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Development


Worried about DC gentrification? A new bill would speed it up and lose affordable housing

As housing prices rise, the few affordable units in booming neighborhoods become even more important. But a new bill in the DC Council would cut the period of time when such a unit has to remain affordable, removing affordable housing in some of DC's fastest-changing neighborhoods.


Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

Right now, when the city subsidizes a new housing unit for sale, that unit has to remain affordable for at least 15 years. If an owner wants to sell the unit during that time period, he or she must sell it at a price that another similarly low-income buyer can afford. After 15 years, the owner can sell it for any price.

But a bill by Councilmember Anita Bonds would cut that affordability period to five years in neighborhoods classified as "distressed," where the poverty rate is 20% or more. That includes neighborhoods like Mt. Pleasant, Columbia Heights, and Bloomingdaleareas that were affordable 15 to 20 years ago but have quickly become out of reach for low-income households without subsidies.

The 15 year limit helps maintain a stock of low-cost units for current (and future) low-income home buyers, and helps keep affordable housing in neighborhoods whose prices might rapidly rise.

If the bill passes, within five years much of the affordable housing being bought now in these neighborhoods could be lost. The existing affordable units cost less to build than they would today, meaning it's very unlikely the city could replace the lost units without major additional public money.

There might be specific DC neighborhoods where the housing market is so slow that residents need incentives to buy even affordable units there, but that's not the case in these areas. A good bill would carefully weigh the market conditions and how much affordable housing would be lost. This bill doesn't do that.

The proposed law would also give the nonprofit developer who originally built the unit the first right to buy the unit back, but after 5 years it would be at market rate. In any of these rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, that means the nonprofit would spend much more money to get the unit than it earned by building it. It would need an extra subsidy (on top of the original subsidy) to make the unit affordable to the next low-income buyer.

In these still-tough budget times, what jurisdiction can afford to pour brand new subsidy into the same units every five years?

Other cities and counties don't do this

The proposed change is out of step with affordability best practices across the country, and also with jurisdictions in our own backyard. It positions DC, which has in the past been a leader both locally and nationally in affordable housing policy and funding, to have some of the most lax affordability restrictions in the region when it comes to homeownership.

Arlington imposes a 30-year affordability restriction on units developed with its Affordable Housing Investment Fund. Homeowners using the mortgage assistance program (MIPAP) have to share the proceeds of a sale to help the next low-income buyer afford the property.

Montgomery County, which notably started out with 5-year restrictions back in the 1970s, has increased its affordability period to 30 years on many of the properties in the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit (MPDU) program. According to a National Housing Institute report, the county had lost two-thirds of the affordable units it had created by the time it enacted the 30-year requirement.

The proposed DC change also breaks rank with other progressive jurisdictions around the country like San Francisco and Seattle (King County) that have typically been DC's housing peers.

What about truly distressed neighborhoods?

There may be places where long-term restrictions truly inhibit homeownership. Potential residents might refuse to buy a unit in such a neighborhood if they can't sell it for a substantial profit in a short period of time. But to find them should require a much more detailed approach than looking at the poverty rate.

Plus, poverty data can be as much as five years old by the time we get it. A gentrifying neighborhood could take more than a decade to stop being defined as "distressed." Columbia Heights, Mount Pleasant, and Bloomingdale above all began transitioning more than ten years ago. A better definition of distressed could look at current data about home values, sales price, and number of transactions.

Why have a restriction on resale at all?

Those pushing for this change argue that since a market-rate homebuyer can turn around and sell his or her house for more money when the market rises, so should anyone who purchases a subsidized unit.

If public subsidies were unlimited and the government could fund enough affordable housing for everyone, or there were enough naturally-occurring affordable housing to meet people's needs at any income level, then there wouldn't be a problem.

But in the real world where we have limited resources, it seems to make sense to say that if someone shares with you, you should share with the next person. In affordable homeownership terms, we call this concept "equity sharing."

Equity sharing models don't say that subsidized buyers walk away with no gain at all, but they don't get to walk away with everything either. Data and research from restricted homeownership models tell us that homeowners in these units tend to sell their homes at the same rate as other homeowners, within 5 to 7 years, and that about two-thirds of them are able to build enough wealth in the process to buy their next homes at market price with no deed restrictions. Brett Theodos explained this in more detail in a previous post.

A Center for Housing Policy report about affordable homeownership strategies says that well-designed programs can both protect limited public resources while also giving buyers the benefits of homeownership. Through them, the city can both help low-income buyers build wealth and keep the unit affordable for the foreseeable future.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth and City First Homes, an affordable housing nonprofit, have weighed in with a full set of recommendations to make this proposed bill less harmful. Meanwhle, the DC Affordable Housing Alliance has drafted a sign-on letter to encourage the council to support these changes; email me to sign on as an individual or an organization.

Besides Bonds, the bill's author, cosponsors include Muriel Bowser (ward 4), Kenyan McDuffie (ward 5), and Marion Barry (ward 8). Councilmembers will hear from the public about this bill on May 29th at 10:00 am. Contact Judah Gluckman to sign up to speak or to submit written comments.

Politics


Wells will not run for DC Council at-large seat; Elissa Silverman declares her candidacy

DC Councilmember Tommy Wells (Ward 6) will put to rest a long period of speculation today and announce he will not run for an at-large seat on the DC Council, GGW has learned. In addition, Elissa Silverman is filing papers this afternoon to run for the seat.


Photo by Tommy Wells on Flickr.

Silverman previously ran in the 2013 special election which was won by Anita Bonds. Silverman placed second in a field which split votes among multiple self-described "progressive" challengers to Bonds, who had been appointed as interim councilmember when Phil Mendelson moved up to chairman.

Wells ran for mayor in the April 1 primary. While he was one of four councilmembers running for mayor, he was the only one up for reelection in the same year, and thus had to give up his seat to seek higher office. Meanwhile, Independent David Catania will also not seek reelection in November to run for mayor against Democratic nominee Muriel Bowser. Wells had considered running for Catania's seat to remain on the council.

Wells confirmed via phone that he has decided not to run. In a statement, he said,

The Council needs an infusion of fresh leadership, and I need to apply my Council experience to new challenges. While it takes time for newly elected council members to learn the ropes, once they do, they bring fresh energy and perspective that more than compensates for time spent on the learning curve. They are eager to get to work on fulfilling their promises, testing new ideas, and addressing the very issues that inspired them to run for officeand won them the votes of their constituents.

I am proud of what I have accomplished during my two terms as the Ward 6 Councilmember. My service has brought action, advocacy, and innovation to our city. I passed a bag fee that has dramatically reduced pollution and funded the cleanup of the Anacostia River; championed and secured funding for expanded Circulator bus lines and a streetcar system that will connect underserved DC neighborhoods to jobs and city amenities; advanced social justice reforms including the decriminalization of marijuana possession and a minimum wage increase; and worked with Ward 6 residents to make our elementary schools the envy of our city.

Wells said he is not publicly endorsing anyone at this time. However, the timing of his announcement on the same day as Silverman's move certainly raises questions about whether the timing is more than coincidental.

Mindful of the vote-splitting from past elections and given that Wells and Silverman share many ideological views (and likely voter bases), it is likely that Silverman did not want to file if Wells were running, and also likely that she discussed the possibility with Wells before making a decision.

Many other people have voiced some level of interest in running for the seat, including current Ward 7 member Yvette Alexander. Eugene Puryear won a contested primary for the Statehood Green nomination for the seat.

This post has been updated with additional information.

Transit


DC lost out on $22 million by dawdling on bus priority

Back in February of 2010, it looked like projects to cut down on bus delays were imminent. Our region had received federal stimulus grants to make bus service better and reduce delays. But four years later, they still haven't gotten done.


Photo by hamster! on Flickr.

We've been frustrated at how low a priority DDOT seems to place on bus service and projects to streamline it. DC Councilmember Mary Cheh, who oversees transportation, and her staff are similarly "disappointed," "frustrated," and "displeased," according to the committee report on the budget.

The report takes DDOT to task for inaction on the projects. It points out that they were estimated to save $5.6 million a year, so if DDOT had actually completed the projects, it could have saved $22 million by now. (And, with a more significant project like a full bus lane on 16th Street, DC could save even more money.)

The money was part of the TIGER grant program in the federal stimulus package, aimed at getting the economy moving quickly by funding "shovel-ready" projects that could create jobs immediately. For the District, the US Department of Transportation approved funding for some queue jump lanes, real-time bus displays at busy stops, and signal priority, along 16th Street, Georgia Avenue, H Street/Benning Road, Wisconsin Avenue, and along two routes from Potomac River bridges to downtown, 14th Street and 18th/19th Street.

Cheh's report points out that "In 2010, DDOT received $12.3 million in federal TIGER grant funds for bus priority improvements along six transportation corridors in the District. Four years later, little progress has been made and 79% of the funds remain unspent." The report lists these budget figures for each line:

Project NameNumberTotal AllotmentsCurrent BalanceOperating Savings
14th St. Bridge to K St. Bus PriorityAF088$3,717,346$2,526,732$1,000,000
16th St, NW Bus PriorityAF083$565,000$463,060$1,000,000
Georgia Avenue Bus PriorityAF084$3,685,598$3,097,680$300,000
H St./Benning Rd/ Bus PriorityAF085$154,000$153,863$400,000
TR Bridge to K St. Bus PriorityAF087$3,853,057$3,205,962$900,000
Wisconsin Ave. Bus PriorityAF086$345,000$276,018$2,000,000
Total$12,320,001$9,723,315$5,600,000

The idea of a bus lane on 16th Street gets particular attention from Cheh (and DDOT's inaction, particular scorn):

[T]he Committee remains displeased with the absence in the Mayor's proposed budget of identified funding to improve bus travel on 16th Street. Traffic congestion and bus ridership on 16th Street continue to increase. Although signal prioritization and increased parking enforcement may provide temporary assistance, the District must consider all possible options to remedy this issue.

The Committee recommends that DDOT work with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to conduct a comprehensive study regarding the potential implementation of a bus lane on 16th Street and other possible service improvements, such as off-bus fare collection.

In their responses to oversight questions, DDOT officials explained what hadn't been done yet, without really explaining why it has taken so long. For the signal priority, it has taken local governments many years to agree with WMATA on what technology should go on the buses and the signals. DDOT is transferring the real-time screens over to WMATA.

Bus lanes on a few blocks of Georgia Avenue have gotten through design and are starting procurement "late this spring"; the construction will happen over a year after the contract is awarded (which can sometimes take a while), but will definitely happen before fall 2016, the final deadline for spending the money.

Besides spending millions more than necessary on bus operations and forcing riders to spend more time traveling, DDOT could be hurting its chances to get future federal grants by taking so long.

When the first TIGER grants came out, there were rules letting USDOT reallocate money from jurisdictions that didn't spend and create jobs quickly to those that did. Then-DDOT Director Gabe Klein talked about being ready to snap up some of that money. Instead, the agency he once headed has become one of the laggards.

Public Spaces


Should there be a new indoor pool in the Logan Circle area?

Instead of a parking garage, the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR)-owned land near 14th and S Streets, NW in DC could serve a recreational purpose. DPR seems to think so: its map of where the city needs pools seems to point right at this spot.


Wilson Aquatic Center. Image from DC DPR.

Now the agency may have a chance to follow through, as its budget will likely include funding for a study and community engagement around how to use this land for recreation, whether as a new indoor pool or something else.

DPR put out a "vision framework" in March which lays out specifically where there is the greatest need for parks, rec centers, pools, and playing fields. Maps show how wide an area each type of facility serves, and suggests general locations for new facilities.

For pools, DPR set a general goal of having a "splash pad" within 1 mile of every resident, an outdoor pool within 1½ miles, and an indoor pool within 2 miles.


Image from DC DPR.

The residents who are farther than this from an outdoor pool are in Upper Northwest, which has the greatest dearth of outdoor pools. Mary Cheh, whose committee oversees parks and recreation, funded an outdoor pool for that area, most of which she also represents.

DPR's map also suggests DC needs about six new "splash pads" in the northeast and southeast quadrants, three east of the river and three west. And as for indoor pools, DPR's plan says there are enough, except for in one area: the middle part of the city centered around 14th Street.


Image from DC DPR.

The locations of the asterisks showing needed facilities aren't supposed to be exact, but that yellow star looks like it's right around 14th and Q. It so happens that DPR has a large parcel of land just two blocks from that spot, a parcel which has plenty of room for an indoor pool and other recreation.

This is the spot where some area businesses have been suggesting a public parking garage, which would be a bad investment for the city. Should it instead get a pool or other recreational use? Is that what DPR has in mind?


Image from Bing Maps.

Cheh is intrigued, and allocated some money in her budget proposal for DPR to study what kind of recreational use could be appropriate here.

Square 238, located on S Street, NW, between 13th and 14th Streets, NW, is used by DPR as a parking lot and for maintenance and storage purposes. This location is precisely where DPR has identified a need for an indoor aquatic facility and other recreation needs.

Although some have proposed this site for a municipal parking garage, the Committee believes that this parcel is ripe for a new recreation facility. Therefore, the Committee recommends allotting $500,000 to engage the community in a design process to consider potential recreation uses for this site.

This parcel was also proposed as part of a possible land swap for a DC United stadium, but that deal is looking less and less likely with the Gray mayoralty heading into the sunset and substantial skepticism from councilmembers including Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser.

Is recreation the right use here? If so, should it be a pool? There are a lot more children (and a lot of other people) in the general vicinity of this spot than there once were. On the other hand, there are two private pools very close by which the public can access (for a fee): the DC JCC at 16th and Q and the new Anthony Bowen YMCA at 13th and W.

What do you think should go here?

Budget


Cheh funds 11th Street Bridge Park, trees and recreation for Ivy City, and an Upper Northwest pool

Transportation chair Mary Cheh has released her serious budget proposals today, and has added funding to design and build a park on the piers of the old 11th Street Bridge, give the neglected Ivy City neighborhood new trees and a recreation center, and more.


Artist's rendering of the 11th Street Bridge Park.

Tomorrow, Cheh will propose that her committee amend Mayor Gray's proposed transportation capital budget to add $2 million to design the bridge park in Fiscal Year 2015, followed by $12.5 million across FY2016 and FY2017 to build it. That will cover half the cost; bridge supporters plan to raise the other half from private sources.

Under Cheh's plan, $300,000 will go to fix up streetscapes at Eastern Market, while $1 million over two years will pay to extend Ivy City's sidewalks and include treeboxes. That neighborhood, in an industrial part of the city, has no tree boxes on most of its streets, and therefore no street trees.

Instead of a tour bus parking lot, as the Gray administration proposed last year, Cheh's budget will fund a recreation center on that site (which costs almost $9 million). Rec centers in Chevy Chase, Edgewood, Hardy (in Foxhall Village) and Hillcrest get more money as well, as does the Therapeutic Recreation Center in Ward 7's Randle Circle.

The budget includes $500,000 to finish design for Franklin Square (but funding to actually help build the new park is yet to come in the future).

Roads will also get more money: repaving and repairs to roadways get a boost of $321,000 for each of the eight wards in FY2015. That's in addition to the mayor's capital budget which gave each ward's road projects about $5.2 million over six years. Ward 8 also got an extra $1.3 million from Gray, and Cheh's amendment moves it from the operating budget to the capital budget.

Finally, Cheh is funding a new outdoor pool to go somewhere in Ward 3, which residents have been campaigning for. Critics note that Ward 3 has one of the top public indoor swimming facilities in the city, at Wilson High School, but proponents say that indoor swimming isn't the same, and besides, the ward should have more pools.

Cheh's proposal also will fund some Ward 3 school and library projects: the Cleveland Park library, Palisades Library, Murch Elementary and Watkins Elementary renovations, and also the Capitol View library in Ward 7. It's not unusual for each ward councilmember to pop a few ward-based projects into their respective committees' budgets.

Where does this money come from?

A lot of the money comes from the South Capitol Street Bridge project. It current includes a swing span so that ships can access the Washington Navy Yard, but that was only opened 4 times in the last 8 years.

The Coast Guard has reportedly told DDOT that it is probably fine with not replacing the swing span. And, according to Cheh's committee director Drew Newman, they feel that if the federal government really wants a swing span anyway, then federal money should fund it. (DC is building the South Capitol bridge with local dollars, not federal transportation funds.) The change will save up to $140 million.

Cheh is also moving some streetcar money to later years, because DDOT has built up a surplus of almost $100 million in its streetcar accounts, and won't need some money in the capital plan until later on, according to Cheh's staff's analysis.

Circulator fares freeze, and commuter rail gets a plan

In the operating budget, not much is changing from Mayor Gray's very pro-transit budget. Cheh will freeze Circulator fares at their current level of $1 for at least one year, so that DDOT can engage with the public about whether the fares have to rise.

Another $500,000 will pay to create a Comprehensive Rail Plan. DC does not control MARC, VRE, Amtrak, or CSX, but there needs to be a unified plan about how to help grow commuter rail service in, out, and through DC. The tracks and stations at Union Station, L'Enfant Plaza, and the Long Bridge over the Potomac will need changes to make this possible, and since those facilities are in DC, the District can play a leadership role. The Committee of 100's Monte Edwards has been lobbying for planning around commuter rail, and he's absolutely right. Cheh agrees.

The Committee on Transportation and the Environment will hold its mark-up tomorrow. The other members, David Grosso, Kenyan McDuffie, Jim Graham, and Tommy Wells, could seek to introduce other amendments as well, though typically these budget proposals already reflect requests and negotiations between the councilmembers.

Government


Cheh proposes hoverboard lanes and a Palisades stadium

DC may hire a dedicated person to help drivers read stop signs, build hoverboard lanes, and place the DC United stadium atop the Palisades Safeway, under budget recommendations from DC Councilmember and transportation chair Mary Cheh. As you might guess, these are a joke.


Photo by Debbie Goard on Flickr.

April Fool's Day was six weeks ago, but today is the day for joviality from Cheh and her staff, who put out an annual joke budget memo as council committees are making their serious budget recommendations.

The stop sign reader, the memo says, also will help people decipher parking signs:

Residents and tourists will be pleased to have a government employee stand next to them, read the sign, look back at the individual, look back at the sign, look at the location of the car in question, look back at the sign, shrug their shoulders, and exclaim, "hell if I know."
DC needs hoverboard lanes, Cheh says, because as we know from Back to the Future, Part II, hoverboards exist in 2015 and therefore they are going to be invented soon.
Hoverboard lanes will be placed between sidewalks and bicycle lanes. Opponents may argue that these lanes will only fuel the war on cars. This Committee stands by its position that there is no war on cars; however, as a
precautionary measure, an additional $175,000 will be allocated to the Department of Public Works to assist in the clean-up after D.C. Transit Judgment Day: the day when vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists engage in an all-out war to determine the District's policy going forward. Fortunately, some of us will have hoverboards to help us escape the battle.
Cheh has a great plan to get DC United a stadium without having to swap land for the Reeves Center: put it at the Palisades Safeway. For background, Safeway wants to build a new store with housing on top, and a lot of neighbors oppose housing for the usual reasons.

Cheh says this is a perfect solution:

Providing the Safeway with a grass roof will help the company obtain LEED certification. Moreover, residents will not need to be concerned about increased traffic or loud noise becauselet's face itwho really goes to D.C. United games.
Instead of the proposed Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola, Cheh wants to fund a zip line. She has great suggestions to deal with the school lottery: a Harry Potter-style "sorting hat," or alternately, a "Hunger Games" style fight at RFK stadium.

Read the whole thing.

Politics


DC's staggered elections give a random half of politicians an edge for higher office. That's a problem.

The system of elections in the District of Columbia gives a big advantage to councilmembers who represent half of the wards over those elected from the other half. This discourages good councilmembers from running for mayor or council chair.


Staggered lane number image from Shutterstock.

Half the council seats, for wards 1, 3, 5, and 6 and two of the at-large seats, come up for election in the same years as the mayor and council chair (such as this year). The other half, wards 2, 4, 7, and 8 and the other two at-large seats, run in the even-numbered years in between (such as 2012 and 2016).

This means councilmembers holding one of the mayoral/chair election cycle seats must choose between running for re-election or trying for higher office. Meanwhile, their counterparts in the other half of the seats can avoid taking risks and run for chair or mayor without giving up their seats.

Since half of all councilmembers must vacate their seats to run for mayor or council chair, the mayoral system dissuades some of the city's most experienced and productive leaders from running for DC's top government posts. The data show that this is indeed happening.

Since DC home rule was enacted in 1973, those in off-mayoral/chair seats have run for council chair 4 times and for mayor 17 times. Conversely, those in mayoral/chair election cycle seats have run for council chair 3 times and for mayor 6 times (and 4 of which were incumbent council chairs).

If this continues then one can expect more candidatesand more mayorsfrom Wards 2, 4, 7 and 8, thus giving an undue advantage to councilmembers and their constituents from those wards. Indeed, all three DC mayors elected with prior council experience (four if you count Marion Barry twice) came from one of those wards, and only Arrington Dixon and Linda Cropp have ascended from off-cycle seats to chair. Even Cropp is a particular exception as she won during a special election, and thus her council seat wasn't at risk.

What can be done?

DC could extend council seats to 6-year terms and have councilmembers alternate running between mayoral and non-mayoral elections. Or, there could be separate primaries for chair and mayor, similar to what we do for presidential elections.

Even better, we can follow the federal model and let people stand for two offices at once, as Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan did during the 2012 election while running for vice president. Or, perhaps DC rearranges the election calendar so all council seats come up for election in council-only elections, while the chair and mayor have their own elections.

DC should explore all options to ensure its election calendar and political circumstance doesn't discourage quality candidates. The current system is unfair to half the city. Of all places, the nation's capital needs a system that encourages its political talent to seek higher office and is fair to all its voters.

Politics


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.

Politics


For DC Council in Ward 6: Charles Allen

DC's Ward 6 has had excellent leadership for the past 7 years, not just from its councilmember, Tommy Wells, but also Charles Allen, Wells' chief of staff, who would make an excellent councilmember for the ward in his own right. We urge DC Democrats to choose Allen in the primary on April 1 and in early voting starting March 17.


Photo by Tommy Wells on Flickr.

Allen worked tirelessly with community groups to build consensus on controversial development projects. He stood up with Hill East residents frus­trated at the slow pace of progress on devel­oping the adjacent city-owned land. He helped H Street businesses adapt to streetscape construction and prepare for the streetcar. He pushed the city to formulate better visions for M Street SE/SW and NoMA and the ballpark district.

In many ways, he already has been doing the job of Ward 6 councilmember.

Anyone who has worked on local issues in the ward has worked with Charles Allen already. In taking the survey of contributors which we use to determine endorsements, one contributor wrote, "Charles is brilliant and will be a worthy successor to Tommy Wells." Another said, "Charles knows Ward 6 inside and out, and has proven himself to be an effective leader, both as Wells' chief-of-staff, and with the Ward 6 [Democrats]."

Another wrote, "Charles has the experience and knowledge required to be a fantastic Councilmember. He's a passionate supporter of smart growth, streetcars, livable streets, and more." Charles Allen is not simply the better of two alternatives; he is a very strong candidate and a good choice for Ward 6, which includes Capitol Hill, Southwest Waterfront, Near Southeast, H Street, NoMA, Mount Vernon Square/Triangle, and since the 2012 redistricting, also Shaw.

Charles' opponent, Darrel Thompson, seems to have a great heart and a likeable personality, but little to no experience with local issues. He has spent recent years doing good work in the Capitol and on the national stage, but as those of us who live and breathe local matters know, there is a huge gulf between Capitol Hill, the federal enclave, and Capitol Hill, the neighborhood. Pushing for national health care and mortgage relief and other issues nationally does not inherently make one qualified in local policy.

A candidate coming in as a blank slate on local issues often lacks a grounding in key issues to navigate the inherent conflicts. If he were in the legislature of a sharply divided partisan state, Democrats would know where Thompson stood on the most divisive issues. But while the DC Council has important and controversial issues, they are not the same ones as in Congress, nor do all Democrats think alike.

Instead, Thompson seems to have picked up a few of the worst complaints from irate citizens, like those who implacably fought development at the Hine school or those who never wanted a streetcar. On other issues, Thompson seems to have simply copied Allen's platform, talking about family affordable housing and middle schools almost identically to Allen. Residents have often seen Allen first talk about an issue, and then Thompson do the same a few weeks later.

DC would be greatly enriched if Darrel Thompson chose to lend his experience and talent to local matters by being involved with an Advisory Neighborhood Commission, neighborhood group, or advocacy on a specific issue. We hope he will get involved for the long run, and maybe he would make a great at-large member, or better yet, delegate to Congress one day in the future, once he has been able to form his own clear views on many topics.

For now, Thompson claims he's running because we need "new leadership." If he lived in one of a number of other wards, that would be an attractive slogan. In Ward 6, it is not. The leadership the ward has is some of the best. We know what Charles Allen believes and will do. He has done it, and has done well for Ward 6.

We shouldn't assume that staffers for elected officials necessarily deserve to step into the top role. Charles Allen does, not because he worked for Tommy Wells, but because of what he has done for Ward 6. We urge Democratic voters in Ward 6 to cast their votes for Charles Allen on April 1 or vote early beginning March 17.

For more information on Allen and Thompson, see our video interviews with the candidates on housing, transportation, and education.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine endorsements, we invite regular contributors and editors to participate in a survey about their preferences and opinions about upcoming races. The editorial board then decides whether to make an endorsement based on the responses in the survey and whether there is a clear consensus.

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