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Phil gets it wrong, but so do ‘fitness tax’ opponents

‘Muscle up’ gym patrons, Mendelson’s arrogance not tax exemption justification

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fitness, crossfit, gay news, Washington Blade
Phil Mendelson, gay news, Washington Blade, tax

(Washington Blade file photos by Michael Key)

Phil Mendelson should be basking in one of the most significant legislative achievements of his political career. Instead, over the past several days the D.C. Council chair cast himself as a tin-eared monarch.

Mendelson’s display of autocratic arrogance was stunning in what it revealed about a too-common Council attitude toward the residents to whom they answer and the businesses fueling the local economy. It also underscored the need for rules requiring a statutory review period for annual city budget legislation prior to Council consideration. All too typically, only a handful of hours were again this year granted for advance availability as if a public privilege provided at the whimsy of elected officials.

Enterprise owners and local entrepreneurs are long accustomed to being treated like a cash-cow convenience and social science experiment by city leaders. This behavior is too often without the courtesy of consultation or even advisement prior to introduction of additional taxes, fees, regulations and mandates. But seldom is this disregard for adequate disclosure stated so starkly as dished out by Mendelson like a public taunt.

The D.C. Council had last week adopted, at Mendelson’s unexpected initiation, the largest resident and business income tax cuts in the city’s history and the first in 15 years. These tax relief measures included most of the recommendations of the D.C. Tax Review Commission appointed by Mayor Vincent Gray and chaired by former mayor Anthony Williams. Despite a decision by Gray to defer consideration of the Commission’s tax reforms, Mendelson marshaled all but two of his 12 fellow legislators in backing his budget plan for the fiscal year beginning in October with the tax components included.

Although providing relatively modest tax relief, it was certainly a welcome change in local tax policy. Most importantly, the budget bill established revenue restraint as ascendant in city politics for the foreseeable future. It was a good start at mitigating the District’s sky-high taxation distinction and should signal an ongoing investment in making the city more business-friendly and tax-competitive.

Mendelson, however, promptly diminished the widespread appreciation for these long overdue personal and business income tax reductions by cavalierly dismissing concerns regarding the legislative process related to levying the general sales tax of 5.75 percent on multiple additional categories of businesses – including fitness centers and tanning salons, as well as storage facilities, carpet cleaning companies, car washes and water delivery services.

When community business leader and VIDA Fitness owner David von Storch rightly complained that Mendelson had plotted extending the sales tax to include gym memberships without so much as a full day of sunshine for public release, the chair offered only imperial retorts. Given that the local fitness industry had four years earlier successfully convinced city officials not to impose the transactional tax on gym fees, its overnight inclusion appeared disingenuous and designed to preclude a renewed campaign.

Mendelson, however, defended the last-minute inclusion, proclaiming, “The burden is on the public to pay attention to what we’re doing.” Uh, no, Phil, your job is to consult with stakeholders, particularly community businesses on which the District mightily relies, rather than blindsiding them.

Regardless of the controversial process and inadequate advance public disclosure, the surprisingly few gym patrons expressing opposition are wrong to oppose the sales tax levy. By all indications, they will not prevail at the final budget review on June 17.

The tax relief provisions, benefiting all residents earning less than $1 million, requires partially offsetting revenue reductions through broadening the tax base. It is only fair to levy the sales tax across a full complement of commerce. Proffered arguments that fitness activities should be excluded to encourage healthy lifestyles are not a compelling, or exclusive, justification.

Tax rates should be further reduced and expenditures should be more efficient and effective. Reasonable and responsible tax and spending policies – which D.C. has yet to achieve – are attainable only when we all have a stake in ensuring them.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at [email protected].

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There must be a ceasefire in Gaza — NOW!

Stop funding Israeli war machine with U.S. tax dollars

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

We are care activists. As care activists, we are involved with social justice movements in this country and globally. 

It almost defies language what Israeli forces have perpetrated upon the Palestinian people since Oct. 7, 2023; in their disproportionate and vengeful retaliation against millions of Gazan civilians in response to the Hamas attack on thousands of Israeli citizens. We call out the loss of innocent Israeli lives in the same breath that we call for the survival of the Palestinian people. Months into this genocide, carnage and atrocity, we join with millions across the planet who bear witness to and protest the devastation of  human and environmental life. There must be a permanent ceasefire, NOW.

What we bear witness to in Palestine and Israel has a deeply rooted history. For almost a century, the Naqba and the Israeli occupation in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem has wrought devastating consequences, including murder, imprisonment, suspension of basic civil rights, exile, land theft, restrictions on movement and access to water, electricity, and healthcare. In Gaza, this devastation has been the most extreme. Generations of refugees have struggled to survive blockades and prison-like conditions. Those of us who have worked for the end of Israeli occupation over the past decades feared an explosive response to this inhumanity that would impact civilians regardless of ethnic and religious identity.  

The United States is an avowed ally of the Israeli government and allocates billions of dollars in direct military aid. We call upon our government to stop funding a war machine with our tax dollars; tax dollars that could improve the lives of the unhoused, the poor, working families and everyday people who are struggling each day to survive. We add our voices to support the South African case at the International Court of Justice, whose ruling requires Israel to take all steps within its power to prevent acts of genocide. We raise our voices with those locally and globally who are working for a permanent ceasefire. We stand with growing numbers of U.S. cities and towns that have passed “Ceasefire Now” resolutions and with the Palestinian and Israeli ceasefire coalitions that stand together.   

As voters, we demand to be heard by the present U.S. administration. And we will be heard.

Alexis De Veaux, of Richmond, Va., and Amy Horowitz, of Alexandria, Va., are social justice activists.

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An unpleasant experience with American Airlines

Was I bumped for GOP Rep. Jim Jordan?

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Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) speaks at CPAC last weekend. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

I don’t know if it is possible to get a letter to Rober Isom, CEO of American Airlines, but the normal ways don’t seem to work. So maybe this column will eventually find its way to him.

On Tuesday, Feb. 20,,I was bumped from my seat in first class on a flight from Miami to D.C. I had been in Quito, Ecuador, and the Galápagos, and was returning home from the final leg of my vacation. I had bought my ticket through Celebrity Cruises about a year ago. My American Airlines locator code was WQQPAC. Everything went OK, except the minor issue of ordering a meal on the way to Quito in advance, and being told they don’t have it. But no big deal. I had taken a 6 a.m. flight from Quito to Miami, and then had a nearly four hour wait in Miami, to board the flight to D.C. At the appointed time my friends and I headed to the gate to board, and as the agent called group one, my name was called to come to the desk. Mind you, I had checked in around noon on Monday, and was asked to confirm my seat, which I did. Then when checking in at the desk in Quito, was given both my boarding pass for the flight to Miami, and the one for my Miami to Reagan National in D.C.

At the desk things got interesting. I was told by the gate agent I was being bumped from first class. When I asked why she said they needed the seat, and I was the last person that had booked. I told the agent I knew that wasn’t true, as I has personally paid for someone else in my party, and their ticket hadn’t been booked until six months after mine. She then told me to wait for the Miami American manager. He arrived about 15 minutes later and told me it was a security issue and he couldn’t tell me anything. Turns out Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was standing at the gate with a security aide, and I asked if I was being bumped for him. He said, “I told you it’s a security issue and that is all I can say.” I asked, and he gave me his name, Daniel Gonzalez. He said he would give me a $300 voucher and if I had other issues with this to call American when I got home. The agent said she only had one seat on the plane, a middle seat, in essence, take it or leave it. I have knee replacements, am claustrophobic, and older, and need to stand up occasionally during flights. I haven’t flown in a middle seat in more than 30 years. I asked how they arrived at the $300, and she reiterated “feel free to call customer relations when you are back in D.C.”  

I tried to find a number for corporate headquarters for American Airlines, and got caught in a scam when I dialed the number that came up in Google. I then put a comment on Facebook, which got hundreds of responses, and got a call from an Amy Lawrence, with American, who said she called me when a friend shared my post. She was very nice and said she would try to forward my issues to corporate. She called back and gave me what she said was the real reason I got bumped and that was now a third reason. Then I got another call from an Alexis Vaughn, consumer relations person, also very nice, who said she was calling on behalf of senior leadership, and gave me yet a fourth reason I had been bumped. I asked to be connected to senior leadership, and she said she spoke for them. I asked to be connected to American’s PR department. Turns out none of them would talk to me. 

I understand big corporations, and how they like to shield their executives from what is happening. And I was told what happened in my case was handled by the book. Well, if that is the truth, I suggest they change the book, because giving me four different excuses for being bumped, by four different people, means someone is either not reading the book or the book needs fixing.

Again, hundreds of people responded to my Facebook comment on not being able to reach American Airlines corporate, many mentioning the problems they have had with American. So I hope someone will pass this column on to Rober Isom, as in the long run, as CEO, it all falls in his lap.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Democrats must stop the self-immolation

We can win the presidency and Congress if we stick together

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Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It is both fascinating and depressing, that groups like Our Revolution, which Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) began in 2016 to screw Hillary Clinton, are still out there screwing other Democrats. 

They are currently trying to defeat President Biden in the Michigan primary. They couch what they are doing “as trying to influence what President Biden is doing about the Israel/Hamas war.” But, reality is, any headline attacking Joe Biden, is helping Donald Trump, no matter how you try to sugarcoat it. Joe Biden will not make foreign policy based on the far-left wing of the Democratic Party. They have every right to speak out, and Sanders was even willing to hurt our national security by voting against Biden’s bill for aid to Ukraine and Israel, and a number of other allies. The bill even includes humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza. Sanders is an embarrassment. But if he doesn’t speak out against ‘Our Revolution’ he is also a hypocrite, as he claims to support Biden. Thankfully, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Witmer did speak out, urging people to vote for Biden in the primary.  

Trying to influence a change in policy is fine, and speaking out for what you believe is great. But if you don’t look at the global perspective, and at all the possible repercussions of your actions and words, you are not very smart. Remember, on the issue of Gaza, if you want to support the Palestinian people, then having Trump in office is far worse than Biden. Trump claims to be best friends with Netanyahu, he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, he will totally abandon Gaza and the Palestinian people. So, if that is what you want in the White House, then attacking Biden so he loses a primary, and then by either voting for a third party, or staying home, for the general election, that is what you will get.

The Democratic Party can learn a lot from Tom Suozzi’s win in a swing district in New York, in the special election to replace expelled former Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.). Counter to what some are saying, how he ran the race is important. He managed to turn the immigration issue around against his Republican opponent by tying her to Trump, and the MAGA Republicans who today want to leave the border open. He used the issue of abortion by highlighting his position as a pro-choice candidate, against an opponent who was pro-life. He also told the district he was willing to work with Republicans when necessary to get things done. He told the voters he understood the founding fathers set up a government requiring compromise, not on your principles, but on ways to move forward what you believe in. Yes, he is a moderate, but then so are the vast majority of Americans.  

It is clear we live in difficult times. The issue of Biden’s age is being blown out of proportion, and the media are helping to do that. Every Democrat needs to read, talk about, and share, the recent column from the New York Times, “We’re Thinking About Biden’s Memory and Age in the Wrong Way.” It talks about, and explains, how we all begin to lose memory of certain things starting at the age of 30. How not remembering a name, or a date, doesn’t in any way indicate an inability to think about and work on important and complex issues. 

We also have to understand how far off polls can be, and often are, these days. What we as Democrats need to do to win this election is stick to what we know people respond to. That includes talking about Republicans wanting to restrict a woman’s right to health care, and control of her own body. It means we talk about how Trump wants us to abandon NATO, and has even encouraged Putin to invade our allies. He has no problem with Putin taking as much land as he wants. We need to remind people about how Trump staged a coup, which thankfully failed, and remind voters he will try again if we reelect him. We need to play the tape of him saying he wants to be a dictator, and will use the Department of Justice to get even with his enemies. How electing him will mean the end of our democracy. 

Democrats can win the presidency, and the Congress, if we stick together. Divided we will fail, and Trump will be in the White House. 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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