2021 preview: Big local stories to watch in DC area

January 1, 2021

The Washington Monument is seen from the Lincoln Memorial, Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, as people visit the National Mall in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

It’s over. 2020 is finally over. And with any luck, 2021 will be better for everyone. But let’s not count our chickens before they hatch.

There’s an ongoing pandemic, a vaccine rollout, economic woes, new laws, Joe Biden’s inauguration, elections in Virginia and more to watch out for.

Here are some of the big local stories happening in the D.C. area in 2021.

Coronavirus vaccine

D.C., Maryland and Virginia started receiving the shipments of the COVID vaccine in December. And Maryland and Virginia are already sending extra doses to the continuously shortchanged District, more than tripling the amount available for health care workers in the nation’s capital.

Health care workers in the region, others on the frontline combating the pandemic, as well as nursing home residents, will be the first to get the vaccine. Eventually, the public at large will be vaccinated, though no hard dates have been set on that widespread distribution plan.

Current projections suggest the public could get the vaccine in the spring: March, April or May. But it depends on vaccine supply and distribution.

The pace of the vaccine distribution is already being criticized by President-elect Joe Biden, who said “things will get worse before they get better.”

Biden, who takes office Jan. 20, said he has directed his team to prepare a “much more aggressive effort, with more federal involvement and leadership, to get things back on track.”

The president-elect said he would “move heaven and earth to get us going in the right direction.”

He set a goal of administering 100 million shots of the vaccine within his first 100 days in office, but said to accomplish that, the pace of vaccinations would have to increase five to six times to 1 million shots a day. Even with that pace, however, Biden acknowledged it “will still take months to have the majority of Americans vaccinated.”

“Turning this around is going to take time. We might not see improvement until we’re well into March, as it will take time for our COVID response plan to produce visible progress,” he said.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

COVID-19 pandemic

The pandemic isn’t going anywhere. In fact, cases continue to rise both in the D.C. area and nationwide.

COVID-19 killed more than 343,000 Americans by the end of 2020. And more than 19.7 million are infected, making the U.S. No. 1 for infections, according to tracking data from Johns Hopkins, which is nearly double the number of cases No. 2 India has at 10.2 million.

As of Dec. 31, 2020, there were more than 655,000 cases and 11,700 deaths in the Washington region:

  • D.C.: 28,983 cases | 786 deaths
  • Maryland: 276,662 cases | 5,895 deaths
  • Virginia: 349,584 cases | 5,032 deaths

Heed local leaders’ calls to stay vigilant and safe as you head into 2021.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

New laws start Jan. 1 in DC, Maryland and Virginia

There are a slew of new laws taking effect in the District, Maryland and Virginia in 2021.

They include an amended foam ban in D.C., a minimum-wage increase in Maryland and a ban on holding cellphones while driving in Virginia.

Get the full breakdown from WTOP.

Beltway widening project

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s Beltway widening project has come under fire from citizens’ groups, Montgomery County leaders and even the U.S. Navy — but, nevertheless, the Maryland Department of Transportation has accelerated the timeline for next steps on its $11 billion I-495/I-270 “managed lanes” highway project.

The agency sent out a formal Request for Proposals on Dec. 18, 2020. Financial responses are due on Jan. 8.

Hogan’s plan widens all of I-270, all of I-495 and the federally owned Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and while proposals are being sought, parts of the project are subject to a separate two-year environmental review that won’t begin until 2021 at the earliest.

According to Maryland Matters, transit advocate and former chairman of the Tri-County Commission in Southern Maryland Gary V. Hodge accused MDOT of attempting to push the highway-widening plan “past the point of no return before the governor leaves office.” Hogan is term-limited and will leave office early in 2023.

DC statehood

Statehood has long been a quest for many District residents, and the effort has gained momentum.

Longtime advocate D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s bill, HR 51, passed a House vote on June 26, 2020, after it was brought to the floor by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

In December of 2020, Hoyer became an original cosponsor of the D.C. statehood bill for the 117th Congress, which starts January 2021.

What are the chances the District becomes a state in 2021? Slim, albeit possible.

Norton has enough votes in the House (and 173 cosponsors) for the bill to pass there, but the Senate is likely to remain a roadblock, even if Democrats pick up two more seats in the hotly contested Jan. 5 Georgia Senate runoff races.

If the Democrats do succeed in nabbing two more seats in Georgia, the Senate would be split, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote. But a D.C. statehood bill would need more than a simple majority in the Senate since Republicans are likely to filibuster over (justified) concerns that overwhelmingly left-leaning District voters would install three new Democrats to Congress. That means Senate Democrats need to muster up 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster.

On the plus side, Norton’s D.C. statehood bill has been placed on the Senate floor calendar for the first time in history.

Delaware Sen. Tom Carper is the lead Senate sponsor for HR 51.

Jan. 5: Virginia House special elections, Districts 2 and 90

There are two vacancies in the Virginia House of Delegates that voters will decide on in January.

In District 2, which covers parts of Prince William and Stafford counties, Democrat Jennifer Carroll Foy stepped down to focus on campaigning and raising money to make a run for the governor’s office in 2021.

Democrat Candi King and Republican Heather Mitchell are vying for the seat.

In District 90, which covers parts of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, Joe Lindsey retired from his seat to become a Norfolk General District Court judge.

Democrat Angelia Williams Graves and Republican Sylvia Bryant are jockeying for the position.

Jan. 6: Pro-Trump rally

Supporters of outgoing President Donald Trump are planning a rally Jan. 6 at Freedom Plaza and the Lincoln Memorial — the same day Joe Biden’s election win is set to be certified by Congress.

Women for America First says it expects some 5,000 participants for each park area to be used, according to the permit application.

The far-right extremist group The Proud Boys — who clashed with counterprotesters earlier in December in a night of violence that left four stabbed, including a police officer, and attacked historically Black D.C. churches — promised to attend.

Three other rallies are also planned, according to The Washington Post.

Trump has encouraged his supporters to rally, tweeting, “Be there, will be wild!”

In addition, two downtown D.C. hot spots for Proud Boys — Harrington Hotel and Harry’s Pub — will be closed during the planned rally.

ShutDownDC has asked its own supporters to help block Trump supporters from being able to stay at certain hotels in the D.C. area.

“That’s why we are asking you to call the following hotels and demand that they 1) RENOUNCE Trump-affiliated protesters and 2) CANCEL the reservations of people coming to town to undermine democracy on January 6,” the group said in an email.

Those hotels include: Holiday Inn Alexandria, Washington Marriott at Metro Center, Holiday Inn Capitol Hill, Hyatt Place Washington DC/White House, Willard InterContinental Hotel and the Capital Hilton.

Jan. 20: Biden inauguration

Joe Biden’s inauguration is scheduled for Jan. 20, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol.

Because of the pandemic, the event will only have about 1,000 people in attendance. Traditionally, 200,000 tickets are distributed to members of Congress for their constituents.

Trump, who continues to make unproven claims of widespread voter fraud, has not yet told current and former White House aides whether he will attend Biden’s inauguration.

Get all the details you need from WTOP’s 2021 inauguration FAQ.

Changes to Metro

Metro is facing “a historic budget crisis” because of the pandemic, according to General Manager Paul Wiedefeld. As a result, the agency’s proposed 2021 budget slashes service and shutters 19 stations to compensate for a $500 million deficit. Other changes include closing Metrorail at 9 p.m., ending weekend service and reducing the number of trains.

According to Metro’s budget proposal, the 19 stations that would close are:

  • Arlington Cemetery
  • Archives
  • Cheverly
  • Clarendon
  • Cleveland Park
  • College Park
  • East Falls Church
  • Eisenhower Avenue
  • Federal Center SW
  • Federal Triangle
  • Greensboro
  • Grosvenor-Strathmore
  • Judiciary Square
  • McLean
  • Morgan Boulevard
  • Mt. Vernon Square
  • Smithsonian
  • Van Dorn Street
  • Virginia Square

If the proposed budget is accepted, roughly 2,400 jobs would be eliminated.

Metro’s next fiscal year starts July 2021.

June 8: Virginia primary election

Virginians will be deciding who heads to the general election in November. Big tickets include the governorship, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

Due to Virginia law, current Gov. Ralph Northam is not allowed to seek consecutive terms as governor.

Among the Democrats facing off in the primary are former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Republicans include Del. Kirk Cox and state Sen. Amanda Chase, although Chase indicated that she plans to run as an Independent.

Democrats aiming for the lieutenant governor seat include Del. Hala Ayala, Del. Elizabeth Guzman, Norfolk City Council member Andria McClellan and Del. Sam Rasoul. Puneet Ahluwalia and Lance Allen are on the GOP ticket for lieutenant governor.

In the Democratic primary for attorney general, current Attorney General Mark Herring faces a challenge from Del. Jerrauld Jones. On the Republican side, Del. Jason Miyares is battling attorney Chuck Smith.

Nov. 2: Virginia general election

The big day for voters in Virginia to decide their next governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

The Associated Press and Maryland Matters contributed to this report.

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