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D.C.’s first “night mayor” is moving on to a day job in the private sector in mid-July. Officially the director of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture, Shawn Townsend helped shepherd the local hospitality industry through the impossible conditions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. He says he’s comfortable leaving now that the city’s nightlife economy is inching toward a resurgence. Restaurants, bars, and nightclubs can operate at full capacity without social distancing restrictions in place.
“Over time, we’ll see nightlife come back bigger and better than it’s ever been before,” Townsend tells City Paper. “I’m happy to be leaving nightlife in a place where things are back open and people can get back to work. People can come back and visit the city. I’m grateful for the opportunity the mayor gave me to be in this position.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser appointed Townsend to the job in November 2018. He came from the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, where he supervised six investigators who conduct routine inspections of businesses that hold licenses to serve alcohol. City Paper checked in on his priorities about six months into office. He didn’t have much time to implement his ideas before the pandemic hit. Most recently, Townsend got engaged to Symone Sanders, the senior adviser and chief spokeswoman for Vice President Kamala Harris. The Post caught up with the couple at Old Ebbitt Grill.
Bowser’s office provided the following statement on the departure of both Townsend and Sheila Alexander-Reid, who has served since 2015 as the director of the Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning Affairs and formerly worked as City Paper‘s director of strategic engagement.
“We are incredibly grateful to Director Alexander-Reid and Director Townsend for their dedicated service to our community,” it reads. “We know they will both continue to move D.C. forward and improve the lives of Washingtonians in their roles outside the D.C. government.”
Townsend points to the 2020 Economic Impact of DC’s Nightlife Industry study as one of the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture’s biggest undertakings and accomplishments and notes that another one will be conducted in 2021 to further guide how nightlife can recover following the pandemic. He calls the office “small and mighty.”
His advice for his successor? “Do not call themselves the night mayor,” Townsend jokes. Bowser was never fond of the nickname because it implies she’s not watching over the District around the clock. More seriously, Townsend offers, “get to know the industry so that you can understand the issues and the challenges of how the office can continue to be helpful, whether that’s in public or behind the scenes. The key to success is don’t worry about the visibility of the office or the work you’re doing as long as the goal of helping a business or a worker continues to be a priority.”
City Paper has already gotten pinged by someone who wants the job.