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Rehoboth to elect new commissioners next week

3 candidates vying for two open seats in beach town

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Rehoboth Beach elections, gay news, Washington Blade

Pat Coluzzi is one of three candidates for two open seats on the Rehoboth Beach Board of Commissioners. (Photo courtesy Coluzzi)

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. — This election cycle in Rehoboth sees three candidates running for two open seats on the Rehoboth Beach Board of Commissioners. The three candidates are Pat Coluzzi, Richard Byrne and Gary Glass.

Coluzzi, a lesbian former commissioner of Rehoboth who served from 2007 to 2013, has been a property owner in the town since 1994. She is the founder of Rehoboth Beach Farmers’ Market, a board member of the Center for the Inland Bays and a board member of the Lewes Rehoboth Canal Improvement Association. She is a former board member of Rehoboth Beach Main Street, was named the 2012 Rehoboth Beach Citizen of the Year, serves as president of the Rehoboth Beach Sister Cities Association and had a 30-year career in information technology.

“One of the things I think needs to be addressed is the parking issue in town,” Coluzzi said.

Coluzzi suggested the town needs more bike racks, shuttle buses that go into Rehoboth, a parking garage outside of town, different types of parking permits and other means of transportation. During her time as commissioner, Coluzzi started the implementation of a Bicycle Master Plan that provided for more locations around Rehoboth to have bike racks, wayfinding and on-road sharrows. Additionally, she created a plan for scooter parking in Rehoboth and began the process for modernizing payment for parking with ParkMobile.

“I am running for office because I feel I can contribute to making our city better,” wrote Coluzzi in the Cape Gazette. “I have a proven track record of successfully tackling a variety of issues over the years, and after a five-year break, I feel that I am uniquely positioned to address some of the issues that confront our city.”

In addition to finding a solution for parking, Coluzzi is looking to promote a plan that will beautify Rehoboth’s public parks and areas, create a tree ordinance that will preserve the town’s canopy along with providing for the right tree in the right place, foster an environment in which businesses can grow and be successful and create a plan that will make safety paramount for all pedestrians and bicyclists. She considers herself a “Community Candidate” and focuses on bringing the community together, citing her involvement with the Rehoboth Beach Farmers’ Market as one example in which she was able to accomplish this.

Glass and his partner, Brian, have had a second home in Rehoboth for about 20 years, and he has been coming to Rehoboth for decades. Glass serves as a member of the Boardwalk and Beach Committee in Rehoboth and as treasurer of the Country Club Estates Property Owners Association. Glass has worked as a cost accounting analyst, been the director of finance for two non-profit associations and holds a bachelor’s in accounting and finance from Louisiana State University.

“I think there needs to be a lot more fiscal management and responsibility of this city,” Glass said.

Glass argues that Rehoboth cannot make rash decisions when it comes to funding. He questions how much debt the city is willing to take on and says that there needs to be a focus on tomorrow instead of today when dealing with fiscal management.

Glass also lamented exorbitant rent prices for the downtown business community. He says businesses are forced to close, leaving vacant buildings in the downtown area and called for Rehoboth to reinvest in its business community.

When it comes to parking, Glass says that Rehoboth cannot accommodate everyone who comes to visit Rehoboth because it is only one square mile. His approach to the issue is to enforce the rules that are in place and mentions that there are other options, such as parking on Route 1. Glass says the priority for parking should be for those who own homes in Rehoboth.

Other issues Glass seeks to address are the right of LLCs to vote in city elections, the need for an up-to-date storm water run-off system and having a master plan for Rehoboth’s commercial district.

Glass said LLCs should not have the right to vote because he says the community does not know anything about them. Glass also cites an LLC’s ability to avoid paying transfer taxes and how it has been a problem in Delaware. Glass noted that LLCs should own property as a trust or as a person to vote in Rehoboth. Glass does, however, think that LLCs can provide insight and valuable knowledge to the community.

“It’s not about what I want, it’s about what we as a community want,” Glass said. “If I’m elected, I want to represent what the people want.”

Byrne and his wife, Sherri Wright, have been coming to Rehoboth for more than 25 years. They became property owners and part-time residents in 2002 and full-time residents in 2009. Their three children and their families also love Rehoboth Beach and come to visit several times each year.

Byrne directed programs in 4-H, Family Consumer Science and Agriculture at two major universities across the states of Minnesota and Maryland. He serves as president of the Sussex Family YMCA Board of Governors, member of the Delaware YMCA Association Board of Directors, immediate past vice president of the Delaware SPCA Board of Directors and president of the Park Place on the Canal Home Owners Association. Additionally, Byrne serves as chair of the Animal Issues Committee and as a member of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on Trees in Rehoboth.

“Parking policies need to be comprehensive,” Byrne said. “Research indicates that when one change is made, it affects other aspects of the entire parking system, often resulting in unintended consequences.”

Byrne says that it is important the community respects the work of the Parking Advisory Committee, which is looking at ways to manage meters, permits and bike and scooter parking. Byrne said that a report in the near future will be vital for future planning on a solution to the issue of parking.

When it comes to neighborhoods and businesses, Byrne says that he will work to insure the quality of life is maintained, infrastructure is maintained and improved, zoning codes are fairly and strictly enforced and that residential zoning is for residential living. For the environment, Byrne is looking to fix the storm water runoff problem, preserve the health of the fresh water lakes, protect and improve the parks, grow the tree canopy, create safer bike lanes and reduce traffic to make Rehoboth more pedestrian friendly. Byrne wants to livestream commissioner and other important public meetings, host informal ‘listening’ meetings, elicit participation on issues, foster communication and be available around town.

“If elected, I commit to working collaboratively with other commissioners, the mayor, city committees, residents and businesses on preserving our neighborhoods, protecting our environment and improving our infrastructure,” Byrne said. “I will listen to people all over the city, take their ideas and concerns to the commission, and communicate back to them about the city’s plans and actions.”

Rehoboth Beach will hold its annual municipal election on Aug. 11 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the Convention Center located in the Municipal Building at 229 Rehoboth Ave. For any questions on the election, call 302-227-6181, ext. 108.

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District of Columbia

Dupont Circle ‘gayborhood’ preserved in Council redistricting bill

All of neighborhood remains in Ward 2

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Brooke Pinto, gay news, Washington Blade
Councilmember Brooke Pinto raised objections to dividing the Dupont Circle neighborhood into two different wards.

A bill approved by the D.C. Council in a first-reading vote on Tuesday to redraw the boundaries of the city’s eight wards keeps all of the Dupont Circle neighborhood, which LGBTQ activists have referred to as the city’s preeminent “gayborhood,” in Ward 2.

The redistricting plan approved by the Council included a change from an earlier proposal by a special redistricting subcommittee that called for transferring part of the North Dupont Circle neighborhood into Ward 1.

Councilmember Brooke Pinto, who represents Ward 2, joined many of her ward’s LGBTQ residents in raising strong objections to dividing the Dupont Circle neighborhood into two different wards.

A number of LGBTQ residents, including Mike Silverstein, one of five openly gay members of the nine-member Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said the initial subcommittee proposal would unnecessarily split Dupont Circle’s historic “gayborhood,” which he said has served as a safe space for LGBTQ D.C. residents for decades.

“Excising this part of Ward 2 would arbitrarily cut off the LGBTQIA+ community that has such a rich and pronounced presence in North Dupont,” Pinto said in a statement her office released last month. “I will be working with my colleagues to ensure that this community remains in Ward 2,” Pinto said.

A spokesperson for D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) said Mendelson worked with the three members of the redistricting subcommittee and other Council members to make some changes to the subcommittee’s initial release of three proposed maps with redrawn ward boundary lines. All three of the maps included plans to move the north part of Dupont Circle to Ward 1, each of which was dropped in the final proposal approved by the Council.

The Council is scheduled to hold a second and final vote on the redistricting measure later this month.

City officials have noted that a redrawing of the city’s ward boundary lines is needed to bring the city into legal conformance with the 2020 U.S. Census count for D.C., which shows shifts in population within the city.

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District of Columbia

U.S. Attorney’s Office declines to prosecute anti-gay assault case

D.C. police report says man beaten by neighbors in Northeast

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Antonio Zephir was beaten by neighbors. (Photo courtesy of Zephir)

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has declined to prosecute two women and a man who, according to a D.C. police report, assaulted a gay man after one of the women called him a “Jewish faggot” during an Oct. 13 incident on the grounds of a Northeast Washington apartment building where the victim and the two women live.

The victim, Antonio Zephir, 51, said one of the women, her daughter, and a man he believes to be the daughter’s father repeatedly punched him in the face after he shouted back at the mother in response to the anti-gay and anti-Jewish slur he says she hurled at him.

The incident took place outside the Northwood Gardens Apartments at 4870 Fort Totten Dr., N.E. at about 12:40 p.m. the police report says.

Zephir told the Blade this week that an official with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes crimes committed by adults in D.C., informed him in a phone call that the office decided not to prosecute the case after police and prosecutors viewed a surveillance camera video that reportedly captured the entire incident.

He said the official, Crystal Flournoy, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Early Case Assessment Section, told him the video showed that he was the “aggressor” in the incident.

Zephir says he strongly disputes that characterization and believes the camera angle from the video may not have captured the full altercation in which he was assaulted first before attempting to defend himself.

A D.C. police spokesperson said police opened an investigation into the incident after Zephir called police immediately after the altercation. A police report lists the incident as a suspected anti-gay hate crime and lists the offense as a misdemeanor simple assault.

Zephir, who was treated and released from the Washington Hospital Center the day after the incident, suffered a fractured nose, a fractured bone surrounding one of his eyes, and other facial injuries, according to a hospital report he provided to the Blade. He said his doctor told him he may need facial surgery to treat ongoing effects from the injuries.

In a Dec. 7 email, a copy of which Zephir sent to the Blade, D.C. Police Lt. Scott Dowling informed Zephir that the U.S Attorney’s Office declined to process an affidavit submitted by police requesting the case be prosecuted.

“[T]he affidavit submitted to the United States Attorney’s Office was declined, meaning that their office is not willing to move forward with criminal charges,” Dowling told Zephir in his email message. “As a result, there will be no arrests relating to the offense you reported,” Dowling said. “As the Affidavit was declined, our investigation is closed,” Dowling wrote in the message.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute this matter after reviewing the evidence,” William Miller, a spokesperson for the office, told the Blade in a statement on Wednesday. “Beyond that, we typically do not comment on charging decisions and have no further comment,” Miller said.

Zephir said he doesn’t think the video, which he hasn’t seen, shows that one of the two women involved in the altercation was the first to assault him. He identified her in court papers he filed seeking a stay away protection order as Aurlora Ellis.

Court records show that a D.C. Superior Court judge on Nov. 30 issued a “Consent Stay Away Order” requiring Ellis and her daughter, identified as Latera Cox, and a woman who Zephir says lives at Ellis’s apartment, to “stay at least 100 feet away from Plaintiffs Zephir or Johnson.”

Steve Johnson, who is cited in the stay away order, is Zephir’s roommate who the police report says attempted to stop the Oct. 13 altercation in which Zephir says he was assaulted.

The court order further states that the three women “shall not contact Plaintiffs Zephir or Johnson in any manner, including but not limited to by telephone, in writing, and in any manner directly or indirectly through another person, including social media,” and that the order will remain in effect for one year.

“Ms. Ellis was the person who made those threats and slurs against me,” Zephir said. “I responded with not-so-kind words. She ran towards me and assaulted me with hard punches toward my face,” Zephir recounted. “I punched back in an attempt to defend myself,” he said.

According to Zephir, during the altercation Ellis told him, “Call the police, you bitch faggot. They’re not going to do anything. This isn’t over yet.” He said he continues to worry that Ellis’s comment that the matter “isn’t over yet” was a threat and that she may try to harm him again.

Ellis couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Zephir said the October altercation wasn’t the first time Ellis has acted in a hostile way toward him.

“For several months, every time Ms. Ellis sees me, she shouts homophobic slurs and I continued to ignore her,” he told the Blade in October after contacting the Blade about the incident.

On Tuesday, Zephir told the Blade that Ellis later apologized for the altercation and asked him to drop the charges he filed against her with D.C. police. He said he declined her request, but said he’s now dismayed that the U.S. Attorney’s Office has refused to prosecute what he calls a “serious hate crime” against him.

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District of Columbia

Dignity Washington opens new center in Dupont Circle

Proceeds from sale of old building used to expand programming

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Dignity Washington President Tom Yates. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The local LGBTQ Catholic organization Dignity Washington recently opened its new Dignity Center office and community meeting space at a Dupont Circle condominium building that includes first-floor offices for small businesses and community organizations.

Dignity Washington President Tom Yates said the new space at the Imperial House condominium building at 1601 18th Street, N.W., is currently being used as Dignity’s office headquarters and for meetings of the group’s board and committees. He said as COVID-related restrictions are relaxed the space will be used for various events and possible use by other LGBTQ community organizations.

Yates said the group purchased the 1,700-square-foot office space in March of this year, eight months after selling its former Dignity Center building at 721 8th St., S.E., in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill. Dignity officials have said the Capitol Hill building was larger than the space the group needed and the proceeds from its sale would provide funds to expand its programs.

“Dignity Washington, making use of the fiscal support made possible by the change of properties, hopes to become more active speaking truth to power of the Catholic Church,” Yates told the Blade. “The new facility is only a handful of blocks from the Cathedral of St. Matthew,” he said, referring to one of the city’s largest Catholic churches.

Noting the Catholic Church’s historic lack of support for the LGBTQ community, Yates said the proximity of the new Dignity Center would help the group’s mission of showing “the local same-sex community that one can be both Catholic and same-sex loving.” 

Yates said Dignity Washington, founded in 1972, is the largest chapter of the national LGBTQ Catholic organization Dignity USA. 

Dignity Washington, among other things, organizes a weekly 6 p.m. Sunday Mass for LGBTQ Catholics and their friends and families at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church at 1830 Connecticut Ave., N.W.

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