Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Jack Evans

Public Spaces


Dupont will get a new park over Connecticut Avenue

Where Connecticut Avenue dives under Dupont Circle, there is a block-long space between Q Street and the circle which residents have long dreamed of covering over to create a park. Now, that is likely to actually happen.


Image by M.V. Jantzen.

Councilmember Jack Evans (ward 2, which includes Dupont) announced at last night's Dupont Circle Citizens' Association meeting that the fiscal year 2015 budget will include $10 million to deck over this area and create a park.

According to Tom Lipinsky, Evans' communications director, Evans asked Chairman Mendelson to add the funding in the final phase of the budget, approved last week. ANC Commissioner Mike Feldstein has been working for some time to build support for the idea, sketch out possible designs, and get rough cost estimates, and he approached Evans about funding the project.

Feldstein said, "The next step is getting advice on what works in parks like that, and getting community input." The park could break ground as early as October if plans can be approved, Lipinsky noted.

Local architect John Jedzinak created a concept sketch for what a park might look like. Feldstein emphasized that this is not an official design, but just something showing various ideas; the real design process (which could use some of these ideas, or others) is yet to come.


Click for larger version.

Besides simply adding park space, which is always valuable, this would better connect the two sides of Connecticut Avenue, and add plenty of room to enjoy food from the eateries nearby. Further, since this would not be National Park Service land, it would be possible to program this space with events much more flexibly than NPS regulations allow for the circle itself.

Behind the buildings on the west side of Dupont Circle is a fairly large surface parking lot, which is a rarity in the neighborhood and not the best use of space when it could have needed housing. However, one argument against developing this space (besides it being up to the property owner) is that the farmers' market uses that parking lot and adjacent 20th Street. This park could possibly become the new site of the farmers' market.

There is a similar block with a sunken road on North Capitol Street between T Street and Rhode Island Avenue. Once this project is complete, it would be a good idea for the council to consider funding a deck park there as well.

Development


Dan Snyder talking with DC, Maryland, and Virginia about new football stadiums

This article was posted as an April Fool's joke.

DC officials and candidates have long been talking about plans to try and lure the Washington NFL team back to play within the city limits. It was revealed today that, in fact, this is part of a larger deal with Maryland and Virginia to build stadiums for the team in all three jurisdictions.


Photo by inneedofhelp08 on Flickr.

Owner Dan Snyder revealed at a press conference that by spreading the team's home games between the three jurisdictions, he can end some of the squabbling over where the team plays.

Each stadium would be built entirely with team money, provided that the local jurisdictions prepare and deliver the land intact and for free, only as long as they donate approximately $700 million to the team prior to delivery.

This plan will also provide a solution to the controversy about the team name. When playing in DC, the team will use a different name, thereby allowing Snyder to please critics who wanted him to change the name while also retaining the old one, as he had vowed to do.

DC Mayor Vincent Gray said that this would allow the District to gain the "civic spirit" it is looking for, and entice players to live in the District, bringing in tax revenue.

Jack Evans explained that the existence of a stadium will bring economic development to the area. When asked whether this will still happen with the team playing only 2-3 games per year on the site, Evans pointed out that past stadium advocacy has never analyzed whether it matters how many games a team plays, so he is not considering that a factor here as well. "Besides," said Evans, "the difference between 3 games and 8 games is only 5 days, or one week, so it can't matter much."

Councilmember Vincent Orange said he thinks this just might be the thing to bring tourists to DC. In a statement, he said, "The Redskins playing in DC for a couple of weeks each year will mean huge benefits to our city, as having a stadium will give tourists a reason to visit Washington over most any other large American city."

Maryland would also build a new stadium, possibly at National Harbor. It would replace the aging FedEx Field, which at 17 years old is greatly outdated and inadequate to the team's needs. Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker said that the site would be "transit-oriented," since at least one bus per day will travel to and from the stadium site on game days.

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley said that the new stadium would bring more tax revenue to Maryland, as many of the players would likely live in Maryland as a result of the stadium.

Virginia lawmakers aren't quite sure where their stadium would go, but one person suggested replacing Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport with a new riverfront stadium. He said "the location is great, and it's such a pain for many in Northern Virginia to drive to National instead of Dulles anyway." Such a plan would require adding 12 more highway lanes through Arlington, which a Giles County lawmaker said was surely possible without causing any side effects to any important places.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe didn't take a position on the location or the roadways, but said that since many players will want to live near the stadium, it will be a big asset to the state and whatever area is ultimately chosen for the location.

Since the negotiations have been going on for some time, the Washington Post also revealed that former governor Bob McDonnell had struck a deal with a contracting firm to pay them $1 million per day as a "mobilization fee" until such time as a stadium can be constructed.

Politics


Will the next mayor build a new football stadium?

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. Here are the discussions about a potential football stadium with candidates for all of the races we covered. See all of the interviews here.

There's a lot of popular support inside DC for having the Washington NFL team play its games in the District instead of Landover, Maryland. But at what cost, and is that worth it?


Photo by Aaron G Stock on Flickr.

Mayor Vincent Gray thinks so. He said,

I think it's got economic development potential. We've seen it with the baseball stadium. There were those who were very skeptical about whether the baseball stadium would have any catalytic effect at all. ... We can see what's happening there and I think the stadium and the team both are a factor in that.

And then I think it's something as straightforward as civic spirit.

There are people who believe our Washington team contribute to the psychic health—especially when they win—of the city. And all these years later, the team has been gone now 16, 17 years maybe longer, but I hear people constantly, constantly say to me, "Hey Mayor, when are we going to get the Washington football team back in to the city?"
Gray also believes locating the stadium in the city would lead to more players living in the city, as he said has happened with the Wizards and Capitals: "Far more of those players live in the city than would otherwise be the case if they were practicing outside the District of Columbia," he said.

Jack Evans, the Ward 2 councilmember who is also running for mayor, talked about his vision to rebuild RFK stadium as a new, 75,000-seat retractable-roof stadium.

When you mention the football team, people want the team back in the city. And even people in the suburbs want the team back in the city. ... What is a good location for it? Obviously the RFK site makes the most sense ... keeping in mind that it is federal land. ... The law states the only thing that can be constructed on that land is a stadium.
I pointed out that, in fact, the law simply says it should serve a recreational use, not necessarily professional football, but Evans still favors a football stadium.
In the metropolitan region, that is the best site for a football stadium, barring none, because of the transportation. You have the subway right on site, and a bunch of access roads. When then Nationals were playing at that stadium when the Yankees came to town, and we sold out 50-some thousand people at that stadium. We were able to get people in and out very quickly. That's the model you would use for a 75,000-seat stadium: The access, the location, there's so much benefit there. One could argue you could use it for something different, but if you're going to put a stadium in the metropolitan area, that's where you would put it.
Evans also said that the stadium would bring in development, "like we're seeing around Nationals Stadium or over at the Verizon Center." He called the idea a "big economic driver."

Meanwhile, Ward 6 council candidate Charles Allen doesn't think a stadium is the best use of the RFK site (which immediately abuts Ward 6):

I think building a stadium for 8 days out of the year is a bad idea. When you look at that site right now, it's an ocean of asphalt.

There's an amazing proposal called the Capital Riverside Youth Sports Park. We need to have more green space. I want to rip up all that asphalt and replace it with this concept, and have it run all the way to the Anacostia.

It's also an environmental justice issue. Every time we have a storm, every time we pile up snow and call it Mount Fenty, we have a devastating impact on the Anacostia River.


Sketch of proposed Capitol Riverside Youth Sports Park. Image from CRYSP.

Allen's opponent, Darrel Thompson, would like to bring the team back to DC, but not at the RFK site. "RFK is not the best site," he said. "We should find another location. ... You've got an awful lot of residents that don't want to see that. We have to make sure we've been listening to the residents."

But, I asked, any potential site would likely have residents opposed. Is it realistic to say the team should come back to the District but not at RFK because residents don't want it there. "We've got to look at all the different options," he responded.

At-large DC Council candidates John Settles and Pedro Rubio would like to see alternate uses for the site, possibly including housing. Settles said, "I look at RFK, and I see too much opportunity. I'd like to redevelop that. It could be a great mixed-use village that has everything from housing to entertainment space to fields to green space."

Rubio said, "As much as I want the Redskins to play in DC, with the traffic that comes with it, the space that's needed for affordable housing, I like them where they are right now. We can use the space for affordable housing, for nonprofits, colleges and schools."

Brianne Nadeau, who is running for council in Ward 1, isn't totally opposed to a stadium deal, but doesn't see it as very realistic to find a deal that's actually good for DC.

I don't think we have a football team owner that's particularly amenable to working with the District in a way that we would benefit. If that changes, I would rethink that. The other thing is with a football team, they take up a lot of space. There's so much parking lot area. ... I think we would have to be creative if we were ever going to do [a stadium]. How do we use it for the other 8 months of the year, and make sure it's the best use of space?
Her opponent, incumbent councilmember Jim Graham, would wait and see if there is every a real proposal. He said, "Dreaming is very important. I think people should continue to have [dreams]. ... When there's something there to hold onto, let's talk about it. There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip in that regard."

You can watch all of the videos below.

Vincent Gray:

Jack Evans:

Charles Allen:

Darrel Thompson:

John Settles:

Pedro Rubio:

Brianne Nadeau:

Jim Graham:

Politics


Candidates voice skepticism about a soccer stadium land swap deal

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. Here are the discussions about a potential football stadium with candidates for all of the races we covered. See all of the interviews here.

Would swapping land at 14th and U for a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point be a good deal for DC? Some candidates in the April 1 Democratic primary don't think so, while others want to ensure that a change benefits the affected neighborhoods of Buzzard Point and U Street.


Photo by Chase McAlpine on Flickr.

The Gray administration is negotiating to transfer the Reeves Center municipal office building at 14th and U to developer Akridge, in exchange for Akridge's land in Buzzard Point. This would be one element of a multi-faceted deal to assemble land for a DC United soccer stadium.

The full details of the deal aren't public or may not even be worked out yet, but candidates reacted to what we do know so far. Many think the land swap plan is too complicated.

Ward 1 councilmember Jim Graham said, "The numbers that I have seen suggest that we're paying high for a scrappy piece of property in an undesirable area, and underpaying for a government asset in a highly desirable area. Hold an auction for the Reeves building. People tell me you would be amazed how much money would be bid for the property."

Jack Evans, the Ward 2 member who's running for mayor, said, "I wouldn't do it that way. If you start with the premis that building a soccer stadium at that site is a good idea, and I do, the mayor's proposal is too complicated. It's hard to understand, hard to evaluate. People become very distrustful. If I would do it using the Reeves Center—and I'm not saying I would do that—I would just sell the Reeves Center and use the market price to buy the land, rather than trying to do it a way that looks suspicious."

John Settles, running against Anita Bonds for council at large, feels similarly. "I love DC United. I'm a soccer fan and a soccer coach. I don't think swapping the Reeves Center is a good strategy. I'd rather see the city just buy the 2 acres of land." He said that a new project to replace Reeves could represent an opportunity for affordable housing for families, coworking and incubator space for technology companies, and the arts.

Pedro Rubio, also running for the at-large seat, also said he supports the stadium at Buzzard Point, especially since many Latino residents and young people follow the team, but said, "I don't like the land swap." He worries about losing city services at the Reeves Center like the LGBT community center and Office of Latino Affairs.

Muriel Bowser, Ward 4 councilmember and candidate for mayor, doesn't think the city would be getting a good deal on the land swap, and isn't very supportive of using public resources. for a stadium at all. She said, "If the mayor can make a case for using $150 million of city resources, we have to be assured we're getting what we deserve for the Reeves center, and what I've heard preliminarily makes me nervous."

On the question of whether a $150 million deal makes sense overall, she said, "We have a billionaire owner .... Some people would ask the question, why do we have to give them $150 million? We have a lot of priorities for DC." Though, she noted, "I think that this team has been a good neighbor in the District, and there are a lot of District residents who support the team."

Ward 1 candidates want office space at Reeves

Other candidates, especially candidates for individual ward seats, focused on the impacts to individual communities and the best ways to use the land. Both the Reeves Center and the Buzzard Point are in Wards (1 and 6, respectively) with competitive council races.

Both Graham and his Ward 1 challenger, Brianne Nadeau, want to make sure there is office space at 14th and U in any building that would replace Reeves. Graham said, "We've got plenty of luxury condos and rentals. What we don't have is enough daytime commerce. If we lose the Reeves Ctr and those government agencies, that will be very upsetting."

Nadeau said she wants: "to create some dynamic ground-level retail and community space. Even before this deal came about, I had been thinking, what could we do about the Reeves Center? Open up that atrium, create lunch space and music like you see in some cities like Norfolk. For me it's about how do you take this an make it an opportunity."

"The reason I want that is, if you want a commercial corridor that has balanced options, you need an anchor and foot traffic for the daytime retail. ... We fought first for the hotel at 13th and U, and having lost that, we're fighting for the commercial anchor. It's essential we get the best use for the community and not just the best for the city."

As for the overall merit of the deal, Nadeau said she's amenable to city resources helping fund a soccer stadium which could create jobs, so long as "those are good jobs" with a Project Labor Agreement, and opportunities for the workers to unionize.

Ward 6 candidates think about Southwest residents' needs

In Ward 6, Charles Allen wants to ensure that any deal comes with investments for the area, including improving the public housing in the area, and adding parkland. He said, "When the baseball stadium was built, the city build Yards Park. Yards Park brings just as many people into that neighborhood and has been just as catalytic for that neighborhood as the baseball stadium has been. Southwest needs its own version of Yards Park. I think we need to use this as am opportunity to invest in our public space, and invest in our green space, and invest in the river."

Darrell Thompson started his statement being strongly supportive of the potential deal, though as he spoke he also brought up concerns about getting a good deal and making sure immediate neighbors have input. "It's a good idea," he said. "It's a very good idea. ... It first and foremost gives us an opportunity to come back to where we started, providing jobs, job training and apprenticeships for District residents.

"But we also have to make sure it's a good deal for District residents. We have to have input, make sure their concerns are heard. There's a tax structure to this project that's still being worked out. We have to make sure this is a good deal for District taxpayers."

You can watch all of the videos below.

Jim Graham:

Jack Evans:

John Settles:

Pedro Rubio:

Muriel Bowser:

Brianne Nadeau:

Charles Allen:

Darrel Thompson:

Pedestrians


"Stay the course" or "pivot"? Gray and Evans disagree about the ill-fated Wisconsin Avenue median

In 2012, DC changed the traffic patterns on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park to make it more friendly to pedestrians, then reversed course following strong complaints from many Georgetown residents including Councilmember Jack Evans. The issue came up in my interviews with Evans and Mayor Vince Gray.


Photo by Abigail Zenner.

I asked every candidate about the way the government can spend a lot of time planning a project, build community support, and still then later run into a lot of people who say they never heard about it or want to block it. Gray brought up this project in his response. He said,


Vincent Gray. Image from the candidate website.
We've seen in some parts of the city when a lane was changed and it was done with the concurrence of the people who lived in that area, who then railed against it in the aftermath and now it's being put back like it was.
I think that you've got to stay the course. I happen to live on a street that was changed, where when people saw a change there was enormous negative reaction to it: Branch Avenue, which went from being two not sufficiently wide lanes on either side of the street, in my opinion—we saw lots of accidents there—to being one lane on either side. There were people that were up in arms. They wanted to put it back like it was. Now, people have adapted. It's taken a number of years, no question about that, but people have adapted.

We have to work with communities around what do these proposals mean for their lives. Make sure there's community input on how we get to the answer. And then once we do, we've got to stay the course if we believe, earnestly, these changes will make life better for folks.

People hate sitting in traffic. The answer is not to give more streets. The answer is to give other options to folks, other ways of traveling, other methods of traveling, and then you've got to swallow hard and stay with it.

Jack Evans disagrees. I asked him specifically about the Glover Park issue, and he said,


Jack Evans. Image from the candidate website.
It was a complete disaster ... Even the ANC chair, Brian Cohen who was the spearhead of it, and Jackie Blumenthal came to the position that it was a complete disaster. It wasn't just me, it was everyone who realized that narrowing Wisconsin Avenue to 1 lane going north in rush hour just wasn't working. You were backing traffic all the way past the Safeway all the way to R Street, and that wasn't working for anybody.

I think the lesson that we take from that is they try something that doesn't work, but can then pivot and maneuver rather than sticking to something that was just causing chaos. What you were doing, as you know, by having that center lane with stripes on it, people were starting to cut around, creating a very dangerous situation. I'm glad that people were starting to recognize that.

To be precise, the plan did not make Wisconsin Avenue 1 lane at rush hour; there was a part-time parking lane people could drive in during rush hour. However, it was 1 lane outside rush hour, and according to Glover Park resident and GGW contributor Abigail Zenner, times like school pick-up around 2-3 pm were worse for traffic than rush hour itself.

What if some of the details like these had worked better, I asked, but drivers still found themselves delayed by a minute or two? Evans said, "If we were talking about a minute or two. We were talking about a half hour."

At one ANC meeting last year, DDOT reported that driving times had increased by 2 minutes. But, Zenner said, "since then I have not been able to get my hands on any more data. My unscientific anecdotal experience also backed up the two minute claim. I have never experienced a half hour back-up, although I have heard a lot of people say things like that."

Evans doesn't buy it. "As you've heard me testify many times, if it was a minute or two we wouldn't be here. Don't take my word for it, take the word of the proponents of the project, Brian, Jackie and others, who came to the conclusion. 80-90% of people in the neighborhood hated it. It was a universally hated idea. "

But, I asked, any change to a roadway will engender significant opposition. How do you differentiate legitimate problems with a project from knee-jerk opposition to change? Evans said,

You have to deal with each individual situation. The 15th Street bike lanes would be an example where we got tons of complaints, but it worked and we kept it in place. We didn't respond to the complaints. It's quieted down, but we still get complaints about the bike lanes. Most people quieted down and now accept it for what it is. The important thing is you have to be able to respond and not take a rigid view.
Evans did complain about the 15th Street lane at first, also, but changed his tune. Part of that might have come from a bike ride I organized to take him around the ward to the various bike lanes (an experience he referenced in the interview). And, indeed, he has not fought the 15th Street lane, or the L and M Street lanes crosstown.

Politics


For DC Mayor: Tommy Wells

Tommy Wells is the best candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. He has the strongest vision for the future on transit, housing affordability, education, social services, and many other subjects. We urge voters in the Democratic primary to cast their ballots for Tommy Wells. You can vote in person on April 1, or in early voting starting March 17.


Photo from Tommy Wells on Flickr.

As regular readers know, many editors and contributors grappled—sometimes publiclywith the question of whom to support. A minority of contributors chose current Mayor Vincent Gray in our endorsement poll, but of those almost all did so for strategic game theory reasons while still believing Wells was best on the issues.

That game theory may well have gone out the window Monday with revelations about the 2010 "shadow campaign" for Mayor Gray. However, even before then, the consensus among contributors for Wells was strong.

Wells' strengths

Wells clearly understands the forces that shape our city more deeply and thoroughly than any other mayoral candidate. On transportation, he does not just rattle off a list of projects he helped fund on the council, or give platitudes about schedules, community support, or process. Rather, he has very good insights into what is working well and poorly.

He wants to see important progress but also has a very critical skepticism of simply letting people inside District agencies run wild in what could well be the wrong direction. On transit, he has strongly pushed for better bus service, something that most politicians (including Mayor Gray) either ignore or just pay lip service to.

Wells also believes in good planning, and in particular planning that ensures less fortunate residents are able to stay in the city through affordable housing, affordable transportation, and much more. He proposes many specific ideas, like his "flex buildings" concept (which is far more than just a "slogan" despite the opinion of the Washington Post editorial board).

On education, he was the only candidate who went beyond banal statements like "all neighborhood schools should be good." He is the only candidate willing to explore more significant ways to close the achievement gap, beyond a small laundry list of minor programs.

Many of our contributors were particularly swayed by their feeling that Wells would appoint smart, capable agency heads who would actively formulate a vision and push to realize it. Here were some of their comments:

"The only candidate I see as selecting good appointees or pressuring DDOT and OP to make the right changes is Tommy Wells."

"Wells' vision for the city is inclusive and progressive. He has a track record of hiring stellar public servants to work with him, and I would like to see that play out on a city-wide level, particularly for appointed departmental heads, which has been part of my frustration with Gray as Mayor."

"Wells is the most progressive candidate in the race. Of those with a public service background, he is the only one without some sort of ethics cloud hanging over him. He is not perfect, but he is the best choice in a flawed field."

"He has been the biggest supporter of ... smart growth, equitable transportation policy, good government, strong education, etc., of all of the candidates there over the long term.

No candidate is perfect. No elected official can be a saint (City Paper nicknames aside). We don't, and won't, agree with everything Tommy Wells stands for or would do as mayor. Some supporters were disappointed by his ready defense of the height limit; others befuddled by his vote on the Large Retailer Accountability Act (the "Walmart bill"). But these are issues about which not everyone in the Greater Greater Washington community agrees.

What about Mayor Gray?

It's clear that Gray has championed many issues we care about at Greater Greater Washington. Residents who predicted he would rip out Fenty-era innovations like cycletracks once in office, despite his public statements that he supported bicycle infrastructure, have now come around. The city is moving in a positive direction. One contributor who voted for Gray in the poll wrote,

Shadow campaign aside, Mayor Gray is advancing all of the initiatives that GGW discusses in advocacy. Sustainable DC, which is fully a brainchild of Gray's administration, is a progressive plan that calls for us to begin to make tough decisions as a city. It has been more than a plan, the city is moving forward with specific plans and actions as a result. I'd prefer to stay the course than to lose 1 to 1½ years of momentum for an administration change.
However, contributors had some significant reservations as well (even before this last round of revelations about the shadow campaign). The biggest among those was the quality of Gray's appointments to agencies. Indeed, the main architect of the Sustainable DC plan was planning director Harriet Tregoning, who was one of those Gray kept in office from the Fenty administration, but who recently stepped down.

Gray's record on new appointments has been more disappointing. For example, it is often hard to tell whether DDOT head Terry Bellamy is providing meaningful leadership at that agency, which seems aimless and uncoordinated. Sometimes DDOT pushes forward on important initiatives, but often simply lapses into inaction or lets inertia continue work on bad projects from a past era.

One contributor (who also voted to endorse Gray) wrote,

I'm pretty okay with the policy direction Gray has taken. I am less thrilled with some of his department heads, most of whom seem to have no vision and are bad at managing. I know the most about DDOT, and Bellamy can't even get his internal folks to talk to each other, much less to get some paint down on a bike lane.
Some were far more strongly negative, citing, for instance, the recent homelessness crisis where the Gray administration crammed people in recreation centers in terrible conditions. His strongest critic among our contributors wrote,
Strategic voting for Gray is being floated by folks who don't appear to mind if DC grows into a playground for the wealthy, a future that neither Bowser nor Gray have a plan to prevent and GGW opposes. Gray cut money from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund the first 2 years of his administration, something that seems quickly forgotten by those thanking him for his $100 million pledge last year.

He was further to the right of the Chamber of Commerce on the minimum wage, opposing indexing it to inflation, which [the Chamber] supported. And he had no plan for winter at DC General even though it was full when winter began, and in response to the crisis asked for power to keep families out of shelter on freezing nights if DHS claimed it found friends willing take them in for a couple nights.

It's worth noting that any mayor will have some issues where they fall short—certainly Fenty did, and if elected, Wells would too. Still, these are important concerns.

More importantly, even if Gray is the second-best candidate (now perhaps only true if Jeffrey Thompson is lying and Gray really knew nothing of the "shadow campaign"), a strong majority of contributors and editors still felt confident making the endorsement for Tommy Wells.

What about the rest?

Our contributors and editors were not impressed by any other candidate in the field. Jack Evans has made it clear, in his statements and actions, that he stands very firmly against inconveniencing the wealthiest and most powerful Washingtonians, whether in terms of accommodating a wider range of income levels in their neighborhoods, or having to share the road with other modes in a way that causes any appreciable hassle.

Muriel Bowser is trying to rise to the top of DC's political world by being concerned about anything that agitates residents. She has been the quickest of all on the council to introduce resolutions blocking administration action that angered some people—sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly.

She is extremely smart and very talented at making statements that sound like she's agreeing with you, such as praising the DC Zoning Update to the rafters with the tiny caveat that she has 4 little quibbles—the only 4 significant policy shifts in the proposal, and the items that some people in the most exclusive neighborhoods of Ward 4 are fighting against the hardest.

Andy Shallal has a lot of good basic values but unfortunately lacks an understanding of the deeper implications of various government actions. It's easy to say that we shouldn't close schools or unfairly give away land to developers, but not as easy to develop a realistic plan for how to get better education and more housing.

Vincent Orange did not follow up to our request for an interview, nor does he have a platform that warrants consideration for mayor. No other candidates appear to have any significant level of support.

Conclusion

Tommy Wells has agreed with the Greater Greater Washington community on many issues during his years in office. But April Fools jokes aside, our endorsement was never a foregone conclusion. We made him jump through the same hoops as anyone else such as the video interviews, asked tough questions, and listened carefully to his responses. Our editorial team vigorously debated the merits of Mayor Gray's candidacy before coming to an endorsement decision.

However, it's clear from looking at the candidates' records, their statements, and recent actions that Tommy Wells is the best mayoral contender. He deserves our support, especially given the latest news about Gray's 2010 campaign but independent of that as well. We hope DC voters in the Democratic primary on April 1, or voting early beginning March 17, will cast their ballots for Tommy Wells.

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.

For more information on the mayoral contenders and their views, see our video interviews with the candidates on housing supply, affordable housing, bus lanes, streetcars, charter schools, and middle schools.

You can sign up for more information, volunteer, and/or contribute to Tommy Wells' campaign at tommywells.org.

Also see our other endorsements in the April 1 Democratic primary: Brianne Nadeau in Ward 1, Kenyan McDuffie in Ward 5, and Charles Allen in Ward 6.

Politics


Bowser wants to solve middle school problem by replicating Deal, but Wells says that won't work

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here is the second of two posts on what the candidates for mayor said about education. See all of the interviews here.


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

Both Muriel Bowser and Tommy Wells say it's crucial to provide families with good choices for middle school. But Bowser's solution is to replicate Ward 3's Deal Middle School across the District, while Wells says that approach shows a "lack of understanding about middle school transformation."

While more and more DC children are attending their neighborhood elementary schools, families often leave the system before middle school because of a lack of desirable options. Bowser and Wells have made improving middle schools a major campaign issue.

"We have to send a strong signal to young families who are choosing DCPS that we're going to have middle school ready for them when the time comes, " Bowser said. "So it will be a strong initiative from our administration to identify those middle schools that need that strong infusion to replicate the successes that we see at Alice Deal."

Wells scoffed at that idea. "Alice Deal is great," he said, but "it's 1200 students or so. Not everybody wants to send their child to a school that large."

Beyond that, Wells said that much of Deal's success has to do with the relative wealth of its student body compared to other DCPS middle schools. "I don't think we can gentrify, or should gentrify, the city as aggressively as what it would take to have an Alice Deal in every neighborhood," he said.

In a separate interview, Bowser disputed the idea that Deal's demographics are at the root of its success.

"I think there are many things that make the school successful," she said. "It has a great building, great leadership, in many cases long-tenured staff that are expert in their fields. Because of its size it has every program offering a family could want, from languages to extracurricular activities, to advanced courses in mathematics and other areas."

Those things, Bowser said, can be replicated elsewhere, although providing them will require additional funding.

Wells would make charters an option

Wells' solution to the middle school problem relies on creating feeder patterns that include both DCPS schools and high-performing charter schools, as others have suggested. Right now there are a number of successful middle-school charters, he said, but parents can't count on being able to send their children to them because neighborhood students aren't guaranteed admission.

Wells said that what's needed is "a mayor than can knit this together," so that a charter middle school could be required to give a preference to "an array of elementary schools," both DPCS and charter.

Under that system, he said, "you know that when you're coming out of, say, Tyler Elementary, you have one school that you can attend as a matter of right, or that there are two or three other charters to choose from where you have first preference."

Can Deal be replicated?

While Bowser is right that some aspects of Deal, such as a greater range of academic offerings, should be available to students across the District, Wells has the better of the argument when he says that much of Deal's success is due to its demographics.

While Deal has a diverse student body, only 23% of its students are poor enough to qualify for free and reduced meals (FRM). At most other DCPS middle schools, that proportion is more like 99%.

Because lower-income students generally have far greater academic and behavioral needs, merely replicating Deal's facilities and offerings is unlikely to produce the same results at schools where the vast majority of students are poor.

At those schools, what's needed is a greater emphasis on managing classrooms and ensuring that students master basic skills. And in DC, high-performing charter schools have done a better job than DCPS in providing those necessities to low-income students.

At middle schools like Hardy and Eliot-Hine, on the other hand, where only a little over 50% of the student body qualifies for FRM, Bowser's approach has a better chance of working.

Extended day

Another issue that all 5 candidates addressed was whether DCPS schools should have some form of extended hours. All said they should, and all identified the teachers' union and funding as potential obstacles. But they didn't all necessarily have the same kind of program in mind.

Both Andy Shallal and Mayor Vincent Gray spoke of the need for experimentation. Shallal said different schools should be able to try different approaches, with some extending the school day and others perhaps having more traditional afterschool programs.

Gray talked about an extended-day pilot program that was in 8 DCPS schools last year and noted that 7 of them had increased test scores. He also suggested that a longer school year might be in order, saying that the summer break is a relic of an agrarian society.

"We know that children lose academic gains over the summer," he said.

Jack Evans drew on his own experience as the single parent of triplets to advocate for afterschool programs, but not an extended school day: "I'm saying at 3:30, when they get out of school, have mechanisms in place to help children get their homework done, review, and do whatever is necessary."

He said that he had hired college students to fill that role for his children, and he suggested that college students could be recruited to do it on a larger scale, perhaps even getting college credit for it.

As with the idea of replicating Deal, that model may work for some students, particularly higher-income ones. But students who are below grade level or otherwise at-risk may need a more intensive approach, either by virtue of an extension of the school day itself or as a result of coordination between the school and an afterschool program.

As Evans said, "I'm not sure one size fits all." DC schools have students with widely varying needs, and what works for one child or one school—either in terms of improving the middle school experience or extending the school day—may very well not work for another.

To watch the interviews in their entirety, click on the videos below.

Gray:

Evans:

Bowser:

Wells:

Shallal:

Politics


Mayoral challengers criticize the Gray administration's streetcar progress

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over the course of a few weeks. See all of the interviews here.


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

Love it or hate it, DC is building a streetcar, but there have been a lot of delays in getting it running. We already posted videos of Ward 6 candidates Charles Allen and Darrel Thompson criticizing the slow pace of progress on the first line, which will be in that ward. The mayoral candidates running against Vince Gray had some sharp words as well.

Tommy Wells, the councilmember most closely identified with championing the streetcar, had plenty to say.

I think that it has been managed very poorly by this administration. I know that sounds political, but let's go through why.

It's being run by engineers, and seems to have almost no coordination with the Office of Planning. Ward 5 is told, you're getting a streetcar barn and you're going to like it. Or whether you like it or not, we're putting a streetcar barn in, with very little creativity.

In Seattle, their streetcar barn has affordable housing over it. The most valuable land now is going to be where the streetcar runs. There's no retail plan there showing that we can bring in restaurants or other things facing Benning Road with the streetcar barn behind it. ... I think that the administration has not been creative, has not thought out of the box. There's a way to leverage in amenities along with the streetcar barn.

And then they kept failing at being able to procure streetcars, so finally they had to piggyback on someone else's contract. That's why the streetcars are so late in coming here. And they better not run it without at least 6 streetcars. You need 5 on the tracks and 1 in reserve. Otherwise, it's just a ride at Disneyland that comes by every 30-40 minutes. ...

The other thing was that—my understanding is that the contract for design-build, for finishing off the line, it sat with the Attorney General's office for almost 8 months. This administration, it's like someone poured molasses over the government. I think they're going to get there, but it's not with a sense of urgency. It's not real smart how they're doing it. We're missing an opportunity to do this really creatively.

But we're going to get a streetcar line. We're going to be able to touch it, ride it, so that our residents can see what the future can be like, but it's not as good as it could have been.

Later in the segment, Wells also talked about how important it is for the streetcar to go east of the river, and how he thinks it should never cost more than $1.

Muriel Bowser also talked about DDOT's procurement follies, and says the administration wasn't honest enough with residents:

I'm just as frustrated as I think most people. Mostly, I want somebody to tell the truth. Every month it seems we have a new opening time.

I have no doubt that it's a complicated project. There is nobody more excited than me to figure out all the lessons learned from went wrong in getting this thing going and how we we can fix it, and next time, Mayor Bowser can go out to the community and say, "Listen, this is going to be—dig up your street one time. And we know how we're going to energize it, we know where we're going to turn it around. We know where we're going to store the cars and we know about how long this is going to take."

I think where this mayor and this DDOT director lack credibility is, they won't go out to the community and level with them. And I think people just want to know what gives and what do you need to do to fix it and when can we expect the streetcar to be running.

Andy Shallal was the least enthusiastic about the streetcar, or at least most overtly unenthusiastic. He referred to concerns many H Street business have been voicing that the streetcar will interfere with deliveries.

I think maybe we need to figure it out, use it as an experiment now—it's already built—before we continue to build the rest of what's proposed. I would suggest making sure we understand the challenges that a streetcar is going to bring to a community. I know there's issues with parking that are going to get in the way; deliveries with restaurants, how are those going to happen—many of them don't have alleys and have to depend on deliveries from the front; bicycles and how they cross those tracks.

It's a lot of stuff there. I think we need to really be mindful of how we go about completing the tracks and making sure that whatever we put in place on the H Street corridor is something that's workable and manageable and doesn't create more hassles than it tries to solve.

Later, when we were talking about political obstacles to bus lanes, he suggested doing more projects that make it possible to experiment. He said,
Things like bus lanes are a great way to try something out. What's the worst that can happen? you erase them. As opposed to a trolley, where you've spent millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars. You've dug up the street for years, you've caused all this disruption, you've shut down businesses.

Jack Evans was very brief and much less critical. "It's just taking forever. It's on the right track, it's just taking too long to get down the track. ... What we have to do is get the program moving. To be honest with you, with any program it takes forever to get off the ground. And now we have lines built, we have the streetcars, maybe this will be the end but it needs to be moving a little bit faster."

See the full discussions with these candidates:

Wells:

Bowser:

Shallal:

Evans:

Politics


Wells wants bigger role for charters, others aren't so sure

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here is the first of two posts on what the candidates for mayor said about education. See all of the interviews here.


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

How can we speed the pace of improvement in struggling DCPS schools? Some mayoral candidates say it just takes time, and Andy Shallal says we need to focus more on the effects of poverty. But Tommy Wells wants to bring in successful charter organizations to turn schools around.

"I think sometimes it takes DCPS too long to turn an elementary school around," Wells said, mentioning a period of 3 to 4 years in the case of one school, Tyler. "And we know that there are national-model charter schools across the country that can come in and turn a school around within a year to two years."

Charter authority for Henderson

Wells said that if elected he would give DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson the authority to charter schools herself. (Right now the only body in DC with the authority to issue charters is the Public Charter School Board.) He would then recruit charter networks who have a proven track record of success and bring them in to run failing DCPS schools.

Neighborhood children would still be able to attend those schools as a matter of right. And, he said, "those schools may become traditional DCPS schools again. But we can't wait, we can't close more schools and consign more neighborhoods to not being able to have great schools."

The current administration, Wells said, has been "coasting forward on the work done by the previous administration." He promised that if elected he would court successful charter organizations with the same aggressiveness that he said Mayor Vincent Gray employs in luring businesses such as Microsoft to the District.

Andy Shallal, in contrast, bristled at the suggestion that the charter sector should be encouraged to expand its role in DC. "That really denigrates educators," he said. "It denigrates people that know how to do this stuff."

More resources to fight social ills

The problem, he said, is that "we're asking schools to solve social ills. We're asking teachers to be social workers, mental health specialists, nutritionists, nurses. And that doesn't make sense. And so for us to say, gee, we have no idea how this works, show us No, we know how this works. You put in enough resources, enough wrap-around services, you fire bad people and you hire good people. That's how it works."

Shallal also said that while it's fine to emulate some techniques used by high-performing charters, "you have to understand that charters are self-selecting at some point," because parents who take the initiative to apply may be more engaged than those who don't. In addition, he said, "Charter schools can actually ask a child to leave if they don't match the criteria or the requirements of that charter school. And public schools have to accept them."

Shallal said that what's needed is a commitment to ensure that public schools succeed. "We have basically gone on a tear, closing down schools," he said. "We say schools fail, and the reality is schools don't fail. We fail them. We fail our children."

The three other major candidates essentially said that high-performing charters should be allowed to expand, but they didn't share Wells' enthusiasm for using them to speed the pace of change within DCPS.

In contrast to Wells, Bowser presented the mayor's role in bringing in charters as subordinate to that of the Public Charter School Board, which she said "makes a lot more decisions about which charters come in than the mayor does." Her concern, she said, is to make sure that charters locate where the need is greatest and to ensure that in at least some communities charters give a preference in admissions to neighborhood kids.

Both Gray and Jack Evans said they were supportive of high-performing charter schools, but both were quick to add that DCPS schools need support as well. Like Wells, Evans said that what was needed was a mayor who could "find a way to meld these two systems together."

Asked how the pace of progress could be increased, both Gray and Evans cautioned that change would take time, using almost identical language. "If there were a silver bullet, we would have found it," Evans said.

"I don't think there is a magic solution or a magic bullet or a quick fix," Gray said.

A possible model

Gray did mention with approval a DCPS school that has begun to turn around under an arrangement similar to what Wells is suggesting: Stanton Elementary in Ward 8, which for the past 3 years has been managed by a charter organization, Scholar Academies. According to the school's website, since then math scores have increased by 320% and reading scores by 100%. Those familiar with the school before the takeover say it's now a much calmer, happier place. (Disclosure: I serve on the board of DC Scholars, a charter school that is also managed by Scholar Academies.)

But Gray brought up Stanton not as the wave of the future but as an example of the "multiplicity" of approaches necessary to education reform. "It's yet another innovative approach that is starting to produce substantially increased outcomes for our children," he said. Then he added, "I don't know that we can predict exactly how long it will take."

For those impatient with the pace of reform, those words aren't particularly reassuring. Wells' idea of bringing in charter organizations with proven track records to turn around struggling schools could give the system the jumpstart it needs. Wells mentioned that it can take DCPS 3 or 4 years to turn around a school, but there are quite a few DCPS schools that show no sign of turning around at all.

Those concerned, like Shallal, that charters are selective or that admission is unpredictable should consider that a charter-operated DCPS school would most likely be required to admit all comers, just like a regular DCPS school. That's certainly the case at Stanton. And while Shallal has a good point about the need to address the effects of poverty on students, there's no reason that can't be done at a charter-operated school as well as at a traditional DCPS one.

Can charters do the job?

It's harder to turn a failing school around than to start a school from scratch, and not all charter operators will be willing or able to take on the job. There have been a couple of failed experiments with charter partnerships at the high school level, most notably at Dunbar.

But high schools are particularly tough places to re-invent, and it's important to select a charter operator with experience in turnarounds. The charter organization that came into Dunbar had previously operated a charter traditional public high school in New York that it had started from scratch—and that was application-only.

The experiment at Stanton seems to be working, without the advantages of self-selection or "cherry-picking" that critics say charters enjoy. We may not know exactly why charter organizations can sometimes succeed where DCPS hasn't been able to, but maybe we should give them more opportunities to try.

To watch the interviews in their entirety, click on the videos below:

Politics


A bus lane for 16th Street? Which mayoral candidates agree?

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. See all of the interviews here.


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

Bus priority, bus lanes, Bus Rapid Transit—people have long talked about doing more to make our busy bus routes better. The draft moveDC citywide transportation plan now calls for some bus lanes. Dupont ANC Commissioner Kishan Putta and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are specifically campaigning to get elected leaders to support a lane. Where do our mayoral candidates stand?

Tommy Wells is unequivocally for bus lanes, and made a case that tries to appeal not just to transit riders but to drivers who might not benefit. (He likely focused on this because I specifically asked in my question how to build a bus lane when some drivers will feel they are losing out.)

Of course I would go for the dedicated bus lanes. If we're successful in getting people to walk more and use public transportation, there will be more room for cars. The only hope our local residents have is in creating a multimodal city, so we get more people that have a choice out of their cars.

The amount of parking we have in the city is fixed. For the most part, the amount of lanes and roadways is fixed. So we can't say, let's widen 16th Street, because we have front yards there, sidewalks there.

We are adding jobs at a record rate. If people drive down 16th Street from outside the District, then someone who is car dependent on 16th will never be able to get there. The only way is making it faster if you take public transportation.

Wells also had general criticism for the anemic pace of bus improvements in the city.
We've not been making improvements in public transportation with buses. It's really the last thing they do. They've had money for over 4 years to - signal prioritization—which means when a bus comes up to a light, it turns green. It's about as basic a technology as possible. And they're a bunch of Neanderthals—not to insult Neanderthals. ... It's ridiculous that we can't expedite bus transportation through the city. The money is there, the technology is there.

Mayor Vince Gray briefly talked about how he agrees with the idea of bus lanes (and it's his transportation agency that's put them in the moveDC plan), though he pivoted to talking primarily about bicycles.

I think buses continue to be an important transportation modality. ... Many people use buses as their preferred way of ... getting from one place to the other. I think having, for example, some express lanes that move buses quickly from one place to the other is an important way to go.

I think ultimately, though, having ways in which people can get to where they want to get to because they have amenities and conveniences and work close to where they are instead of having to use vehicular transportation, is a good approach. Getting people more acclimated to using bicycles. Having more bicycle lanes.

We've got to get everybody adapted to the idea that bicycles are an increasingly important way of people getting around in the city. Not everybody has bought into that yet, and that's going to take time as well.

We now have the most robust bicycle program in America. We have well over 20,000 people who are part of our bikeshare program. Others are coming here now to learn about us so they can emulate the bikeshare program. We're increasingly putting residential opportunities in places where they didn't exist heretofore, so that folks can then have a better opportunity to walk to the amenities, to walk to work, and not have the need for vehicular transportation.

Muriel Bowser is generally open to the idea of a bus lane, but would need to see specific proposals. Speaking about the 16th Street concept, which runs through her ward, she said,

I don't know [about the lane], and I've said this before, and I know you had a series on your blog about 16th Street and dedicated bus lanes. There's been really no proposal that's been presented to me about what that would look like for 16th Street.

Let me just say more generally that I think we have to, yes, where it makes sense we should have bus lanes. Where it doesn't make sense, have priority signalization for buses. Anything that will move buses more efficiently will help.

What I've been very impressed with over the last several years is we got express bus service on 16th Street and on Georgia Avenue. The success of that MetroExtra bus has been tremendous. So give it a special bus, give it limited stops, you make it more comfortable and convenient, and guess what? People will ride the bus.

Now imagine if they can also get there faster. So I think that wherever possible, we need to prioritize bus travel across the city. We know in many ways it's more efficient. We can't put a Metro stop everywhere. We can't put a streetcar everywhere. But we can look at the changes in demand and react pretty quickly with bus service. ... I'm very committed to making sure we have high-quality bus service in DC.

Jack Evans, having recently met with Putta and other proponents, is supportive of a 16th Street lane, provided the right design can be worked out:

What you'd have to do is a comprehensive study of 16th Street. ... I think it's a good idea that we do figure out how to get a dedicated bus lane. Now, you wouldn't do it all the time. You'd have to figure out rush hour how to do it. Maybe eliminate parking, which I think is gone on some parts of the 16th Street. Maybe run the bus lane down the center or on the side. But there's a way of making it all work for everybody. And I think that given the amount of transportation on 16th Street, it's something we absolutely must do. We just have to figure out how to do it.

Finally, Andy Shallal likes the idea of bus lanes, especially as an alternative to streetcars, which he is not very enthusiastic about. (More on that in the next post.) He said, "I think it's a great idea, I do. It certainly is a lot more effective than having to put trolley cars. So yes, absolutely, having dedicated lanes for buses is a great idea."

Also, the Coalition for Smarter Growth will kick off its campaign for the lane with a happy hour on Wednesday, March 12, 6-8 pm at JoJo Restaurant and Bar at 16th and U.

You can watch this whole portion of my interviews with each candidate below.

Wells:

Gray:

Bowser:

Evans:

Shallal:

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