Bowser crit­ics gain power on coun­cil

New chairs ea­ger to get started on re­worked pan­els

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY RYAN M. MCDER­MOTT

A reshuf­fling of com­mit­tee chair­man­ships on the D.C. Coun­cil has di­min­ished much of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s leg­isla­tive in­flu­ence as old al­lies leave and new stars rise to lead re­for­mu­lated pan­els.

Coun­cil mem­bers are sched­uled to be sworn in Mon­day. At their first leg­isla­tive meet­ing on Jan. 10, they are ex­pected to ap­prove a num­ber of new chair­man­ships — in­clud­ing one to an out­spo­ken critic of Miss Bowser — that were an­nounced last week by coun­cil Chair­man Phil Men­del­son, also a fre­quent op­po­nent of the mayor’s in­flu­ence.

Miss Bowser’s sec­ond year in of­fice has fea­tured sev­eral bumps:

● Her plan to close the di­lap­i­dated home­less shel­ter at the for­mer D.C. Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal and re­place it with smaller shel­ters across the city was rewrit­ten by Mr. Men­del­son, at-large Demo­crat.

● Her tough anti-crime leg­is­la­tion was largely re­placed by a bill call­ing for more so­cial ser­vices for vic­tims and crim­i­nals. The coun­cil ap­proved the mea­sure over the mayor’s crit­i­cisms.

● Her last-minute push to de­rail an un­prece­dented paid fam­ily leave pro­gram hit a wall de­spite back­ing from sev­eral coun­cil mem­bers and the District’s pow­er­ful busi­ness lobby.

● Two of her most stal­wart and vo­cal al­lies on the coun­cil — LaRuby May of Ward 8 and Yvette Alexan­der of Ward 7 — lost their seats in the Demo­cratic pri­maries to po­lit­i­cal new­comer Trayon White and long­time Bowser ri­val Vin­cent C. Gray, re­spec­tively.

Mr. Gray, whom Miss Bowser de­feated

in the 2014 Demo­cratic mayoral pri­mary, will head the Health Com­mit­tee. The for­mer mayor lost his re-elec­tion bid amid a years­long fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion of his 2010 cam­paign that un­cov­ered a shadow fi­nanc­ing op­er­a­tion.

Chuck Thies, a po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tive who helped run Mr. Gray’s 2014 cam­paign, said Miss Bowser must present law­mak­ers with thoughtful, pro­gres­sive leg­is­la­tion now that her sway on the coun­cil has ebbed.

“If I were Bowser, on Jan. 3 I’m rolling out leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties that the coun­cil can’t vote down — lefty leg­is­la­tion that they can’t refuse,” said Mr. Thies, who has picked pub­lic fights with the Bowser ad­min­is­tra­tion. “She has no po­lit­i­cal mus­cle to in­flu­ence this coun­cil. Noth­ing. In­de­pen­dence from the mayor is an as­set.”

Mr. Men­del­son di­vided the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the for­mer health and hu­man ser­vices panel to cre­ate Mr. Gray’s com­mit­tee and the new Hu­man Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, which will be led by Bri­anne Nadeau, Ward 1 Demo­crat.

Elissa Sil­ver­man, at-large in­de­pen­dent, will head the newly formed La­bor and Work­force De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tee — a role she says will al­low her to ad­dress some of the city’s most press­ing prob­lems.

Ms. Sil­ver­man is fresh off a ma­jor leg­isla­tive vic­tory. With help from pro­la­bor groups, she beat back op­po­si­tion from the busi­ness lobby, sev­eral other coun­cil mem­bers and Miss Bowser to get the coun­try’s most gen­er­ous paid leave pro­gram ap­proved.

She said she plans to con­tinue push­ing for more worker ben­e­fits and fo­cus­ing on find­ing jobs for the un­em­ployed.

“We need to work with our em­ploy­ers to make it eas­ier for them to hire some of our hard­est to em­ploy res­i­dents — folks who lack lit­er­acy skills, sin­gle moms, re­turn­ing ci­ti­zens,” she said.

Ms. Sil­ver­man noted that a more in­de­pen­dent coun­cil would be a boon be­cause she could rally law­mak­ers free of ex­ec­u­tive branch in­flu­ence to back her agenda.

“We have a coun­cil re­ally fo­cused on how to move the city for­ward,” she said. “I think it’s a lot of in­de­pen­dent thinkers in that you have peo­ple who are truly weigh­ing the costs and ben­e­fits of pol­icy and are less fo­cused on or­ders from po­lit­i­cal pa­trons.”

Bowser spokesman Kevin Har­ris said the mayor isn’t wor­ried about the new coun­cil and is fo­cus­ing on “build­ing on the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s leg­isla­tive suc­cesses.”

He said los­ing Ms. May and Miss Alexan­der from the coun­cil won’t de­rail Miss Bowser’s plans for push­ing her agenda.

“Given the fact the mayor has suc­cess­fully pushed through nearly ev­ery ma­jor piece of her leg­isla­tive agenda since tak­ing of­fice, it’s clear she knows how to de­liver on poli­cies that District res­i­dents want,” Mr. Har­ris said.

“We ex­pect those suc­cesses to con­tinue with the coun­cil’s new mem­bers, first and fore­most be­cause the poli­cies the mayor is fight­ing for are in align­ment with the pri­or­i­ties of res­i­dents in ev­ery part of the city, in­clud­ing safer streets, bet­ter schools and more af­ford­able hous­ing,” he said.

Charles Allen, Ward 6 Demo­crat, will head the coun­cil’s Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, pre­vi­ously led by Kenyan McDuffie.

“There is a lot of work to do to en­sure ev­ery­one in the District has a safe neigh­bor­hood and that we are a fair and just city,” Mr. Allen said. “I care deeply about pub­lic safety and good gov­ern­ment is­sues and am hon­ored to serve the coun­cil in this new role.”

Mr. McDuffie will take charge of the Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment and Reg­u­la­tory Af­fairs Com­mit­tee. It is the for­mer Busi­ness, Con­sumer and Reg­u­la­tory Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, which be­came a part of the coun­cil’s Com­mit­tee of the Whole in Septem­ber af­ter the Au­gust res­ig­na­tion of its chair­man, Vin­cent Orange.

McDuffie spokesman Nolan Tread­way said the Ward 5 Demo­crat re­quested the move.

“The coun­cil mem­ber got the com­mit­tee he was look­ing for. [Mr. McDuffie] still has a lot of pas­sion for the work of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee. He is very proud to have ac­com­plished a lot with re­gards to crim­i­nal jus­tice re­form in his two years, and it will al­ways con­tinue to be a pri­or­ity,” Mr. Tread­way said.

As Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee chair­man, Mr. McDuffie piqued Miss Bowser when he re­placed her anti-crime leg­is­la­tion with his own. The sit­u­a­tion might re­peat it­self with re­gard to busi­ness mea­sures.

“[Mr. McDuffie] wants to be sure that the coun­cil is fo­cus­ing its at­ten­tion on lo­cal busi­ness as well, and how do we main­tain and grow our eco­nomic foot­print,” Mr. Tread­way said. “And the in­ter­ests of this com­mit­tee dove­tail nicely with the is­sues he will tackle as in­com­ing pres­i­dent of [the Metropoli­tan Wash­ing­ton Coun­cil of Gov­ern­ments].”

Miss Bowser’s only re­li­able ally on the coun­cil, Bran­don T. Todd, Ward 4 Demo­crat, will over­see the ex­ec­u­tive branch as head of the Gov­ern­ment Op­er­a­tions Com­mit­tee.

Anita Bonds, at-large Demo­crat and some­time Bowser ally, will head the Hous­ing and Neigh­bor­hood Re­vi­tal­iza­tion Com­mit­tee — for­merly known as the Hous­ing and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Com­mit­tee.

David Grosso, at-large in­de­pen­dent, will keep his post as head of the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee, and Jack Evans, Ward 2 Demo­crat, will con­tinue his nearly two-decade ten­ure as chair­man of the Fi­nance and Rev­enue Com­mit­tee.

Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Demo­crat, will con­tinue chair­ing the Trans­porta­tion and En­vi­ron­ment Com­mit­tee.

Trayon White, Ward 8 Demo­crat, and Robert C. White Jr., at-large Demo­crat, are start­ing their first coun­cil terms and have not re­ceived any chair­man­ships. They will sit as mem­bers of sev­eral com­mit­tees.

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