The Democratic at-large candidates for the D.C. Council participated in a candidates’ forum, co-hosted by the District chapter of AARP and The Washington Informer on May 4.
D.C. Council member Anita Bonds, seeking re-election to a third full-term, along with opponents Lisa Gore, Dexter Williams and Nate Fleming, discussed issues affecting senior citizens in the District.
The four will face off in the June 21 primary with the winner advancing as the Democratic nominee in the Nov. 8 general election where they will vie for one of the two at-large seats up for grabs.
AARP District of Columbia State Director Louis Davis, Jr. and Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes served as the co-moderators of the forum.
On the issue of food insecurity, the candidates each agreed that every senior should have access to healthy, nutritious food. Gore said the District government has a number of agencies that provide food to seniors but they don’t work in concert like they should. Bonds said the city has a robust meal for seniors program which many know little about.
“It needs to be advertised more,” the council member said. “We should get the advisory neighborhood commissioners involved in talking about the program.”
Fleming said he would create an outreach team to go into the city to find out what seniors need as well as work to reduce age and income requirements which limit participation in food programs. Williams said seniors need a strong transportation network to get to food banks, farmers markets and other places that offer free or discounted food.
The candidates also discussed senior healthcare. Fleming said seniors who live east of the Anacostia River don’t have easy access to a high-quality health care system and that needs to be fixed. Williams said healthcare workers need to undergo cultural competency training to better address the concerns of seniors. Gore said health clinics should be in neighborhoods that need them the most and seniors need a solid transportation network to get to appointments. Bonds agreed with Gore in that seniors need better access to healthcare clinics and added the District should provide funds to offset the high cost of prescription drugs.
The candidates shared similar views on seniors’ access to housing. They all decried the displacement of seniors while many neighborhoods in the city continue to undergo gentrification. Common ideas among the candidates included property tax relief for seniors, incentives for developers to build senior housing and housing vouchers.
While the candidates agreed that access to broadband exists as an issue for seniors, they had different ways to solve the problem. Williams said he would work to create a comprehensive plan to address the issue. Gore said a dedicated committee on the council dealing mainly with senior issues should be able to hash out a solution to the broadband problem. Bonds said the D.C. Department of Aging has a program that distributes smartphone devices and training to any senior who wants it. Fleming said seniors should be able to get digital devices at reduced rates in the market and advocated classes for seniors to become digitally literate.