With the tragic death of Desi Deschaine, 29, who apparently drowned in Baltimore's Inner Harbor after a day of boating July 12, friends were tasked with finding a way to fill the void left by his absence.
For Craig Max, local attorney and CPA, that meant the Desi Deschaine Foundation for Excellence in Government, a group he hopes will encourage and recognize good local governance in the same way that its namesake did.
“For those of us here in D.C. that are involved in local politics and local government, the space left by Desi’s untimely departure is huge,” says Max. “He was a real institution in and of himself among local policy makers and so some of his friends were thinking about how we could work together to continue his legacy of public service.
“It was a real tragedy, but the foundation is one way of trying to make something good out of that grief.”
Serving as director of communications for Councilmember Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) at the time of his death, Deschaine was also heavily involved with Democratic politics and served as vice president of the Logan Circle Citizens Association.
While Max says the foundation is still very much in the initial stages -- the articles of incorporation were filed July 17 -- the general goal is an organization that helps local government make better decisions for District residents and that recognizes outstanding governance.
“We really need to see how the next year goes,” says Michael Zurat, whose role in the foundation is fundraising and advertising. “It may end up being a kind of think tank for local government. … We might have a memorial scholarship in his name for a D.C. student with an interest in public affairs. We’re still trying to figure out the purpose.”
A July 14 memorial gathering for Deschaine in Logan Circle was the catalyst in founding this new effort.
“There was such an outpouring of people that knew him and his friends that Craig [Max] got the initial idea, and we moved forward with it,” says Zurat.
Max adds that despite his own politics -- serving as vice chairman of the D.C. Republican Committee -- his friendship with Deschaine and their shared vision of a better life for D.C. residents surpassed partisan lines.
“We’ve had a lot of people express interest, and we’re still trying to figure out how to plug people in,” says Max.
Currently, Deschaine’s boyfriend, J’aime Huret, and Max are the only two board members, with Zurat serving as secretary, but Max and Zurat are looking to fill the board with people who knew Deschaine and share his goals of better governance in D.C.