Anas “Andy” Shallal, the Iraqi American scientist turned poet, painter, activist and multimillionaire restaurateur, is a hard-to-define outsider in this year’s Democratic primary for mayor. Here are five more things from a new wide-ranging Q&A you probably don’t know about the populist owner of Busboys and Poets:
1. If elected, Shallal promises to adopt a mayoral “tribal statement.”
Above the bar in Shallal’s Busboys and Poets hangs a company “tribal statement.” The restaurant-hangout is a “a community where racial and cultural connections are consciously uplifted.”
Shallal says the city needs a similarly meaningful message.
“I would love to have a tribal statement or a community statement, or whatever people felt comfortable calling it,” Shallal said.
2. Not all artists starve, at least not ones that own 5 restaurants.
Shallal pegs his net worth at “something like $12 to $15 million,” easily making him the richest person in the race for mayor.
But Shallal says he won’t come close to contributing $1 million of his own money to rival the spending of Gray’s biggest challengers. He has lent his upstart campaign $45,000 and recently put in $50,000. He has attracted about an equal amount in campaign contributions. He says he wants his ideas, not his bank account, to win the election.
3. Shallal says he’s seen – and experienced – racism in his interactions with city offices.
“It’s definitely an issue when you go to DCRA [the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs], it’s definitely an issue when you go to the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles],” Shallal said. “It depends who’s behind the counter, how you’re going to be treated.”
And is that blacks discriminating against whites, or vice versa? Both, says Shallal. “Either, or. I don’t think it’s one or the other.
4. Shallal wants everyone to know he does NOT hate white people (or Jewish people)
When the D.C. Jewish Community Center ended its affiliation with an after-theater forum, Peace Cafe, that Shallal co-hosted, some thought it was partly because of the fallout of an unusually fierce anti-Israel comment Shallal made in 2007.
Shallal acknowledged recently that the red-meat sound bites — including the claim that the U.S. gets its marching orders “from Tel Aviv” and a warning of “a new Israeli-American century” — could come back to haunt him.
“A very nice commercial for someone, I’m sure,” Shallal said, envisioning the headline, “Ah, yes. ‘Andy hates white people … Just kidding, that’s off the record, I didn’t say that.”
5. Shallal decided to run because Mayor Vincent C. Gray didn’t listen to him.
When it became clear that he didn’t have much sway with the mayor he supported in 2010 on causes such as a higher minimum wage for Wal-Mart workers, Shallal said he began pondering his own run.
“Frankly, I was hoping to have more access and influence in his administration, not a job or anything like that, but I thought, someone needs to address this issue of this inequality that has run amok and it needs to be addressed in a more intentional way, as opposed to say, ‘oh, it’ll fix itself.’’