Kenyan R. McDuffie was sworn in Wednesday as the District’s newest council member, ending a four-month leadership drought for Ward 5 residents who were left without a representative after Harry Thomas Jr. resigned from the body in January.
McDuffie, a lawyer who at 36 became the youngest member on the 13-member body, was joined by his wife, two children, parents and hundreds and friends and supporters for the swearing-ceremony in the council chamber.
“This moment is not lost on me,” said McDuffie, who won a landslide victory in the May 15 special election. “I know where I am today, but I also know how far we have to go … I will roll up my sleeves, right beside my colleagues, right beside the mayor, and do the work of government for the residents of Ward 5 and the residents of the District of Columbia.”
A graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, McDuffie is a third-generation Washingtonian who was raised in Northeast.
But like several of his colleagues, including Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), McDuffie represents a new generation of African-American leaders who came of age after the struggle for Home Rule and the divisive Marion Barry-era of District politics when the city was quickly shedding residents.
McDuffie declared during his campaign that he would work to unite a ward that forms the core of the city’s black middle class as well as home to a growing number of new, wealthier, multi-racial residents who are changing the culture in several Northeast neighborhoods.
Supporters also touted McDuffie as the most “progressive” candidate in the special election, noting that he was a longtime supporter of same-sex marriage and had refused to accept bundled or corporate contributions. But McDuffie received solid support from every corner of the ward, providing him with a mandate for rehabilitating the image of Ward 5 following Thomas’s conviction for stealing more than $350,000 in city funds.
In his 15-minute address, McDuffie noted how he worked as a mail carrier from 1992 to 1998 after he was forced to abandon his initial attempt to get a college degree from the University of the District of Columbia.
In 2002, after he returned to college, McDuffie earned a bachelors degree in political science from Howard University. He then earned a law degree from the University of Maryland.
After graduating, he went to work in Prince George’s County, first as a law clerk and then as an assistant state’s attorney. From 2008 to 2010, he was a trial attorney for the Justice Department’s civil rights division, according to his resume.
McDuffie also worked for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large) about 10 years ago. Most recently, he served as a public safety adviser to Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).
Though Gray and Brown stayed neutral in the special election, both have praised McDuffie’s selection and said they expect to have a good working relationship with him.
“I’m excited about McDuffie,” Brown said Wednesday. “He has integrity, character and he loves Ward 5.”
McDuffie’s win also represents a political victory for Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who was the only sitting council member to endorse him during the special election.
But McDuffie hopes to quickly carve out an independent role for himself on the council.
“I knew early on I wasn’t motivated by money, but my own success will be defined by my ability to improve the quality of life of people around me,” said McDuffie, who now turns his attention to hiring a staff.