Greater Greater Washington

At-large candidates talk about "livable, walkable" visions

The Democratic at-large candidates for DC Council, incumbent Vincent Orange, and challengers Sekou Biddle, E. Gail Anderson Holness, and Peter Shapiro, talked about transportation, housing, land use and some social issues at last night's forum at the Black Cat on 14th Street.

Here is the full video from the event:

Small business: As in many forums, most candidates gave few specifics, and in most cases didn't sharply disagree with one another. For example, I asked all candidates to talk about a time they'd helped a local business directly. I asked this first of Vincent Orange, who often touts his work bringing Home Depot to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro area but when talking about small business, speaks much more in generalities.

Orange and the other candidates launched into generic, prepared statements about the value of small business. Sekou Biddle's answer, that he helps them most of all by patronizing them, was the most responsive. Orange was, however, able to name a lot of local businesses once pressed.

Affordable housing: Peter Shapiro had thoughtful recommendations for how to promote housing affordability, drawing on his experience with Arts District Hyattsville when he served in Prince George's County. Perhaps because of his experience as an elected official in the past, Shapiro gave more specifics about actions he has taken or policies he would implement on this and some other issues.

All candidates raised their hands when asked if they would restore the Housing Production Trust Fund; hopefully Orange, in this budget cycle, and whoever wins the race, in the future, follows through on that promise.

Ethics: Shapiro went the furthest on campaign finance reform, criticizing the current council for not taking stronger steps and arguing it should pursue a public financing system for elections. Biddle called for reforms to money order contributions, the source of the latest scandal.

Orange, as he has in the past, emphasized his advocacy for banning outside employment for councilmembers, but hasn't agreed to support limits on corporate contributions. He defended his decision not to cosponsor Mary Cheh's recent campaign finance bill as "self-serving," since Cheh holds other jobs as a law professor at GW and teaching bar review courses. (Tommy Wells, the one co-sponsor, does not have any outside employment).

Transportation: During a section on transportation, it came out that of the candidates, only Sekou Biddle is a member of Capital Bikeshare, and only he and Peter Shapiro subscribe to Zipcar. Biddle even pulled out his CaBi key, on his keychain, and his Zipcar membership card right on the stage.

I asked candidates about how we could help cyclists and drivers better understand each other's needs and concerns. Without being "gotcha" about it, I wanted to give Vincent Orange a chance to speak to what he had learned from the January 1st episode where he parked in the 15th Street bike lane, was called out on Twitter, and apologized. Orange said that he hadn't realized on which side of the white stanchions he should park, and that now he does.

Biddle proposed having driver education include information on how to deal with bicycle infrastructure and people riding bikes. This would only be a small start, since many DC drivers move in from other states, but it was a thoughtful response on the topic.

Biddle was also most able to talk about the role of buses in helping connect communities. I asked candidates to name a bus line that they feel works well in DC, partly to see how many could name a bus line at all. Orange gave an example of a bus line, the X2, but couldn't name it without help from a staffer who shouted it out unprompted.

Holness, marriage, and the Redskins: Dr. E. Gail Anderson Holness, generally considered a long-shot candidate, gave some reasons to appreciate her candidacy, but also some reasons for concern. As a resident of Ward 1, she lives in the most urban neighborhood among the candidates, and says she rides a bicycle and takes many forms of transit regularly. She was able to name many bus lines and talk about them in depth.

However, Holness was the only candidate of the four not to encourage Maryland residents to vote to keep the new same-sex marriage law. She also said on last week's WPFW debate that she supports giving land to the Redskins for a practice facility, on the theory that the master plan calls for recreational space.

The plan does ask for recreation space, but intended to serve local residents, not to be a fenced-off facility that only serves a professional team. I pushed on this issue, asking her why she would fulfill a neighborhood request in this way. She didn't have a good answer and seemed confused by the policy details.

The other candidates all reaffirmed their opposition to the practice facility. Orange said he would support bringing the actual team back and potentially using public funds, if it were part of a plan to create a "livable, walkable" community around the stadium as the District is doing at the ballpark.

"Livable, walkable" actually is a phrase Orange spoke at least 5 times over the course of the debate. It's a testament to the phrase Tommy Wells coined for his campaign slogan, and the policies behind it, that Orange has latched on. Hopefully this means he genuinely supports the principles of "livable, walkable" communities; either way, he clearly believes it's a growing political force.

Kwame's revenge: Speaking of Mr. "Livable, Walkable" Wells, the forum's most dramatic moment came near the end, when Orange suggested that Wells should have at least toned down his criticism of Kwame Brown's Lincoln Navigator scandal, to avoid losing his committee and his opportunity to advance his agenda. Shapiro quickly disagreed, arguing that Wells was right to speak up and that it shows the "dysfunction" in the current council that others did not come to his defense.

Did the forum help you make up your mind? What stuck out as most meaningful to you?

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

Comments

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The title might mention it was an exclusively Democratic forum...

by @SamuelMoore on Mar 14, 2012 3:34 pm • linkreport

@SamuelMoore: Good point. The title doesn't have space but I've added it to the first line.

by David Alpert on Mar 14, 2012 3:46 pm • linkreport

Is there some possible interpretation of Vincent Orange's answers in that last video that means anything other than that he thinks that as a councilmember it's his responsibility to shut up and do nothing if he becomes aware of unethical behavior by the council chair?

by Keith Ivey on Mar 14, 2012 4:06 pm • linkreport

I didn't find out anything meaningful but it did demonstrate why I'll continue to support Orange.

Biddle had his chance and blew it. I thought his answer to the Navigator question was rather senseless. He argued that "not" supporting Wells' committee reassignment is an example of how "dyfunctional" the council is. And that makes no sense at all. It's ridiculous to suggest that Wells' lack of support on the council is demonstrative of its dysfunction. That suggests that dysfunction is only dysfunction when people don't support Wells. Again, senseless.

Shapiro is still grandstanding and seems to fashion himself as the attack dog. I don't find it attractive and he totally misrepresented what Orange said in response to the question about the Navigators. We have one David Catania on the counsel so we don't need another one. Whatever "one city" we hope to have will continue to spiral downward if he unfortunately ends up on the council. Of all the candidates, I like him less.

The whole question of Wells/Navigate/Committee Reshuffling seemed out of place. But, I do believe suggesting that a politician should learn how to "appropriately" fight and not let themselves get in the way of the message is a reasonable one. That's what happened w/Michelle Rhee. She got in the way of her message and contributed greatly to her boss being fired. No, it's advice that Wells had no interest in but I don't see how the city has suffered since he was reassigned..which speaks to how the whole brouhaha was way overblown and Wells overplayed his hand. You don't get a 12/1 vote otherwise.

I don't know what to make of Holness' lack of understanding of the "policy details" surrounding the Redskins issue. What are the policy details?

BTW, Orange used the phrase liveable/walkable at least three times when talking about Wells' vision for the city and how his fight against Brown hurt his cause.

by HogWash on Mar 14, 2012 4:20 pm • linkreport

Is there some possible interpretation of Vincent Orange's answers in that last video that means anything other than that he thinks that as a councilmember it's his responsibility to shut up and do nothing if he becomes aware of unethical behavior by the council chair?

Sure there is. He stated that Wells had done his job by bringing the issue forward. His extended criticism seemed geared towards the idea that Wells made the issue much bigger than what it was (and likely made the story seem more personal than instructive. He never said Wells shouldn't have addressed the issue at all.

(I think the whole thing was blown out of proportion)

by HogWash on Mar 14, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

HogWash: I couldn't disagree with you more.

Corruption is a problem in our government. It's not nearly so bad as in many countries with less of a long history of stable democracy, but we still suffer from dangerous instances of corruption.

The only way to get rid of corruption is for all people to aggressively call it out whenever it rears its head. Corruption thrives on secrecy. People peddling influence want to be able to influence without others knowing about it.

In nations with rampant corruption, this is how people are trying to fight it: by making sure it's visible when it happens, that it can't hide. People are posting publicly when officials ask them for bribes, for instance.

Our corruption is not as direct but it exists. One form is when people get into office and feel that they are entitled to personal benefits as a result. Anyone who has this in mind when running for office has already taken steps down the path of corruption.

Tommy Wells didn't go out and visit talk shows and attack Kwame Brown. He released a report, as chairman of the committee on Public Works and Transportation, on whether the matter was legal or not. It had already been all over the press, and not by his doing.

And then, the leader of the group took a transparent step to punish another for exposing corruption, and 11 other members were too afraid to stick their necks out. This was the height of cowardice.

If we as a society want wrongdoing to be rooted out, we must also speak up against retribution aimed at those who expose corruption. That is why we have whistleblower laws, for instance. Wells exposed corruption and was punished. Every other member should be deeply ashamed that they did not speak up against this.

And why don't we need another David Catania? You are saying we only need 1 person who gets really angry at fraud and other misbehavior? Why shouldn't they all consider it an outrage?

If there's a reason we don't need another David Catania, it's that even David Catania took the cowardly approach on the committee restructuring. He, too, was too afraid of Kwame Brown and put that above principle.

But at least this was somewhat out of character for him, as compared to some members who probably don't even think what Kwame Brown did was wrong, or what Thomas did was wrong, and they wish they could accumulate enough power to do the same thing and get the windfall they personally deserve. These are the dangerous people in our public life and we must expect every other leader to reject, denounce, expose and combat this wherever it rears its head.

by David Alpert on Mar 14, 2012 4:55 pm • linkreport

Don't vote fat-note blind Organge peel from NO! He [deleted for violating the comment policy] and will do nothing good for you.

by NE John on Mar 14, 2012 5:23 pm • linkreport

David, based on your response to what I wrote, I'm not sure where you think the disagreement is.

I agree that corruption is a problem in our gov't. But the whole Navigator saga isn't an example of corruption. I responded to the showboating of Biddle and Shapiro about that...they didn't cover much about corruption in their responses.

Looking back, you're right. Wells did his job but at the same time HE became the subject of the story. Maybe we should blame the media/blogs for unfairly making him part of the story..but I don't believe we got to this point by Wells acting as "innocently" as you describe. Remember, he ran to this site and complained that he had been taken off that committee and it's been downhill from there.

The latest Catania outburst didn't involve him railing against corruption. The reporting suggested that he simply railed against Marion Barry asking a question. So the ensuing litany of profanity hurled Barry's way is not the way to lead the city forward. I would be against ANYBODY who conducts himself in similar manner. It's deplorable behavior unbecoming of an elected official. So no, we don't need more Catania's. We can do w/o.

It also bears mentioning how you see the fact that Wells doesn't have much support on the council as an indictment on the council. And you know what David, your characterization is way unfair. IMO, it makes sense to at least consider that the man just hasn't garnered much good will and that be the reason that the CM's voted in favor of his reassignment. But you've concluded that all 11members were simply "too afraid to speak out" and that they were cowards. I mean come on dude! Sorry D, that's a bold and unfair statement to make just to show how much you support Wells. It's great that you support him. But he is not Jesus and people not being fans of his don't make them the anti-christ.

BTW, I understand we all use hyperbole in our efforts to defend positions. So I'm chalking up your insinuation that none of the CM's (save wells of course) thought Harry Thomas did anything wrong..as hyperbole of the highest order. That's unless you have a statement from any member even mildly suggesting that Thomas did nothing wrong.

Cowards David? Because Wells has little support on the council? And that makes the entire council cowards? Come on D..you know better than that. I am 100000000% convinced that you do.

by HogWash on Mar 14, 2012 7:11 pm • linkreport

Peter Shapiro all the way. I would never vote for Orange and Biddle does not inspire me with his policies.

by Ward1voter on Mar 14, 2012 8:30 pm • linkreport

Bottom Line:

As good intentioned as Wells may be, he has a VERY difficult time rounding up 7 votes which puts into question his political aptitude.

If he worked harder behind the scenes, he may actually accomplish a major legislative victory at some point. Same applies to Cheh.

Still, I'll vote for none of these clowns.

by UpAllDay on Mar 14, 2012 8:59 pm • linkreport

Perhaps it's just me, but I notice that the answers given at forums hosted by the GGW contributors are generally different than those given at other forums. For that reason, I usually have to discount any answer given by a candidate or official. They know what the GGW folks want to hear and they give it. I leave it to the commenters who follow this much more closely to let me know if I am right or wrong.

Also -- on a lighter note -- I liked watching the candidates literally have to touch shoulders as they had to cram together at that table.

by Cassidy on Mar 15, 2012 7:42 am • linkreport

If he worked harder behind the scenes, he may actually accomplish a major legislative victory at some point

Interesting thought I never considered. What is considered his legislative victory.

by HogWash on Mar 15, 2012 9:52 am • linkreport

As good intentioned as Wells may be, he has a VERY difficult time rounding up 7 votes which puts into question his political aptitude.

Wells shares the council with 10 corrupt imbiciles. Until DC voters become politically astute enough to stop *celebrating* this kind of political dysfunction (an attitude painfully on display in these comments) we'll continue getting exactly what we vote for.

by oboe on Mar 15, 2012 1:05 pm • linkreport

Oboe, don't you know? It's Tommy Wells's fault that his peers are motivated by petty corruption (and often not so petty). If he was just a better Councilmember, then they would be more responsive.

by Tim Krepp on Mar 15, 2012 1:35 pm • linkreport

Wells shares the council with 10 corrupt imbiciles. Until DC voters become politically astute enough to stop *celebrating* this kind of political dysfunction (an attitude painfully on display in these comments) we'll continue getting exactly what we vote for.

And there it goes again. Until the entire council becomes a reincarnation of one sole member, they'll never been considered as "upstanding." Let's not even consider that he's just a poor politician. Everyone should try to be like the Saint. This type of logic is what jokes are made of.

@Tim Kreep, no but it is Tommy Wells' fault for not being a better politician. You can like your bike lanes and cabi all day long. But part of a politicians' job is to be...a politician. Don't blame the council and the rest of DC for realizing that his political skills are way...way lacking.

I know it angers some that others don't see Saint Wells as the true Messiah. But good grief. In no other brush w/sanity could intelligent people really believe that everything is wrong with everyone else...except Jesus Wells. It's just not possible and I'm sure many of you know that.

by HogWash on Mar 15, 2012 1:43 pm • linkreport

Maybe if I try really, really hard and write just the right thing, I'll get you to see where I'm coming from, HogWash.

Oh, never mind, let me go saddle up this unicorn and go for a ride.

by Tim Krepp on Mar 15, 2012 1:47 pm • linkreport

Wells shares the council with 10 corrupt imbiciles.

The operative word here is "share." If he shared the council with 10 convicted murderers he would still need to convince them to vote his way, to advance his legislative agenda.

by goldfish on Mar 15, 2012 1:54 pm • linkreport

@hogwash

I lived in Chicago in 1983.

Out of about 40 Cook county Democratic committeemen, one, just one, supported Harold Washington for mayor.

Sometimes one man CAN be ahead of history.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 15, 2012 1:56 pm • linkreport

"The operative word here is "share." If he shared the council with 10 convicted murderers he would still need to convince them to vote his way, to advance his legislative agenda."

pardon as Im still an outsider, but wasnt the problem that he was advancing his agenda as transport chair, but lost that position for criticizing Kwame Brown over an ethics thing, and every single other member went along with Brown?

Sounds like the message is, to advance your agenda you got to STFU about kwame brown

Im not sure what I would do in Wells position

by cowedtoanonymity on Mar 15, 2012 2:00 pm • linkreport

The operative word here is "share." If he shared the council with 10 convicted murderers he would still need to convince them to vote his way, to advance his legislative agenda.

Can I get an Amen? I don't get what's so hard to understand about that? If any other politician routinely failed to get support for their agendas (at least more than one other person) we would question their effectiveness. But w/Wells? Oh no! He's very effective at getting support from everyone except his colleagues. I know I know, it's because they're all corrupt. Wells is not the imbecile...his colleagues are...blah blah blah.

pardon as Im still an outsider, but wasnt the problem that he was advancing his agenda as transport chair, but lost that position for criticizing Kwame Brown over an ethics thing, and every single other member went along with Brown?

Sorta. People have different takes on it. I believe Wells allowed himself (voluntarily or not) to become part of the story which served his small group of constituents well, but ultimately caused him to lose even marginal support on the council...the people he has to work with. As far as his fanbase is concerned, Wells simply is always right..whether he's in the minority or not.

The message to Wells should be that your fans can't make you an able politician..no matter how well-liked you are.

by HogWash on Mar 15, 2012 2:32 pm • linkreport

lived in Chicago in 1983. Out of about 40 Cook county Democratic committeemen, one, just one, supported Harold Washington for mayor. Sometimes one man CAN be ahead of history.

You gotta help me out here. I don't understand your point about Washington and Wells. Wasn't racism (or the perception of) discussed as one of the reasons why he didn't get more support? I don't believe racism is at the core of why Wells has little to no support among his colleagues.

by HogWash on Mar 15, 2012 2:40 pm • linkreport

One would think that the fact that several DC Councilmembers were subpoenaed about shady donations from Jeff Thompson would be enough to at least make people not immediately dismiss the opinion that the DC Council in general is corrupt and useless. Or the fact that one of the councilmembers is already headed to jail because of corrupt practices. Or the council's complete obliviousness to their own behavior, as exemplified by Kwame "I don't like the color and entertainment system in the $70K vehicle the city leased me, please procure another" Brown.

But not HogWash! Always headstrong and sticking to his guns, never to be thwarted by reality!

by MLD on Mar 15, 2012 2:50 pm • linkreport

@MLD, let's stick w/the facts...not hyperbole or Isupportjustbecause but the facts.

I don't know a person who has intimated that the council doesn't have some serious issues it needs to address. The council even admits to that. It's much easier to appreciate and agree w/that sentiment. It's much harder to conclude that the council is corrupt and useless. That my friend..is hyperbole which does make it much easier to dismiss any such talk.

More facts: Kwame's navigator scandal was really a case of "entitled politician" and DPW's (or whichever agency handles that) lack of oversight. I say this in part because he shouldn't have been able to get another vehicle in the first place..but also because even under the previous council chair/mayor, they allowed vehicles to be procured which didn't meet the 2002/3 established standards. I'm not speaking hyperbole..but facts. And neither Kwame's delusions of grandeur, nor Gray's lack of oversight, nor Fenty's lack of oversight, makes the council "corrupt and useless."

More facts: I didn't see anyone supporting Thomas remaining on the council. In fact, I think I remember there being collective agreement about that. They, along w/Wells, all supported his resignation. But imagine you think they're still corrupt?

What I just gave you is reality..not spin. That's why I'm always comfortable having such discussions because my thoughts are more in line with reality than not.

by HogWash on Mar 15, 2012 3:23 pm • linkreport

I also realize that most of the anti's dismiss the fact that the vehicle policy was ignored under the previous administration..and the one before it.

by HogWash on Mar 15, 2012 3:24 pm • linkreport

The message to Wells should be that your fans can't make you an able politician..no matter how well-liked you are.

The rather obvious take-away here is that you can't convince a dog to become a vegan. And for the most part, Wells' supporters actually no why they support Wells. We can't say this about most voters in DC (or most voters in the country at large for that matter). Which is why we're regularly treated to nuggets like "He walks and talks like everyone in the city!" and "Until you can tell me why I shouldn't vote for him, Vincent Orange has got my vote!"

It's the same mentality that's given us such toxic politicians at the national level--people vote with their "gut"...either because a candidate gives them the warm fuzzies, or to "send a message" to perceived cultural enemies. And the sad thing is, they're proud of it.

by oboe on Mar 15, 2012 3:31 pm • linkreport

From the "Department of Intentionally Not Getting It":

@AWalkerInTheCity wrote:
Sometimes one man CAN be ahead of history.

@HogWash replied:
I don't believe racism is at the core of why Wells has little to no support among his colleagues.

Jane Jacobs was also ahead of her time. But that's impossible because she wasn't a victim of racism and Washington was.

Nouriel Roubini was one of the few voices warning of the impending financial collapse. Or was he? It's hard to say because we've already established that only victims of racism can be "bellwethers" of this sort. Maybe it was racism. Who knows?

Sigh.

by oboe on Mar 15, 2012 3:40 pm • linkreport

"Wasn't racism (or the perception of) discussed as one of the reasons why he didn't get more support? I don't believe racism is at the core of why Wells has little to no support among his colleagues."

Chicago had plenty of black members of the Cook County dem comm, and I think the one who supported Washington (from do gooder liberal Hyde Park) was white. It was about power and, well, corruption.

My impression is that the council members who voted against Wells on the committee question were NOT all people who found Browns case on vehicles persuasive, but ones who did not want to be punished themselves. Thats how machines work.

That someone fails to overcome a machine is not a sign that they are particularly inadept at politics, nor does considering them particularly admirable constitute a comparison to sainthood. Someone voting alone, sometimes for a long while till that gets picked up, is as much a part of politics as is log rolling or patronage.

Which is a better strategy will vary from place to place and time to time. However DC does not tend to have dynasties as long lived as Chicago's. Theres a pretty good chance that Wells will outlast Brown.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 15, 2012 3:45 pm • linkreport

...the vehicle policy was ignored under the previous administration...

I don't think it was ignored. I think it was not known about. The only reason KBs navigator thing was/is known is because a reporter got a story about it published. It was only in retrospect that previous like-violations were also uncovered.

by Tina on Mar 15, 2012 3:57 pm • linkreport

The rather obvious take-away here is that you can't convince a dog to become a vegan

Nor can you convince the vegan why everyone shouldn't be vegan. I would argue that most Wells' voters support him because they feel under attack and supporting him helps "their" cause. It's like walking past a roving pack of rabid dogs who stiffen their backs because they think you're gonna take them to the pound. You could be just walking past. But they're ready to attack nonetheless.

Which is why we're regularly treated to nuggets like "He walks and talks like everyone in the city!" and "Until you can tell me why I shouldn't vote for him, Vincent Orange has got my vote!"

More hyperbole.

My impression is that the council members who voted against Wells on the committee question were NOT all people who found Browns case on vehicles persuasive, but ones who did not want to be punished themselves.

And what gave you that impression? Was it something the CM's themselves said or are you relying on how the saga was covered?

hat someone fails to overcome a machine is not a sign that they are particularly inadept at politics, nor does considering them particularly admirable constitute a comparison to sainthood

More Wells apologies. It's not that he's not a good politician. It's just that he can't overcome the "machine." I mean, it's not like the greatest politicians are those who are able to overcome the "machine." Those who aren't are the greatest ones.

by HogWash on Mar 15, 2012 4:25 pm • linkreport

or to "send a message" to perceived cultural enemies.

And this is what comprised a lot of Fenty's support. They wanted to send a message that "old dc" (who they still perceive as their cultural enemy) was to be no longer. So on this front, I agree w/u buddy. Fortunately, their send a message plan didn't result in us getting those toxic politicians we all hate.

don't think it was ignored. I think it was not known about. The only reason KBs navigator thing was/is known is because a reporter got a story about it published. It was only in retrospect that previous like-violations were also uncovered.

Yeah that's a better assessment than mine. It also speaks to my point about people seeing this as a "corruption" issue but failing to realize that DC has been negligent on this front for years. It happening to Brown made many believe that this is how he planned on chairing the council when in fact, he was following the same practice that should've been dealt with in a serious manner way back when. Thankfully, we have all the clarification we need and I don't expect this to be happening anytime soon..if ever. So he allowed himself to become the poster child for gov't greed/corruption when he really wasn't.

But that's how perception works.

by HogWash on Mar 15, 2012 4:37 pm • linkreport

It also speaks to my point about people seeing this as a "corruption" issue but failing to realize that DC has been negligent on this front for years.

Wait, so there are people out there who don't realize that DC government has largely been a corrupt cesspool for decades? Seriously? I'd like to meet this person.

by oboe on Mar 16, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

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