Since the Ward 5 Council seat became vacant in January, a throng of challenges have jostled for ascendency to the coveted position.
At least two of the frontrunners and a number of others in the race fall solidly into the Gen X and Gen Y categories.
But supporters of local businessman Frank Wilds are adamant in their contention that Ward 5 needs someone with age and experience to move it forward. During a May 2 press conference in Brookland in Northeast, a coterie of supporters from the ward and elsewhere welcomed the presence of an adult into the race.
"Sometimes you need to send a man to do a man's job," said Frank Smith, a friend of Wilds and his wife Vivian for more than 40 years. "I think Ward 5 is in that position right now. We need someone with seasoning and who knows what's wanted and needed in the ward. I wanted to say this openly and publicly. He has passion and desire. He is working hard and he'll keep working hard."
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Grace Smith agreed.
"This is not the place for on-the-job training," she said. "Frank has the smarts, wisdom, business acumen and savvy. He is a fighter and a caring human being and embodies all the characteristics needed to be a councilmember. He will do without asking. He didn't just change to run for a ward council seat. He's been here and he's the person we need."
Wilds, 67, is among 11 candidates vying for the seat vacated by disgraced Councilmember Harry L. Thomas, Jr., who a federal judge sentenced to 38 months in jail on May 3. Thomas, 51, pled guilty to stealing at least $353,500 and filing a false tax return.
In the weeks leading up to the May 15 Ward 5 special election, Wilds ratcheted up his efforts to reach as many residents as he can before Election Day.
It's not that he has been frittering away the time. The businessman is on a mission and has already been out on the hustings. He spends three-to-four hours a day crisscrossing one or more of the ward's 18 precincts knocking on doors, meeting and chatting with residents, and explaining what he and his campaign stand for. Wilds said he's lost 20 pounds since January because of all the walking, but said he's an old-fashioned guy willing to do the legwork necessary to win the seat on the D.C. Council.
Smith, director of The African American Civil War Museum in Northwest and a former D.C. councilmember, represents the core of the city's old guard which one campaign staffer said epitomizes the "depth, breadth and scope" of Wilds' support.
In addition to Wilds supporters, others at the press conference included residents, Howard University students and campaign workers. Longtime friends such as Norm Neverson, former chairman of the D.C. Democratic Party; former Councilmember and lawyerJohn Ray; Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Shirley R. Smith; Timothy Thomas and Joseph Bowser, father of Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser, attended the press conference.
"I'm running because we need change. We need a grown up in the job," Wilds said during the press conference. "The main issues we need to address are jobs, education and economic development. If we come together on May 15, we will go further and higher in development and in changes that we need in the ward."
"There is so much corruption [on the D.C. Council] and division. People have lost faith in their leaders. I don't mind working. I'll roll up my sleeves. I will work for this community. My broad experience and my involvement in the ward can bring healing and bring the ward together. I have the experience. [The other candidates] have not evolved in this community like I have."
Timothy Thomas was dismissive of Wilds' youthful challengers who include Kenyan McDuffie, 37, Drew Hubbard, 34, and Delano Hunter, 28.
"The majority of the candidates who're running are just looking for a job," he said. "These guys [have] just come out of the woodwork. All these characters, man. Frank is being supported by longtime Ward 5 residents. His supporters are hardcore. You see the signs. People don't know Delano Hunter. We've never seen him before. And all his supporters are from Baltimore. He's like Sulaimon Brown. How do you leave Nike to work at Edgewood Recreation Center? We're done with the young boys, the Kwame Browns."
Wilds is proud of his independent streak and noted that while some of his opponents have racked up endorsements from unions and other organizations, his support comes from people, from a number of advisory neighborhood commissioners and civic associations.
"I'm a businessman and too independent to get union and organizational support," he said with a laugh.
Wilds acknowledged that he has $45,000 left to spend in the final days of the campaign.
His supporters spoke glowingly of his work and contributions in the ward for more than 30 years. He's been a mentor at Bunker Hill Elementary School since his daughter went to school there, he is a supporter at several schools providing money and resources, and he spends thousands of dollars of his own money each year for scholarship funds for young people trying to get to college, they said.
"This is a special day for me. It is a privilege for me to be here with all the ward leaders," said D.C. School Board Member Mark Jones. "This man has worked so hard. You don't have to ask Frank Wilds twice. If a school needs water, he's there. When we had a book bag giveaway on Rhode Island Avenue, he was there. He spends his money and his time ... I can't imagine anyone other than Frank Wilds as Ward 5 councilmember."
"We cannot put our future in the hands of someone who doesn't have us in mind. He's a fighter, and even more, he's sincere."
At Wilds' campaign headquarters in Northeast, a Ward 5 map divided by precinct illustrated the travels by Wilds and his campaign staff across the ward with dozens of push pins filling the map.
"We walked five hours yesterday," Wilds said, pulling the waistband of his trousers to show how much weight he's lost. "I have plenty of energy. I believe in old-fashion politics, going door-to-door and asking for their vote. I enjoy that; that's the key."
"People say I'm the first [candidate] to come to their door. We usually campaign six days a week, and go to church on Sunday. That's been my success and that will lead me to victory. The way I run my business is the way I'll serve."
Wilds has been a small business owner for the past 25 years. He is the founder of Metropolitan Service and Maintenance Corporation which is based in Baltimore. His staff of seven services and maintains bus stops around the city.
Dealing with the highs and lows, the good times and the vagaries of being a small business owner makes him eminently suited to create the type of legislation, rules and regulations to help small businesses in his ward, he said.
Wilds born in South Carolina, said he is intimately familiar with the diversity of the ward and the competing demands of various constituencies. Among the most pressing ward issues are education, jobs, affordable housing, economic development and the effects of the ward's changing demographics, he said. He spoke of creating an environment for a vibrant arts and culture scene and a children's museum, anchored by apartments, supermarkets and other retail establishments.
Wilds said the Rhode Island Avenue corridor has great potential, adding that government agencies could be the hub for economic development similar to that seen on 14th and U Street and elsewhere.
"I've been talking about creating an incubator – a place where we have spaces with computers, call centers, all that type of stuff," he said. "I see us bringing the ward together. It's changed because of gentrification. They're here, they're not leaving. The biggest crisis is education – we don't have a middle school in Ward 5. I'll make sure they have the money and resources."
"We also need jobs – well-paying jobs and strong companies to come to the ward. But we have to prepare young people. We have the buildings and the space. We can't just train them and turn them loose."