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D.C. Council approves new Board of Elections chair, confirms two Housing Authority board members

The John Wilson Building in D.C. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
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The D.C. Council on Tuesday unanimously voted to name Gary Thompson, a veteran D.C. lawyer, to be the next chair of the D.C. Board of Elections ahead of the 2022 primaries — and also confirmed two mayoral appointments to the D.C. Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) nominated Thompson in October, weeks after former two-term Board of Elections Chair D. Michael Bennett announced he would step down from the position. Thompson, a Ward 4 resident, is the managing partner and founder at Thompson HD LLP, focusing on hospitality law and insurance recovery, according to a D.C. Council committee report.

Thompson served eight years as an advisory neighborhood commissioner and has served on the board of the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice as well as that of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. He also served as lead counsel in Zukerberg vs. D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics (2014), which paved the way for D.C. to have an elected attorney general.

In 2015, the D.C. Bar named Thompson pro bono lawyer of the year. His term as elections board chair will end July 7, 2024.

The council also confirmed Ronnie T. Harris and Melissa Lee to the city’s beleaguered Housing Authority board, whose chairman, Neil Albert, resigned abruptly last year after it became known that he had authorized contracts for a design firm owned by his companion.

Council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large), whose committee oversees the board, said that Harris works for AmeriHealth and will serve as the mayor’s nominee for a board seat reserved for a housing voucher recipient. Lee is the vice president of a real estate company, the Menkiti Group, and will serve as a public commissioner on the board.

“Both nominees stand out in their category of service,” Bonds said. “This is an opportunity for us to build anew the organization,” which has been plagued by recent scandals.

The Washington Post in November reported that Dionne Bussey-Reeder, whom Bowser chose to replace Albert as chair, had not paid about $15,000 in taxes and penalties across multiple years. While the board’s bylaws prohibit commissioners from owing taxes to D.C., the Housing Authority said Bussey-Reeder remains qualified to serve because she is enrolled in a payment plan. Another commissioner, Antonio Taliaferro, was the subject of a Housing Authority investigation into allegations that he had verbally abused and harassed agency staff.

Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) said she had some concerns that Lee might be influenced by her colleagues in the city’s real estate development community but that she heard testimony that when Lee served on other boards, “she stepped up.”

“There’s a lot of evidence from both these nominees’ backgrounds that they will make the board better and stronger,” Silverman said. “This is one of the most critical roles in our city to making us more equitable, to making sure that low-income Washingtonians have a place to live in this city and that we make sure the housing provided is safe and decent and has dignity.”

Julie Zauzmer Weil contributed to this report.

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