Mayor Muriel Bowser
Mayor Muriel Bowser. Photo by Darrow Montgomery.

The political face off over D.C.’s arts commission continues today as Mayor Muriel Bowser issued her third-ever veto of a bill, this one clarifying the commission’s independence.

The emergency bill that has Bowser so upset passed unanimously in the Council last month and backdated the commission’s independence to July 22, the date the Council passed the underlying bill (rather than Oct. 1). The underlying bill cemented the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ (DCCAH) independence from the mayor, who throughout 2019 has tried, and failed, to grab control of the grant-making body, its eight-figure purse, and the actual art in its care.

But the initial bill inadvertently left out the applicability date. The emergency bill, which Bowser vetoed, clarifies that the commission’s independence was to begin in July.

In her veto letter, Bowser writes that “the abrupt change made by the Council has already caused confusion for Commissioners and Commission employees. The bill only creates further confusion and stress among staff who have been working diligently to ensure the Commission is able to run independently beginning October 1.”

Herronor continues: “Further, while Council view this bill as a ‘technical’ fix, I do not. The full range of legal consequences of inserting an applicability date that has already passed have not been determined. As such, I cannot support a bill without knowing, to the fullest extent, the impacts it will have on the District.”

Bowsers’ arts grab started in May, when she proposed a suite of changes including converting millions of dollars in arts grants to loans. She also sought to restructure the commission into a new Department of Arts and Humanities, giving her direct control. In August, Bowser opened the Office of Creative Affairs, which will be “the central coordination body for the reconstituted D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities,” according to a memo from the mayor’s office.

The Council needs nine votes to override a mayoral veto. Chairman Phil Mendelson, who has led the Council’s efforts to block Bowsers’ arts takeover, will hold an override vote in two weeks, Post reporter Fenit Nirappil tweeted

Bowser’s first veto came in 2018 amid a D.C. Public Schools scandal, when she blocked emergency legislation allowing chronically absent high schoolers to graduate despite missing school. In January, Bowser vetoed a bill decriminalizing fare evasion on D.C. Metro transit system. The Council overruled her on an 11-2 vote.