Candidates debate issues

The biggest issue in the upcoming city council election is D.C.'s financial crisis, candidates for Ward 3 council member and audience members said at a candidates' forum Thursday night.

The forum, which was held at McLean Gardens condominiums, was one of several which have been held in the past several weeks to allow the public to ask questions to the four candidates running for Ward 3 council member, Democratic incumbent Jim Nathanson, Democratic challengers Kathy Patterson and James Montgomery, and Republican challenger Philip Murphy.

Nathanson, who spoke first, said the city needs to prioritize its financial commitments and begin eliminating items on the bottom of the list until D.C.'s $140 million budget shortfall is alleviated.

"If we don't solve the city's fiscal problem, we're not going to have the resources for other problems," Nathanson said.

One audience member questioned the city's efficiency and said he saw "a lot of inefficiency across the board in the way things are run."

Patterson said part of her plan for streamlining city government would include examining city agencies with a history of efficiency to see why they work better than others.

"This city is looking at an $800 million deficit by the turn of the century unless something is done to dig us out of the financial hole the city leaders have gotten us into," Patterson said. "There are pockets of competence (in the city government). We need to examine these pockets and see why they work."

Murphy said he is a strong proponent of privatization, and said many other cities have adopted policies which could improve D.C.'s financial situation.

"I'm concerned that some of the innovative ideas being implemented around the country are not even being articulated in this race," Murphy said.

He said even the threat of privatization could encourage city agencies to work more efficiently.

"In Phoenix (Ariz.), (the city government) privatized sanitation services," Murphy said. "The city service lost the bid the first year (after the policy change), trimmed their workforce, cut costs, and won the bid back."

Nathanson focused on his past record, and said the community should re-elect him based on his experience.

"The true test of a candidate is the record," Nathanson said. "This city has heard too many promises."

However, one audience member questioned whether Ward 3 was better off now or when Nathanson first took office eight years ago.

"I would say yes, the ward is better off," Nathanson said. "There are many regulations in place now that were requested by Ward 3 citizens through me."

Patterson said that while she has no formal political experience, she has worked many years as a community activist, and said she has been part of accomplishments that took place primarily through the work of individual citizens, not politicians. For example, Patterson organized a group of parents who successfully lobbied city leaders to increase teachers' salaries.

Roger Burns, a Ward 3 resident, said that while he is impressed with Patterson, he is unsure of the specifics of her plans.

"I'm impressed with the rhetoric I've heard from Mrs. Patterson, but I'm concerned about the programs she talks about without being specific," Burns said.

Patterson responded by saying she would streamline the schools, hospital, and district police department.

All three candidates agreed the police department needed revision. However, some audience members accused Nathanson of being partially responsible for the department's mismanagement because of his position on the city's justice committee, pointing to the recent articles in the Washington Post exposing the department's problems.

"That's old news," Nathanson said. "Those stories are a result of committee hearings I held a year ago."

He said under legislation he introduced, the hiring policies in the department have greatly improved, and said he encouraged the police chief to hire more officers.

Patterson said she favors decreasing the number of officers on the streets and re-deploying the remaining officers in a more effective manner.

In closing, Nathanson said the city should re-elect him based on his record, and pointed to his opponents' lack of experience as a liability.

Patterson said city politicians need greater accountability to the public, and said better leadership is the key to the city's problems.

"I think we need far greater leadership from Ward 3," Patterson said. "We can't just balance the budget on paper, we have to do things for real"

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