Bowser critics gain power on council
New chairs eager to get started on reworked panels
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.