From Mathew Harkins. Email him at mharkins[AT]borderstan.com.
The following interview is with Francisco “Paco” Fimbres, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Engagement. A longtime resident of DC, Borderstan recently caught up with Fimbres to discuss why he makes his home here in DC, what changes he has seen occurring in our city and what it’s like working directly for Mayor Vincent Gray.
Borderstan: Are you still living in Foggy Bottom? Do you make it over to the Borderstan area often?
Fimbres: I have been living in the West End-Foggy Bottom area since 2009. It is an excellent neighborhood with a great diversity of people. Our ANC Commissioner Rebecca Coder is fantastic. We are very lucky to have her serve our SMD. Other great neighborhood assets are Gary Griffith and Asher Corson both very passionate about our neighborhood.
We have Trader Joes, Whole Foods, GWU Hospital, GU, Meiwah, RIS, Rasika and so many other great spots. However, I lived from 2007-2009 on 16th Street across from the JCC and miss the neighborhood tremendously. I am amazed and grateful for the transformation of the 17th to 14th Street corridor and the rebirth of Logan and Shaw. Amazing and exciting things are happening citywide.
My wife and I visit Borderstan often. Some of our favorite people and beloved friends live in Borderstan. Also Le Diplomate and Pearl Dive, two of our favorite venues, can be found in Borderstan.
Borderstan: What is it like working for Mayor Gray?
Fimbres: Honestly, it is a true honor and pleasure. I consider it a great responsibility and privilege to serve our city and fellow neighbors, while working for the Mayor of DC.
Vincent Gray is emotionally mature, deliberate and thoughtful in his decision making process; he is also charming, innovative, detailed oriented and has the right temperament for the job. No kidding, he is the first one in and the last one out at the office. On a human and personal level, I could not have asked for a better boss and Mayor; he is a truly decent and kind man. I don’t know if he will run for reelection, but Vince Gray has earned a second term. Just look around our city, we are moving forward in the right direction by leaps and bounds.
I also work daily with Stephen Glaude, the most important and key member of the Mayor’s cabinet in my personal opinion. Steve is the Mayor’s Community Affairs Director and my direct supervisor. Steve has all of the affinity group offices under his responsibility like OLA, African Affairs, Women’s Policy, Clean City, LGBT Affairs, Asian Pacific Islander Affairs and others. Steve has been a great mentor and teacher. I also enjoy working with Daryl Levine, Sedrick Muhammad, Sheila Bunn, Chris Murphy and Pedro Ribeiro all good people and solid professionals. The Mayor has assembled a great team of committed, dedicated and professional individuals. Still my two favorite ladies in the DC Government have to be Chief Lanier and Assistant Chief Groomes. Both are just awesome.
Borderstan: What exactly does your current role as Director of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Engagement entail? And what is it that those who report to you do?
Fimbres: I direct, manage and coordinate all citywide neighborhood engagement efforts. We serve residents as their link between their Mayor and city government agencies. The Mayor’s Ward Liaisons are under my direct supervision and management, but again we are lucky to work in the same office space as our leaders Mayor Gray and Steve Glaude — they both lead by example. Essentially, we are the Mayor’s go-to folks for concerns, complaints, questions, neighborhood issues and challenges.
No issue is too small or too complex, we are committed to helping residents navigate through our government’s agencies and getting results in a timely, efficient and satisfactory fashion. We are results oriented and accountable to the residents directly, since they contact the Mayor and we act on his behalf to resolve their issues quickly. It is a 24/7 job that is not for the weak of heart, thin-skinned or passive public servant.
Demands and challenges across our city are great, but we pride ourselves on having the experience, background and will to get things done. We especially like to get difficult cases. However, there are times, when we cannot help or our agencies have exhausted their talents and resources to assist our fellow neighbors; this is when we suffer along with the residents. However, we have complete and uncompromising support from Mayor Gray and city agencies.
Ward Liaisons attend nightly, weekly, and monthly meetings/events. They represent the Mayor at graduations, funerals and special events. They attend Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) meetings, canvass neighborhoods, hold office hours, conduct neighborhood walk-throughs with the MPD and the Mayor and they have core team meetings with government agencies. We also serve as first responders during some emergencies. We share information with agencies for their action based on information provided while visiting their respective wards and neighborhood stakeholders.
Borderstan: You’ve been working in/with Ward 2 for some time. How have you seen the neighborhoods changing?
Fimbres: Yes, the changes have all been positive. We need to keep fighting together for a safe, clean, livable and economically vibrant city and ward. Mayor Gray, during his tenure, has been very attentive and engaged with Ward 2 residents and leaders, Councilman Jack Evans and his team have also played a pivotal role in the current conditions of Ward 2. Finally, a special shout out to all of those unsung and unpaid elected officials (ANCs), bloggers and other civic-minded stake holders, who live and work in W2.
Borderstan: What do you think is the biggest issue not being addressed right now in the city?
Fimbres: In my personal opinion, the biggest challenge for our city is that all of us, together and collectively, ensure that we not only reduce but also eliminate poverty, hunger and unemployment across the city’s eight wards. There are efforts past and current that have attempted to reduce/eradicate poverty, hunger, unemployment and homelessness, but have yet to truly accomplish this crucial objective for DC. Also we need to keep working on our education system. New, comfortable and beautiful buildings are important, but excellent teachers and committed/involved parents are essential.
We also need to achieve budget autonomy and full voting rights in Congress. This is important for our self-respect and dignity as a people. Another important matter is that we need to support and care for our children, youth and seniors. Finally more affordable housing needs to become available, so that our first responders, police and fire heroes can afford to live in the city they so passionately defend daily.
How can we be the nation’s capital and continue to see developing country issues in some parts of our city? We need more public-private partnerships. The for-profit sector needs to step it up and support non-profit organizations with more fervor.
Borderstan: You came to DC to attend American University in 1996 but you also left to work and travel overseas. What brought you back here? Why DC?
Fimbres: My family still works and resides between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego — but simply put, DC is home. This is where I met my wife and we would like to raise our children here. Therefore my commitment to DC is not only professional, but very personal. I would like to see DC one day be considered like Paris or another of the world’s unique capitals. What makes DC great is not only its rich history, beautiful architecture and current events, but it’s people, the native Washingtonians, and all of those who have moved here to live and work.
I was taught from a very young age, that there is no substitute for hard and intelligent work, but one must also aspire to be the best in their trade. My vocation in life first and foremost is to be an excellent husband and father, but my second is to be a great public servant – a true and sincere servant and leader. My life continues to be a work in progress and I am blessed to serve my fellow residents.
Borderstan: Having traveled and worked overseas, and having worked for a number of presidential campaigns, do you have national or international ambitions beyond DC? What is in the future for a Francisco Fimbres?
Fimbres: I am a firm believer that public service does not begin or end with an election, it starts at home and should transcend into one’s own community. At this time, I am content and honored to work in the City Government. I would like to continue serving Mayor Gray and my fellow residents across the city’s eight wards.
As for the future, time and circumstances will determine next steps. However, my love for DC and its people is great, my passion for public service ever present, and my need to serve well and effectively are all part of my make-up as a human being.
Having worked for two Mayors, I am blessed for these experiences. The great, tireless, passionate and committed people I have met in the city government, my ONE team, supervisors, mentors, neighborhood leaders and beyond inspire me to continue fighting for the residents of Washington, DC every day.
Therefore, I don’t foresee a future where public service is not part of my daily existence.
An earlier interview with another participant in local government, Andrew Huff, can be found here.
The opinions and views expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the city government.