Editorial: Why I’m Not Voting for Bowser Again
by Larry Janezich
I’ve supported Mayor Bowser and given credit where it’s due. But the recent decision of the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability – all mayoral appointees – to not renew the contract of Director of the Office of Open Government Traci L. Hughes, speaks of an indifference to residents who care about accountability and shows the arrogance of an executive sure of coasting to re-election.
Hughes ran afoul of the executive branch by enforcing DC’s transparency laws, notably against the board of the United Medical Center and the Mayor’s Advisory Commission on Caribbean Community Affairs for holding secret meetings. Both boards are controlled by appointees of Mayor Bowser.
Closer to home, in 2014 and 2015, Hughes responded to complaints by Eastern Market vendor Joe Snyder about lack of transparency regarding the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee (EMCAC), with the result in a change of EMCAC procedures. Changes such as these benefit the entire community.
Then came yesterday, when the City Council unanimously approved a bill to authorize publicly financed campaigns. Bowser says she will not budget funding for it. As has been widely reported, Bowser already suffers from a public perception that she is too close to campaign contributors. In a case that had indirect consequences for Eastern Market, former Department of General Services chief Chris Weaver (DGS owns and runs Eastern Market) resigned after two of his staffers were fired when they failed to award lucrative contracts on the DC United soccer stadium and the Washington Wizards practice facility at St. Elizabeth’s to Ft. Myer Construction – a significant donor to local politicians. When Councilmember Mary Cheh presented Bowser with evidence of corruption in the contracting process, Bowser chose to ignore it.
In 2015, the Mayor’s allies were forced to shut down Bowser’s controversial political action committee FreshPAC, funded in large part by developers like Hine Project partner Buwa Binitie, after public and media reaction turned it into a liability.
And in March of 2016, the Washington Post reported that most of the sites selected for relocating the homeless from DC General were “…owned or at least partly controlled by major donors to the mayor. And experts have calculated that the city leases would increase the assessed value of those properties by as much as 10 times for that small group of landowners and developers.”
Most of these controversies are now so much water under the bridge – but the cumulative effect of the drip, drip, dripping speaks to a continuation of a venal and moribund city government.
Tomorrow, Thursday, February 8, Councilmember Charles Allen, Chair of the City Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, will hold an oversight hearing where he says he will seek answers on the failure to renew Hughes’ contract from the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. It’s ironic that the Board finds itself in a forum where it is being held accountable. Let’s hope our trust in accountability is not misplaced.
The hearing is at 9:30am in Room 500 of the Wilson Building. The hearing can also be watched live by clicking on the “Watch Hearings Live” link on this webpage: http://bit.ly/2E5eIP1
6 responses to “Editorial: Why I’m Not Voting for Bowser Again”
The ouster of Hughes affects the public education community in DC, too.
Several years ago, Hughes’ office ruled that meetings of the cross sector collaboration task force must be open to the public (city education leaders, including Mayor Bowser’s deputy mayor for education, Jennifer Niles, wanted the meetings closed to the public)–see here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/task-force-meetings-on-dc-charter-and-regular-schools-will-be-public/2015/11/05/66f97a86-8320-11e5-8ba6-cec48b74b2a7_story.html?utm_term=.3ec006a14948
More recently, Hughes’ office ruled that the DC charter board violated the open meetings act by approving a charter school expansion without public notice–see here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2017/10/02/d-c-says-charter-school-board-violated-city-law-in-vote-on-expanding-charters/?utm_term=.fcc678f3ddac
The apparently political axing of a fair and hard-working government employee sets a terrible precedent for our city. Thank you for writing about this.
Thank you for this intelligent and logical article. It certainly affects how I will vote.
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I cannot vote for a mayor who talks “transparency” and practices “opacity.” Her Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and the Office of Planning look out more for developers than for neighborhood residents. The recently released and much altered Framework Element of the city’s Comprehensive Plan is being dubbed the Developers’ Wish List Act because it will eviscerate the rights of ANCs and neighborhood groups to challenge development that is not in keeping with the Plan. For details, see the Take Action fact sheet on this subject at http://committeeof100.net/download/planning/comprehensive_plan/2018-02-C100-Comprehensive-Plan-Fact-Sheet.pdf
I think that Ms Hughes might have been the first person fill that position at the Office of Open Government. In the years before her arrival, that office existed on DC Government website like a dead letter office. I spoke to folks in other Wards with similar concerns who never gotten any acknowledgement after filing complaints with Office of Open Government. All that changed with Ms Hughes. In my limited experience, the approach was educational rather than punitive.
The Open Meeting Law in DC Code is pretty weak and full of holes; but without an independent office for enforcement, I fear it could become a dead letter office again.