Crowds converged on the 1800 block of 14th Street NW as unseasonably warm weather brought local residents out in force last evening. Part of the crowd was in front of The Black Cat, site of last night’s forum for the four candidates running in the Democratic Primary for an At-Large Council seat.
David Alpert, founder and editor of Greater Greater Washington, moderated the forum. For fans of local politics, the complete video of the forum (58 minutes) may be viewed at Greater Greater Washington, as well as Alpert’s wrap up.
Some familiar names were on the dais at the popular music hall in the heart of the booming 14th Street corridor. Trying to hold the seat he won during last year’s special election was At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange. Back for another round Sekou Biddle, who briefly held the seat when he was voted in by the DC Democratic State Committee to serve as interim At-Large member until last year’s special election was held (which he lost to Orange).
Another candidate lives in the area: Advisory Neighborhood Commission E. Gail Anderson Holness (ANC 1B-11). Rounding out the slate of Democratic candidates was Peter Shapiro,a former Prince George’s County Council member and now a resident of Ward 4.
David Alpert organized the forum around asking specific candidates a question. The candidate was then allowed one minute to respond, after which the others each had 30 seconds to comment. The topics ranged from opinions on same-sex marriage and affordable housing to transportation and education.
Highlights from the Forum
- E. Gail Anderson Holness stressed several times during the evening that she is the only candidate who has not accepted corporate contributions – “unbought and unbossed” she declared. Her other rallying cry was “second on the ballot, second to none.”
- Sekou Biddle knows his way around DC. During a candidate poll on transportation, Biddle was able to rattle off the bus line numbers he used as a child in Columbia Heights as well as the familiar S2, S4 and S9 lines that runs down 16th street through the heart of Borderstan.
- Peter Shapiro focused his responses on the ethics investigations that have plagued the current administration and Council since last fall. Shapiro sees a broken system where the Council is sidelined, and not getting to work on issues such as job creation and economic development.
- Vincent Orange, after being called on the carpet by David Alpert, offered an apology for his car blocking the 15th Street NW bike lane on New Year’s Day. He added that it was not his intent to block the lane and that education is key in diffusing tension between drivers and the growing number of cyclists on city streets. Orange said he his platform is the “4 E’s —ethics, education, employment, economic development.
Schools, Amenities, Metro, Corporate Contributions
- Role of Council in oversight of DC Public Schools: The candidates were asked about the proper role of the DC Council in terms of oversight of the DC Public Schools — and whether there was too much meddling into the powers given to the schools chancellor. Orange said it had to be a “partnership,” while Biddle said it was the Council’s role to simply set policy and provide oversight. Shapiro called for a special Council Education Committee and said the Council needs to “take its oversight role seriously.”
- Neighborhood diversity and amenities: All four candidates, not surprisingly, praised the diversity, walkability and services of neighborhoods such as those in Wards 1 and 2. Shapiro made an interesting observation later when asked about affordable housing — he noted that too many neighborhoods in outer areas of DC do not have walkable retail (one the strong points of the Dupont-Logan-U Street area). “Many areas that are affordable lack amenities,” Biddle said.
- Last time you were on Metro: The candidates were asked about the last time they had used Metro — an important form of transportation in Dupont-Logan-U Street. Holness said she uses Metro almost every day, Biddle said it was “in the last 2 to 3 weeks,” Orange said “recently” and Shapiro answered “last week.”
- Ban corporate contributions: All four candidates said they are in favor of banning corporate contributions to DC political candidates. Orange also supports banning councilmembers from having outside jobs while serving on the Council.
The Democratic primary is April 3 — DC primaries are usually in September. The winner of the primary will face candidates from the Republican and Statehood Green parties in the November general election.
Sponsors of the forum were The Urban Neighborhood Alliance, which coordinated the event, along with Borderstan.com, Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commission, Dupont Circle Citizens Association, Dupont Circle Merchants And Professionals Association, Dupont Circle Village, Dupont Festival, Greater Greater Washington, Historic Dupont Circle Main Streets, Logan Circle Community Association, Meridian Hill Neighborhood Association and the U Street Neighborhood Association.