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D.C. Councilmembers voted unanimously for more nudie bars. What were they thinking?

It didn’t take long for the G-string to get peeled off, exposing the nether parts of a growing controversy over allowing more nude bars to open in the District. Last month, the D.C. Council unanimously approved repealing a moratorium on liquor licenses for nude-dancing bars—there are currently 13 such establishments in the city—as part of a wide-reaching overhaul of liquor-control regulations. But suddenly, in the bare light of public exposure, the council has decided it doesn’t much like what it sees.

Last weekend, press reports surfaced that a group of local entrepreneurs was planning to propose opening a D.C. branch of Scores, the infamous New York strip club with alleged ties to organized crime figures. On Tuesday, the Washington Post lobbed a scathing editorial at Mayor Anthony A. Williams, urging him to veto the liquor overhaul because it contained the nude-dancing provision, which the newspaper termed “a green light for a new red-light district downtown.” Within hours, highly placed council sources say, councilmembers were diving for cover, promising to reconsider the whole idea.

A day before councilmembers started their furious backpedaling, the Washington City Paper asked them to explain why they had voted in favor of allowing more nude-dancing bars in the District, when other major U.S. cities have been trying to curtail such establishments for years. The councilmembers had one refrain in common: They all said they believed that enough safeguards had been placed in the legislation—such as stringent review by the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Board and the opportunity for neighborhood residents to oppose the opening of any new clubs—to prevent a rapid proliferation of nude-dancing bars. Here are the other explanations they offered:

Sandra Allen, Ward 8: “There is a monopoly on businesses that currently have nude dancing. For fairness, everybody should be able to apply….The current ABC Board is more conservative, and I don’t think they are going to let us have a red-light district. But if, when we started talking about this, I had known there was a business with possible mob connections that wanted to open, that would have raised a red flag, and it would have made a difference.”

Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6: “I am really upset that people would tell the mayor to veto the whole bill. I don’t want to see the whole bill go down. The liquor industry would love to deep-six the whole bill.”

Harold Brazil, At Large: “This is a huge bill. There are some good things in it….The nude dancing aside, there was enough in it that I could support. But, after reflecting on it, I have recommended to the mayor that he veto the legislation.”

David Catania, At Large: “I voted in favor of the bill, because I believe the current moratorium was overly restrictive. It prevented current establishments [that had been grandfathered] from moving and keeping their licenses, and it prevented current establishments from transferring their licenses….I am not eager to see a proliferation of nude dancing. But the District is a big enough place that it can accommodate many differences of opinion on the subject.”

Linda Cropp, Chair: “What you do as a city, you vote on what will meet the needs of citizens. I don’t drink, but I wouldn’t ban all liquor stores. It’s a fine line; I anguished over what position I would take….It is not the council’s function to decide for citizens what is right. We should be open for business, following our guidelines, rules, and regulations.”

Jack Evans, Ward 2: “The bill has a lot of good provisions. There’s probably stuff I don’t agree with, but the bill is a very good revision….I voted on it to support Sharon [Ambrose], but also because members of the gay community, who are very good supporters of mine, lobbied to have the moratorium lifted.”

Jim Graham, Ward 1: “Under no circumstances did I want new nude-dancing licenses in residential areas. But there are some constitutional issues here. And there is some very interesting case law that can’t be dismissed out of hand.”

Kathy Patterson, Ward 3: “The government should not be prohibiting certain kinds of entertainment. I see it as a civil liberty and constitutional kind of issue. Outright prohibition is a heavier hammer than needed.”

Carol Schwartz, At Large: “The other businesses that were grandfathered had a monopoly; it’s not like there wasn’t anything happening here. We didn’t get any huge complaint about them….Adults should be allowed to be adults….If we find we are going to become the nude-dancing capital, then I am ready to jump in and change the law.”

Councilmembers Kevin Chavous (Ward 7) and Vincent Orange (Ward 5) did not return repeated telephone calls to their offices. At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson could not be reached for comment. CP