May 7, 2020 - Steering Committee Response to Washington City Paper article
Yesterday morning, Washington City Paper published an article by Mitch Ryals titled, “The Case Against Janeese Lewis George, According to Critics and Skeptics.” There are a number of disappointing aspects of the piece, not the least of which is the appalling contrast he draws between a “measured,” stoic Brandon Todd and his “angry” challenger. (In Ryals’ imagination, Todd’s refusal to engage with George’s concerns are indicative of his forbearance and calm—not, say, an unwillingness to address direct questions about voting against the interests of his constituents.) His characterization not only relies on the sexist and damaging “angry Black woman” trope but also uncritically repeats assumptions about George and her base of support from those with a vested interest in ensuring she is not elected to the D.C. Council.
Over the past few years, members of the Metro D.C. chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have helped elect candidates across Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., and we are proud to have endorsed Janeese Lewis George for Ward 4 council member. We also know, from experience, that our electoral support can invite negative coverage from the press and opposing campaigns. In this cycle, both the Washington Post and Chairman Phil Mendelson have implied that our members and those of other progressive organizations are outsiders pushing a “national agenda.” Todd’s campaign has cited both DSA and the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in an attempt to disparage and misrepresent George’s views to Ward 4 voters. This is not the first time MDC DSA has been painted as outside agitators, but we feel the need to respond given the enormous stakes of this election in the midst of a devastating public health crisis and worsening economic recession.
Despite what the Washington Post Editorial Board or Todd’s campaign would have voters believe, the upcoming primary election is not a battle between longtime D.C. residents and newcomers. Our chapter includes more than 200 residents who live in Ward 4, among thousands of other members who rent and work in this city and are directly affected by the political decisions of the council. We are fighting for a Green New Deal, a strengthened labor movement, a living wage, health care for all, racial justice, and housing for all. Our members have organized strike support for D.C. workers and joined them on the picket line; we have supported tenants on rent strike, helped organize tenant associations across the city, and planned actions in support of rent control; and we rallied in solidarity when residents of our city were being targeted by ICE. These are certainly “national” campaigns, but only in the sense that they are universal demands for justice and human dignity.
The Washington Post has simultaneously dismissed George’s overwhelming grassroots and working-class support from numerous labor unions and progressive organizations as “advocates with a national agenda” and claimed that Todd “has focused on education reform and other issues of fundamental interest to Ward 4 residents.” Interestingly, this supposed local focus elides Todd’s support from the Democrats for Education Reform (DFER), a national pro-charter lobbying group that poured $300,000 into local D.C. elections in 2018. DFER attempted to unseat Elissa Silverman with Todd-supported candidate Dionne Reeder and has spent more than $2,000 on pro-Todd Facebook ads in the past week alone. We won’t know how much DFER spent on mailers for Todd until after the election, but our members have reported receiving pieces paid for by DFER highlighting Todd’s work to protect D.C. residents from COVID-19. Todd has previously dipped into his constituent services fund to mail “progress reports” to Ward 4 residents highlighting the great things he has achieved in office—and it just so happens that the company he contracts for the mailers is the same one he uses for his election campaigns.
It is telling, too, what the Washington Post will overlook as “some stumbles” that do not preclude their endorsement—for instance, the fact that by their own their own reporting, Todd has repeatedly violated campaign finance laws. Todd was a longtime Republican who changed his party affiliation in order to win a D.C. Council seat. He voted to severely weaken the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act; lied to voters about his record on affordable housing; voted against paid family leave; and voted to overturn Initiative 77, which passed across D.C. and in Ward 4.
The reporters at the Washington Post and Washington City Paper would do well to worry about Todd’s voting record, funders, underhanded campaign tactics, and penchant for skipping public forums instead of George’s so-called radical agenda of people over profits. Should our council members answer to a coalition of tenants, workers, and families, or should it answer to luxury apartment developers, big businesses, and anti-public school lobbyists? We believe the choice is clear.
Metro D.C. Democratic Socialists of America