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D.C. Council Hopefuls Debate City's Future

James Wright | 12/21/2010, 3:15 p.m.
Candidates vying for the D.C. Council seat that's currently held by Council member Kwame Brown...
Former D.C. Council member Vincent Orange participated in a candidates' forum for the temporary at-large seat on the Council on Thu., Dec. 16 with six of his rivals Photo by Victor Holt

Candidates vying for the D.C. Council seat that's currently held by Council member Kwame Brown (D-At-Large) recently made their case as to why they should occupy Brown's seat before the public and members of the District of Columbia Democratic State Committee - the body that will ultimately make the final decision. Brown, 40, was elected to be the chairman of the D.C. Council on Tue., Nov. 2 and the D.C. State Committee will select his successor on Thu., Jan. 6.

The candidates who participated included Vincent Orange, Sekou Biddle, Dorothy Douglas, Calvin Gurley, Kelvin Robinson, Saul Soloranzo and Stanley Mayes. Each presented their positions before a crowd of 100 on Thu., Dec. 16 at the Old Council Chambers in the Judiciary Square Building in Northwest. The event was moderated by noted journalist Bruce DePuyt.

"I am asking for your support on Jan. 6 to return to the Council," said Orange, who served on the city's legislative body from 1999-2007.
"I will bring to the Council skill sets in finance, working on education reform, supporting economic development and pushing for job opportunities for D.C. residents. I want to bring a good quality of life for the residents of the nation's capital."

Biddle, a Ward 4 member of the D.C. Board of Education, said that he sees the city in a positive light and wants to help it be all that it can be.

"I am a product of all of the things that are right in the District," Biddle, 39, said. "My work and service to this community are relentless."

Biddle's colleague on the Board of Education, Douglas, who represents Ward 7, said that if she is selected, she will "serve the people and do the best I can."

Ward One political activist Stanley Mayes said that if he is selected to the D.C. Council, he will be a leader that "separates talkers from doers." Kelvin Robinson, a former chief of staff to D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, said that job creation and fixing the city's budget will be his focus if selected.

Soloranzo, executive director of the Central American Resource Center in Northwest, said that he will work to create affordable housing in the city and will work "easily with his fellow council members and the mayor."

When asked about education reform, all of the candidates agreed that the city's school system requires change. Mayes, 60, said that the term should not be education reform rather it should be "educational improvement." He said that the school system should embrace technological innovations and make sure that its buildings are "safe and clean for our kids."

Gurley said that Hardy Middle School in Northwest should have a full-time principal and there should be programs for high school dropouts. Orange, 53, embraced D.C. Mayor-elect Vincent Gray's pre-Kindergarten initiative.

All of the candidates agreed that job creation remains a top priority. Biddle said that there is a significant skills gap with D.C. residents because the city has a 36 percent adult illiteracy rate and those individuals "may not be ready for jobs."

Orange said that the city needs a "jobs czar" and those developers and others who want to do business with the city should have a jobs plan for hiring D.C. residents. Robinson, 49, said that the city's first source agreement, which mandates that D.C. residents get the majority of jobs for any new project to be constructed in the District, should be enforced more vigorously.

The city's projected $440 million deficit for fiscal year 2012 was also discussed. Mayes said that the city should work to get out of the financial crisis slowly and work to bring jobs that generate tax revenue to the District.

Orange suggested that a Revenue Commission, consisting of Brooking Institute scholar and former vice chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Alice Rivlin and former Mayor Anthony Williams, be created to look at the city budget and make recommendations to Gray and the Council on what needs to be done to equitably balance the budget.

The D.C. Board of Elections recently determined that the date of the special election to permanently fill Brown's seat will be held on Tue., April 26, 2011.

Lenwood Johnson, a resident of Ward One, said that Orange was the candidate that impressed him the most.

"I think he is a great guy," Johnson, 50, said.

"He is a member of the D.C. State Committee and that is important to me and I think he is the man for the job." WI