Candidates for the two at-large seats on the D.C. Council in the Nov. 8 general election talked about a wide range of issues Monday during a two-hour forum co-sponsored by the Washington, D.C. Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, the D.C. Black United Front and the Federation of Community Associations of the District of Columbia.
Participants at the forum at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in northwest Washington included current Ward 5 Council member Kenyan McDuffie, a former Democrat who turned independent, incumbent at-large Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Republican Giuseppe Niosi, D.C. Statehood Green’s David Schwartzman and independents Fred Hill, Karim Marshall and Graham McLaughlin.
Anita Bonds, the council’s other at-large member, didn’t participate due to a previously scheduled engagement.
In the District, each election cycle has two at-large council seats up for grabs. The top two vote-getters win the council seats. Since the first modern District elections started in 1974, Democrats have traditionally won at least one of the seats due to the party’s heavy registration advantage.
McDuffie said if he is elected, he will work to ensure healthy and safe neighborhoods. He noted his support for comprehensive campaign finance reform, adult and juvenile justice reform, the passing of the NEAR (Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results) Act which focuses on a public health approach to preventing violence and incarceration and Baby Bonds, a program where economically disadvantaged toddlers will be able to save money so they can have a substantial investment when they reach the age of 18.
McDuffie said public service is a major part of his life’s work.
“Public service is a passion and a purpose for me, not a second option,” he said. “I have always felt the need to show up. Even though I represent Ward 5, I have shown up whether in Ward 1 or Ward 8. You can check the record and see I have shown up.”
Silverman said her reelection bid will focus on her service to District residents.
“I have worked on unemployment claims personally and have ensured that people get their checks,” she said. “Most people know me for my work with paid leave. As of October, District workers will be able to get up to 12 weeks of paid leave so they can take care of a family or personal situation. I have worked to see that District residents get good jobs.”
Hill, a longtime entrepreneur, said the District should be affordable for such employees as teachers, police officers and firefighters. He also criticized movements to defund the police.
“Many police officers feel demoralized coming to work,” he said. “We need to make sure they are paid and appreciated and support the police, not defund the police.”
The candidates said supporting neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River will be a priority if elected in November.
“Food deserts should not exist,” Niosi said. “As far as improving the schools east of the river, I am for parental choice. Parents should have the ability to send their children to whatever school they want to. I have talked to young people living east of the river and they have told me recreation centers are not available to them.”
Hill acknowledged the newly opened Wegmans in Ward 3, but said there are food deserts east of the Anacostia River, stressing the need for more grocery stores in those areas. Marshall noted he is the only candidate who resides east of the river and said if elected, he will listen to the needs of all of the residents.
Laughlin said school-age residents east of the river should have access to vocational and apprenticeship programs so they can obtain better jobs.
Meanwhile, Schwartzman said housing shouldn’t be a problem for any District resident regardless of income level.
“Housing is a human right,” he said. “The Housing Production Trust Fund is based on market-rate housing and that doesn’t help a lot of people. I favor social housing and community land trusts as ways to help people to become housed.”
Marshall said while affordable housing programs and initiatives are good, there needs to be a change in the council that deals with the subject.
“We need a new chair of the Housing Committee,” he said, referring to Bonds, the current chair. “She is asleep at the switch.”