We’re already more than halfway through October! Happy almost Halloween and almost Election Day! I hope you’re planning out your costumes and dropping those ballots off in the mail (see here for the list of drop boxes)...or planning to drop off your ballot in your costume if you’re really into the season. And of course, starting October 26th, I hope you'll join me in participating in the annual Halloween Literary Walk! Check out a map here.
This week, the Council approved on final vote nine bills I've lead on that came out of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety. I've written previously on them, so I'll just share this link if you'd like more information. The bills range from a big expansion of supports and rights for crime victims, permanent Vote-By-Mail and other elections improvements, a bill allowing all local residents to vote in local DC elections, and a trio of bills that will improve racial equity in civil court.
And fall in Ward 6 is still in full swing! I’ve been out to some great community events over the last few weeks that I’ll recap for you. We’ve also got plenty of fun stuff coming up, as well as community resources outlined for you below too, so let’s get started.
Quick Links: Revised Criminal Code | AG Honors DC Youth | Public Safety Update | Leaf Collection | Hayes Senior Center | Ballot Drop Boxes | DCHA and Potomac Gardens | Eastern Market Improvements | Garfield Park | COVID Boosters for Kids 5-11 | Flu Shots | New Parking Proposal | DPR Facilities Closed Friday | Walk to School Day | Tyler Fall Fest | Hilloween | Wharf Phase Two | 17th & C St. Park | MPD Halloween Events | MVT Fall Fun Day
In the coming weeks, the Council will take up a long overdue modernization and update to DC's entire criminal code. The laws governing our criminal code were written in 1901 and put in place by a Congress we didn't elect.
Simply put, in the 120-plus years since, our criminal laws have become a mess of overlapping, contradicting, and outdated language. DC is actually ranked as having one of the worst criminal codes in the entire country (45th out of 52 state and federal criminal codes). Among other reasons, that poor ranking was given because our current code lacks clarity, has overlapping charges with different penalties, is not specific using modern language, and in many cases is missing basic definitions in the first place! All of those problems are addressed by doing a revision like this.
Most states in the country went through this process decades ago, but here we are. The District's process to update its code actually began 16 years ago, and following years of deeply intensive work by the independent Criminal Code Reform Commission (CCRC), with an Advisory Group made up of the US Attorney’s Office, Office of the Attorney General, Public Defender Service, and legal experts, those stakeholders unanimously approved sending a revised criminal code (RCCA) to the Council. Here's a good recap from DCist that can help you understand the context, but I'll also take some time to walk through it more in depth for folks interested.
Once it was sent to the Council just over a year ago and referred to the Judiciary Committee, I held three public hearings totaling almost 20 hours on the proposal (most bills only have one hearing) and heard from the public, victims and survivors of crime, formerly incarcerated people, attorneys that practice in the courtroom, and criminal justice subject matter experts. I've also spoken at several public community meetings to get even more feedback, and spent countless hours meeting with stakeholders to get their input and address concerns. The RCCA represents a necessary and once-in-a-century update to DC's criminal code — and will create a safer and more just set of laws.
As I've worked to lead the final steps of this process at the Council, the collaboration from all the stakeholders has helped guide the final product. Most of what the RCCA proposes has full support, and the outstanding issues and concerns center on a handful of contentious issues.
What's in front of us now, with the changes I'm proposing, is the product of a lot of collaboration, compromise, and consensus building and it will provide much more clarity to judges, juries, attorneys, victims, and defendants. I'll walk through several of those changes to what was sent to the Council below, and you can check out a longer update with details here.
At the end of the day, the revised criminal code will not just be a 120-year-old update, but it will also ensure that people who commit harm in our city are held accountable and that our criminal justice system is constitutional, safe, and just. And importantly, it will ensure that our laws reflect our modern values, not those of a Congress of 120 years ago. I want to thank the USAO, OAG, PDS, and many others that worked hard to come to the table, negotiate compromises, and work consistently for a safe and just city.
So, while the RCCA generally creates a more rationale, organized, modern, proportional, and fair criminal code, I want to spend a moment outlining some of the changes I am recommending to what was proposed to the Council. This summary does not cover every change (the bill is 450 pages long), but let me walk through several higher profile areas:
Expanded Rights to Jury Trials for Misdemeanors
The right to a jury of your peers is a basic legal principle in our country, but it doesn't exist in the District of Columbia. DC residents had this right until the 1990's, but today, we are an extreme outlier. Only nine other jurisdictions in the country prevent residents from a jury trial for misdemeanors with a penalty of incarceration. That's not good company to keep, and it's not right for DC residents. The CCRC recommended reinstating jury trials for all misdemeanors when you may be facing incarceration and to make that move quickly. I agree with this core principle, but in hearing feedback from the Superior Court and US Attorney’s Office, I am recommending that we phase this in over a three-tiered expansion through 2030 to smooth the expansion with court operations and require the independent Criminal Justice Coordinating Council to analyze the impacts of each phase during its implementation to monitor its progress.
Add New Penalty Classes for All Crimes, Raise Proposed Penalties for Certain Serious Crimes like Carjacking, Robbery, and Burglary
A major shortcoming in the current criminal code is broad, vague language and penalties that leave the application of the law by prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, and juries vulnerable to bias and inconsistency.
The RCCA will now clearly define and sort crimes into different levels of penalties based on the seriousness of the conduct, the harm done to victims, the facts of the case, and whether vulnerable persons, repeat offenders, or weapons were involved. The penalty classes of felonies from 2 to 45 years match closely to actual sentences given in Superior Court. I believe the RCCA adds much more proportionality to the criminal code, but when it comes to penalties for serious crimes — for example carjacking, robbery, burglary — I am recommending to increase possible penalties beyond what was proposed by the CCRC, especially when a gun or weapon is involved.
Keeping Carjacking as a Stand-Alone Offense
The CCRC proposed making the crime of carjacking part of the District’s robbery offense. That's how many other states in the country define carjacking. But I believe that carjacking poses a different type of harm, trauma, and danger and I recommend keeping the offense as a separate, stand-alone offense to help judges evaluate the facts of each case to determine the appropriate charge and sentence.
Maintaining Assault on a Police Officer
The RCCA sent to the Council proposed moving the crime of Assault on a Police Officer into the larger Assault statute, with a penalty enhancement if the assault was against a law enforcement officer. I am recommending that DC keep Assault on a Police Officer as a stand-alone offense in recognition of the particular harm it poses.
Eliminates Most Mandatory Minimum Sentences
Mandatory minimum sentences impose one-size-fits-all sentences that do not leave room for judges to evaluate the facts of each case or for defendants and victims to meaningfully engage in the sentencing process. DC's mandatory minimum laws contradict one another and are applied for some serious offenses, but then not for others. It's also been demonstrated mandatory minimum sentences do not deter crime, but they do tie the hands of criminal justice agencies, judges, juries, victims, and defendants. Remember, a mandatory minimum deals with only the least worst version of any given offense. The proposal sent to the Council would have eliminated the District’s old mandatory minimum sentences for all crimes the CCRC reviewed. While I generally agree that mandatory minimums have been shown not to work as intended, I am recommending maintaining a mandatory minimum sentence for first degree homicide. This decision recognizes homicide as the most serious crime on the books, while providing consistency and empowering judges to determine other sentences.
Implementation Schedule for Reforms
As proposed to the Council, the bill would have had a one-year implementation plan. After working with all the parties and stakeholders involved, I simply do not believe this is a viable timeline for ensuring success. There will be retraining, new systems, and continued collaboration needed. So, I am recommending that the bill take effect until October 1, 2025, three years from now. And remember from above, the expansion of jury trials will phase in over time through 2030.
Again, this summary doesn’t begin to capture every single element of the criminal code, how it will improve our system, and where I’ve recommended diverging from the CCRC recommendations. Our criminal justice system is set up as an adversarial one — where the players work with the law to make their arguments opposing one another. But for this mammoth effort, those same players have come to the table in honest conversation, healthy disagreements, and a shared commitment to collaborate to update a 120-plus year old criminal code to create a safer and more just law for the District of Columbia.
Last Wednesday night, I was glad to join Ward 6 neighbors and Attorney General Karl Racine for the 6th Annual Right Direction Awards. I was there to celebrate and support Ward 6 young people that have faced hardship and hurdles to persevere to build safe and resilient communities. These young men and women are succeeding in school, contributing through work, helping non-profits, and these positive outcomes impact not just their own trajectory, but their families and communities. In doing so, they're quietly changing our community for the better. A big congratulations to each honoree (and especially our Ward 6 honorees) and a huge thank you to Attorney General Racine and his team for making it a priority to support young people contributing back to our city.
Over the last two weeks, there have been two areas of the Ward in particular where I've focused with MPD on stronger responses to gun violence. In Southwest, after a series of gunshots south of M Street SW near King-Greenleaf Recreation Center, MPD and DCHA Police have increased patrols while other agencies and organizations are collaborating to work together to identify individuals at risk and partner for safer spaces. 1D Commander Bryant and I led a conversation to outline plans of action and updated neighbors on a key arrest related to the shootings. In addition, following a series of gun violence near 15th and Independence Avenue SE, MPD has added more patrols and visibility to this area to help break the cycle of violence and investigations are ongoing. I also reached out to MPD Chief Contee to request a camera be mounted at this intersection and he agreed to have his team look at placing a permanent one. There are also other issues taking place at and near this intersection that need more attention by the Mayor's agencies and we're collectively pushing them to be more active and engaged. I remain focused with my office and neighbors to ensure resources are placed where we need them and that government is partnering with community to end the violence.
The Department of Public Works (DPW) has shared their schedule for upcoming leaf collection this fall and winter, stating they will provide leaf collection service from November 7, 2022 through January 28, 2023. I'll admit, I'm almost hesitant to share it because as you'll likely remember from last year, DPW fell far off the schedule that they'd promised residents, most blocks were facing weeks between the advertised dates and when leaf crews actually showed up.
I'll start with the most useful caveat: schedules get delayed based on the weather. That being said, every year is frustrating to many, many neighbors (myself included) that try to rake and put leaves out on time. And it wasn't just annoying - the piles of leaves were creating hazards along the curb lanes and bike lanes for pedestrians, drivers, and cyclists. DPW leadership has promised that they will be better prepared this year. As always, we'll track this closely and if you find your block missing a collection, please let us know and we'll work to get DPW to take care of any missed collections (and if they fall behind again this year, we'll pass that along as well).
Last week, the Department of Aging and Community Living (DACL) hosted a big group of Ward 6 seniors at the Hayes School Senior Wellness Center to celebrate its 10-year anniversary. I remember that day well, as the city came together following a major renovation of the building to create new programming and services for the community and create a space for our seniors to build community and have a dedicated space. Ten years later, it was exciting to mark the occasion and celebrate all the people who had a hand in the success of the Hayes Center today. And they even brought out a cake to mark the milestone – who doesn’t love a giant sheet cake?! In addition to the celebration, we were able to spend a bit of time talking through several issues faced by older residents, services needed, and what DACL can be doing better. Thanks to the Hayes advisory committee and everyone that helped make the celebration a success!
Mail-in ballots have been sent out and dropboxes for the 2022 General Election are open! This is just one way you can cast your vote this election season. You can drop your ballot off at any dropbox until Tuesday, November 8 at 8pm. If you plan to vote in person, you can do so from October 31 to November 6 at any Early Vote Center in the District and on Election Day at the Election Day Vote Centers on November 8. Visit the DC Board of Elections website to learn more about voting in the upcoming general election.
I'd like to take a moment to address the scathing and troubling report by HUD regarding DC Housing Authority's management and ongoing issues of many federal public housing sites across the District. DCHA is a quasi-District agency. It mostly answers to the federal government and partners with the District. As a result, there's very little transparency to the Council. As an example, several years ago I worked with Council Chairman Phil Mendelson to move an additional $24.5 million into DCHA's annual budget for repairs (here's an op-ed we co-wrote in the Post about the whole effort). But we were always uncertain about the increased funding solely because we had absolutely no way to know how or if the funding actually made repairs. Three year later, there's no reason to feel any different.
I visited Ward 6's Potomac Gardens last weekend, a visit that was planned prior to the release of the report, but was timely given the findings. I met with residents to get a sense of their most urgent issues that need to be addressed and heard their frustrations with DCHA regarding long waits for critical things like getting smoke detectors installed and windows repaired.
I found the buildings in absolutely unacceptable shape for neighbors to be residing in. Everyone deserves the right to live in a safe and healthy home, and it's clear DCHA has been failing our public housing residents in this. I plan to stay on this and will be in regular touch with residents and leaders at Potomac Gardens in the months ahead to monitor progress, and have been in contact with DCHA Director Brenda Donald about addressing some of the most urgent needs. There are clear, clear breakdowns in how DCHA does its management and it is going to take a lot of work to dig out. I’m grateful to the residents and leaders at Potomac Gardens for their hard work to improve life in their community and for working with me to determine next steps for fixing these issues.
This Tuesday, the Council voted to pass emergency legislation from my colleague Councilmember Elissa Silverman and Attorney General Karl Racine that would address some of the pressing issues around consumer protection, transparency and reporting, and agency staff training. This is a step in the right direction, but there is clearly much more to be done to reform DCHA and do right by our public housing residents. I will be sure to keep you updated on news regarding DCHA and next steps the Council will be taking.
Related: Today the District's Attorney General Karl Racine announced a major lawsuit against a number of landlords who had systematically denied housing voucher holders from apartments or homes. In multiple budgets over the past few years, I've funded additional attorneys to focus on housing issues in the District. This is exactly the kind of work I hoped to see and a fantastic win for District residents. Holding bad acting landlords accountable is going to send the message that discriminating against voucher holders won't be tolerated in our efforts to making housing more affordable for everyone in the District.
Reimagining what Eastern Market Metro Park can and should be has led to a $15 million renovation and a lot more activity throughout the park – from a playground filled with kids and families, to regular Friday night concerts, to more spaces for neighbors to gather. But my office has heard from residents and businesses about lapses in maintenance, cleanliness, and repairs to the park dating back to the contractor. Additionally, while I'm grateful the park is used so heavily, I want to ensure there is a welcoming and safe environment for all.
Over the last two weeks, I've led three walk-throughs of the park with agency directors, ANC Commissioners, community members, and local businesses. Working with the DGS and DPR Directors, crews have put a new focus on improving landscaping and maintenance and I hope you've seen the progress made. They are also setting up a schedule of repairs for items that need attention like lighting and electrical outlets that need repairs, decking that has already broken and cracked, and replacing loose gravel with new pavers that will perform better, just to name a few items. In addition, one of my walkthroughs was with the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services and the Director of the Department of Behavioral Health. On top of the physical repairs and maintenance needed, they will be outlining a plan of action to bring more resources and interventions to get individuals struggling with behavioral health or substance use disorders help and services they need.
Our public parks are for everyone, and I'm proud to see how the community values this public space. Whether it's the new public art being installed, improved maintenance and landscaping, or programming activities that brings out the community for music and fun, I’m excited to ensure this park is a place the entire neighborhood comes together.
The Garfield Park and Playground Improvement Project will soon be underway! The $1.3 million project will improve tennis courts, refurbish the volleyball and bocce courts, replace and repair some playground equipment, picnic table repair, lighting improvements, improvements to ADA accessibility, and more. I joined neighbors and DPR leaders to preview the plans and these fixes will greatly improve the quality of one of the best community spaces in Ward 6! The permitting period is scheduled to begin soon and wrap up in the spring, with the work finishing up in summer or fall of 2023. Learn more on the project page of the DGS website and at Capitol Hill Corner.
DC Health announced last week that children between 5 and 11 years old are now eligible for a COVID-19 bivalent booster vaccine (also known as the Omicron booster). Both the Pfizer and Moderna bivalent boosters are available for newly eligible age groups at all District COVID Centers as well as all DC Health pop-up, mobile, in-home, and community vaccination locations. Visit https://coronavirus.dc.gov/ to learn more and find your nearest vaccination site, and remember to stay up to date on the CDC’s vaccination guidance.
Related: Flu season is upon us! Remember to get your flu vaccine in addition to your COVID boosters to protect yourself and your community. You can get flu shots at DC Health COVID Centers, pharmacies, and your regular physician.
There's a common saying in local government: it's always about parking. And this time, that's definitely true. I’ve had several residents reach out to me lately about a proposal in front of the Council to change the way Residential Parking Permits (RPP) work. There’s a hearing coming up next week and I wanted to share more about it. In short, the proposal would shrink the current RPP zones from ward-wide to Advisory Neighborhood Commission levels. In other words, if you have a Ward 6 RPP, you currently can park in zoned residential areas anywhere in Ward 6 (and actually, anywhere that formerly was Ward 6 before redistricting last year). Under this proposal, that parking permit would only work for your local ANC area (reminder, Ward 6 has five ANCs).
While I think we do need to have a conversation about how best to manage parking demand and supply – and I regularly hear from neighbors adjacent to commercial corridors that see big parking demands on their blocks — I don’t support this bill as written. One concern I have is that your parking shouldn’t be tied to political boundaries that change every 10 years during redistricting. Another is that while RPP is supposed to focus on parking for your immediate residential neighborhood, breaking on ANC lines as proposed wouldn’t necessarily follow the way neighborhoods are defined. That said, I’m hoping that the hearing prompts a needed conversation about how the RPP program can be changed and improved. I’m looking forward to hearing more ideas and recommendations, and if you have some suggestions of your own, please let me know.
Just as heads up as we go into the weekend, that all DC Department of Parks and Recreation facilities will be closed tomorrow (Friday, October 21) for an agency all staff meeting and training. Normal operations will resume Saturday.
Last week I joined Ward 6 parents, students, and teachers at Lincoln Park for Walk & Roll to School Day! We had a great time celebrating all the fun and safe ways to get to school — on foot, bikes, scooters, even roller blades. Every year, Ward 6 hosts the District's best-attended and most successful Walk & Roll to School Day. And of course, the JO Wilson cheerleaders and Eastern High Marching Band got everyone pumped up and energized! Thanks to the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization for organizing and as is tradition now, I loved being the emcee to help the kids get on their way safely. Thanks to 1st District officers for riding alongside so many on their way to school (and for slowing down those drivers), and all the parents and school leaders that joined in as well.
Looking for some fall fun this weekend? Tyler Elementary will be holding its Fall Fest on the the Tyler Field on Saturday October 22 from 11:30am-3:30pm. Admission is free and there will be a petting zoo, games, art, and food!
Get your spookiest costumes ready and join me for Hilloween next week! The best Halloween festival in DC is right around the corner, on Friday, October 28, from 5:30-7:30pm! Join me and your neighbors at Eastern Market (indoors and outdoors) for trick or treating, face painting, glitter tattoos, a 360 Photo Booth, pumpkin decorating, games, prizes, and more.
Last week, I joined ANC Commissioners and neighbors in Southwest along the waterfront to celebrate the Wharf’s five-year anniversary and completion of the second phase of the Wharf! Congresswoman Norton was on hand, as she’s had a huge role in the federal work necessary to see the revitalization of the waterfront. The completion of the second phase marks more housing created — including affordable homes — along with new businesses, job creation, public spaces along the waterfront, and additional access to the water itself. The event also kicked off with a great performance by the students at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in Southwest!
Please join the Department of Parks and Recreation and Department of General Services on Wednesday November 2 at 6:30pm for a community meeting to discuss the upcoming renovations to the 17th & C Street SE Park! This meeting is long overdue, but I know a lot of folks that are eager to get the full update of of the park and playground renovations. I helped secure $750,000 in the budget a few years ago for this project to renovate this space to better serve the community. And while the park is now in Ward 7, it will still serve Ward 6 and Hill East families. See the meeting details here.
Join MPD’s First District for some upcoming Halloween fun! There will be Halloween-themed movie nights for the next two Fridays at 6pm (including tomorrow at Lansburgh Park!) and a Haunted Maze on Halloween night at the MPD First District Station (101 M St. SW).
Grab your costumes and head out to Milian Park this Saturday to join the Mount Vernon Triangle BID from 10am-12pm for Fall Fun Day! There will be a little monsters parade, dog costume contest, mini pumpkin decorating, live music, face painting, and apple cider!
Thanks for following along in this week's newsletter, especially if you've made it this far! I can't wait to see some of you around at our upcoming Ward 6 Halloween and fall-centered events.
See you around the neighborhood,