14th Street NW has everything: small plates, French bistros, even a prostitution-inspired dessert restaurant. Now it’s also played host to an alleged fit of massive proportions by a then-Vince Gray staffer who now works for Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser.
On the surface, James Bulger looks to have a plum career ahead of him in District politics. He was well-connected: Until an abrupt exit earlier this summer, he worked for years in Gray’s administration as a liaison to Ward 2. His father, Tom Bulger, serves on the Metro board with Bowser and is married to Diana K. Bulger, who co-chaired a “Women for Muriel” fundraiser.
After his exit from the Gray administration, Bowser’s Ward 4 D.C. Council office hired him for constituent service work. According to emails obtained by LL, though, Bulger left the administration under a cloud of suspicion after an alleged belligerent, drunken appearance at sister 14th Street spots Pearl Dive and Black Jack.
“You have somebody with a little taste of power and an alcohol buzz on them, and the next thing you know he’s poking your manager,” says Jeff Black, who owns both restaurants.
Don’t blame Bowser’s camp for hiring him, though. Last week, Bulger told LL that his new bosses in Bowser’s Council office were in the dark about l’affaire Pearl Dive.
“They don’t know anything about it,” Bulger told LL before refusing to comment further.
Bowser legislative director Rob Hawkins declined to comment extensively to LL on a personnel matter, saying only that Bulgar has been hired as the office’s Ward 4 constituent service liaison.
Bulger’s alleged troublemaking began when he was still working for Gray. On the evening of May 9, according to Pearl Dive and Black Jack manager Beau Monroe, the allegedly “extremely intoxicated” Bulger showed up at the restaurant during a busy Friday shift and demanded to see him. Bulger wanted to talk about a neighborhood dispute about where valet parking would be located, and a deluge of complaints he’d received from neighbors about it.
“The gist of it was he was pissed because his day got ruined,” Black says.
The way Monroe describes Bulger to LL, the Ward 2 liaison makes for an unappetizing restaurant guest. According to Monroe, the allegedly boozy Bulger bragged about a supposed family connection to like-named Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger. More worryingly for the Gray administration, Monroe claims that Bulger even threatened to sic Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs inspectors on the restaurant as punishment for the valet parking controversy.
“Because you ruined my week, you’re going to get a visit from DCRA next week and they’re going to fine you heavily,” Monroe recalls Bulger saying.
Gray chief of staff Chris Murphy appeared to take Monroe’s account of the night seriously.
“I am mostly shocked to see this,” Murphy wrote in an email to Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington head Kathy Hollinger, after Hollinger emailed him Monroe’s complaints about Bulger. (LL obtained the email through the Freedom of Information Act.) “Please let Beau know how apologetic we are for this inexcusable incident. And sure him this will be dealt with.”
Both Murphy and Steve Glaude, Gray’s director of the Office of Community Affairs, declined to comment to LL about a personnel matter. In an email to Glaude, though, Murphy sounded upset.
“I think we need to assess the facts and take real action,” Murphy wrote.
“This [is] so unacceptable,” Glaude wrote back.
Black, who’s supporting Bowser rival David Catania in the mayor’s race, says he’s worried that Bulger will be back in the mayor’s office if Bowser wins.
“I would hate to think he’s going to have some sway over me again,” Black says.
Read the email exchanges about the situation below:
Photo by Darrow Montgomery