GW law professor Mary Cheh has worked at the University since 1979, but this year she’s looking into a second job.
Cheh, who has lived in the District for the last 30 years, is running for Ward 3 representative of the D.C. City Council. Current Ward 3 Councilmember Kathy Patterson’s seat will be vacant because she is running for council chair, an at-large position. Cheh already has four opponents battling against her for the Democratic nomination in this September’s primary election. The absence of Republicans in the city means the primary determines who gets the seat.
Cheh said her platform consists of four major issues she sees as facing the District: education, fiscal integrity, oversight functions and environmental development. Cheh is one of two GW law professors who helped start the Animal Welfare Project in 2003, which has drafted legislation it hopes will be considered by the D.C. City Council that would reform animal welfare laws in the city.
“I have participated in enough law reform projects and have been a part of the community long enough to know that things need to be done, and I can bring the skills needed for the job,” Cheh said in an interview last week.
Cheh, 55, lives in Forest Hills, a Ward 3 neighborhood in the city near the National Zoo. Ward 3 consists of mostly Northwest neighborhoods including Friendship Heights, Tenleytown, Cleveland Park and Chevy Chase.
If elected, Cheh said she would still maintain her current courseload at GW. She teaches constitutional law and a criminal law/procedure seminar. She’s kept her students informed about the race and has gotten a group of them involved in her campaign, including GW law student Dave Zvenyach, a 24-year-old University of Wisconsin graduate.
“I work directly with about 10 student volunteers, but over 60 law students have volunteered already, and we’re planning on seeking interested undergraduate and graduate students very soon,” Zvenyach said.
Roger Trangsrud, senior associate dean of academic affairs for the Law School, said he supports Cheh’s political bid and said she is “articulate, bright, and an excellent candidate.”
Cheh is campaigning against candidates Rob Gordon and Catherine Wiss, both members of the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions that makes zoning recommendations to the city. She also faces Jonathan Rees, a business manager for an institutional dental care company, and Democratic activist Sam Brooks.
In interviews last week, Rees characterized Cheh as his “best opponent,” and Gordon said she is “very intelligent.” Brooks said he thinks he has the strongest support in the ward at this time.
“We’ve raised more than any other campaign in the race, which is an indication that our campaign might be the strongest at this stage,” Brooks said.
While Cheh does not have any previous political experience, she said she can serve Ward 3 effectively. She said she is familiar with the D.C. school system since her two children attended schools in the District, and she has also served on many local associations.
Cheh attended Rutgers University’s Douglass College for women in New Jersey, her home state, as an undergraduate. She also received her law degree from Rutgers and her master of law degree from Harvard University.
Cheh said she has “a greater insight into education” compared to her opponents because of her career as an educator.
“Schools are physically falling apart,” Cheh said, adding that the average age of schools in the District are 65 years old.
She said environmental issues and economic development also rate high on her list of political priorities, and she wants to “preserve the distinct character of the many unique neighborhoods of D.C.” and make sure that families are not pushed out due to gentrification.
Many of Cheh’s opponents mentioned similar issues when discussing their platforms.