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The words of Frederick Douglass hung like poetry above the #DCStatehood logo on the viewing stand in front of the Wilson Building last Friday: “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did, and it never will.”
How strange then to see Mayor Muriel Bowser and just three D.C. councilmembers in the $400,000 heated booth, bearing witness to the inauguration parade for President Donald Trump.
An ironic sentiment, it occurred to a shivering Loose Lips, who was struggling to comprehend the hollowness of such a boycott while imagining what retribution Trump might seek against the District in reaction to such a blatant snub.
Oh, they had their reasons, which ranged from principled to petulant. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh says she finds Trump’s behavior repulsive, especially toward women. At-Large Councilmember Robert White says he didn’t want to condone Trump’s divisive politics. At-Large Councilmember David Grosso told The Washington Post that he didn’t want to indicate support for Trump. Instead, he left posters in his office windows that spelled out “DC PROTECTS HUMAN RIGHTS” in rainbow letters. That showed ’em.
Some really phoned it in—and by that LL means their rationalizations for not attending. Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray, who might’ve relished the opportunity to look “mayoral,” stayed home to work on legislation. Others simply got outta Dodge: At-Large Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau and Elissa Silverman and Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen chose family trips over Trump; Council Chairman Phil Mendelson found himself away on personal business and in meetings with government officials—in Mexico City.
Granted, the political dance between D.C.’s electeds and Trump and the GOP is just getting started, and it’s yet to be seen whether it’s a sideshow or the main event. Mayor Bowser’s supporters say striking the right balance with the new administration will be among her greatest challenges. She embraced that at Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington, sporting pink and standing tall on behalf of D.C.’s autonomy. Just this week she fact-checked Trump on D.C.’s murder rate—down from last year—and told Congress to keep its hands off our laws.
But optics matter, and some D.C. residents took note. “They’ve gotta respect the office [of the president] and support the mayor,” says former ANC member and Ward 7 council candidate Gary Butler. “It’s a bad look for D.C. We’ve fought so hard for our civil rights. You’ve got to participate. Grit your teeth. Represent the whole city. You gonna make a protest? Go to the event and protest.” Besides, Butler says, why poke the bear? “Personally, I think the man can hold a grudge.”
Seeking a veteran perspective, LL paid a visit to Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who has seen seven inaugural parades roll past the Wilson Building, which is located in his ward. At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds and Ward 4 Councilman Brandon Todd joined him in the viewing stand, and Evans also attended the swearing-in ceremony at the invitation of the mayor, who he says was treated like a governor. “I like these things,” he says. “Somebody’s gotta play that role, and I’m comfortable doing it.”
In the larger scheme, Evans says the city currently lacks a true pipeline to the White House in the mold of Carol Thompson Cole—former city administrator, White House liaison to D.C., and special adviser to President Bill Clinton on D.C. affairs. He credits her, along with political analyst and commentator Mark Plotkin, with the federal government allowing the District government to return to the Wilson Building after it weathered the financial crisis of the 1990s. And while no one would claim that the occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. have ever done much for those of 1350 Pennsylvania Ave., Evans sees the value of an open line of communication with the White House.
“Clinton was engaged, [George W.] Bush less so,” he says, with the caveat that in Bush’s second term, his chief of staff Josh Bolten, a D.C. native, was helpful in pushing through federal funding for a forensics center for the District. “Obama was helpful in fending off Republicans in his first term and has supported us on statehood, but with Trump, my hope is we can do something.”
Such as? “No one talks about the General Services Agency and the National Park Service,” Evans says. “I texted Ivanka [Trump] and said the [Trump] Hotel got done, but what about redevelopment of the FBI Building? If we can get the Park Service to program Pennsylvania Avenue it could be like the Champs Elysee from the Newseum to the Trump Hotel on down to the Willard Hotel. I know Don Trump. The guy’s a builder. He could do that for us.”
But what about D.C.’s gun, right-to-die, and marijuana laws, which Republican lawmakers are vowing to roll back? Will the time come to communicate with Trump on those? “Yes, it will,” says Evans, who has talked with Mendelson about a strategy to protect D.C.’s interests. “My colleagues will have to be a part of this. We all have friends, and we have to appeal to them to not repeal our laws.” He mentions friends such as Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi but pauses when asked to name some GOP allies. “We’ll have to figure out who we know up there.”
So at least one of our councilmembers is thinking about the long game, which is good, because as LL understands it, President Trump has a long memory. That too, has its limits, Evans says. “Look, we’ve been here before, and we’ve outlasted them, and we’ll be here when they leave.”
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