Democratic DC mayoral candidates debate at AU
Candidates for D.C. mayor took center stage to discuss issues such as adequate education, job growth and gentrification at a debate at Katzen Arts Center Feb. 12. The event was hosted by the Kennedy Political Union.
D.C. Councilmembers Jack Evans (Ward 2), Tommy Wells (Ward 6) and Vincent Orange (Ward 5), as well as former State Department special representative and AU alumna Reta Jo Lewis, community activists Andy Shallal and Carlos Allen are vying for the Democratic Party nomination. The election is slated for April 1.
As the candidates offered their vision for the city’s future, nearly all touched on the failed leadership of incumbent mayor Vincent Gray, who is currently facing allegations of running a “shadow campaign” that illegally funneled money for his 2010 mayoral campaign, according to an ABC report.
“We’re distracted with so many other issues,” Shallal, the founder of Busboys and Poets, said. “The corruption, the shadow campaign and all these things, it’s really hard to focus on the issue of statehood.”
Both Gray and Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser did not show up to the debate. Bowser had a community event and could not attend, a staffer said after the debate.
Candidates sparred over a marijuana decriminalization bill that would transition possession from a criminal charge to a $25 civil fine for up to an ounce of marijuana while lowering public smoking sentences to just 65 days.
Wells, who authored the bill, said approximately 90 percent of all marijuana-related arrests are of African-American men, a crime which may hinder their ability to find jobs or housing in the future.
“Decrim is just the first step,” Wells said. “It’s a smart thing to do, it’s a matter of social justice, and that’s what we need to do.”
Orange said he believes the bill is flawed because it fails to address work drug testing and urged the council to reconsider.
Evans also pledged his support for decriminalizing possession, but disagreed with Well’s efforts to decriminalize public smoking altogether.
“Most people we talk to just didn’t want to see that happen,” Evans said of public smoking. “I believe decriminalizing marijuana like we did is a step toward legalizing it.”
Candidates also discussed how to better include college students in the fabric of the city. Both Lewis and Wells supported a loan-forgiveness program that would help retain young talent in the city after graduation.
“If you are out there being the activist you always have been, I want to make sure you have a path to go help our young people, go help our non-profits, go help our elderly,” Lewis said. “We should be assisting you as you assist the citizens of the District of Columbia.”
As the city balances economic growth and preserving cultural heritage, nearly all candidates agreed that housing prices were too steep and threatened historic communities. The city has veered from its plan to expand affordable housing to tens of thousands of people, Orange said.
“We’re a $12 billion organization, we have $1.7 billion in our rainy day fund, we’re coming off a $320 million surplus, and we project a surplus for the next five years,” Orange said about D.C. government funds. “The money is there, take care and do the job we said that we were going to do.”
Video courtesy Trey Yingst and Ford Fischer of News2Share.com