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For Ward 5 Council: Kenyan McDuffie

Harry Thomas Jr. has been an unremarkable and disappointing member of the DC Council, getting little done and having few noteworthy positions. In Ward 5, he has favored big-box and strip mall development over neighborhood commercial corridors.

Kenyan McDuffie. Photo by mediaslave on Flickr.

For those neighborhood corridors, his leadership was primarily reactive in nature. In Brookland, for example, residents pushed for burying power lines during a major streetscape renovation, but despite verbal support, Mr. Thomas was ineffective at actually winning the change for the neighborhood. That project remains in flux two years later.

Mr. Thomas has continued many big box development initiatives begun under former Councilmember Vincent Orange without pushing for immediate improvements neighborhoods need. The Rhode Island Avenue NE Great Streets Initiative looks nice on paper, but some short-term facade improvement funds would be a huge boost right now for the corridor, and Thomas has not fought for that.

A new Aldi is under construction across from an existing, open Safeway in Carver Langston, but Thomas has done little to bring retail investment to Edgewood where another Safeway closed earlier this year. And rumor has it we may get a Wal-Mart where Jim Abdo once envisioned a mixed-use gateway on New York Avenue.

As chair of the Libraries, Parks, and Recreation Committee, Mr. Thomas seems to favor recreation over libraries, perhaps because of his athletic bent. He's directed money to Ward 5 recreation centers, but very little in the way of needed capital improvements have been made to the ward's two libraries.

Kenyan McDuffie represents a promising alternative to Mr. Thomas's lack of leadership.

Mr. McDuffie has a strong background, with degrees from Howard University and the University of Maryland School of Law and work history with Eleanor Holmes Norton, as an assistant state attorney in Prince George's County, a judicial clerk in Maryland's 7th Circuit, and a trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division at the DOJ. His background in policy and legislature will bring, according to the City Paper's endorsement, a "wonkier style" to the job, but we believe it will also bring some much needed focus.

Regarding commercial development, Mr. McDuffie understands that continuing to focus on large-scale projects sets a potentially negative precedent for the ward. He told us, "The same $1.5 million allocated to the large, suburban-style development in Ft. Lincoln could go a long way toward revitalizing an existing small business corridor or attracting smaller-scale development to corridors like Bladensburg Road and North Capitol Street."

Related in many ways to commercial development, the improvement of food systems and access is critical to Mr. McDuffie, who supports efforts to bring healthy food to children. Councilmember Thomas was a leader of the charge against the soda tax, but didn't help provide any alternate revenue source for healthier school food.

Crime, particularly juvenile crime, continues to be an important topic throughout the city. Mr. McDuffie's experience as an attorney is evident in his thoughtfulness in addressing the many factors juveniles face before becoming delinquent.

Overall, Mr. McDuffie is able to identify current barriers to progress, including the real and artificial boundaries that divide neighboring communities. He believes in holistic methods to move beyond the status quo the ward has become accustomed to, and we believe he is the right choice for Ward 5 voters on Tuesday.

Cross-posted at The District Curmudgeon.

Before moving to California, Jaime Fearer was a community planner in Greenbelt, MD, and she lived in Trinidad, DC, where she served on the neighborhood associationís board. Jaime is now Planning & Policy Manager for California Walks


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As a fellow Ward 5 resident (Bloomingdale), I second this endorsement. McDuffie's focus on revitalizing neighborhoods instead of building new, isolated commercial development, and on bringing healthier food to Ward 5, provides a strong sense of priorities that I hope will appeal to long-time residents as well as relative newcomers like myself.

I live close to the intersection of Florida Avenue and North Capitol Street, a high-traffic corner that is plagued by three gaping empty lots and a run-down building with two empty storefronts. I hope to see this corner and the rest of North Capitol Street revived in the coming years. Eventually, I would like to see Truxton Circle, which sat at this intersection until 1947, rebuilt in some fashion.

by Malcolm Kenton on Sep 10, 2010 10:30 am • linkreport

Not to defend Thomas, but the Brookland people f*ed themselves on power lines first. They generally were vituperative and obstructive during the streetscape design process and that was the time to work it out with DDOT and Pepco to underground the wires. Generally, telling DDOT people they and the contractors should be fired isn't a recommended method for getting new policies and practices, especially those that cost $ and are opposed by the utility, in place.

Now their dealing with it? After the streetscape has been reconstructed!

Pretty a**backwards.

Granted undergrounding and Pepco issues has been an issue for a long time, and all of the city's public officials hadn't been willing to deal with it.

It was an issue with the Barracks Row and H Street streetscapes in terms of providing power connections to support festivals and other uses in either treeboxes or at lightpoles. And was never adequately resolved.

by Richard Layman on Sep 10, 2010 12:56 pm • linkreport

Heaven forbid the people of Washington, DC get a Wal Mart in the city. The current status quo, in which DC residents travel outside of DC to shop at Wal Mart is clearly better for all involved. A trip to the store involves driving to MD or VA (or taking multiple forms of public transit), and, of course, those jurisdictions get the tax revenue as well!

Oh yeah, there is also a massive class of people in DC who have a combination of little to no job skills, and little to no job opportunities. But hey, why support building a store that will hire them by the hundreds. Much better to have them live a life of public benefits.

By the way, what types of stores do you expect in your utopian "mixed-use" development in NE DC? Let's see...

-Nail salon
-Cell phone store
-DC government will likely take a storefront or two for some city program
-Asian take out place (complete with bulletproof window)
-Subway or Quiznos

All major economic engines...

by prowalmart on Sep 10, 2010 2:32 pm • linkreport

You'll notice that endorsement didn't complain about Aldi. Aldi is in the same market segment as Wal-Mart (in fact, it's usually cheaper) but its stores are usually smaller and in proportion to the neighborhood. If Wal-Mart wanted to open a smaller store that is more in keeping with smart growth principles, there would be nothing wrong with that. Instead they are proposing yet another big box.

by Phil on Sep 10, 2010 2:47 pm • linkreport

wrt the takeout place comment, I thought it would have been really cool to have a Top Chef episode where the chefs work with carryouts to improve their food...

by Richard Layman on Sep 10, 2010 3:13 pm • linkreport

wrt the takeout place comment, I thought it would have been really cool to have a Top Chef episode where the chefs work with carryouts to improve their food...

That would be interesting, but I've often wondered if the problem with many of these carryouts isn't with the chefs, but rather with the customers--to put it bluntly.

It's not as though China's completely devoid of any healthy food options.

by oboe on Sep 10, 2010 3:38 pm • linkreport

oboe -- sure. It's a vicious cycle. It's unchained fast food and the owners do what they can do to make a living.

by Richard Layman on Sep 12, 2010 6:43 pm • linkreport

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