D.C. Council members covered a wide range of issues during a sometimes contentious gathering with District residents at a popular hangout, just steps away from a revitalized U Street.
Busboys and Poets, a Northwest-based restaurant and bar, served as the venue for a forum on the problems that the city faces on Sunday, September 9. Among the topics thrashed out were term limits, economic development east of the Anacostia River and campaign finance.
D.C. Council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Vincent Orange (D-At Large), Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Michael Brown (I-At Large) expressed their views during the two-hour event. The media panel was comprised of Denise Rolark Barnes, the publisher of The Washington Informer, along with Lou Chibbaro Jr., of the Washington Blade, Gloria Minot of WPFW-FM and Sam Jeweler of DC Mic Check. Political activist Nick McCoy acted as the moderator.
"We are here to find out how our elected officials have served us," McCoy, 36, said before dozens of people in a packed room. "Are they concerned about what is going on in Wards 4 and 6? Do they know what is happening in Wards 7 and 8?"
When the question of term limits came up, D.C. Council members defended their positions and why they deserve another four years in the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest.
"I was not on the D.C. Council when the people of the District voted for term limits and the council ignored the recommendations of the people," said Brown, 47. "However, I will put up my record against anyone who has served the length of time that I have. I support affordable housing and I want to make this city family-friendly and business-friendly."
Mendelson, Evans, and Bowser said that they don't support term limits but Bowser added that she would respect the wishes of the residents. Wells said that "when the people vote for something, they should support it."
Wells, 55, is not on the ballot in November, but, like Brown, Mendelson, Evans, and Bowser defended their reasons for running in November, citing their accomplishments while District lawmakers.
Economic development east of the Anacostia River emerged as a major topic. All of the council members supported it and articulated various methods of achieving that goal.
"We need to make sure that we have residents that connect to jobs," said Orange, 55. "You have 20 percent unemployment in Ward 8 and 15 percent unemployment in Ward 7. The economic development projects in the city are east of the river."
Brown said that economic development "east of the river must be responsible."
"Most of the city's economic development projects are east of the river and we need to make sure that when the projects come, those residents don't leave because they cannot afford to live there," he said.
Bowser, who is a District representative on the board of the Washington region's transit agency, said that stations in eastern Washington need to be developed.
"If you look at where we are now, [in Northwest], this is because of a metro station," she said. "We can do the same for the Congress Heights and Deanwood Metro Stations, which is to use them for economic development."
Evans, 58, said that tools such as tax incentives and grants can be used to develop eastern Washington "the same way other parts of the city have been developed."
The advent of Walmart in the city also emerged as another hot topic of discussion. Bowser and Alexander made it clear that they were "not cheerleaders" for the nation's largest retailer.
Orange said that Walmart has given the nod to a community benefits agreement "so that people can be paid good wages and women cannot be discriminated against."
However, tensions surfaced on several issues. Some members of the audience expressed displeasure when all D.C. Council members except Wells expressed support for corporate donations in city campaigns.
Alexander, 50, responded harshly when an audience member accused her of lying when she said that she "was not a cheerleader" for Walmart.
"That's someone with an asinine opinion," she shot back.
Randall Brown, 36 who lives in Northeast said that the forum "was a good start."
"We need to follow this up and where is the accountability for this dialogue?"
McCoy encouraged members of the audience to follow him on social media and to get involved in the city's civic life.
"Take what you heard tonight back to your communities," he said. "Teach a neighbor and teach a youth about getting involved. We are stronger when we have numbers and we are able to do things."