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DC Councilmember Brooke Pinto’s sprint to unopposed

As the audience inside the Woman’s National Democratic Club on New Hampshire Avenue NW waited last November for Ward 2 DC Councilmember Brooke Pinto to arrive to deliver lunchtime remarks, the chatter at some tables wasn’t charitable. A few people complained that she wasn’t visible in the ward; others said she wasn’t doing enough for business owners; still others criticized her support for bike lanes.

When Pinto finally appeared, she was partially attired in pink — a color she often wears in variations: hot pink, pastel pink, Barbie pink. It has become part of her political branding the way green was for former Mayor Adrian Fenty and is now for Mayor Muriel Bowser. 

Pink may seem fragile, but Pinto can be tough while displaying the markings of an ambitious politician, engaging in strategic messaging, positioning herself at press events, artfully sidestepping controversial ward-based issues, and masterfully parlaying DC’s crime crisis. In doing so, she has moved herself from obscurity to a household name in the city and prime-time news media guest. 

At the luncheon, Pinto recited crime stats with the ease of a seasoned law enforcement professional and dissected her Secure DC bill, presenting it as a solution to help people feel safe. At the conclusion, she had shushed many of her critics.

That showmanship may be one reason Pinto is running unopposed in the upcoming June 4 Democratic primary. It’s doubtful that she will face any significant challengers in November. 

Don’t think that means she is beloved throughout Ward 2, however. Yes, she has fans. But I ran into a slew of detractors. 

“She’s a likable person. She smiles a lot. She dresses for success,” said Leroy Thorpe, a longtime resident of Shaw and founding director of the neighborhood’s crime-fighting Red Hats group. 

“But she is short on constituent services. She does not understand the underclass or the working class, especially Black people,” he added.

“People come to her [office] for constituent services, and staff refer them to the responsible government agency. She doesn’t get involved,” said one Ward 2 resident, who like several others I spoke with requested anonymity.

“Jack [Evans] was hands-on,” said a former advisory neighborhood commissioner. “Brooke doesn’t have personal relationships; it’s all arm’s length.”

There are allegations that she has violated campaign finance rules and misused government resources. “Unfortunately, what Councilmember Pinto is doing with government property is sophisticated, manipulative and illegal all at the same time,” Ed Hanlon, a Dupont Circle resident and former advisory neighborhood commissioner for single-member district 2B09, wrote in one of a series of letters asking the Office of Campaign Finance to investigate.

OCF officials dismissed one of Hanlon’s complaints outright. Another — which essentially accused Pinto of commingling Twitter posts among her government, reelection and personal accounts — instigated a “cease and desist” order signed Jan. 17, 2024, by OCF Director Cecily Collier-Montgomery. 

Pinto and her reelection campaign were told by Collier-Montgomery to stop “the practice of Tweeting and Re-Tweeting between accounts” and to “remove any and all information from her official website that refers to her campaign and vice versa.”

As for the two remaining cases, one involves 2020 activities and the use of “constituent profiles” purchased from the Board of Elections, which Hanlon alleged were used improperly; the other deals with accusations that the purchase of pink T-shirts with Pinto’s name and their appearance in a postcard mailed to constituents amounted to campaign paraphernalia at government expense and violated ethics rules. 

The former was referred to the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA) and the DC Council’s general counsel for their review, according to the signed OCF order. The latter was dismissed as far as campaign finance violations but referred to BEGA for review of possible violations of ethics rules.

Ashley Cooks, BEGA’s director of government ethics, wrote in an email response to me that local law “requires that preliminary investigations remain confidential; I cannot confirm whether BEGA received any referrals regarding Councilmember Pinto.”

Hanlon told me that he was recently interviewed by a BEGA investigator. 

“I am surprised that [Pinto] doesn’t have competition,” Hanlon added.

Pinto moved to DC in 2014 to attend Georgetown University’s law school, from which she graduated in 2017. In 2020, after working in the Office of the DC Attorney General, where she served as government affairs liaison to the council, Pinto jumped into the Ward 2 race.

The incumbent, Jack Evans, had been accused of misusing government resources and decided to resign before being formally expelled from the legislature

When I asked Pinto about Hanlon’s complaint, she wrote in an email that “I hold myself and my office to the highest ethical standards and have made great efforts to ensure that we have rebuilt the integrity of the office.”

She said his allegations were “unfounded and baseless” and made “no sense, which is why OCF dismissed” them — although that was not wholly accurate. 

“I will continue to ensure that my team and I are following not only the letter, but the spirit of all ethics laws and norms,” she added. 

In the 2020 primary race, there was also a campaign finance complaint against Pinto. It was eventually dismissed and did not prevent endorsements from The Washington Post editorial board and Attorney General Karl Racine, which helped her beat back more than a half-dozen opponents, winning the primary with 3,142 or 28.38% of the votes. 

Pinto prevailed again two weeks later in the special election and was sworn in to complete Evans’ unexpired term. In November 2020, she swept aside three challengers, winning this first full term with 20,364 votes or 68.3% of the ballots cast.

During interviews and email exchanges with me, she consistently rejected detractors’ assessments of her and her record. “I am in the Ward 2 community every day meeting with constituents and advocating for their interests and needs,” she said.  

Pinto said she has worked to support “our neighbors experiencing homelessness and ensure there are opportunities for more folks to move off the street or encampments into stable, dignified, indoor housing” and has “secured funding for repairs and improvements to Horizon and Claridge Towers,” two public housing complexes in Ward 2. 

She also highlighted passage of her Business and Entrepreneurship Support to Thrive (BEST) Amendment Act of 2021, which reduced the number of business license categories from 111 to 10 while lowering incorporation and renewal fees and exempting businesses “making less than $10,000 of revenue a year” from taxation. The funding for that bill has only recently been set aside in Bowser’s fiscal year 2025 budget. 

Pinto cited her Rediscover Equitable Central Occupancy Vitality and Encourage Resilient Yield (RECOVERY) Amendment Act of 2023 as critical to converting vacant offices to housing, retail outlets, hotels and recreation. “We want to incentivize businesses to open brick-and-mortar shops downtown, especially on our first-floor retail. And we have specific set-asides for women-owned businesses, minority-owned businesses, and things that we need downtown, like urgent care, childcare and grocery stores.” 

When I asked her about the allegation that she doesn't support African Americans, Pinto's answer may have been one of the most confusing given during our exchange. It seemed to be all over the landscape. She wrote that "Ward 2 is filled with diverse perspectives and hardworking people. I am proud to represent them and work hard to engage all residents with different ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives as we drive forward policy that will improve lives.

Then, she add that "Whether it is supporting transit projects that support bus ridership for easier access, to the flood mitigation at Mt. Zion Church, to hearing from constituents' differing views on policy proposals on safety, affordable housing, and small business needs, I always work to consider how those policies will impact Black and brown residents and how we can work to overcome the continuing troubling disparities we see in our city.

"That's why I fought to provide menstrual products in all of our schools and libraries; that's why I fought to protect our CBEs and included set asides for minority owned and women owned businesses downtown; and that's why I supported common sense police reform, " she added. (Don't ask me what menstrual products has to do with adequately serving Black and brown residents in her ward.)

Pinto’s former boss recently gave her high marks when I asked him via email to rate her performance. “Brooke has far exceeded the expectations of most political observers,” Racine wrote.

“[She] has a high degree of emotional intelligence, and she is a careful listener. … These skills have contributed to her being trusted, respected, and well-liked by her colleagues, the mayor, and others,” he added. 

Michele Molotsky, a former aide in Evans’ council office, works at Logan Circle Main Street but made it clear that she was sharing her personal views. She said she has been “happy” with the constituent services provided by Pinto and her team. She acknowledged that there have been times when she was given the name of a person at an agency and left to negotiate with them on her own. “If I got into trouble, I would go back, and [a staff member] would follow up.”

“Most of it has been pothole-like issues,” said Molotsky, characterizing the minutiae that ward politicians are expected to handle. “I found [Pinto and her team] to work with anything I brought to their attention.”

Ditto, said John Guggenmos, a Logan Circle resident since 1988 who also owns a business. “Brooke loves what she does.” He described being on a neighborhood walk and watching her interact with homeless people who knew her and whom “she knew by name.” 

“I have friends who live at the Watergate; they really respect what she has done over there,” especially around the unhoused population, added Guggenmos.

He said he relied on Pinto’s office to get DC Water to address a problem in the alley near his business. “It took weeks, but the repairs happened.” 

Guggenmos seemed most grateful for Pinto’s attention to crime, describing a fellow restaurateur whose three managers he said were carjacked in the last three months. 

“That sort of crime haunts you where you live, work and play,“ he continued. “Even in 1988, we never saw anything like it is now.”

Pinto wasn’t always considered a crime and punishment politician. After her 2020 victory, she told The Washington Post that she looked forward to the conversation about whether to reduce the DC police department’s budget. She also said she wanted to see mental health and social workers take over jobs being performed by police. 

Later, she supported the Comprehensive Policing and Justice Reform Act (CPJR) in its various incarnations. She voted to pass the Revised Criminal Code Act (RCCA) — although she sought tougher gun penalties. In January 2023, as the recently appointed chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, she voted to override Bowser’s veto of the RCCA, although the law was subsequently overturned by Congress.

By summer, however, Pinto was introducing emergency legislation to address the growing violent crime in DC. She subsequently joined forces with the mayor, who introduced a bill that proposed to reverse parts of the CPJR and the RCCA. Some of those measures, along with Pinto’s own Secure DC proposal, became the core of the Secure DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2024. Her summer crime-fighting blitz occurred as Pinto was poised to announce her reelection bid. 

Pinto dismissed assertions that she has neglected her ward to create a larger platform that isn’t just about her reelection but also a possible run, in two years, for attorney general. “I remain steadfast in my efforts and focus in delivering for Ward 2 neighbors and forging plans, projects, and outcomes for their benefit,” she said. Pinto said that has included supporting Duke Ellington School of the Arts in its negotiations with DC Public Schools to maintain its unique arts curriculum; championing a new Center City Middle School; and creating a task force to identify a location to build a first-of-its-kind senior center in Ward 2.

Pinto said she will continue to push for downtown development and revitalization. She is a scheduled speaker at a town hall next week focused on rebuilding a more authentic Chinatown that better serves its Chinese population.

She appears to be jumping into an ongoing controversy in Georgetown about the future of streateries; she has urged the District Department of Transportation to revisit the program because “not every location is appropriate.” 

Pinto has pushed back against Bowser’s plan to eliminate the Circulator bus system. “I am working to identify funding sources for these routes; however, if this is not successful, I am working with [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] in the hopes they can absorb these routes as part of their service plan.” 

But she has made clear that crime fighting is still at the top of her agenda, both as the chair of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety and in her role as a ward councilmember: “I hear, every day, people’s concern about public safety and their desire for me to stay focused on improving public safety in Ward 2 and throughout the city.”

That’s sure to keep her voter numbers high.

A version of this article first appears on

Photo credit: Justin Knight for the Brooke Pinto Reelection Campaign 2024


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