At-Large Councilmember David Grosso
At-Large Councilmember David Grosso Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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At-Large Councilmember David Grosso announced a couple weeks ago that he will not seek a third term in the Wilson Building. He then promptly went about setting fire to his soon-to-be former workplace—or at least to his soon-to-be former colleague, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

Grosso has slung mud at Mendelson three times in the past two weeks, which leads LL to wonder: What is Grosso after? Is he considering a run for the chairman’s seat in 2022?

In his first goodbye interview, with DCist’s Rachel Kurizus, Grosso wasted no time throwing Mendelson under the bus while in the same breath tooting his own horn.

“Mendelson put a lot of pressure on us on this,” Grosso said referring to the Council’s decision to overturn the voter-approve Initiative 77. “And it was the one time that I actually gave into his pressure and I regret that. He told me he would not remove me from the Committee on Education,” Grosso told DCist, as long as he voted to repeal I-77.

Grosso, one of two independents on the Council, is counted among the body’s progressive members, and his vote to repeal a ballot initiative confounded and angered lefty groups.

Grosso continued in the DCist interview: “I am very proud of the fact that I don’t trade votes, and I don’t trade issues with people. I have a principled stance on things. And that one … just kind of … was in the gray zone for me. I believed in what I was doing. But I also did a poor job of explaining it to my constituents and also was willing to engage in a trade with Mendelson, or at least a conversation about a trade that I felt bad about later.”

Mendelson later told LL that Grosso’s characterization was “inaccurate,” but declined to elaborate on the record.

Then last week, Grosso tweeted a Washington Post piece by reporter Robert McCartney predicting the end of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans’ career in D.C. politics and laying the responsibility for holding Evans accountable largely at Mendelson’s feet.

Grosso could not agree more, again seizing the opportunity to smear some dirt on Mendo while promoting himself.

“.@McCartneyWP nails it,” Grosso tweeted. “The public’s trust in the Council has suffered 1000 cuts due to @ChmnMendelson’s failure to proactively investigate CM Evans’ corruption. This could be behind us if he had created the ad hoc cmte when I raised it in Feb‘18 & Dec’18.”

And in another Post article about the failure of a bill to decriminalize sex work in D.C., which published last weekend, Grosso jabbed at Mendelson again, telling reporter Marissa Lang that he blames the Council chairman for undermining the bill before it was given a hearing.

Specifically, Lang reported, Grosso believes Mendelson stacked the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, where the bill died, with more conservative members. This year, Mendelson removed Grosso from the judiciary committee and replaced him with Evans.

“He thought we were too left-leaning in our committee,” Grosso told the Post. “We need a new makeup of the entire Council to really get bills like this through.” If the bill had passed, D.C. would have been the first American city to decriminalize sex work. Mendelson told the Post he was surprised by Grosso’s comments given the amount of negative feedback on the bill.

Perhaps the biggest source of tension bubbling under the surface between Grosso and Mendelson stems from the political smack Mendo delivered in January.

In the second half of 2018, Mendelson explored possibly removing Grosso as chair of the education committee after Grosso’s oversight performance frustrated Mendelson and education advocates. Instead, Mendelson, who, as Council chairman, has the authority to reconfigure committee assignments, opted to install himself as co-chair, seriously undermining Grosso’s authority. At the time, both pols described the move as positive, saying it would bring more attention to an important issue.

On a recent episode of the Politics Hour, WAMU political analyst and City Paper contributor Tom Sherwood explained this dynamic and wondered about the rumor that Grosso may run for chairman. The show’s guest, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, acknowledged the idea, telling Sherwood and host Kojo Nnamdi “I have heard that rumor, yes.”

Mendelson declined to comment on Grosso’s recent attacks except to say, “it makes for good reading.” He chuckles at LL’s suggestion that Grosso may make a run for the chairman’s seat: “Go for it,” Mendelson says.

His spokesperson, Lindsey Walton, who was standing nearby, adds: “Has Councilmember Grosso ever been east of the river?”

Grosso tells LL that he does not currently have any plans to challenge Mendelson, who was re-elected to a third term in 2018 and will not be up again until 2022. But, Grosso adds, he hasn’t ruled out a return to elected office.

“It might be something that I might do in the future, but right now I’m just focusing on closing out this year,” he says.

Asked whether he had any more criticism of the chairman, Grosso says “we have a whole long list,” but he declined to give LL a taste. “It’s all in the public record,” he says.