I recently sat down with Michael Bekesha, the Republican candidate for Ward 6 Councilmember, and asked him to talk about his campaign. Michael is challenging Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen, whose interview from back in June you can read/listen to 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: [00:00:01] We are talking today to Michael Bekesha. Michael is the Republican candidate running for 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. [00:00:12]
Michael Bekesha: [00:00:13] Sure! Thanks for having me. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to chat. So you know, as you said, I am the Republican nominee. Um, a lot of people think that I’m crazy for running inD.C. for… as a Republican. But for me, you know, my focus is really… We need to give more ideas and more thought diversity to not only Ward 6 voters but all residents in D.C. more generally. I grew up in Massachusetts. Mom’s public school teacher. Dad owns a small business. I have a younger brother that is now a chef.. Followed his dreams in cooking and is doing quite well. I went out to Northwestern in Illinois for undergrad and then Missouri for law school. I’ve been in D.C. for nine years working at a non-profit government watchdog group suing the government– primarily the Federal Government– for information. And I decided to get in this race a little over a year ago because… Two real reasons: one, like a lot of people unhappy with the direction of, well, how the November 2016 presidential election turned out. The direction of the national Republican Party: I grew up in Massachusetts. So a Republican in Massachusetts is is not the same as a Republican in most other parts of the country and I really think, you know, Republicanism stands for a stronger communities and new ideas. And so I didn’t like the direction of the Republican Party and thought, well, one way to change it is try to become an elected official from within. And the other reason is, D.C. government is a one-party town. We essentially have 13 council members that are all Democrats, a Mayor that’s a Democrat, and because of that we have, I believe, fewer ideas and less accountability. And I thought um, you know, as Barack Obama said right before he left office: “If you’re unhappy with your elected officials, grab a clipboard, get some signatures and run for office.” So that’s what I’m doing and that’s why I’m here today. [00:02:16]
Maria: [00:02:18] If you should win this election what are your top three priorities?[00:02:21]
Michael: [00:02:23] You know that’s such a hard question in such a large Ward. You know, as I’m going out canvassing talking to voters and residents you know it really depends you know you have some overarching themes you know education public safety affordable housing. Those are probably the big three issues but depending on where you are there are other issues. You know, Hill East, in southwest near the wharf, there’s a lot of discussion about parking. If you’re up along H street corridor, there’s used condoms… on the streets and in school playgrounds are especially at J. O. Wilson is a big concern to people. Barracks Row is rats. And so, there’s a lot to tackle. [00:03:04]
[00:03:06] You know I think first and foremost my biggest concern right now is our rise in homicides and what appears to be a rise in violent crime. And so, you know, I really think we need to… The Council needs to take a serious look at what our police department is doing and how they are trying to curb this increase in violence. I think we should stop it. End stop and frisk. We should get more police officers into the community, both recruiting from within the community as well as living in the community. And so that’s a big priority for when I take office. [00:03:42]
[00:03:43] Another thing is accountability and oversight of our school system. I think we’ve let the mayor and the chancellor in DCPS for far too long, have too much control. I believe in mayoral control but it only works when the council does real serious oversight. So. Oversight hearings. Trying to hold accountable. Figure out how money is being spent; where it’s being spent; and why it’s not being spent correctly. And then, affordable housing: We have a lot of housing going up in Ward 6. A lot of brand new buildings that won’t have too many affordable units in them. So we need to find ways to fix that and change that. And um… you know that would be another top priority. But again, with all the other issues of rats, traffic and used condoms you know…. I really would also need to focus on those micro issues that are really affecting our neighbors. [00:04:35]
Maria: [00:04:37] There is much enthusiasm for our local public… public schools at the elementary school level; less so at the middle school level. Eastern High School’s student body this year is less than one-third from Ward 6. How would you address this lack of interest toward an excellent public high school? [00:04:53]
Michael: [00:04:55] You know that’s a great question. I think one of the biggest problems is the community doesn’t feel as though they’re being engaged. I think a lot of people feel as though DCPS are making all the decisions. Doing what they want without really getting full engagement from the community. Actually listening. I mean, think it’s easy to have forums either in the ward in or around the district. But just because you have a forum and people, talk doesn’t mean that you’re actually listening to those ideas and implementing them. So I think what we really need to do and what I’ve heard from a lot of residents is, really give more focused individual schools. Give the principals more authority. Provide teachers as well as parents the ability to try and help implement and make policy. I think if you look at models around the country, especially in Chicago, the focus is really on local schools. You know, the hub is the local school: It’s not the central office. And so, to really get more enthusiasm is to have people buy in and have a system that works for Ward 6 residents and not just, “Well this is the way it is. This is what we’re always going to do.” Either send your kids to the school or don’t. That’s your choice. You know, I think a lot of people want stronger, better, local neighborhood schools and they choose not to send their students there, not because they don’t want to but they feel that they can’t. And that the school won’t give them the best education. So we really need to change that and one main way is to localize the schools and allow parents, teachers and the principal to have more authority. [00:06:36]
Maria: [00:06:39] What are some things that you have found frustrating about this election so far? You recently donned a chicken suit and challenged Charles Allen to meet you for more debates. What was that all about? [00:06:49]
Michael: [00:06:50] (laughs) I didn’t actually wear the chicken suit. I was fortunate enough to find a volunteer that was willing to. I was the one taking the pictures. I wish I didn’t have to do it. You know, I really wish that we could… Political stunts are just that: They’re stunts. It’s not how I wanted to run my campaign. It’s not how I am running my campaign. But three weeks before that… almost four weeks before that, I sent a letter to Charles Allen proposing that we have four debates. Ward 6 is the only ward that’s in all four quadrants. It’s a big Ward. It’s tough to get from one end to the other. And so, I thought it was important for us to bring our ideas and bring our discussions to our neighbors. Make it convenient for them. So I thought having one debate in each quadrant would allow everybody to have the ability to hear from us, ask us questions and be fully engaged. Charles didn’t respond to my letter. I sent it to him by email and snail mail. Didn’t respond. I finally tweeted the letter to him asking him if I was going to get a response. And he basically said that there may be forums around town and he didn’t think all the debates were necessary. He’s the incumbent. He’s been in office three-and-a-half years. He worked for Tommy Wells’s chief of staff for eight years before. He has a record, I think. And he has a pretty good record. I think they’ve done good things for Ward 6. I’ve told him that. I’ve said that in debates before. I just think our visions for the future different. But I don’t understand why he doesn’t want to defend his record to the constituents and why he doesn’t want share his future visions with all neighbors. So you know we’re in a Democratic town. It’s tough to get people to focus. So I had a volunteer wear a chicken costume and it got attention and I am hopeful based on conversations I’ve had with different organizations and entities since then that we may end up getting more than just the one debate on a Friday night at Hill Center. You know, some of Charles’s supporters were making fun of the chicken costume, saying I shouldn’t go there. People can easily get in an Uber or take the metro on a Friday night to Hill Center. [00:09:14]
[00:09:16] I understand that. I get that. But at the same time there are people that can’t make that track and a Friday night from 7 to 9 isn’t the best time for everyone. Also in my letter, I talked about that we should make sure we have debates at times that are convenient for neighbors: That could be Saturday mornings, it could be afternoons, you know? This race is about bringing our ideas to the people and giving residents a choice. And so it’s unfortunately ended in a political stunt. But if it gets debates and get us discussing the issues in front of all neighbors then it was well worth it. [00:09:50]
Maria: [00:09:52] Great thank you. So at this time I open it up to you. Any closing remarks? And why should people vote for Michael Bekesha?[00:10:01]
Michael: [00:10:03] You know I think people should vote for me because I’m talking about the real issues. I’m talking about the tough issues that are facing Ward 6 and facing D.C., generally. I know I’m a Republican and I know that scares a lot of people but I’m not a Donald Trump Republican. I’m not a scary Republican. I’m socially progressive, fiscally responsible. My wife’s a Democrat so…. a proud member of a bipartisan marriage. And really, I don’t care what the label is and what people believe the label means. I look at what the best policies are. So a lot of people are saying, “Well, how are you more…. You seem to be more progressive than Charles Allen.” Well to me I just think, I’m looking at what makes the most sense for our community. And let’s implement those policies. [00:10:49]
[00:10:50] So you know, a big one that I think surprises a lot of people is decriminalization of sex work. I’ve talked to a lot of advocates people in the police department, folks in different parts of the ward, and the system doesn’t work right now. Whether it’s the used condoms, which is just gross but also serious. That teachers… sorry, that students are seeing these in the morning at the playground, to what that means for our residents that are engaging in sex work. You know they’re arrested, they’re processed. Because of that, they then can’t find housing and jobs. And it’s just a cycle that goes around and around and one way to stop that is by not making it a crime. [00:11:34]
[00:11:36] Affordable housing. You know, I want to talk a lot about how we can improve our affordable housing which includes providing probably subsidies to teachers and police officers. People don’t think that’s a Republican issue; that that’s pretty progressive. To me it’s helping our community. And so, you know, what I want from… What I hope can happen over the next couple weeks is for everybody to take a look at my ideas, take a look at what Charles’s ideas are and then really make a determination based on that. You know, in the end, if we can elevate the conversation, have a discussion, show that it’s important for D.C. to have more than one political party? That’s a win. But you know there is a path to victory and I’m looking forward to speaking with as many residents as possible and sharing my vision for the future of Ward 6. [00:11:36]