Law professor reflects on DC Council’s 16-year tenure – The GW Hatchet


After representing Ward 3 on the DC Council for 16 years with a proven track record in environmental policy, nutrition and transportation while teaching at GW Law, Council member Mary Cheh’s legislative career is coming to an end.

Cheh will complete her term as a representative for Ward 3 – the city’s upper northwest quadrant that encompasses some of the district’s neighborhoods. the most rich wards – in January after withdrawing from the next ballot in February to spend more time with her family. She taught Constitutional Law and Criminal Procedure at GW for over 40 years and is one of the only current Council members to have held outside employment while serving on the Council.

“Once I got there, and realized the potential for things to improve in various areas, whether it’s health or consumer protection or whatever, I said, ‘Wow, I can really accomplish things here and make things better'”. Cheh said.

Here is an overview of his career on the Council:

New to local government, Cheh won Ward 3 seat in 2006
Cheh said she decided to run for the Ward 3 seat in the 2006 election when former council member Kathy Patterson – whose daughter was on the youth football team coached by Cheh – s is presented for the presidency of the DC Council, leaving the place of Ward 3 open for a new Face. Despite calling herself “completely ignorant” of the power of local politics ahead of the election, Cheh said her legal conversations with Patterson made her realize she could achieve her legal and environmental goals on the Council.

“It sowed a seed in my mind and I started to say, ‘Well, maybe this could be exciting or good,'” Cheh said.

Cheh won the 2006 Democratic nomination with just under half of the vote against eight opponents. She said she had no campaign organization or experience before the general election, where she beat Republican candidate Theresa Conroy for the seat with more than 70% of the vote and vowed to continue teaching at GW despite her new career.

Cheh said that since Council candidates are not advertised on TV and radio, she might prioritize her retail campaign spending, such as flyers and signage. She said she also hosted house parties where she networked with city officials throughout the campaign.

“To this day, I can think of small aspects that may have contributed to it, but in terms of actual strategy, I would hardly call what I did strategic or well-planned or anything like that,” said Cheh. “But anyway, I won.”

Cheh said Congress was interfering with Council legislation on burning issues such as marijuana legalization or taxpayer-funded needle exchange programs in the past, she was impressed with how quickly the Council passed bills and budgets during her tenure. She said the city government had an internal regime – the right of a dependent government to govern itself and Congress generally does not interfere with legislation, although it acts as the DC Legislature under Section 1 of the US Constitution.

“We have a $17 billion budget and yet this streamlined legislative process,” Cheh said. “It’s amazing, so I’ve taken full advantage of it to pass major pieces of legislation, sometimes historic pieces of legislation.”

Clean energy and nutrition legislation top Cheh’s accomplishments
Cheh said that one of the first omnibus bills – which consolidates many measures into one piece of legislation – that she introduced and passed was the Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008, which authorized the city to contract private companies that ran sustainable energy programs in the city. She said she’s always been on the lookout for energy-saving opportunities as a council member, and the passage of her legislation has made DC a “leader” in the nation when it comes to energy conservation. ‘green energy.

She said despite pressure to Support climate measures like a carbon tax from outside groups, she identified building energy regulation as one of her environmental priorities early in her tenure because DC uses most of its energy to power the buildings and lack of polluting industries, such as fossil fuel production and logging. CC uses about 85% of its energy in the commercial and residential sector and about 15% in transportation and industry, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

“The key is the buildings, so I put this legislation in place,” Cheh said. “Then finally, the different groups – the climate action groups and this and that – they all come and think, ‘Wow, what a genius you are,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I wouldn’t have it. been if you had your way about it.”

Cheh wrote and passed an amendment to the law in 2018, requiring the city to convert to fully renewable energy by 2032.

She spearheaded many other bills during her tenure, such as the Healthy Schools Act of 2008 – which created standards for the quality of school lunches like mandatory vegetarian options, provided universal free breakfast for public school students, and increased physical activity requirements for students in DC schools. She compared her efforts to introduce a one percent soda tax per ounce of sugar-sweetened beverage in 2010 – which lack by a vote – to “go to war”.

“We have to counter that and not wait for people to get into a position where they have heart problems or high blood pressure,” Cheh said. “But if they are, we have to think that food is better than medicine in many cases, like medicine.”

Council elected Cheh to chair the Transportation, Environment and Public Works Committee in 2011, and she also chaired the committee that investigated former Ward 2 Council member Jack Evans, who resigned in 2020 in light of a series of ethics violations.

Cheh will focus on teaching GW and his family
Cheh said in February that she would not run for a fifth term on the Council despite having already run to be on the ballot, a reversal that surprised some residents. But she said the decision to quit was the result of juggling her jobs at the Council and at GW, where she taught morning and evening classes to make room for Council events during the day.

“Having two full-time jobs for 16 years was pretty exhausting,” Cheh said. “And there are Council members who just sit on the Council, and they just want to be on the Council. They don’t really do much, but I’ve been very active and it’s been a challenge.

Cheh said she decided to step aside to spend more time with her family, especially her granddaughter, and making sure her family was safe during the pandemic realigned some of her priorities.

“My kids were like, ‘Don’t do it, you’ve done enough, don’t do it for four more years,’ and they influenced me and my friends,” Cheh said. “So what hasn’t been seen behind the scenes is this debate in my mind and my leaning against racing.”

Cheh said she will continue to teach law at GW for the foreseeable future, but she hopes to take up visiting professorships at another law school in the future to “rejuvenate her juice.” She said she hopes to create a food law and policy course at GW after who passed legislation expanding animal welfare protections within the Council due to the “amorphous” nature of animal law.

She said she will miss the DC government job after serving for 16 years, but with an accomplished track record, Cheh is ready to sign off on her legislative career.

“Both things can be true,” Cheh said. “I may miss it, but I won’t leave with regrets.”

Brooke Pinto, council member for 2 DC Ward – which represents neighborhoods such as Foggy Bottom, West End and Georgetown – said it has been a pleasure to serve on council with Cheh since his election in 2020, and Cheh is a “champion » environment and sustainability. problems. She said she will miss working with Cheh because of his thoughtful and logical legislative style.

“Throughout her time on Council, she has been the driving force in accelerating our climate goals and ensuring that all residents have access to renewable energy, clean water and environmentally sustainable jobs,” said Pinto in an email.


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