On May 20, the Democratic candidates for District mayor participated in a virtual forum, co-sponsored by the AARP District of Columbia State Office and The Washington Informer.
Mayor Muriel Bowser faces Council members Robert White and Trayon White and political activist James Butler in the June 21 primary.
Washington Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes and Louis Davis Jr., state director of AARP District of Columbia State Office, co-moderated the forum.
On the subject of hunger and food insecurity, Bowser said while the city has a number of services available to low-income seniors the overarching issue remains isolation.
“We should make sure that in all eight wards people are connected to resources,” Bowser said.
Robert White, noting that D.C. has the highest rate of food insecurity in the nation, pointed to decades ago when big-box grocers dominated the District – something which has since changed. Smaller grocery stores with local growers seem to be the trend now but some seniors say they’re afraid to go to the grocery store because they fear criminal activity, White said.
Butler, who said he has delivered free food to seniors and connected some to nutrition programs, advocated more District government funds for food programs.
On the topic of broadband access, Robert White said he would utilize federal infrastructure dollars to increase connectivity and speed for all residents. He said more District funds would go into nonprofits such as Byte Back and the Washington Literacy Center to train seniors on how to use broadband.
Butler said access to broadband should be universal.
Bowser said she has the most experience among the candidates when dealing with federal infrastructure dollars and would continue her partnership with the Biden-Harris administration to make broadband available to every District resident.
Trayon White said the digital divide affects seniors, especially those who reside east of the Anacostia River, and high school students could help their elderly neighbors navigate cyberspace.
The candidates had different approaches on the topic of health disparities among seniors.
Robert White said preventive medicine serves as the best approach to good senior health and advocated for a more robust healthcare clinic system throughout the city with financial incentives to entice doctors to establish offices in underserved neighborhoods.
Butler said many seniors have problems getting to their health care appointments and wants the city’s public transportation system to be available for their use free of charge.
Bowser touted her administration’s support of Howard University Hospital and the coming St. Elizabeths East Campus Hospital in Ward 8 as one of the ways health disparities can be addressed.
Trayon White emphasized his ongoing efforts to get more grocery stores east of the Anacostia River and stressed the importance of a nutritional diet.
“You are what you eat,” he said. “We need to reeducate our people on how to eat. Those who earn the least eat the worse food.”
The candidates generally agreed on the city’s paid family leave policy in the city where an employee gets time off with financial compensation to take care of a relative or themselves. Bowser said her ambivalence toward paid family leave in the past had to do with District taxpayers compensating Maryland and Virginia residents who work in the city when the two states don’t do the same for Washingtonians who work in their jurisdictions.
Trayon White, Robert White and Butler all expressed support for enhancing the District’s paid family leave program.