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Editorial: Mayor should raise the bar at alcohol board

The resignation of embattled Alcohol Beverage Control Board Chairman Charles Brodsky offers a welcome opening for Mayor Vincent Gray to use his appointment powers to recast this key regulatory body as both a protector of neighborhoods and a promoter of a key economic force in the city, especially true in Georgetown with its high concentrations of liquor-serving businesses in a residential community. First, the Mayor should be strongly praised for bringing Brodsky's toxic tenure to a halt last week. Brodsky's arrogance, disrespect for community leaders, and questionable standards of conduct were doing active harm to neighborhoods as well as the public trust. But now, the Mayor has an unusual opportunity to exercise his powers to remake the board, because he can appoint six of the seven board members. Brodsky’s seat is vacant as is the one formerly filled by Mital Gandhi who resigned in March in protest over Brodsky’s apparent conflicts of interest and other questioned actions and the terms of four other members (Herman O. Jones, Nicholas S. Alberti, Donald C. Brooks, Mike Silverstein) expired May 7. Readers of The Georgetown Dish, with their appreciation for the important role entertainment, restaurants and cultural life play in Washington, along with the critical need to preserve the neighborhoods and residential tax base most impacted by alcohol establishments, understand how important the alcohol board is. Councilmember Jim Graham said he appreciated some of the initiatives Brodsky took to "strike the right balance between community engagement and investors in the entertainment business." That's code language for a warmer embrace of business and alcohol interests. As the District builds its reputation as a place for restaurants and retail, alcohol policies should support broader economic goals. However, disputes before the ABC Board often involve harm to neighborhoods and other businesses. The rights of one alcohol business cannot trample the basic rights of its neighbors -- whether they be residents or other, sometimes alcohol-related, businesses. The issues, while often "hyperlocal" as Brodsky derisively characterized them in the case of Georgetown, can be nuanced, complex, and critical. The Dish asks our readers for names to suggest to Mayor Gray to fill the six vacancies on the alcohol board. We get the conversation going with these suggestions: Bill Starrels, (Ward 2) ANC from Georgetown who has shown a keen interest in and acquired an expertise on liquor issues. Dennis James (Ward 1), who as head of the Kalorama Citizens Association deals continuously with liquor questions. Bryan Weaver (Ward 1), who ran two recent campaigns for the Council as a good-government candidate. Jackie Blumenthal (Ward 3) from Glover Park, she served on the liquor-related noise task force. Mike Silverstein (Ward 2), who is a current Board member who has been independent and fair-minded. Jacque Patterson (Ward 8), who ran a spirited campaign for Council at-large, and is more than qualified to adjudicate these issues wisely. To assure that the new Board is completely above-board and fair to all communities across the city, and to eliminate any future concerns about conflict-of-interest, Silverstein and Starrels should not continue as ANCs if appointed to the ABC Board -- nor should James as head of the Kalorama citizens group. With the tumultuous tenure of Brodsky behind them, the new alcohol commissioners can make a fresh start and, like their highly-rated staff at the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration, set the bar high for public integrity, efficiency, and sound decision making.