After 11 women shared their stories in two reports by Seattle’s KUOW, members of the city’s music, nightlife and political circles are wondering who knew what and when, and whether they played a role in enabling his years of alleged misconduct.
Over two decades in the public eye, David Meinert has been described as a power broker, a tenacious businessman and an activist. He’s opened popular bars, managed top-of-the-chart bands and put money and endorsements into successful political campaigns.
But in the past month, the power he wielded across the city has been dismantled.
In two reports published by KUOW, the most recent on Thursday, 11 women accuse Meinert, 52, of sexual misconduct, including assault and rape, between 2001 and 2015. Two women filed police reports but neither of the allegations was heard in a courtroom, according to court documents and interviews reported by KUOW.
Five women told their stories anonymously in a story published in July. Another six women, all but one named, told their stories in KUOW’s report on Thursday, including Seattle Times food writer Bethany Jean Clement.
The Times did not independently verify the women’s accounts.
The allegations have reverberated in the music, nightlife and political realms where he made his mark for so many years. Within those communities, longtime members are wondering what happened, who knew what and when, and whether they played a role in enabling years of alleged misconduct.
Even those who didn’t know about the allegations of sexual misconduct say they heard rumors of Meinert’s aggressive behavior toward women that they believed to be questionable.
“If he were one of our bandmates, we would have kicked him out of the band,” said Sam Anderson, a member of Hey Marseilles, a band managed by Meinert’s company. “But he was the boss.”
Meinert declined to comment for this story and KUOW’s second report. But in an interview with the news organization before the first story’s publication, he acknowledged he had crossed the line with women, and been “pushy or handsy,” He denied the accusations of rape and sexual assault.
“I think having a music company, and having several bars and restaurants, allows you to have influence,” said Jody Hall, the Cupcake Royale owner who has known Meinert for a decade. “You can use that influence for good, or you can use that influence in other ways.”
Sphere of influence
Confronting sexual harassment and abuseThe #MeToo movement has sparked a national conversation about sexual harassment and assault. From actors in Hollywood to security guards at the Seattle Public Library, more people are coming forward with painful and intimate stories of abuse, casting new light on behavior that for too long has been dealt with in whispers, secret settlements or not at all. So where do we go from here? The Seattle Times' occasional series explores that and other questions as we move forward in this changed landscape.
Meinert’s influence on Seattle weaves through several industries and neighborhoods, but it’s most visible on Capitol Hill. He’s had a hand in several businesses that sit along the vibrant Pike-Pine corridor, including Lost Lake, Comet, Grim’s, Via Tribunali, Big Mario’s and Queer/Bar.
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He owned a stake in Lost Lake, Comet and Grim’s until last week, when the businesses announced that the ownership group and Meinert had parted ways in connection with the allegations.
Every summer, thousands of people descend on the neighborhood for Capitol Hill Block Party, a three-day music festival that Meinert produced for several years.
Beyond Capitol Hill, he owns the 5 Point Café in Belltown and Torch Northwest, a Tacoma marijuana shop. He purchased about 10,000 square feet on the ground floor of the mixed-use Gridiron building across from CenturyLink Field in 2016.
Meinert also had a significant stake in music talent. His management company, Onto Entertainment, signed The Lumineers in 2011, a year before the Colorado band skyrocketed to fame with the single “Ho Hey.” Onto also managed Hey Marseilles and spoken-word poet Andrea Gibson. Meinert previously managed hit bands Blue Scholars, the Presidents of the United States of America, and Maktub.
“There’s no one in Seattle music or nightlife that hasn’t dealt with him in some capacity,” said Kerri Harrop, a longtime fixture in the Seattle music scene. “If you weren’t actual friends with him, you crossed paths or did business with him on some level.”
Meinert also leveraged his business profile for political clout. He was an influential member of what became a hugely important committee charged with negotiating Seattle’s path to a $15-per-hour minimum wage. And from 2008 to 2017, Meinert contributed about $36,600 to local candidates and ballot-measure campaigns.
Early on, Meinert worked to promote music and nightlife in Seattle. In the mid-1990s, he and other nightlife advocates won a fight to repeal the city’s Teen Dance Ordinance. The fight was prompted after police had cited the ordinance as reason to shut down the all-ages Oddfellows Hall, where Meinert booked shows.
With former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and former Showbox owner Jeff Steichen, he joined a political action committee to lobby for the music industry.
His work was inspiring to Steven Severin, now-co-owner of Neumos, Barboza and The Runaway.
“This was the first time that I realized as a music-industry person you could get involved with politics and make a difference in the music scene,” said Severin, 47. “I learned that over the years from him and always admired that about him.”
Whether at a bar or in a boardroom, Meinert had a reputation for aggressive-bordering-on-inappropriate behavior, according to seven people who worked with him in a variety of capacities.
Those interviewed described instances of Meinert hitting on employees at his businesses, making sexually charged comments and not backing down when rebuffed.
“A part of the aftermath of these allegations is realizing that some of the behavior that you just kind of brushed off as ‘Oh, he’s just being a creep’ is far more sinister,” Harrop said.
Over the years, thousands of people in the nightlife and music industry became part of a whisper network, warning others of his behavior, said Anderson, 28, the Hey Marseilles cellist.
“We never really questioned him or confronted him,” Anderson said. “It was creepy stuff, but nothing criminal, and it wasn’t enough that we wanted to upset the order of things. And frankly, we benefited from his connections. That’s another thing I fully take responsibility for.”
Others said news of the allegations wasn’t surprising when they looked back on his past behavior. Nicole Vallestero Keenan, a policy analyst on the committee to raise Seattle’s minimum wage, said Meinert yelled at her as they clashed over her research on tips and wages. Another time, when she was younger and they crossed paths, he gave her “that up-and-down and then a too-long hug,” she said.
She didn’t think much of it at the time. But when news of the allegations broke, “my own interactions with him made me not surprised.”
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As a woman business owner, Hall said she felt pressured and bullied by Meinert, especially when she expressed frustrations over how Capitol Hill Block Party was run. She had heard stories about his “inappropriate assertiveness” but didn’t know about the “more offensive, crossing-the-line” allegations.
Severin said he felt devastated when he read the accounts in the KUOW story.
“It’s so ugly, and I hate to think that somebody that I called a friend and at one point looked up to as a quasi-mentor could do that to another human being,” he said.
City Hall influence
Political veterans, too, have felt his influence over the years.
Meinert was just breaking into Seattle’s political scene when former City Councilmember Nick Licata first ran for office in 1997. Licata was a broker who had insured a number of nightlife venues and Meinert was a show-booker already adept at connecting people.
Years later, when the council debated sick-leave and minimum-wage mandates, Meinert had become a successful bar owner and band manager with a maverick political reputation. It was evident to Licata that Meinert’s power had grown. He was accessible, he said, and a networker.
The now-retired politician said he never heard allegations that Meinert had sexually abused women. When Licata read about the allegations, he was “in shock,” he said.
Meinert had the “cool factor,” said former City Councilmember Sally Clark, who first dealt with Meinert after her 2006 election, that contributed to his outsized personality.
Former Mayor Mike McGinn met Meinert in 2009, a tumultuous year in Seattle politics that saw McGinn score an underdog win and Pete Holmes unseat Tom Carr as city attorney. Meinert was in the middle of the action, McGinn said, as both he and Holmes sought to woo the nightlife sector and promised they would use a lighter touch than their predecessors.
“I needed to talk to the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association, and he had a prominent role,” McGinn said. “He was clearly a leader in the nightlife community, and the community had juice.”
As mayor, McGinn held regular meetings at City Hall with nightlife leaders, including Meinert. Meinert did make individual requests, which McGinn paid attention to. He asked about things involving nightlife and his business, McGinn said.
There were limits. When Meinert sought a parklet outside Lost Lake Cafe, transportation officials ran his request upstairs. McGinn backed up the transportation officials in denying the request.
Meinert ended up backing Ed Murray against McGinn in the 2013 election. The endorsement stung, and shortly after Murray was elected, the Lost Lake parklet was approved, McGinn said.
Among candidates Meinert donated to, King County Executive Dow Constantine received the most money by far — more than $5,000 over five election cycles. The county executive has vowed to return or donate the money. Gov. Jay Inslee promised to donate to Planned Parenthood the $1,500 he received from Meinert in 2016.
‘I hope it bands people together’
With the wave of allegations, Meinert’s influence has largely been silenced in the communities where he once reigned, and those within them are undergoing their own introspection about power and sex.
Hall called the revelation of the allegations an example of “the Harvey Weinstein effect hitting us in our own community.”
“That kind of behavior is changing in our culture. We’re seeing it in the news, with Me Too, we’re seeing that women just aren’t in the back seat,” she said. “We have voices.”
Harrop described news of the allegations as a “gut punch.”
“Like him or not, he’s been a fixture, you don’t want to find out that that fixture has been a bigger creep than you could even imagine,” she said. “You don’t want to see one of your own be ‘that guy.’ I’ve disagreed with him on a million things, but he’s still part of this weird, big family. And that’s been tough.”
Public-relations firm Strategies 360 confirmed it ended its relationship with Meinert after a Strategies employee shared her own story about Meinert with management. That employee, Rebecca Jacobs, was among the women who made their allegations public Thursday in KUOW’s story.
The Lumineers say the band has parted ways with Onto, Meinert’s management company. Hey Marseilles posted that the band members are working on a path forward, “but know that path will not include David Meinert.” Poet Andrea Gibson told The Stranger that “I will have no involvement with any company he is involved with moving forward.”
Despite his exit from his Capitol Hill businesses, it’s unclear what might happen with his ownership at 5 Point Café.
Severin says patrons may not care about the accusations.
“Ninety-nine percent of the folks that come into one of my club or bars don’t care about who the owner is or what they’ve done,” said Severin, the Capitol Hill venue owner. “They want to know what time the band is playing and if the beer is cold. I know I sound cynical, but I think that’s the real reality.”
That being said, Severin added, he hoped the story would help educate people that sexual misconduct won’t be tolerated.
“I hope it bands people together to work on not letting this behavior go,” he said. “We can’t let this be yesterday’s news where we forget about it and go back to how it’s been.”
Seattle Times reporter Dan Beekman and news assistant Alexa Peters contributed to this report.