On Monday evening, four DC Council At-Large Candidates participated in a forum at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) put on by the Ward 6 Democrats.
Moderated by Harry Jaffe, candidates responded to questions from attendees as well as from Jaffe. It was a way to discuss their position on key issues before voters take to the polls June 21.
Current incumbent Anita Bonds (D-At Large) as well as candidates Nate Fleming, Lisa Gore and Dexter Williams appeared. The session paid special attention to issues around crime and affordable housing.
A Solution to Crime
The District’s uptick in crime has brought this issue to the forefront of the community’s minds, candidates say. The four discussed the heavily debated issue of increasing the number of police officers on the streets as a solution.
Incumbent Bonds said she supports increasing the number and visibility of officers on the streets to help the community feel safer. She emphasized that the community wants additional police support.
“I really agree that we need to see more officers on the street,” Bonds said. “People feel comfortable when they see an officer there, and we just don’t have officers that have community service as requested.”
Williams addressed the importance of identifying and addressing the root causes of crime in the District rather than adding uniformed officers to the streets.
“We have to invest in causes, Williams said. “I don’t think increasing the number of police officers is actually going to solve crime, it gives us a false sense of security.”
Fleming echoed Williams’ call for addressing the root causes of crime and advocated for the implementation of programming during the entire year, including universal after school programs, to help youth.
“It is a reflection of our young people being in crisis and we have to address that issue both in the short term by improving community and police relations, and in the long term by addressing issues like the lack of educational opportunity to receive more economic opportunity and expanding mental health care.”
Gore, a former law enforcement manager, spoke about the importance of law enforcement to this issue but said there is not a set number of officers who will make the city safer. Gore said if elected, she would allow for MPD resources, but that she would take action “with greater oversight in terms of actually what they need.”
Gore spoke about her experience working as a federal special agent in housing and financial fraud, and emphasized the importance of affordable housing in preventing homelessness.
“The primary issue with this homelessness is the affordability issue,” Gore said. “…So this is an affordable housing crisis that is escalating into homelessness.”
Williams also acknowledged the need for increased affordable housing in the District as prices have continued to rise.
“I have friends who maintain a high six-figure income they can not afford to live in this city,” Williams said. “So I think it gives us an opportunity to build more workforce housing and, as a Councilmember, to advocate for more funding so that we can make those strategic investments.”
Fleming emphasized the need to make affordable housing a “priority” in the District and said that unconventional and creative problem solving could be the solution.
“We have the least affordable housing market in the country, we have the highest rate of black displacement in the country, we have the largest achievement gap between black and white students, public safety, crime is on the rise,” Fleming said. “So we need creative leadership that can work to solve these problems.”
Bonds, currently the Chairperson on the Committee on Housing and Executive Administration spoke about the progress made and the work still to be done on affordable housing in the District. Of note, Bonds said the Council is researching the public housing waitlist to see which families have already been assisted and the work that still needs to be done. While there are upwards of 39,000 people who have been added to the list over the years, Bonds said it is not updated. The incumbent said the District thinks it likely that many have had their needs met in the time that has elapsed since they were added.
About 30 community members attended in-person in addition to more than 150 who attended the meeting virtually via Facebook Live.
The weekly candidate forum series will continue through the month of May. Each event will take place at the Hill Center (921 Pennsylvania Ave SE) from 7-9 p.m. and is streamed live here. May 9 will feature candidates for Attorney General, May 16 will feature candidates for DC Council Chair and May 23 will feature Mayoral candidates.
Missed it? You can watch the conversation on the Hill Center website now!
Sarah Payne is a general assignment reporter for Capital Community News. She can be reached at email@example.com.
An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of moderator Harry Jaffe. The Hill Rag regrets the error.