The presidential inauguration has traditionally been a standing-room-only event at the District’s city hall, as D.C. elected officials and a select crowd of their handpicked constituents jostle for a nonpareil view of the parade route.
But this year, as Washington welcomes a president who had the support of only 4.1 percent of the city’s voters, local lawmakers will greet the White House’s new occupant not with a celebration but with a snub.
When President Trump passes the John A. Wilson Building on Pennsylvania Avenue Friday, he will find few of his new neighbors at home: Only three of the city’s 13 council members, along with Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), plan to be there.
Some describe their absence as a political gesture, akin to the boycott of the inauguration by more than 60 Democratic members of Congress. Others coyly note that they have personal or public business elsewhere. At least one will not even be on U.S. soil: Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said he is traveling to Mexico.
Whatever the motive, the council’s poor showing will be a conspicuous break from past inauguration parades, according to longtime observers. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said he cannot remember a similarly small turnout in his 26 years in office.
While Presidents Bill Clinton and Obama drew predictably rapturous crowds to the special parade-viewing stand at city hall, even the two Bush inaugurations were well-attended, said Evans, one of the three council members who will be present Friday.
“From my point of view, it’s a historic occasion,” Evans said. “Whether it’s Trump or somebody else, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m always intrigued by these things. We’ll have the best seat in the house to watch the president go by.”
Evans, a convention delegate and elector for Democrat Hillary Clinton, said city officials would have to learn to work with the new administration, even if it is not the one they would have preferred.
“I wish she had won, but she didn’t,” he said. “We, as city representatives — and many of my colleagues don’t share this view — we have to work with Donald Trump. We have to work on behalf of our city, not of our personal feelings.”
The other two council members who plan to attend are Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Brandon T. Todd (D-Ward 4).
Todd said the importance of getting off on the right foot with Trump was demonstrated in recent weeks, as Republicans in Congress launched a flurry of bills designed to rein in the city’s progressive policies in such areas as gun control, assisted suicide and abortion.
“It’s important that we get to know the Trump administration and they get to know the District,” Todd said. “And the first step in that is being here for a peaceful transition of power.”
Others aren’t holding out great hope for the city’s relationship with the White House.
Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) said in an email that she is choosing not to attend the inauguration because Trump “has expressed opinions and policies that I believe are not only contrary to our values as a city and as a country — but potentially destructive and detrimental to the great American democratic experiment.”
Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) said he does “not want to show any indication of any support for the incoming president” by attending the parade.
Grosso still plans to send a message: He has bedecked the windows of his council office, which face the parade route, with block letters (some rainbow-colored) saying “DC PROTECTS HUMAN RIGHTS.”
Not all of the absentee council members are so outspoken about their rationales. Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1) acknowledged that she would have attended the parade had Clinton won the election, but added that her decision to skip it shouldn’t be interpreted as an act of resistance.
“I just decided it was a good opportunity to get out of town with my husband,” said Nadeau, who will be at a cabin in Virginia.
Mendelson, the council chairman, will be farther afield — and in a nation that has been a special target of the incoming president’s invective.
He said his Mexican vacation shouldn’t be taken as a political protest, noting that city council members — unlike members of Congress — “don’t have an official role in the ceremony.”
Bowser spokesman Kevin Harris said that the council members skipping the event “are simply expressing what many of their constituents feel” and that the mayor was not worried about offending Trump.
Bowser “has personally told the president-elect she looks forward to working with him on common areas of agreement but will also vigorously defend her city against any actions that are counter to our values and the wishes of the residents who elected her,” he said.
One area in which the city won’t be accused of not showing due deference to Trump: Its heated, carpeted parade-viewing stand. Immediately after the election, council members had debated downgrading the stand.
But figures provided by the mayor’s office on Thursday show that spending on the stand has actually increased from $349,500 in 2013 to $419,560.