Newsletter: A Personal Note
This morning, I bike commuted. I did it because of Dave Salovesh, who lost his life last Friday while doing the very same thing on Florida Avenue NE in our city.
I could have been Dave.
Or Malik Habib, who died while cycling on the 300 block of H Street NE just two blocks from my house. I pass his white ghost bike almost every day, and every time I think that I really could have been Malik. I have a permanent scar on my right knee because my bike tire got caught in the streetcar track just like Malik’s did, but I was lucky that after I flipped over my bike and lay on the street there were no oncoming cars or buses.
I did not know Dave personally, but I have learned that many of you did, either through the Capitol Hill cluster schools network, bicycling advocacy, or Twitter. My sincere condolences to family and friends who knew him. I have learned he was a dogged champion for safer streets, and in response to his death, many District residents have written me personal pleas to show more leadership on our safer streets plan, known as Vision Zero. You are frustrated with a lot of talk and not a lot of action.
I thank all of you who have written me. You made me think deeply about how I have drifted on this issue. That changes today.
I got on a bicycle this morning because for many years in this city, I could have been Dave or Malik. Or Abdul Seck, who lost his life walking near the corner of 16th and V Streets SE on Sunday. Some of you know that for more than a dozen years I didn’t own a car in DC, and a bicycle was my main mode of transportation. And my feet.
Yet as a DC Council member, I have gotten away from bicycling, walking, and the issue of safer streets. It’s one way in which the job has changed me, and it’s not for the better. I drive a lot, and I make a lot of excuses to myself about how it’s efficient, given that my staff and I need to travel all over the city. I also tell myself that bicycling already has advocates on the Council, and that my time and efforts need to be spent on areas where I can add more expertise, such as in labor and housing.
And, to be candid, I have struggled with biking perception and reality. Bicycling has been viewed as a proxy for gentrification, and as we struggle to prevent displacement and actively work on increasing racial equity, I have wrestled with how cycling has been seen as something catering to mostly young, affluent, white residents. If you look at who has been hurt walking, cycling, scootering, and driving on our streets, however, the injuries and deaths have touched every demographic group: black and white, young and old, all incomes.
I got back on a bicycle today because we shouldn’t be divided by race or age or income when it comes to making our streets safer. We need to implement policies toward Vision Zero for all of us, and we need to make investments in every ward to make this happen.
I am reminded that last year, as I campaigned in all eight wards, transportation came up as one of the top issues: It came up in living room meet-and-greets in Ward 4’s Shepherd Park, Southwest neighborhoods in Ward 6, Columbia Heights in Ward 1, and Randle Highlands in Ward 7. It came up everywhere, and it was a top issue.
Many of you know I have a value-added view of being a councilmember. I spend my time on policy areas where I think my staff and I can make unique contributions to make this city better, fairer, and healthier. I do think I have several colleagues who have built expertise in transportation, including Mary Cheh, chair of the Transportation Committee and Charles Allen, my colleague and many of yours in Ward 6. What I can do is lend my strong voice to their efforts, my interest in oversight and accountability, and the authentic experience of being a cyclist in this city. I am getting back on my bike. I have cycled in this city for more than two decades and resuming being a cyclist, walker, and Metro rider as a second term councilmember will help me be a better representative for safer streets. I’ll still drive too, of course.
Focusing on Vision Zero implementation is not just about enforcement but also infrastructure and putting budget dollars behind safer streets. That’s important as we decide the budget.
Our city faces many challenges, but sometimes there is a moment that can be catalytic and game changing. I think this is that moment on this issue, and from what I have learned about Dave Salovesh, this would be a great way to honor and remember his passion for making DC streets safer.
Before I share committee updates, I’m excited to introduce you to the newest addition to my committee staff: Dimitri Vaynshteyn! Dimitri is my new point person for labor issues involving District government employees that would be handled by the Office of Employee Appeals, Public Employee Relations Board, or Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining. A Texas native, he moved to the District from Houston to attend George Washington University Law School and has since fallen in love with the city. Dimitri is a Ward 2 resident and is excited to help shape a better pathway to success for his fellow Washingtonians. If you’re visiting the Wilson Building, I hope you will stop by the committee office to say hello!
Reviewing Workforce Agency Budgets: Earlier this month, I held an agency budget hearing on the DC Department of Human Resources (DCHR) and the Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining (OLRCB). OLRCB is the District’s primary management advocate and representative for the city’s administration in labor disputes involving public employees. You can watch my hearing discussion here with DCHR Director Ventris Gibson and OLRCB Director Lindsey Maxwell.
Strengthening District Workforce Training Programs: My committee staff and I will end our budget oversight hearings this week with two hearings focused on the Department of Employment Services (DOES) and the Workforce Investment Council (WIC). I held the first hearing yesterday for public witnesses only, and I’ll hear tomorrow from the agencies’ government witnesses, DOES Director Unique Morris-Hughes and WIC Executive Director Ahnna Smith. If you weren’t able to attend yesterday’s hearing but have input on which workforce training programs are working well or where we can strengthen services, it’s not too late to submit written comments. I encourage you to send them to the committee at firstname.lastname@example.org for me to review before voting on a budget package in May.
Preparing for Paid Family Leave: As I mentioned in my last newsletter, I’m working with DOES to launch the District’s new paid family leave program efficiently and quickly. DOES now has an Office of Paid Family Leave to provide informational resources and explain what to expect over the next year as we prepare to make benefits available. You can follow the new office on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @doesopfl. As a reminder, DOES is hosting employer engagement forums to answer specific questions and prepare businesses for this transition. Employers can find registration details here and see the remaining event dates below:
Spending Affordable Housing Dollars Wisely: Earlier this year, I introduced a bill that would bring needed transparency to the Housing Production Trust Fund—a $100 million fund that the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) manages to provide funding for affordable housing projects across the city. The District annually commits at least $100 million to the fund (often more), and I believe residents deserve to know that the developers who will receive money from the fund are the ones who are the most qualified and will develop the best properties. My bill would require DHCD to release a list of the applications it receives during a funding round and the scores used to determine which developers receive funding.
The Housing Committee is holding a hearing on my bill this Thursday, and I’ll be attending a budget hearing on DHCD and the Housing Production Trust Fund on Monday. I hope to see the bill move forward quickly and will be asking DHCD Director Polly Donaldson about other ways we can improve transparency to ensure our affordable housing dollars are being spent wisely.
Getting District Residents Jobs: Last week, I was thrilled to co-host this spring’s Semi-Annual Career Fair again with Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, At-Large Councilmember Robert White, DOES, and longtime venue-provider Arena Stage. Special thanks to Pat Joseph and Charnisa Royster in my office for their hard work helping organize the event and collaborating with our workforce partners to make the career fair a success! Over 200 residents attended and over 40 residents accepted job offers on the spot.
Free Citywide Ballet Performances: The Washington Ballet recently launched Dance for All, a new initiative bringing 50 free performances to all eight wards from April 6 through May 9. Programming includes free dance classes, free lecture demonstrations at DC Public Library locations, and free ballet performances. You can find additional details about the event schedule on the website here.
Free DC Jazz Exchange Performances: You may not know that the late King of Thailand was a jazz saxophone player and composer, leading to a very strong jazz culture in Thailand. DC Jazz Jam is now facilitating a first-time jazz exchange between the District and Bangkok, Thailand to grow our Sister Cities’ partnership and, as part of the exchange, will be hosting several free local shows. Here’s where you can catch them:
- Friday, April 26, from 1:00-2:00pm in the Smithsonian’s Freer Asian Art Museum auditorium (1050 Independence Ave. SW)
- Friday, April 26, from 8:00-11:00pm at Mr. Henry's (601 Pennsylvania Ave. NW)
- Saturday, April 27, from 6:00-9:00pm at Alice's Jazz & Cultural Society (2813 12th St. NE)
- Sunday, April 28, from 6:30-9:30pm at The Brixton (901 U St. NW)
- Labor Committee Budget Hearing #4 (Dept. of Employment Services & Workforce Investment Council, government witnesses): Wednesday, April 24, at 10:00am at the John A. Wilson Building (Room 412, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW)
- MANNA Housing Fair & Town Hall: Saturday, May 11, from 12:00-3:00pm at Ron Brown High School (4800 Meade St. NE)
- Funk Parade & Festival: Saturday, May 11, from 1:00-7:00pm along the U Street NW corridor