Where They Stand: Notes from AU's Mayoral Debate


Councilman Tommy Wells and Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal look on as Tom Sherwood moderates Feb. 12's mayoral debate at AU's Abramson Family Recital Hall.

Jimmy Hoover

Candidates for DC mayor managed to cover a wide range of topics in only 90 minutes at the debate in the Katzen Arts Center on Wednesday night. Covering topics from DC Statehood to marijuana decriminalization to affordable housing, the discussion got heated despite the snow on the ground. Here’s what you need to know for the April 1st Democratic primary election.

Mayoral candidates Councilman Vincent Orange [D-Ward 5], local entrepreneur Andy Shallal, Councilman Jack Evans [D-Ward 2], former State Department official Reta Lewis as well as the relatively unknown Carlos Allen. Mayor Vincent Gray and Councilwoman Muriel Bowser [D-Ward 4] were absent.

The following sections will sift through soundbites, punchlines and points to give voters a clear view of where each candidate stands on important topics facing the city.

h3. On College Students as the “Fabric of the City”

Orange said that he would increase funding to city funded colleges like UDC, which has recently incurred a major program cut from the Gray administration.

Shallal proposed public school programs where university students come in and teach life skills to youth.

Wells said he would create a loan forgiveness program where graduates who work for the city for a number of years could have their debt erased.

Evans said the role for university students in Washington DC is in the public school setting. He said he would create a for-credit mentor program for undergraduates.

Lewis said she also supports a loan forgiveness program.

h3. On DC Statehood

Allen said that statehood could be achieved through a mix of relationship-building with Congress, and teaching the nation about DC’s taxation without representation.

“If we don’t have statehood then we are basically slaves to the federal government.”

Orange said that he supports statehood and has put statehood legislation forth in the city council. Orange said he also made April 16th DC Emancipation day.

Shallal also supports statehood, but said that the issue is over shadowed by the corruption of city officials, citing Vincent Gray’s 2010 campaign for mayor, which diverted funds to a “shadow campaign” by Suleiman Brown.

“With all these things it’s really hard to focus on the issue of statehood and convince the country that this is what we need because we need allies in this movement.”

Wells also said that the malfeasance of city council members detracts from the statehood cause. He added that he would ask the president to create a special statehood commission to deal with the issue.

“How do we ask senators and congressmen to vote for our statehood rights and they go back home and explain to their constituencies that we’re on the national news for what has happened?”

Evans said that by opening up relationship with neighboring Maryland and Virginia jurisdictions to discuss the concerns of a commuter tax for their residents, statehood is more likely.

Lewis said the issues of transparency and government accountability greatly affect DC’s chances at statehood.

“What I would do is to make sure that if you’re going to be a state you have to act like a state.”

h3. On marijuana decriminalization

Wells sponsored a bill to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, essentially making it a traffic ticket. The bill is still pending an amendment that would keep smoking pot in public a criminal offense.

“90% of all arrests in DC for marijuana are of African Americans. Now, I’m asking a student body at a university, are the only people smoking pot in DC African Americans?”

Orange voted against the bill, saying that it doesn’t address the issue of employment drug testing in the city.

“If you’re going to tell our kids that they can go out and smoke and get a $25 ticket, you have to also make sure that they’re not penalized when they go out and apply for a job and the job is not available because they have marijuana in their system.”

Evans said he supports the decriminalization of possession, but not of smoking in public.

“If someone is walking down the street smoking a joint, should that be something we want to have happen?”

Shallal said he believes in going a step further and legalizing marijuana so as to collect taxes on it.

We have a lot of black men that are caught up in the prison industrial prison. When they get a record, it’s a real blight on their life.”

Lewis said she supports decriminalization. But she said all efforts must be accompanied by education on “the perils” of marijuana use.

Allen made it perfectly clear that he doesn’t use drugs. However, the youngest mayoral hopeful said that he also supports decriminalization.

h3. On crime

Allen said his plan for reducing crime is increasing focus on employment.

Orange said there needs to be more training for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), but that more jobs and affordable housing will decrease crime as well.

Shallal said through a focus on community policing, jobs, and education, crime will decrease.

We have to invest a lot more money in making sure that our youngsters that are getting out of high school, or dropping out of high school, are literate enough to fill out an application and hold on to a job.”

Wells said he will cut the number of crimes committed by teenagers in half in 24 months with a $100 million investment in after school job and internship programs for youth.

The fact that 40% of our youth are dropping out of school is a city crisis and we have to invest in that. That’s the smartest economic development program we can have.”

Evans said more resources for the police department is important.

Lewis said an even, strong neighborhood police presence across DC is necessary for crime reduction.

h3. On a Blended Washington

Shallal said preserving affordable housing is important in balancing old Washington and the new Washington. To Shallal, that means extending public housing, and what he calls more “inclusionary zoning.” Furthermore, he added, the issue of race in gentrification needs to be addressed.

Wells said his approach includes easing tensions between the old residents and the new. He gave an example of when he tried to provide parking passes to church-goers.

Evans said he favors a pro-development, revitalization effort to bridge the gap between the city’s old residents and new ones. Evans has drawn criticism from his opponents for taking contributions from major developers in his home ward.

h3. On speed trap fines

Shallal said their are too many and that it is a “regressive tax.” He proposes a warning system before a ticket.

For the people that can’t [afford them] it could mean the difference being able to have a job, being able to keep your car, being able to actually pay your renter or buy food for your family.”

Wells did not speak to the issue of camera tickets.

Evans said that the amount of cameras is “the number that we need,” but that “the fines are too high and the speeds are too low.” Evans says he will work to adjust those.

Lewis said that the fines need to be reduced.

Allen said that warnings should be implemented.

Orange called for a “moratorium on the cameras.”

Their purpose is to provide safety. But now their purpose has become a revenue generator.”

h3. On transportation

Wells said he would give pedestrians priority in the public realm and get more people using public transportation.

If we keep growing this city at a 100,000 people every ten years, and everybody brings their car, this will not be a pleasant place.”

Evans said he would expand all modes of transportation including vehicles, bicycles, light rail, and metro.

Orange said mass transit is the direction in which the city should be going, but also that owners of cars should have a place to park.

Reta Lewis, Andy Shallal, and Carlos Allen did not comment on the issue of transportation.

h3. On the Height Restriction

All of the candidates said that they support the current height restriction with the exception of Andy Shallal, who said he would consider the easing of the height restriction in areas whose density would call for it.

h3. On Ethical Changes to the City

Evans said that strong disclosure and strong enforcement is key to ethics laws. However, Evans did not propose any direct changes to the laws on the books, saying that what the current administration did during their 2010 campaign was “already illegal.”

Wells proposed an amendment to a law that would require all government contractors of $1 million projects or more to disclose in any campaign contribution their status as contractors. Wells said the other council members voted no on the amendment. The councilman has also publicized that he does not take corporate contributions, a fact for which he has suffered in fundraising.

There’s no question that when a contractor gives you money, he wants something in return.”

Shallal recounted his involvement with Initiative 41, a 1991 movement to limit all campaign contributions to $100. Shallal said that developers are now getting a leg up due to close ties with the city council.

Orange said that “a measly little contribution is nothing,” and doesn’t understand why people are dwelling on this when the real stress should be “about you as an individual.” He cited his record in fighting for living wages.

Lewis said she would end the role that city contractors play in policy.

No one believes that DC has strong laws that relates to campaign finance. Do you believe it?”