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Earlier this year, he won a rare mayoral appointment to a D.C. board. He didn’t even last for three months. His abrupt departure had nothing to do with his work on the board, but it had a lot to do with him.
On Tuesday morning, Joshua Lopez—one of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s two latest appointees to the DC Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners—tendered his resignation. Lopez is a longtime Bowser loyalist who served as a ranking campaign official for her and former-Mayor Adrian Fenty, and ran for an at-large D.C. Council seat in 2011.
His decision to depart the DCHA board came on the heels of a “unity rally” in support of Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White that he held last Thursday outside the Wilson Building. Since March, White has faced wide reproach for perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes, stating that the prominent Rothschild family, who are Jewish, control the climate, the World Bank, and the federal government. White promised to make amends, but got flak again after it was revealed he used money from his constituent services fund to donate to a Nation of Islam event in Chicago where Louis Farrakhan assailed Jews.
Lopez, who is Latino, says he intended to bridge cultural divides in the District by organizing the rally. It backfired—big time. A speaker Lopez says was not invited, Nation of Islam representative Abdul Khadir Muhammad, got up to the megaphone Lopez was wielding and bashed those he called “fake Jews,” including At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman. Muhammad also advocated for Farrakhan and his “people.” Lopez neither pulled away the megaphone nor condemned the speech in the moment. Off-mic, Muhammad later called Jews “termites.”
Bowser’s appointee received swift reproach. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson called the event “ill conceived” in a tweet. “Today’s hateful expressions were shameful, and must be rebuked,” he said. The next morning, David Grosso, another at-large councilmember, called on Lopez to apologize to Silverman and vacate his seat on the DCHA board. Grosso voted against Lopez’s appointment in February, as did Ward 7’s Vince Gray and Ward 3’s Mary Cheh.
During deliberations, Cheh said Lopez “lacks the appropriate temperament” and Gray called the nomination “reprehensible.” (Lopez disrupted a Gray event with a megaphone while working for Fenty’s 2010 re-election campaign.) It passed 10-3 and he joined the board on Feb. 14.
Shortly after Grosso issued his statement, Lopez wrote on his Facebook page that he would not resign. He called Muhammad’s comments “despicable” and said he did “not stand for any level of hate.” “I have now been attacked and have been unfairly branded as a promoter of hate,” Lopez wrote. “This is not who I am and what I stand for.”
But on April 21, five days before the rally, he wrote a politically charged Facebook post that included photos of Silverman, Cheh, and Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who also is Jewish. All three are seeking re-election, and Lopez claimed they had “unfairly attacked” White, whom he tagged in the post. “Shame on [them],” he wrote. “We must reject their below the belt tactics and vote them out!”
Nadeau’s chief of staff, Tania Jackson, replied in the comments. “Shame on you Joshua Lopez for completing [sic] misrepresenting and and misquoting what has happened so far,” she wrote. “No one has attacked Councilmember White. I’m really disappointed in *your* below the belt tactics here.” (Nadeau was the first councilmember to say White should be censured for the NOI donation.)
The following day, Lopez posted that he had “received threatening text messages from a sitting councilmember calling me a ‘hate mongering bully.’” He did not specify who, but ascribed this councilmember’s texts to “the Trump era,” saying it “has brought out the worst in people.” “I won’t be bullied into silence,” he noted.
Screenshots of those messages show Silverman was the one who texted Lopez. “Silence on anti-semitism is complicity,” she wrote. “Thanks for showing your hatred toward me as a Jew.” Lopez replied that White “is not anti semetic” and said Silverman and her peers “should be embarrassed at how you have treated Trayon.” Silverman told Lopez she had invited White to a seder “for crissakes,” referring to the Passover meal she and White attended with D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine.
Lopez then called Silverman’s texts “very unprofessional,” adding that he would “pray for” her. “God will be your judge,” Silverman responded. “He will be mine too. … It is sad hate consumes you.”
By early last week, Lopez, who works as a business-development consultant, was planning the rally. He marketed it as a “call to coalition building and an end to divisive politics.”
On April 27, the day after the offending event, Silverman released a letter to Bowser and her fellow councilmembers. “These hateful words about Jews, the LGBTQ community, and others is a cancer to our city,” she wrote. “It is unacceptable for us as community leaders to look the other way because it might make us uncomfortable to deal with it.” Silverman asked the Council to “condemn Farrakhan’s hate” and Bowser to decommission Lopez from the DCHA board and “any other public-serving positions.”
A handful of other councilmembers also said Lopez should leave the DCHA board, but Bowser did not dismiss her vassal. In a statement last Friday, she simply said Lopez needed “to apologize and make it abundantly clear that he denounces all hateful comments.”
Meanwhile, Lopez went with a friend to Adas Israel Congregation in Cleveland Park for a service on Saturday. For a short time, it seemed that he might retain his board seat.
But on Monday, the tensions persisted. White called a private meeting with Lopez and Silverman in an effort to patch things up, according to a person who was there. In the room were Rabbi Batya Glazer of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, Alan Ronkin of AJC (American Jewish Committee) Washington, Felix Sanchez of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, Rev. Thomas Bowen of Bowser’s Office of Religious Affairs, and staffers for Silverman and White. The tenor of the meeting, which lasted for about an hour at the Wilson Building, is disputed.
Two attendees say Lopez tried to clear the air in good faith, but was rebuffed by Silverman, who would not waver on calling for him to step down. A third attendee and two people who were not at the meeting but were briefed on it say Silverman received a thinly veiled threat that if she did not back off from her position, the Latinx community would mobilize against her re-election campaign. A fourth attendee denies this characterization. That night, Bowser reportedly invited Silverman to her home and defended Lopez.
On Tuesday, the pique spilled over the brim. During a breakfast meeting where councilmembers discussed a symbolic resolution against hate speech, Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Shalom – The National Synagogue entered the room, pleading for Lopez to resign and the Council to officially reprimand White. “This is not a time to be quiet,” Herzfeld said when approached by Mendelson, who sought to de-escalate the situation. “Our city is better than this.”
In a rare display of harmony, all 13 councilmembers left the Wilson Building and went to the spot where Muhammad had made anti-Semitic remarks. Mendelson, speaking on behalf of the whole legislature, said they stood together in condemning hate speech and promised additional action.
By noon, Lopez had resigned. “It became clear that this issue was becoming highly politicized and people were using it as an opportunity to attack my family and people I care about,” Lopez wrote on his Facebook page. In a statement, a spokesperson for Bowser’s office said “we will continue to move forward in our dialogue, showcasing how Washington, D.C. remains an inclusive and progressive place.”
Time, as ever, will tell. For now, the Council returns to marking up a proposed $14.5 billion budget.