Lazere, 53, said in an interview that he's making the leap from advocacy to politics out of concern that the District government is not responding forcefully enough to the inequality that has allowed endemic homelessness to take root and affordable housing to dwindle even as the city enjoys a prolonged economic boom.
"We're not, as a city, rising adequately to meet the real problems of gentrification and development," he said. "We all see it. We all know it. Every day I'm walking by more people who live in a tent."
Lazere, who has lived in Brookland for 25 years, has a wife and two sons. He has never run for elected office, although he has served on blue-ribbon panels including the Public Education Finance Reform Commission and D.C. Tax Revision Commission.
He has also served on nonprofit boards, including as president of the board of the Temple Micah synagogue. Lazere said he will take a leave from the Fiscal Policy Institute, effective immediately, for the duration of the campaign.
He will face a formidable opponent in Mendelson, who has served as chairman since 2012 and has twice been reelected with more than 70 percent of the vote.
A punctilious Cleveland native who cut his teeth on neighborhood land-use battles in Northwest Washington, Mendelson is not in the mold of some of the District's larger-than-life political figures but has built a reliable base of support citywide.
Among other things, Mendelson played a key role in shaping a landmark 2016 law guaranteeing paid time off to new parents and tax cuts funded by excess revenue the District has collected in recent years because of strong economic growth.