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Activists Wary of ReOpen DC Group’s Makeup

While the Bowser administration has selected District residents with national profiles to co-chair its reopening advisory group and has prominent local leaders on its steering committees, some activists say the organization lacks the presence of the average Washingtonian.

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s announcement that District residents Susan Rice, a former ambassador to the United Nations and Obama administration national security adviser, and Michael Chertoff, who served as the Homeland Security secretary under President George W. Bush, as co-chairs of the ReOpen DC Advisory Group, on April 28, didn’t impress Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Regina Pixley at all.

“Sooner or later a tiger’s stripes will show up,” Pixley said in an April 28 Facebook post. “Washington D.C. residents please be on notice that this is what Mayor Muriel Bowser thinks about you. These two people don’t have a clue about public safety, public health and public awareness and they sure don’t care about poor Black folks. This is about money.”

Bowser charged the advisory group with preparing a report on the process of the District reopening after she lifts the stay-at-home order due to the widespread presence of the coronavirus. The report will be due on May 11.

The mayor made it clear that though the group will issue recommendations, the final decision on when to reopen the city will be hers, under the advisement of Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Department of Health.

The advisory group consists of steering committees that deal with a variety of topics ranging from education to real estate and construction. Former D.C. Mayors Anthony Williams and Adrian Fenty serve on the steering committee along with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, District Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey S. DeWitt, former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Nicole Lurie and Bowser senior adviser Beverly Perry. Former D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt serves on the Public Health and Innovation subcommittee while former Council members Charlene Drew Jarvis and David Catania serve as subcommittee co-chairs of Education and Childcare and the Human Services, Social Services and Health, respectively.

Ward 8 residents or people who have business interests in the ward serving on the advisory group include former D.C. first lady Cora Masters Barry, entrepreneur Linda Greene, former Council members Eydie Whittington and LaRuby May, Anacostia Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Stan Jackson and anti-gang violence activist and entrepreneur Ron Moten.

Salim Adofo, who represents District 8C07 as an advisory neighborhood commissioner, said that while he is impressed by the presence of Ward 8 stakeholders in the group, he wanted more of his colleagues involved in the group.

“Commissioners are the people who are on the ground in this city,” Adofo said. “While I understand and support Dr. Rice and Secretary Chertoff as co-chairs because they have local, regional, national and international contacts but there needs to be more people who deal with the everyday activities of people in the neighborhoods.”

While Adofo offers some support for the mission and composition of the group, Parisa Norouzi, chair of the DC Grassroots Planning Coalition, joined Pixley in her criticism.

“If the mayor really wants to reopen the city to ‘better than normal’ lets name people to the ReOpen Advisory Group who represent a demographic who are inequitably impacted by COVID-19, but are not represented,” Norouzi said.

Norouzi said the group had too much of a corporate focus and not enough of the perspective of labor unions, small businesses and senior citizens. She recommended that Shanta High, president of The Council at Park Morton, as a member of the group as “one who could provide a more grassroots perspective.”

Pixley said the thrust behind the group’s mission — determining the process of the District reopening — seems premature.

“This city is in no way near ready to reopen and remember the mayor and Dr. Nesbitt said D.C. won’t reach its peak [for coronavirus cases] until June,” she said.

Adofo said he is with the mayor on reopening the city “when the data looks right.”

“I don’t see that happening until late summer or early fall,” he said.

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