City officials have rescinded a fee that supporters of the annual 17th Street High Heel Race said would have threatened the event’s success and safety.
Weeks before the event, held annually since 1986, organizers learned of a $9,000 fee and a rule requiring the consent of 90 percent of landowners on 17th Street to hold the race. The fee was reduced to $4,000 and has now been waived altogether. Ross Weber, press secretary for Councilmember David Catania, said a similar chain of events concerning the fee happened last year.
In a press release dated Oct. 14, before city officials rescinded the fee, Catania warned the race “will take place … whether or not fees and permits are submitted to the government.” The race, which will take place on Tuesday, typically draws thousands of onlookers who watch scores of drag queens – men in stiletto heels, sequined gowns and stylish hairdos – race down 17th Street between P and Q streets.
The changes were initially put in place due to costs associated with paying officers for overtime work, said Tara Dunlop, special assistant for D.C. City Administrator Robert Bobb. Event organizers were expected to pay this fee, Dunlop said, so that the money “does not come out of the public coffers.” A police presence is needed to set up traffic detours in the area and control the thousands of people expected to attend the High Heel Race. Dunlop said she was “not aware of anymore (landowners’) signatures needed at this point.”
To preserve the future of the race, Kathleen Patterson, councilmember for Ward Three, is considering legislation to “limit the circumstances by which organizations would be required to pay a fee to the police,” Weber said.
Darren Bowie, chairman of Dupont’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said his group “unanimously voted to send a letter to Mayor (Anthony) Williams to waive the fees and petition.” The ANC was fearful that “thousands of people would show up” without traffic blockades and police presence if the requirements were not put aside.
The timing of the requests was troublesome for the event’s volunteers and organizers. Weber said even if the requirements were not met, there would “be no way to cancel it. It would turn into a melee.”
Bowie said he was “puzzled about why at the last minute” the requirements were put in place. Irv Morgan, the chairman for this year’s race, declined to comment.