Ward 5 Voters Fired Up Over Corruption, Gentrification and Education

Things were quiet at Precinct 19 at Dunbar High School in Truxton Circle, partly because of the lack of Democrats on Ward 5’s ballot and anticipation for a special election in May to fill the seat of former councilman Harry Thomas Jr.

 With a high number of Democrats in the district, the Republican presidential candidates did not attract many voters. In fact, according to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, 49,185 of the 60,586 registered voters in the district  identify as Democrats. A mere 2,098  of voters in the district are Republicans.

Despite her party affiliation, Lauren Madlock, an educator who has been living in  the district for the three years voted today.

 “I’m just trying to ensure that we have a good Democratic turnout – particularly for this ward,” Madlock said. “I will say on May 15, I plan to come back to the special election for our ward. That will be a bigger issue for me.”

 The special elections will take place in May to fill the empty Ward 5 seat on D.C. Council after Thomas  resigned and pleaded guilty to several felonies, including embezzling tax dollars, earlier this year. 

As a result, one of the main topics that seem to be concerning Ward 5 residents is the issue of integrity within the city council.

“As a citizen, I’ve been frustrated by the corruption, so that was something that was important to me,” said Bill Margeson, a Ward 5 resident since 2007 and student in Georgetown University’s Law and Policy program.

Madlock is also concerned about integrity, but she is more worried about the community than the city council. Gentrification has become an increasingly touchy subject as farmer’s markets, chic yoga studios and high-priced condos begin to sprout up in Ward 5.

Ward 5 and the district overall “have not been just historically black, but overwhelmingly so, I think at every point in the city’s history,” Madlock said. “Now that demographic is changing.”

Although she admits that she could be dubbed a “gentrifier” herself, because of her age and socioeconomic status, Madlock says it is her responsibility as a black woman to vote for candidates who will protect the interests of the black community.

“This is kind of ensuring that the ward has, not only good representation, but also people that will make decisions that I think will preserve the integrity of the neighborhood,” Madlock said.

Terri Echols, a radiation therapist at Howard University Hospital and D.C. native, is also concerned with gentrification – but from an economic standpoint rather than a racial one.

“For Ward 5 and D.C., as a whole, I hope for affordable housing,” Echols said. “With all of the condos and things going up, it’s out of the price range of not just low-income people, it’s becoming out of the price range for even middle-class people.”

Although some residents are weary of the political and economic issues stirred by gentrification, they welcome the idea of revitalizing their community.

“I hope it continues to improve from an aesthetic standpoint, and that the people who live here are afforded the opportunity to remain here if that’s their desire,” said Janice Gleaton, a retired regional administrator with the D.C. Department of Housing.

Another topic pressing on the minds of ward 5 voters: education.

“As a parent, one thing that is of interest to me is the quality of the public schools;   So, I would like to see the council make a very coordinated and research-driven effort to create reform,” said Margeson, his “I Voted Today!” sticker on the strap of the sling carrying his sleeping newborn.

As an educator at a local charter school, Madlock is also hoping to see some improvements in public education.

“I hope for some additional funding for public education – recently there have been questions about increasing per-student funding for charter schools,” Madlock said. “In looking at what decisions are made with this recent surplus  in our budget, it will be really interesting to see what decisions are made in how to spend that money.”