Since signing on as the Capitol Hill BID’s first employee in 2003, she has directed the Clean Team and the non-profit Ready, Willing & Working, which empowers individuals to break the cycles of homelessness, welfare dependence and criminal recidivism through a paid-work rehabilitation program. RWW is now the largest provider of clean team services in the city and provides maintenance services for BIDs throughout the Washington area. In this interview, Brosmer discusses the early challenges of introducing businesses to the taxes underlying the BID concept and how gratifying it has been for her to be part of a program that helps unemployed and unhoused individuals grow into “role models for their friends and neighborhoods.”
Interview with Patty Brosmer
Interview Date: July 26, 2023
Interviewer: Ken Jarboe
Transcriber: Betsy Barnett
Editor: Elizabeth Lewis
This interview transcript is the property of the Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project.
Not to be reproduced without permission.
START OF INTERVIEW
JARBOE: Okay. We are recording. This is Ken Jarboe. It is July 26, 2023. I am interviewing Patty Brosmer, who is the president of the Capitol Hill BID [Business Improvement District]. We are in the BID offices at 1451 Pennsylvania Avenue SE and the time is about …
BROSMER: [Laughs.] I’m guessing.
JARBOE: That’s good, that’s good. Okay. So, first of all, Patty, thank you for doing this.
BROSMER: Yeah. Thank you for doing it for posterity.
JARBOE: And the second thing is just to note, as you probably noted on the release, this will be a public document. So the interview is on the record.
BROSMER: I get it. Yeah.
JARBOE: So, you know, don’t say anything you don’t want the public to hear.
BROSMER: I got you.
JARBOE: Let’s start off with the fact that you were Employee Number One.
JARBOE: But before that, you were involved in crafting the original underlying legislation in 1996.
JARBOE: Tell me about that process a little bit and the role that Capitol Hill played on it.
BROSMER: Well I, at the time, was the executive director of the Georgetown Business and Professional Association and their number one priority, come to find out after I started working there, was to get business improvement district legislation passed for the whole city. I had never even heard of a BID and I immediately, wanting to keep my job, learned as much as I could about it. I went to New York to the Times Square BID. I went to Philadelphia, Paul Levy’s BID. Paul’s one of the pioneers in business improvement districts.
And I quickly fell in love with the concept. I could see and feel the difference that self-taxing and self-empowerment in these commercial districts could have on an area. The Times Square was horrible before the business improvement district came. I’d always thought it was that Disney came in and put a bunch of money in it. But it was the formation of the business improvement district that cleaned it up, made it more family friendly, less scary.
And so, armed with the excitement and the knowledge of what BIDs are, what they can do, I started working with the DC Council. Joe Sternlieb was, I believe, chief of staff for Charlene Drew Jarvis—she was the chairman, at the time, of the [Economic Development Committee]. And, somehow, they were committed to it, too. I can’t remember what got them on board. I don’t know if it was Jack Evans, who was Georgetown’s Council member. I know he was an early advocate for it. So I worked with Joe. We first had to figure out why the legislation had failed twice before in City Council.
JARBOE: Oh, it had?
BROSMER: It had been introduced twice before and failed both times. And that was the mid 90s, when the city was really a mess. The tax base was off. The police were having to, you know, put gas in their cop cars, you know.
JARBOE: Right. I remember that.
BROSMER: Yeah, it was terrible. And the trash was out of control. I think Marion Barry was mayor at the time. And nobody wanted to even consider another tax. The citizens, businesses, already felt that they were overtaxed.
JARBOE: And this was the era of the Control Board.
BROSMER: Correct. It was still under the Control Board. So Joe and I had to figure out how [we could] make this palpable. How [we could] sell this around the city so that it’s not such a big scary thing. And so we came up with—I think the slogan was something like, “It’s enabling legislation.” Something along those lines.
The concept or the perception throughout the city was that, once the legislation was passed, BIDs automatically would be formed and you’ll have an additional tax. What we did was go around throughout, all over the city, with our little dog and pony show, to different business associations and business groups, explain[ing] to them that there’s a whole process that goes into forming a BID and it’s not overnight. You have to have [approval from property owners representing 51% of the assessed value and 25% of the number of properties]. Then it became a little less scary for these organizations.
One by one, [we] sort of got them on board, got the council members on board. Joe wrote legislation—I think he largely wrote it himself—that included tenants where it was just the commercial property owners at first. In some BID areas in some cities, it is just the commercial property owners and the tenants don’t have any say. Joe wrote in there that tenants do have a place on the board. They didn’t have a vote to start the BID, but once they’re on the board, or once they were members of the BID, they have a vote as to what happens in the BID.
JARBOE: And some BIDs include residential properties.
BROSMER: Not out of the box.
BROSMER: It wasn’t even thought of. Downtown didn’t have any residential really. Golden Triangle didn’t have any residential. And their big property owners, Lerner—who else was …
JARBOE: Well, Abe Pollin.
BROSMER: Abe Pollin was a big one, right. They probably didn’t even envision residential coming in. And it didn’t for a long time. So, residential wasn’t even in the original legislation. So, in 1996, ’97 …
JARBOE: I think it’s ’96 from what I’ve been reading.
BROSMER: Yeah. The legislation’s dated ’95.
BROSMER: But it was passed in ’96. It went up and passed the council. I don’t remember what the percentage—I don’t think it was a squeaker. I think it was pretty overwhelming that it passed. And the first BID to be formed was the Downtown BID. And Abe Pollin was a big part of that because he wanted to build the Verizon Center, whatever it was called at the time.
BROSMER: He wanted to build the arena for his sports teams. And he knew if he built it where he wanted to build it, nobody would come if it was a ghost town and dirty and scary. So, the Downtown BID was started in ’97, I think, with Rich Bradley as their initial president, executive director.
BROSMER: And Rich has been and is still a leader in the business improvement district field. I haven’t mentioned him yet, but we worked very closely with him in getting the legislation passed as well. And the first time I met anybody from Capitol Hill was when we were putting the legislation together. We had a meeting at Charlene Drew Jarvis’s office, and for some reason George Didden of National Capital Bank—he was the president of the bank at the time and was the Capitol Hill BID initial leader—was in that meeting and I met him through that. And I think, somehow, he was sold on BIDs after that meeting. I don’t remember it. He always brought it up and I just vaguely remember him being in the meeting. But from there he was pretty sold on doing it for Capitol Hill.
But next out of the box would have been the Golden Triangle and then Georgetown. And I helped to launch the Georgetown BID. And, then, for various political reasons, I didn’t get the job as the executive director when the BID was launched. So I thought I was going to completely die and go away. [Laughs.]
JARBOE: Their loss, our tremendous gain. [Laughs.]
BROSMER: Everything happens for a reason. but I didn’t think I would survive that. I was just devastated, you know. I’d worked so hard on it and I’d gotten on somebody’s wrong side. But, anyway, I went into real estate. I started working in real estate.
And George Didden reached out to me and said, “You know, we’re really interested in starting a BID but everybody says it’s impossible on Capitol Hill because we don’t have the density or the real property value.” He said, “But, what do you think? Would you like to help us, would you consult our group and see if we can make this work?” And I said, “Absolutely.”
I mean, Capitol Hill. Sort of from the time I was a child I wanted to work or be associated with Capitol Hill. I used to skip school in junior high school and take a bus down and sit in on Senate hearings. [Laughs.] That’s the kind of stuff that turned me on. But it was just something about the seat of government that made me, you know, really excited. So, we started, we had our first meeting ... Am I doing okay?
JARBOE: Yeah, you’re doing great.
BROSMER: Okay. I just want to make sure there’s enough background there.
BROSMER: So, the three BIDs that started came out of the box, were almost immediately successful.
BROSMER: So they really made it a little bit easier for the subsequent BIDs to get formed. The first meeting, George called all his friends, business owners, to the bank one evening and we gave a presentation. Probably 20 to 25 people there. You were there, Ken, right?
JARBOE: When George calls, you pick up the phone.
BROSMER: Right. That’s what Paul Pascal used to always say. “When your banker calls, you jump.” [Laughs.] I mean he, George, just had such a reputation and so much respect in the community that if he picked up the phone and asked you for something like this, you’d be there, you know. Because you trust that he’s leading in the right way, I think. I learned that early on. I really learned to respect him right away. So, we had the meeting. I think we raised $20,000. Everybody pitched in a little bit here and there.
JARBOE: I think I read somewhere it might have been $25,000, but yeah.
BROSMER: Well, it could have been $25,000. That was 23 years ago. [Laughs.]
JARBOE: This was before the BID tax. This was the business owners just saying, “We’ll put a kitty together to help put the thing together.”
BROSMER: Out of their own pockets, right.
BROSMER: Right. So that was going to be my pay initially.
BROSMER: That’s what they were going to use to pay me. So we got to work on crafting our business plan.
JARBOE: And you were brought in in late 1999.
BROSMER: 1999. September. I don’t remember the exact date.
BROSMER: September 1999. I think I still have the agenda here. But September 1999. And we put together a business plan. We had some committees that formed. You were on the committee that surveyed …
JARBOE: Right. Did the boundaries.
BROSMER: Did the boundaries. Surveyed the square lots. And I think you probably came up with the initial list of properties that would be in the boundaries. And it was discovered that our tax revenue would be somewhere around $450,000 a year.
BROSMER: And when we looked at Downtown at $10 million a year and Golden Triangle was at $3 million a year and even Georgetown was about a million and a half, everybody said, “You’re crazy. You’ll never be able to do it.” Not only was it kind of a small amount of money. but we had a very large footprint to cover because we don’t have the density. We have linear. We have 84 block faces. I think five linear miles …
BROSMER: … that we cover. And that’s maybe one of the biggest geographic areas of any BID. But George was determined and I wanted a job. [Both laugh.] So, we started coming up with the ways that we can do this for the amount of money that we were looking at. We also knew that because the city was starting to turn around financially ... I think the Control Board ... Maybe Tony Williams was now mayor.
BROSMER: Things were looking better for the city and we banked on our property values going up as opposed to going down, going up steadily over the next at least ten years. So we thought, “We’re not going to be that poor forever, but what can we do to get started, to make the most impact with that little amount of money?”
I learned about a program in New York that provided labor through former homeless, former incarcerated individuals that got terrific supportive services. They got housing and all kinds of support. And it could be supplemented by donations, private foundation donations. So I said, “Why don’t we see if they would come down here and partner with us, partner with somebody, and help us start a Clean Team?”
That program or that organization is the Doe Fund and they are still around today. I think they’re in their 35th or 40th year. They are a $60-million-a-year operation. They are huge. But they sort of became our model for what our Clean Team was going to be.
JARBOE: And that was called Ready, Willing …
BROSMER: And Able.
JARBOE: And Able.
BROSMER: Ready, Willing & Able.
JARBOE: Which I wanted to get on the record because it’s different from what we have right now.
JARBOE: So, get to the transition.
BROSMER: Yeah, yeah. They agreed. They had somehow gotten some funding through Congress to start a program in DC. I think they had a million five, a million and a half, to do a program. At the time there was a lot of partnering with faith-based organizations. I think George W. Bush was in office at that time. And so they partnered with the Gospel Rescue Ministries, who had a big facility down in the Chinatown area.
JARBOE: Mm-hmm. So, that was the Gospel …
BROSMER: Gospel Rescue Ministries.
JARBOE: Gospel Rescue Ministries. Got it.
BROSMER: So with the money from the Doe Fund, with the culture ... They brought it down. They brought some of their staff down. They found people to participate in the program and, I think they called it Ready to Work, was launched. And we were 100% on board with it. They were wonderful. We were pretty hands-on with them. And our board and I were really invested in them. They did a great job for us and I think it proved to the city that you could use this labor force with success.
But other BIDs didn’t want to touch the idea. That’s since evolved in a really organic and really good way. So that’s the Clean Team part. We probably got our Clean Team for half to three quarters of what a full priced or a private sector Clean Team would have been.
BROSMER: They hired me and I was fairly cheap at the time. [Laughs.] They took a chance on me. Actually, George took a chance on me. They went through the process of looking for an executive director and I was a little, hmmm, afraid to put my hat in the ring because of what had happened in Georgetown. But I loved the area, I loved the organization. I believed in George and his vision and George believed in me. And I’ve been grateful to this day for that.
JARBOE: Now, I have a copy of the job description of the executive director. And it’s dated April 4th, 2002. The package, the business plan, was put together in June of 2001 and letters to the owners started going out [then]. So that’s a pretty quick timeline. I mean, we started the petition drive in June of 2001. We were ready to hire somebody—we were committed enough to hire somebody––for this executive director by April of the next year.
BROSMER: We thought it was taking forever. [Both laugh.] Because 9/11 happened in the middle of all that.
BROSMER: So that sort of slowed things down. People were a bit paralyzed, and trying to get them to focus on signing a petition was difficult. I think we had to do a second mailing. My recollection is it took three years to put it together. But, when you think about it, two and a half, three years, is not that long for getting 500 properties––a certain percentage of 500 properties––on board, ready to self-tax.
JARBOE: Right. And I note that our legislation passed the council in November of 2002, and then our first official organizational meeting as the BID was April 2003. So that’s, you know, it’s about two years, yeah. So, you’re talking about a two-year time frame. That’s pretty good.
BROSMER: So we had a charter to tax from 2002, first half, but the board determined that, if we’re not ready to provide services, we shouldn’t be taxing. They were always very conservative in not wanting to overburden anybody financially. So we waited until the second half of 2003 to send out BID tax bills. That money would come in April 1st , would be due April 1st. So we launched our services April 1st. I officially started as executive director February 1st, 2003. So I had two months to find myself an operations director and get the initial tax bills out. I can remember we …
JARBOE: So, you had been working on getting the organizational documents together and …
BROSMER: Right. Bylaws and …
JARBOE: You weren’t looking to hire staff yet, at that point.
BROSMER: I think we had all that together by February, when I was on officially.
BROSMER: Yeah. But the first two months, I worked out of my house while we worked on where we were going to put an office. “How can we afford an office? And how are you going to find an operations person?” Somehow it all just came together nicely.
And I remember the first tax billing. OTR [DC Office of Tax and Revenue] printed out the tax bills. I picked them up, brought them back to my house, and sat on the floor in my pajamas and folded them up and stuffed them, licked the envelopes, put the stamps on, and took them to the mailbox. [Both laugh.] So it was very hands-on from the beginning. But then I found a really wonderful gentleman named Ray Cammas [the first operations manager for the BID]. He was sort of a policeman wannabe but real into business.
JARBOE: Do you know how to spell his last name?
BROSMER: Yeah. C-A-M-M-A-S. Ray Cammas.
BROSMER: So, he proved to be a great partner to start this whole thing. Anything, any idea we had ... I’d say, “What do you think, can we do this?” He’d say, “Yeah, we should do it.” So, I mean, he was just terrific. Fun to work with, really dedicated. Always on time. Just a fantastic family man.
We hired an outside company to do our safety team. And they hired four initial Safety Ambassadors on bikes. The board initially thought what we need to do is focus on clean and safe, whereas other BIDs, bigger BIDs, maybe had other needs. Economic development needs, things like that. We were largely developed at the time and we determined the best thing we [could] do with this money is to make the place look better and feel safer.
So we put the Clean Team together, sent them out, mulched the tree boxes, weeded, started picking up trash, got the graffiti. And that made a huge difference within the first couple of months. We wanted the taxpayers—they’re getting their tax bills. We wanted them to see we’re out there in royal blue uniforms spending your money to make the area better. The safety patrols were out giving directions. They were trained in CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation] and first aid. They took police bike training so they were all pretty skilled when they got their training. And we’re up and running. [Laughs.]
JARBOE: Now, I know, talking to you and talking to Don [Denton] and some other folks, that CHAMPS [Capitol Hill Area Merchants and Professionals] was very supportive of the idea.
JARBOE: And, in fact, I have a note that Linda Barnes, when she was president of CHAMPS, testified in favor of, I think, the original legislation. So. But how has that relationship worked between you, CHAMPS, and now Barracks Row Main Street? You know, they had just finished their big streetscape.
BROSMER: Yeah, yeah.
JARBOE: And now we have Market Row …
BROSMER: And Eastern Market Main Street.
JARBOE: Eastern Market Metro Plaza. Yeah. How is that relationship with all these different groups? [Telephone rings.] Do you need to take that? No?
BROSMER: No. We’ll just let it go to voice mail.
So the BID was really born out of CHAMPS, you know. It’s the same people that were on their board that started the BID pretty much. And, because the BID’s budget was so conservative, so small, we welcomed the fact that there was another organization that could do the sociable things, the networking aspect of what some BIDs do. So we had a really good partnership. I think we’ve always been very supportive. I think CHAMPS has lost steam along the way. I don’t think it’s because of the board or because of the BID. I think it’s naturally evolved and from needs and also opportunities the Main Street started, the Eastern Market Main Street.
Barracks Row Main Street was first. And, again, they did storefront facades, they did some economic development, things that the BID wasn’t doing. So, we’ve always had a really great symbiotic relationship with these outside organizations that can do things that we don’t do. Barracks Row seems to have a knack for events, which, in the beginning, we didn’t do. We’ve evolved to doing some holiday events. But Barracks Row and now Eastern Market do more events than the BID does and more economic development really than the BID does. Although we’re getting more into the economic development.
JARBOE: Right. Now, talk to me a little bit about George. You know, George was always the lynchpin as it were in terms of getting people on board. I mean, as I said before: he calls, you answer.
BROSMER: Absolutely, yeah.
JARBOE: And at one point I know he was talking to both the head of GSA [US General Services Administration] and people in the Architect of the Capitol’s office about what to do about including or not including that part into the BID early on.
JARBOE: How involved was he in the day-to-day stuff?
BROSMER: I didn’t do anything without talking to George for the first few months that I was officially on board. During the consulting part, I was constantly with him. He called the shots. I mean, he was just such a lovely person to be around. He was, you know, a gentle leader and a Renaissance man. He knew something about everything. [Laughs.] Honestly. He was just the most fascinating person. And I adored working with him.
And, yeah, he reached out to the Architect of the Capitol. We subsequently included them in our boundaries, but, because they do such a good job of maintaining their own grounds, we don’t provide services over there. And they don’t give us any funding. Some GSA entities do pay for BID services in other BIDs. But, since the federal enclave is just sort of its own little universe, we don’t do anything there. We did take on, for their mounted police squad, their poop patrol [laughs] for a couple of years. That was sort of a coveted job for some of our guys.
JARBOE: I remember that. I remember seeing the Gator [utility vehicle] driving down the street to …
BROSMER: We bought a souped-up Gator that had a cab to it so you could use it in the wintertime and in the rain. It had heat, it didn’t have air conditioning. But they’d ride around, wherever the horses would be, and we’d scoop up the poop on the streets or on the Capitol grounds. The Gator could get out on the grass or on the road. And I think that was to keep the residents and people from complaining that there was horse poop all over Capitol Hill. So we did that for a couple of years. Then, I think that program was defunded. The whole mounted police program was defunded unfortunately, since they’re such regal animals, and, of course, I always enjoyed seeing them out and about.
JARBOE: The other person who was a lynchpin on this who isn’t with us anymore is Paul Pascal.
JARBOE: So, Paul was our lawyer.
BROSMER: Yeah. [Laughs.]
JARBOE: Talk to me about your relationship with Paul and kind of that same day-to-day stuff.
BROSMER: Paul was not the lawyer that wrote the bylaws and things like that. We had an outside attorney do that. Grace Bateman. Do you remember Grace?
BROSMER: She had done the stuff for Georgetown.
BROSMER: So she was wonderful. But Paul was sort of the board’s legal mind. He was vice president from the beginning. George was president. I believe it was Paul that was vice president, right? [Paul Pascal was board secretary until he was elected President in March 2007 replacing George Didden. Don Denton was vice president, later vice chairman, from the beginning, as well as vice president of the steering committee until he was elected chairman in 2015. Given his early involvement and ongoing strong connection with the BID, Denton was able to step in after the untimely deaths of Didden and Pascal and continue their legacy of strong leadership].
JARBOE: Yeah. That’s what I have of the early lists, yeah.
BROSMER: He’s a character. He always had a big collection of automobile memorabilia and he collected anything that had wheels on it, I think. And he always wore a tie that had some sort of transportation mode on it, whether it’s a train or a car, you know. Just really into hobbies and things like that. His office was like a museum. [Laughs.] Do you remember being in his office?
JARBOE: Yeah, yeah.
BROSMER: Part crazy, part brilliant. But, yeah, he was a character. He used to always give really good counsel. You know. He was really smart with regard to personnel issues. He gave me really good advice on how to manage some issues with our employees, and always very supportive. He ended up being president for, I think, six years after George passed away. I still miss him. Miss George, too, yeah.
JARBOE: I know that there were a couple of legal issues having to do with employees at one point and then there was all the delinquent taxes. Was he involved …
BROSMER: Yeah. He did the original collections. Or his office did the original collections. We never had a really bad time with it. We had one taxpayer who just absolutely refused to ... Remember? We ended up going to court with him. And we had all our ducks in a row. They were amazing. It was actually Paul’s partner, [Anton] Weiss, who represented us. And we, of course, won that and the taxpayer had to pay his taxes. You know, it’s just as simple as that.
And with the employee situations, he was very wise. He’d had a lot of experience in it and he was able to diffuse some situations. Consequently, I learned a lot of what to do and what not to do to keep us from getting in trouble. [Both laugh.]
BROSMER: With personnel issues. So, yeah, he was great. Paul passed away, I think, seven or eight years ago, after George passed away. George became ill in 2008, I believe. [He passed away on December 26, 2007].
BROSMER: And he stepped down as chairman, actually stepped down as president, of the BID before that because he said six years is long enough. He did it from the time, the formation. So he stepped down and Paul took over. And I thought, you know, “What can we do to honor him?” I just thought starting this BID, starting the Barracks Row Main Street, really made such a difference in the entire community. And by then we could see property values going up. People were happy. So we decided to plant a tree in George’s honor.
BROSMER: And that started a tradition of having a community holiday tree and having a community event to light it where George’s widow, Kathy Didden, would flip the switch and illuminate the tree. And we’re going on the 17th year, I think. This will be the 17th year. And it’s grown every year. At first, you know, we had just a handful of people. You could barely hear the carolers singing. Now we have a whole professional production and I think we had 500 people there last year. Pretty spectacular.
JARBOE: Good. Let me go back to the Doe Fund and what became Ready, Willing and—what is it now?
BROSMER: Ready, Willing & Working.
JARBOE: And Working. Talk me through that transition.
BROSMER: Well, their partnership, relationship with the Gospel Rescue Ministries, the New York program’s relationship, went sour within a couple of years. And the New York program pulled out, didn’t want to continue with them. But we the BID wanted to continue to support the idea of, you know, helping to grow this program, even though they were not doing things 100% according to the rule book of the New York program.
So we continued to contract with Gospel Rescue Ministries’ Ready to Work program until it became clear that people in the program weren’t being treated properly. They were living in bedbug conditions, their food was terrible, the workers were being fined for ridiculous infractions, monetarily fined. They were really being mistreated. So I presented to the board: why don’t we take it in-house? You know, do this on our own. Somehow they said okay. [Both laugh.]
So I remember one night, it was getting dark out. We had our pickup trucks and I think another vehicle. We went over to Gospel Rescue Ministries and picked up [eight] guys, all with their stuff in a trash bag, and went over to ... We had arranged with the Catholic Charities to house them in their brand new, newly renovated building the McKenna House [19 I Street NW]. So we dropped them off there. Everybody got their own little SRO [Single Room Occupancy] room and we left them just with big smiles on their faces. And from there we hired them at a living wage, started giving them benefits. We hired our own outside counselor to give them supportive services, counseling, relapse prevention, that sort of thing.
Before we launched that, I went to the New York program and said, “Do you mind if we model ourselves after you? We want to do this ourselves. Will you give me some guidance? Give me your playbook. And we’d like to call it Ready, Willing & Working.” They gave us their blessing and full support and we’re still very close with them.
In fact, there’ve been a few other programs modeled on the Doe Fund Ready, Willing & Able that have sprung up. One in Denver, one in Atlanta, one in Philadelphia. I think there’s one in New Jersey. And then us. And we’ve formed what’s a network of programs and we call it Work Works America. We’re all working together to create a road map for other cities that want to do similar programs. They can take the plan and customize it to their own needs. So that’s just launching and we’re just getting moving on that. But that’s exciting, to be part of a bigger national network.
JARBOE: Now, just to clarify. The guys that you picked up from the ministry, were already working, working for us through the other program.
BROSMER: Yes, correct. Yeah.
JARBOE: So they knew you, you knew them.
JARBOE: It wasn’t just a bunch of guys off the street.
BROSMER: Oh, they knew we were really supportive. They’d come into the office and we’d hear horror stories like, “We’re not getting paid this week.” “Why not?” “They say there’s no money.” “Well, we’re paying to have this service, why isn’t there any money?” You know, we heard enough of those horror stories and saw guys coming in with bed bug bites on their faces and just how demoralizing that was for them. And I knew we could do better, based on what I learned from the culture in New York. So.
JARBOE: Right. That is one of the unique, semi-unique parts of our BID’s business model.
JARBOE: And you know, it kind of served two purposes. One, it did a social outreach. It was in and of itself a nice program. But, as you pointed out in the beginning, it was also …
BROSMER: The only way we could afford …
JARBOE: … cost effective for us. [Both laugh.] In the beginning. The second thing that’s unique about our program as an offshoot of that is that, now that we have our own program, we contract with other BIDs.
JARBOE: So, we’re doing the same thing for other BIDs to help them either launch or keep their costs down right at the beginning.
BROSMER: Yeah. Other BIDs were sort of watching in the wings to watch us fail actually. I think they were waiting for us to fail because, you know, the going sentiment was they didn’t want that element on their streets.
BROSMER: They thought they would be troublemakers, that they would be criminals, you know. Our feeling was they’d paid their debt to society and it’s our duty to give them an opportunity to be responsible citizens.
So, we had success right out of the box and some of the other BIDs were impressed enough to want to do something similar but they didn’t want to take on the task of running it themselves. So they started contracting with us, and I think we’ve right now got eight different work sites. And our team is 15 or 16 people, men and women, mostly men. But we have 50 employees because we have all these outside contracts. So we’re able to provide work opportunities even though we don’t have enough jobs right here on Capitol Hill. We can do it throughout the city.
And I think we do an excellent job. I think the people we contract with are very happy with the [social-services] aspect of it and the professionalism that our guys bring to the job. They always have clean uniforms, new uniforms every season, top notch equipment, that sort of thing. And so, yeah, we’re really proud of that and looking for ways to grow that program even more. That started in 2008.
In 15 years, we went from [eight] guys that we picked up from Gospel Rescues, to 50. At one time we had 62. And then we helped them go in-house when they were ready to go in-house. That was the Southwest BID. So, yeah. I’m really proud of that. And it is what makes our BID unique.
JARBOE: And we do it without biting into any of our overhead issues. You don’t have to spend a lot of extra time …
JARBOE: … on that aspect of it.
BROSMER: Right. I mean, we have it down to a science almost. We partner with the other BIDs or Main Streets, you know, to make sure that they’re managed well.
And I’ve got my operations director. I haven’t mentioned him yet, but he, Andrew Lee, is finishing his 15th year as our operations director. He started when his brother was part of the Gospel Rescue Ministries’ Ready to Work program. [His brother] went to court with Andrew, stood up in front of the judge and said, “If you let him out, we have a program and a job for him.” So the judge let him out, probation or whatever. And he started working for us. His story is, he says, he was planning to work for like three months, get enough money to go out and use again.
JARBOE: This is the brother.
BROSMER: This is Andrew.
JARBOE: Oh, this is Andrew.
BROSMER: Andrew’s brother is Arnold. So Arnold was here first, and he’s the one that got Andrew into the program. So Andrew––after about three months, it was his birthday, and we held a little surprise birthday party for him at Sizzling Express, where it was all you could eat, as much as you wanted. And he was so happy that people cared enough about him to throw him a party like that. And he felt like this could be [his] family. And I think he dropped the whole idea of going out and using. [Laughs.]
JARBOE: Now, did he start originally as one of the …
BROSMER: He pushed a bucket from the beginning. Absolutely. Started from the bottom. That’s not the bottom actually. That’s the core of what we do, pushing that bucket, right?
JARBOE: Right, right, right. But he started off as a frontline worker.
JARBOE: Not a manager. Yeah.
BROSMER: And then he quickly moved up. His brother [Arnold] moved up to supervisory and actually the Doe Fund’s Ready, Willing & Able recruited him to go and be a supervisor in their Philadelphia facility. So he went and got their training and Andrew moved up with us. [Andrew] got to be a site supervisor. Then he was operations manager and eventually operations director 15 years ago. His brother wanted to come back for—I can’t remember what happened up there. But we recruited him to come back. I know, we started growing and we needed another person in command. So we hired Arnold from the Doe Fund and he came back down. So now Andrew is Arnold’s boss but they’re both running our program for us and they’re really fantastic. So, yeah, it’s a beautiful story.
JARBOE: Yeah, that’s great. I had not known the true story about both where Andrew came from and Arnold’s connection with that.
BROSMER: Yeah. They’d both been in prison. Arnold just happened to find the Gospel Rescue Ministries and get into this program. And we all got lucky. [Laughs.]
JARBOE: No, it’s been incredible the folks that we have seen working on the BID. Just kind of a trivial little point, when you were mentioning that Andrew went from manager to director, so I assume that he took on more more responsibility.
BROSMER: Oh, yeah.
JARBOE: At some point, you transitioned in title from executive director to president and George became chairman.
BROSMER: I think it was when Paul became president that some of the other BIDs were having presidents and, you know, their executive directors were presidents and the presidents were chairmen. So, I think Paul had the idea. He wanted to be chairman, I guess. [Both laugh.] Not that I didn’t want to be president. But, yeah, I loved that. So Paul made that happen. And at that time we were re-doing our bylaws anyway because there were some new things the city required us to put in. So we changed those titles at that time, probably around 2008, 2009, something like that. Yeah. And, then, Andrew a few years back earned himself the title of vice president of operations. So he’s our vice president now.
JARBOE: Oh, great.
JARBOE: Okay. I’ve just about exhausted my list of questions. Anything else on the—especially on the early days.
BROSMER: You know, I just want to say that we’ve created an atmosphere that people want to stay in. Our Clean Team members, some of them have been with us for ten or 12, 13 years, 14 years. This is the most security that they’ve ever had in their lives. They’ve got 401(k)s. They’ve got life insurance that’s three times their annual salary. They have health and dental insurance. They have respect for what they do. They really feel like they’re serving the public in an important way. And they’ve become role models for their families and their neighborhoods. That’s so gratifying to be a part of that.
And it’s because of the vision of the board, that they decided to give this idea a chance, that other organizations are springing up and doing similar things. I think we do it best. But, yeah, I think we’ve made a place that people feel good about whatever level you’re at. I have the same benefits that the guy pushing the bucket has. I really like that about our culture. And I like that the board has been brave enough to tackle that, to spearhead that. I just thank God every day for my job. [Interviewer laughs.] I mean, I’m in the best job in the world, honestly. Best board. I look forward to coming to work every day. And, you know, we survived the pandemic, the challenges there. With good guidance from the board, with good employees, it just keeps getting better and better.
JARBOE: Is there anybody else you would suggest we talk to or—you know, particular board members, especially again about the early days, the beginnings. Because we’ve lost a lot of those folks already.
BROSMER: Lots of people, yeah. Talk to Bill [Rouchell]. He’ll have a fun perspective.
BROSMER: You know, his voice is always fun to interject in these things because he’ll be dramatic. Let me think about it, but ...
JARBOE: I know Bill was on the street. I mean he was one of the folks working with me to verify the addresses and stuff like that.
BROSMER: Oh was he? Yeah, yeah. Well, he was definitely one of the first. I don’t know that many are left from the early days. Yeah.
JARBOE: Yeah. Phil [Truluck] is no longer there. Bob’s [Braunohler] no longer there. Judy’s [Wood] no longer there.
BROSMER: Right, right. Lost some good people. But weren’t we lucky to have them when we had them?
JARBOE: Yeah. [Interviewee laughs.] It was an incredible group of folks.
BROSMER: Well, I appreciate putting this together because who knows what the future looks like? I think it will be good for people to know the origins, how the BID came to be, and the good stuff that has happened because of it.
BROSMER: Oh, one other thing. We have gone from a tax base of $450,000 a year with virtually the same properties, a few new developments. We’re now at about a million eight a year in tax revenues. So. And then the other revenue we get is from the outside contracts and they pretty much pay for themselves and they make a little bit of revenue in administrative fees for the BID. So, it’s a win-win.
JARBOE: You mentioned early on that the structure of the BID is such that you can get donations and foundation money. We haven’t gone that route very much, have we?
BROSMER: The structure of the BID, we’re a 501(c)6.
BROSMER: So, we don’t get foundation money at all because we’re not tax-exempt.
BROSMER: Ready, Willing & Working is a 501(c)3 and we do get grant funding. We wouldn’t survive without National Capital Bank supporting us. The Heritage Foundation [and the Capitol Hill Community Foundation are] a huge supporter of Ready, Willing & Working. So those funds go into the separate organization to provide the counseling, the supportive services, Metro fare passes. Sometimes we’ll put a down payment on an apartment for somebody. Sometimes we’ll furnish an apartment for somebody. So that’s where the charity part comes in.
JARBOE: Okay. Good. It’s good to clarify that.
JARBOE: Thank you.
BROSMER: Thank you so much. That little memory lane brought some tears to my eyes. [Laughs.]
END OF INTERVIEW
Ruth Ann Overbeck Capitol Hill History Project
Patty Brosmer Interview, July 26, 2023