- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 20, 2000

The D.C. Council yesterday voted to lift a six-year ban that prevented downtown nude dancing clubs from applying for liquor licenses.

After a heated, three-hour debate, the council passed a wide-ranging bill on liquor regulation, that included the pro-strip-club provision despite the strong objections of police, religious groups and business leaders.

"This is not a pro-neighborhood move to put a nude establishment near where people work or live or pray or play," said at-large council member Harold Brazil, who opposed the measure along with Democrats Vincent Orange, Ward 5, and Kevin Chavous, Ward 7.

"This bill is destroying the protection we have for people who live downtown, work downtown, and for schools and churches," said Mr. Brazil.

The boon for strip clubs was the result of a major lobbying effort by the D.C. chapter of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, which undertook a campaign of letter writing and personal visits to council members.

"I'm delighted," GLAA founder Frank Kameny said of the council's action yesterday.

"We should have never had the 1994 moratorium to begin with," Mr. Kameny told The Washington Times. "I think it will make the downtown area a more lively and vibrant place than it is."

One member of the group, Rick Rosendall, called Mr. Brazil a "fascist" outside the council chambers yesterday. "We oppose the idea that the government should behave as a nanny for its citizens," said Mr. Rosendall, arguing on grounds of civil liberties.

Homosexual activists lobbied to lift the provision because "we support the right of citizens of the District, including members of our community, to choose their own adult entertainment," said Mr. Rosendall.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams still has not taken a public position on lifting the strip-club moratorium. He strongly opposes the portion that removes the Alcoholic Beverage Commission from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and makes it independent.

In a statement issued yesterday, he said the bill has several provisions he will "be reviewing closely in the coming weeks."

Mr. Brazil joined by Mr. Chavous and Mr. Orange proposed an amendment to retain the moratorium.

But Council Chairman Linda Cropp, at-large Democrat, removed his proposal from a vote with a parliamentary maneuver known as a "substitute amendment."

Mrs. Cropp's amendment, billed as a compromise, creates a mechanism for residents to stop new nude-dancing clubs from opening: If a person applies for a license to open a new strip club downtown, the application would be quashed if 51 percent of the registered voters within 1,200 feet of the club sign a petition against it.

The mechanism would not help residents trying to stop an existing strip club that applies for a liquor license.

That, Mr. Brazil said, gives strip clubs "the presumption to be there, and it puts the burden on the residents to have them collect signatures and have to go through all this stuff when all they want is to go to church, go to school or go to work without all this crazy stuff going on."

Mr. Brazil mentioned other problems with Mrs. Cropp's amendment: many city residents are not registered voters so their opposition would not count; members of churches located near the club might not qualify for the petition; and it could unconstitutionally grant government powers to citizens.

During the heated debate over the strip-club provision, council members David Catania and Carol Schwartz, both at-large Republicans, and Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, argued for lifting the moratorium.

Mr. Catania, an open homosexual, castigated Mr. Brazil for "grandstanding."

"I wonder if there was a second ship of puritans, one that landed at Plymouth Rock and one at the Potomac," said Mr. Catania. "Why is this all of a sudden a license to get morally indignant when there are so many other things to get indignant about?"

Despite several council members dismissing Mr. Brazil's concerns, a number of groups were opposed to lifting the moratorium.

Letting strip clubs have liquor licenses "leads to rowdiness, street fights, gambling, public drinking and drunkenness It's a mix of vices that seems inappropriate to us," said Terrance W. Gainer, the No. 2 officer in the Metropolitan Police Department.

Strip clubs, especially those that serve alcohol, generate prostitution, according to numerous studies conducted across the country.

Executive Assistant Police Chief Gainer agrees: "Nude dancing clubs are feeders for organized street prostitution."

The managing director of developer JBG Cos., which had planned to develop more than 900 housing units downtown, urged the council, in a letter, to retain the moratorium.

"We have strong reservations about the compatibility of the proposed legislation with the greater public policy goal of creating a true 'living downtown,' " wrote R. Stewart Bartley.

The Rev. J. Wilfrid Parent, a priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Chinatown, said the council's vote "reverses the direction that the city has taken in recent years and much of the progress we've made in downtown Washington."

Until a few years ago, the area around St. Mary's Church, at Fifth and H Streets NW, was "very rough," he said.

"Now, we're going from a situation where these establishments were banned to a situation where, even with the compromise, there's the possibility they will be established," said Father Parent.

"Sharon Ambrose and Jack Evans seem intent on dragging downtown back to its seedy and dark days, and that's a tragedy for the city and its revitalization," said Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, a network of 36 churches.

Neighborhood groups focused on other portions of the bill, but several weren't pleased the council lifted the ban.

David Stephens, vice chairman of the advisory neighborhood commission in Logan Circle, said his neighbors would like the moratorium to remain in place.

When strip clubs were prevalent in the Franklin Park area in the early and mid-1990s, "the prostitution that was there migrated up into our neighborhood, and that's been a real sort of enduring problem," said Mr. Stephens.

Business groups such as the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District have not taken a public position on the issue.

But officials with those groups told The Washington Times that many of their members are concerned about the effect of strip clubs serving alcohol again after six years.

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