The D.C. councilmember who raised eyebrows in recent months because of his comments about the influential Rothschild family and a donation to the Nation of Islam from his constituent-services fund was noticeably absent from the Council’s first of two votes on the District’s next budget. The preliminary budget vote, which occurs each spring and took place on Tuesday, is one of the legislature’s most important.
But instead of sitting at the Wilson Building with his 12 colleagues, Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White was on vacation in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico to celebrate his 34th birthday, according to photos and videos posted recently on his Instagram account. White appears to have been in the Baja California resort city since last weekend, when he posted a photo geotagged at the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos.
He also posted a series of photos of female loved ones, wishing his audience a “Happy Mother’s Day.” (One of the photos features a younger White standing next to his mentor and predecessor, Marion Barry.)
Then, on Tuesday, when the Council advanced the $14.5 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts in October to a second vote scheduled for later this month, White posted videos to his Instagram Story that showed him on the beach and, later, on the water. In two of the videos, he is wearing sunglasses and an orange life-vest; one of them suggests he went parasailing.
The Council passed the budget unanimously without White. Among other discussions, he missed a vote on an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Support Act that increases the District’s cigarette tax by $2. According to Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray, who proposed the tax increase, the smoking rates in Wards 7 and 8 (27.2 and 28.4 percent, respectively) are much higher than elsewhere in D.C.
But because he was not there to vote on the measure, which passed 10-2, White’s constituents did not have a voice at the table. He did not immediately respond to City Paper‘s requests for comment. On Wednesday, a staffer for White said White was not in the office. Asked when the councilmember would return to the Wilson Building, the staffer said he could not say.
A staffer in another councilmember’s office says White is “lucky” there were no close votes during the budget session. But the staffer—who, along with two others in other councilmembers’ offices, spoke with City Paper on background—says it is rare for a councilmember to skip the budget vote and be AWOL the weekend before it. “That’s when you twist Mendo’s arm for last minute things,” says the staffer, referring to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.
“Literally everyone in the building is appalled by [White] being in Cabo,” the staffer says. Notes another staffer: “The budget is the Council’s most important function.”
This staffer points out that White was not around for the protest that District clergy held on Tuesday in the Council chambers to press for changes to water bills their houses of worship are receiving. Some of the clergy who came to the Wilson Building, including Rev. Willie Wilson of Union Temple Baptist Church, serve in Ward 8.
Two of the staffers City Paper spoke with say most, if not all, of the other councilmembers only realized White was not in attendance when the roll was called at the outset of the session. The third says some Wilson Building employees were aware that White was on vacation over the weekend based on his social media activity, but assumed he would be back in D.C. in time for the vote.
On Wednesday, White continued to post images from his getaway on Instagram, including a selfie in which he was wearing goggles and a snapshot of two adjacent signs that point toward “restrooms” and “dolphins” in both English and Spanish.
He may not be in the District for much of next weekend, either. Along with six other councilmembers and Mayor Muriel Bowser, White is set to attend an annual
schmooze-fest retail conference in Las Vegas that District officials have long gone to, according to a list of Council attendees provided by the legislature’s Secretary. The three-day event starts on Sunday.