As one who was present at the creation, both as a congressional staffer involved with the Home Rule Act and as a third-generation Washingtonian, I marvel at the sweep of change since January 1975.
Consider who took the oath back then. Mayor and D.C. Council chairman? Two Black male Democrats. Council members? Ten Black, two White. Three were women. Ten Democrats, one Republican and one Statehood Party member. Three pastors were elected to the council.
Nearly five decades later, the mayor and council chairman are a Black female Democrat and a White male Democrat, respectively. The 13-member council has seven women and six men; seven Black, six White; 11 Democrats, two independents. There are no Statehood or Republican Party members — or pastors — on the dais.
Ideology and personalities aside, more reflective of current D.C.
The backdrops also couldn’t be more different.
In the 1970s, the District’s Black population was around 70 percent, with White people constituting about 28 percent. Today, the population is about 46 percent Black, 46 percent White. Don’t chalk it all up to gentrification. The ‘70s and ‘80s saw the flight of Black middle- and working-class families to the suburbs, with many landing in neighboring Prince George’s County. “Chocolate City” has come and gone.
Next year’s mayoral and council races will tell us who will grapple with the city’s upcoming fiscal challenges. That’s no small matter.
As night follows day, there will be a falloff in the covid-19 related federal funds that have kept this city above water during the pandemic. Other jurisdictions will, of course, confront a similar challenge. But count on it: The District’s days of playing Lady Bountiful, ostentatiously spending other people’s money on benevolent causes, are numbered.
It should matter greatly to every D.C. voter what kind of government will be on hand to deal with that reality.
Every executive and council, since Walter E. Washington’s first elected government, has pursued a pragmatic approach to governance. And yes, that includes mayors Marion S. Barry and beyond, up to and including Muriel E. Bowser. Their goals, styles and ability to execute differed. As did their results. But pragmatism tempered their approach.
How a leftward shift on the D.C. Council will impact the city is a question to ponder before entering the polls.
Offices on the all-important June 21, 2022, Democratic primary ballot: mayor, council chair, at-large council, and wards 1, 3, 5 and 6 council seats.
Racine will be missed. As the city’s first elected attorney general, he has a solid record of service across a wide field of responsibilities. He is as equipped as anyone in public service to step up to the challenge of managing this city’s affairs. The District would have benefited from a contest between Bowser and Racine.
Both Trayon White and Robert White are getting a free ride in the mayor’s race, having been reelected to their seats two years ago. Even if their mayoral campaigns fizzle, they will remain on the city payroll for two more years, so not much to lose, except donors’ money.
Both will hurl arguments for replacing Bowser. Each must make the case that based upon the record, outlook and character of service, he ought to lead our nation’s capital. An uphill climb, especially for Trayon White.
Contrast their work as lawmakers with that of the council’s chair, Phil Mendelson (D), who is seeking reelection. Mendelson can run on a credible record as chairman and legislator. Perhaps dull as dishwater, Mendelson is nonetheless as steady as they come in a council chamber where there’s hardly a dull moment. But that doesn’t immunize him from attacks on legislation he has sponsored or opposed. Or his fundraising support from interest groups. All that’s fair game.
Also worth watching is At Large council member Anita Bonds (D), making her case for reelection next year.
Along with ward council members Brianne K. Nadeau (Ward 1), Mary M. Cheh (Ward 3) and Charles Allen (Ward 6), who also chair key oversight committees, Bonds must show how her stewardship has improved the Housing Production Trust Fund, which critics say is an accident waiting to happen. Nadeau and Allen, on whose watches are faltering homeless services and public safety, respectively, must also answer to the effectiveness of their oversight. Cheh, conversely, keeps a close watch on transportation and environmental issues and is quick to sound the alarm, even when nothing’s on fire.
Ward 5’s Kenyan R. McDuffie (D) is not seeking reelection. More will need to be said about the incumbents and their challengers. But it’s not too soon to start taking hard looks. 2022 will be a pivotal year.