Unless you are a newcomer to the Hill, you’ve heard Charles Allen’s name on a routine basis– sometimes even in the same breath as Tommy Wells, Ward Six’s current councilmember. The 37-year old chief-of-staff is a constant presence in the neighborhood. Until the moment he announced his candidacy back in October, he was the tireless right hand to the mayoral hopeful. From volunteering at schools, to ice cream socials at public parks “slightly in disrepair” to standing next to owner Jon Weintraub as he watched Frager’s burn to the ground, Charles Allen has been there. One of Allen’s insights as to what makes this neighborhood so special came precisely that terrible day as he watched Weintraub, surrounded by concerned neighbors, calling each employee to make sure they were safe as his property burned to the ground: Capitol Hill has loyalty.
Does Allen worry that he will be perceived as a continuation of Wells? “Obviously Tommy and I share a lot of the same vision,” he concedes, particularly when it comes to ethics and running a clean campaign. Allen not only shares Wells’s vision, he has helped shape the councilmember’s legislation over the past seven years. However, Allen and Wells are not the same person. One notable difference stems from a very important person in his life: 18-month old daughter Cora. For Allen, having a school-age child means that his focus on schools as well as affordable child care has a definite sense of urgency to it. His approach to helping DC schools would begin with being in the Education Committee, once elected.
Allen has a four-step plan to implement lasting change in the schools. The plan’s four steps include larger capital investment in schools, particularly the middle schools; strong school leadership that is adequately supported; academics that challenge students, in addition to remedial measures for students who need additional help; and, finally, a vertical integration strategy that makes programs such as a foreign language available throughout a student’s time in DCPS. He also hopes to foster better communication between parents and administrators so that resources are directed where they are needed most, while avoiding unfortunate oversights or hurt feelings. The implementation of updated tools such as the Unified Lottery, which combines DCPS schools with most charter options and allows parents to apply to up to twelve schools at once, is just one way to help bureaucracy be more effective.
Regarding small businesses, Allen circles back to talking about the lessons learned at the Frager’s fire. Capitol Hill is a loyal community, and therefore, people who choose to open a small business that caters to our neighbors’ needs should receive tax breaks and other incentives so they will want to keep serving the area. The fact that larger and more upscale stores are deciding to move to the neighborhood is a good economic sign; these stores have made an active decision to serve this part of the city and that is an indication of growth. However, there needs to be support for businesses housed in buildings with a smaller architectural imprint, which fit into more specific niche retailing and which neighbors appreciate and cherish: the Hill’s rowhouse landscape we all find so charming is a perfect fit for that.
As with other successful pieces of legislation, most notably the 5-cent bag tax that has helped the Anacostia river and has made us all very aware of taking our recyclable bags wherever we go, Allen hopes to get in our heads so that change can come from within.