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Phil Mendelson has been a member of the DC City Council since 1999, and has served as Chairman of the Council since November 6, 2012.  Chairman Mendelson entered his first race after being engaged in city politics in positions ranging from ANC Commissioner for over twenty years to also working at the Council as a staff person.  Chairman Mendelson is well acquainted with the challenges facing the city, stating that “as good as it is [DC] there are a lot of challenging issues.”  Gearing up for his next campaign, we were excited to sit down with Chairman Mendelson for an interview.    

 

I think it’s important as a city-wide official that I campaign city-wide,” said Chairman Mendelson.   “And, I will continue….I will continue what I’ve been doing, which is reaching out to voters in all eight wards. I hate...I hate it when somebody says to an elected official, “Will I only see you at election time?” Which is why I’m constantly in all the Wards, in different neighborhoods, and I will continue doing that during my reelection. I will defy any challenger to demonstrate that they are more city-wide than me. And, that I listen to issues that are important to residents in whatever neighborhood. And, I will defy any opponent to show that they actually could do more or be in a better place on issues like public education, or affordability, or in helping working men and women.

 

The conversation centered around a number of topics ranging from what he called, “the horrible situation at Ballou, and how the system is failing...not failing but cheating our kids,” (WAMU and NPR published a report revealing Ballou High School awarded diplomas to seniors who did not meet graduation requirements and that administrators pressured teachers to pass students), to dedicated funding for the metro system so that that DC public transportation is safe and reliable, “Right now I’m vexed about how we come up with a uniformed regional funding for metro…”   

   

Lately, the national conversation has centered around sexual harassment.  As reported by Shay Brown of The District NOW, silence is a direct result of societal thinking that this behavior is just something that you get through.  Each year over 50% of claims are dismissed because there has not been enough evidence to substantiate claims. According to the EEOC this is defined as “no reasonable cause” based upon the “evidence obtained in the investigations from 2010 to 2016.  When asked how the DC City Council is prepared to handle those who are accused of sexual harassment, he responded “Breaking News!  So, we’re looking at sensitivity training and sexual harassment training for all employees at the council.”  The District NOW is the first to report this update according to Chairman Mendelson.  “I mean, I think that’s become an increasingly important topic of discussion, which is a good thing in this country. And, so increasing awareness and sensitivity, that all employees are aware of what’s allowed and not allowed. Not because there’s….I mean, I’m not aware that there’s been harassment. But, on the other hand, we know that it’s far more widespread than it has been talked about or acknowledged. And, so it’s a good thing that this is what everybody’s talking about now. So, let’s just seize the moment and make sure everybody understands what is and is not permissible.”  As far as a timeline in regards to implementation, the Chairman stated that the definite start date has not been determined, but they’re aiming within the next six weeks, or before the end of January.   

 

Chairman Mendelson was not shy about discussing the perception of city finances and it’s stewardship, stating that DC is in need of better budgeting.  Peter Jamison of The Washington Post reported in April that The Fiscal Policy Institute was one of more than 90 organizations, many of them providers of social services, that sent a letter urging Mayor Muriel Bowser to delay tax cuts scheduled to take effect next year and instead spend surplus dollars on affordable housing, schools or public transit.  “Financially the city is in a very good place.  Relative to other cities, we maybe the best, and yet we’ve got serious challenges with our finances that the public doesn’t realize...we’re at the point where we can do much better and we need to do much better with financing our infrastructure, and we’ve got to figure out how to do that.  Maybe I should say a little more, do that without raising taxes and without cutting programs.

 

For many DC residents, the word gentrification brings varying levels of fear, frustration, and for some, anger.  “Gentrification gets at issues such as affordability…” stated Chairman Mendelson.  “We’re seeing that in a lot of ways with legislation that is coming before the council, how do we promote economic diversity in the city...and people being able to stay.”  Rachel Chasen of the Washington Post reported on November 17th of this year that the rapidly gentrifying District has the highest per capita rate of homelessness of any city in the country, with 124 residents per 10,000 living without a home, according to a 2016 survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The survey also found that while the number of people experiencing homelessness decreased nationally by 13 percent from 2009 to 2016, it increased by 34 percent in the District, where lack of affordable housing has pushed longtime residents out of the city or, sometimes, onto the streets.  

 

We asked as a final question, what song was on his playlist that gets him geared up for the tasks facing him at the Council every day?  He simply stated, “We’ll leave that as a mystery!”  And with that, our first interview with the Chairman of the DC City Council Concluded.