My unabridged remarks from today’s swearing in ceremony
It is with deep gratitude for the people of Ward 1 that I stand here today, reflecting on all we have accomplished together over the past four years, and all we have left to do.
Over the past four years I have worked shoulder-to-shoulder with residents, community leaders and every colleague seated here. We put more than 500 units of truly affordable housing in the pipeline in Ward 1, invested hundreds of millions of dollars into our neighborhood schools, and created new Clean Teams and Main Street programs to support our commercial corridors and small businesses.
It isn’t always easy. To preserve 64 units of affordable housing at the Jubilee Maycroft project, for example, I had to fight back against a bad actor who was trying to undermine the TOPA rights of existing residents. At Park Morton I am determined to fulfill a decades-old promise of the New Communities program to build first and to keep residents together in our community, despite the many hurdles that have been put before us through legal challenges and disagreements with the Housing Authority. These are just two projects that illustrate how much larger our commitment must be. With an aging housing stock, and endless private interest in redeveloping it, we must use every tool we have to protect and produce affordable housing: TOPA, DOPA, the Housing Preservation Fund, as well as right-sizing the Housing Production Trust Fund and our project-based Local Rent Supplement Program. In our new council period I will be leading on these issues, and more, as a member of the Housing Committee.
I will NOT be deterred in this work, because I know that now, more than ever, there are residents saying YES in my backyard. Build more affordable housing and build it here. Help us keep our neighborhoods diverse, preserve the rich history that comes from longtime residents and businesses. I hear you, longtime residents, when you say: we don’t recognize our neighborhoods anymore. All the new things being built, are not being built for us. Even newcomers are saying: please do not let our presence wipe away the vibrant culture that first attracted us to the District. And that’s why I’ve begun work on an equitable development plan for lower Georgia Avenue. Ward 1 is the most diverse ward in the District, which gives us the opportunity to be the model for racial equity. Together, with residents, community partners, educational and financial institutions, we will find a path forward that allows everyone to benefit from the prosperity coming to lower Georgia Avenue. We will learn from the similar work being done East of the River and make it replicable so other wards can do this work as well. For too long in the District there have been winners and losers when it comes to new development. Instead of fighting over the same slice of the pie, we will make it bigger, so that everyone gets a piece.
It has been my privilege to serve as the chair of the Human Services committee for the past two years. I have been charged with serving our most vulnerable residents - those with disabilities, those living in poverty, those experiencing homelessness - and the committee is meeting that challenge. In the last two years I restored and enhanced rights for those with disabilities. I reformed our public assistance program to give struggling families the time and resources to get back on their feet and thrive. I updated our emergency homeless services system to ensure resources are available to families for many years to come. And I was proud to fund hundreds of units of housing for homeless residents as well as the first year of our Solid Foundations plan to end homelessness among youth. Together, Mayor Bowser, we closed DC General, and opened three new short-term family housing sites, with more on the way.
I am proud of the investments we have made. Yet, in a town with so much prosperity, we have much more work to do to serve our most vulnerable residents. Until we truly make homelessness rare, brief and non-recurring, we cannot rest. I will not rest until I have identified every possible funding stream for the housing we need to end homelessness. I think you all know by now, that I have taken to fighting not only the battles I can win, but also the battles that need to be fought. We haven’t won every fight over funding programs for our most vulnerable residents, but I will not give up. We have a roadmap for ending homelessness. I am hopeful that all of our elected leaders will find the courage and determination to get us there.
I want to take a moment to reflect on how different my own life is now, than it was four years ago. Four years ago I stood here surrounded by friends and family, and one of my littlest constituents, Amelia Gibson, who was mistaken by the Washington Post as my daughter. Today I stand here with friends, family, an incredible team of Ward 1 staff past and present, and my beloved husband Jayson and actual daughter Zoe. I want to thank my husband, daughter, mother and my entire village for all of their support. Public service is a path I was called to years ago from my time in the Girl Scouts where I learned to look for work and leave things better than I found them, to my time in my neighborhood association and on the ANC, to the years I worked as a staffer in Congress and now as Councilmember. And yet, doing this work as a wife and mother has dramatically changed my perspective. My own personal journey - from a single lady living on 14th street, to a momma living in Park View, has given me an even deeper understanding of the experiences of my constituents, and has helped me become a better councilmember. Just as, I hope, having been a working mom, and a public servant, will ultimately help me become the best partner and mother I can be. I didn’t set out on this path expecting to make national news when I pumped milk on the dais while conducting a hearing. I was just doing what I needed to do in order to keep my baby fed - like so many of the mothers I encounter on a daily basis. Being a working parent is hard, even for those of us with privilege, and my hope is that we can continue to press forward with policies that make that easier. Fully implementing our Paid Family Leave program, and ensuring access to affordable childcare, are critical to this goal. Ensuring fair wages and good jobs for all of our residents that help them build careers, provide for families, live here in the District in dignified housing and to age here with dignity, should not be such a struggle.
As a woman on the Council, I have tried to elevate the voices of other women. Because of those voices, we have now established the first legal definition of street harassment and we are poised to create an army of trained bystanders and allies in the effort to take back our public spaces and make them safe for all - women, people of color, members of our LGBT community and all those who have been traumatized by verbal and even physical aggression as they go about their day-to-day routines. Thank you to every community member and every member of this Council who helped get this done.
As a white woman, I understand that my perspectives come from a place of privilege, and I carry this responsibility with a great sense of obligation. As an ally and a leader to our most marginalized communities, I have always strived to elevate the voices of others, and to work with them, rather than for them. I don’t always get it right, but I will not give up.
Inequities that persist may be caused by our history, but they persist because of the things we are doing in the present. That means that as we examine our comprehensive plan, we must build more housing, at all income levels, and we must build it everywhere. We must preserve affordable housing and ensure that it is dignified. We must continue to strike down unjust laws that negatively impact people of color, until we have completely dismantled the racist systems in place throughout our government. It means that we must be victorious in our fight for Statehood, so that we will no longer be at the mercy of privileged white men who live thousands of miles away, who we did not elect.
And perhaps most importantly, we must stop advancing the false paradigm of you win, I lose that has existed too long within our communities because it is possible, here in the nation’s capital, for everyone to be winners. We are a prosperous city, but that prosperity is not distributed equitably. That means that we can and should prioritize resources for those who have been held back by racist institutions that we are all a part of. For those of us who have benefited from racism, we have to be prepared to feel the discomfort that comes with losing a little bit of our privilege. Because we didn’t earn that privilege. It was bestowed upon us by the color of our skin, by the neighborhood we were born in, and by the unjust ways in which people of color have been treated for hundreds of years in our country. And the sooner we can acknowledge that, the sooner we can begin to rectify that, the sooner we can do the work of healing our communities.
As an elected leader, at the same time that I acknowledge the great inequity we have here in the District, I also reject the notion that there is an us versus them. The future of this city must be focused on all of us working together.
I came here to serve our most vulnerable people, and that will always be what guides me in my work, unapologetically. Thank you.