I recently sat down with Kim R. Ford, candidate for U.S. Delegate to the House of Representatives for the District of Columbia and asked her to introduce herself and her platform. She is challenging Eleanor Holmes Norton for her current seat: You will soon be hearing Congresswoman Norton’s answers to my questions.
The transcript of our conversation is below, for those who prefer to read or who are deaf or hard of hearing. A special thank you to The Yard, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, for lending me a comfortable and quiet space to record this interview.
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: [00:00:01] We are here at the Yard 700 Pennsylvania Avenue SE the new shared office space in the heart of the hill. And today we’re talking to Kim Ford who is running for delegate for the District of Columbia. Hi Kim. If you could please introduce yourself.
Kim R. Ford: [00:00:16] Thank you so much. Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it. So yes my name is Kim Ford. I am a native Washingtonian grew up in Ward 4. My mother Deidre Ford was a lifelong public servant and taught me the value and importance of public service. And so I have been honored to try and walk in her footsteps having served in President Obama’s administration implementing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act also known as the stimulus bill. $787 billion dollar package. I was responsible for $351 billion of that. And from there, I became Dean at UDC’s Community College with campuses in Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8. And because of the success that we had at UDC, I actually was recruited to lead community colleges, adult education career, and technical education and correctional and reentry education nationally at the U.S. Department of Education. So my background is federal and local. And so when people say, Why this position? I say because my background is federal and very specifically where the federal government is at the nexus between states and localities.
Maria: [00:01:20] My first question is, What can you do differently in this office?
Kim: [00:01:26] You know one of the things I think it’s been so frustrating is, as I am on doors every day and in living rooms every night, a lot of people don’t know what the position can do and this is nothing against the incumbent. You know, I reached out to her when I filed my candidacy and I said, “I’m gonna honor your legacy and build upon the work that you’ve done.” But after 27 years it’s time for us to pass the baton. You know a lot of people think that this role is largely ceremonial. They look at it in terms of what it can’t do instead of what it can do. So actually the Delegate to the United States House of Representatives has all the powers and authorities that every other representative has with the exception of the floor vote and we’re so fixated on the one thing that we don’t have, that we’re not utilizing everything that we do have. So I think that there’s three big buckets of areas that we actually should be doing a lot more in. One, on the road to statehood. I believe we have to. We can’t continue to say “Statehood or Nothing.” That we need to systematically get the federal government out of our local affairs and that we also locally need to act like a state. Second, I think that our emphasis should be on education and workforce development. Those are actually the core issues to everything everything everything. If you don’t have the skills and the credentials to get a family sustaining wage you can’t afford to live here you can’t afford if you can’t afford to live here you may offend and get affiliated with the justice system. We know that how these types of things lead to issues in health and environment in others. So we’ve got to focus our our efforts in education and workforce. And third, we just have to have a much more robust federal constituent services arm. The fact that I asked people all the time every night on doors and in living rooms. Do you know that there are two constituent offices in the District of Columbia. No. People don’t know. In addition to the office and Rayburn there are two federal constituent offices one is in Ward 8. One is in Ward 6. People don’t know. Again this is a real position and it’s a real federally funded position with a staff. Think back folks who come from from other states know well my representative comes home on recess and has town hall meetings. When’s the last time we had a town hall. People know in their home state they can go to a constituent office we have all that here. And we’re not utilizing it. And additionally in terms of constituent services we should be working together as a region. We’re fighting one another when we could actually be coming together and working together to leverage everything that we could be getting for the residents of the District of Columbia we’ve done it before and we can do it again. So those are the three big buckets. You know statehood Education and Workforce Development and federal constituent services that I think we could be doing a lot more.
Maria: [00:04:06] You mention the challenge being that a lot of people don’t know about constituent services and they don’t know what the office can do. They focus on what the office cannot do, so could you expand a little bit more on some of the basic challenges that the office of the Delegate faces– not just in terms of visibility but in terms of what it can do?
Kim: [00:04:30] Right. So I think what it can do is, again, what every other legislator can do, with the exception of voting on the floor. So what we can do is introduce legislation, serve on committees, vote in committee. So you know, I talk about the fact that we need to take a real proactive approach to removing the Federal government from our local matters. We’re in a very reactive stance right now we say, Oh! They’re doing stuff to us and we’re in “resist and defend and deflect mode” as opposed to actually being proactive. We need to proactively legislate permanent fixes. Right now, we actually are putting things in annual spending bills instead of having permanent legislative fixes.
Kim: [00:05:13] We need to get the federal government out of our justice matters. We need to secure full budget autonomy again by proactively legislating that that Congress does not need an affirmative on our budget. These are things that we can do. We also have to work in a bipartisan effort. You know, we have seen Republicans be supportive of statehood in the past. We have seen Republicans be supportive of removing the federal income tax for the District of Columbia in the past. For people to simply say, “Oh, Republicans only support retrocession,” that’s not factually accurate. So one of the things that we have to do is stop saying “oh, you know they don’t they won’t work with us they’re not going to work.” No, we’ve got to get out of that mindset and be willing to work across the aisle so that we can again proactively legislate ways that we’re treated like a state. Another thing I want to mention is when states are written into bills either as included or exempted we should also proactively legislate the District of Columbia be included. We’ve seen past precedent there. So again these are ways that we actually can move forward instead of continuing to celebrate not losing as if it’s winning which is very different. You know, we keep saying, “Oh we didn’t move farther backwards we’re excited.” No, what we need to do is move forward. And again, when you talk about you know the opportunities and federal constituent services, I’m sorry but a once-a-year job fair is not enough for people. I mean, having an extensive background in education and workforce, I can tell you: People need more assistance than the one shot a year to be connected with opportunities. Same thing with businesses. We have the federal government here and even though even though it may be shrinking or, you know, we may be adding other industries, the federal government is still a massive presence and we should be taking advantage of it we should use it to our benefit. You know I talk often about, Why don’t we pass a House rule so that our young our young people can actually have internships on the Hill? All 535 offices should have a D.C. resident as the intern year round and we shouldn’t stop there. Every federal agency and are subcomponents should have a D.C. resident as an intern year round putting our young people in a career path to success, giving them something real and tangible on their résumés and opening up a network of people who may be able to help them throughout their careers. When we look at entry level jobs, entry level jobs even ask you to have experience. This is a way again that we could use the federal government to our advantage to our benefit. So let’s get out of this. We’re a step-child mentality shift that mindset to a proactive mindset shift that mindset to this thing is only here. And we should use every single opportunity and resource to benefit our residents.
Maria: [00:08:07] My next question is, Delegate Norton was recently quoted as saying that this is not the year to challenge her on account of her influential seniority. How would you address this concern?
Kim: [00:08:20] I’ve been asking the incumbent to be specific about what seniority will do for the residents and businesses of the District of Columbia for nine months and still have not received a response. They… people talk in theory and pie in the sky. Well, you know chairmens can usually do this and they could potentially do that. But there has not been specificity. As recently as a week ago, we were in a debate. I asked again what specifically… Point to a project. The Douglas bridge is complete. Right? I mean where the monies that we spent trying to get that that… We celebrated. Douglas bridge. Not to mention the fact that the people living near the construction of the Douglas bridge are living in a dust cloud and can’t breathe in where where’s our delegate? I mean I would be at EPA all day everyday. Totally unacceptable. But OK, we’ve celebrated the Douglas bridge. We’ve celebrated the Wharf. We’ve celebrated Yards Parl. We’ve celebrated Walter Reed. What specifically? So if you become chairperson, here it’s going to be Transportation and Infrastructure. What? Point to a project. Tell us where we’re going to get more resources. Tell us what’s going to happen. There has not been an answer. And in fact her answer last week was, “If you think I’ve done something for you when they had to call me Congresswoman, imagine what I’m going to be able to do when they have to call me Chairwoman.” That is not an answer. I’m sorry. I need to hear and the residents of the District of Columbia need to know what does it mean. Not in pomp and circumstance. Not in some title. Not in the fact that you may or may not move up or down the depth chart of Congress. What does it do for us? It has been unanswered and until we get an answer we cannot weigh pros and cons to say, is it worth making a change? I would say that once we get an answer if we ever get one we will see that it will not actually benefit us in a way. That other than… Maybe what she may personally get out of it, but I don’t think that we’re going to find something that says, you know what? That’s enough for us not to be invested in potentially making a change. And again as I talk about systematically getting the federal government of our matters, utilizing the federal government to our benefit having rock solid federal constituent services. I think once we put those against what a “chairmanship” of a subcommittee or committee may mean, I think that we’re going to see that the chips will not necessarily fall in the favor of, “Woohoo! We’re chairmen of some subcommittee.”.
Maria: [00:10:58] At this point in time I would like you to just address people directly: Why they should vote for you.
Kim: [00:11:04] Well I think that I fundamentally believe having served in academia having served in the federal government having been in tenured systems that there’s a correlation between the fact that tenure systems tend to have people who are there generations and the fact that they are some of the least effective least innovative. Right. And when you look at Congress exactly what we have. We have an incredibly toxic environment. We have people who have just drawn their lines in the sand and they them 10 20 years ago. So we’re not they’re not going to rectify it. OK. And that’s why we see the lowest approval ratings that we have ever seen from both parties in Congress. And so when you’re in the swirl and of the swirl and about the swirl you can’t break it. Whatever relationships have been built and torched that’s it. You know well the way that you approach the office your approaches your mindset the way that you deal with things that’s been set in stone for more than a generation now and everything has changed. The city has changed. Congress has changed. The world has changed so that the person in the position needs to change too. Because again we need to launch different approaches.
[00:12:23] We need new ideas and new mindsets and new energy and we need to be singularly focused on the residences and District of Columbia singularly focused to make sure that we benefit. You know I talk about mindset a lot this stepchild mentality is almost Manifest Destiny. We keep saying that they pick on us and therefore we get picked on. Why don’t we actually use our unique status to our benefit. The way I look at it is, Let’s be unique! Let’s scan the nation, identify national problems and say Let’s be the solver! Let’s pilot student loan forgiveness in the District of Columbia! You can’t do it anywhere else: Let’s pilot it in D.C. and be a national model. Become a best practice that the rest of the country then scales and leverages. Let’s stop being the stepchild. Let’s change that. Let’s be the world’s capital and let’s use the biggest industry in the world’s capital to benefit us. So that’s why I believe people should vote for me. My name is Kim R. Ford. Ford like the car. I’m number one on the ballot because we can do more in this role. And I thank you for your time.