Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Mayor Muriel Bowser masterfully side-stepped the most important question of the week: Do you trust Jack Evans?

In response to a Washington Post reporter’s question Wednesday, Bowser said “I, like everybody, expect elected officials to act with the highest of ethical standards. I also know, though, that the Council has the ability to rid itself and future members or current members of being compromised by outside employment. And they should ban outside employment immediately.”

The mayor’s pivot away from a question about the integrity of one of her Council allies to a statement about side gigs for local elected officials has revived old rifts.

Other than Evans, whose work as a private consultant is a major reason he is now fending off calls for his resignation, the only other D.C. councilmember to hold a second job is Ward 3’s Mary Cheh. She’s a tenured law professor at The George Washington University and earned between $100,001 and $250,000 last year, according to her financial disclosure statement.

Cheh also chairs the ad hoc committee that will recommend action to the full Council on a law firm’s report laying out Evans’ multiple ethics violations. Evans does not believe he violated ethical rules

Cheh says Bowser’s answer feels a bit personal.

“To my mind, there’s no question about it … The only person to whom that would apply would be me,” she says. “I have clashed with her [in the past] whether it was FreshPAC or whatever it is. I’m not gonna hold my fire if I see something that’s wrong.”

As an example, Cheh points to Bowser’s remarks on The Politics Hour in late October when the mayor accused Cheh of prioritizing school modernizations in her ward over those in Southeast D.C.

“I would point to many, many years of the Council’s committee that had oversight over DGS prioritizing … Ward 3 schools to the detriment of Ward 8 schools,” Bowser said. “You go back and look. It’s no, I think, coincidence that Ward 3 schools have been finished, and that committee was chaired many years by the Ward 3 councilmember.”

Cheh responded in a tweet by pointing out that school modernization budgets do no fall within the Committee on Transportation and the Environment, which she chairs.

“This seems like an effort to pass the buck, or to retaliate against the Council’s recent veto override or reigning in her budget shenanigans. #FairShotOrCheapShot,” Cheh wrote, mocking the mayor’s favorite hashtag.

Divisive Bowser ally Josh Lopez has been banging the crap out of the no-second-jobs drum for the past two days, targeting Cheh specifically. In February, Cheh laid into Lopez, calling him a political “hatchet man” when she found out he was tapped to give a keynote speech at the University of the District of Columbia’s Founder’s Day celebration.

Bowser is traveling to Ethiopia today and could not be reached for comment.

But the mayor’s comment isn’t the only thorn in Cheh’s side. Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie announced a bill to effectuate the mayor’s proposal earlier this week, along with a raise for councilmembers from about $140,000 to $185,000. Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau introduced a similar bill in April but with a carve out for Cheh’s teaching gig.

“Look at McDuffie,” Cheh says. “McDuffie and I have clashed especially recently. He knows darn well Brianne has a bill in with an exception for teaching. So why would he put in another bill?”

There is an expression, Cheh tells LL: “A turtle on a fencepost demands an explanation. If something looks like it needs something to explain it, then you look to see what could explain it. And there again I think that’s the motivation here.”

Cheh and McDuffie have publicly butted heads twice in recent memory: first, when McDuffie pushed for changes to Cheh’s major renewable energy bill that she believes came from Pepco; and second over Cheh’s proposed tax increase on soda. Cheh accused McDuffie at the time of carrying water for “Big Soda.” McDuffie objected to Cheh’s tax hike on procedural grounds, and responded by wondering why the Ward 3 representative was the only councilmember not to sign on to his bill to establish a racial equity toolkit and training.

McDuffie is traveling with Bowser to Ethiopia today and couldn’t be reached for comment. Neither McDuffie, nor Nadeau’s bill have received a committee hearing yet.

Cheh argues that many legislatures allow their members to teach, but, she says, if McDuffie’s bill were to become law she would choose teaching over politics.

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