Sunday, December 10, 2006

Wash Times: New Faces on the City Council

A nice article on the front page of Sunday's Washington Times covers the make up of the new Council including Ward 3's Mary Cheh:

The professor
Mary Cheh, a George Washington University law professor, never planned to run for political office. "It was, in a sense, evolutionary," said Mrs. Cheh, who will replace Kathy Patterson in Ward 3. "It's an idealistic kind of reason I was propelled to do this." Mrs. Cheh is familiar with the council through her behind-the- scenes work with its members. As special counsel to the Judiciary Committee in 2003, she worked with Mrs. Patterson to investigate and reform the Metropolitan Police Department's handling of protests and undercover investigations.

She helped council member David A. Catania, at-large independent, draft animal-welfare legislation and has worked extensively with civil rights and civil liberties groups. But it was the opportunity to bring change on a more direct level that drove Mrs. Cheh to run for a council seat. It also helped that her two daughters were grown and out of the house. "I thought, 'Wow, this would be a wonderful opportunity given that I love the city,' " she said. "I love the life here and the politics here, even as peculiar as they are."

Mrs. Cheh was born in New Jersey and moved to the District with her husband in 1977. She soon grew enamored with the nation's capital. In the general election, Mrs. Cheh faced opposition from Republican Theresa Conroy and Democrats who broke party lines because of her stance on development in Northwest neighborhoods. Mrs. Cheh supports updates to a citywide development plan passed by the council that calls for more housing near already dense Metro stops and major thoroughfares.

She also was criticized for her intent to continue to teach at George Washington during the spring semester. Mrs. Cheh said the campaign process was "often unpleasant," but that she won without negative campaigning. "My idea was that I'm not running against them; I'm running for this, and I'm going to put myself out there and people can pick me or not," she said. "I think that worked." Mrs. Cheh said the election was a referendum on issues familiar to her: education, fiscal responsibility and public safety. She called libraries, pools and community centers the "glue" of D.C. neighborhoods, and said they must be repaired and reopened. She said public safety and emergency services also must be improved. Like the other incoming council members, she said the public school system is a major concern. "If we don't deal with that, it's actually immoral," Mrs. Cheh said. "We have in effect handicapped [students] from having a productive life. That's unconscionable."

Mrs. Cheh is open to a mayoral takeover of the school system but is concerned that a power struggle could detract from the real goal: helping students. "Somebody's got to put their job on the line," she said. "If the mayor wants to take that on himself and say, 'This is my signature issue, this is what you should measure me on in four years,' I say, 'Hallelujah.' "

Mrs. Cheh said she has told Mr. Gray she would like to be chairman of the council's Committee on Government Operations. The position would allow her to help reform the city's contracting methods and create jobs in the District's inherent industries such as tourism, hospitality and health care. She also hopes to serve on committees dealing with judiciary matters, education and the environment, which are her areas of expertise and aspects of the city she would like to improve. "There are so many things that need attention," Mrs. Cheh said. "And I would like to have a chance to do that."

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