Axios D.C.

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It's baby Friday (also known as Thursday) — let's go! 🥳

Today's weather: Showers likely, with a possible thunderstorm after 2pm. High of 57.

🎂 Happy birthday to our Axios D.C. member Steve Geimann!

Today's newsletter is 976 words — a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: 📉 D.C.'s BFD bottom line

Mayor Muriel Bowser at an event to boost downtown. Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Remote work has tanked D.C.'s growth — and it's causing a budget nightmare.

Why it matters: The city's growth is only expected to be "modest" and "below the rate of inflation" in the coming years, the city's top financial official said yesterday, citing telework's drain on downtown. Deep cuts are on the table.

Driving the news: Mayor Muriel Bowser's proposed budget prioritizes downtown incentives, education and policing investments. She wants to make sweeping cuts — eliminating all Circulator buses, for one thing, and wiping out a fund that boosts the pay of daycare teachers.

👀 The big picture: It's the most painful budget in recent history. Increasing costs, declining tax revenue, and the end of federal pandemic stimulus have created a $4 billion gap over the next four years.

  • D.C.'s 6% pre-pandemic growth has declined to 2%, per Bowser officials.

Zoom in: Bowser, who framed her proposal as "shared sacrifices," doesn't call for any income or property tax increases. But there are targeted tax hikes.

  • One would raise a tax that businesses pay for the paid family leave program.
  • Another would bump up the city's sales tax by a half-percent beginning in late 2025, to 6.5%.

But to balance the budget, Bowser also needed to cut about $500 million in spending, including slashing her signature affordable housing fund for the first time since taking office in 2015.

  • 69 city workers will receive layoff notices.

Friction point: The child care subsidy is top of mind for many lawmakers, including Council member Christina Henderson, who became emotional reacting to the cuts the council chamber. The fund enables early education providers to be paid on par with public school teachers.

  • "It feels as though we are proposing to balance this budget on the backs of Black and Brown women in the childcare sector," Henderson said.

Between the lines: The business community will likely lobby against the paid family leave tax increase. That levy will return to a rate of 0.62% after it was reduced in 2022 to the current 0.26%.

What's next: The D.C. Council has weeks to make changes before a final vote.

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2. 🔄 Meanwhile, the latest empty-office pivot: weddings

Office building or wedding venue? Photo: Signal House, courtesy of Carr + Events

Apartments. Art galleries. What to do with D.C.'s glut of unoccupied office space is the topic du jour, and one mega-developer thinks they've found an answer: upscale private events.

Why it matters: Carr Properties is behind some of the glitziest developments in town — think the billion-dollar Midtown Center — and their new venture is an intriguing pivot for the trophy office market.

The big picture: Less than half of D.C. office workers are on-site compared to pre-pandemic levels.

What they're saying: "We need to think more like hotels," CEO Oliver Carr tells Axios. "We've got beautiful buildings in great locations with spectacular views, but we haven't been maximizing the potential of the asset."

  • Think private dinners, corporate off-sites, cocktail receptions — and yes, weddings.

Zoom in: The company realizes that saying 'I do' in a half-empty office building might give Dunder Mifflin vibes. So it's homing in on four of its most amenity-rich properties.

  • Signal House in the Union Market District has an indoor/outdoor penthouse, firepits, and catering from ground-floor tenant Stephen Starr.
  • 1700 New York Avenue has expansive views of the Mall.

How it works: Carr says the pricing structure is market-based, depending on the date, season, and what comparable spaces are offering (so, not cheap).

Between the lines: Full-time tenants, who can also use the events program, are still a top priority for the developer. Despite the down market, Carr says their properties remain 90% leased overall.

  • "We're sensitive to what kind of events are appropriate for any given building," he tells Axios. "Having a bachelor party probably wouldn't work."

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3. 📢 José Andrés' massive megaphone

President Biden and José Andrés in Poland in 2022. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden's condolence call to José Andrés after Israeli strikes killed seven of his aid workers delivering food in Gaza underscores just how powerful a voice the celebrity chef has become.

Why it matters: When Andrés speaks, Washington listens.

The Spanish-born chef has long propelled the city's elite to rethink their assumptions about food.

  • Now he's demanding they focus their attention on the Palestinian civilians in Gaza who are facing starvation.

"The seven people killed on a World Central Kitchen mission in Gaza on Monday were the best of humanity," Andrés wrote yesterday in a New York Times op-ed.

  • He called the strike a "direct attack on clearly marked vehicles whose movements were known by the Israel Defense Forces."

Driving the news: The White House was quick to associate itself with Andrés and his efforts to feed civilians in Gaza.

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued an extremely rare apology, saying Israel "deeply regrets the tragic incident."

Zoom in: "People listen to José because he has earned their respect and admiration," said United Arab Emirates Washington ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba.

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4. Around the Beltway: James Beard honorees

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

🍴 The DMV has six James Beard Award finalists. Nominees include Hollis Wells Silverman of The Duck & The Peach, Michael Rafidi of Albi, Kevin Tien of Moon Rabbit, and Tony Conte of Inferno Pizzeria Napoletana. (Axios)

🚨 D.C. police helped sell at least 25 guns that were later found at crime scenes, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The police department was previously the city's only federal firearm licensee. (NBC4)

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5. 🤑 1 big check to go

Obtained by Axios.

Trump nemesis George Conway will headline a fundraiser for President Biden in the District later this month, Democratic sources told Axios' Mike Allen.

  • Conway also wrote a check for $929,600 — the max you can give to the Biden Victory Fund. The minimum gift for the event is $500.

This is while his ex-wife Kellyanne Conway reportedly is weighing a return to Trumpworld and an offer to join the former president's 2024 campaign.

  • The Beltway fundraiser's lead hosts are Melissa Moss, a strategic consultant, and her husband, Jonathan Silver. Susan Brophy helped organize.

Go deeper: What Kellyanne Conway's been up to

🌧️ Anna is trying to get "I Can't Stand the Rain" out of her head.

🎵 Mimi is jammin' to the playlist she got from the Omakase @ Barracks Row peeps.

😂 Cuneyt is halfway through S2 of "Buying Beverly Hills" and is here for the succession/nepo baby drama.

Today's newsletter was edited by Kristen Hinman and copy edited by Patricia Guadalupe.