The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New D.C. Council members, ushering in first female majority in over 20 years, reiterate promises to confront systemic racism, pandemic

Janeese Lewis George is sworn in as a member of the D.C. Council, representing Ward 4, outside the Wilson Building on Saturday.
Janeese Lewis George is sworn in as a member of the D.C. Council, representing Ward 4, outside the Wilson Building on Saturday. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades for The Washington Post)
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Three new D.C. Council members — all women — were sworn into office Saturday morning, marking a leftward shift in the city’s leadership and the first majority-female council in more than 20 years.

Christina Henderson, an independent first-time candidate, clinched an at-large seat during the November election. Democrat Brooke Pinto, who won a special election to fill the Ward 2 seat in June, will continue to represent the region. Janeese Lewis George, a Democrat, will be councilwoman for Ward 4.

All three replaced men, and the additions of Henderson and George will establish a majority-Black council for the first time since 2012.

The swearing-in ceremony, which Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) called a “symbolic occasion” that demonstrated the peaceful transition of power, also provided council members an opportunity to reiterate their priorities for the next four years: plans to get through the pandemic and to address systemic racism, social injustice, unaffordable housing and gun violence.

“To know D.C. is to recognize these injustices,” George said at an outdoor ceremony on the steps of the Wilson Building. “But to love D.C. like I do — its music, its food, our culture, our people, from go-go to mumbo sauce — to love this city like I do is to confront these injustices with courage and conviction.”

Democrats Robert C. White Jr., Vincent C. Gray and Trayon White Sr. were also sworn in Saturday after voters reelected the men to their at-large, Ward 7 and Ward 8 seats, respectively.

Voters in November ousted the council’s most fiscally conservative lawmakers, Ward 4’s Brandon T. Todd and Jack Evans, who represented Ward 2 before resigning last year during an ethics scandal and vying for the seat, again, in the June primary.

Mendelson in November said the results of the election show a city that still prefers moderation, but new members could shift the council leftward.

Henderson has labeled herself “progressive” and indicated she will back measures such as raising income taxes on the wealthy to fund social services. She has also stated a willingness to compromise.

“I decided to seek public office because I was frustrated with the status quo and felt that we needed more leaders to focus on making what appears to be impossible possible,” Henderson said Saturday, “to push policies that make D.C. more equitable and sustainable for us all and to make a reality the belief that your Zip code should not determine your opportunity for success.”

Pinto, who joined the council in June after winning the special election to fill the seat left vacant by Evans, promised on Saturday to fulfill an agenda that includes criminal justice reform, investments in education and support for small businesses battered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Pinto promised “to serve as a reliable ally in the fight against racial and social injustice,” she said Saturday. She also said she would “support affordable housing and our neighbors experiencing homelessness, to stand with the businesses that serve as the backbone of our economy.”

George will represent the ward in which she was raised, Ward 4. She reflected on her experiences in the city — losing friends to gun violence and worrying how she would earn enough money to support her family.

“We can ensure that every D.C. family has access to quality health care, child care, a just transit system, a strong union job and a government that responds to our needs,” George said.

The city’s new leaders will be tasked with confronting not only the coronavirus pandemic, but also the public health crisis that is gun violence, George said. The city last year counted 167 shooting deaths, according to The Washington Post’s homicide database.

“United, we can bring peace to our communities by treating gun violence as the public health crisis that it is and showing — not only with our words but with our actions, our policies and our budget — that Black lives matter,” George said.