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The Rise of Cheh

Mary Cheh says all the right things and has all the right friends on the D.C Council.

A new alliance has shown its teeth on the D.C. Council, and much of it has less to do with Kwame Brown, and more to do with Ward 3 representative Mary Cheh. With Chairman Brown’s tenure already riddled with controversy, his close ally has risen to the occasion with signs of leadership, and at the very least, promises of accountability.

In a phone interview the day the big committee shake-up, Cheh talked about moving forward on a number of issues and provided some insight on the relationships she has welded during her time on the Council. The two most important relationships, as you might guess, are the ones she has cemented with Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chair Kwame Brown.

Cheh was a strong supporter of Brown’s rise to chairmanship and she campaigned on behalf of Vince Gray’s mayoral campaign. She has also taken direct roles in the aftermath of some of the biggest scandals to hit the Wilson Building this year. Among them, she chaired the hearings that looked into .

At last, I got my chance to ask Cheh why she never called Mayor Gray during those hearings, and her answer couldn’t have spoken more plainly to her loyalties. “We never called him,” Cheh said, “mostly out of respect for the mayor’s office.” 

She said had there been solid proof of criminal conduct, she would have reported it to the U.S. Attorney’s office. “I’m not interested in criminal conduct, per se. If I found it I would report it.” She made other seemingly contradictory statements about the investigation, which will be saved for another time and another column.

As if on cue, Mary Cheh has also taken a leading role in calling for more accountability at the mayor’s office, at least when it comes to the exorbitant salaries of some high-level officials. “Residents have to have confidence that someone is minding the store. It’s not our money,” she said, on the effort to cap the salaries of DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier and Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson. 

Pushing through a measure to delay the onset of out-of-state municipal bond taxes only helped Cheh as the Council prepared to take its summer recess. It was the simplest and quickest way to get the attention of District voters--make them think you’re out to save them money.

The Ward 3 council member’s major role in the latest political shake-up perhaps exemplifies best her recent rise within the Council. Kwame Brown’s big committee shuffle would not have happened if it weren’t for Cheh’s influence. It wasn’t just Brown and Cheh seemingly teaming up on Ward 6’s Tommy Wells. It was the entire Council, and it wouldn’t have happened without Cheh. 

Unfortunately for Wells, he received no support whatsoever from his colleagues (besides moral) as he was removed from the Committee on Public Works and Transportation. In return, it is Cheh who now oversees one of the most powerful committees on the Council. 

It’s politics as usual these days at the Wilson Building, and it’s been Mary Cheh saying all the right things, and making all the right friends as she continues to ascend in the ranks. What about the possibility of a “Council Chair Cheh” in the not-so-distant future? Actually, it’s one question I failed to ask, but it kind of has a nice ring to it doesn’t it?

Karen Sprecher Keating July 17, 2011 at 03:26 PM
I have been impressed by Councilmember Cheh for some time, now only moreso. She seems determined to make sure DC local government does not make us the laughingstock of US cities. Go Cheh!
David Smith July 18, 2011 at 04:41 PM
Eh. Cheh isn't special. Only interested in herself and not Ward 3. Great Chair or At-Large member, probably. Ward 3 CM, not so much. Maybe she can fix the roads now.
Doug Parrish July 19, 2011 at 01:45 PM
I just had a great conversation with Council member Tommy Wells about Mary Cheh, Kwame Brown and the state of DC politics. Look for more in my next piece... Thanks for all the comments guys - keep 'em coming!

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