OPINION: Michael Weiss Must Step Down From His Public Roles in the Gayborhood

Owens: According to a grand jury, the Gayborhood bar owner, committeeman, and nonprofit board member gave expensive gifts to and sought favors from our newly indicted D.A. That shouldn't be treated lightly.

Michael Weiss | Image via Mazzoni Center's website

Michael Weiss | Image via Mazzoni Center’s website

Michael Weiss is arguably one of the most powerful and politically connected men in the Gayborhood. He’s the co-owner of several popular bars (Woody’s, Rosewood Bar Lounge, and Voyeur), the board secretary of Mazzoni Center, a member of the Philadelphia LGBT Police Liaison Committee, an elected Democratic committeeman/treasurer for the city’s Eighth Ward, and a “special adviser” to District Attorney Seth Williams.

The latter connection has become the talk of the Gayborhood after Williams was indicted on Tuesday by a federal grand jury on 23 counts related to extortion, using interstate facilities to promote bribery, and conducting honest services fraud. In a 50-page indictment, Weiss is identified as “Business Owner #2” and is said to have given gifts to Williams between 2012 and 2015 that included $900 in cash, $9,105 in airline tickets, a used Jaguar JK8 convertible, and a $380 insurance policy on that car. In return, according to the grand jury, Weiss was named Williams’s special adviser and used that association to get the city’s top prosecutor to vouch for him when the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control filed in 2013 to revoke the liquor license for a bar he co-owned in San Diego, among other favors.

It should be noted that this isn’t Weiss’s first high-profile controversy. In 2010, Weiss pleaded guilty to what the Williams indictment described as “corruptly endeavoring to impede the due administration of the federal tax code.” He was sentenced to three years of probation, including a year of house arrest. In 2016, Woody’s was publicly called out for engaging in “covert racism,” and LGBTQ activists of color criticized Mayor Jim Kenney and his connection to Weiss, who had hosted political fundraisers at Woody’s during Kenney’s mayoral run. Recently, his Gayborhood bars, along with others, were mandated to partake in racial-bias training by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR).

In an era of unprecedented political vulnerability for the local and national LGBTQ community, we cannot afford the distraction of and possible additional fallout from the case of an influential community stakeholder allegedly taking advantage of his wealth and privilege to bribe a powerful city official. To signal his respect for the missions of the nonprofit, public, and political institutions he has been privileged to serve, Weiss must resign from his leadership positions immediately. Mazzoni Center — which seems to have removed Weiss’s bio from its website on Thursday morning — and other important LGBTQ organizations will lose the trust of the community if they continue to be associated with this controversial figure.

Social responsibility and integrity starts within our own community, and that includes holding the most powerful accountable.