Well, 2018 has been a trip. Despite a relatively sleepy election cycle, we saw an unlikely Council alliance, an ill-timed trip to Mexico, and perhaps the best argument for making criminals out of those pesky Metro gate jumpers. Now it’s time for LL readers to kick back and relive some of the high (and low) lights from the year.
Best open government martyr
LL readers might remember Traci Hughes, the former director for the Office of Open Government who scolded District agencies for violating open records and open meetings laws.
As the first director for that office, Hughes blazed the trail for government transparency in the District. From 2013 until February, Hughes took on the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the United Medical Center’s board of directors, and the appointments of administrative law judges. Most commonly, she tells City Paper, she saw agencies improperly closing meetings to the public.
But some of Hughes’ opinions apparently ruffled a few of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s feathers, according to sources familiar with the situation. In February, when Hughes’ five-year term was up, the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability, whose members are appointed by the mayor, voted not to reappoint her.
Hughes has said previously and in a more recent interview with City Paper that she believes some political pressure contributed to the board’s vote.
“All these things happened coming into an election year,” she says. “If I were mayor, and my government is being called out in some pretty public ways for noncompliance on some things that could be potentially damaging and politically embarrassing … if I were her handler I would probably advise they contain it.”
Hughes adds that she does not believe Bowser had any direct involvement in her not getting reappointed. Going forward, she believes the office, and particularly the director, needs more independence.
Most unholy alliance
On one side you have Ward 2’s Jack Evans, a fiscally conservative Democrat, who hasn’t met a TIF he doesn’t like.
On the other you have At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, a former analyst for the left leaning DC Fiscal Policy Institute, and arguably among the most, if not the most, progressive member of the Council.
Rarely do the two see eye to eye. But this year Evans and Silverman came together as the two most outspoken opponents of Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray’s efforts to skirt an important review process for the construction of a medical facility in Ward 8. Gray’s plan to waive the “certificate of need” to construct a hospital in Southeast D.C., as well as a new 200-bed addition at George Washington University Hospital in Foggy Bottom forged their bond.
(A certificate of need tells lawmakers and the public whether a new medical facility is in fact needed.)
Evans represents residents in Foggy Bottom, who say the area around the George Washington University Hospital campus is already too crowded and cannot accommodate another medical facility.
Silverman argued that the study of need will tell the Council exactly where and what kind of health services the District needs.
Howard University and the labor unions representing workers at the United Medical Center, which the new Ward 8 hospital will likely replace, also objected to the deal.
In the final hours of the final day for D.C. councilmembers to pass legislation this year, Gray scored a hard-fought victory that seems to have satisfied everyone—except Evans and Council chair Phil Mendelson. The final bill passed 10-2, with Evans and Mendelson as the two dissenters. It included at least some considerations for unionized workers and for Howard University College of Medicine. But the Foggy Bottom residents got nada.
Worst campaign trail proposal
On the primary campaign trail this year, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds came awfully close to suggesting that D.C. police officers should employ a highly controversial and racist policing tactic known as “stop-and-frisk.”
At a Ward 3 Democrats candidate forum in June, Bonds said police should be more “vigilant” on crime and in checking for illegal weapons, as City Paper contributor Cuneyt Dil reported.
“One way is to just have some random, ‘Hello, how are you doing, Mr., Ms., do you have any weapons with you?’” Bonds said to the laughter of the audience. “Seriously, seriously. Sometimes that works. And we really have to recover these guns quickly.”
Bonds later denied advocating for implementing a stop-and-frisk policy, which in New York City was ruled a violation of citizens’ Fourteenth Amendment rights due to the disproportionate number of African-American and Latinx people that NYC police stopped.
Stop-and-frisk has been a contentious issue in the District as well, as advocates and the courts push the Metropolitan Police Department to collect data on the practice as required under D.C. law.
ACLU attorney Shana Knizhnik told City Paper in June that while Bonds’ comments don’t specifically call for a stop-and-frisk policy, the councilmember’s suggestion could be a slippery slope.
“What she described is not equivalent to stop-and-frisk, but I think what we’re concerned about is it would lead to such practices, and officers would interpret such a command from a D.C. councilmember to do more of these things,” Knizhnik said.
Best argument against decriminalizing Metro fare evasion
LL has to hand it to Jack Evans. The guy sticks to his guns, even in the face of certain defeat.
When the Council debated a measure to decriminalize Metro fare evasion, Evans threw out every argument he could think of. He suggested that a report showing racial discrimination in fare evasion citations was inaccurate and dismissed racial discrimination as a compelling reason to change the law in the first place.
He quoted historian Margaret MacMillan’s description of Woodrow Wilson—“When he was convinced, as he often was of the rightness of his cause, he regarded those who disagree with him as not wrong, but evil.”
He appealed to those who do pay their fares, saying they ultimately shoulder the burden.
He said that no one has ever been arrested solely for fare evasion, arguing that the arrest only happens if an alleged fare evader does not comply with police.
And in a final plea, Evans went personal, saying that those public transit miscreants who don’t pay their fair share “might as well have reached over and grabbed my wallet and tooken $2 out of it.”
Alas, it was all for naught. The bill passed 11-2, with Evans and Mendelson dissenting.
Best use of the nickname “Slim” in a text message to a councilmember
In the run up to this year’s general election, Josh Lopez, a Bowser ally, injected himself into the at-large Council race between incumbent Councilmember Elissa Silverman and challenger Dionne Reeder. The mayor threw her support behind Reeder, who ended up losing by 12 percentage points.
In a text exchange between Lopez and Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White, first reported in vague terms by The Post, Lopez pushes White to voice his support for Reeder.
Lopez: “Slim you going to tell your constituents to vote or nah”
White: “Fuck is you talking about”
Lopez: “Are you going to tell your folks to vote or keep acting like a bitch and stay silent?”
White: “Trayon White ain’t never been no bitch … where you going to be at 1:30 p?”
Lopez became a controversial figure in the local political scene this year. He was one of two Bowser appointees to the DC Housing Authority, where he lasted just three months before resigning.
Lopez stepped down from the DCHA after he organized a “unity rally” to support White after the councilmember took heat for repeating a conspiracy theory that the Rothschilds, a wealthy Jewish family, control the weather, the World Bank, and the federal government. During the rally, Lopez held the megaphone for Nation of Islam representative Abdul Khadir Muhammad, who called Silverman a “fake Jew” and later, off mic, called Jews “termites.”
Best excuse to miss a Council vote
Councilmember Trayon White was conspicuously absent for one of the most important functions of D.C. government—the preliminary budget vote.
The first-term lawmaker was looking to move past a few negative news stories about his comments regarding the Rothschild family and a donation from his constituent services fund to a Nation of Islam convention where its leader, Louis Farrakhan made anti-Semitic remarks, as The Washington Post reported in April. (White reportedly paid the money back.)
It’s perhaps understandable that White would want an escape. Throw in the fact that the freshman lawmaker was turning 34, and a spot on the beach in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, looked much more appealing. As his 12 colleagues gave initial approval for the $14.5 billion budget, White was posting videos to his Instagram Story that showed him relaxing by the water.