Grosso election changes D.C. Council's racial makeup

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Photo - D.C. Councilman-elect David Grosso (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
D.C. Councilman-elect David Grosso (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Local,DC,Alan Blinder

The new face set to join the D.C. Council in January is also set to help resurrect an old dynamic in District politics: a legislative body where a majority of the members are white.

David Grosso's election last week to an at-large D.C. Council seat means seven of the city's lawmakers will be white come 2013.

But Grosso said he doesn't anticipate any significant changes to the workings of the John A. Wilson Building.

"It's about working hard for the entire city," he said. "I ran for over a year on the message of making sure that I went into every single neighborhood, and I'll continue that."

Grosso also said he plans to stage his first public meeting as a lawmaker-in-waiting in Ward 7, one of the District's predominantly black areas.

"I think it's important for me to continue building trust," said Grosso, whose arrival will mark the first time in about four years that Caucasians will hold a majority of the council's 13 seats. "It's just who I am."

The change to the council's composition will come less than two years after demographers found that the city's population was less than 50 percent black for the first time in about a half-century.

Lester Spence, a Johns Hopkins University political scientist who specializes in urban politics, predicted that racial lines would only rarely surface among legislators.

"They'll figure out a way to work together with the exception of flashpoints and mayoral elections," Spence said. "There will be a broad coalition of white, progressive city council members and some blacks over the broad issue of inclusion that will smooth over the differences."

Ward 7 Councilwoman Yvette Alexander, a black lawmaker whose ward is predominantly African-American,

also predicted legislative harmony, though she emphasized that lawmakers must take care to give attention to the entire city.

"As long as everyone relates to the people, I think it's fine," Alexander said, but she added that it was "going to be a problem" if D.C. residents feel the council's racial makeup doesn't ultimately reflect the city.

"I don't care what color you are," Alexander said. "I care if you're sensitive to my issue."

Mayor Vincent Gray, who is black, said a council filled only by white and black residents didn't match the District's growing diversity.

"It doesn't fully reflect the city. The leadership should reflect the composition of the city," he said. "The day will come when a Latino will be elected and somebody who is an Asian-American will be elected."

But at-large Councilman Vincent Orange, who is also black, said he does not want to sacrifice legislative successes solely in exchange for legislative diversity.

"Yes, it would be great to have a diverse council. But if a diverse council is making decisions that aren't in the best interest of the city, then what good is that?" Orange said. "I would hope that we're moved toward the best candidates who are going to make the best decisions."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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Alan Blinder

Staff Reporter, D.C. City Hall
The Washington Examiner