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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.

12
Feb
2014

We must reform how we pay restaurant workers

restaurant workers, gay news, Washington Blade

A reasonable wage would not dismantle the tipping system as restaurant workers would still be able to earn tips based on merit.

Mark Lee recently wrote an op-ed in the Blade expressing his opposition to paying D.C. restaurant workers minimum wage. He claimed that efforts to help hospitality industry workers get paid fairly are “befuddling residents by contorting facts.” Yet he does not dispute any of the facts that restaurant workers’ rights supporters cite in defense of their cause.

Namely, Lee raises no challenges to the Department of Labor investigation of 9,000 restaurants that exposed that 84 percent were not in compliance with wage and labor standards. (This means that many restaurant workers are being paid BELOW the legal minimum wage.)  Perhaps Lee has never seen the pervasiveness of under-compensation that permeates the industry.

I have worked in several restaurants here in the District and can say wage reform is critical for this industry. Even the most well meaning restaurant managers are often unable to follow wage regulations because of the complexity of the process and profit seeking pressure from the top to keep overall labor costs as low as possible. Requiring restaurant workers to be paid a flat living wage would simplify the payroll process dramatically and make it harder for managers to underpay employees. Lee suggests that worker advocates are seeking to confuse folks, but the truth is that our movement is one of clarity that would add seamlessness to industry procedures.

More than a third of restaurant workers (33.5 percent) in D.C. are not paid time and a half when they work overtime and many are paid nothing for hours past the 40th hour in a week. A change in law is the best way to remedy this injustice because workers who complain have very little power to affect change and risk being fired or having their hours cut. Congress hasn’t raised the tipped minimum wage in 20 years leaving the measly $2 and change per hour with even less purchasing power today because of the rising prices of goods and services over time. Here in D.C. with our outrageous cost of living, we have no time to wait for a stagnant Congress to step in on behalf of restaurant workers.

The dining out population in the District of Columbia wishes for service workers to be treated with dignity and fairness. Sixty-eight percent of restaurant workers report that they lack a pathway to upward mobility in the form of routine raises in response to excellent job performance. A fair wage would demonstrate to these workers that they are valued. Valued workers are likely to perform better. There is no honor in exploiting the people who prepare and serve our food. Wage incentives are an integral part of a successful competitive marketplace.

A reasonable wage would not dismantle the tipping system as restaurant workers would still be able to earn tips based on merit. Tipping is a cultural custom that isn’t going anywhere. In California, the minimum wage for restaurant workers is $10 per hour, the industry is thriving and workers are still tipped. There are seven states total that do not subject restaurant workers to a separate lower minimum wage and 19 states that don’t pay restaurant workers as little as D.C. does.

The real deception in this debate lies in the unfounded apocalyptic predictions that anti-worker activists are making. The sky won’t fall if restaurant workers get a living wage. Quite to the contrary, more talented individuals will enter the restaurant profession as it becomes more reputable and the market will adjust like always. D.C. residents want this reform and will make it happen.

In the next few weeks, community and labor groups will be asking registered D.C. voters to sign petitions to put a livable wage measure for all workers on the ballot in November, and I urge voters to sign it.

Jimmie Luthuli is a past secretary of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club.

06
May
2014

We need a war on rats, not on poor people

Jim Graham, Washington, D.C., gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) (Washington Blade file photo by Jeff Surprenant)

We welcome all of the newcomers to Ward 1. Drawn by all the advantages of close-in living, vibrant entertainment areas and well-designed new apartments, they are coming in the thousands. Many are LGBTQ.

Recently I attended the dedication of the memorial for AIDS caregivers at the old Whitman Walker building at 1407 S St., N.W. Afterwards, I toured one apartment, now on the market for $10,000 per month. It had been a group of small offices back when I was executive director.

The newcomers should also be attracted to this neighborhood because of rich diversity, a diversity that I have worked to preserve and nourish. I want Ward 1 to continue to be a place where all mix harmoniously in mutual respect and appreciation.

A key element of that diversity is economic. And with that comes the need for the right response to challenges that arise from an inner city urban place. In Ward 1, one in five of the people live below the federal poverty level.

For example, I recently met with 50 Ward One residents in a public housing community. Security was the topic of the meeting — but this was not the typical “security” meeting calling for more police. Residents were feeling attacked by live rats falling from the ceiling panels, odors from dead rats accumulating in the walls and rats scurrying around the hallways and in their children’s bedrooms at night.

One resident commented, “We are poor.  People want us to disappear. We know the rats are coming from the condominium construction sites … condos that we can’t afford.”  Many shook their heads in agreement. We are hard at work on that problem.

But there are 144,000 District residents, which includes half of all D.C. children, eligible for federal food stamps. On Nov. 1, the federal government cut benefits despite widespread agreement that it is one of those rare “everybody wins” programs that government should be proud of: the consumer is healthy, the grocery store operators and employees work and the farmers produce.

When you have little or nothing, $30 less for food makes a huge difference.

The D.C. government has also cut welfare (in each case, with me voting “no”) without having the programs in place to move the poor from dependency to self-sufficiency. Since April 2011, 10,343 District children 13 years old and younger and 6,150 families have had their meager income slashed by welfare cuts. Many of these children are managing to get through their day with less sleep, less food, less time with a loving adult, and less prepared for school. Today a family of four receives about $250 a month in D.C. welfare. I want families to be self-sufficient.

But there are real barriers to finding jobs and self-sufficiency — mental illness, substance abuse, illiteracy and physical disabilities. We need effective programs to meet families where they are and not where we think they should be. With only 50 percent of welfare families engaged in work-readiness programs after almost two years of “reforms,” we must do better. Less money means more homelessness.

There will be a 10 percent increase in the number of District families who will qualify for emergency housing this winter. The real solution is greater investments in affordable housing for the working poor and supportive housing for persons living with debilitating mental illnesses and behavior needs.

Finally, there is a widening wage gap in the District and in the Ward that I represent.  A CFO report issued just last month found that 42 percent of District residents earned less than $30,000 per year in 2011. Another report published by the National Low Income Housing Council, finds that a resident earning D.C.’s minimum wage of $8.25 has to work 132 hours per week or earn $27.15 per hour to afford any two-bedroom apartment in D.C.

With my support, the Council passed a bill that required the largest, most profitable retailers in the District to offer a minimum wage and benefit package equal to $12.50 per hour. But the mayor vetoed it.

Now the Council is considering several bills to increase the minimum wage across the board. There is agreement that a well-paid workforce is a reliable workforce. Poverty wages aren’t good for anyone.

We need a war on rats, not a war on poor people. And every newcomer needs to be conscious of, and engaged in, that struggle for economic justice.

Jim Graham represents Ward 1 on the D.C. City Council. Reach him at jim@grahamwone.com.

12
Nov
2013

Church of England to allow partnered gay bishops

Gene Robinson, gay news, gay politics dc, Washington Blade

Bishop Gene Robinson became the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay Bishop in 2003, setting the stage for a decade of advances for LGBT people in the church. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Church of England on Friday announced that clergy in same-sex civil partnerships can become bishops as long as they remain celibate.

“The House has confirmed that clergy in civil partnerships and living in accordance with the teaching of the church on human sexuality can be considered as candidates for the episcopate,” Rt. Rev. Graham James said on Friday on behalf of the House of Bishops of the Church of England. “The House believed it would be unjust to exclude from consideration for the episcopate anyone seeking to live fully in conformity with the church’s teaching on sexual ethics or other areas of personal life and discipline. All candidates for the episcopate undergo a searching examination of personal and family circumstances, given the level of public scrutiny associated with being a bishop in the Church of England. But these, along with the candidate’s suitability for any particular role for which he is being considered, are for those responsible for the selection process to consider in each case.”

The House of Bishops said in 2005 before a law that allowed same-sex couples to register as civil partners in the United Kingdom took effect that gay celibate men could become clergy. The body voted to extend the policy to bishops last month during a meeting outside London.

The ordination of gay bishops in the Church of England has remained controversial since Rev. Jeffrey John in 2003 became the first person in a same-sex relationship successfully nominated as bishop. He stepped down before he was to have been officially consecrated.

Gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson’s 2003 election sparked a firestorm of controversy that threatened to divide the broader Anglican Church — he wore a bullet proof vest during his consecration that took place inside a hockey area on the University of New Hampshire. Sharp-shooters were stationed on nearby rooftops during the ceremony, while protesters gathered outside the venue.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams barred Robinson from attending the decennial Lambeth Conference in England in 2008.

Los Angeles Bishop Mary Glasspool in 2010 became the first partnered lesbian to be ordained within the Episcopal Church. John had been considered a candidate to become Bishop of Southwark the same year, but his nomination was blocked.

LGBT rights advocates largely mocked the church’s statement — and especially its insistence on celibacy.

“We’re sure many Anglicans will be happy to hear of the church’s latest epiphany on gay clergy, although many lesbians will be disappointed that they remain unable to serve as bishops,” Ruth Hunt, spokesperson for Stonewall, an LGBT rights group in the U.K., told the Washington Blade earlier on Friday. “I’m sure celibate gay men will be thrilled by this exciting new job opportunity, if perhaps somewhat perplexed as to how it will be policed by the church.”

Reverend Colin Coward, director of Changing Attitude, an LGBT Anglican group, did not immediately return the Blade’s request for comment. He told the British Broadcasting Corporation that the church’s statement “will be laughed at by the majority in this country.”

Conservative Anglicans criticized any effort to allow gay bishops within the church.

“That would be a major change in church doctrine and therefore not something that can be slipped out in the news,” Rev. Rod Thomas, chair of Reform, an evangelical group within the Church of England, told the BBC. “It is something that has got to be considered by the General Synod.”

The church’s announcement coincides with the British government’s plan to introduce a bill later this month to introduce a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in England and Wales. Scottish lawmakers are expected to consider a similar measure this year.

04
Jan
2013