Paul Pascal (1937-2018)

A Man Who Made a Difference

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Paul Pascal accepts a Brickie for the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District. Photo: Andrew Lightman

A constant presence at the Wilson Building as long-time lobbyist for District alcohol wholesalers, Paul Pascal helped create the modern institutions that govern the sale of liquor in DC. An attorney with a practice located for decades on Capitol Hill, he was one of the founders of the business improvement district (BID) largely responsible for the neighborhood’s immaculate condition. An elder in the Union Market merchant community, Pascal catalyzed its recent redevelopment.

Some individuals leave the world a significantly different place than they found it.

On April 9, 2018, Pascal passed away after battling cancer. He was 80 years of age.

Early Life

A native Washingtonian, born in 1937, Paul Leonard Pascal was raised in old Southwest, the son of Leo and Rose Pascal and stepmother Frieda Pascal. The Southwest of Pascal’s childhood was a racially mixed, working-class neighborhood of rowhouses and alley homes abutting an active harbor. The friendships he made on its streets would last him a lifetime. At age 12, Pascal moved with his family to Prince George’s County.

A gifted musician, after graduating high school, Pascal quickly earned a place in the Air Force band as a bassoonist in 1955. That same year, he met his wife Brenda Kolker at a friend’s sweet-16 party. The two married in 1958.

Kolker’s father owned Kolker Poultry Company, the largest and oldest distributor in Union Market. Pascal went to work for him after leaving the service in 1959. Bruce Pascal, Paul’s son, in his eulogy related that when his father showed up at the shop all excited for day one, he was given a mop and asked to clean the bathrooms. “He did that, and at the end of the day he was taken to the bank and added as a signatory to the bank account. He had done the lowest work in the morning and the highest at the end of the day. His goal now was to learn everything in between.”

While working for the poultry firm, Pascal earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland in 1961 and a law degree from George Washington University in 1965. He did not leave the firm until 1992, when it closed.

In 1971, Pascal formed Pascal & Weiss in the Union Market with Anton Weiss, his longtime law partner. Over time, the men built their firm into a lobbying and regulatory powerhouse, representing the District’s restaurants, supermarkets, liquor wholesalers and retailers for nearly half a century. The DC Association of Beverage Alcohol Wholesalers was their best-known client. The partners moved their firm to Capitol Hill in 1980.

“We never had an argument,” said Weiss at Pascal’s funeral. “We had a joke about it. The reason, I would say, is because I always respected my elders. No, he would say, the reason was because he was always right.”

Most would have considered all this to be a very accomplished life. Pascal was not most men. His work as a lobbyist soon led him into public life.

Modern Liquor Licensing

Dogged in the defense of his clients, Pascal counted the Wilson Building a second home. There he met Sharon C. Ambrose, then legislative director to At-Large Councilmember John Ray (I). A respectful relationship became a long-running political alliance as Ambrose climbed the political ladder to become a councilmember in her own right (D-Ward 6).

Soon after her election in 1997, Pascal brought Ambrose his ideas for tweaking the laws governing the sale of alcohol, most of which consisted of federal regulations predating the 1973 Home Rule Act. At the time, Ambrose chaired the committee that had oversight of the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA). The alcohol licensing administration and its board were part of that agency.

Ambrose dispatched her legislative director to a library deep in the bowels of the US Department of Commerce to do the necessary research. The task of locating statutory citations proved so complicatedly tedious that the councilmember decided to redraft the entire law, all inspired by Pascal’s initial proposals.

Ambrose turned to Pascal, the master of alcohol regulatory arcana, for advice. The result in 2000 was the creation of the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), an independent agency reporting to a civilian panel, the Alcohol Beverage Control Board. The new regulatory regime ushered in an era of public accountability. Henceforth, residents and advisory neighborhood commissions could participate more fully in ABC licensing review proceedings. “As a lobbyist,” recalled Esther Bushman, Ambrose’s legislative director, “Paul was a consummate professional. He always saw the bigger picture.”

Cleaning Up Capitol Hill

When Pascal & Weiss moved to Capitol Hill, Pascal began to take an interest in the surrounding neighborhood. At that point the area was a bit down on its heels. The streets and pocket parks were filled with trash and broken glass.

In 1999, George Didden, the president of National Capital Bank, one of the oldest businesses on the Hill, had seen enough. He approached Pascal, a commercial banking client of long standing, with the idea of forming a business improvement district (BID) to clean up the Hill neighborhood’s commercial blocks. The organization, under city charter, would be self-funding through a commercial property tax.

Pascal became a constant presence at the exploratory meetings for the new organization. He crafted the corporate legal work on a pro bono basis, employing his political connections to facilitate the project. He helped Didden convince Hill property owners to support the measure, which required their approval.

From an initial force of 10, the BID now boasts 50 “Men in Blue,” who keep the commercial corridors of Capitol Hill immaculate. Its ambassadors assisted more than 58,000 people in 2017. It has a budget of $3.2 million. Pascal served as a corporate officer of the Capitol Hill BID from its inception in 2003, becoming chair of the board in 2007.

He believed the BID had a role to play in helping people turn their lives around. Working with BID President Patty Brosmer, he helped establish the Ready, Willing and Working (RWW) Program in 2008. Modelled on a New York City initiative, RWW provides supportive services such as case management and relapse prevention to men who are working to escape lives of homelessness, drug addiction or incarceration. The RWW staffs the Clean Team for the Capitol Hill BID, Capitol Riverfront BID, Adams Morgan BID and Barracks Row Main Street.

“Paul’s gravitas and reputation helped facilitate a change of mind of those in opposition to employing formerly incarcerated and substance abusers,” explained Brosmer.

Pascal served as RWW’s vice president for 10 years. He raised significant funds to provide supportive services to the organization’s participants.

“Paul was a constant source of support for RWW workers,” said Brosmer. “He befriended many of the participants personally.”

Birthing Union Market

Despite relocating to Capitol Hill, Pascal retained a strong interest in Union Market. Even after his father-in-law’s death in 1993, Pascal remained active in the market’s business community.

In 2006, Sang Oh Choi, a Korean-born wholesaler who owned more than two dozen properties in markets between Second and Sixth streets NE, floated a proposal to redevelop the entire area. Retaining the services of John Ray, a former councilmember, now a lobbyist, he tried to convince the District to rezone the entire area to permit residential uses, the so-called New Town Project. The two enlisted then At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange (D) in the effort.

Ray and Orange approached Ambrose, who at that time chaired the Council’s Committee on Economic Development, to move legislation that would allow them to employ eminent domain to facilitate the project. The area, they argued, was an eyesore that needed to be redeveloped.

Pascal let both Ambrose and David Grosso, who clerked the committee, know that he and many other small property owners were completely opposed to New Town. “When I sat and talked to Paul about the situation over there, he was not opposed to development,” recalled Grosso. Rather, most of the property owners were concerned about being pushed out by eminent domain. Moreover, Pascal defended the area’s economic importance.

Orange brought more pressure to bear, threatening to move emergency legislation in the Committee of the Whole if the bill was not discharged from Ambrose’s committee. To allay Pascal’s concerns, Ambrose had Grosso mark up the legislation with a provision requiring a property owner’s assent before eminent domain could be invoked. She discharged the bill, which was later enacted into law.

Pascal did not want to rely on Ambrose’s poison pill provision to hold off New Town. He put out feelers to the local real estate community, seeking a partner to guide the area’s future. Edens, a regional developer with no experience in the District, answered his query.

To reconnoiter, Steve Boyle, Eden’s executive development officer, visited the market in 2006 and was struck by the desolate streetscape. He looked over at the cranes gracing the nearby NOMA skyline and wondered why development had not crossed the tracks.

Boyle quickly got to know Pascal, who became his guru. A tenacious advocate for the market’s many small property owners, Pascal leveraged his long relationships to help Edens establish a rapport with tenants, landlords and community members. He brokered discussions with Gallaudet University, on whose advisory board he had served.

“Responsible developers are always trying to connect to the place. Sometimes it is easier than others,” remarked Boyle. “Paul helped us really understand the importance of the market. He was a real connection to old DC. Frankly, he convinced us to be a steward of the place,” said Boyle. Most important, Pascal and wife Brenda helped Boyle to understand the importance of the market in the District’s history.

Walking around the District, one can see the threads of Pascal’s influence. Glimpse the ABRA placards decorating the doors of liquor license applicants. Watch the diligent Men in Blue clean the commercial corridors. Walk through the fast-developing Union Market. Then marvel at the difference one determined individual can make in a metropolis.

Pascal leaves behind his wife, Brenda Kolker Pascal; three sons, Richard, Bruce and Craig; five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.