A late entry in the race to succeed Evans — who resigned in January as his colleagues were about to expel him for ethics violations — she defeated a slew of competitors, buoyed by intense outreach to voters and key endorsements.
Her opponents have questioned her qualifications and attacked her for using family wealth to bankroll her campaign. But Pinto says she has the energy and knowledge of neighborhood politics to foster trust among residents stung by Evans’s missteps and frustrated by systemic racism in the District and elsewhere.
“We must rebuild our institutions,” Pinto (D) said during her swearing-in speech Saturday. “We must reshape our service providers, and we must once again renew our promise of equity before the law.”
She faces high expectations as a successor to Evans, a self-described fiscal conservative and stalwart supporter of business interests who represented Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, downtown, and Logan and Dupont circles for nearly 30 years.
Her agenda includes assisting small businesses struggling to recover from the coronavirus pandemic and advocating for alternatives to traditional policing for low-level offenses and violence prevention.
With social distancing requirements limiting her ability to travel within the ward, Pinto says she is launching her council career by employing the strategy that was at the core of her campaign: working the phones.
“I still spend all day, every day on the phone and over Zoom talking to various constituents or advocacy groups who are advocating for certain things in the budget; trying to get up to speed on the budget; getting to know my new colleagues and their teams,” she said an interview. “The calling voters is no longer part of the day. Now I’m fielding calls from voters.”
From Congress to city hall
Pinto defeated a slew of candidates to win the June 16 special election to serve out the rest of Evans’s term, two weeks after narrowly winning the Democratic primary to compete for a four-year term this November.
In an overwhelmingly blue ward, she is heavily favored in the general election, with Republican Katherine Venice also on the ballot and independent Martín Miguel Fernandez planning a challenge from the left.
Her first brush with city hall politics came while she was a law student, as a volunteer with the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, helping clients testify before the council on issues related to housing vouchers and shelters.
The Wilson Building was far different from the U.S. Capitol, where she had spent a summer working for Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)
“I was inspired that it only took seven votes to get something passed, and it wasn’t this opaque process,” Pinto said.
After a clerkship for a federal judge, Pinto joined the office of D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) for a one-year fellowship and worked on tax issues. Racine then hired her as assistant attorney general for policy and legislative affairs; she focused on bills related to hate crimes, data breaches and deceptive charity practices.
“I was working directly with the council on a daily basis,” Pinto said when asked about criticism that she was not familiar enough with Ward 2 to represent it on the council. “This idea I don’t have experience because I wasn’t previously an elected leader is just a mischaracterization.”
Early this year, Pinto asked Racine to go on a walk and told him she was thinking about jumping into the crowded Ward 2 race, which included several elected neighborhood commissioners and Evans himself.
Racine warned her the odds were tough.
“She just doubled down and continued to work and work and work,” Racine said in an interview. He ended up endorsing Pinto, as did The Washington Post editorial board, which operates separately from the news division.
Pinto, whose father is a private equity executive, was the only Democratic Ward 2 candidate who did not participate in the city’s new public financing option, which limits the size of donations but provides matching funds if enough local donors contribute.
She raised more than $7,000 from relatives and contributed or lent more than $65,000 of her own money to her campaign, using savings and an inheritance.
“I am somebody who has always felt a great sense of obligation and duty and responsibility to be a public servant, in part because of the amazing family that I come from,” said Pinto, who left Racine’s office to run for the council. “I recognize it’s an incredible privilege to even be able to have savings to be able to contribute to my campaign.”
She fired a firm that was handling her campaign filings after the Washington City Paper reported about discrepancies that underreported expenditures. The article led to a campaign finance complaint filed by attorney Lauren Wolfe, who alleged that among the missing expenditures was a house that Pinto had listed as her campaign headquarters.
Pinto said her campaign abandoned plans to use the house after the pandemic struck.
A different kind of council member
Ward 2 had only two polling places open for the June 2 primary because of coronavirus restrictions. With the presidential nominating contest essentially over, some predicted low voter turnout that would favor candidate Patrick Kennedy, a Foggy Bottom neighborhood activist with broad support from civic leaders. But nearly a third of the ward’s voters cast ballots — high for a primary election. Many said they decided to back Pinto in the crucial final stretch.
“She was the only one who called,” said lobbyist Ankit Desai, 42, who liked Pinto’s claim that her time in Racine’s office made her the best-qualified. “Now more than ever, we need people who’ve been there before and understand how the bureaucracy works.”
Some voters said they wanted a clean break from Evans — who ultimately finished second to last — and distrusted Kennedy because he chaired Evans’s 2016 reelection bid. Others saw both Kennedy and Pinto as middle-of-the-road candidates, but wanted to elevate more women to office.
Pinto edged Kennedy by fewer than 400 votes. Two weeks later, she won the special election to serve the rest of the current term.
Lobbyists, politicos and advocacy groups are still sizing up Pinto to figure out where she will fit on an increasingly left-leaning council. Council member Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4) — who like Evans was among the most conservative members of the body — lost his primary to a liberal challenger, and the ideological tilt of the body is in flux.
Pinto has described council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) — a liberal with a pragmatic streak — as a model for the kind of lawmaker she will be. She said the biggest change her constituents should expect is that she will contact them for feedback ahead of votes on big issues more than Evans did.
But Pinto shares Evans’s aversion to increasing taxes, arguing that the business climate in Connecticut suffered after legislators raised taxes to fill budget holes.
And while Evans was the council’s biggest booster for bringing the Washington Redskins back to the District, Pinto says she’ll support such a move only if the football team changes its name.
Evans also irritated constituents by taking advantage of special council license plates to park as he pleased and using a constituent services fund for sports tickets and other personal expenses. Pinto says if she creates a constituent services fund, it will have better oversight. She believes special license plates can be used responsibly, but said walking is her primary mode of transportation.
“Ward 2 was overripe for wanting change,” said Austin Naughton, who leads the Ward 2 Democrats and did not know Pinto before she entered the race. “Brooke offered that very dramatically. Not just change in the person: A change in gender. A change in generation.”