While hundreds of advisory neighborhood commissioners took the oath of office on Jan. 2, District 7F07, which encompasses the D.C. Jail, did not have someone sworn in to take that position but efforts are underway to fill the seat.
District law stipulates no commissioner vacancies will be filled outside of the election cycle during a public health emergency. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser declared a public health emergency in the city in March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Even though the public health emergency continues, Tyrell M. Holcomb, a commissioner who served as the chairman of the 7F commission in 2020, said this year there will be an active effort to get a resident to fill the seat.
“It is my understanding some apartments will be built in the near future and we are hoping to get one of those residents to fill the position,” Holcomb said. “We should have voices of men and women who are in the D.C. Jail and the women’s shelter.”
Holcomb said 7F07 encompasses the Hill East site which houses the former D.C. General Hospital and is primed for economic development. Hill East will be a state-of-the-art complex that will have 262 residential units and over 12,000 square feet of retail on one parcel and 100 permanent supportive housing units for low-income residents and 12,000 square feet of retail space on another parcel opening in the near future.
He said the request for proposals to build the parcels have been issued by the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.
Holcomb said when the projects are complete and if 7F07 stays intact during this year’s redistricting process, a commissioner could be a Hill East resident. Until then, Holcomb said, an inmate of the D.C. jail could be the commissioner.
The 7F07 seat came into being as a result of the 2010 decennial census. The area used to be in Ward 6 as a part of the 6B commission.
However, since its formal inception in 2013, no one has filled the position. Interest in the issue increased in July when the D.C. Council passed a law allowing D.C. Jail inmates, regardless of criminal charge, to vote in District elections.
Some inmates, most notably first-degree murder inmate Joel Caston, sought to fill the position in the Nov. 3, 2020 general election. However, none had success due to technicalities or errors with paperwork, D.C. Board of Elections officials said.
Former 7F04 Commissioner Charlene Exum represented her district for 10 years until Jan. 2. Exum agreed with Holcomb that the seat should be filled.
“That seat has been vacant too long,” she said. “In the absence of a commissioner, we represented their interests. If it is an inmate at the jail serving as the commissioner comes through, that will be good.”
However, Exum said Ward 7 needs to retain 7F07 and not let it go back to Ward 6.
“We are aware Ward 6 leaders’ interest in getting it back because of the economic development that will take place there at Hill East,” she said. “We should not let it go; it belongs to Ward 7.”
Community leaders such as Charles Thornton, chairman of the D.C. Corrections Council and former director of the District’s Office of Returning Citizens, have called for 7F07 to have a commissioner and preferably with an inmate. Eric Weaver, the founder and chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Returning Citizens, supports Thornton’s idea.
“It will allow the residents of the jail to become more politically involved,” Weaver said. “It will also add more voices to the returning citizens movement. I think it could lead to residents who leave the D.C. Jail to go back into the community to run for commissioner in their neighborhood or even the D.C. Council.”