McDuffie Engages Ward 5
While many of his colleagues on the D.C. Council are vacationing, attending parties and fundraisers, D.C. Council member Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) has his nose to the grindstone. To date, he's hosted seven community engagement forums in his ward in an attempt to find out what's on the minds of his constituents.
"I understand how difficult it is to make a trip to the [John A.] Wilson Building, particularly for our senior citizens and residents with disabilities," said McDuffie, 36. "That is why it is so important for me to take my office to the community, creating an opportunity for my constituents to voice their concerns."
McDuffie, the newest member of the District's legislative body, defeated a number of candidates in the May 15 special election to replace former D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr., who resigned earlier this year because of matters regarding past criminal conduct.
The rookie lawmaker presided over a forum on Monday, August 6 at the Community Academy Public Charter Schools in Northwest, with a mere four constituents in attendance. Unfazed by the low turnout, McDuffie talked about a topic that's near and dear to many constituents' hearts: District youth.
Kathy Davis, who said that she's lived on P Street in Northwest near Dunbar Senior High School for 32 years, noted that the behavior of "our young people has gotten worse."
"We need our schools to teach these young people to be productive," she said.
"Our kids want things to do without getting into illegal activities," he said. "An idle mind is the devil's workshop. I came up through the Boys & Girls Clubs [of America] and the things that I learned there helped me to become the person that I am today."
McDuffie said that he's "a huge proponent of recreation centers, libraries and parks." He said that he is "excited" about the newly-remodeled New York Avenue playground in Northwest – that opened on Wednesday, August 8, with D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and other city officials in attendance – and that "it would give children the opportunity to engage in meaningful activities."
"It is my job as the council member for the ward to see that the kids have the resources they need," he said.
Davis said that the city's response to the recent flooding in her neighborhood remains a concern. McDuffie said that he could relate to her experience.
"I went out of town and came back home and found a part of my house [had also flooded]," he said. "People have to remember that during that time, we had three storms in nine days. It was not the sewer water that caused the flood, but the water from the previous storms [that had] backed up."
McDuffie said that he's consulted with D.C. water officials on what needs to be done to prevent further flooding.
Chuck Thies, a District political analyst, said that McDuffie is "doing exactly what he should be doing" by holding the community engagement forums.
"He is rolling up his sleeves and doing constituent work," said Thies, 47. "He is a fresh face and he does not need to get messed up in what is going on in city hall. There are far too many land mines there."
Initiative 70 Isn't Dead
Initiative 70, which would ban direct corporate contributions to candidates in city elections suffered a blow recently, but proponents vow that they will continue to work to get it on the November 6 general election ballot.
The D.C. Board of Elections on Wednesday, August 8 ruled that D.C. Public Trust, the citizen-driven organization, that supports Initiative 70 – did not turn in the required 23,299 signatures that must be obtained from five of the city's wards to get on the general election ballot. The board ruled that D.C. Public Trust submitted 21,572 valid signatures, 1,727 short of what's required and that the five percent threshold is only in four of the city's eight wards.
"We remain confident that we have the valid number of signatures, and if we feel we have legal grounds we will ask the D.C. Superior Court to review the board's determination," said Bryan Weaver, a former Ward 1 advisory neighborhood commissioner who filed the initiative with the elections board.
"We have a very motivated group of volunteers who are ready to review the signatures the board determined invalid and work to validate them. D.C. residents want this effort to move forward."
Sylvia Brown, who is an initiative leader, said that the group will review the signatures that are being challenged based on the address of the signer and go before the elections board again on August 20.
Weaver said that address problems on election petitions aren't unusual. He said that this is "a problem that plagues voter rolls nationwide and their voices [D.C. signers] are not being heard."
"If a [political] candidate's petitions are challenged, they have 10-days to collect change of address forms from voters," he said. "Initiative signees are not afforded that same opportunity. Nevertheless, we look forward to seeing Initiative 70 on the November 6 general election ballot."