I recently sat down with Charles Allen, current Ward 6 councilmember running for re-election, and asked him to talk about his record and his campaign. Charles is being challenged by Lisa Hunter, whose conversation you can listen to by clicking here.
The transcript of our conversation is below, for those who prefer to read or who are deaf or hard of hearing.
If you would like to skip to listen to a particular segment, you can let the time stamps at the beginning of each paragraph be your guide.
Maria Helena Carey: [00:00:04] We are here today talking to Charles Allen. Charles is running for re-election as Ward 6 council member. Thank you for talking to us today. Please introduce yourself a little more in depth and tell us about your background.
Charles Allen: [00:00:15] Well thanks for talking with me. I’m Charles Allen. I’m currently the Ward 6 councilmember and I’m running for re-election. And so I really wanna ask for everyone’s vote on Tuesday June 19th. I’m really proud of the work that we’ve been doing. The last 3 1/2 years, I think we’ve done a lot of great work in Ward 6. Worked with just neighborhoods and communities all across the ward from Northwest to Southwest to Southeast, Northeast and I think we’ve delivered a lot of results. And so I’m proud to be running for re-election, um, really honored and humbled by just the sheer number of people that are volunteering with the campaign and getting engaged. And I think it speaks to just the great work that we’ve done together to help accomplish so much in the ward and really looking forward with the next four years can hold for us.
Maria: [00:00:54] If you should win your re-election bid, what are the top three priorities for your next term?
Charles: [00:01:01] Well I think you know I made education one of my top priorities in my first term. And I would want to continue that in the second one. Um, and I’ve done that a couple of different ways. One is with getting our schools back on track when it comes to rebuilding and modernizing them. When I took office three and a half years ago I found schools that were at the back of a line. They had been a lot of broken promises in terms of delivering on modernizations and I found schools where there were things like, bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. There were moldy tiles, there were windows you couldn’t see out of. And that’s just unacceptable. And so I worked hard to be able to push a lot of our schools like Jefferson and Southwest or Watkins Elementary and Hill East. Eliot Hine middle school really move them to the front line so they can be modernized so that we have a really dignified space for our students. It’s obviously much more than just buildings. Over the last couple years I’ve also been able to put millions of new dollars into our at-risk funding to make sure that we’re targeting our resources for students to help close the achievement gap; have put millions more into our out-of-school-time funding which helps make sure that students have positive activities outside of the traditional school hours. And then, of course, one of the things that I did right off the bat –my first legislation– was the Books From Birth legislation which really puts a new focus on trying to close the word gap and literacy gap before it becomes an achievement gap that shows that later in the years and that now has over 450,000 books have been delivered for free to kids across D.C. Over 30,000 kids age 0-5 are enrolled in this program. And it really can make a huge difference. So as we move forward to the to the next four years, part of what want to do is continue the push and the priority on our middle schools. You know we we modernized Eastern High School 10 years ago. But what I think the city and where the city failed was our focus on middle school. So even though we have put a lot of money and energy into a high school, we weren’t showing families their full pathway to get from elementary school to that high school. And so, I think we ought to continue to push on middle schools. That’s why I’ve kept my f oot in the accelerator when it comes to middle schools. Another major priority is going to be affordable housing. Well I’m very proud of the fact that in the last three and half years we’ve actually built over 1500 new affordable homes. Many of those are two- and three-bedrooms so they serve families. A lot of those are at this deepest affordability for families earning no more than $30,000 a year. $50,000 a year. Really trying to put that priority on the lower-income families to make sure that housing is there for them because I want to make sure that every every family sees their future right here in Ward 6, right here in D.C. and there’s 2000 more that are in the pipeline. So I’m excited about that. Even with all of that, we’re doing more than Ward 6 in any other ward in our city. So we’re leading the way even with that. It’s still one of the top issues. And so I think I’ve proven that I have delivered time and again on creating new affordable housing. But I think I gotta keep my foot on the accelerator. The third issue I think is one… um, it’s hard to pick one other third issue. There’s everything from public safety to small businesses and jobs. But when it comes to those issues, what I’ve done is really focus on delivering results again for our community for our neighborhoods. I’d also throw in the environment there. You know I’ve been at one of the biggest advocates for the Anacostia River and a sustainable environment. Those are some of the issues that are important to me. They are for our neighbors as well. And I think again what you see as Ward 6 helping lead our city and lead the way on the issues that matter most.
Maria: [00:04:21] As a follow up to that, there’s a lot of public safety concerns. You know there’s increasing crime… There’s no increase in crime? It just seems like it. Is it that we’re getting more reports of crime as it is in progress?
Charles: [00:04:40] When you look at statistics you can have all statistics in the world pointing the right direction. And I can give you stats all day long. If you’re the victim of a crime, if you know someone is a victim of crime, if a family member was a victim of a crime, crime just went up for you. And so it’s really hard to argue the stats. While the city is making a lot of progress in reducing violent crime, we have this year seen an increase in homicides, for example, and, in particular homicides in Ward 8 in Ward 7. And that’s something I have spent time with my council colleagues in wards 7 and 8. I’ve spent time with our MPD leadership but it can’t just be a policing solution. We have to be able to invest in the type of resources and interventions that help identify violence at the beginning and prevent it. That’s really the trick here it’s not just about how do we just arrest our way out of a problem because that’s really not a long-term solution. It’s, how do we invest? That’s why we moved so hard on the NEAR act, to help make sure that we are putting in different types of interventions to help with communities that are experiencing violence. It’s why I’ve helped to lead the way with the Youth Rehabilitation Act. One of the most significant reforms we’ve had since 1985 on Youth Rehabilitation and legislation is now moving through council. It’s fully funded. Those two things together are really going to help, I think, put a huge investment in preventing crime.
Maria: [00:05:58] So following up on education, there is much enthusiasm for our local public schools at the elementary school level. Less so at the middle school level. And Eastern High School’s student body this year is less than one-third from Ward 6. As a councilmember and as a parent, how would you address this lack of interest toward an excellent public high school?
Charles: [00:06:17] Well I think that Eastern is a great high school. I think that we have great leadership. We have just great students, great families. And I think there’s a lot of great things happening at Eastern. Where I think the city made a really bad decision, where the city failed, was not understanding the importance… And understand how important the role of middle schools are. And when the city went through its modernization… This is now 10-plus years ago, what they decided to do is focus on high schools and so they went around the city putting hundreds of millions of dollars in modernization to the high schools. But they completely forgot middle schools. We put a lot of money into elementary schools. We completely forgot middle schools. I think that’s been a failure of the city. And you talk to any parent and they’ll tell you, the middle school years are some of the hardest ones for a whole host of reasons. But from an educational perspective if I can show you your pathway to that beautiful high school that’s been fully modernized, has the best principal and all the extracurriculars that a student may want. If I can’t get you through middle school it doesn’t matter. You’re not going to get there. And that’s why I put such a priority on middle schools. Jefferson Middle School in Southwest: Absolutely fantastic Middle School, has had a record of just really strong leadership in the principals and in the teachers. Great programming, but it’s a building that just struggles to deliver what students need. There’s been a science lab there where they mixed up the water and the gas hose and they don’t have a science lab anymore. Eliot Hine, a middle school where I was able to help get a science lab added to that school but you can’t see out the windows in some of those classrooms. It’s not a learning environment. And so when I walk through with families trying to help them see their future at Elliot-Hine those tours lasted five or ten minutes because parents couldn’t see their future there. So that’s why it’s such a priority on making sure we address middle schools because to some extent it doesn’t matter what shiny ball and I show you a high school. I’ve got to get you and increase your confidence at at the middle school level and that’s what I’m have been really laser-focused on. Take a look at Stuart Hobson right now: Got some really phenomenal leadership in there right now. Principal Comeforo is outstanding. We’ve got a building that starts to fit the students’ needs. This summer, they’re going be doing some of the repair work and the auditorium but, by and large, at Stuart Hobson you know you’re getting a strong middle school experience. We’ve got to have that at every single one of our middle schools and then we’re going to start seeing parents have the confidence that they have from pre K through graduation an outstanding public education for their kids and I think that’s the trick.
Maria: [00:08:44] Next question: This has been a very intense primary campaign and it seems that there has been much focus on so-called incumbent bias, at least on the part of the challenger. Do you feel like you have made enough efforts to reach out to different voter bases or is there anything to these remarks and how is this campaign different in tone from the way it was four years ago?
Charles: [00:09:08] Well I think you know one of the things that I’ve certainly learned is that I’m never not the council member. So it doesn’t matter if I’m dropping my kid off at school; if I’m standing in line for groceries at Eastern Market; whether I’m down to the southwest Branch Library picking up books; I’m always the councilmember and so I have neighbors and and constituents who talk to me all day long. It’s also a matter of being able to have shown that I deliver. And so being able to work with communities and neighborhoods all across Ward 6 in every corner and for all neighbors, I think what I see is, and what I hear from a lot of folks, is just a recognition that by putting in the hard work and working with so many communities, we deliver. You know I think about in Southwest for example, when I took office 3 1/2 years ago the city was about to sell off the library and turn into condos. And I stopped it and put 18 million dollars into the budget to rebuild this great public library to serve that community. Well, I’m proud of the work I did with that but I was able to do that because I’ve had a longstanding relationship and I worked with my Southwest neighbors to help make that happen. When I think about Elliot Hine Middle School, that project has been broken promise after broken promise after broken promise. But I was able to get the money set aside, get it funded. We’re about to start construction and fully modernize that school. I was able to do that because of such a huge group of parents that I’ve been working with for years helped deliver results and deliver for those school communities and deliver on that vision. Just time and again, that’s part of what I’ve done and so I think that’s what I certainly feel the reaction to from neighbors constituents is that we’ve been in these fights together. We’ve won a lot of these battles together whether it’s you know the library or the school or whether it’s on social justice reforms, passing things like Paid Family Leave, passing the Fight for $15 to raise the minimum wage. Those are fights that we’ve all done together. And since I’ve been there and been present and been in the battle been in the fight I think that’s why I feel so many people reacting so strongly and in support because they know that we’re going to continue those fights together. We built this strong record of success. And with four more years we’re going to continue to be able to deliver for all of our residents in Ward 6.
Maria: [00:11:17] Thank you. At this point in time I’d just like you to tell us why we should vote for you.
Charles: [00:11:23] Well I certainly hope I’ll have people’s support. Again, June 19th is the election. Would love to have their support and their vote as there were six counts. I’m incredibly proud of my record and what we’ve accomplished. I’ve been focused on the issues that matter most for Ward 6. And so in some cases that means we’re going to get a stop sign installed or a crosswalk on a block. In some cases, that means the big legislative reforms where I’ve helped reform campaign finance where I have helped lead the Fight for $15 to help raise the wage, where I’ve added in wage theft laws. Progressive leadership is what I’ve been able to do on the council as well as in the community. But I’m only able to do this because I have the relationships and the backing of the community the neighbors because we’ve worked together to achieve these things. So I’m proud of my record but really it’s our it’s our shared record. We’ve done this and that’s the way that I view the job. And as I look to four more years, I know that we will continue to focus on affordable housing. And I’ve delivered time and again on more affordable housing for Ward 6 and for city residents. And I know we can do more. I know that we need to continue delivering on our schools. And I’ve delivered time and again on education. And I know that we have so much more to do but that’s something we’re going to collectively do. I’ve helped lead on our small business growth making sure that we’ve got some of the best small businesses and job creators in Ward 6 in our city. I’ve helped lead when it comes to the Anacostia River into our environmental and sustainability measures. I’ve delivered time and again. And what I’m excited about for four more years is that we know how much more we have to do and this is really a moment I think in our city’s history where we need to make sure we’re delivering on our promises and that we really are setting the course for the next 50 years. I think that’s the type of moment that we’re in. And I know that I’ve been able to do it and what I continue to hear from neighbors all across Ward 6 is that since we’ve delivered on this together already we know what we can do together for the next four years and I’m really humbled by just the incredible amount of support that I received. But I want to ask everybody.. for everybody’s vote. I want to ask for theirs. That’s.. Their vote’s the one that matters, and so I hope on June 19th I’ll have their vote and have their support for four more years for all the work we’re doing a Ward 6.