- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The unveiling of Ben’s Chili Bowl new mural on U Street NW became political in no time at all on Wednesday.

D.C. politicos such as Mayor Muriel Bowser, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and council member Brianne Nadeau addressed a crowd of chili lovers, many of whom sported statehood pins and stickers on the their clothes.

“I am just very proud to say that there has never been a better time in Washington where we are investing in our schools, our neighborhoods and we are cleaner and safer than ever,” Miss Bowser said. “We dedicate this wall to people who have made our city better and the DMV [District, Maryland, Virginia] area better.”

The new mural, featuring African-American leaders, athletes and entertainers, displays some faces from the original such as local radio personality Donnie Simpson and former President Barack Obama, whose wife — former first lady Michelle Obama — now is included among the portraits on the iconic eatery’s wall.

Images of other notables such as abolitionist Harriet Tubman, “Empire” actress Taraji P. Henson, boxing champion Muhammad Ali and Grammy Award-winning singer Roberta Flack are presented with likenesses of singer/musician Prince and guitarist Chuck Brown, the District’s very own “godfather” of go-go music.

Notably absent from the wall is comedian Bill Cosby, whose image on the old mural was defaced in 2015 after dozens of women came forward to accuse him of drugging and sexually assaulting them over several years. (A Pennsylvania judge last week declared a mistrial in the only criminal proceeding to emerge from the accusations.)

But the diner’s owners have described Mr. Cosby as “still family,” and his free-meals-for-life benefit remains intact.

Ms. Norton was honored Wednesday for her place in the mural, as well as her work as the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress. During her short speech, she couldn’t resist talking about the current president.

“I’ve got to tell you the truth. When I hear the word ‘wall,’ I go into fighting mode, because we’re so busy fighting Donald Trump’s wall,” said Ms. Norton, a Democrat who is serving her 14th term. “But who would not want to be on Ben’s wall? The Alis have done so much for this town.”

The diner’s founder, Ben Ali, died in 2009 at the age of 82.

Ben’s son, Kamal Ali, used his time at the podium to advocate for D.C. statehood.

“Can we get a vote Congress? Our city is changing. What would Marion Barry on that wall say? ‘Donald Trump is president?’ What would Harriet Tubman say?” Mr. Ali said, as the crowd cheered. “They’re saying the same thing that Barack and Michelle are saying. The same thing everyone on this wall is saying: Give D.C. residents a vote!”

The D.C. Department of Public Works and the Commission on the Arts and the Humanities worked with Ben’s Chili Bowl on the mural project.

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