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D.C. Council Set to Have Female Majority in 2021

Vickie A. Wright-Smith passionately believes women should become a sustaining political force in District politics.

She has practiced what she preaches by serving as an advisory neighborhood commissioner in her Columbia Heights area in Ward 1. Wright-Smith participates in District Democratic politics and has an active membership with DC Women in Politics (WIN), an organization designed to support women’s political ambitions.

On Nov. 4, Wright-Smith had an upbeat attitude about the general elections that just took place. She rejoiced about the victories of Christina Henderson as an independent at-large council member and Janeese Lewis George as the D.C. Council’s Ward 4 representative. The presence of Henderson and George will make the council a majority female legislative body and Wright-Smith said that makes her happy.

“I saw it coming,” she said. “Christina has the endorsement of Council member David Grosso and we in DC WIN worked to get her elected. Women will have seven seats on the D.C. Council and that constitutes a majority. We should see real change at the John A. Wilson Building now that there are more of us on the council.”

In January, Henderson and George will officially join Council members Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) in constituting a mostly female legislative body. The council has had majority female legislators. In 1998, the council’s defining female bloc consisted of Chair Linda Cropp and members Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large), Carol Schwartz (R-At Large), Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) and Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8).

Allen served on the council from 1996-2005. She remembers serving with mostly female colleagues in 1998.

“I believe it did make a difference when there were mostly women on the council,” Allen said. “Women have a different outlook on life. We tend to be more concerned about things such as families, children and the elderly. Human services tend to be more of a focus than men because we as women are the caretakers of families. That’s why legislation dealing with family issues tend to get more attention when women are in charge.”

Allen served as the chair of the Committee on Human Services. She said while the women lawmakers often voted together on issues, no-girls’ group existed. Plus, Allen said female council members chaired committees that didn’t directly deal with families.

Janeese Lewis George
Janeese Lewis George (Courtesy photo)

“Charlene Drew Jarvis was the chair of the Economic Development Committee and she had that committee for a long time,” she said.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) served with Allen as an at-large council member in 1998. Mendelson said he looks forward to working with the council’s new makeup.

“I think it is great,” the chairman said at a Nov. 9 news conference. “There have been some complaints over the years about not having enough women on the council. We should have adequate female representation. I believe we should have a council that represents the public.”

Proper representation of women in the District’s political office has been the goal of DC WIN, its president Anita Shelton said. The elections of Henderson and George are examples of the work of DC WIN, with a special emphasis on elected Henderson, Shelton said.

“We made an early commitment to Christina,” Shelton said. “We conducted a series of interviews with women running for the independent at-large seat and found her to be the strongest candidate when it came to women’s issues. We liked that she was a mother, had strong views on the escalating cost of childcare in the city and presence will diversify the council. Christina received 70 percent support for the endorsement of our group.”

Shelton said they also played an advisory role in Henderson’s election effort.

“During the campaign, we advised Christina to stay out of the Vincent Orange-Ed Lazere fight and stick to her plan,” she said. “We women were her secret weapon in winning the race and we did this by targeting her voters. I think Christina’s victory shows the voting power of women in this city.”

Henderson recognized the importance of DC WIN’s impact on her election to the council and sees being a part of the gender majority of the council as good.

“I think representation matters,” she said. “Women lead in a different sort of way. It’s a different type of debate when women are involved.”

Henderson said education, health and transportation issues will be a focus while on the council. However, despite being in the gender majority, Henderson and George will have limited power because they are freshman and will not chair committee during their first two years.

“I have always had a rule that freshman don’t chair committees,” Mendelson said.

Shelton said she understands Mendelson’s rules but that won’t prevent her organization from holding the council’s newer female members accountable for women’s issues.

“On Nov. 12, we will have a virtual meeting to question [Ward 2 Council member] Brooke Pinto as well as Janeese and Christina on what their agenda will be for the upcoming council period and how will they help women,” she said. “We will inform them of our 2021 Women’s Agenda and we will hold them accountable to it.”

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