- The Washington Times - Monday, February 24, 2014


This column is going to read like an endorsement in the D.C. race for mayor.

Actually, it is not because that is not a station in my professional life.

At this juncture, with a little more than a month before we hit the polls for the April primaries, allow me this: Washington could use Andy Shallal as its CEO.

The Baghdad-born Mr. Shallal, 58, hasn’t held elected office, like the majority of Democrats in the run for mayor.

He is vested in the city, not merely as a homeowner but also as a father of young children and a business owner.

He is an activist and philanthropist, fighting the good fights on behalf of underprivileged families.

In our interview and during other occasions we’ve chatted, he has railed against warmed-over grits and policies, especially those that have yet to open up dead-end socioeconomic programs that lead to generational welfare. And on education and economic development, he said government “bureaucracy weighs down” new ideas and visions.

“The District needs a new education toolbox,” Mr. Shallal told me on Friday, because the teaching is “stagnant.”

I cited U.S. examples where students are given or already use computers for school, like in and around West Chester, Pa., which uses online teaching and learning, while Mr. Shallal pointed out that the District still follows the desk-and-blackboard model.

“It’s the opposite in other places,” he said. “The kids get the lecture [online] ahead of time, then actually do the homework in class.”

Mr. Shallal, who said that reversing such a student-instructor relationship and the interaction that follows in the classroom would benefit children who “oftentimes don’t have the help when they get home from school.

Economic development and taxes, as you might imagine, are major concerns of Mr. Shallal, a restaurateur who owns Eatonville and Busboys and Poets in the District and nearby Maryland and Virginia.

Planning to open another sit-down spot in the sit-down desert known as East of the River, he has no kind words for red tape but, then again, most businessmen don’t.

So, I asked, why does everything “take so bloody long to be built” in Southeast?

Concept and cookie cutters, he said.

“First of all, one size does not fit all,” said Mr. Shallal, adding that oftentimes communities are not on the same page.

And then he launched in.

“Look at the high unemployment and the cookie-cutter approach that [government] thinks is going to work everywhere,” he said. “The Homeland Security Department [headquarters] and Coast Guard project is expected to bring 14,000 jobs to Southeast. There will be about 300 or some odd jobs not requiring a college degree. The people who will work there will drive behind a gate, then leave when their day is over.

“[Entrepreneurs] want to start their own businesses,” he continued. “The city should give microloans and grants to people trying to get off the ground — for graphic design companies, fashion designers, bakers and people selling cookies, artists and small galleries. Producers.”

In other words, build up the producers and the consumers will come.

With 10 percent of the population in the nation’s capital labeled “returning citizens,” Mr. Shallal’s proposition sounds like a potential match.

The problem, he pointed out, is that the D.C. agency that works closely with returning citizens and ex-felons and the like has a budget of about $286,000 and a staff of fewer than a handful of workers, which means the best those city workers can do is refer them to a handout instead of a hand up.

Mr. Shallal is a long shot by any measure, including the baseline poll The Washington Post conducted in mid-January.

The Post placed its primary bets on Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 Democrat, for at least two obvious reasons: 1) There is no conservative challenger. 2) It didn’t back Vince Gray the last go ‘round.

Back then, The Post endorsed Ms. Bowser’s mentor, then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, and in its Feb. 20 endorsement of Ms. Bower pointed out Mr. Gray’s dirty laundry and his legacy — i.e., following in the mayoral footpaths laid before him.

Oh, well.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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