The John A. Wilson Building
The John A. Wilson Building Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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D.C. will implement vaccination mandates for indoor gathering places in the new year. As of Jan. 15, 2022, all individuals 12 years of age and older will be required to show proof of at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine to visit indoor restaurants, exercise and recreation establishments, culture and entertainment facilities, and indoor meeting and event spaces. Individuals must be fully vaccinated by Feb. 15, 2022.

At yesterday’s D.C. Council meeting, legislators also passed a law that will require all eligible students and staff at schools and child care facilities to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. A final ward-level redistricting map, the renaming of Woodrow Wilson High School after two Black educators connected to the school, and pausing encampment clearings throughout the winter were other high-profile issues councilmembers considered during the final legislative session of the year on Tuesday. 

Top of the agenda was the second and final vote on the new D.C. ward map, the product of a once-every-decade process of redrawing boundaries in the District according to the most recent census numbers. While the first Council vote (11-1) on Dec. 7 made it seem like the new boundaries were a sure thing, there was more passionate discussion than expected on Tuesday. 

The most hotly contested map change during the first vote—moving two thinly populated parcels that include the Armed Forces Retirement Home and Washington Hospital Center from Ward 5 to Ward 1—was reversed in yesterday’s vote. On Dec. 7, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie’s attempt to keep the parcels in his ward failed on a 6-6 vote (Ward 7 Councilmember Vince Gray did not join either meeting as he recovers from a small stroke). On Tuesday, Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto switched her vote to a “yes” and secured a win for McDuffie. Her change of mind came after Ward 5 residents lobbied for their ward to benefit from future development planned near the Armed Forces Retirement Home. 

It’s not a true D.C. Council meeting without some awkwardness. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson prompted confusion from his colleagues, including Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White and At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, when he brought up some changes to the redistricting “engrossment” document. The amendment states that areas in Wards 7 and 8 located west of the Anacostia River will be assigned to residential permit parking zone 6. A more technical correction came when referring to a boundary between Wards 6 and 7 at the Anacostia River, which will go “southwesterly” instead of “southeasterly.” Clarifying these changes derailed discussion for the length of a comedic break, in hindsight a respite for the charged dialogue that followed. 

After arguments from McDuffie and Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau on the Ward 5 parcels at play—and a reminder from Bonds that “the census is about population, not land”—At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman, who chairs the redistricting subcommittee, mapped out the most recent “emotional rhetoric” attached to the amendment. 

The “quietness” from Ward 5 residents around the issue of the Armed Forces Retirement Home during the subcommittee process was in stark contrast to how vocal residents of the ward were about other issues, Silverman said. She described hearing an immediate “uproar” from Ward 4 and 5 residents after a ward map draft put more of the Lamond-Riggs neighborhood in Ward 4, and seeing a huge turnout of Lamond-Riggs residents on a Zoom call with Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George a few days later. Silverman also described how “the discussion on the listservs went nuts” after the Ward 7 Democrats presented maps in a subcommittee hearing that would have moved the Ward 7 boundary into Ward 5 neighborhoods Fort Lincoln and Carver Langston. The lull around the AFRH changed after the subcommittee vote, according to Silverman, when Ward 5 residents expressed strong feelings about keeping the AFRH, as well as the New York Avenue NW playground, in their ward. 

After the first Council vote on the amendment, Silverman, Nadeau, and Pinto faced accusations of a land grab, Silverman said. Silverman was referring to an email addressed to Mayor Muriel Bowser sent Monday night by Vincent Orange, who is running for the Ward 5 councilmember seat he held from 1999 to 2007. The email, signed by 35 Ward 5 residents and ANC commissioners, referenced a “land grab … for economically motivated reasons ” that includes the AFRH, Washington Hospital Center, and the New York Avenue playground. Responding to City Paper’s request for clarification about Silverman’s comments at Tuesday’s hearing, Silverman questioned why the email singled out her and her White colleagues. The subcommittee vote for the map that would have included such boundary changes was a unanimous vote that included Black councilmembers, she pointed out. 

Two Ward 5 residents also brought to her attention discussions where anti-Semitic language from some residents targeted her and Nadeau, Silverman said. She linked the issue with the anti-Semitism of a recent incident at Watkins Elementary School, in which third-graders were instructed to reenact scenes from the Holocaust, before concluding that she would be voting against McDuffie’s attempt to keep the parcels in his ward. 

If you were wondering what the anti-Semitic acts and language Siverman cited has to do with McDuffie’s amendment, you weren’t the only one. McDuffie jumped in to express his sympathy for his Jewish colleagues and further condemn anti-Semitism. He then asked that the Council bring the discussion back to the issue of redistricting before reiterating that Ward 5 has been  a community of interest for the AFRH site for decades. “All you need to do is talk to the residents that live in Pleasant Hills, Stronghold, Park Place, and all the other communities,” he said. “The work that they’ve done needs to be held up, understanding how important it is to the future of the ward.” The chairman then chimed in to get the vote back on track. 

“What Councilmember Silverman brought up was appropriate, but it is not the subject of this amendment,” said Mendelson. “We need to be focused on the amendment before us and not events at Watkins or similar such behavior that we find deplorable.” 

On a call with City Paper after the hearing, Silverman clarified that she had previously voted to move the land parcels to Ward 1 due to a convincing “community of interest” argument the subcommittee had heard, not anything to do with recent events. But, she said, discussions on the issue had become so “[in]tolerant of race and religion” that she felt it was important to address this problem ahead of the vote.       

Lewis George had something to add to Silverman’s point before the vote. Her Jewish colleagues aren’t the only ones who deserve an apology amid the deluge of “extremely personal and disrespectful” emails, calls, and texts that also targeted her and other freshman councilmembers, she said. When asked for further details after the legislative meeting, Lewis George’s office declined to comment so as “not to elevate rhetoric that’s been disrespectful and vitriolic.” 

“I do think there needs to be a conversation … moving forward, about when advocacy … becomes … borderline bullying behavior,” Lewis George said. 

— Ambar Castillo (tips?

A previous newsletter post incorrectly stated that the subcommittee vote was on a citizen map draft and was a mixed vote.

  • To see today’s COVID-19 data, visit our coronavirus tracker.
  • D.C. government expands availability to locations in all eight wards as the quest for at-home COVID tests continues.  [WTOP, WUSA9
  • With long lines at COVID testing sites and a dearth of rapid at-home tests, DMV residents are turning to social media to help each other find rapid tests. [WUSA9
  • More than a dozen D.C. public schools are now doing virtual learning. [Fox5
  • Apartment residents claim their management company’s hired pest control company left whole poisoned chickens around their property. [Fox5]

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