In 2012, 77 arsons plagued a small, rural community on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Over the span of five months, Accomack County residents and firefighters could not pin down the culprit, who was widely suspected to be a member of their community.
It’s a ward that includes historic neighborhoods like Capitol Hill and areas in the midst of rapid transition like the H Street corridor. Kojo and resident analyst Tom Sherwood sit down for a conversation with the candidates looking to represent Ward 6 on the D.C. Council.
- Tommy Wells Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 6); Chairman, Committee on Human Services
- Kelvin Robinson Candidate, D.C. Council (D-Ward 6)
D.C. Ward 6 council candidate Kelvin Robinson said he thought the recent DCPS teacher firings were unfair, and countered incumbent council member Tommy Wells’ claim that the public schools in the area are undergoing a “renaissance” by pointing out that he sees people in the ward “clambering for neighborhood schools:”
D.C. Ward 6 council candidate Kelvin Robinson and council member Tommy Wells discuss their views on the racial divide in Ward 6 in the context of the proposed H-Street Corridor streetcar project:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's a community that bridges Washington's past with its future. Ward 6 is home to the historic landmarks like Capitol Hill and Eastern Market and one local TV reporter who moved there because he heard that's where the hip folks were headed. But it's also home to neighborhoods that are changing every day and changing fast like H Street in Northeast.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe're joined today by the candidates fighting for the chance to shape the future of Ward 6. And we're taking your calls and questions about the issues that are important to you. Tommy Wells is the incumbent. He's a member of the D.C. City Council and the candidate for reelection. He is a Democrat representing Ward 6. Councilmember Wells, welcome.
MR. TOMMY WELLSThank you very much, Kojo, and of course our constituent from Ward 6, Tom Sherwood, and my friend here, Kelvin Robinson.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is here? I mean, who invited him?
MR. TOM SHERWOODYou know, I'm starting to like Wednesdays.
NNAMDIYes. He was here last Wednesday when we did the candidates from Ward 1. But, please, allow me to introduce Kelvin Robinson. He's a Democratic candidate for the Council. He is also running for the seat representing Ward 6. Kelvin Robinson was Chief of Staff, as I recall, to Mayor Anthony Williams. Welcome. Thank you for joining us.
MR. KELVIN ROBINSONThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers, and he has been a resident of Ward 6 for the last few years or so. You like it there? (word?)
SHERWOODI have to say I like Harvard Square very much. I feel like I'm on vacation every time I go home and look out towards the river.
NNAMDIWell, they're glad to have you in Ward 6, but we are still hoping that you move to Virginia at some point.
SHERWOODYou know, Virginia would have to move a lot farther than it has and have to get rid of all that traffic.
NNAMDIGentlemen, here are the rules. We will ask each of you to spend no longer than 60 seconds responding to each question. We will also ask our resident analyst to limit his questions to the same time. And at the end of the broadcast, you will each have one minute to make a closing statement. Of course, if you're a listener, and you're interested in what's going on in Ward 6, the most powerful ward in the most powerful city in the world, you can call us at 800 -- Tom Sherwood doesn't like that.
SHERWOODThe truth has already been slain.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you have comments or questions for our candidates, 800-433-8850. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send us a tweet at kojoshow. Councilmember Wells, this is the dynamic part of the city, a diverse part of the city -- includes everything from Capitol Hill to the Ballpark District. When you go on to your website or look at your signs, you see a tag line that says, "Tommy Wells is for a livable, walkable community." What does livable and walkable mean to you? Or as your opponent has said, walkable and livable for whom, only the affluent?
WELLSNo, for everyone. There's a reason why we love Washington, D.C., why Tom Sherwood loves his neighborhood. And really, what we want for the whole city -- not just Ward 6, but what we want for Ward 7, 8, for everyone -- is really the idea of five-minute living, which is so different from living in the suburbs. And that is that you have the assets in your neighborhood and that you have, you know, fresh food, you have, you know, good transportation, all the kind of things that make city living terrific, we need for -- we're really getting there with Ward 6. And I think that it's really for everyone, and it's a part of -- you know, one of the things about a level community is a diverse community, and that's something that I'm committed to and very proud of in Ward 6.
NNAMDIKevin Robinson, why have you raised the question livable and walkable for whom? What is your source of concern?
ROBINSONWell, my source of concern is that we're not seeing the same kind of amenities and opportunities for that five-minute walking that exist outside of, really, the Capitol Hill area. I really believe that we need to do more to ensure that the things that we have to get to first, such as reducing juvenile crime, insuring quality jobs, all of those things are things that will impact our ability to have that livable, walkable feel. And until we get to addressing those concerns, I think that we can't get to the place where Mr. Wells want us to be.
SHERWOODOkay. What part of Ward 6 is not getting economic development, stores, streetscapes? What part is it that you -- when you say not being shared equally, what's missing in Ward 6? What area of Ward 6? This is a Capitol Hill area. It touches all four quadrants of the city. It's the only ward in the city that does that. So -- but which -- specifically, part of this -- of Ward 6 is not getting a fair shake from the Council?
NNAMDII know that Councilmember Wells lives on Capitol Hill, and Mike DeBonis has written that you, Kelvin Robinson, resides on the eastern edge of the ward, a few blocks from RFK Stadium, where quality-of-life concerns run more towards carjacking than sidewalk cafes.
ROBINSONRight. And the concern I have is not necessarily whether or not we have development opportunities happening every part of the Ward, which we do, but there are bread-and-butter concerns that we have first. Like I said, the juvenile crime issue is a major impalpable issue for those of us who live in southwest, for those of us who live in northeast, for those of us who live in those quarters outside of Capitol Hill proper. And what I'm looking at is, really, how do you begin to make the lives better for those on the outside when you have those issues of major concern regarding quality schools, whether or not you can have access to good affordable housing. And really, the issues that we were concerned about in (unintelligible).
SHERWOODSo the -- Benning Road is on the east side or the north side of RFK, to give viewers, listeners, a place (unintelligible) .
SHERWOODThe Rosedale up there. All those -- but there's tremendous redevelopment of Benning Road, and the Phelps school has been redone for -- I mean, what more do you want to see? Do you just want more police? I agree that the city needs more police protection in many parts of the city. Some do -- whether it's Georgetown or your neighborhood. But do you want more police? Is that one of the -- you haven't quite said that. You want more police on the street?
ROBINSONWell, actually, I have said that. I've asked for...
SHERWOODI mean, you haven't said it just this moment.
ROBINSONRight, I've asked for more foot -- police foot patrols, for one, and for us to begin to lower the curfew for juveniles. Right now, it's 16 and below. They can hang out until midnight. And the fact of the matter is, I'm not sure what juveniles are doing at that time of the hour that would be helpful. And we got to give them more out-of-school time and after-school-time programming, so that we can engage kids where they are and try to help them to not be engaged in those kinds of activities.
SHERWOODCan we hear from the councilmember, the response to that about they're just simply -- most people -- I will say in Southwest that a lot of people say there just aren't enough police on the street when school is out or early in the morning but actually when school is out in the afternoon and just into the early evening hours, let alone late at night.
WELLSWell, you know, I've worked with the police there. We've done -- and the police, I believe, in Southwest are being very responsive to the citizens in Southwest. We work closely with them, and we've seen a reduction of crime, especially in juvenile crime in Southwest of D.C. There's a whole lot more that we can do. I know that I've invested in -- and so the city invested $250,000 this year to do more programming for youth in Southwest. We've targeted Southwest for programming to really make it a safer community.
WELLSAnd then the other thing is, is that obviously -- as you know, Tom, in your neighborhood -- when we opened up 4th Street, that's a far more lively street. When you have eyes on the street, it promotes safety. That's the safe way. We've hired mostly from the neighborhood, almost more than 80 percent from the city, and we're creating more economic development and more opportunity in Southwest. But also it's not just a police answer.
WELLSA police answer may help for a day or two, but really to make a good answer for a generation means that we have to invest in communities that, again, employ people like we're doing. And also we've had a renaissance of our neighborhood elementary schools, so that, you know, that we are getting opportunities, and we are making progress. And I'm very proud of that.
NNAMDIIf you have concerns about crime in the city in general or in Ward 6 in particular and would like to have one of our candidates respond to your concerns, you can call us at 800-433-8850. We're talking with Tommy Wells. He is the incumbent councilmember for Ward 6. And Kelvin Robinson is the Democratic challenger in the primary on September 14. 800-433-8850. Staying with the juvenile crime for a second. Kelvin Robinson, you write on your website that even though crime is down across the city, juvenile crime and juvenile crime in your ward is disturbing. What do you see as the principal challenges in confronting juvenile crime? But more importantly, what solutions do you have to offer? We have been in an era of reform on juvenile crime, which has been fairly controversial.
ROBINSONWell, one of the things I think we can do right away is begin to provide, again, more after-school and out-of-school-time programming. Bring all of those resources together. DYRS oversight has been, in my opinion, not what it should have been to ensure that juveniles who are committed to the city's care are actually retained. And speaking with the judges, they'd like to have more...
SHERWOODYou mean, retained -- you mean, locked up?
ROBINSONDetained if you will. We've built a facility that was really smaller than what it needed to be to house the juveniles that are committed that have committed violent offenses. And as a result, they're being released there, or they're getting away from that location. We're spending a lot of money sending our kids as far away as Utah to secure facilities. And we need to bring those resources back home to ensure that we are doing it. That's oversight.
ROBINSONAnd quite frankly, our councilmember has been the chair of that committee and could have been working with the courts and others to ensure that we have a secure facility that would allow folks not to abscond and then go out and commit more -- even more violent crimes, much like the one on South Capitol Street, where we had folks escaping from the New Beginnings facility and end up in violent -- in harm's way in East Capitol Street.
NNAMDIAnd you have hit the heart of the debate right here about juvenile justice reform. There are those who argue that our kids who go to New Beginnings are being coddled, and they're not being detained in a secure enough facility. And then there are others who are arguing, what do you think would be better, just to lock them up and throw away the key?
NNAMDITommy Wells, you've been intimately involved with this issue on the council, as Kelvin Robinson pointed out, you -- the target of a few dozen columns by The Washington Post's Colbert King, who regularly bangs the drum for more secure facilities, more stringent release policies -- what case can you make for the reforms that have already been made? And where would you like to see them go? Is it your impression that Kelvin Robinson and others would like to see an end to the reforms?
WELLSWell, the thing is -- to start with, is that we used to have an embarrassing juvenile justice system that was sued. It was one of the worst in the nation. And the reforms that started had started under Anthony Williams, and he hired Vinny Schiraldi and set us on the course -- and they set the size of New Beginnings under Anthony Williams, not under Mayor Fenty. So Mayor Fenty moved forward with the reforms to create a more humane juvenile justice system that's focusing on rehabilitating youth, so they're less likely to commit crimes when they come out than they went in.
NNAMDIYou're for that?
WELLSWell, and I have been for that. And the other thing I want to note, you talked about escapes. Kojo, as you probably know, in 1988, 319 youth escaped from Oak Hill and from the system. And so we have not had an escape from New Beginnings this year. There was an escape from a van when they were going down to The Pines in Virginia. There's not been an escape from New Beginnings this year.
SHERWOODThat's because they put barbwire on the building that they didn't have before.
WELLSWell, they had barbwire at Oak Hill as well.
WELLSAnd there was always escapes, but, you know, anywhere from 100 to 200 every year. So the first thing is, is deal with the facts. The other thing is that there was, you know, there was a 14-year-old that was claimed to be part of that shooting down on South Capitol, and they found out he wasn't. And they -- you know, I think we have to be careful that we can't let headlines, and we can't let misinformation drive reform. And certainly -- and I'm glad you brought up Colbert King's columns -- and I think what I've shown is that I've tried to lead in a way that's data-driven around best practice. And I don't let headlines make my decisions.
NNAMDIKelvin Robinson, you stand accused of letting headlines make your decisions. The fact of the matter, argues Tommy Wells, is that the facility is more secure than it has ever been in the past. Why your continued concern about secure or lack of secure detention?
ROBINSONWe have more than 60 children who are involved in criminal behavior and have been, you know, put in the care of the District, and those kids are out there without a secure facility.
NNAMDIWe should point out that all of those kids were not necessarily at New Beginnings however.
ROBINSONThat is exactly right. But the fact of the matter is, there's not enough capacity out there. The judges will tell you that. And when the kids come to their location -- when they come before them, they know that the judges don't have control. They know that all they're going to do is go in and actually come out of that facility because it's up to DYRS whether -- how long they stay...
SHERWOODThat's the Department of Youth Rehabilitative Services.
ROBINSONExactly. How long they stay and what kind of commitment care they have. And quite frankly, again, until we have greater council oversight to ensure that we're bringing all of the parties together to ensure we have a rational system for the care of those kids that have been deemed to be a harm to themselves or the community, they're not going to get there.
SHERWOODIs crime the -- do you think that's an issue? I mean, crime generally is down, and there are -- is that a particular issue for you? I mean, is it the leading issue more than anything else in the Ward?
ROBINSONNo, not more than anything in the Ward, but...
SHERWOODWhat would be -- if it's not crime, what is it?
ROBINSONWell, crime is a major one 'cause we've seen more carjackings and home invasions and robberies and thefts of auto and assaults with deadly weapon in our neighborhood, and those are being increasingly performed by...
SHERWOODYou think Chief Lanier should be -- Chief Lanier had an 80 percent approval rating in the most recent Claris poll that came out. Do you think she should be removed?
ROBINSONNo. I think that Chief Lanier is doing a fairly decent job. And I do like our new PSA Lieutenant, Lt. Sanders and the others who've come to really work with the community. We need more community policing, and we need to provide more resources to ensure that we're doing what we can. Listen, the idea is not to be locking up children. The idea is to prevent them from being in a...
ROBINSONAnd to the extent that we can intervene in their lives ahead of time, ensuring that we've got adequate facilities and programs that will allow us to engage them on the front end, the better off we're going to be. But I am concerned about kids that we're committing, and then we're not allowing for the proper rehabilitation of them.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. You can still call us, 800-433-8850. What do you think local government can do in Washington to stem juvenile crime? 800-433-8850, we're talking with the candidates for the Democratic Party nomination to run for councilmember in Ward 6. Tommy Wells is the incumbent. Kelvin Robinson is the challenger. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. And you can also communicate with us by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org, by tweet at kojoshow or at our website, kojoshow.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking with the candidates for the Democratic nomination for Ward 6 on the D.C. City Council. Kelvin Robinson is the challenger. Tommy Wells is the incumbent. Also joining us is Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. We got a tweet from Nicky D. who says, "I have read that Kelvin wants to repeal the same-sex marriage bill. What is his position on it?" Kelvin Robinson.
ROBINSONAs I stated last night, I support equality. I reject the outside influences to come in and meddle with local politics.
SHERWOODWho are the outside influences?
ROBINSONWhoever the marriage folks are, the national organizations that have come in...
ROBINSON...and provided all kinds of information. And I would do nothing to overturn that law. That's a myth and a lie that's been perpetuated by at least...
SHERWOODI think the debate earlier was whether or not you thought the citizens should vote on the equality issue of gay marriages in the city. Do you think the citizens should have voted on that?
ROBINSONI've never called for a vote, and I'm not intending to call for one so...
ROBINSONYou know, there are a lot of issues here that we have to address. And quite frankly, the issues I think that are important are the ones that I've mentioned, juvenile crime and great education and jobs.
SHERWOODIs there a difference with you, Mr. Wells, on this...
WELLSWell, I do think this is a very important issue. It's obviously an important issue for our country, but I think that D.C. led on this issue. I'm proud of my colleagues. I'm proud of our city on this. I think we did the right thing, and I think it is a very important issue. And I'm glad that we took it head-on and did the right thing.
NNAMDIHere’s this comment we got on our website from Truly. "Two years ago, Tommy Wells introduced a group that wants to reroute Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast between 7th and 9th Street to put in a town square. Since then this group of developers have held many community meetings where the vast majority of residents have expressed in short, easy-to-understand words, their ridicule for the idea. Who wants to take their toddlers to play in a park in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue? The so-called town square task force that Wells introduced to the community then published a report that ignores the hundreds of negative comments submitted by residents and pretends that everyone wants to reroute Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast around a square or circle. The truth is, darn close to no residents want this. Will Robinson and Wells state clearly and definitively today that they oppose rerouting Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast, between 7th and 9th Street?"
WELLSWell, the first thing is that's some misinformation. I did not propose it, but I did facilitate a meeting. It's what I do as a councilmember. And even when it's controversial, I'll facilitate a meeting, and this was a controversial issue. I did not propose rerouting Pennsylvania Avenue. And frankly, I'm very concerned in creating a livable community that roaders or circling people around in traffic -- I don't think really promotes walking. I, you know, I think it was an interesting proposal that was done by the Barracks Row Main Street folks to try to connect 7th Street with Eastern Market to Barracks Row in using, kind of, you know, something in that square in order to do that. I listened to it, and I'm going to listen to any idea. But that does -- I absolutely did not propose that, and I...
NNAMDIDo you endorse it?
SHERWOODI -- That's right where the metro stop is, is at 7th Street -- I don't know. Is there even room? You -- it -- there's not even room. You'd have to move -- tear down all the small buildings there.
WELLSNo. If you helicoptered up, you would see the same size is almost Stanton Park if you brought that all together and then routed the street around that. It was intriguing proposal, because it could bring a new amenity to the middle about whether it's, you know, where kids play or something like that. And I listen to the proposal and it's brought to the community. And that's why I facilitated the meeting. But by facilitating the meeting, the...
WELLSI think that's very confusing for folks. I did not propose that.
NNAMDIKelvin Robinson, would you also state definitively today whether you oppose it?
ROBINSONWell, I heard rather loud and clear last evening from residents that they did not want it, and to the extent that they don't, I don't either.
NNAMDIEducation reform at the center of every election across the city, how would you measure the progress that's taking place since the Council allowed for mayoral control of the school? What do you think of the next steps from here? What do you think of Chancellor Rhee?
SHERWOODWould you keep...
NNAMDITom Sherwood is frowning.
SHERWOODNo, I agree. Just would you keep Michelle Rhee, and then go -- what's next step in school reform, fixing our mistakes, moving forward, what?
ROBINSONWell, I've said often that I think that mayoral reform and takeover was the right idea. It was something that Mayor Williams -- during the William's administration, we proposed, and our current mayor actually voted against it when he was on the Council. And I would say that our councilmember as well was not enamored with the idea at the time. But the fact of the matter is, I think that we are making some progress. I do not want to see a change in the Chancellor. I think she's got some issues, and those can be addressed.
ROBINSONI think the next phase of that reform is to continue, at least in Ward 6, to ensure that we've got fabulous and outstanding middle schools. We have worked on a good elementary school plan, and I think that after that, we need to work on middle school and high school.
SHERWOODDo you think that -- Mr. Robinson, do you think that teacher firings have been fair? There's been some criticism of the teacher firings. Do you think they've been fair?
SHERWOODYou don't think they've been fair?
SHERWOODWhat has been unfair...
ROBINSONWell, I think that, you know, part of what you have to do is make certain that you are evaluating fairly and making certain that the standards that you put in place, you have an opportunity to get corrective actions for those. And I just don't think that the process that was used to get rid of some of those teachers...
SHERWOODSo the -- I don't want to get into the details of the impact system, but they were evaluated over a year's time. They had three different evaluations, and that's not enough?
ROBINSONWell, again, I think that when you -- you have to respect those who have been in the system, been laboring under some very difficult conditions to provide results that -- for those kids.
ROBINSONI think you could have (unintelligible)
SHERWOOD...Michelle Rhee has blown up the school system and tried to ride it. What is your view on that?
WELLSWell, starting with Kojo's question about where I see education reform, you know, as I was -- as you know, I was on the school board, and it started with Dr. Janey -- that we really -- I'm very proud of the renaissance we've seen of the Ward 6 schools. We have 10 elementary schools. We've got waiting lists at five of them. They -- the population's coming up. They've become schools of choice. And then, I believe that in partnering with Michelle Rhee, we've made more progress. We've got -- I mean, these are not magnate schools.
WELLSThese are traditional public elementary schools, and nowhere else in urban America, have you seen a renaissance like what we've seen in Ward 6. It's a model for the city. I'm proud of it because people are saying, I'm going to stay here and keep my kids here. Next challenge...
NNAMDIWhy do you characterize it as a renaissance?
WELLSBecause at -- we were looking at closing schools. Our schools were under-enrolled. I look at it as a renaissance that our schools are viewed schools of choice again. That is -- and they're offering more things they've ever offered before. You go to our schools, and you see what's going on in our schools. Our parents are choosing the schools again. It's very exciting, where before, people were viewing the school system as a failure. And as you know, Kojo, I've been involved in this since the school board. I'm very proud of what we've accomplished.
WELLSNext, we got to get our middle schools to be schools of choice. And then today, we opened Eastern High School as -- or cut the ribbon on a brand-new high school that will -- has remade itself and will be letting in new students starting at the ninth grade next fall. They have IB program. What we're doing in Ward 6...
SHERWOODWhat's that? A what program?
WELLSInternational Baccalaureate program.
SHERWOODSome of us aren't as well-educated in these...
NNAMDII knew what it was. But you were running along, twittering on Monday, going to schools, tweeting that every school you saw had greater-than-expected enrollment. Is that verifiable in fact?
WELLSOh, well, you know, I trust my principals. I said, how many students have showed up? I know you had a projection, and each one said, we've got more students than what we projected, which means that some of those schools are having to add teachers. This is extraordinary. I'm very proud of it. It's not, you know, Michelle Rhee's been a great partner. But it's not just Michelle Rhee. It's our city. I do think that school governance has helped to put the investment in our schools. We are really making a comeback in Ward 6 schools.
NNAMDIKelvin Robinson, let me turn that around. You seem to be concerned about teachers. Tommy Wells says that more kids are enrolling in school. Is it about the kids? Is it about the teachers?
ROBINSONIt's about both. I mean, I think it's a -- the fact of the matter, you have to have good qualified teachers in order to make progress, and I think that...
NNAMDIWhy do you think it -- enrollment is increasing in the schools in Ward 6?
ROBINSONWell, I've -- I think there's a lot of activity work where people are clamoring for neighborhood schools. And the fact of the matter is, in the Eastern situation where we have a brand-new school that's been fully renovated, we don't have a ninth grade that's coming in this year. And the...
SHERWOODAre you talking about Eastern High School?
ROBINSONExactly. And that's not a neighborhood school for at least those what, 300 or so neighborhood children who want to have access to Eastern, nor will they allow that same crew to come in in the 10th grade. And as a result, I'm not sure that those kids will ever be able to walk to their neighborhood school that's been newly renovated for them. And that's a problem.
WELLSWell, the thing was Eastern High School did not make annual yearly progress, one of the lowest performing high schools.
ROBINSONTen schools that made.
WELLSAnd thank goodness. No. Well, more than five years plus of how many years Eastern didn't cut the mustard. What I'm thankful for is we didn't lose Eastern High School. What we're doing essentially is reconstitution. It's one of the options in order to remake a school, so you don't lose that school. And so we've been able to preserve Eastern High School as a public school. And --but what we had to do is we've essentially -- are phasing it out and reopening it as a reconstituted school next fall. It's one of the options under the No Child Left Behind Act. It's the way that we preserved Eastern for Ward 6, and I'm very proud of that. I'm glad we didn't lose the high school.
SHERWOODYou've taken, both have taken -- I know you will get to another...
NNAMDINo, no, fine.
SHERWOODYou've both taken the position that Michelle Rhee should stay maybe be -- though kindler and gentler to people perhaps -- but she should stay. What about Mayor Fenty and the race for mayor? Have either -- neither of you have endorsed in the Mayor's race. Have you -- I know, Mr. Wells, you've endorsed Kwame Brown in the chairman's race. But you've declined to take a position on the mayor's race, and even though you supported Fenty four years ago -- Mr. Robinson, I don't know where you were in 2006. What did --were you -- are you for Fenty this time? Are you for Chairman Grey or one of the other candidates?
NNAMDILet me, let me (unintelligible) me. What do you mean, you don't know where he was?
SHERWOODI mean, I don't know where he was politically.
NNAMDIOh, I see.
SHERWOODAnd I do have a question about what he's been doing since he left as Chief of Staff. But that's next.
NNAMDIWe'll wait on that. All right.
ROBINSONSo in this Mayor's race, what I've said repeatedly is that -- what my job will be as a councilmember...
SHERWOODOh, you're not going to answer the question?
ROBINSONWhat my job will be as a councilmember is to work with either...
ROBINSON...of the folks that we elect as mayor. That's...
SHERWOODBut you have a chance...
ROBINSON...that's what we're not -- that's what's not happening now.
SHERWOODBut you have a chance to influence who that person is. You don't have strong enough difference. Are you going to vote in the mayor's race?
ROBINSONI'm absolutely going to vote, much like a...
SHERWOODBut you don't want to say how you're going to vote?
ROBINSONThat will be between...
SHERWOODWhat about you, Mr. Wells?
WELLSWell, as you know, I have a great relationship with Mayor Fenty and a great relationship with Vincent Grey. And that has worked well on behalf of the citizens in Ward 6. And also, I got -- I'm glad you noted I have endorsed Kwame Brown. He -- I really do believe he'll be a great partner for Ward 6. He shares the same vision I have for the ward. And I think that (unintelligible)
SHERWOODYou can't say that for one of the candidates for mayor?
WELLSI think both of these guys have done great for Ward 6. And I have a great relationship with them both. I don't think it serves the citizens of Ward 6 for me to join a political camp on that.
SHERWOODCan we -- can I ask Mr. Robinson 'cause you introduced him as a former Chief of Staff to Mayor Anthony Williams on -- I think he left that job at when -- what year did you leave that job?
SHERWOOD2004. So, politely, what the heck have you been doing since? I think you've been a consultant. You have a start Right or be Right or some kind of Right.
SHERWOODWhat's the name of it?
ROBINSONRightSource. I don't see any in...
SHERWOODSo where have you been making money?
ROBINSONRight. We are a consulting firm that consult with the small businesses and not-for-profits to help them do capacity-building project management (unintelligible)
ROBINSONWe work with some companies on city contracts. In fact, we do have one now to work on a mental health survey. So we do some of that.
SHERWOODHuman service, mental health, does that fall under Mr. Wells' committee? Mr. Wells, do you know?
WELLSI'm not aware of the contracts that Mr. Robinson's involved in.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 if you'd like to add your voice to the questions being raised about two candidates for Ward 6 on the D.C. City Council. Tommy Wells, the incumbent, or Kelvin Robinson, the challenger, 800-433-8850. What do you think makes a livable, walkable community? And where do you think that idea fits in to Ward 6's future? What do you think the local government in Washington is going to do to kick start the economy and make sure the development around projects like the baseball stadium don't stall out? You can also send us an email to email@example.com.
NNAMDIWe got a long email from Amy who says "Two days ago, I ran into a supporter of Mr. Robinson's outside of Jenkins Row, the new high-end condominium at Potomac and Pennsylvania. She urged to vote against Tommy Wells because he had supported the building of the Boys Town Group Homes there and haven't been a strong supporter of Jenkins Row which later replaced the Boys Town Group Homes." In her view, "Tommy cared too much about poor people and not enough about the middle- and upper-income residents who had recently moved to the neighborhood, but Mr. Robinson is apparently saying that Tommy only cares about middle- and upper-income people. I feel like I'm hearing one thing from Mr. Robinson's campaign on the street and another thing on the radio. So which is it?" asks Amy in Washington to...
ROBINSONTo Mr. Wells in terms of his support of Jenkins Row?
NNAMDIWell, that second, but first to you, Mr. Robinson, in terms of whether you support -- whether you think that Mr. Wells is doing too much for poor people or too much for middle-income and upper-income people?
ROBINSONThat is not the position I've taken. What I've said is that I think that there are other issues in the Ward that would prevent us from getting to the place that Mr. Wells would like us to be. When I look at the families who were housed at D.C. General under Mr. Wells' leadership, those families are -- 135 families or more are located there in what was supposed to be temporary shelter has now turned permanent for them in D.C General Hospital, which is never designed to allow for the housing of those families. They don't have the wraparound services that were promised. And the community -- affected community around them has been inundated with the, you know, circumstances that really they should not have been faced with, and those families really deserve more. And that, that's a leadership issue to make certain that those families get on to a successful place where they want to be, and that is to support their families.
NNAMDITommy Wells, first, the last thing that Kelvin Robinson raised, the families, as he characterized them, stuck in the old DC General Hospital.
WELLSWell, let me answer that. We're in the deepest recession since the Depression. We've seen other cities, some families living in tents where they can't be housed by their city. You know, I helped push through and shepherd through Housing First, one of the most innovative programs for the chronically homeless in Washington, D.C., but in the country.
NNAMDIFor our listeners who weren't aware of it, that's the initiative to move homeless people into permanent housing.
WELLSThat's right. And we just housed the thousandth person. And so that's been extraordinary. Now, the fact that we have a place for families to go, we still have some families that can't get in to DC General that are knocking on the door to get into DC General. What we're doing is we're trying to be a humane as possible at a time when we did not increase funding in human services for homeless but serving hundreds more than what we served before. It -- certainly, that is not an ideal place for families to be. I did bring in youth programs for those kids out of Children's Youth Investment Trust. We are finding homes for those folks.
WELLSBut don't forget that we are in a deep recession. Our city is not generating a lot of new money. And what we're doing, I believe, is we're doing better -- at least as well if not better than most cities in America right now and being humane with those that need support. I don't want families to have to live at DC General. But I'd rather they were there rather than in our parks or in front of our store fronts, trying to raise their kid out in the streets. And so, no, I don't want them there, and we're going to work to move them into housing.
NNAMDIOur e-mailer, Amy, also accuses you of supporting the building of the Boys Town group homes in south -- between Potomac and Pennsylvania...
NNAMDI...and not being a strong supporter of Jenkins Row.
WELLSWell, let me tell you. Jenkins Row is a great example of creating a livable, walkable community. I love Jenkins Row. I supported Jenkins Row. I especially supported getting Harris Teeter in there so we'd bring fresh food to the neighborhood and to really provide new amenities to that part of the city. I don't know where anybody got that I didn't support Jenkins Row. That's made up. But I do support Jenkins Row because that's a great example for building a livable, walkable community in part of the Ward that needs that kind of support.
SHERWOODWhat about Boys Town?
WELLSBoys Town, I was not a supporter and coming out in front of Boys Town. Boys Town was a member of the Consortium for Child Welfare, the association that I led, and I did not come out to publicly support Boys Town even though they're a member. And so they could assume because they're a member of the association that I was a supporter, but I was not of that development. So what I do support, again, is building a community that has assets, and Jenkins Row has it, and I've always supported Jenkins Row. And I'm not really sure where that came from. But we're in a campaign. People say stuff. And, you know, I'm not surprised.
NNAMDIGo to take a short break. Kelvin Robinson may want to respond after we come back. He is the challenger for the Democratic -- for the City Council seat in Ward 6 in the primary election on September 14. The other Democratic candidate is the incumbent, Tommy Wells. They joined us in studio along with Tom Sherwood, our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. I am Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking with the Democratic candidates for City Council in Ward 6 in the District of Columbia. Kelvin Robinson is the challenger. Tommy Wells is the incumbent. Tom Sherwood, our resident analyst who just announced a plan to move to Ward 8. He's an NBC4...
SHERWOODNo, they're going to move Ward 8 to my southwest. You know, redistrict it.
WELLSNo, no, no.
NNAMDIWhatever. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. We take your calls at 800-433-8850. You can also send us an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. There are few places in the city that have experienced as much rapid change as some of the neighborhoods in Ward 6. A new ballpark sprouted up by the Waterfront Streetcars coming to 8th Street. But the economy is stalled, right? As some of these projects were getting off the ground, what can the Council do to kick start the economy so that these long-term projects don't lose steam? But first, Kelvin Robinson, are you a supporter of the streetcar along 8th Street, which has been, in some quarters, controversial?
ROBINSONYes, I have been a supporter of the streetcar. But I also wanted to -- want to have a rational plan for what we do long-term to fund it. One of the things that I think is important is we made a commitment to those businesses on H Street to ensure that we could bring economic vitality to it, and then we did the next thing. We start at the implementation and tore up the street and put, quite frankly, a lot of those local businesses out of business. And what we have to do is make certain that when we begin to move that project forward, we'll look at how to ensure that we're bringing those local businesses back in to give them the support that we need in order to sustain them. They create local jobs for us, and we ought to make whatever concession we can in order to make sure that they survive.
SHERWOODSome people are suggesting this is a racial question. As an African-American, you know, the streetcars and the bag tax and the bike lanes and all that are somehow anti-black or just favoring upper, white-income people of the city. And I find it un-Congress that people would say that, but you've heard that argument. Do you buy into it that somehow, you know, that's catering to the well-to-do white people in town, that somehow that black people don't ride bicycles?
ROBINSONAgain, I think that those issues are really issues that don't deal with the day-to-day lives of individuals who are struggling to make ends meet. I mean, you know, when we talk about….
SHERWOODIs there a racial aspect to that?
ROBINSONYou know, some have certainly suggested...
SHERWOODNo, I don't mean some. Whether you think there's a racial aspect.
ROBINSONI -- you know, I -- I'll leave that for those who would consider whether or not they're getting the kind of support they need in the area...
SHERWOODI think that -- well, that’s -- you're suggesting that you're open to the idea that there's a racial aspect to Mr. Wells' support of those matters?
ROBINSONLet me just say that in the Ward, I believe…
SHERWOODIt's a very sensitive issue. That's why I want to be as clear as possible and not...
ROBINSONWell, let me just -- I have said -- and I've said at my ANC commission meetings that I chair in 6A that the racial tension is palpable, and we need to have a conversation in our Ward about those issues. We can't ignore them. And we ought to be forthright in having a real conversation about the change that's undergoing in the Ward.
SHERWOODSo you believe there's a racial disparity in the way Mr. Wells represents the Ward? I mean, it's what you -- you want to have a conversation about it, but you don't want to say it.
ROBINSONWell, that is not what I've said. And what I believe is that, as we have changed in our communities and we have new people coming, and a majority of those people are coming without the understanding that...
SHERWOODThey're white people. Is that what you're saying? I'm just trying to be as clear as possible.
ROBINSONThere are -- well, I am, too.
NNAMDIWell, allow me to help clarify because economic tensions in our city often manifest themselves as racial tensions...
NNAMDI...in our city. It seems to me that what you are talking about is that the more affluent members of your Ward seem to be getting more benefits from Mr. Wells' tenure than are the poorer residents of your Ward. If that ends up being along racial lines, then so be it. But that seems to be the point you're making. With reference to that point, what is it you think that a streetcar does for affluent residents that it does not do for poorer residents?
ROBINSONWell, again, I'm a supporter of the streetcar, so it's not that I think that the streetcar does something different from one or the other. The question is, where do we put our scarce resources? Do we put it into streetcar? Do we put it into bike lanes? Do we put it into bag tax? Do we put it into chicken farms and backyards? What do we do when we have these major other issues that need to be addressed, like juvenile crime?
SHERWOODMr. -- can we hear from Mr. Wells on this racial aspect? Mr. Wells, as not an African-American -- what are you, Irish-Catholic? What are you?
SHERWOODNorwegian. Close enough.
SHERWOODSo what -- I mean, what about the racial undertone to this idea as Kojo just said better than me...
SHERWOOD...that economic disparities could also have a racial effect?
WELLSWell, you know, the economic disparity we have in our city, you look at Ward 7 and 8. I just had an event at Big Chair Coffee, the only sit-down coffee place with Wi-Fi in one quarter of our city. The economic disparity -- and I -- Kojo, I appreciate you making it about class and economics -- that, you know, one quarter of our city had -- does not have the assets or resources that we've had elsewhere that we enjoy. The streetcar connecting Ward 7 into not only Ward 6 but Union Station, which is a portal to the world but also a portal to the city, is really something that's about economic equity and economic justice. And that kind of investment so people have access to jobs and all the assets that we're building downtown is something that we've neglected for quite a while.
WELLSAnd so when I look at H Street Northeast, H Street Northeast during the deep recession we've added 30 new businesses, not just taverns and restaurants, but includes a business like Fitness Together, African-owned young woman who runs that business, and she's adding two new employees in December. It has been -- those are locally-owned businesses, hiring local folks. It's been an economic generator while the city's been, you know, struggling elsewhere. That's the kind of thing -- and then you take Barracks Row. Again, locally-owned businesses growing along Barracks Row, and now, Tom, in your neighborhood, we're bringing more locally owned businesses. (word?) is moving into your neighborhood down on Fourth Street.
WELLSSo the idea of livable, walkable isn't just for Ward 6. It's for the other areas that need economic development because it produces local jobs, local opportunities and local business owners, as I know Mr. Robinson is very aware of in his own role of owning a local business, that how important this is, and that it's not just changed the national investment. It's good for Washington.
NNAMDIThe disposable bag tax, which went into effect January 1, is seen by many to be your -- Tommy Wells' defining legislative accomplishment. But Mr. Robinson has been hammering home the point that he doesn't think that that gets to the essence of the problems facing your Ward. It may or may not be a good thing, but it doesn't deal with some of the fundamental issues, as he sees them, in the Ward. How would you defend?
WELLSWell, let me say, environmental justice issues go way back before Mr. Robinson and I, and that is where the poorest parts of the city often have to deal with the most distressed areas of economic -- of environmental injustice. Anacostia River, historically, one of the 10 dirtiest rivers in America. And when I, you know, looked at it and saw the studies that have been done and saw that a major part of the pollution in there were disposable plastic bags, knowing that disposable plastic bags are not always necessary, I did something about it.
WELLSAnd I would have to say that so much of the Anacostia River borders Ward 6. I have a responsibility to be a steward as a councilmember but also a lot of the new development and bringing the Anacostia River back as a contributing asset, so it's not just the Potomac River, for the other wards of the city. Anacostia River can be wonderful, and I did something to help clean it up.
SHERWOODEighty percent of the Anacostia is in Maryland. I think the city ought to sue Maryland for all the pollution that comes down from Maryland. But, you know, you hate me when I say this, Mr. Wells, but that I've seen fewer bags in the river, and I've seen bottles and cans. But you politically think a bottle and can tax is not possible.
WELLSWell, we tried that about 20 years ago, and it failed and there hasn't been a new one in America for at least the past 10 years. But I do believe that the funds that are being generated between $2 and $3 million from the bag fee or bag tax, whatever everybody wants to call it, can be use to leverage funds partnered. I met with the American Bottling Association. I met with Coca-Cola bottling, said let's put a fund together to buy back what they called non-captured bottles.
WELLSAnd I think we can do something with that.
NNAMDI...you seem to feel that too much energy on the part of the Ward 6 councilmember was invested into this bag tax bill that could have been directed where?
ROBINSONIt could have been directed to our schools. It could have been directed to putting people to work in terms of job training that's necessary. My goal here is to make certain that we are enriching the lives of individuals so that we can -- they can take care of their own families. We haven't done that. And we have social ills that, quite frankly, are day-to-day issues that we're faced with that we cannot get to because we're spending so much time on issues...
NNAMDIIs this to say that you are opposed to the bag tax?
ROBINSONYou know, I'm opposed to the -- not to the idea, but certainly, I'm opposed to the tax. I think that we have too many taxes in this city as it is, and we're dead last in terms of creating an economic climate for businesses to flourish here.
NNAMDISo you don't think that the bag tax assist with the clean up of the Anacostia River? As a councilmember, what would you have proposed for the clean up of the Anacostia River, or would that be low on your agenda?
ROBINSONIt would certain be lower on my agenda. And I certainly wouldn't have done it and suggest that that in and of itself was going to clean the Anacostia. We need to do exactly what Tom says, and that is deal with our regional partners to make certain we can get us the job done.
NNAMDIMr. Wells, less successful has been what's known as your backyard chicken bill. What's up with that?
WELLSWell, you know, to take this head-on, I do believe that a lot of families that are part of the urban agricultural movement to take more control over the food that their families eat, especially as we see things like the salmonella outbreak in eggs, especially if we see the impact of pesticides on food with ADD. A lot of families want to take back control of the foods that their family consumes. And so there's been a movement across America of urban agriculture that has included in Cleveland, Buffalo, elsewhere across the country to have a couple of hens to produce chickens not -- I mean, to produce eggs, not roosters or anything like that.
WELLSAnd at first, I thought it was a nutty idea, but I don't want, you know, to say, you know, okay, I support you but I'm not willing to support something controversial. And I think what everybody will see is that I'm someone, regardless of the -- of how controversial it is, I do the things that I think are right, that make sense.
SHERWOODCould -- we're running out of time.
NNAMDIYou have about 10 seconds.
SHERWOODVery quickly, the Redskins, would you support the Redskins, controversially building with their own money a new stadium on the footprint of RFK? Yes or no?
WELLSIf it takes one dime from D.C. and one piece of our property under this ownership, no.
ROBINSONYes, I would support the Redskins coming back to D.C.
SHERWOODPaying for it?
NNAMDIAnd we only have time left for your one-minute closing statements. First, you, incumbent Councilmember Tommy Wells.
WELLSWell, let me say, you know, when we talk about what is the crowning achievement in the last four years, I am so proud of the renaissance and the rebound of our public schools, and now that they've become a reason to stay instead of a reason to leave. And having neighborhood schools is really what having a livable community for everyone is.
WELLSAnd then the next thing is, is that we do have to bring in the next generation of transportation. Next generation of transportation is multimodal. It's not just biking. It's not just walking. It's not just streetcars. But also, it's having a great bus system and making it much better and more accessible to those that depend on the bus system. And that really does go beyond Ward 6. Ward 6 is a place where we're making it happen. Ward 6 is a place that I'm very proud of the progress that we made. But I really do think it's a model for Washington, D.C. And I'm really, you know, bullish on our future and proud of the jobs and the businesses we've created with it.
ROBINSONWell, the issue for me is one of focus and attention. We've spent a lot of time working on those things that Mr. Wells talked about, but we haven't spent a lot of time dealing with the bread-and-butter issues that I think residents care about, and that is feeling safe when they walk down the neighborhood, not fearful of juvenile crime in the community. They look for meaningful job opportunities and job training that will allow them to take care of their families. We look for an opportunity to ensure we have good -- and good schools that are actually meeting AYP. And the fact of the matter is we don't have that yet.
ROBINSONWe're moving in the right direction in terms of insuring that we've got education reform moving, but we have to make certain that everyone has access to those good opportunities. I ask for the voters support September 14.
NNAMDIKelvin Robinson is the challenger in Ward 6. Good luck to you.
NNAMDITommy Wells is the incumbent. Good luck to you also.
WELLSThank you, Kojo. Thanks, Tom.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. Good luck with your Ward 8 candidates.
SHERWOODAnd people can start voting Monday, August 30.
NNAMDIAnd we will have the executive director of the board of elections in here to talk about all of the initiatives being taken in the D.C. election. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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