Andy Shallal, 59, owner of the Busboys and Poets restaurants in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, is among the almost dozen people vying running for mayor of Washington, D.C.
Instead of announcing his bid at one of his four restaurants, where a coffee house atmosphere has been the backdrop for fundraisers for radical causes for years, Shallal announced his bid Nov. 8 at Ben’s Chili Bowl, a popular U Street NW eatery.
As dozens of people crowded into the back room of the restaurant, Shallal, the Iraqi-born son of the late Arab League representative to the U.S., Ahmed Shallal, singled out housing and education as major issues in the city.
“Housing availability is a crisis in this city,” he said. “It’s never about resources with these kinds of problems. It’s always about priorities. When the voters speak, the council should listen.”
Shallal’s family came to the U.S. from Iraq in 1966, and settled in Arlington, Va., when he was 10 years old.
Shallal, who has described himself as a progressive activist, opened Busboys and Poets in 2005 and named the restaurant after poet Langston Hughes, who worked as a busboy at the Wardman Park Hotel in D.C. while writing poetry early in his career.
Shallal is an advocate of increasing the minimum wage and is helping to create a restaurant association called Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment—RAISE.
His experience in elective politics is scant. In 1991, Shallal was involved as an organizer and a precinct supervisor in the Jim Zais campaign for the Ward 2 D.C. Council. The campaign race was extremely close, with Jim Zais losing to current council member and mayoral candidate Jack Evans by 300 votes.
That same year, he worked on a ballot initiative to limit campaign contributions to $100 for citywide races and $50 for ward races. The initiative, which was passed by D.C. voters, was repealed by the D.C. Council.
On the national level, Andy was an organizer and a delegate for then-California Gov. Jerry Brown when Brown ran for president in 1992. In addition, Shallal has been involved in schools, serving as a PTA president and an appointee on the Human Rights Committee for Fairfax County Public Schools.
He is on the board of trustees for the Institute for Policy Studies and the co-founder of Think Local First DC, a local business association of over 400 local and independent business owners working to make D.C.’s business scene more unique and vibrant.
Shallal was a huge supporter of current Mayor Vincent C. Gray.
“If he runs I wish him luck,” Shallal said before Gray announced that he is seeking reelection. “I’m in this race now to the finish.”
His racial identity has been ambiguous since childhood. “I remember being asked to fill in a bubble for my race,” Shallal said. “The school needed to know if I was ‘White,’ ‘Black,’ or ‘Other.’ As one of the few brown kids in my school, I knew I neither fit in with the ‘White’ team, nor with the ‘Black’ team, and no 10-year-old wants to be labeled the ‘Other.’ So I left those categories unmarked.”