Council Unified on Goals, Divided on Methods

A hallmark of the Council in recent years has been the comparative unity that has reigned. After a period, years back, of frequent discord on the dais, with splintered votes and open conflict among councilmembers, the last several years have been defined by comparative consensus: virtually all votes pass by broad margins if not unanimously, and comity on the dais has largely been the order of the day.

The most recent Legislative Meeting, on its face, would seem to be the exception to that rule. Wilson Building habitués, the media, and Council staff dusted off their score cards so they could prognosticate on a couple of likely close key votes. More on those in a bit.

The reality, though, is that even on these votes, there was more that unified this Council than that divided it. Issues that divided the Council several years back, more often than not, were those with legitimately, diametrically opposed perspectives. Councilmembers supported the new Convention Center, or they opposed it. They fought for the baseball stadium, or they fought against it.

At the most recent Legislative Meeting, a number of close votes occurred, but these primarily represented diverse approaches to a mutually shared goal. In the first of two votes that drew the most attention, the Council narrowly voted to disapprove a contract with the organization that operates the United Medical Center. However, the Council was unified in feeling that the United Medical Center is providing sub-standard service, and that the residents of Wards 7 and 8 deserve much better medical treatment. All that divided the Council was whether the best route to that shared goal was via a fresh start with a new operator, or by not pulling the plug mid-course on the current operator. In the end, it was the former option that won the day.

Similarly, certain votes on a homelessness reform measure came down to the wire. Yet, once again, the apparent division masked significant agreement. The councilmembers were in agreement that the District faces a housing affordability crisis, and that the current homelessness service system is dramatically overtaxed. The disagreement that came about was over whether reforming the latter was better addressed in a targeted, standalone policy, or if both issues were inextricably linked, and the latter was one means of addressing the former.

A third vote centered on more of a true division of transportation and financial philosophies. It occurred in the context of a Tax Increment Financing measure for a large Union Market development. After a debate between those opposing subsidized parking and others who felt that the modification of a package financial deal would torpedo it, the latter perspective won the day by a large margin.

In a more traditional consensus vote, a unanimous Council supported a measure asking Congress to approve the removal of a statue of Confederate General Albert Pike from federal land adjacent to the Metropolitan Police headquarters.

A number of new measures were introduced at the most recent meeting. If passed, they would:

  • Increase the District’s sales tax by $0.75, to provide funding for Metro, conditional on the approval of a similar tax in Maryland and Virginia
  • Regulate the use of oxygen therapy
  • Reset and lower rents in apartment units no longer occupied by government-subsidized tenants
  • Express the Sense of the Council in support for continued aid efforts to assist hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
  • Strengthen community development requirements on lending institutions
  • Protect abortion providers from discrimination
  • Limit the use of wage garnishment in regards to the payment of consumer debt
  • Deter slumlords by limiting future permits to those with excessive outstanding violations
  • Avoid duplicate data entry by residents and businesses by facilitating the sharing of data among government agencies
  • Exempt cemeteries from the impermeable surfaces water tax
  • Create sales tax holidays for Energy Star and Water Sense appliances
  • Create a tax credit for businesses who host performing arts performances
  • Create a tax on billboards, with the revenues generated being reinvested in neighborhood recreation
  • Allow George Washington University to have a helicopter landing pad
  • Create distinctive veterans’ license plates for each of the four branches of the military
  • Protect transit workers through increased penalties against those assaulting them
  • Incentivize community schools
  • Prevent opioid abuse by limiting the quantity and concentration of drugs prescribed, per CDC recommendations

Also presented at the most recent meeting were ceremonial resolutions that honored:

  • Ernest Green, one of the Little Rock 9, who integrated Arkansas public schools, striking a key victory in the civil rights struggle
  • Stephen Greenleigh, for his decades of service to the Adams Morgan business community
  • DC Force, the national champion girls’ baseball team
  • The Catalogue for Philanthropy, on its 15th anniversary

The Council’s next regularly-scheduled Legislative Meeting will be on December 5. An additional Legislative Meeting may be held on November 21.

For a full list of all votes taken at the most recent Legislative Meeting, please click here.