Councilwoman Mary M. Cheh is serving her second term in the District of Columbia government. This term for her is like no other, considering the recent political scandals in Washington, but Cheh is determined to stay optimistic.
Her last hearing was all about finding a new D.C. Taxicab commissioner, and last month she proposed a bill that would limit the amount a donor could give to a city campaign through money orders. The bill came on the heels of a raid by federal officials of eminent fundraiser Jeff Thompson’s home and office. It also follows, Ward 5 councilmember Harry Thompson Jr.’s resignation in January after being accused of stealing $300,000 in city funds.
Cheh says she is saddened by recent activities in D.C. politics and says her experience in government isn’t the same.
“Just seeing this unfold in front of me has been very difficult,” Cheh said. She says the experience of serving the District hasn’t been as wonderful as it was to serve in her first term.
But Cheh says she still remains committed. A resident of Ward 3 since 1970, she gets on her bike at 8 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays to ride from her Forest Hills neighborhood in to teach classes at George Washington University Law School. On this particular day, she rides to the John A. Wilson Building for her 11a.m. Committee on the Environment, Public Works, and Transportation hearing, which she chairs. The hearing ends at 2 p.m. and she rushes off to lunch and to fulfill her other duties before heading back to GW to teach her evening class.
Cheh speaks with joy about her many legislations passed since 2006. The Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act has made reusable bags a fashion statement in the city and a nickel hard to part with to pay for paper or plastic in the grocery store.
But some residents believe she hasn’t made much of an impact in Ward 3 since joining D.C. Council. In January on the forum DC Urban Moms and Dads, a resident wrote: “It seems like Mary Cheh has basically abandoned the ward and left us to fight for ourselves. In terms of crime, schools, livability, business, etc. she’s not really an advocate.”
“It’s not Cheh; it’s Ward 3,” says Gary Thompson, a Ward 3 resident and commissioner for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3/4G.
“For many of the issues she has to deal with don’t involve problems of low income,” Thompson said.
With the district’s highest median income at $106,100, Ward 3 is made up of affluent neighborhoods and few problems when compared to unemployment and robberies in other D.C. wards. Spring Valley has had problems with soy being contaminated. Glover Park has dealt with power lines, causing cable companies to hang their lines even higher. Perhaps potholes and limited parking can add to the complaints of stressed residents in these neighborhoods.
In an effort to decrease robberies occurring throughout the ward’s neighborhoods and inform residents the proper way to handle these situations, Cheh held several safety meetings in February with Metropolitan Police Department Chief of Police Cathy Lanier.
“It’s really important the police get out in front of the people,” Cheh said on Fox News in February.
Cheh advised residents to conceal handheld devices is when they are out and about.
If you ask Cheh, she would say her most proud accomplishment in Ward 3 was reopening a trail that residents had complained they could no longer use and voting on the marriage equality bill. Her new Energy Omnibus Bill will allow users of solar energy systems to be exempt from property taxes.
The Rutgers University and Harvard Law School graduate has been a law professor at GW since 1979. Before joining the council, she did pro bono work for the D.C. City government and South Africa, and served as a consultant to the National Institute of Justice and the President’s Commission on Organized Crime. She says being part of the council has put her in a position to help people and she is still happy to do it despite the state of D.C. city politics.
The wife and mother of two daughters wants to leave a legacy like her brother.
“He used to be a roofer,” Cheh said. “Even now when we go around somewhere, he says, ‘See that building? I put that roof on over there.’ I will have left this job being able to point to things I’ve done.”