Greater Greater Washington

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DC Council race reviews: At-large and chairman

To choose our endorsements, we polled our active regular contributors and editors to hear their views. Sometimes, as with Ward 1 (Brianne Nadeau), Ward 5 (Kenyan McDuffie), and Ward 6 (Charles Allen), the consensus was clear. For other races, such as DC Council at large and chairman, our contributors were clearly divided or conflicted.


Split pea photo from Shutterstock.

For these races, therefore, we are not making an explicit endorsement. But many of you are not just looking for us to give you a name; you want information to help you make up your minds.

Therefore, here are a selection of comments that various contributors and editors made in the endorsement poll, to illuminate the various reasons to vote for or against various candidates.

At-large Councilmember

Contributors were unified in agreeing that Anita Bonds is not a good councilmember. She has had virtually no accomplishments in her year on the council, continues to pose a significant potential for ethical conflicts of interest as a paid employee of a construction contractor which does work for the DC government. See correction below.

However, they were just about evenly split on the question of who is the best alternative.


John Settles, Nate Bennett-Fleming. Images from the candidate websites.

Contributors largely split into two rough camps. Some have been engaged in progressive organizations and causes, know Nate Bennett-Fleming from them, and supported him. Many of those also participated in the endorsement processes of organizations like DC for Democracy, Jews United for Justice Action Fund, and the DC Sierra Club which have endorsed him.

Others formed their opinions based on public statements specifically around Greater Greater Washington topics at candidate events or on our video interviews; those contributors largely preferred John Settles and said Bennett-Fleming seemed to lack real ideas on topics like housing and transit.

One could interpret this two ways. It could be that Settles is the best candidate, and Bennett-Fleming simply has built up more personal relationships with some contributors. On the other hand, it could also mean that those who know Bennett-Fleming well see beyond simply some weaknesses in talking about issues and know his deeper strengths.

Here is what contributors said for John Settles:

"My impression is that [Settles] has the best ideas on how to help solve the affordable housing issues. I think if that were the sole criteria, he would easily get the nod. I also think he would be aligned with smart growth principles like the zoning rewrite, although his standard response is that he's in favor of anything that will help with getting more affordable housing."

"I have met Settles many times and I like his openness to new ideas. He listens and has a good sense for smart policy."

"I was impressed with him in the last go round (during Let's Choose DC). He also had the most nuanced and complete answer in the video series."

Here are some of the contributor comments in favor of Bennett-Fleming:
"Nate is sometimes green, but he's a strong progressive voice and I believe he would be a quick study on the council."

"Nate has shown follow-through in his role as shadow-rep, and I think he can take it to the next levelnot without some expected hiccupsas an at-large CM."

"Nate is young, smart and energetic and full of good policy ideas. He is a committed progressive focused on making DC a better place to live and work, mainly through proper public investments, and through higher wages, better labor laws, and more job training. He would work to combat poverty from multiple fronts and make living in the city more affordable, and he has good ideas on education such as smaller class sizes and investing in the arts."

What about strategy? Does one have the edge? Unfortunately, nobody seems to yet have polled this race. If one of the two turns out to be well ahead of the other, that could be a good reason to strategically choose that candidate.

For what it's worth (and money is far from everything), the DC campaign filings came out today. Settles raised $20,000 this period for a total of $48,000 in the race. Bennett-Fleming raised $5,800 to bring his total to almost $32,000. And Bonds brought in about $17,000 bringing her total to $61,000.

Pedro Rubio also impressed some contributors with his thoughts on the issues in our video series, but he seems to have garnered far less support (and cash, raising $7,500 for a cumulative total of about $10,000). Still, we hope he will stay involved in citywide local issues besides through electoral politics.

Chairman of the Council


Phil Mendelson. Photo by mar is sea Y on Flickr.
The question here is not really between two candidates. Incumbent chairman Phil Mendelson is the one for whom almost all contributors and editors, at least those who filled out the survey, will be voting. However, many are doing so with some definite reservations.

One wrote, "I'll be voting for Phil, but in general, I find him lackluster and a bit too reserved/conservative." On the other hand, another said, "Mendelson has been a solid chair. He has managed the Council effectively and gotten through some important pieces of legislation. He is a strong voice on environmental issues."

Several voted to make no endorsement (which was one of the options in our poll), with statements like these:

"Phil Mendelson, while being a reliable vote on a lot of progressive social issues, is actually quite conservative on issues related to smart growth."

"I have strong views against Phil for his continued actions in support of NIMBY causes; witness the continued and unnecessary hearings with OP and his appalling actions on opposing changes to the Height Act on the grounds the council and the citizens could not be trusted to make their own decisions. ... His scaling back of the medical marijuana initiative to make it extremely tough for those who need it to get it is shameful."

This is perhaps the most even-handed summary:
"Phil Mendelson has been skeptical of the zoning rewrite, streetcars, and more. But at the end of the day he has helped to push things forward despite a diverse and fractious Council. He takes a patient, measured approach to issues which has been helpful for DC."
Meanwhile, Calvin Gurley has waged numerous campaigns but none seem to have been very serious or built up any significant support.

So why not endorse Mendelson? We feel that any endorsement needs to factor in a balance of how good a candidate is on Greater Greater Washington's issues, how contributors might feel about the candidate based on other issues as well, and the likelihood a vote will ultimately sway the race.

Given that Mendelson is not seriously facing a challenge, it seems unreasonable this year to give him an endorsement simply on the basis of other issues and competence when he has only posed obstacles on the issues we follow most closely. His ability to do so is also greater this year since he gained oversight over planning in 2013.

Correction: The original version of this article said that Anita Bonds was still employed by Ft. Myer Construction, where she was working before being appointed and then elected to a seat on the council. According to Bonds, she stepped down from her position at Ft. Myer after being elected to the council.

Her LinkedIn page still lists Ft. Myer as a current job, but her spokesperson David Meadows says that has not been updated. The DC Board of Ethics and Government Accountability says that all councilmembers are required to file a form listing outside income, but because Bonds was not a public official for 30 days in 2012 (she was appointed as an interim member in early December), she does not have to file that form until May 15, 2014.

Bonds also said that the reason her campaign never responded to our requests to include her in the video interview series was because a lot of messages that went to the contact person listed on their filing with the Board of Elections never reached them. She said that they didn't receive a number of organizations' issue questionnaires for the same reason.

Comments

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We could always write in David Alpert for Council Chairman.

by 202_cyclist on Mar 11, 2014 3:01 pm • linkreport

Anita Bonds? No accomplishments?

Please, she's helped her #1 constituent, Fort Myer Construction Company, to endless DC dollars. Including an illegal parking lot paving job, literally by-night, a block from her house.

by Sydney on Mar 11, 2014 3:30 pm • linkreport

Posted this before, but Settles is clearly the best positioned and most serious candidate to take on Bonds. Nate and Pedro seem like decent kids, but Pedro at least has a job. Nate doesn't appear to have any viable employment experience to bring to the table.

by Luke on Mar 11, 2014 4:13 pm • linkreport

Nate is clearly more poised to take on Bonds than John. Has been since the beginning. Nate has worked in government, finance, and law. He has already represented us citywide as our U.S. Representatives and moved the ball on Statehood. Now, he has the most innovative and substantive ideas to tackle affordable housing, good government, jobs, education, and a host of other issues that matter most to DC residents. If you haven't read his ideas or don't know his background, go to www.natefordc.com to find out. He's accomplished, experienced, forward-thiking and at 30, is clearly no kid. Nate is our best chance to oust Anita on April 1.

by DiamondCityRez on Mar 11, 2014 4:58 pm • linkreport

Money raised, city wide effort and professional experience would contradict @DiamondCityRez with respect to Nate. He was an adjunct at UDC in 2012. Other than that, his resume is thin. He represents the city in an unpaid, unglamorous job that no one can recall seeing him having any impact on either at the US Capitol or in the Wilson Building. When he talks, it sounds like Murial, a lot of platitudes and suggestions of what needs to happen, but little substance on how to actually fund or achieve the goals.

Can you see Nate on the dais with any of the sitting Councilmembers and having any gravitas whatsoever? I can't. He might have a future in DC politics, particularly as a Ward 8 resident when the incumbent there decides not to run for re-election, but as a city wide representative, I find him to be completely lacking.

Clearly potential donors feel the same way. Rubio has out raised him in the last cycle with barely the name recognition or "endorsements" to underpin the effort. It is laughable, really, to think this guy is for real.

by William on Mar 11, 2014 5:21 pm • linkreport

@ Diamondcityrez

I beg to differ. All of the work experience that you listed for Nate were internships with the exception of Shadow Rep--which is basically an elected volunteer position--and his stint as an adjunct for one semester back in 2012 at UDC. He only graduated from law school in 2011 and the UDC position seems to be the only real job he has had. There is no evidence that he has a job right now, and since his DC BAR membership has been suspended for non payment of dues, he can't or at least shouldn't be practicing law at the moment.

by DonnaB on Mar 11, 2014 5:28 pm • linkreport

And, according to the link above, $2,000 of the monies raised by Nate were in-kind, so he really raised on $3,800 in the most critical month of the cycle. Not. Viable.

by William on Mar 11, 2014 5:30 pm • linkreport

Nate has more cash-on-hand than John does, aka more money to spend between now and Election Day.

You can't diminish the large amounts of work he has done in our city and in numerous fields. Nate has more wide-ranging experience than John - in law, finance, government, and business.

We need someone who can understand the laws, write the laws, and has the innovative insight and citywide vision to make them work for everyone.

Additionally, Nate has more name recognition citywide and is a citywide leader. Nate is a Ward 7 native and Ward 8 resident, with wide-ranging support from residents and organizations across the city. Through his work as Shadow Rep, Nate has built a citywide coalition that he can now use (and has used) to build a citywide campaign.

For once, we need an At-Large Councilmember that can serve and talk to people in Ward 5, 7, and 8 just like he can with people in Ward 1, 2, and 3. For once, we need "At-Large" to mean something and elect a leader who has a concrete and substantive vision (that you can read all about on his website).

No one is more experienced or more substantive than Nate Bennett-Fleming in this race and that's why we have to back his candidacy, because he's the only one who can beat Anita Bonds.

by DiamondCityRez on Mar 11, 2014 7:48 pm • linkreport

This isn't the right place for this, but what is all of this experience Nate has? He doesn't list anything of substance on his website. He got his law degree in what, 2011, was an adjunct at UDC in 201e, but isn't any longer. He doesn't seem to have any paid job, yet does confess to DUIs and multiple suspended licenses (which means he was pulled over for something else). Really not trying to slam the guy, because he has done very well for himself, but he just isn't Council material at this point. I have yet to see anything in this endorsement piece or other blogs written that suggest anything to the contrary.

by Luke on Mar 11, 2014 8:34 pm • linkreport

I think Nate has a lot of energy and certainly potential however, if you believe his internships and one semester as an adjunct qualify him to represent the city at large and oversee a billion dollar budget then we will have to agree to disagree.

He's young and bright and has a good future ahead, but he needs a little more time to mature and get some real experience under his belt. It may very well be his destiny to sit on the council, but destiny rushed can lead to disaster.

Power, financial pressure, and a lack of true readiness for the position is a troublesome mix that has already landed too many council members in hot water.

by DonnaB on Mar 11, 2014 8:41 pm • linkreport

Based on briefly talking with Nate and reading some of Johns responses last year to topics I think they both could be great choices. I'm really not sure who I will opt for. Two bad I can't choose both.

by BTA on Mar 11, 2014 9:35 pm • linkreport

I'm Anita Bonds' neighbor given her seat as a Councilmember on the Public Safety Committee, I have been underwhelmed with her capability to address crime (and the #WarOnDrugs/Minorities) in our neighborhood which is breathtakingly high — even w/in 1500 ft of Bonds' front door on Bates St (see: crimemap.dc.gov).

MPD is having a crime briefing for local residents Thursday 20 March at the KIPP school to a address a horrific shooting that occured last Friday night near the school: twitdoc.com/2R12. No one will be surprised if Bonds can't make it — it's only about 4 blocks from her home.

She've a lovely person, cheerful and charming, but she's unfit to be on the council except to keep a democratic seat warm. An At Large Councilmember should be able to use her muscle get the Dunbar Pool open 7days/week for her senior neighbors and others. Local candidates talk about the Kennedy Crime/Rec Center, but Dunbar has a fantastic aquatic facility that should also serve neighbors, not just 10hrs (TOTAL) on weekends.

John Settles is a parent who has children in DC Public Schools. As a Councilmember, he'll have the clout to get his children into the best public schools, but hopefully it will mean he will also help the majority of latino and black families have immediate access to high performing school options (not in 5-10+ years when DCPS completes its experiments to work around recalcitrant Labor leaders). Deputy Mayor For Education Abby Smith sends her child(ren) to a year round school, all DC parents should have the same option if they need that; many lower income latino and black students might immediately benefit from wrap around educational services to boost dismal third world achievement levels. Not one student should be written off as elected officials try to pacify Labor leader (i.e.: campaign donors) with more delays and by not applying pressure for them to rapidly evolve.

At Large Statehood Green Party candidate @Eugene4DC / EugenePuryear.com, also deserves a look. Solid progressive. Super articulate. He cares. No corporate ties. You can WRITE HIM IN (on Democratic/GOP/Libertarian ballots) on April 1 or if you vote early between March 17 and March 31 (See: https://www.dcboee.org/ev/index.asp.) We don't have open primaries, because of corrupt democratic influence, but there is a work around.

I work on Democrat Phil's campaign as I've done for several years for solid reasons, not the least of which is that he's honest, responsive, approachable and reasonable and no one puts more time in across the city connecting with residents outside of campaign season. He doesn't demonize or ignore those he disagrees with and is always eager to have a rational discussion.

Extreme liberals go all buck wild beating up on Obama also, but they don't think about the alternatives.

by @ShawingtonTimes on Mar 12, 2014 9:07 am • linkreport

The problem with not having open primaries is that we aren't looking at all the qualified candidates from the outset. Hopefully Grosso's legislations passes, but we shouldn't limit ourselves to live in the past/present when the future is so bright and close at hand:

Here's Eugene on the stump:
http://youtu.be/u83ssfVfAG0

by @ShawingtonTimes on Mar 12, 2014 11:12 pm • linkreport

@ShawingtonTimes

I agree fully that I hope Grosso's legislation passes and also agree that Eugene is a very impressive candidate. My hope or plan was to support Settles in the primary and with the General support both of them. Now that Catania is running, will that be possible?

by William on Mar 13, 2014 8:48 am • linkreport

Correction: The original version of this article said that Anita Bonds was still employed by Ft. Myer Construction, where she was working before being appointed and then elected to a seat on the council. According to Bonds, she stepped down from her position at Ft. Myer after being elected to the council.
Her LinkedIn page still lists Ft. Myer as a current job, but her spokesperson David Meadows says that has not been updated.
FYI, the Bonds’s LinkedIn page has still not been updated, so why complain about GGW citing that source if you do not care if it is accurate... GWW gave a correction, based on the spokesperson’s opinion, but I do not understand why these statements are considered facts.
Did Bond’s provide a letter of resignation from Ft. Myers? A date Bonds left the company? A W-2 from 2013 that shows her earnings from Ft. Meyer? If not, then there is no reason for a correction...until they show proof. Demand proof, or let your original statement stand.
Also, not updating a LinkedIn Page is not a crime, not responding to questionnaire(s) is not a crime. Both are, however strong indications that making excuses is the most prominent skill that Ms. Bonds has displayed.

by Trust, but verify! on Mar 13, 2014 1:33 pm • linkreport

Nate may be younger than the other candidates, but he isn't too young to run. This is not a race for POTUS. It's a city council position for crying out loud. Also, the fact that Nate isn't entrenched in the DC political machine is refreshing. It means that he has an opportunity to practice ethical public service without heavy pressure from campaign donors and corrupt politicians. He is by far the most progressive of the candidates and his campaign is the most organized. Money doesn't mean as much as strategy in low turn out elections. If Nate can get his folks to the polls, he'll be a shoe in and DC will be a better place because of it. His campaign uses smart grassroots organizing.

Whoever said that Nate doesn't work hard or has never worked before is beyond incorrect. The fact that our Shadow Rep position lacks resources only indicates how hard Nate has had to work to get more sponsors to the statehood bill than anyone has in decades. If you want to complain about Nate being a young man, then do that (although it makes no sense). However, questioning his work ability is so absurd that it decreases your credibility.

by Gentrifier on Mar 13, 2014 4:23 pm • linkreport

@Gentrifier

Please let the readership know if Nate is teaching at UDC currently. If not, then what is his current form of employment. There seems to be a lot of ambiguity about this, as internships and unpaid advocacy positions are not "professional experience". I don't think anyone has said Nate doesn't work hard, it is a question of where and for how long.

I question his abilities and his long line of indiscretions dating to at least 2007. Given what we are seeing with the Mayor, now is not the time to be considering the vote for someone who has some questionable items in their background that involved legal enforcement. Particularly by someone who is sort of a member of the DC Bar. DUI's, driving with a suspended liscense, theft, unpaid Bar license raise serious questions of judgment for this candidate.

by Luke on Mar 13, 2014 5:21 pm • linkreport

Luke, [Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Nate was open and honest and disclosed his driving record in print and on the radio and on twitter.

He's admitted making mistakes but disclosed all of these issues on his DC Bar app and passed the character and fitness. But his opponents who havent disclosed their issues and are lying, exaggerating, and spreading rumors like "Luke" here. For example, Nate had one DUI, not DUI's, when he was 21 and it was dismissed because he shouldn't have been arrested. Either you are being dishonest or your misinformed.

As to UDC, Nate is currently on the ADJUNCT faculty, as he makes sure to point out, he simply isnt teaching this semester. Do you know what adjunct means? It means you don't teach every semester. Nate taught there in 2012 and in 2013 and is not teaching because he's running for office. You try to make it seem as if he's making it up or he was fired or something.

Nate is a member of the DC bar, dues weren't paid because he wasn't practicing law, because he kept his campaign promise made in this Washington Post article to work as an adjunct so that he could be effective full time as Shadow Rep.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/nate-bennett-fleming-dc-shadow-rep-hopeful-works-to-be-heard-over-the-buzz/2012/04/02/gIQA6ymsrS_story.htmhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/nate-bennett-fleming-dc-shadow-rep-hopeful-works-to-be-heard-over-the-buzz/2012/04/02/gIQA6ymsrS_story.html

And now you want to call his service...unpaid advocacy? We've gotten 74 cosponsors on the first statehood bill since 1993 because of his work, and he wouldnt have been able to do it unless he made the sacrifice of not using his law license so that he could devote full time to his work. Shame on you.

Also to the internship stuff, let's be real here....of course he had internships working for Norton in high school and at Goldman Sachs in college, but he doesn't mention Nate's full time work for the House Financial Services Committee as a law clerk, his time at the Council as a legislative assistant for two Councilmembers, and his work as a senior staffer on Senator Cardin's campaign or as the Deputy National Director for Black Faith Outreach on the Kerry Campaign.

Or what about the business that he started while not practicing law that won the Yale Entreneurial Institute Fellowship? http://yei.yale.edu/past-fellows-2007-2013

Did you mention the accolades his socially responsible tech business received in top publications like Fast Company, Venture Beat, Yahoo Small Business, Black Enterprise and named to Jet Magazine's 2013 Top 40 African Americans under 40?

http://www.jetmag.com/lets-talk-tech/lets-talk-tech-blackstartup-com-lands-spot-on-jet-40-under-40/

http://www.fastcolabs.com/3010309/this-lawyer-worked-on-the-jobs-act-now-hes-starting-a-crowdsource-platform

http://venturebeat.com/2013/05/06/kickstarter-for-black-community-aims-to-close-african-american-startup-gap/

by Fellow on Mar 13, 2014 6:15 pm • linkreport

Since "Fellow" and "Gentrifier" seem to be in the know, how to explain not even being on the UDC roster right now (other dormant adjunct faculty are listed) www.law.udc.edu/?page=Faculty. Further, his "coming clean" appearently omitted a 2011 incident. It also omitted a "theft by taking" charge, which is pretty brutal as well (see mugshots.com ID 51946354). Driving under the influence, which is stupid under any circumstance, can me mildly excused for a college student, but theft by taking? Why no disclosure on that?

If you are going to come clean, don't do it selectively.

by Luke on Mar 13, 2014 10:09 pm • linkreport

Once again misinformation. He wrote about all of this a while back on his website natefordc.com/publictrust. That was a mistaken arrest at a party which was immediately dismissed, like all of the things he disclosed.

You guys are losing so you are so desparate that you are spreading rumors and untruths. Are you the UDC webmaster, you said earlier he only taught one semester, untrue. You said he just had internships, untrue. How do you know that "dormant" faculty are listed? The listings are based on teaching that semester.

Nate disclosed all his stuff, which is where you get the info from your distortions, before he ran for Shadow Rep and in this campaign in print, on radio, and on social media. He also disclosed everything on his bar app and law school applications, you want to use past mistakes and false arrests all of which were dismissed against him, even though he was honest about all of this. It's because you know he's the best candidate, with the best ideas, and strong support throughout the city.

by Fellow on Mar 14, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

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