Greater Greater Washington


Live chat with Sekou Biddle

Welcome to our live chat with Sekou Biddle, interim at-large member of the DC Council and a candidate to keep the seat in April's special election.

 Live chat with Sekou Biddle(01/26/2011) 
David Alpert: 
Welcome to our live chat. Sekou Biddle will be joining us in a few minutes. In the meantime, please enter your questions and we'll try to get to as many of them as we can.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 12:56 David Alpert
David Alpert: 
Sekou Biddle has joined us. Welcome!
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:01 David Alpert
Sekou Biddle: 
It's great to be here today and thank you for having me.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:02 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
Let's jump right into a discussion of some issues. Your background is in education and education will be one of the major issues in this campaign. A number of readers already weighed in with some good education questions.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:02 David Alpert
[Comment From MartinMartin: ] 
What does CM Biddle think of the IMPACT teacher assessment tool? Good, bad, worth keeping, worth improving upon?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:03 Martin
Sekou Biddle: 
I think it is a good start. We are currently in the IMPACT 2.0 which is an improvement over the original version of IMPAct. obviously we think this worth continuing to improve upon. We also need to keep in mind that IMPACT is a core element of Race to the Top grant that we received—$75 million. I look forward to discussing further improvements to IMPACT when I meet with Chancellor Kaya Henderson in February.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:05 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
As a member of the SBOE and an education professional, have you had the opportunity to analyze IMPACT so far? Can you give us any more specifics about what might need fixing?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:06 David Alpert
Sekou Biddle: 
I think that what we need to continue to improve upon is our ability to collect objective, relevant student data.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:08 Sekou Biddle
Sekou Biddle: 
I do want to mention that the SBOE does not have a formal role in adjusting IMPACT. It is a tool of the DCPS and managed by the Mayor and his appointee.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:09 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
What specifically prevents us from collecting that data today? Organizational issues? Information technology? Other things?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:08 David Alpert
Sekou Biddle: 
Great question. One major obstacle is that we lack the longitudinal data system to track students over time.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:10 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
Here's another question on education:
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:12 David Alpert
[Comment From MsVMsV: ] 
How will you deal with truancy issues in Ward 7 when many of the reasons the kids are truant have to deal with dysfunctional family lives or the fact that kids have to take 2 buses to get to school?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:12 MsV
Sekou Biddle: 
First, regarding the transportation issue—We need to improve and ensure that there are good schools in each community. As a student of DCPS myself, I traveled across the city to get to school on time on a consistent basis. I understand first-hand the challenges that students have doing that today.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:14 Sekou Biddle
Sekou Biddle: 
Second, regarding family issues—we need to make sure that the human services dollars we are spending to support families have a component in them for students to be successful in school. For example, for young children, literacy is important part for their success. We need to encourage parents to understand why reading to their children is important. And help them to access resources, such as libraries and adult education, so that they can support their childrens' school success.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:16 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
Thanks. A few people have asked about the voucher debate in Congress:
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:16 David Alpert
Sekou Biddle: 
No matter the challenges that families face in their communities, schools must reach out to parents to support their childrens' success.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:17 Sekou Biddle
[Comment From Steve GlazermanSteve Glazerman: ] 
House proposal to bring back DC voucher program. For or against?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:16 Steve Glazerman
Sekou Biddle: 
While I support vouchers for families to have educational opportunities, I am opposed to the Congress imposing their will on the residents of the District of Columbia. We have the capacity to make these decisions for ourselves. We want to make sure that we are not a party to funding discrimination.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:18 Sekou Biddle
Sekou Biddle: 
Vouchers are not a long-term solution to solving the educational inequities in DC.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:19 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
OK, one more education question before we move on to other subjects:
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:19 David Alpert
[Comment From SusieSusie: ] 
Much has been made of improving parenting across the board as a way to improve school success and child and youth outcomes generall. Does CM Biddle have any thoughts about how schools and others might do this?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:19 Susie
Sekou Biddle: 
Yes, specifically, working with parents to improve their literacy skills—reading to their children at an early age and making that a lifestyle—is a great start for all children.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:21 Sekou Biddle
Sekou Biddle: 
We need to understand that all parents want what's best for their children. The challenge is that many parents do not have adequate resources to support their children.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:22 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
Any specific things the Council can do on that front?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:21 David Alpert
Sekou Biddle: 
Yes, as one example, we can support programming in our library system that encourages parents to read to their children as well as to bring their children to the library.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:23 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
A number of people have asked about the budget.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:28 David Alpert
[Comment From MarkMark: ] 
Human services make up nearly 40% of the budget. Education makes up another 20%. Does he have any specific proposal in cuts in either area to close the $600 million deficit?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:28 Mark
[Comment From PetworthPetworth: ] 
What city programs would CM Biddle cut funding for or eliminate funding for first?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:29 Petworth
[Comment From MartinMartin: ] 
Where's the balance between cuts and tax hikes, with the coming $600 million deficit?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:29 Martin
David Alpert: 
All are wondering, how do we close the deficit? Cuts? Revenues? Where would you start?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:29 David Alpert
Sekou Biddle: 
I think that we need to make it a priority that we are collecting monies owed to the District first—unpaid property taxes for example. Also improving our system to ensure that we don't have more situations like what happened with the DC Dept of Health and Human Services. What happened there was they failed to obtain federal monies dedicated to the District.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:32 Sekou Biddle
Sekou Biddle: 
With a $600 million deficit, it's clear that cuts will have to be made. But, it's critical that we put everything on the table and get real public input. These decisions have to be made out in the open. We have to consider the proposal that the Mayor will submit this Spring.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:34 Sekou Biddle
Sekou Biddle: 
I also think that in this budget decision we have to consider the downward trend in revenues over several years that we need to bring contingencies into the FY2012 budget so that if we find ourselves with decreased revenues then, we've already had the conversation about the kinds of cuts we would make.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:35 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
Let's talk about development and the form of the city for a bit.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:36 David Alpert
[Comment From OctaviusIIIOctaviusIII: ] 
Tommy Wells recently called stretch of Mass. Avenue between Mount Vernon Square and Union Station the "mediocre mile." With new Douglas developments on New York Avenue starting, and with major redesigns of Mount Vernon Square in the planning stages, how will you work to make sure those areas don't turn out mediocre, too?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:36 OctaviusIII
Sekou Biddle: 
We need to publicly agree upon what the District's priorities are.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:36 Sekou Biddle
Sekou Biddle: 
It's important that the property owners engage the community in a series of charettes to solicit the community's perspectives on their needs and priorities to arrive at the best possible result. We should encourage the DC Office of Planning to facilitate that process. We need to find ways to encourage new development that promotes livability. The problem with that stretch of Massachusetts Avenue is its lack of vibrancy during parts of the day. That's what needs to be addressed.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:40 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
A number of economic development questions...
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:41 David Alpert
[Comment From CarenCaren: ] 
Would you have voted for the Adams Morgan hotel tax break?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:41 Caren
Sekou Biddle: 
I would say that we need to take a more comprehensive approach to how we provide tax breaks. If this had been a part of a larger vision for economic development for Ward 1 and for the City, I would have considered voting for. But I'm going to be fighting for a more unified plan that analyzes the return on our investment, including jobs for District residents, return on property and sales tax revenue over the lifespan of the financing. Also..
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:44 Sekou Biddle
Sekou Biddle: 
We don't currently have the apparatus to appropriately evaluate the return on investment of these kinds of projects. Also, earlier today, the Council, the Mayor and the CFO reviewed the City's economic developments across the City. This will be the first year—required by law—that the CFO will be responsible for showing on the whole all of these investments in one place.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:46 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
That's great! I look forward to seeing this review.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:47 David Alpert
[Comment From EricEric: ] 
What obstacles stand in the way of business investment in DC? We frequently lose out to NoVa.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:47 Eric
David Alpert: 
Or do you agree or disagree with the premise of the question that we are losing out?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:50 David Alpert
Sekou Biddle: 
Considering that we have an unemployment rate above 10%, we must focus on being competitive with our neighbors. One obstacle is regulatory. It's difficult for small businesses to navigate our local bureaucracy. The regulatory structure is arcane. Our residents have to be trained and educated to serve the businesses we want to attract. Given the demand for businesses and residents to be in attractive urban areas, and given that we are the nation's capital, we have to take active steps to get there.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:52 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
Thanks. We have time for just a couple more...
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:52 David Alpert
[Comment From joshjosh: ] 
Can you talk to us about your approach to crime in the district besides saying you are opposed to it and hope to help the DCPD fight it. What programs do you see that are working? What isn't working?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:52 josh
David Alpert: 
(My inner editor notes: Our police force's initials are MPD, not DCPD, by the way.)
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:53 David Alpert
Sekou Biddle: 
Last night I was at an emergency public safety meeting in response to the murder of Bill Mitchell who intervened to rescue a resident who was being assaulted. Chief Lanier pointed out that approximately 40% of violent crimes are committed by youth. This indicates we must improve our education system. I am focused on this through the School Safety and Truancy Committee, which I chair.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:55 Sekou Biddle
Sekou Biddle: 
Here is an opportunity where we must better integrate all the public safety agencies—MPD, WMATA Transit Police, Park Police, Federal Special Services, etc. Obviously given the unique nature of the District, all of our public safety officials have to be working in concert with each other.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:56 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
We haven't talked transportation much, but let's do one:
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:57 David Alpert
[Comment From pmtpmt: ] 
Congrats on your appointment, sir. Please tell us your thoughts on returning streetcars to DC.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:57 pmt
Sekou Biddle: 
Streetcars are a great way to incentivize businesses to invest in some of our most important corridors. Having a streetcar system potentially powered by renewable energy will enable District residents to breathe cleaner air and demonstrate our commitment to environmental responsibility.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 1:59 Sekou Biddle
Sekou Biddle: 
Our Streetcar system is an important component of a multi-modal transportation infrasture. The streetcar system will support the city and the region's longterm plans toward supporting and enhancing walkable neighborhood centers.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 2:00 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
OK, we're about out of time but Sekou has agreed to answer one more that I think we would all enjoy hearing:
Wednesday January 26, 2011 2:01 David Alpert
[Comment From SteveSteve: ] 
Will you commute by Metro, bike, or Lincoln Navigator?
Wednesday January 26, 2011 2:01 Steve
Sekou Biddle: 
I already commute by Metrobus—the S9—by bike and my 10-year-old Volkswagen. Also .. .
Wednesday January 26, 2011 2:02 Sekou Biddle
Sekou Biddle: 
We need to improve Metro bus and rail service so that many more residents will have the opportunity to use an express bus like the S9, which has increased my own ridership. And ..
Wednesday January 26, 2011 2:03 Sekou Biddle
Sekou Biddle: 
Anything we can do to foster these improvements are the right steps and I'm confident that my colleague Tommy Wells has the vision to move us forward.
Wednesday January 26, 2011 2:05 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
Thank you so much for joining us and for extending for those couple extra minutes. We covered a lot of really interesting subjects!
Wednesday January 26, 2011 2:05 David Alpert
Sekou Biddle: 
It's been great chatting with you. I'm excited to work with you as your current At-Large Councilmember and I ask for your vote on April 26th in the Special Election. if you have any questions that haven't been answered here today, please visit or follow me on twitter @sekoubiddle. I can be reached at
Wednesday January 26, 2011 2:06 Sekou Biddle
David Alpert: 
Readers: In the comments on the post on Greater Greater Washington, please give your thoughts about the chat. Did this discussion make you more likely to support Sekou? Less likely? Are there issues you feel you would have wanted more information? Please give your reactions to help other readers make up their minds!
Wednesday January 26, 2011 2:07 David Alpert
David Alpert: 
Also, we'll be back next week with live chats with both Patrick Mara and Bryan Weaver, and other candidates to come in the future. Thanks for joining us!
Wednesday January 26, 2011 2:08 David Alpert


What do you think of Sekou's responses? Did this chat change your opinion of him or help you make up your mind for the election? Post your thoughts in the comments.

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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 daughter in Dupont Circle. 


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Seems like a smart guy. I thought he was particularly strong on the transportation related questions. His answer to the question on the budget doesn't really have specifics that would fully close the budget, but he's trying to get elected so I guess I can't really fault him there.

I was reasonably impressed overall, and I certainly wouldn't be disappointed if he were elected. Whether or not I will vote for him, I'm not sure. I'd like to hear more about the other candidates, particularly Mara and apparently Weaver (who seems to be getting lots of attention).

by Steven Yates on Jan 26, 2011 2:33 pm • linkreport

I like this feature. Would be great to do this with all of the candidates.

by chenna on Jan 26, 2011 2:35 pm • linkreport

I thought the questions were good and the responses more than reasonable. I would have expected more land-use, zoning, and appointment types of questions.

by William on Jan 26, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport

For those who don't follow this stuff, the SBOE that David referred to stands for State Board of Education, the elected advisory board to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education that Sekou served on until he was appointed to the Council.

I'm glad to hear Sekou talking about the lack of a longitudinal education data system. I think we might actually have one (the federal grant that funded its development ends this year), but I haven't seen any public evidence of the SLED (State Longitudinal Education Data) system in action yet.

The question is whether as an elected member of the Council he will provide the oversight to make it happen. This is something that research nerds like myself care about, but the public should as well, because more, better data can improve schools and aid in meaningful accountability.

Sekou's answer to my voucher question was politically shrewd given the likely divergence of views on school vouchers among DC's electorate. We can all agree (hopefully) that it's unseemly to invite Congress into local affairs, regardless of what the policy is or whether they fully fund it.

Good answer to the IMPACT question too.

I will admit that I was the one who asked the Metro/bike/SUV question. I couldn't resist. I had just finished reading this:

by Steven Glazerman on Jan 26, 2011 4:27 pm • linkreport

This was a very useful feature, and made me more likely to support Biddle--I didn't know much about him before. I agree, I'd like to see this with other candidates so I can compare and contrast, especially Mara and Weaver.

by Dan Miller on Jan 26, 2011 5:37 pm • linkreport

I think Biddle lost my vote.

In addition to the utterly scuzzy way in which his appointment was made by a handful of people - and which he has not indicated any qualms about that process - I found his answers to have all the buzzwords one normally expects from overpaid and underwhelming consultants, as well as an incredible superficial lack of substance.

In particular, his answer on businesses is the same type of drivel often heard from other politicos. Yet what's one of the biggest impediments to businesses starting in DC rather than in Virginia? Not regulatory hurdles, but TAXES. But instead of addressing DC's utter lack of tax competitiveness with surrounding jurisdictions, he uses consultant-speak to basically say he'll support tax increases.

And his similar non-substantive answer on streetcars was equally vapid.

My biggest problem with Biddle is that he's the hand-picked appointee of Gray, Kwame, Thomas & Barry -- all of whom lobbied the Dem State Party insiders on Biddle's behalf. I have a very hard time seeing Biddle stake out an independent role for himself.

That's not to say he's not a nice guy. He just won't be his own man.

by Fritz on Jan 27, 2011 8:27 am • linkreport

He sounded weak on the budget issues... we don't have a "DC Dept of Health and Human Services" and we aren't going to fix the enormous budget gap by collecting money that is owed.

by Andy on Jan 28, 2011 10:26 am • linkreport

I hope you'll get specific with the questions about streetcars. Will they support the essential extensions of the H Street line to Minnesota Avenue and to Union Station? Will they budget for additional vehicles? Which lines and when will they be funded?

Just saying they support streetcars doesn't lay any track.

by David Holmes on Jan 28, 2011 2:41 pm • linkreport

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