Ward 7 Council Candidates Debate Issues

Seven of the eight candidates running for Ward 7’s council seat in the primary election on April 3 shared their plans on issues affecting the community during a recent forum.

The Friends of Kingman Park and Lisa White, a member of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 7D01, organized the event so that residents are better informed about each candidate before entering the voting booths in April and in November for the general election. They held the two-hour forum at the Langston Golf Course Club House, 2600 Benning Road N.E.

The candidates are seeking the seat currently held by Yvette Alexander, who is running for re-election. The eighth candidate, Kevin B. Chavous, director of the D.C. chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Opportunities, was not in attendance.

 “When you look around Ward 7, you see marked improvement,” said Alexander, outlining her contributions over the last five years. “I have introduced and passed legislation, and when it comes to health care, employment, economic development and transportation, I have seen marked improvement.”

One of Alexander’s opponents, Tom Brown, founder and executive director of Training Grounds, accused her of unfulfilled promises. “You don’t have to eat the whole burger to know that you’re not eating meat,” he said.

Brown promised to change issues on property value and increase collaboration between other wards to maintain transparency.

If elected, Don Folden Sr., a Ward 7 resident, wants to ensure follow-through on plans. The Rev. Dr. William Bennett II, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Deadwood, said that “Godly teamwork makes the dream work” and that he would bring more commercial development.

Monica Johnson, known as “M.J., not Chicago but Ward 7’s,” is for change in the workforce. Ron Moten, founder of the Peaceaholics, promised to fight for the people instead of “turning his back,” while Dorothy Douglas, chairman of ANC 7C09, planned to execute change and not just promise change.

The forum included a question-and-answer session administered by a member of Friends of Kingman Park. Residents submitted questions beforehand, and each candidate had one to two minutes to answer. Here are the candidates’ positions on the following issues with reaction from the audience:

Issue: The Streetcar maintenance facility and switching yard proposed for the yard of Spingarn High School.

  • Folden: “What is the reason for the street car in the beginning? We have enough traffic up and down Benning Road so why waste money. It’s these kinds of dumb ideas that people put on the table, and we need to speak against this. If I was your councilmember, they wouldn’t be putting a switching yard in front of our children’s school.”
  • Brown: “We need to talk about moving forward and the economic development that feeds off the streetcars since the tracks are already down. As far as the facility, I believe it’s a travesty to put it close to the school. There are safety issues concerning the kids and them getting back and forth to the building. We need to come together and recognizing our common dominator and clear all these differences. The community was not properly engaged from the beginning, and I plan to change that if elected.”
  • Bennett: “I don’t know the issues that Kingman Park has, but there are brilliant minds in this community. It is important to be collective and come together, because you know what’s important for your community. You have to have a strategy, a plan, and then evaluate it. That’s where our strength is.”
  • Johnson: “We need to maintain the integrity of our home. I oppose the streetcar and yard being in front of Spingarn because I want to protect it from our residents. I will work to fight for the development of a new plan.”
  • Moten: “I would simply do what Tommy Wells did. He fought for his constituents, and I will fight to Ward 7 and resident of Kingman Park so we don’t get treated like second-class citizens. Enough is enough.”
  • Douglas: “Why would you want something [barn] that’s not attractive to the city? We don’t live like that. We are first-class citizens and we should be treated that way. This is our home and we should get the best that we ask for.”
  • Alexander: “To give a little history, the streetcars were purchased by former Mayor Anthony Williams and was set to be more economical to continue that plan. As far as the car barn, I have publicly stated I am with the residents of Kingman Park in not locating that barn on the grounds of Spingarn.”
  • Issue: Proposed development of Reservation 13 and the placement of the homeless residing at the D.C. General facility into other housing.

Reservation 13 is the 67-acre waterfront site ripe for redevelopment that shifted from Ward 6 to Ward 7 early last year. This Hill East waterfront parcel, whose redevelopment is the subject of two competing developer bids, has received many complaints from residents who are forced to move from their homes.

  • Folden: “There will always have the poor among us, and it’s a sensitive topic.”
  • Brown: “For over two decades, there have been many claims to revamp the walls of Anacostia River. I’m excited that Ward 7 gets to lead those claims, and I want to participate in a series of community engagement between Ward 7 and 6. Unity is what we need.”
  • Bennett: “There is a bigger picture in economic development, and Reservation 13 represents a great opportunity that we’ve always had but there was no action and oriented leadership to make it happen. It even appalling that we only have two restaurants for 7,100 people, and we need more businesses. I already have partnerships ready to bring to this ward to help, such as the Howard University School of Business and the Small Business Development Center.”
  • Johnson: “With Reservation 13, people see challenges but there are also opportunities. Ward 6 didn’t want it so we inherited, but we shouldn’t throw away the people in the process. I will continue to working on the homeless housing issue, because we don’t want to lose anybody.”
  • Moten: “There are over 40 percent of our constituents on food stamps. One thing I didn’t hear anyone say was how we were going to build the people up so they can come back and be business owners. One of the things I won’t do is forget about the little people. I have already gotten 260 people jobs in D.C. over the last five years and 160 children into college. And, I want to make sure that the people who have been here for years are engaged in Reservation 13.”
  • Alexander: “Ward 7 fought for Reservation 13, and it is going to be a grand opportunity for economic growth, housing and retail. This will be no one out of place. Because of the new development, people have been offered transitional housing and when housing is available they are the first to know.”

Alexander’s response aroused the audience. The whispers and facial expressions showed that the crowd did not agree with Councilmember Alexander’s statement. 

  • Douglas: “I have an ANC commissar for 12 years. This is a 20-year plan and has already been in progress. We have been lied to for so long. In the southwest area, those people were told that once their homes were developed they would come back, but did they? No! It’s the same story all over D.C. Why? Because, they couldn’t afford it. Also, I was involved act of Reservation 13 before she [Alexander] came into office.”

The crowd laughs in amusement over Douglas’s statement. 

Issue: Cleanup of the Pepco facility and health assessment of the residents.

  • Folden: “First and foremost, Pepco should be responsible for the cleanup. We have to hold them accountable. They want to do an assessment, yet they are dumping stuff into the Anacostia River. They don’t want to clean up over a 100 years’ worth of mess they made. No agreement should be made with them being responsible.”
  • Brown: “The real problem is the lack of transparency. There have been too many plans and initiatives created without us knowing. I’ve been to some meeting over at River Terrace where they discussed the proposals and health assessments. But, you can’t trust a fox to guard a hen house. So, I’m concerned about who has the oversight. And, we need community engagement. Pepco didn’t just start this; they have been messing up for a long time. It’s our turn to step and get the problem straight, but it starts with us — not trusting downtown to do us right. We have to guard our own hen house.”
  • Bennett: “With 18 years of service in this community, I have heard the fight that this community has had with Pepco. I have no doubt that members of this community have been impacted with the pollution and Pepco’s issues. So, they should be held accountable. And how dare they ask for an increase in their rates. Do they think we are Boo-Boo the fool? They haven’t earned an increase. With all due respect, our councilmember has not earned to be re-elected, and that’s why I am running.”

The forum continued to get heated and the audience burst into laughter as Bennett directed his statement toward Councilmember Alexander. 

  • Johnson: “I don’t believe in working in isolation, so we should collaborate with the government to come up with a timeframe to correct the issues at the Pepco plant. No, I do not think that an assessment is enough to fix the health issues, but a plan needs to be formed dealing with the pollution. I will work and fight with you to may sure Pepco does pay, and take you money and not clean up the mess that we expect.”
  • Moten: “I was one of those people affected by the smoke clouds coming from the Pepco building with my asthma. I agree with hold Pepco accountable. But, the one thing no one is talking about is that we need to make sure Ward 7 residents are trained to clean it up. We need to make it our business to train, keep our people involved in the cleanup and make our community better.”
  • Alexander: “There is currently a concrete order in the Pepco process. Yes, it was deplorable about the hazardous concerns over the years, and I’m glad they are finally taking action. There will be an advisory council that will be comprised of community members from the affected areas, EPA, Department of Environment and other to assist in the cleanup. As far as Pepco, when your lights go out, my lights go out. The water you drink, I drink. So, I am a Ward 7 resident, and it affects me as well. I have constantly stated the Pepco has not earned that $40 million increase. But, you need to let your voices be heard at the hearings. This is a joint effort. “
  • Douglas: “The kids, residents in the community, and Marshall Heights Community Board have been cleaning up the Anacostia River for a long time. George Girly has been leading the fight for the cleanup to the council and mayor for years. He stated how unhealthy and unsafe Pepco is. People have ignored him. He wrote a book about us being mistreated and not receiving help. We are dying slowing and don’t even know it with all the side effects. We need to come together and continue to fight.”
  • Issue: Development of Benning Road and working with Ward 5 and 6 to ensure results.
  • Folden: “We need to make sure that the black-owned businesses have the opportunity to stay here. We do have much displacement and we need to do a better job.”
  • Brown: “We need to create destination. Going up 295 highway, there are at least five exits on each side that comes into Ward 7, and we have at least three metro stops. Why wasn’t there an economic plan to develop around these hubs? Where do we go to enjoy a theater, or shop or enjoy the arts? Destinations create revenue. This is a perfect stop to start destinations. Somebody wasn’t planning but Tom Brown has a plan.”
  • Bennett: “We have 18 percent to 20 percent employment in Ward 7. And, out of that, 40 percent is between the ages of 18-25. That is a formula for disaster and our councilmember has had five years to do something about it, and look at the results. There is 36 poverty poverty in our ward. We need jobs, and I know how to do that. And that’s why I brought lots so we can create businesses. We can do so much better, and that why I want you all to vote for me — a visionary leader who can change this ward and make you proud to call Ward 7 home.”
  • Johnson: “I believe we need Ward 5 and 6 to work with us to bring forth development. We have to stay in the loop and engaged so when development ideas come about we can jump on them. So, as councilmember, I will continue to work with you to extend these projects and bring change in our community.”
  • Alexander: “What I have done is introduced legislation for small businesses. D.C. invests your tax dollars into things we don’t benefit from, but, with this legislation, $5 billion will be invested into banks so that small business can obtain loans and bring developments into our local sites.”
  • Moten: “Until we get leadership and respect, we will continue to not get what we deserve in Ward 7. I will negotiate but never turn my back for anybody. We also need to ensure that our businesses get tax breaks. Property values are increasing, causing our business to struggle and get pushed out. We must do something and legislate that now.”
  • Douglas: “We have to help our small businesses kept their businesses open and create opportunities for our people to go into business for themselves. We have to help them get grants.”