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D.C. mayor to Trumps: Leave José Andrés alone

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) welcomes the new hotel being built by Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka, but not the lawsuit the mogul brought against  local chef Jose Andres. (Photo by Michael S.Williamson/The Washington Post)
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D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said it’s been a pleasure working with Ivanka Trump as she and her father, Republican presidential contender Donald Trump, redevelop the Old Post Office Pavilion into a $200 million luxury hotel, due to open later this year.

But Bowser said Tuesday that she did not take kindly to the Trumps’ $10 million lawsuit against homegrown restaurateur José Andrés. The Trumps brought the suit after the chef pulled out of a lease to open a restaurant in the hotel, following Donald Trump’s derogatory campaign trail comments about Mexican immigrants. Andrés counter-sued for $8 million and the cases are ongoing.

ThinkFoodGroup, which Andrés co-owns, is based in D.C. and operates more than a dozen restaurants, including Jaleo, Zaytinya and Minibar.

“That hotel is important to the District. That hotel has to be successful, it’s a beautiful building…and we are very confident that they will deliver a great building,” Bowser said. “What is very difficult for us is, if you take the politics out of it, is that one of our business owners could be harmed in some dealings with the Trumps, which troubles me a lot. So we really would like them to resolve that.”

The mayor said she “conveyed that I don’t want our small business owners hurt” to Ivanka Trump, who manages the project for the Trump Organization. Bowser declined to say what the response was and a spokeswoman for the Trump Organization declined to comment.

Andrés, in an interview Tuesday, said withdrawing from the project was a business decision. “All business. It’s business to business. We analyzed it. It was a business decision, mainly,” he said. 

Regarding the mayor’s attempt to intervene on his behalf, Andrés said, “I’m out of that. Everybody is on their own. This is a free country if [she] wants to do that.”

The hotel project is projected to bring the District new tax revenue and buzz to a stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue that local government and business leaders are looking to revitalize. Construction began in the summer of 2014 when Donald Trump, Ivanka and elected leaders including Bowser, then a member of the D.C. Council, celebrated at a press conference featuring ceremonial gold shovels. Trump launched his presidential campaign the following summer.

A year into office, Bowser is trumpeting her record on economic development and affordable housing, one that includes initiatives to boost the District’s burgeoning tech sector, efforts to make the development process more transparent and a deal to open a sports and entertainment venue in Southeast that will serve as the practice facility for the Washington Wizards.

Staff writer Abha Bhattarai contributed.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnellpostbiz