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What would you ask the at-large candidates?

Tonight, the Ward 6 Democrats are holding the last candidate forum for the vacant at-large DC Council seat prior to the Democratic State Committee's selection of an interim appointee.

Photo by paurian on Flickr.

Based on the committee membership Chairman Kwame Brown announced before the holidays, we can assume that this member will sit on four committees: Public Works and Transportation, Economic Development, Housing and Workforce Development, and Public Services and Consumer Affairs.

Here are some questions I hope the moderators will ask or the candidates will address:

  • Tax breaks: Councilmembers currently have to judge the merit of large numbers of tax abatements, TIFs, and other development incentives for projects. How will you evaluate these, personally? Should they be approved in most cases, or only in rare circumstances? Do you think the Council needs to pass a law to get more information before making these decisions, and if so, what information would you want to have to make these decisions?
  • Public land: When should DC sell public land to a developer to accommodate new residents and jobs, and when should the government keep the land for future needs like schools and parks?
  • Metro: If Metro faces further budget crises, do you think DC should find more money in its budget to support our transit service? Or should Metro cut bus and train service, possibly including late-night service? Or should fares go even higher than they have?
  • Bicycling: "Bike lanes" turned into a symbol for controversial Fenty administration policies, but they are also coinciding with a dramatic increase in the numbers of people traveling by bicycle. How would you like to see DC ensure that streets are safe and comfortable for all users including cyclists as well as pedestrians, transit riders and drivers?
  • Affordable housing: Is the current inclusionary zoning rule sufficient to ensure a mix of housing price points, or does DC need to do more? What other policies should DC be pursuing?
  • The bag fee: At the last forum, some candidates derided the 5¢ carryout bag fee. Specifically, do you support or oppose the bag fee as currently enacted into law?
  • Tax increases: The Council will be considering a tax increase, likely on upper-income earners in DC, for the FY2012 budget. Would you support a tax increase along with spending cuts, and if so, how broadly or narrowly should it apply?
  • In general: What is one vote of the DC Council in the past year where you would have come out on the opposite side from the majority (i.e. you would have voted against something that passed, or for something that failed)?
What else do we need to know from these candidates, and more importantly, from all those who will be running in the special election for April 26?
David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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 two children in Dupont Circle. 


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These are all excellent questions. I'd love to hear a credible answer to any of them, but especially the first two.

On more of a politics than policy note, I'd also wonder if the candidates plan to run in the special election if they are *not* appointed by the state committee to fill the seat right away. That would be a good "show of hands" type question and would remind voters that DCDSC does not have the last word.

by Ward 1 Guy on Jan 3, 2011 1:32 pm • linkreport

I believe they asked that "show of hands" question at the December 18 forum and all but one candidate (I can't remember which) indicated an intention to run in the special election.

by DCster on Jan 3, 2011 2:22 pm • linkreport

@DCster Thanks!

by Ward 1 Guy on Jan 3, 2011 2:35 pm • linkreport

"Do you believe that affordable housing/IZ mandates have tradeoffs?"

I suspect many would answer "no, it's a win-win." This would be a very disturbing answer. While I don't like IZ, if we're going to have it, we should make sure that the people implementing it actually understand that there are tradeoffs.

by Stephen Smith on Jan 3, 2011 4:52 pm • linkreport

These are actually good questions for casual conversation, too.

As for housing, I would like to ask a general question to learn the candidate's grasp of the problem: Why is housing so expensive in DC and what are some ways we can solve this?

by Eric Fidler on Jan 3, 2011 5:37 pm • linkreport

Here I was thinking Tommy Wells was going to continue to be my Ward 6 Councilman.

by Dumbo on Jan 3, 2011 6:09 pm • linkreport

I think these are great questions, but I'm not sure they will be answered based on your previous post about the December 18th candidate forum.

Will independent (non-Democrat) candidates be allowed to run in the April 26 special election? If so, who are they? It would be great if your blog could publicize their campaigns and perhaps organize candidate forums.

by Mapi on Jan 3, 2011 7:07 pm • linkreport

"Do you believe DC should side with House Republicans and support no federal taxes for DC residents in lieu of no voting rights until they are established?" Rep. Gohmert (R-TX) has already drafted the bill. It is simply amazing that this has not been done already given that Guam, Puerto Rico, etc. already have this and a non voting representative equal to Norton.

by Sivad on Jan 3, 2011 7:58 pm • linkreport

What makes you more qualified than the other contenders?
What past experience makes you more suitable for this position?

by Jasper on Jan 3, 2011 8:04 pm • linkreport

@ Sivad-
personally, I don't want DC to become a tax-free haven for the rich. Just give us full voting representation in Congress and we'll be fine, thank you very much!

by KevinM on Jan 4, 2011 7:02 am • linkreport

@KevinM personally, I don't want DC to become a tax-free haven for the rich.

If Puerto Rico is a good example of what happens when US territory's residents don't get taxed at the federal level, this is not what happens. From what I've been told by Puerto Ricans, the commonwealth government there makes up for the lack of federal taxation. I.e., It doesn't become a tax haven for anyone. It just ends up transfering more control to the territory about what to tax, who to tax, etc. And given that we've not seen a mass flight of rich folks to Puerto Rico, or Guam, or any of the other territories, it's doubtful that this territory would be any more likely to experience this than those territories. Since having control over how ones taxes get spent is a fundemental driver in any democratic society, I do think the move to abolish federal income taxation in the District would be a move in the right direction.

by Lance on Jan 4, 2011 8:30 am • linkreport

And given that we've not seen a mass flight of rich folks to Puerto Rico, or Guam, or any of the other territories, it's doubtful that this territory would be any more likely to experience this than those territories.

Possibly, although none of the other territories are located conveniently within the east coast megalopolis. But the point that to what extent the DC government raises taxes in response to a federal exemption would have a big effect on how the exemption would impact DC's demographics still stands.

by cminus on Jan 4, 2011 9:10 am • linkreport

Realistically, I don't see any way that using taxation will solve DC's problem of taxation without representation.

That said, I'm very intrigued by using such proposals as leverage for achieving full representation in the House and Senate.

by Alex B. on Jan 4, 2011 9:23 am • linkreport

@ No taxation for no representation: And what was again the percentage of eligible voters in DC that actually do pay federal taxes?

by Jasper on Jan 4, 2011 12:52 pm • linkreport

@ Jasper I don't know what difference it makes (should the poor not have representation?), but as of 2006, 28% of federal tax returns filed in DC had zero or negative liability. That's lower than the overall US total of 32%.

by jcm on Jan 4, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

The Gohmert Bill ( summarizes better than I ever could so I will leave that to your reference. Hopefully it will be reintroduced and then brought to the floor for a vote. The principle of the matter is that Federal tax paying citizens have the representation equivalent to a Federal territory. Regardless of what percentage has liability, if DC would raise taxes or if DC would become a tax haven. Having one voting representative as a compromise is despicable to me and to the founders of this country. DC full representation would require a constitutional amendment for sure whether that comes in the form of DC being a congressional district of Maryland or "statehood", but until that time comes Federal taxes should not be levied on DC residents. Anything else is an insult to democracy.

by Sivad on Jan 4, 2011 7:14 pm • linkreport

@ Lance-
DC is not Puerto Rico or Guam. We still, for the most part anyway, speak ENGLISH here. We are a major city with all of the "trimmings", so-to-speak. If DC were to become a no-federal tax jurisdiction, before long there would be nobody making under $150,000 that could afford to live inside the city. Heck, as fewer people are being able to afford to purchase housing, which puts upward pressure on rents- we may be there soon anyway.

by KevinM on Jan 5, 2011 7:56 am • linkreport

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