Former DC Councilmember Jim Graham dies at 71

WASHINGTON — Former D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham has died, the council announced in a tweet Thursday. He was 71. 

Graham, a Democrat who represented Ward 1 from 1999 to 2015, served four terms on the council after leading the Whitman-Walker Health Clinic as the health center’s first executive director.

The Washington Blade reports Graham died Sunday at George Washington University Hospital following complications related to an intestinal infection. The Blade reported last week that Graham was in a rehabilitation facility following a two-week stay in George Washington University Hospital.

“Our hearts go out to all who, like us, knew & loved him,” D.C. Council tweeted Thursday.

Jack Evans, D.C. Councilman for Ward 2, said Graham, an attorney, was an “iconic person” and a longtime friend.

“He was just a real advocate for people who are struggling. Certainly his work at Whitman-Walker was legendary, he really built the clinic to help people with AIDS,” Evans said Thursday on WTOP. “And then on the council, he was the voice of the downtrodden. He was always representing people who needed help.”

Graham left the D.C. Council a little over two years ago after losing to councilmember Brianne Nadeau in the 2014 Democratic primary.

‘On the forefront of gay rights’

Evans said Graham, the second openly gay councilmember, was “always on the forefront of gay rights and those in need” and “one of the brightest people I ever served with.”

“He was a [gay rights] leader back when it wasn’t popular to be a leader,” Evans said.

Ward 7 D.C. Councilman and former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said Graham’s legacy lives on through Whitman-Walker Health and the voice he gave to the LGBTQ community.

“He really took Whitman-Walker as an organization, from a very small organization to one that was not only a local force, but a national force on the HIV/AIDs issues and deserves enormous credit for bringing that condition out of the shadows and into the light and helped I think enormously move the city forward with how it is addressing the HIV/AIDs epidemic in the city,” Gray said on WTOP.

Nadeau said although she may not have always seen eye-to-eye with Graham, his vigorous work for LGBTQ rights was felt near and far.

“As the director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic his tireless work fighting for LGBTQ rights and to end HIV/AIDS was pioneering and touched lives across the District and around the country,” Nadeau said in the statement.

Whitman-Walker’s current leader, Don Blanchon said Graham led through dark times in the HIV/AIDs epidemic.

“Jim resisted, Jim fought, Jim brought everything to bear every day, and there’s significant lessons from that period that are applicable to what we’re living through right now.”

Controversy in office

Graham faced ethical questions at the end of his four terms after allegations he favored a political contributor for a development project.

“Whatever controversy may have existed was just a blip on the screen as far as I’m concerned in terms of the monumental work that he did on behalf of the city and certainly on behalf of the people who reside in Ward 1,” said Gray, a politician not immune to controversy himself.

‘He left our city a better place’

Many D.C. councilmembers and local leaders have expressed their grief following Graham’s death.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he joined the council the same year as Graham, and it was evident he showed devotion to the District.

“On the Council, Jim worked especially hard on issues like homelessness, juvenile justice, diversity, and public transportation,” Mendelson said in a statement. “The District thanks him for his long public service and many accomplishments. He left our city a better place.”

Anita Bonds, D-At Large, said Graham spend his entire career in service to the D.C. community.

“His compassion for people and his actions to uplift the poor and displaced is reflected in countless lives he enriched across Ward 1 and the District,” stated Councilmember Anita Bonds.

D.C. Mayor and former Ward 4 councilwoman Muriel Bowser said Graham “fought to prove that moving DC forward means leaving no residents behind.”

“Jim welcomed all neighbors and showed us that DC’s diversity alone does not make us great, but instead our embrace and celebration of our diversity does,” Bowser said in a statement.

David Grosso, I-At Large, said he was saddened to hear of Graham’s passing and “thinking of his friends and families at this time.”

Evans knew Graham for around 30 years and said he found him to be one of the funniest, brightest people with whom he had ever served.

“[He] always had a clever remark … he kept me entertained throughout the years.”

The D.C. Council will announce details about services as they become known.

Sarah Beth Hensley

Sarah Beth Hensley is the Digital News Director at WTOP. She has worked several different roles since she began with WTOP in 2013 and has contributed to award-winning stories and coverage on the website.

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