A radical left-wing restauranteur whose cafes have hosted events for domestic terrorists and anti-American extremists has thrown his hat into the Washington, D.C., mayoral race.
Anas "Andy" Shallal announced his candidacy last week. But strategists say the well-known local businessman is a long shot, and his extreme politics could be toxic even in a city as deeply liberal as Washington.
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"Even in a town that is this reliably Democratic, I don’t think this town swings as far to the left as Andy Shallal’s politics," said Chuck Thies, a veteran Washington political consultant. "And I don’t believe that he’s ready to actually compete."
Shallal’s Busboys and Poets chain restaurant has become a go-to venue for far-left authors, lecturers, and activists. It has hosted 9/11 truth organizations and anti-war agitators such as Code Pink. Weather Underground founder and domestic terrorist Bill Ayers is slated to speak there later this month.
The Iraqi-born Shallal, who was once reportedly arrested during an environmentalist protest outside the White House, was heavily active in anti-war circles during the run up to the Iraq war. His father, Ahmed Shallal, was an undersecretary under Iraq’s Ba’athist regime until 1966 when he moved to the U.S. to become Baghdad’s representative to the Arab League.
The mayoral candidate has also been a vocal critic of Israel. In one 2007 speech, Shallal said the United States gets its "marching orders from Tel Aviv" and said the Jewish state "terrorized" the Middle East, the Daily Caller reported.
"This is a plan to create to a new American-Israeli century, and those who dare to speak out will be squashed," Shallal said. "A century where the military will continue to call the shots, and where Israel, America’s largest arms depot, will continue to control and terrorize the region."
Busboys and Poets has also held fundraising events for members of the Gaza flotilla and held a memorial honoring Furkan Dogan, a member of the 2010 Turkish flotilla to Gaza who was killed during an attack on Israeli soldiers.
Shallal announced his candidacy Nov. 8 on WAMU-FM’s Politics Hour. He joined six other Democratic mayoral candidates, including city council members Tommy Wells, Jack Evans, and Muriel Bowser. Current D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray has not yet announced whether he will run again.
The restaurateur is pitching himself as a political outsider, and has been highlighting his successful business career. But he has also hit some speed bumps. During a debate on Wednesday, Shallal blasted a Washington City Paper reporter for allegedly putting the word "dump" in a headline about him.
"I would admonish the media to sort of tone it down a little bit when it comes to how they report about this stuff," said Shallal. "Sensationalism sells papers, but it doesn't make for a good democracy. This is to you, Will Sommer, I just want to tell you."
It turned out Shallal named the wrong reporter, and apparently misinterpreted the "Mayoral Dump" headline, which referred to a "news dump" about the mayoral race. The flap led to criticism of Shallal as "thin-skinned."
"I don't want to feel like a piece of shit," Shallal explained the Washington City Paper.
Thiel said Shallal does not appear ready for the race.
"If there’s something longer than a long shot, that is what describes Andy Shallal’s chances in this election," Thies said. "This is a very political town and we don’t see mayors come from out of the blue. We see mayors come up from the political system."
As for Shallal’s unorthodox politics, Thies said they are not likely to become an issue unless the candidate begins to look competitive.
"I think if he gets traction, people will begin to take a harder look at his background and the type of speakers that he has brought into his restaurant and the type of political ideologies and messages that he has associated himself with," he said. "Right now, I don’t think he’s being taken that seriously because there’s no indication he has any traction."