As I sat at my computer after Tuesday night’s Ward 6 Council Democratic Candidates Forum, I struggled with how to summarize an hour and a half long discussion into a blog post of fewer than 700-1,000 words. A lot of interesting questions were asked, and a lot of political jargon was offered in return. Yes, growing up in the Nation’s capital has jaded me a bit when it comes to political figures and their time-restricted answers in public forums. They can only say so much in so little time. Some topics interested me more than others, while some of the more vocal audience members were clearly interested in things I was not. If you care to read my summary of the key issues raised, please read on. If you’d rather read a full transcript of the event, you can read it here (PDF file), courtesy of the Eastern Market Metro Community Association (EMMCA), one of the sponsors of the forum.
A special thanks to Anna Riehle for transcribing and to the student volunteers who helped run the event: Tyrec Grooms (School Without Walls), Joshua Godec (Gonzaga), and Peter Riehle (School Without Walls)
I’d also like to add that if you are able to fit it into your schedule, please attend one of these forums – there is one tonight at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church at 600 M St., SW at 7 pm, and another one on Wednesday the 1st at 7:30 pm, at the Christ Our Shepherd Church, 801 North Carolina Avenue SE. They may be long and somewhat painful at times, but it is interesting to hear the kind of questions submitted, and the reactions by the audience to different answers. It’s also a great opportunity for you to submit a question and hear both candidates’ answers – even if they are a time restricted answer that I think in political jargon can be wrapped up in an “I’m working for YOU” smile.
So, onto the highlights from Tuesday’s forum. Since the forum was hosted by the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO), Eastern Market Metro Community Association (EMMCA), and Sports on the Hill (SOTH), most of the questions focused on schools, children, and the development around the Eastern Market Metro Plaza.
Wells points to the growing waiting lists for Ward 6 schools as a testament to the progress made and he wants to now carry that hard work into the middle schools. He also spoke about the newly renovated Eastern High School and its potential to revitalize educational options in the Ward. His ultimate goal is to ensure that when families move to the neighborhood, they can go to the school that is closest to them, growing the walkability of the neighborhood. He seeing the economic gap in test scores closing and believes it will continue to with the hard work that is being done and built on.
Robinson focused on the need to offer more opportunities for parental involvement in the schools, reforming our special education system so money can be kept in the city and better allocated, and instituting programs such as adult literacy so that the lessons children learn in the classroom can be continued at home. His focus seemed to be more on the students and family who are not doing as well and need more support, resources, and opportunities.
A Livable and Walkable Community:
Considering it’s plastered all over Wells’ signs, you knew it would come up. Everyone supports a livable and walkable community but the big difference in the views on this issue is that Robinson asserts that our neighborhood cannot be either of those things until we reduce crime. He points out that some sections of the neighborhood are doing great but a lot are not — and the rash of carjackings last year is an example of this continuing issue with crime.
Wells’ argument is that the more businesses, outdoor seating, sports fields, development, etc. that is brought in, the more people you will see on the streets, and therefore the safer the neighborhood becomes because there will be fewer opportunities for crimes since there will be more people (i.e. witnesses).
The other thing mentioned by Robinson in this exchange was juvenile crime and the need to implement “meaningful” youth programs that will keep kids off the streets and involved in programs that will help them in the long run. Wells introduced some legislation while in office and has always been vocal about the need to reform the city’s juvenile justice system; Robinson is asserting that through all of Wells’ talk, he has not done enough.
Are there forgotten parts of the Ward?
Wells says he’s been active in all corners — this question was raised in regards to the southeast side of the neighborhood where stalled development projects and a train project have been concerning residents.
Robinson says he believes that the Kingman Park and Rosedale area have been the most forgotten and hopes to change that.
Eastern Market Development: Hine and the Town Square
The last really big issue touched on was the Hine School development project and the Town Square and its accompanying proposal to re-direct Pennsylvania Avenue. We have covered this at great length here and I’m not about to recap all of the issues but here was my overall take on their answers. The ultimate question was regarding their position on re-routing Pennsylvania Avenue, and their priorities for the Hine School development.
On re-routing Pennsylvania Avenue, Wells explained that he opposes the idea because it will make the intersections less pedestrian-friendly. Robinson, who was not part of the community meetings (he was an ANC commissioner for another area of Ward 6 at the time all of this was happening), only had the final reports as his basis for understanding of the issues. So when he said he supported the plan because it was one agreed upon by the community, there was some grumbling from the audience who felt that the final report did not accurately portray the community’s opinion on the matter. (This was not included in the transcripts)
Ultimately, he and Wells both acknowledged that the process was flawed and will work to ensure that as the plans move forward, the community is heard.
I’ve hit my word-limit so please read the transcript and watch for announcements about future community forums so you can ask your own questions and become informed before voting.