Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Yvette Alexander


It's One City, not eight cities

Mayor Gray's "One City" slogan makes an important point beyond just a campaign slogan. DC is a single "city" (actually a unique state-city hybrid district), not 8 separate mini-cities with their own individual mayors.

Berlin Wall (today). Photo by Noud W. on Flickr.

We have enough problems with boundaries in this region. DC, Maryland, and Virginia often act without coordination or even at cross-purposes on issues that affect residents across borders. Individual counties and cities within Maryland or Virginia frequently do the same. DC doesn't need to create even more divisions.

Yet some DC councilmembers time and again act like mayors of their individual wards. They want to unilaterally control policies for their wards, from liquor licenses to parking. Some even try to exclude anyone outside their ward from participating in decisions surrounding development, as with the Florida Avenue Market in 2008 or Reservation 13/Hill East today.

During Zoning Commission hearings over development at the Florida Avenue Market in 2008, then-Councilmember Harry Thomas, Jr. opposed granting ANC 6C "party status," a special privilege for organizations in close proximity. The market is in Ward 5, but railroad tracks, New York Avenue, and Gallaudet University separate it from almost all Ward 5 residents, while many people live just across Florida Avenue to the south. It just happens that those people are in Ward 6.

Ward boundaries are artificial legislative districts. An individual congressperson might want to bring projects to his or her district back home, but he or she doesn't get to veto development projects in the district or it set parking policy. When state legislatures gerrymander their districts, people object because it might dilute or strengthen one group's vote, but rarely do protests happen because one block of residents feels passionately about being in the same congressional district as an adjacent block.

Living on the border of a town or even a state carries some challenges. Recently, Veronica Davis wrote about how a liquor license on the Prince George's County side of Eastern Avenue strongly affects residents in DC, but they have no say over regulatory decisions involving it.

There's no reason to go around creating more of these problems. Yet we do, which makes redistricting fights more forceful than they need to be.

Tommy Wells and Jack Evans had an argument over whether the line between Ward 2 or Ward 6 would be east or west of I-395. That's partly because an air rights development project is slated for the road. But it shouldn't matter, because the councilmember whose ward includes the project shouldn't get some special power to control that project.

Since parking zones also correspond to ward boundaries, with only a few small exceptions, residents in the Palisades vehemently objected to being switched from Ward 2 to Ward 3 during the 2001 redistricting. They didn't want to lose the right to park for free in Foggy Bottom, Shaw and other Ward 2 neighborhoods.

Mount Pleasant asked to redistrict a piece of Rock Creek Park, where nobody lives, from Ward 4 to Ward 1. Park Road passes through this area on its way from Mount Pleasant to Cleveland Park. DC would assign Ward 4 constituent service reps to handle complaints about the spot, even though the affected residents with the complaints would live in wards 1 or 3.

Following ward changes, ANC boundaries also change, and usually to line up with wards. People who felt they were part of the same neighborhood one day find they have to act like separate neighborhoods the next.

Luckily, that's not always the case. When part of Chevy Chase joined Ward 4 in 2001, ANC 3/4G bridged the divide and kept the neighborhood together in one ANC. Yet Yvette Alexander (Ward 7) refused to let Kingman Park be part of the same ANC as adjoining parts of H Street in Ward 6.

MPD has avoided the ward-centric trap: police district boundaries do not line up with wards. That's better for public safety, because MPD can make decisions about police resources around where there is crime rather than arbitrary legislative districts.

The worst and most recent "Eight City" thinking came last week at the community meeting on Reservation 13. Yvette Alexander started out the meeting by lecturing Ward 6 residents about how the land moved to Ward 7 in the latest redistricting, and that therefore Ward 7 "owns" the land.

Her leading challenger, Tom Brown, whom we have endorsed, demonstrated the same fallacy in a campaign speech on the Reservation 13 site (from well before this meeting). Brown talks about how Ward 7 is "getting the title" to the land, and that he will then listen to Ward 7 residents about what they want to do with that land.

Actually, Ward 7 doesn't "own" the land. The District of Columbia does. Decisions about the land get made by the Mayor, who represents all voters, and by the council, which has 8 ward members and 5 at-large members including its chairman.

The Ward 7 member should indeed listen "first and foremost" to residents of Ward 7, but shouldn't have the final say, or even primary say, over what happens on a particular parcel of land. The District should, and all nearby residents, and the entire council, voting together. But if the Ward 7 member is only listening to Ward 7 residents, then the Ward 4 member should only listen to Ward 4 residents, and so on.

With the 395 project, for example, in what would is it logical to say that since the project remained in Ward 6, only Councilmember Wells and residents east of 2nd Street, NW should now have any input into the project, but if the line had put it in Ward 2, those residents ought to have no say whatever and only residents west of 3rd Street NW have the right to weigh in?

The District has a small voice in a big region and no voting representation in Congress. We don't need government processes and legislators who try to deepen divisions and boundaries between neighborhoods. We need people who will work together, prioritizing the needs of their own local residents but trying to unite rather than divide, to better create One City.


Residents unimpressed by non-answers on Redskins "plan"

Last night, Mayor Gray, Jack Evans, and Michael Brown met with a skeptical audience, mostly residents from wards 6 and 7, about reported plans to put a Redskins practice facility on the Reservation 13/Hill East land.

Image by Brian Flahaven on Twitter.

Readers who attended the meeting report that the officials seemed to genuinely expect that the crowd would just cheer for anything that helped the Redskins, regardless of policy merit or economic justification.

Tim Krepp:
The mayor, and Jack Evans, and Michael Brown kept repeating "we'd like to bring the Redskins back" and waited for the applause. To say it fell flat was is an understatement. I was frankly shocked at how bad these politicians were at politics. It was a chance for them to sell their plan, or at least reassure a nervous and frustrated audience, and they spent the time lecturing us.


Tim is absolutely right, all four of them were absolutely tone deaf last night. They've clearly already decided what they want. It'll be up to those of us in Wards 6 and 7 to fight like hell to stop it. I'm glad there were so many people out there and that we're, if not in front of this, at least ready to deal with it.
It seems to me the point of the meeting was that the CMs were hoping to get a lot of people agreeing with them and cheering on the general idea of the training facility. Instead they found that there was a pretty solid opposition to the training facility from people at the meeting.
Its clear that all the officials are drooling at anything football related. Even if it means the destruction of city services, residential, city income, affordable housing, and health care services for residents. They did say that the training facility could have a medical facility for the study of concussion-related sports injuries.
Gray and the councilmembers emphasized that there wasn't a specific plan, but it seemed to depend on how you define "plan." They seem to have done a lot of thinking about this issue, and have made up their minds, but for political reasons wanted to downplay any talk that this is a done deal.


[Gray] stressed that there are no concrete plans, and nothing to show. But they were willing to talk about its concussion health center, job creation, and its possibility of a catalyst for development. The neighborhood thought there was going to be some specific details, but he didn't bring anything. If anything, the point of the meeting should, and did try to at times, focus on why the city hasn't chosen a developer yet for the master plan. Hopefully it did get them to move forward on picking one of the two developers for the smaller parcels of land to be developed.
They were willing to talk specifics when they wanted, but mostly spent trying to distract the audience [by talking about the Eastern Branch Boys & Girls club] or pleading ignorance, like not knowing how the area is zoned. They also made no economic argument whatsoever for doing so. Gray, Evans and Alexander didn't even try, and Brown vaguely alluded to creating year-round jobs, but there was no discussion of the fact that although a training facility might create a few jobs, it wouldn't create nearly as many as a mixed-use development!
Redeveloping Reservation 13 is clearly a difficult task. I get that. But the Stadium-Armory Metro station has been open nearly 40 years! And there has been a master plan for the site for nearly a decade. Think of what Arlington would have done with a similar parcel of land by now.

Brian Flahaven was the star of the show. You could tell towards the end that Gray and Evans were frustrated at having been so thoroughly schooled in the game of retail politics by a mere ANC Commissioner. (Brown and Alexander were too clueless to realize they had been schooled.)

As for Alexander: What a joke. I wrote a check for Tom Brown immediately after the meeting.

Residents spent a lot of time and effort building consensus for a master plan for the area. They weren't happy to hear that Gray is basically stopping it from moving forward in the general hope they can work out something with the Redskins.

In response to questions, the officials refused to give any timeline when they would have more detail, or when they would just let the original plan move forward, or give neighbors any closure at all.


They presented their idea, which is basically to ditch the Reservation 13 plan agreed upon years ago so they can keep pursuing this pie-in-the-sky idea of bringing the Redskins training camp to the area. And it seems like nobody at the meeting wanted the training camp except the councilmembers. They have talked to the team. They have not created a formal plan.
From my understanding in 2008, there were four developers bidding on the master plan project. DC didn't pick any of them and let it sit. DC then decided to scale down the project to two parcels of land. Two developers are ready to go; DC just needs to pick a developer to start.
Jack Evans clearly doesn't get it. He kept trying to make the it an issue of Redskins fans versus non-Redskins fans. I like the Redskins as much as the next guy. But that's not the point Jack! The point is that when your constituents walk to the Metro, they walk through vibrant neighborhoods on streets lined with shops and services. When I walk to the Metro, I walk up a one-way street (19th) that is a freeway for Maryland commuters and past a vast and dilapidated surface parking lot for DC government employees, most of whom are Maryland residents.
Finally, Mike Debonis revealed that this meeting had been rescheduled (from the coming week) because Jack Evans couldn't make the meeting. Tommy Wells, whose ward borders this site and previously included it, was speaking at his alma mater, the University of Alabama School of Social Work.

Why can't Mayor Gray, who represents the entire city, attend a meeting to talk about a plan he's promoting without the help of a councilmember from a different ward?


For Ward 7 Council: Tom Brown

Many new projects have improved Ward 7 in recent years, but much remains to be done. Councilmember Yvette Alexander has had little to do with Ward 7's successes and done little about its challenges. Residents of Ward 7 have looked hard for a replacement, and we support Tom Brown in the Democratic primary on April 3.

Image from Tom Brown.

Brown stands on a solid record of accomplish­ments in education and workforce development. He is the founder and current Executive Director of Training Grounds, a workforce development non­profit. Through this, he has developed relation­ships with corporations and linked young people to jobs. A former "National Teacher of the Year," he helped establish and taught at the KIPP KEY Academy in Ward 7.

Ward 7 is one of DC's last frontiers for economic development. Brown is committed to implementing small area plans that the Council has approved but which are currently collecting dust on the shelves.

The incumbent, Yvette Alexander, has few accomplishments during her 5-year term as councilmember. She is touting the ward's new libraries (Anacostia, Dorothy Irene Height/Benning, and Deanwood), the Deanwood Recreation Center, and the new H.D. Woodson High School. However, these projects were already planned and funded prior to Alexander's tenure. Ward 7 residents struggle to identify any ways she specifically aided these projects.

Ward 7 enjoys recent transportation improvements, such as the Great Street projects on Pennsylvania Avenue, Benning Road, and Nannie Helen Boroughs Avenue; the DC Circulator; Capital Bikeshare stations; and a study for Metro's W4 route. Alexander had very little to do with these either. In fact, transportation advocates credit other councilmembers for expediting the Circulator east of the river and ensuring the ward is an integral part of the bike sharing program.

Alexander has also been absent on education, redistricting, and more.

Brown has won endorsements from a wide range of groups that do not always agree, including the DC Chamber of Commerce PAC, the Washington Post, DC for Democracy, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, Washington Metro Labor, AFL-CIO, and the Washington Examiner. We add our name to this list and encourage Ward 7 voters to chose Tom Brown during early voting or at the polls on April 3.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington, written by one or more contributors. Active contributors and editors voted on endorsements, and any endorsement reflects a strong majority or greater in favor of endorsing the candidate.


Ideas rule the roost at the Ward 7 transportation summit

Sometimes it's the little things that need the most attention. At last Saturday's Ward 7 transportation summit, residents offered many productive ideas. One recurring theme was to pay more attention to the low-hanging fruit, small projects that could make a big impact.

Ward 7 discusses bus performance. Photo by Neha Bhatt on Twitter.

The summit, planned and organized by Ward 7 residents Veronica Davis, Neha Bhatt, Kelsi Bracmort, Gregori Stewart, and Sherrie Lawson, focused on ideas from the community to improve transportation.

Attendees left energized and hopeful that more progress is coming regarding pedestrian and bicycle safety, equitable bus service, and better streets.

One of the best-received presentations came from students participating in the mayor's Youth Leadership Institute, who brought up a number of specific, solvable problems. They recommended reintroducing driver education classes in schools, and having WMATA meet with students to help them understand how the Metro budget works.

Crime against SYEP youth: The pay days for students participating in the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) are well-known around the community, which has led to youth being targeted for robbery outside of Metro stations like Deanwood and Minnesota Avenue.

In response to this problem, the students said they would like to see an increased police presence. They also noted that police have a tendency to clump together and talk to each other rather than fully patrol the stations, so the students suggested that police spread out to cover a larger area.

Subsidized fares: SYEP paychecks will be cut by $2 per hour this summer. Therefore, the students recommended having WMATA or the District subsidize transit fares for SYEP participants. At the very least, the presenters asked for subsidized fares during the first two weeks of the program while participants wait for their first paycheck.

Councilmembers Tommy Wells (ward 6) and Muriel Bowser (ward 4, the Council's representative on the WMATA Board) asked DDOT and WMATA about the cost of a subsidy and what its fiscal impact would be, noting that youth who go to summer school already get a similar transit subsidy.

Youth advisory council: After last year's summit, WMATA was interested in establishing a youth advisory council to discuss activity on buses. Unfortunately, there had not been follow-up from the local councilmember, Yvette Alexander, to move this forward. At this year's summit, WMATA reaffirmed their interest in a youth advisory council.

Aging in place: One resident noted that the very young and the very old have unique needs when it comes to transportation, and asked how WMATA can help residents age in place, and how it can better accommodate strollers on buses.

Deaf riders: Other participants said that Ward 7 has an increasing population of the hearing impaired and deaf, and that transit employees should be trained to both recognize deaf customers and help them use the system.

Pedestrian safety: Organizer Neha Bhatt discussed pedestrian safety concerns at Benning Road's intersections with Minnesota Avenue and East Capitol Street. She had organized a recent walking tour with Ward 3 councilmember Mary Cheh, chair of the committee overseeing transportation, to look at problem intersections.

Capital Bikeshare: WABA executive director Shane Farthing raised the idea of subsidizing bike sharing for residents east of the river, and suggested changing Capital Bikeshare rules to allow younger members. Currently, one must be at least 16 years old to use Capital Bikeshare.

There was also an open house where community members could find information from DDOT, WMATA, Capital Bikeshare, and WABA, as well as discuss ideas with representatives from these groups.

The summit's two-hour timeframe turned out to be somewhat too short, so presentations and discussion were rushed at the end. The organizers are hoping to reformat for next year to avoid this issue.

Overall, residents came away with a widespread belief that working to pick the low-hanging fruit is a smart way to move forward and begin to bring positive change to Ward 7.


Field for Ward 7 council race is set. Who will survive?

Ward 7 is shaping up to be a unique DC Council race this year. Unlike the other ward races, there are candidates other than Democrats in the running. Many believe this could actually make general election competitive, instead of the primary election being the only race that matters.

Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

Incumbent Councilmember Yvette Alexander is running for a second full term, after being elected to her first full term in 2008. Alexander bested a field that included 3 other Democratic candidates that year, after having beat 17 other candidates the year before in a special election to secure the seat (with 34% of the vote).

Alexander is currently the chair of the Council's Committee on Public Services and Consumer Affairs, which has oversight responsibility for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, as well as multiple professional boards and accountability agencies.

Incumbency grants Alexander a leg up for fundraising. She's managed to raise over $82,000 (PDF) as of the last filing date, far ahead of the rest of the field.

Second in money raised, and by many accounts a candidate who could be a strong challenger, Kevin B. Chavous has raised nearly $29,000 so far. He touts the endorsement of the Ward 7 Concerned Citizens Coalition on his website. This organization came together last year to find a candidate to run against Alexander.

With grassroots support and name recognition (Chavous' father was the Ward 7 councilmember for 3 terms from 1992-2004), Chavous appeared to be in good shape until a mid-December arrest on a charge of solicitation of a prostitute. Yesterday, he agreed to a deal that would lead to the charges being dropped, provided he completes community service within the next 4 months.

Some in the ward have said Chavous is too young, and doesn't appeal to older voters. In addition, being a "legacy" candidate could be a hindrance.

Tom Brown, who ran in the special election last year to fill the at-large seat vacated by Kwame Brown (and temporarily filled by Sekou Biddle), is running on a platform that focuses on job creation. Ward 7 residents I have spoken with believe he's a strong candidate, but has not done as good a job convincing voters he's a strong challenger as others. He has a background in job training, which is a key issue in the race. Brown has raised nearly $18,000 so far.

Bill Bennett is a pastor in Ward 7. His website remains a landing site with no information other than his name, currently. Bennett has gathered support from many churches in the ward and has raised $11,000 so far.

Of interest is the person listed as the contact for the Bennett campaign on the BOEE website: Willie Wilson. Wilson has a history as a long-time advocate for the poor in Ward 8, but also has been called out for controversial statements in recent years.

Dorothy Douglas, who also ran in last year's special election to replace Kwame Brown, is running again. Monica Johnson is the remaining Democratic candidate. Neither of the two appear to be gathering large amounts of support in the ward in the early going.

What makes the Ward 7 race interesting is the inclusion of non-Democrats in the race. There are two Republicans running for the seat, Don Folden and Ronald Moten. One of the two will have an additional 7 months to make his case to the people of Ward 7, facing off against whichever Democrat emerges from the 6-way primary scrum.

If media savviness and attention alone would dictate the winner of the Republican race, Ron Moten seems well-placed to win. Moten, one of the founders of Peaceaholics, a non-profit that worked with at-risk youth in the city, has been in the news since the organization came to prominence during the Fenty administration.

Moten's decision to run as a "Civil Rights Republican" appears to some as a way of simply avoiding the Democratic primary to live another day. While that may play into the political calculus, individuals I have spoken to in Ward 7 believe that Moten would have a good chance in the general election against any of the Democrats.

Last week, Ward 7 resident Dawn Matthews challenged Alexander's ballot petitions. Whether this will keep her off the ballot in April remains to be seen, but other incumbents have been able to survive being knocked off the ballot in the past and still win reelection via write-in (see Anthony Williams in 2002).

The main theme of the race seems to be the perception, fair or not, that Alexander has not done much for Ward 7. Economic development, and the related topic of employment, appear to be first on the mind of many voters. A splintered field works in the incumbent's favor, but the addition of a strong Republican challenger will make this a race worth watching, regardless of who emerges from the primary election on April 3.


Leadership needed to extend DC school day

Extending the school day consistently improves student performance, as several DC charter schools have proven. Both the Washington Teachers' Union and DC Council agree that DCPS should likewise increase teachers' time on task, but no one is showing needed leadership to make it happen.

Photo by The Familylee on Flickr.

DC has the most permissive charter school system in the country. A major purpose of this, often touted by education reformers, is to try out different educational innovations, learn what works, and then adopt the best ideas at non-charter public schools.

Unfortunately, neither DCPS nor the DC Council are taking the lead to study longer school days. In fact, DCPS and the Council don't even agree on whether legislation is required to extend the school day or not. DCPS says the DC Council must act, while the Council's attorney says DCPS could act if it wanted. And the two bodies haven't talked to each other to resolve this question.

The confusion continued this month when Councilmember Alexander unexpectedly submitted legislation extending the school day. Alexander refiled a 2-page bill that Councilmember Cheh had submitted last year, even though she has not discussed extended school days with DCPS, with the teachers' union or with Councilmember Cheh.

The innovation that is perhaps most common in successful charter schools, according to a new research study, is an extended school day. On a comprehensive ranking of public charter schools by educational outcomes released by the DC Charter School Board, all of the top performing charter middle schools have school days longer than the 6.5 hour DCPS school day.

Charter schoolOverall %WardGrade levelSchool day length
DC Prep-Edgewood Campus92.3%54-88-9 hours
KIPP DC: KEY Academy86.4%74-87 hrs, 30 min 9 hrs
KIPP DC: WILL Academy85.5%25-87 hrs, 30 min 9 hrs
KIPP DC: AIM Academy85.2%85-87 hrs, 30 min 9 hrs
Achievement Prep81.5%84-88 hrs, 30 min
Source: Individual charter schools

These schools consistently point to their extended school day as critical to their higher student outcomes. Achievement Prep explains the importance of extended school days:

Our school day is 2 hours longer than the traditional DC public school, while our school year is 15 days longer. This extended instructional time provides an opportunity for intensive focus around literacy and mathematics and additional opportunities for providing students with academic support.
DC Prep, the highest ranking charter middle school, lists "More time on task" first in the list of initiatives that distinguish their school. According to their web site, "DC Prep students spend approximately 25% more time in school than other DC public school students."

The DCPS school day is not only shorter than those of most successful charter middle schools. It is also shorter than those of every neighboring suburban school system, which consistently deliver higher test scores than DC public schools.

County school districtSchool day length
Fairfax6 hrs, 50 min
Montgomery6 hrs, 45 min
Arlington6 hrs, 43 min
Prince George's6 hrs, 40 min
DC6 hrs, 30 min
Source: Office of Councilmember Mary Cheh

DC parents are right to expect that, given this evidence, someone would study this phenomenon and apply lessons learned to DCPS. Sadly, that appears to not be happening.

DCPS spokesperson Fred Lewis agrees that an "extended school day and extended school year can make a huge difference for children, especially those who are underperforming." Nonetheless, he doesn't see DCPS moving forward with this idea soon for the following reasons:

Before we move forward aggressively we're going to have to examine the implications, the financial implications associated with an extended school day, school year, and figure out with our union partners how we'd have to modify the contract in order to make that work....

In considering an extension of the school day and school year, several factors come into play, such as the overall cost of the proposal (utilities, salaries etc.) and scheduling (transportation for special education students and athletics, for example), as well as student safety (leaving later from school). Legislation would be required as would negotiation with the teachers union.

While the considerations raised by DCPS certainly need to be examined, the reality is that DCPS has not seriously begun examining any of them. Washington Teachers Union president Nathan Saunders says he has not been contacted by DCPS to discuss extended school days. Neither has DC Councilmember Mary Cheh, who proposed legislation a year ago extending the school day by 30 minutes to 7 hours.

The logistical and financial implications of extending the school day could be significantly curtailed with a pilot at a few schools. Last month, that's what Chicago announced it is doing with an extended school day pilot at 13 schools. When asked if Chancellor Kaya Henderson is considering extending the school day on a trial basis with a couple schools just like Chicago, DCPS Spokesperson Lewis had no comment.

Furthermore, Lewis' claim that "legislation would be required" is contested by the DC Council. David Zvenyach, General Counsel to the DC Council, says that the DC Code establishes the minimum school day, but not the maximum school day. When informed of this, Lewis defended the DCPS position that the State Board of Education "establishes through regulation the length of school day" with reference to 38-202 of the DC Code. Zvenyach contends that this section of the Code says no such thing.

What is most troubling about this confusion is that DCPS and the DC Council are not talking to resolve this issue, even though the DC Council has twice proposed legislation to extend the school day. Last year, Councilmember Cheh proposed legislation in order to start a conversation on extending the school day.

That conversation still seems to have not taken place. Earlier this month, Councilmember Alexander resubmitted Cheh's legislation, changing only the duration of the extension from 30 minutes to 60 minutes. Saunders says Alexander has not discussed her legislation with him, and Cheh spokesperson Kiara Pesante says Alexander has not discussed it with Cheh.

WTU President Saunders says he recognizes the evidence and agrees that DCPS should learn from successful charter schools. However, he contends that the fundamental lesson learned is not that the school day should be longer, but that there should be more instructional time or, using the same terminology as DC Prep, "more time on task."

Saunders points to sources of waste in a teachers' day that take teachers off of their primary task of instruction, and claims that DCPS can significantly increase time on task for significantly less money by eliminating these distractions. Chief amongst these, according to Saunders, are time spent doing data entry and time spent on disciplinary matters with students that administrators return to their classrooms over teachers' objections.

These seem like legitimate points for discussion, but that discussion isn't happening. As a result, Saunders called Alexander's legislation "the worst piece of legislation submitted by the Council all year." He contends that Alexander only offered her legislation "because she is running for reelection."

It's time for someone to show leadership in increasing the time on task of DCPS teachers. It's difficult to see why, for example, the new standalone middle school promised to Ward 5 parents can't incorporate the lessons learned from charter schools' extended school days. Sadly, little action is likely any time soon as long as DC officials continue to stall.

Update: KIPP DC has informed me that their school day is actually 9 hours, not 7.5 as originally reported. This has been corrected.


DC officials tweet, but with varying enthusiasm

Twitter can be a powerful tool for politicians and government agencies to connect with constituents. Many of DC's elected leaders are on Twitter, but they use their accounts to widely varying degrees.

Photo by William Hook on Flickr.

Their tweets also vary in frequency and quality, and some officials tweet personally while staff send out tweets for others. Which are the best and the worst?

Tommy Wells (@TommyWells) is the most active councilmember on Twitter and sends all his tweets himself. He often tweets about riding the bus, council hearing proceedings, and constituent issues in Ward 6. Washington City Paper recently named him "Best Tweeting DC Politician."

Councilmembers Muriel Bowser (@MurielBowser) and Yvette Alexander (@CMYMA) are active on Twitter and tweet fairly regularly. They use their accounts to respond to questions, retweet others and often take conversational approaches with their tweets. Wells, Bowser and Alexander are good about replying to questions, too.

Michael Brown (@CMMichaelABrown) and Jack Evans (@Jack Evans_Ward2) send moderate numbers of tweets, though it appears their staff do the work for them. They retweet fairly regularly and promote their schedules and news. You can often get an reply from them too, or at least links to find out more about an issue.

Mary Cheh (@MaryCheh) is less active than Evans or Brown and primarily promotes her news and updates, though occasionally she will send replies. Her account will be fairly active for a couple days, and then be silent for a stretch. It seems that staff tweet for her.

David Catania has two accounts, though neither is him personally. One is @CataniaPress, which promotes news and information about him. The other is @Catania_COS, his chief of staff, who engages more directly with followers and constituents.

Chairman Kwame Brown has an account, @KwameBrownDC which primarily mentions where the chairman has been and what visits he makes to groups and organizations in the city. It seems that staff tweet for him as well Brown does manage his own account. He often sends replies but rarely retweets. The account was also silent from February 17th to April 2nd, when the SUV scandal was in top gear.

Jim Graham, Harry Thomas and Vincent Orange all have accounts, though they rarely use them. Graham's account, @JimGraham_Ward1 last tweeted June 14 and is only following 27 people. When the account is active, it primarily promotes news and updates from his office.

Harry Thomas's account, @HLTJrWard5, hasn't been active since March 14th. Vincent Orange used Twitter during the April 26th special election campaign, but his account, @VincentOrangeDC last tweeted on May 12th and is only following 55 people.

Councilmembers Marion Barry and Phil Mendelson do not have accounts.

Mayor Vincent Gray has a Twitter account, @MayorVinceGray, run by his communications staff. At first, the account primarily promoted the mayor's schedule, but recently has started engaging more with followers and residents.

For those councilmembers who don't use Twitter regularly, does it matter? Barry doesn't have an account, but that doesn't mean he is less popular in Ward 8. It also doesn't necessarily mean he is not engaging with his constituents.

Twitter certainly isn't the only way to engage with constituents. Not everyone is savvy with the technology or has regular internet access. Others may find it overwhelming to use. But Twitter can be an effective way for councilmembers to address constituent concerns and provide a sense of connection with residents.

Some of the more active councilmembers, like Wells, Bowser, and Alexander, can help make government somewhat more responsive and approachable. Other accounts, like Cheh and Kwame Brown, occasionally engage with residents and at least provide a medium for getting information.

Should councilmembers be managing their own accounts or is it better to have a staff member do it? Wells, Bowser and Alexander seem tweet themselves and are able to engage more than others. During the protest over Congressional budget riders, Wells' account stopped sending tweets the moment his staff (@CharlesAllenDC and @AnnePhelps) tweeted pictures of his arrest. Michael Brown's account, on the other hand, tweeted pictures of Brown himself wearing handcuffs.

Many District agencies, like DCRA and DDOT, have used Twitter with great success to answer questions and address complaints. Now the Office of Planning has joined the flock, too.

Which officials' tweets do you find most useful? How would you like to see others improve?

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