D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) reflected upon his first seven months in office during an interview with the Washington Blade on Monday.
“It’s been a fairly exciting seven months,” Grosso said while speaking to the Blade in his office in the John A. Wilson Building. “I’ve been getting my feet wet, but also getting a well-rounded education on what happens up here.”
Grosso, who was an aide for then-D.C. Councilmember Sharon Ambrose from 2001-2006 and D.C. Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s legislative director from 2006-2007, defeated then-incumbent D.C. Councilmember Michael A. Brown last November for the at-large D.C. Council seat reserved for a non-Democratic candidate.
Grosso said ethics and election reform remain his top priority.
He and Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) in February introduced a bill – the Public Financing of Political Campaigns Amendment Act of 2013 – that would allow candidates to qualify for public financing if they receive contributions of $100 or less from individual donors. Each $100 a political hopeful raises would be matched by $400 under the measure.
“It gets more individuals engaged in the political process,” Grosso said, noting Connecticut and other states have implemented similar systems. “Somebody who donates $10 or $20 can see themselves as having the same political impact as somebody who donates $1,000. It kind of just opens up the doors of the political system.”
Grosso spoke with the Blade less than a week after the D.C. Board of Ethics and Accountability filed Councilmember Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) $13,600 for accepting gifts from two city contractors.
The Washington Post on July 11 reported that Barry said in a statement he voluntarily disclosed the gifts and his “character and integrity remain intact.” He denied any assertions of an ethics scandal during an interview with MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry two days later.
“I find it extremely disappointing, just in general,” Grosso, who sits on the committee charged with reviewing the allegations against Barry and determining whether the Council should investigate them, said. He also pointed out he recuses himself from votes on city contracts of more than $1 million. “Councilman Barry has shown time and time again an unwillingness to play by the same rules as everybody else. And for me I think that’s just inexcusable.”
Grosso also supports non-partisan local elections and instant run-offs in contests where no candidate wins with a majority of votes.
“That’s a huge problem in our city, especially in special elections,” he said. “You have people winning with 15, 20, 30 percent of the vote, which is not a representative democracy.”
Government has ‘obligation’ to stop anti-LGBT discrimination
Grosso pointed out LGBT rights issues also remain an important part of his agenda.
The Council last month unanimously approved a bill that Grosso introduced alongside Barry and Councilmembers Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6,) Jack Evans (D-Ward 2,) David Catania (I-At-Large) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) that expands the list of people who can officiate a wedding in D.C. Grosso also co-sponsored a bill his colleagues passed that will allow transgender Washingtonians to change the gender on their birth certificates without having undergone sex reassignment surgery.
Grosso, who received an endorsement from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance during his campaign, noted the country continues to make “great strides” on LGBT-specific issues, but noted it has “a long way to go.”
“Every single day we’re going to find a new thing where discrimination was prevalent, and we’re going to have to fix it,” he said. “It’s our obligation as a government to fix those things.”
Councilman blasts AG vote, supports liveable wage bill
Grosso blasted the Council’s late night vote on July 10 to delay next year’s attorney general election that D.C. voters approved in 2010. He specifically criticized Evans and Councilmember Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) — who are both running for mayor in 2014 — for supporting the postponement of the referendum’s implementation.
“These people are running for mayor and they think they can just snap their fingers and do away with the peoples’ will,” Grosso said. “But they’re going to turn around in less than a year and ask for the people’s vote. I ask, when are people going to step up and say no, enough is enough with this kind of stuff.”
Grosso, who declined to tell the Blade whether he would support D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray if he were to seek another term in office, has also signed onto a bill that Wells introduced last week that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in the nation’s capital. Grosso said he is also working on a separate measure that would legalize the drug in D.C.
Grosso on July 10 also voted for the so-called Wal-Mart bill that would require the company and other large retailers to pay their D.C. employees at least $12.50 an hour – twice the city’s minimum wage of $8.50 an hour. Gray has yet to publicly say whether he will sign the measure into law.
“We must balance the interest of attracting large retailers to our less developed Wards 5, 7 and 8, while also attracting quality jobs to support our residents and their families,” Grosso said in a blog post on Wednesday.