he said.

“I think that is a little bit alarmist and ridiculous,” said Sevilla. “Seventeenth Street is not 18th Street [in Adams Morgan]. We don’t have that many commercial spaces…It’s just two or three new spaces that could take hold.”

Nichols disputed claims that she would impose excessive restrictions on bars and restaurants located in ANC 2B.

She told the Blade on Monday that the Hank’s Oyster Bar case was not a representative example of how groups of five citizens handle ABC license challenges. She said she has organized groups of five residents in her apartment building that negotiated agreements with at least seven bars or nightclubs after the groups of five filed a protest, or challenge, to the club’s liquor license application.

“We say up front that we do not want to stop them from opening,” Nichols said. “Our objective is to work out a common sense agreement to cut down the noise.” In several cases, she said, the agreements called for the clubs, whose main entrances are on Connecticut Avenue, to close their rear entrances on 18th Street at 10:30 p.m. Her apartment building, the Palladium at 1325 18th Street, is close to the clubs’ rear entrances and subjected to noise by patrons entering or leaving the clubs, she said.

“We don’t blame the owners, who usually run good businesses, she said. “But you can’t avoid noise from liquor serving establishments, and that’s why you need these agreements.”

“Voters should ask both of us about the positions we already hold and whether we have any conflicts of interest that might affect our ANC service,” she told Borderstan. “How would we handle such conflicts?”

The ANC 2B05 seat became vacant when incumbent Victor Wexler, who was running for re-election last year unopposed, dropped out of the race in October due to a back ailment. It was too late to remove his name from the ballot in the November election.

Nichols announced her candidacy as a write-in candidate for the seat, but it was uncertain whether most voters were aware that Wexler had dropped out of the race. He received 530 votes; 112 votes were cast for a write-in candidate, which was presumed to have been Nichols.

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Virginia

Youngkin vetoes bill that would have expanded Va. bullying definition

Bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole introduced House Bill 536

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Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at a CNN Town Hall on March 9, 2023. (Screen capture via CNN)

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday vetoed a bill that would have added sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to the state’s definition of bullying.

Lawmakers earlier this year approved House Bill 536, which bisexual state Del. Joshua Cole (D-Fredericksburg) introduced. 

“While I agree with the general purpose of the legislation, regrettably, the General Assembly did not approve my amendments,” said Youngkin in a statement. “Those recommendations would have expanded the definition of bullying to encompass all possible motives.”

“School administrators must work to prevent bullying and support our students’ mental health through a healthy learning environment, but the narrow definition provided in the legislation could be interpreted to exclude groups not included in the Virginia Human Rights Act, such as bullying victims raised with traditional values or those who are in foster care,” added the Republican.

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Rehoboth Beach

Selling Rehoboth: Lee Ann Wilkinson wins prestigious real estate award

Longtime agent on beach prices, her LGBTQ allyship, and more

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Lee Ann Wilkinson doesn’t see real estate prices coming down anytime soon at the beach. (Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

Longtime Delaware real estate leader Lee Ann Wilkinson of Berkshire Hathaway recently celebrated a major industry award after being named No. 1 in total sales volume for the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Network. Wilkinson, a Blade contributor, centers much of her work in the coastal communities of Lewes and Rehoboth Beach. We caught up with her to discuss her long career in real estate, her LGBTQ allyship, and more.

Washington Blade: I learned your parents were in real estate, and you began working with them early on in your career. Did you initially intend to follow in their footsteps? 

Lee Ann Wilkinson: Not really. I majored in art. When I got out of college I couldn’t really find a job. So, my parents said, “You need to come work for us.”

Blade: I understand that as an art history major turned writer. Speaking of that: I know you have written some pieces for the Blade, about real estate trends, and the like. How do you pick your topics for these articles? 

Wilkinson:  People always want to know about real estate. Whether buying a first home, second home, a home to invest or retire in. It amazes even me how much interest there is. And it’s not just people looking to buy a $7 million home on beachfront property. It’s people looking to get something in budget for their family.

Blade: I know you have a lot of work in Rehoboth, the Delaware Valley’s historically gay beachside community. Was there ever a time you were NOT selling property to – I guess it was fair to say 40 years ago – mostly gay men? 

Wilkinson: Ha, I grew up coming down for the summer until my family moved here full-time from Norristown, outside of Philly. We had businesses and family in Rehoboth. I think Rehoboth has always been gay-friendly. We never thought about it. My grandfather had a house in Rehoboth before I was born. The gay population was always welcome.

Blade: Do you have a connection to the LGBTQ community beyond real estate? 

Wilkinson: Absolutely. One of my closest friends is a guy I went to college with at the University of Delaware, Joey. You know, Joey was maybe my first gay friend. In fact, we all went to the Easter Sunrise Service on the beach in Rehoboth. We have gay family members, so I have never thought that much about it being anything different.

Blade: I know you recently won a prestigious award with Berkshire Hathaway and were surprised to come in first place. Why?

Wilkinson: For the past 20 years or so we have been in the top 10. We started doing these national things with Berkshire Hathaway. To get in the top 10 was amazing to me especially going up against states like Florida, New Jersey, not to mention San Francisco or Bay Area agents. I just never thought we’d get to the number one spot. My only issue is — where to go now?

Blade: Where do you make your primary residence? Is that Lewes? Do you see the president on occasion? 

Wilkinson: I haven’t seen him at the beach. But he’s on the bike trail a lot. He pops up having breakfast. He goes to Mass at St. Edmond’s in Rehoboth on Saturday evening. But I’m often too busy with work on weekends to catch sight of him.

Blade: Having been in the industry 40 years, how do you find ways to get excited about your work? 

Wilkinson: I really am passionate about it. I really love a challenge. That’s part of the appeal for this job. I always like matching people with things. I really liked getting people the right bathing suits years ago. Selling, it’s just something I’m good at. I would get customers walking outta’ the store with three or four bathing suits when they only wanted one. 

Blade: Are you considering retiring in the next few years? Or will you always be associated with the industry on some level. Maybe as a mentor or silent partner? 

Wilkinson: Oh, no, I’ll always be involved. Three of my four daughters work for me. I am not retiring anytime soon. And if I did, they would be here to continue it on, and I am sure I’d weigh in.

Blade: So, this is very much a family legacy?

Wilkinson: Yeah. My parents are 87 and 91 now. Some 20 years ago mom predicted we’d see an increase in prices, people moving here, etc. I don’t know how she predicted it but mom is right.

Blade: Any current trends you’re noticing? 

Wilkinson: This cycle of people moving here, and prices increasing, and all the building happening. People think the prices are going to come down, but I don’t see that happening.

Blade: Tell me about that. Are the new building ventures changing the faces of Rehoboth and Lewes? After not visiting the Jersey Shore for over a decade I’ve been going the past few summers to my cousin’s place in Cape May. It’s a trailer on a nicely maintained campground and it’s what she can afford. And, there’s so much building happening there.

Wilkinson: Right? It’s about finding a second home you can afford. And, in terms of building projects, the good thing about Rehoboth and Lewes is they are strict on what you can and can’t build downtown. They aren’t going to tear down homes to build multi-family condos, not yet anyway. In Spring Lake, you are seeing townhomes. So, building is happening and we have some condos, but it’s great to not see “overbuilding” happening in these historically smaller cities.

To learn more about Ms. Wilkinson, or property in Sussex County, DE be sure to look for articles she publishes in the Blade and visit the Lee Ann Wilkinson Group website.

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Local

Blum named director of new LGBTQ program at Carr Center

Program to expand research, training on safeguarding human rights

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Diego Garcia Blum

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected].

Congratulations to Diego Garcia Blum on his new position as director, Global LGBTQI+ Human Rights Program, at the Harvard, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. This new program will expand research and training on safeguarding the human rights of LGBTQI+ people worldwide. It will address the escalating crisis of violence and discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals globally. The vision is to establish the Carr Center as a key international nexus for LGBTQI+ human rights policy, training, ideas, and dialogue

 “The heart of this program is empowering and supporting the brave LGBTQI+ activists working in challenging and often perilous environments,” Garcia Blum said. “Through our training and high-impact research, we aim to supercharge their efforts.”

Prior to this, he has had a varied and impressive career. Recently he served as a Social Change Fellow at Harvard’s Center for Public Leadership. He worked with the Human Rights Campaign, serving on its Board of Governors. Prior to that, he worked as a nuclear engineer at Orano, a French company. It is described as a global leader in nuclear fuel cycle products and services, from mining to dismantling, conversion, enrichment, recycling, logistics and engineering. He has won many awards for his work and education. The Innovation CORE award at Orano; The Dean Joseph Weil Leadership Award, University of Florida; Most Outstanding Master in Public Policy Student – Ellen Raphael Award, Harvard Kennedy School. 

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