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In recent years, the city’s nightlife lobby has tried to portray Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans as the D.C.-politics version of John Lithgow’s Bible Belt preacher in Footloose.
And truth be told, they had a pretty good case. In 2002, after all, Evans introduced a bill to limit dance floors in restaurants to 10 feet by 10 feet. But the councilmember who represents such evening hot spots as Dupont Circle, Logan Circle, and Georgetown didn’t want to impose a municipal law to awaken the Kevin Bacon in all of us; he was seeking the change to clarify differences between restaurants and nightclubs for licensing purposes.
The organizations that have targeted Evans—the D.C. Nightlife Coalition and the Committee for a Living D.C.—say that they want to shed the image of Washington as a town where staying out late means ordering Chinese, catching Larry King Live on the office TV, and bolting from the Dirksen Building before Metro shuts down at midnight.
A worthy cause, indeed.
And lately, Evans himself appears to be lending a hand to that effort. For instance, loyal readers of “Out & About,” the Washington Post’s weekly social roundup, have learned that the Ward 2 councilmember needs more than 100 square feet on the dance floor just for himself:
•On April 4, Evans received a Substance & Style Award from Washington Life magazine and attended the glam awards dinner at Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase. The Post ran a picture of Evans socializing with fellow awardees.
•On April 16, Evans was once again spotted by the Post, this time at the Corcoran Ball, an annual black-tie boogiefest benefiting the art gallery.
•And LL had our own “Out & About” moment: On April 9, Evans dominated the Dream nightclub dance floor at Ward 5 Councilmember Vincent B. Orange Sr.’s birthday party. Evans proved to celebrants that even in Georgetown they know how to “teach you the el-ect-ric slide.” And even after D.C.’s unofficial political dance ended, Evans stayed on the dance floor like John Travolta for more than an hour and got down to Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, and many classic artists of the ’70s and ’80s.
Perhaps the councilmember was just doing his homework: On Tuesday, Evans and his colleagues voted to approve a monstrous piece of legislation tweaking the city’s alcoholic-beverage-control laws. Spearheaded by Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon Ambrose, chair of the council’s Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the package promulgates, among others, the following reforms:
•It expands the authority of Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration inspectors to check identification of patrons and seize illegally obtained alcohol and identification from minors.
•It clarifies licensing of restaurants; in the past, neighborhood groups have complained about supposed restaurateurs who open for business with a menu and utensils, only to turn on the disco lights and transform into a nightclub later.
•It requires that a certificate of occupancy be obtained prior to the issuance of a temporary liquor license except in the case of outdoor events or soirees in private homes for noncommercial purposes.
Many of the major changes Ambrose moved on Tuesday were fairly innocuous. Yet the omnibus bill reawakened the city’s nightlife coalitions—in other words, the restaurant and liquor lobby—to promote their agenda in dire language. “D.C. Nightlife is Under Attack,” warned ads put in local papers including the Washington City Paper. The groups flooded the council with thousands of e-mails from nightclub patrons concerned that the District might not keep the whiskey flowing.
The nightclubbers’ message was a carefully mixed cocktail of bureaucratese and alarmism. “While the proposed regulatory legislation to be voted on by the Council provides some limited, appropriate, and beneficial reform initiatives, these tepid reform measures only begin to address the abuses of the law that threaten Washington’s community nightlife and collective cultural amenities,” the ad reads.
Was Evans pushing for a 5-foot-by-5-foot dance floor?
So just where does this great threat to “collective cultural amenities” lie? For the nightlife coalitions, it lies just around the corner from restaurants and clubs, in the living rooms of neighborhood activists. More specifically, in the living rooms of the folks who force liquor establishments into “voluntary” agreements, which place operating restrictions on the businesses and can be ginned up by as few as five objecting neighbors. Often the covenants govern reasonable matters such as live-music hours and trash pickup, but some carry far-out requirements that drive the liquor lobby to drinking.
Committee for a Living D.C. head Frederic Harwood—who is also executive director of the D.C. Licensed Beverage Association—decries the cultural impact of voluntary agreements in neighborhoods such as Mount Pleasant. “Here you have a Latino neighborhood where you cannot have Latino music, mariachi music, or even a poetry reading in an ABC establishment,” because of voluntary agreements, says Harwood.
In the utopia of the nightlifers, live tunes roar from corner bars, people swill drinks until dawn, and voluntary agreements go the way of the mayor’s schools-takeover plan.
Well, the party folks will have to settle for a partial victory: The new law allows the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to amend voluntary agreements after they have been in place for four years. Plus, the law gets rid of the 14(e) referendum process, which has allowed neighbors to vote on whether a business can have a liquor license.
The liquor folks can at least take solace in having recruited one politician to their cause: Ward 8 Councilmember Sandy Allen, who advanced several nightlife-booster-authored amendments in Tuesday’s deliberations. Allen’s speech from the dais read much like the jargon-laden advertisements of the nightlife proponents: “adding appropriateness standards,” “expand standing to all neighborhood stakeholders,” and “restore fairness and balance.”
“Are we thinking of the extent to which the establishment will contribute to the cultural vitality of Washington, D.C.?” Allen asked.
The answer was no: All three pro-nightlife amendments proposed by Allen failed to get support. “These appropriateness standards are grossly misused,” Ambrose said, adding that many of the pro-nightlife e-mails she received came from such out-of-town locales as California and Florida.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
In making their cases for which way to go on D.C. public-schools governance, our elected officials borrowed the thoughts of some of America’s finest educators.
“Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and over again and getting the same result,” Mayor Anthony A. Williams announced at his April 14 press conference. On almost every major piece of legislation the mayor has wanted, he has waited and waited and waited to lobby councilmembers. Then he has made a last-minute push for it and expected different results.
In hoping for the different result this time, Williams enrolled Evans and Orange, who both supported Williams’ proposed takeover of the school system. “Frederick Douglass said it, and so did John F. Kennedy: ‘One man with courage is a majority,’” quoted Orange on April 14 as well. The technology-high-school-obsessed councilmember might want to hit his history books again: The quote was originally uttered by Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States, and then invoked by Robert F. Kennedy in the foreword to his brother’s book, Profiles in Courage.
Ward 2’s Evans, who displays a poster of Robert Kennedy in his Wilson Building office, nailed his Kennedy quote: “Few men are willing to brave the disapproval of their fellows, the censure of their colleagues, or the wrath of their society,” Evans quoted from a 1966 Robert Kennedy speech, which he uttered at LL’s count three times, including once on the dais during Tuesday’s council debate. “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. It is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.”
In the end, Evans’ colleagues didn’t yield at all: The legislative body rejected the mayoral takeover 9 to 4 votes. The council approved keeping the hybrid school board as the governing body for now and moving to a fully elected body in 2007 by a vote of 11 to 2.
“I understand Robert Kennedy talked about moral courage,” said Ward 7 Councilmember Kevin P. Chavous at one point. “But Ben Franklin said, ‘Well done is well said.’”
Actually, Franklin made an even better point: “Well done is better than well said.”
Chavous might want to make note of that.
At-Large Councilmember Carol Schwartz eschewed Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations for a little pop culture: “There are no good guys and there are no bad guys, Mr. Mayor,” said Schwartz, who voted against the takeover, imperfectly quoting from the 1977classic Dave Mason song. “There’s only you and me—and we just disagree.”
•Over her career as president of Verizon D.C., Marie C. Johns was the ultimate insider, always a quick call away from the mayor or any other local potentate who moves mountains or parcels or paper. Yet the former communications exec says she’s not plugged in to conversations happening around town encouraging her to run for mayor.
Those rumored to be talking up a Johns candidacy include some of the city’s most prominent women in business, such as Washington Sports and Entertainment executive Marianne Niles. Niles says that Johns and she are neighbors, and that recently an “informal gathering of girlfriends” assembled at her house, and among other topics, Johns’ possible mayoral run came up.
Though Niles declined to name names, other “girlfriends” pushing a Johns candidacy apparently include D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang and former D.C. First Lady Cora Masters Barry.
Johns fits into the D.C. fantasy-candidate mold: A well-connected black business executive with little experience in the public sector.
Sharon Pratt Kelly, anyone?
Johns currently serves on the boards of the National Capital Revitalization Corp. and various other civic organizations.
Johns tells LL that she’s honored that women she admires would consider her a good mayor. “I’ve never considered it before,” says Johns, who says she wants to spend more time with her family right now. “I’m open to considering all new ways to be engaged.”
•After 10 years of issuing public-policy studies, the nonprofit D.C. Agenda will shutter by August. This move marks the end of an institution outspoken in its advocacy of various projects including the Healthy Families Collaborative, which is a neighborhood-based child-welfare initiative, and the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corp., which provides services to the city’s underprivileged youngsters.
The outfit also helped organize Mayor Williams’ citywide “literacy coaches” campaign. D.C. Agenda President and CEO John McKoy says the city’s State Education Office is looking for a new home for the program.
Founded as a project of the Federal City Council, D.C. Agenda has published studies about the city’s dysfunction since 1994.
“Our business model is just hard to support in this time,” says McKoy. “We’re not like Red Cross. We’re not like an organization housing the homeless, building homes—we’re not doing hands-on, tough social-service work. We’re a step back from that.” —Elissa Silverman
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