Mayoral Candidates Focus on Older Residents in AARP Forum

Muriel Bowser speaks at AARP forum for Washington, D.C. mayoral candidates.

 WASHINGTON — In a calmer, less-heated forum than their previous debate, mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser, David Catania and Carol Schwartz took turns speaking about  their respective plans and platforms to small crowd during an election event sponsored by AARP at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in northwest Washington.

The forum, co-moderated by Denise Rolark Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer, and Katherine Shelley Broderick, dean of the University of the District of Columbia law school,” focused on topics of healthcare access, education, and how to make D.C. more livable and affordable to elder residents.

Candidates presented opening statements before fielding questions and finally gave a closing statement before leaving the stage for the next candidate to speak.

City Councilmember Bowser, the Democratic nominee, pledged to provide safe and affordable transportation and housing options for Washington residents, particularly seniors. She stressed her commitment to attract civically responsible businesses to the District.

Bowser, the Ward 4 representative since 2007, cited her record of trying to improve the lives of seniors while on council, including the expansion of a senior property tax credit, providing options for seniors to continue to live in the District in their own homes and getting the government to support initiatives that are friendly to senior residents.

“It’s not just about brick and mortar or transportation issues,” Bowser said.  “It’s about how people can live fulfilling lives.”.

She committed to making sure D.C. residents got benefits through the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE), a program operating in 98 municipalities in 31 states that focuses on providing for seniors with chronic care needs and their families in the communities and homes whenever possible, versus nursing homes and other facilities.

She also promised to provide more volunteer and employment opportunities for seniors and to appoint a deputy mayor to help create jobs and economic development with seniors in mind.

Independent nominee Catania, a City Councilmember since 1997, cited his accomplishments in healthcare as chair of the council’s health committee from 2005 to 2012, such as helping to cut the number of AIDS cases and deaths in the District and working to help save the United Medical Center in Ward 8.

He also stressed his accomplishments while chairing the City Council’s Committee on Education, his current position, including the fair-funding bill which aims to provide the resources necessary to ensure all students receive a “quality education.”

Catania said he also wants to bring PACE to Washington and to make sure the city accommodates elder residents ev even as thousands of  young professionals move into the city.

“We need a robust 911 system and a robust EMS and fire system,” Catania said.

He also stressed the importance of seniors having access to pharmaceuticals.

In his closing, Catania, the city’s first openly-gay mayoral candidate, talked about failures in the public school system and special education and his work to improve them through legislation introduced earlier this year.

Schwartz, the Republican nominee, described herself as an “elderly watchdog.” She said her proudest accomplishment has been providing sick leave in the private sector.

Schwartz, a candidate for mayor for the fifth time, said one way to improve and insure better treatment of all Washington citizens is to keep those services among city workers and not contract them to private companies.

“I always believed our own government workers should take care of our people,” Schwartz said as the crowd applauded.

She said she also wants to hire workers who are District residents.

She talked about her whistleblower protection law and stressed emergency preparedness for seniors so that “fire trucks don’t arrive when you need an ambulance.”

Schwartz said she wants to expand the city’s summer youth program to include a component in which younger residents teach older residents in the District and surrounding suburbs technical skills.

She said she intends to implement programs that provide the opportunity for the elderly to participate, such as providing volunteer tutoring and employment opportunities for seniors.

The next debate, sponsored by The Washington Post and WRC-TV, is Oct. 15.