Councilmember Cheh has served on the Council of the District of Columbia since 2007 and is currently the Chair of the Committee on Transportation and the Environment. An attorney by trade, Cheh has championed legislation to protect the environment, improve the health of District residents, and fight for good government.
While education reform was underway in Washington, D.C., Councilmember Cheh recognized the time as an opportunity to encourage a healthier school environment. In December 2009, Councilmember Cheh introduced the Healthy Schools Act of 2010, the first bill to address the childhood obesity epidemic in the District of Columbia.
The Healthy Schools Act of 2010 substantially improved the health, wellness, and nutrition of public and charter school students in Washington, D.C. by developing standards on the quality of food served and increasing the amount of physical activity in which students are required to engage. Since then, it has become a national model for setting nutrition standards in schools and the workplace.
During her first two years on the Council, Councilmember Cheh chaired the Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs and passed several pieces of legislation focused on consumer and environmental protection. For example, the "Payday Loan Consumer Protection Act of 2007" banned predatory "payday" lenders from operating in the District of Columbia. Councilmember Cheh's "Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008" is a landmark energy law that establishes a sustainable energy utility that will be charged with reducing the District's energy use, especially during times of peak demand when electricity generation is the most expensive and most polluting.
In 2009, Councilmember Cheh took over the Committee on Government Operations and the Environment. In that role, Councilmember Cheh has worked to improve the transparency and accountability of the District government while continuing her efforts to protect the environment. The "Omnibus Election Reform Act of 2009" eliminates many of the hurdles that voters face and provides voters with adequate assurances that their votes are properly counted. The primary goal is to ensure that any eligible person who wants to participate in District elections can do so through early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and same-day registration. Recently, she introduced the “Human and Environmental Health Protection Act of 2009” which places restrictions on a number of dangerous chemicals.
In the last four years, Councilmember Cheh has introduced 245 separate bills, and led four major Council investigations, including one on Executive personnel practices and electronic voting in the District. Among her outstanding legislative accomplishments are the Taxicab Service Improvement Amendment Act of 2012, which overhauls and modernizes D.C.’s taxicab fleet; the Food Environmental and Economic Development (FEED DC) Act of 2012, which increases the availability of healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods; the Omnibus Election Reform Act of 2009, which created early voting and same-day voter registration in the District; the Clean and Affordable Energy Act of 2008, which created programs and entities to encourage the growth of clean energy and reduce the cost of energy in D.C. overall; and the Payday Loan Consumer Protection Act of 2007, which banned predatory payday loan services in the District of Columbia.
In addition to serving on the Council, Councilmember Cheh is a tenured constitutional and criminal procedure professor professor at George Washington University Law School, with professional experience working with the D.C. Courts, and local, national, and international institutions of justice. She is a member and former chair of the GW Law Public Interest Committee, which assists students in providing legal services to the underserved, and she works with students on community and environmental pro bono projects.
Her work before and on the Council has proven Councilmember Cheh to be a common-sense investigator with a firm belief in the power of oversight and accountability. She has a record of providing real solutions and making government and institutions work better. At the request of former Councilmember Kathy Patterson, Councilmember Cheh served as pro bono special counsel to the Council of the District of Columbia’s Judiciary Committee during its 2003 investigation into police handling of protests and demonstrations. The report drafted as a result of her work led to model legislation that protects citizen’s rights and provides police officers with clear guidelines. Once on the Council, Chairman Gray asked Councilmember Cheh to lead an investigation into the flaws in the 2008 District election leading to election form efforts. Mary has also worked on international law reform projects in countries such as Tajikistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo.
Councilmember Cheh has served as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C.; worked pro bono for the Centre for Applied Legal Studies in South Africa; served as a consultant to the National Institute of Justice and the President’s Commission on Organized Crime; chaired the subcommittee on criminal justice for the D.C. Circuit Court’s Task Force on Gender; and has served as a member of the Rules Committee of the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces and on the Board of Directors of the National Institute of Military Justice. Councilmember Cheh is a former member of the ACLU Board and currently serves on the ACLU Litigation Screening Committee. She is also a Founder and Co-Director of the Animal Welfare Project, which worked with community leaders, activists, and government officials to craft model animal welfare legislation. As a Councilmember, she was able to enact her own model animal welfare legislation into law. Councilmember Cheh also founded Project Re-Entry, a pro bono law reform project that aims to reduce recidivism and assist ex-offenders in their return to productive lives.
Councilmember Cheh is a long-time resident of Ward 3, with deep roots in the community. She moved to Washington in the late 1970s. In 1986 she moved from Cleveland Park to her current home in Forest Hills. Mary's daughters, Jane and Nora Lewis, were born and raised here, both attending Murch Elementary and Georgetown Day School. Mary is a former member of the Murch after-school board, a former Stoddert soccer coach (and a licensed referee), and member of the Stoddert Board. For many years, Mary has taught units on constitutional law and “street law” to students in local schools.
Councilmember Cheh is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Douglass College and holds law degrees from Rutgers University and Harvard Law School. She is admitted to practice in D.C., Massachusetts, and before the federal courts.