CommunityPolitics

Ex-Legislators Reflect on D.C. Council Tenure

Former D.C. Council members may no longer sit on the dais grappling with the issues plaguing the city but they have strong views on the District government’s impact and how the legislative body should be changed.

On Jan. 2, David Grosso, an independent, and Democrat Brandon Todd officially left their jobs as members of the District’s legislative body, replaced by Council members Christina Henderson (I-At Large) and Janeese Lewis George (D-Ward 4). Todd shortly joined Washington Gas as its director of corporate policy.

In a final message to Ward 4 residents, Todd thanked them for the chance to serve from 2015-2021.

“These last five and a half years, we have accomplished so much together,” he said in his Jan. 1 e-newsletter. “We have invested over $800 million to modernize Ward 4 schools, delivered over 1,000 new units of affordable housing with another 1,000 in the pipeline, paved over 50 miles of new roadway, and have streamlined government services for residents across all 20 neighborhoods. But I know none of this would have been possible without your tireless work, support and advocacy—and I am deeply grateful for it.”

Grosso works as a partner with the D.C. office of Arent Fox, a national law firm, advising clients in the real estate, hospitality, education, health care, arts and cannabis industries. Arent Fox even sponsored a “Previewing the 2021 Council Session with Partner David P. Grosso” on Jan. 14, in which Grosso spoke about the issues facing the legislature and how residents can make their concerns known to his former colleagues.

However, while Grosso said he had no problem talking about the council, he stressed his transition to the private sector as the next step in his life.

“Working in the private sector is a different world,” Grosso said. “Before I was elected to the council in 2012, I worked for Council member Sharon Ambrose and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. I had the chance to really see how legislating works. Now, I am happy working for a law firm that has deep roots in city issues. My firm is committed to making Washington a greater city. I am getting to use to private life.”

Grosso and Todd have joined an informal club of former D.C. Council members. Their ranks include Democrat Arrington Dixon, who became the first Ward 4 Council member, serving from 1975 to 1979, was the second chairman of the council from 1979-1983 and had a short stint in 1997 as a Democratic at-large member.

Other noted contemporary former council members include Linda Cropp, a 1991-1997 Democrat at-large member and chairman from 1997 to 2007; Carol Schwartz, a Republican at-large member from 1985 to 1989 and 1997 to 2009; Vincent Orange, Ward 5 Democrat from 1999 to 2007 and 2011 to 2016; Democrat Kwame Brown, at-large member 2005-2010 and 2011-2012 chairman and David Catania, at-large Republican and independent 1997-2015.

Democrat Sekou Biddle served the shortest term on the council as an at-large member in 2011 from January to May. Jack Evans has logged the most years as a council member, representing Ward 2 from 1991 to 2020 as a Democrat.

Grosso said during his tenure his achievements included securing more school funding, working to ban dubious suspensions and disciplinary measures he said hurt Black students more than whites, promoting ethics and public financing of campaigns and supporting universal paid leave for District workers.

Grosso also expressed satisfaction in obtaining more funding for the arts and humanities.

Like Grosso, former Council member Sandy Allen — who served as a Democrat representing Ward 8 from 1996-2005 — said she has benefitted from her council tenure.

“As a former member of the council, I understand the real legislative process and I am able to help others with the knowledge I have,” Allen said.

Grosso and Allen say some changes should be made to the council to reflect the growth of the city and the people who reside in it. Grosso said he authored a bill changing the council’s structure from unicameral to a bicameral legislature while Allen suggests personal relationships among present lawmakers could improve.

“We need to have a bigger body with more representation for residents,” Grosso said. “With a bicameral body, we can have one chamber focusing on the budget and the other on oversight of the government. Plus, I would like to see the council committees professionalized and not so dependent on politics.”

Allen said she thinks the council should pay more attention to poorer residents in its legislating. In addition, civility should be practiced among council members, she said.

“When I was on the council, we were all friends,” she said. “We argued and disagreed on issues and policies but we had a better camaraderie from what I see now.”

Some political observers speculate that Grosso may run for chairman of the council in 2022. However, he dismisses the notion.

“I will not seek public office in the future,” he said. “I leave that to Christina Henderson. She is smart and talented and I look forward to her being Mayor Henderson someday.”

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