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On April 1, Democratic voters in the District of Columbia head to the polls to choose their party’s nominee for mayor. All eight candidates in the crowded field, including the incumbent, join us to discuss the issues that matter most to voters, including education, ethics and gentrification. Kojo, along with panelists Kavitha Cardoza, Patrick Madden and Tom Sherwood, conducts this special forum for mayoral hopefuls to make a case to voters and share their visions for the city.
- Carlos Allen Democratic Candidate, Mayor, District of Columbia
- Reta Jo Lewis Democratic Candidate, Mayor, District of Columbia
- Vincent Orange Democratic Candidate, Mayor, District of Columbia; Member, D.C. Council (D-At Large)
- Jack Evans Democratic Mayoral Candidate, District of Columbia; Member, D.C. Council, Chairman, Committee on Finance and Revenue
- Tommy Wells Democratic Mayoral Candidate, District of Columbia; Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 6); Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety
- Muriel Bowser Democratic Candidate, District of Columbia; Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 4); Chair, Committee on Economic Development
- Andy Shallal Democratic Candidate, Mayor, District of Columbia
- Vincent Gray Mayor, District of Columbia (D)
Watch The Full Debate
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to the 2014 D.C. Democratic Mayoral Forum, a presentation of WAMU 88.5 News and "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Kojo Nnamdi. On April 1, Democratic voters in Washington D.C. will choose their party's nominee for mayor of the District. All eight candidates appearing on the ballot for that primary are gathered here tonight. But before we meet those candidates and the panelists who will be asking them questions, let's consider for a moment the state of the city.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBy many measures, D.C. is thriving. But prosperity isn't filtering down evenly to all residents. Many have questions about whether efforts to improve public education are, in fact, succeeding. And many have questions about whether the city's public officials, including the incumbent mayor, can be trusted. The candidates joining us here tonight to answer those questions are: Carlos Allen, Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, the current Mayor Vincent Gray, Reta Jo Lewis, Vincent Orange, Andy Shallal and Tommy Wells.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd joining us to ask questions of those candidates tonight: Patrick Madden of WAMU 88.5, Tom Sherwood of NBC4 and the Current newspaper and WAMU 88.5, and Kavitha Cardoza of WAMU 88.5. In just a moment, Kavitha will be asking the first question of the evening. But first I'd like to spell out a few rules of the road. First, while we won't be keeping an official clock, we'd like you all to keep your answers as brief as possible. If you can't, I'll do it for you. Second, we'd like to conduct this more like a conversation than a formal debate.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe'll not be asking each candidate to answer every question. But if we respect each other's time, everyone will surely have lots of opportunities to speak. In that spirit, my time is up. Kavitha, it's your turn.
MS. KAVITHA CARDOZACouncilmember Muriel Bowser, I'd like to start with you. When you came on "The Kojo Show" in January, you said: I have made no commitments to keep Kaya Henderson and I certainly have made no commitments to get rid of Kaya Henderson. You want residents to make a commitment to you and to vote for you. Please make a commitment to them and tell us whether or not you would keep the current Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools.
MS. MURIEL BOWSERWell, Kavitha, thank you for that question. And schools is certainly a top issue for D.C. residents -- all, in all eight Wards. What they want to make sure is that we have a mayor that is going to stand up and stand strong for school reform. And we'll certainly do that. They want a mayor that makes sure we have a chancellor that has a plan for every section of the city, and a mayor that's going to be committed to transforming our middle schools. I've also said, and I think I said in that interview, that we have a great chancellor. I think she has good ideas and she's moving the ball in the right direction.
MS. MURIEL BOWSERAnd I want the opportunity, just like for every director of every agency, to make sure that her commitment and vision matches my own, the urgency that she will approach it with matches my own. And she will have an opportunity to make her case with me. So I haven't made that commitment or decision. But I can assure you, our government will be committed to attracting the best and brightest. Our government will be committed to standing behind agency directors so that they can make the tough decisions necessary. So that's where I stand.
CARDOZAWhat about residents who want to make their decision about whether or not to vote for you based on whether you would keep Chancellor Henderson?
BOWSERWell, what I tell them is that I approach the decision with certain principles. And I've explained those principles. And I don't think, then, sometimes when -- at election season, there are a lot of rash decisions and judgments made, and promises made, that often are broken. So I want to tell those residents that we're going to approach that decision like all the other directors with certain principles in mind.
CARDOZAI would like to ask all of the other candidates, would you keep or would you remove current Chancellor Kaya Henderson?
MR. JACK EVANSI'll answer that next. I'll give you a decisive answer. I would keep her. So I'm not going to be wishy-washy on this or say one thing or another. I've worked with Chancellor Henderson. I think she's doing a good job. And just recently -- just tonight -- and I want to thank the mayor for this, we have worked together to fully fund the renovation of Garrison Elementary School. And so any parents who are listening tonight, Mr. Mayor, I want to thank you publicly for working with me on that and with our chancellor. We need continuity in this school system.
MR. JACK EVANSI've been on the Council 23 years and I believe we've had 18 or 19 school superintendants. The last thing we do is have a mayor come in and replace the chancellor and put the school system back into chaos again. I don't agree with Chancellor Henderson on everything. And I can give you some issues where I don't. Several -- about a year or two ago, there was school closure ideas and they were going to close Garrison and Francis. I worked with the chancellor and with the mayor and we made a decision to keep them open.
MR. JACK EVANSAnd on a number of other issues, though, we have worked together to improve this school system. School reform is not easy. It's difficult. It's challenging. It excites a lot of people in lots of different ways. But we have to stay the course and make every one of our schools a quality school so that our children get a great education. And I'll finish with this. Five things make a great school: a great principal, teachers, curriculum, a safe environment, and most important and most difficult is parental involvement. And as your next mayor, I will make sure we focus on those things.
NNAMDIIf you're just listening on the radio, you may not know who that was speaking. But once he mentioned 20-something years on the Council, you should know that it's Ward 2 Councilmember, Jack Evans. Tommy Wells.
MR. TOMMY WELLSYes, I'll be in charge and head of education. And I think that Chancellor Henderson will be just fine. I've worked with her. I've worked with Michelle Rhee, I've worked with Dr. Janie (sp?) , where we have rebuilt, first the elementary schools in Ward 6, where every school now has a waiting list. And we're adding three more elementary schools. We can do this citywide. Vince Gray just closed some elementary schools over in Ward 7, on the other side of the river. What you do when you do that, you consign a neighborhood to not being a neighborhood where families will move if they have a choice.
MR. TOMMY WELLSWhat we've done in Ward 6, I've done with Kaya Henderson and everyone else involved. And so we're not working with parents and the other stakeholders to really rebuild the Ward 6 school system. And we can do this citywide. And I think that's a model of how we can do it with Kaya Henderson.
MAYOR VINCENT GRAYI am an unequivocal supporter of Kaya Henderson. She was my first appointee when I was still mayor elect. And I'm proud of what she's been able to do with our schools. I think she's one of the most collaborative people that I've ever worked with. I meet with Kaya Henderson every week. So I'm deeply involved in the education issues of the District of Columbia. And you can look at the results. Look at our test scores that we received in November, the NAEP scores, National Assessment of Education Progress, which show that the District of Columbia had made the greatest improvement of any state in America.
MAYOR VINCENT GRAYThe next month, we got the TUDA scores, the Trial Urban District Assessment scores, which showed that the District of Columbia had made the greatest improvement of any big city in America. I've worked with Kaya on any number of issues, especially to solve a problem that had been a decades-long issue in the District of Columbia, and that is being able to begin to serve as many children as we possibly can who have special needs in our own system. Working with her, we have increased the capacity in DCPS, we've increased it in the public charter schools, and we have reduced the outlay.
MAYOR VINCENT GRAYWhen we came into office the previous year, $168 million had been spent on serving children in private schools.
GRAYWe have now reduced that budget to below $80 million and cut the number of children in half. And just look at the early childhood education program we've been able to implement. We've done that working together. I unequivocally think she is the best person for the job and she will be retained.
NNAMDIWe will be talking about education for a little while, so just about all of you candidates will get the opportunity to include in your answer whether or not you support the chancellor. But before we get to you, Tom Sherwood, Andy Shallal, as I recall, among these candidates, you have been the most critical of the progress or lack thereof that's been made in our education system. So I'm interested, would you keep Chancellor Kaya Henderson?
MR. ANDY SHALLALWell, I'm an equivocal supporter of student success. It's not about Kaya Henderson. It's really about student success.
NNAMDIBut would you keep her?
SHALLALWhat we've seen -- the NAEP results that the mayor talks about right now is results that show the overall improvement of the District. The overall improvement has been due mostly, or almost exclusively, because of the change in demographics. The fact of the matter is that the gap between black kids and white kids have actually widened -- it has doubled in the last seven years. This is something that people don't like to talk about, but it's really important to hear. It has doubled in the last seven years.
SHALLALIf a -- if we were to stop white kids at what they're progressing right now, it'll take a hundred years for a black kid to reach that level at the rate that they're going right now. This is something that needs to be changed. It's not about Kaya Henderson. It's about the success of our children. It's about having a more collaborative type of school system, rather than having blame and intimidation. It's about making sure that our teachers are successful and developed. Our teachers leave our school system: in the first two years, 50 percent of them; within six years, 80 percent of them leave.
SHALLALThat's double the national average. That's not an acceptable...
SHALLAL...or a successful school system.
NNAMDITom Sherwood of NBC4.
MR. TOM SHERWOODThank you very much. Mr. Wells, you're a former...
UNIDENTIFIED MALECan all of us answer that question?
SHERWOOD...school board member and Mr. Mayor...
NNAMDIWe're talking education. You'll get a chance.
SHERWOODOkay. Some fear that the Council Education Committee would become a mini or de facto school board. Under Chairman David Catania, how would you assess what the Committee is doing, Mr. Wells and Mayor Gray?
WELLSWell, that's exactly what I've been fighting against, that when Adrian Fenty had his bill to take over mayoral control of the school system, I had a number of things that he agreed to put in there. Obviously, one, to have the facilities taken care of by a separate entity, not a superintendant or chancellor who has no experience in that. But what I also said was that there really should not be a line-item veto, otherwise we're going to be creating a new school board. And I am very concerned about that.
WELLSI think that the degree to which the Council gets involved in determining anything about curriculum, discipline of students, and certainly the personnel decisions, we start moving away from mayoral control. And I think that, Tom, what you bring up is a very grave concern. And I have fought against that from occurring.
NNAMDIMayor Gray? Oh, I'm sorry. Follow-up, Tom.
SHERWOODWell, Mr. Mayor, I think you know the question.
GRAYI do. And I've had the opportunity to be in both roles. As the Chair of the Council, I had oversight of education. And I try to keep in mind that the Council essentially does two things: it is involved in legislating, and it is involved in oversight. And I tried to -- I worked very hard to make sure that I and those who were working with me on the Council at that point didn't interfere with what we were trying to do. And that was to be able to move education forward, to give the mayor the control of it, and give it a strong change of the opportunity to run our schools.
GRAYI'm very concerned, frankly, with the current Committee on Education. I think that they should be doing the oversight. If they have hard questions, they should ask those questions and they should expect answers. But I don't think we should have competition with the Committee competing with the chancellor or others who are trying to run education programs in the District of Columbia. That is precisely what we wanted to get away with, because we had a Board of Education that was attempting to micromanage the superintendent of schools. The Council...
SHERWOODAnd the Chairman -- the Chairman of the Committee is now attempting to micromanage? David Catania...
GRAYWell, I'm concerned about the degree to which the Council is engaging in the effort to run the schools in the District of Columbia. If there are programs that the Council believes should be implemented, it can be done through legislation. First of all, I would hope that they would have a discussion with the chancellor, with the deputy mayor for education, with the state superintendent of the schools.
SHERWOODBut I'm sorry, Mr. Mayor, to be clear, you're talking about not the full council but the council education committee chaired by David Catania.
GRAYYeah well, there's only 13 members on the council. And the chairman, for example, has a role in truancy. And we work with the chairman on truancy issues. He works with council member Catania. I don't believe council member Catania or any other member ought to be involved in trying to run the programs of our public schools.
MR. PATRICK MADDENI'd like to ask a question about neighborhood schools. More and more families are choosing to attend the elementary down the block. How do you ensure diverse neighborhood schools in terms of race, income, socioeconomic status in neighborhoods that are frankly becoming less diverse, rapidly gentrifying? What is the appropriate role for policymakers to ensure diversity in neighborhood schools, or is there even a role, council member Orange?
MR. VINCENT ORANGEWell, first of all, let me say that the proper role is to ensure that our children are getting a good education and that they graduate with a diploma of value. I believe that our elementary schools exposes the problem of our middle school and that is our children that we're sending to the middle schools, 60 percent of them are not proficient in reading or math. And that's the reason why people, parents begin to peel off and they send their kids to charter schools or to private schools because they know in the middle schools the children are not prepared to move forward.
MR. VINCENT ORANGEAnd that's the reason why with the chancellor, I would have one question for her. Do you believe that you are producing students for middle school that can proceed? And that is, can -- are our children able to read independently and can they add, subtract, multiply and divide, because the curriculum changes in middle school. You're no longer learning to read. You're reading to learn. You're no longer learning how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. I'm not introducing you to fractions, decimals and algebra so you can move on.
MR. VINCENT ORANGEMiddle school is not really the key to the problem. The problem is elementary school and what you send to the middle school. And that will be the question I would have with the chancellor to ascertain what is her philosophy on that and ask her whether or not she's now ready to deal with that issue. Mayor Gray continues to say, I have all 12,000 of these children in early childhood education and I'm doing well. No, you're not, sir. Because you have them there but what are you putting in their heads? And what are you moving forward?
MR. VINCENT ORANGELast week on Fox morning news they indicated that only 13 percent of low income families' children are proficient in reading and math. And until we recognize where the problem is and ensure that we have a curriculum in place to move kids to middle school as another cycle comes in, we're going to continue being in the same place.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break but we'll be coming back. You're listening to WAMU 88.5's D.C. Democratic Mayoral Forum. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. You're listening to WAMU 88.5's Democratic Mayoral Forum broadcasting live from our media center at 4401 Connecticut Avenue Northwest. We're joined by all eight Democratic candidates on the ballot April 1. They're Carlos Allen, Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Vincent Gray, Reta Jo Lewis, Vincent Orange, Andy Shallal and Tommy Wells. Before this debate we heard from Kyle Dargon. He contacted us through the Public Insight Network. He's a young single African American resident who has not yet started a family but he has a question for you, Reta Jo Lewis, about disparities within D.C.'s education system.
KYLE DARGONI'm a homeowner in Ward 7 and the public education options east of the Anacostia are not very promising. As I consider starting a family, I don't know if I can stay in D.C. and afford private school or risk having my child's future decided by a school lottery. What are the candidates plans for assuring parents in all wards that their children will have access to quality education that is truly public?
NNAMDIReta Jo Lewis, notice that he said, quality education options that are truly public. What do you take that to mean?
MS. RETA JO LEWISQuality educations that are truly options means that he wants to have choices. He wants to be able to decide where...
NNAMDIBut he said truly public.
LEWISI know. I was going to say, he wants to have choices. He wants to decide whether he wants to go to DCPS. He wants to decide whether he enroll his kids in -- or the child that he would have into a charter school. And so I would never take a choice away from a parent because that is going to be, we know, the most important decision they make about their -- in their family.
LEWISOne of the things that when you asked recently -- you just asked was that, is there a major role for policymakers? And as the head of the schools, there exactly is a major role for policymakers. We've got to make sure that it is balanced. We've got to make sure that it's fair. We've got to make sure that all the stakeholders are at the table when we're making the decisions as to what schools are going to be open, what schools are going to be closed. And the most important thing is that what parents are telling me, they are terrified that they believe we're getting the elementary school areas right but they are terrified when it comes to making that final decision about middle school or high school.
LEWISAnd so we cannot allow -- we know that in order to grow a strong middle class in the District of Columbia, one that is sustaining, one that is going to stay here -- I see it time and time again where I live. I live in a condo building downtown Washington. When the -- they move-in, their condo is bigger. They have a child and then they say to me, Reta, I'm moving. And it's like two or three years they've had their...
NNAMDIAnd you've got about 15 seconds.
LEWISAnd so for me, you know, we cannot allow a child's zip code determine what they're going to be. We cannot allow a child's zip code to be determinative of what kind of education they're going to get. And that is why the mayor and all the decision makers have to be at the table.
NNAMDICarlos Allen, Kyle Dargon said that public education options east of the Anacostia are not very promising. What would you do specifically east of the river to improve education options there?
MR. CARLOS ALLENWell, one thing is transform the whole system. I personally feel that right now the system we have is only about testing. So it's a system that doesn't allow people to have -- for children to learn. I mean, I'm looking at young men in Logan right now and, you know, I see a young man that has that ability to learn and grow very strongly. But if our system is not there, structured enough for that child to basically have all the instruction there to make them move forward, then we've set him up for failure.
MR. CARLOS ALLENSo what we want to do is to make sure that we have a school system and a chancellor that is focused on making sure that the children are learning and not testing. That is a problem that we have now and that's the old system. And my job as the next mayor of the District of Columbia is to make sure that we do that. And the thing about, you know, some of the individuals who were basically in the system where they're thinking that they're working with the chancellor or they're affecting in the micromanaging, you know, we've got to look at what their motives are a lot of times.
MR. CARLOS ALLENLike David Catania, what is his motive or why he's fighting back and forth with the chancellor? So what we have to do is to make sure that we have a school system where families can know that when they come to this city that they don't have to put their children in a private school system. They can put their children in a public school and know that their children are going to graduate. Because right now we've got 50 percent of our children are not graduating from high school. That is a problem.
NNAMDIWhether you live in Ward 1 or Ward 6, your boundaries might be changing. I think Tom Sherwood has a question about that.
SHERWOODYes. First to Muriel Bowser, the biggest decision facing the chancellor other than the running of schools day to day is the changing of the boundaries. I don't believe they've changed since the 1970s. Ms. Bowser, what is the role of the mayor for whomever the chancellor might be in your administration, in terms of making sure that the boundaries attract parents and not drive them to the suburbs?
BOWSERWell, that's a very serious question, Tom. And one that I think that if we don't handle the right way, it has the potential to crack our city in two. So I have kind of sounded the alarm on this issue at least a year ago to make sure that the city approaches this in a thoughtful and careful way. I think that the mayor has assigned this task to the deputy mayor for education, that there has finally been a citizens group impaneled to go around the city and hear from people.
BOWSERBut this is basically a choice that this committee and the deputy mayor has to make is to say, we're going to cut off some families from schools that they go to or schools that they have a right to currently. That seems to be the choice on the table. And what I challenge everybody to say is, how are we going to fast track improving their options if we cut them off?
BOWSERSo that's why I've talked very extensively about how we speed up our investments in middle schools across the city. We know the pressures on Alice Deal Middle School. We know why Alice Deal Middle School is successful. And so what I want to see is a plan that would replicate the success of Alice Deal Middle School in neighborhoods all across the District of Columbia.
BOWSERYou asked earlier, is this the appropriate role for the council of the District of Columbia to be involved in school reform efforts, and I say yes. And the reason why you see a committee on education that is gaining traction on these issues, is because there's been a void in leadership at the top. I've been on this council for seven years. In the beginning of those seven years there was tremendous heat and light on school reform. Yes, it was rancorous sometimes. Yes, we got some things wrong, but everybody across the city was focused on how we moved our schools forward. And that's why you see a movement on the council because you don't see that same intensity at the top.
SHERWOODWhen you're talking about the top you mean the mayor's office, not the superintendent and the office of state education.
BOWSERI mean both.
NNAMDIWe don't have an audio clip of this question but it is really for Muriel Bowser. It was from Matthew (unintelligible) . It has to do with economic development but a guest of schools. How does the head of the economic development committee who is rejecting a development opportunity for three wards, 1, 8 and 6, the D.C. United Stadium proposal, have the gall to say the $150 million in infrastructure building money for the stadium site at Buzzard Point should be used for middle schools? All of the middle schools in her ward closed on her watch.
BOWSERWell first, I haven't rejected anything because the council hasn't been sent anything. We've been promised to get a deal to come over to the council that relates to a new soccer stadium. We thought it would be at the end of the year. Then we thought it would be in January. Frankly, I don't know when it's coming.
NNAMDII know but I think the question really wanted you to raise -- wanted to raise the question to you about the middle schools in your ward closing on your watch.
BOWSERYes. What I recommended to the chancellor and this mayor is that they combine a failing middle school with 150 kids that didn't have the chance to offer those kids the plethora of programs that they deserve to combine it with a $100 million renovation of Roosevelt Senior High School. So instead of Roosevelt Senior High School being 9 to 12, it would also handle the middle grades and give those middle grades a fresh start.
BOWSERThey rejected that idea. And I will tell you, Kojo, it is extremely disappointing. And moving forward I'm committed to making sure that we have a standalone middle school since it won't be at Roosevelt Senior High School in Ward 4, in addition to more middle school investments across the city.
NNAMDIPatrick. Patrick Madden of WAMU 88.5.
MADDENWell, I thought the question we talked about with the D.C. United Stadium, I thought that -- I wanted to ask a more general question about that because I know that's one of the most interesting topics.
NNAMDISo you're going to go to development now? Go ahead.
NNAMDIWhatever you want.
MADDENAnd I'll direct this to Mayor Gray. People want D.C. United to stay in D.C.. We also know that the owners of the team are wealthy. One of the investors just bought an Italian soccer team for more than $400 million. And with all the problems in the city right now, homelessness, affordable housing, why should the city and by extension taxpayers like the folks here in this audience, why should they foot the bill for half the total stadium costs when you add in the acquisition of the land infrastructure?
GRAYYeah well, actually the deal is about a $300 million deal. And the city is responsible for the infrastructure investment. The team is responsible completely for the building of the stadium. And I think we see -- you look at what's gone on with the national stadium down at -- it has had a catalytic effect on development. What is going east from national stadium is developing and developing rapidly. But if you look at what's happening west, it really has not occurred at all on Buzzard Point.
GRAYAnd one of the purposes, in addition to keeping the team here, that we are trying to achieve is to be able to have a catalytic effect on what is west of South Capitol Street. Right now at Buzzard Point you have, you know, several parcels of land. You have a scrap yard. You have nothing that has any economic development value associated with it. We've looked at this deal. We believe that between 60 and $70 million of economic activity will occur as a result of the stadium coming there.
GRAYThe jobs that will be created, there will be 400 -- between 4 and 500 construction jobs that will be created. Over 300 jobs will be created on a permanent basis. And frankly there is a huge and growing population of people in the District of Columbia who want to see our soccer team be able to stay here. So I don't see it necessarily as simply an entertainment investment. It is an investment in economic growth of the District of Columbia.
MADDENBut why not just have the owners deal privately with the private developers? And if we want to sell the Reeves Center we could sell it to the highest bidder and obviously make more money.
GRAYWell, first of all, the Reeves Center is involved in this because, you know, it allows us to be able to capture a parcel of land that is in the footprint of where the stadium would be. So we're swapping land with one of the companies that is involved in this. And for the Reeves Center, it is not just a sale. It's really having an economic development and catalytic effect as well.
GRAYWe are moving the Reeves Center to Ward 8, to the east end of the city. There will be somewhere between 700 and 1,000 employees who will be moving with that. That too will have a tremendous economic development catalytic effect on the east end of the city where we have been making huge investments and will continue to do that. So the soccer stadium really is an economic development project. I wouldn't call it even a sports entertainment project at this stage.
NNAMDII wanted to circle back to education for a little while. Kavitha Cardoza of WAMU.
CARDOZAI wanted to talk about adult education. So there are approximately 85,000 adults in D.C. who cannot read at the basic level. They struggle to read a menu, a paystub or a bus schedule. And while the district does offer workforce development programs, they all require an 8th grade reading and math skill level. According to city data though, 90 percent of D.C. adult learners are below this level. What specifically would you do to help adult learners access these training programs?
NNAMDIQuestion to whom?
CARDOZACan we start with council member Vincent Orange? I know you've been involved with UDC.
ORANGEAbsolutely. that is a problem because once again we're failing our students when they're young people. And we let them progress through life and all of a sudden you're an adult in a system that has failed you. And now we have to come back and provide the remedial training to get you up to par. And once again, we keep focusing on middle schools. Middle schools...
CARDOZAI would like to move to the people who are adults who need help now, not -- we can't go back in time. So what can we do to help them?
ORANGENo. We're not going back in time. What we're doing it we are fixing the future. And when you dwell on middle schools and say middle school's a problem, you don't understand the problem. For council member Bowser to keep saying that I want to have Alice Deal across this entire city, that's missing the point. If you look at McKinley Technology High School where President Obama just came last year and gave them the blue ribbon award because 90 percent of those kids are reading proficiently and they're proficient in math.
ORANGEThat's because they get to select who comes. They get to select who comes to McKinley. You get to select who comes to Banneker Senior High School. That's why it's a premier school. You get to select who comes to Alice Deal because that's a premier school. And the remainder goes back to these middle schools where the problem is exposed. (unintelligible) ...
CARDOZACouncil member Vincent Orange, may I interrupt -- no, may I interrupt, please? It sounds like you are saying to an adult learner, you have -- your chance is over. If you have children going to middle school, maybe they have a chance.
ORANGEAbsolutely false because what I indicated to you is that we address the adults. We provide them the training to get them on par but at the same time don't keep focusing on a problem that you keep creating over and over again every time you have a cycle of kids coming to your system. You are creating a problem. You are not addressing the problem and you got everybody thinking that middle school is the issue when that is not the issue.
ORANGEIf you cannot add, subtract, multiply and divide, if you cannot read independently, you cannot move forward in life.
CARDOZAThank you, council member Orange.
NNAMDIWhat would you do, Vincent Orange, to address the problem as it exists among adults today?
ORANGEOh, as -- once again, as adults today I would provide them the instruction to help them get to the point where they can read and where they can add, subtract, multiply and divide and where they can move forward. This is like at the University of District of Columbia, right now this city wants to eliminate the 147 scholarships for athletes, just eliminate the entire athletic program. And cut out the 28 baccalaureate programs. That's our only institution of higher education in this city.
ORANGEFor a measly $16 million we're willing to wipe all that out. Well, where do you think these children are going to go for education? A lot of them can't afford to go to Georgetown or G.W.
NNAMDIYou've got 10 seconds.
ORANGEThey have to go to UDC. So make the commitment to education and fix the problem once and for all. And you can do it on multiple levels, not just on one level. I can fix adult education…
ORANGE…while I'm fixing what's coming into the system because that's going to go through the system.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break right now.
GRAYMay I respond to that, Kojo? May I respond to that?
NNAMDIWhen we come back. You're listening to WAMU 88.5's D.C. Democratic mayoral forum. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. You're listening to WAMU 88.5's D.C. Democratic mayoral forum, broadcasting live from our media center at 4401 Connecticut Avenue Northwest, where we're joined by all eight Democratic candidates on the ballot April 1st. Carlos Allen, Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans, Vincent Gray, Reta Jo Lewis, Vincent Orange, Andy Shallal and Tommy Wells. The questions are coming from Tom Sherwood of NBC 4 and Kavitha Cardoza of WAMU 88.5 and Patrick Madden of WAMU 88.5.
NNAMDIWhen we took that break Mayor Gray wanted to respond to a question, but I think Kavitha Cardoza has a question for your response to that question.
CARDOZAMayor Gray, you unveiled a new program today.
GRAYI think the issue was around adults -- pardon?
CARDOZAYou unveiled a new program today for Ward 8. And I wanted to know whether any of those workforce development programs in Ward 8 would help adults who have a below basic reading and math skill level.
GRAYThey will. And I think what has been missing historically from this city, that we have paid some attention to and started to create, is a workforce development system. That has a number of elements associated with it. First of all, a workforce investment council, which we recreated, which was essentially dormant when we came in, to bring to the table those people who have a role in helping us create jobs and create opportunities especially for adults.
GRAYTo be able to take what has been a fledgling community college and turn it into what it was supposed to be, and that is not only an entity that provides associate degrees for folks, but short-term course work that would prepare people for jobs. Also, creating a workforce intermediary, which we've done. In addition to that, taking our stay schools, which are in the D.C. public school system, turning them into programs that prepare adults, not only academically, but specifically for jobs.
GRAYThat's what a workforce development system is and that is exactly what we are doing. We have focused a lot on development in this city and we have done it with intentionality. And we know it's creating jobs for people. And there are three areas in which jobs are being created, construction, information technology and hospitality. Two, if not three of those, are areas for people who have low educational attainment to be able to actually get trained and get a job.
GRAYWe started last August, the planning for the restoration of career and technical education, which used to be called vocational education, in our schools. We will be opening this August nine academies. What they will focus on will be construction, information technology, and hospitality. There has been virtually no alignment in this city historically around what people were being trained for and the jobs that were being created.
GRAYWhat this administration has done is taken control of development in this city and then worked to be able to create the jobs, and get people trained for those jobs, that are being created here in the District of Columbia. That's why our unemployment rate, in substantial part, has come from an 11.2 percent when I started office down to 8.1 percent now.
NNAMDIYou're just about out of time.
GRAYAnd I firmly believe that after four more years we'll be down to 5 percent unemployment, with intentionality, not coincidentally.
NNAMDIWell, speaking of development, Jack Evans, I noticed yesterday that -- I follow you on Twitter -- you tweeted to the actor Kevin Spacey, "We'd love to have you film 'House of Cards' in D.C. Let's talk." This was just a tweet, but there's a perception that you care more about the sexy stuff, like a TV show filming in D.C. or a new stadium project for a sports team, then you do about the less affluent residents of the city and what they're going through to make rent or find the right school for their kids. What can you say to counter that perception?
EVANSIn my 23 years on the council what I've done is revitalized our city for everyone who lives here. I've worked on the big projects, but I've also worked on the small projects. So let's talk about education. In my time on the council I was one of the leaders on the council in school modernization, in the mayor control of the schools, in supporting Chancellor Rhee and Chancellor Henderson, and in making our schools better today than they've even been.
EVANSWe still have a long way to go. In economic development I have been the leader in this city in revitalizing our city from where it was in 1991. Remember, in 1991 the District of Columbia was akin to where Detroit is today. Our downtown was largely deserted. Our finances were in chaos. And our bond rating was a "B." And our unfunded pension liability exceeded $10 billion. Today, we are the envy of every city in the country. Our finances are the best. We have $1.7 billion in our bank account. A "AAA" bond rating, and a downtown that is the envy of everywhere.
EVANSBut the downtown is not just -- we have reached out into all of the neighborhoods, creating business improvement districts, creating economic development that has helped everyone. As mayor, what I want to do is bring the prosperity that we are enjoying in the city to everyone. When we go into other wards east of the river, what I've done is introduce legislation to create business improvement districts…
EVANS…in Wards 7 and 8. And to bring the kind of retail and economic opportunities to everyone. And I'll finish with this on the jobs, when we put together the deal for the Convention Center Hotel, one of the things we mandated was that 600 jobs in that hotel, which opens up in May, will be for District residents at all levels, entry level and on up. We've had 2,000 applications.
NNAMDIYour 10 seconds are up.
EVANSIn one month, when that hotel opens up, there'll be 600 District residents working that weren't working before.
EVANSIt's exactly that type of approach that I will bring to the mayor's job to get our city working for everyone.
NNAMDIAndy Shallal, you wanted to answer the same question?
SHALLALYes. I think on the issue of gentrification -- is that what we're talking about?
NNAMDIThat's what we're talking about.
SHALLALAll right. Well, you can't really talk…
SHALLAL…about gentrification without talking about race in this city. I think that's an important element of what gentrification is and what it looks like. Everybody wants to have clean streets and safe streets and all of that. But when you talk gentrification, it means two different things to two different groups of people. I would propose to have some sort of gentrification tax relief, so that that people that have been living here don't get pushed out of their communities.
SHALLALI would like to see some more inclusionary zoning so people that can't afford to stay here, can stay here. I'd like to see public housing preserved, make it clean, make it safe so that people that have lived here, again, can stay here. Those are the issues that we're dealing when we're talking about gentrification. And we can't go around just saying that we have a "AAA" bond rating. That's wonderful, but to the…
SHALLAL…110,000 people that are living below poverty, that means absolutely nothing.
SHALLALI know it's important to make sure that we have a city that is functional, but it's important to understand who it is functioning for. And that's the key.
NNAMDIBut, Andy Shallal, I couldn't help noticing that in its editorial, the Washington Post said about you that what you seem to do is go around criticizing the very forces that caused you to be successful as you are. I infer from that that your success is a product of gentrification. How do you respond to that?
SHALLALYou know, you really can't blame businesses for gentrification. That doesn't seem fair. I think that's a government function that tried to mitigate the impact of gentrification on communities that have been here for a long time. I think the idea that I cannot speak on behalf of people that are left out, that's why I'm here in this race. It doesn't make sense to say just because I've done well, I can't speak on behalf of people that haven't. It's important for people that have done well, in fact, to be able to speak on behalf of people that haven't because they're not in this room. And that's the people that I'd like to talk about today.
SHERWOODWhile we're on this subject, Ms. Bowser's called you a rich socialist and she apologized. What did you think of that?
SHALLALWell, I'd like to ask…
SHERWOODAnd Ms. Bowser, why did you call him that?
SHALLALI'd like to ask Ms. Bowser what does she mean by rich socialist. What does she mean by socialist? Does she mean that I care about people, that I care about people that have been left out, that I care about good education, good public education, that I care about safe streets, that I care about -- her father worked in this -- he was a union organizer. He would have been called a socialist. You have to understand that the whole term of calling somebody a socialist is just -- it has many different connotations.
SHALLALI took the positive end of those connotations. So I didn't take it as an insult. I took it as someone…
SHALLAL…who cares about others.
SHERWOODWas it just a slip on your part to say that…
BOWSERWell, Andy is…
SHERWOOD…in a heated moment?
BOWSERYeah. Andy is rich and I don't fault him for that. I take pride in his success.
SHALLALAnd I've donated to your campaign.
BOWSERThank you. And he is to the left of most of us and I don't fault him for that either because I think that he has brought a much-needed perspective to this debate. So to answer your question, I mostly said it in jest when I learned that Andy had contributed $45,000 to his campaign. But I really appreciate -- though I don't agree with everything he says -- he's causing all of us to think long and hard and certainly I bring my own concerns.
BOWSERAnd what I hear from neighbors all across the District of Columbia is we love our growth. We love our prosperity, but we don't want to live in a city where young families can't afford to buy a home. We don't want to live in a city where senior citizens are getting priced out of their homes. And we don't want to live in a city where there is no pathway to the middleclass. So we -- all of us -- have to be very concerned about that. And I'll just say to a lot of people that are following Andy's campaign, that I share that concern. I share that concern. And we're going to carry it with us all the way to April 1st.
NNAMDII am reliably informed that Tom Sherwood has a question about gentrification for just about each of you. But the requirement is that the answer be short.
SHERWOODIt is a short answer, if they know it.
NNAMDIGo right ahead, Tom Sherwood, NBC 4.
SHERWOODElissa Silverman of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute wants to know whether each of the candidates believes he or she does or does not live in an affordable neighborhood.
NNAMDIStarting with you Carlos Allen.
SHERWOODAnd you can say what neighborhood it is if you like.
ALLENWell, I live in Mt. Pleasant. And I don't think that…
SHERWOODNo. No is the answer. Go ahead. Next. Ms. Bowser?
ALLENBut I'm broke, though. So…
SHERWOODOkay. All right. Well, you're holding on. Ms. Bowser?
NNAMDIYou're broke and you can afford to live in Mt. Pleasant?
BOWSERI live in Riggs Park. It's a wonderful working class neighborhood.
BOWSERIt's affordable. It's the best…
SHERWOODMr. Evans, you live in Georgetown, we'll skip you.
BOWSERLet me just say this. It's the best value…
SHERWOODWell, no. This is not a long answer. Kojo will be mad.
BOWSER…in the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODOkay. Mr. Evans, you live in Georgetown. We're going to skip you.
EVANSI live in Georgetown, which everyone knows is affordable to everyone. No. There are affordable places in every neighborhood, Tom.
SHERWOODIn Georgetown there's an affordable place?
EVANSAbsolutely. In every neighborhood.
SHERWOODWell, we'll get those after the show. Mr. Mayor?
GRAYYes. I live in an affordable neighborhood in Ward 7, right down the street from Naylor Gardens, which is a whole group of affordable apartments.
LEWISI live downtown in Mt. Vernon. No. It is not affordable.
SHERWOODOkay. Not. Mr. Orange?
LEWISBut you know what, Tom? The citizens don't care where we live. What they care about is what we're going to do for them.
SHERWOODWell, when the snow's picked up they do. And we can't have a long answer. Mr. Orange?
ORANGEI live in an affordable neighbor, Brookland.
SHERWOODWard 5, Brookland.
ORANGEWard 5, Brookland.
SHERWOODBrooklyn or Brookland?
SHERWOODNow, make sure you say it right. You live there. Mr. Shallal?
SHALLALI'm the rich socialist. I live in a non-affordable neighborhood, in Kalorama.
SHERWOODMr. Wells, from Capitol Hill, is that affordable?
WELLSWhen I was a child protection social worker and Barbara and I bought our place 25 years ago it was for us. It's not now. I wouldn't be able to afford, as a city social worker, to be able to live in my neighborhood.
NNAMDISome of our listeners are concerned about how high the cost of living and housing have become for residents at all income levels. Here's a question we received through the Public Insight Network from Holly Gerburch (sp?).
HOLLY GERBURCHAffordable housing in the District for who? That's my question. Yes, it's great to require low-income housing, squeezed in amid all the new construction. But as a working professional with a middleclass salary, I still can't afford to purchase a home in the District, without significant outside help, like loans from my parents, monetary gifts or FHA loans. Add to that, my monthly student loan repayments and I can barely afford the high cost of rent in the city. So my question is, if elected, how will you keep housing affordable for all income levels in the District?
WELLSThe number one priority for the city has to be affordable housing every time we deal with a city asset. When the mayor was looking at trading the Reeves Center for the Buzzards Point property, I said, "Okay, if we do that we've got to have affordable housing part of this deal." He said that's laughable and absurd. There was a negotiation with Wynn (sp?), that at the 50 acres at Reservation 13, over by D.C. General, that whatever we build there it should be at least 30 percent affordable housing.
WELLSAgain, Vince Gray, Jack Evans said that should be a Redskins training facility instead. It's got to be a priority. One-third of the cost of every building we build is land. We have that. It's not just the Housing Production Trust Fund, we have to be able to make this affordable for all. We have the assets to do it. It's not the priority of the city and it has a lot to do with just paying lip service, but not really putting your money and your assets and your policies to work. And for whatever reason that is that's just been not there.
MADDENI'd like to ask a question about homelessness. I know this has been one of the big issues right now. And Mayor Gray, this question is directed to you. In the wake of this unprecedented surge of homeless families into city shelters, your administration put forth what's been called a tough love plan. The city would have the ability to kick a family out of a shelter within 24 hours if social workers determined that they have some other place to go.
MADDENAs your chief of staff told The Washington Post, "If someone is doubled up in a safe situation that's determined to be appropriate, we think that is acceptable. Families have done it for generations. Immigrant families do it. It's not an unacceptable situation." Is there a homeless crisis in D.C. right now or do you think families are taking advantage of the city's right to shelter law?
GRAYWell, actually, I don't think I'd call it tough love policy. What we were trying to do was figure out how we could help families. When the families have come in they've been interviewed by our social workers. And the questions that have been asked is what led you to the situation that you're in now. And there are many occasions when somebody said, well, it was because I couldn't -- my person who owns the home or who rents the place or whatever the case may be, the utility bills went up or I wasn't contributing to the food and what not.
GRAYAnd what has been done is to get together with the family that came in and whoever it is that they were staying with and say, "All right. If the city contributes to this, can the person come back?" And in an overwhelmingly large number of instances the person has said yes. And we have contributed to that. So that's not a tough love situation. That's trying to find a way to keep people where they were, with support, until we can find a home for them. Interestingly enough, the numbers have started to come down.
GRAYWe are seeing now the numbers of families that have exited in the month of February, have exceeded now the numbers of people who came in. And what we're getting ready to do now, Patrick, is reach out to the real estate community to try to organize them in a way to make units available to us. We're also reaching out to the faith community in order to ask them to be able to provide support. One congregation work with one family. We are putting money into being able to pay the rent and other support services for folks. So I think for someone to…
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