Kenyan McDuffie Embodies Hopes of Ward 5

Barrington M. Salmon | 3/22/2012, 2:39 p.m.

"We've had pockets of people struggling here to make ends meet. People are starving for jobs," he said. "Economic development has taken off in other parts of the city but not here ... the demographics are changing. The majority of the ward is black but there has been an increase in the number of Latinos and white residents. The concerns of some [black] residents aren't displaced, they are real but we need someone who will look at what makes us similar."

"We have to shift the conversation. Folks want a quality education for their kids, affordable housing for teachers, firefighters and those in construction who can't live in the places where they work."

Some of his experiences as a young man make him acutely aware of what regular folks go through.

He recalls getting "that good government job" at 19 as a postal carrier, made decent money and was the pride and envy of others in his neighborhood. He didn't apply to any colleges or universities when he graduated from high school but at his mother's insistence, he signed up to go to the University of the District of Columbia. He took two classes, earning an F in one and withdrawing from the other.

"Both of my brothers went to college and dropped out. They had better grades than I did so I never bothered to apply," he said. "So I got a job selling ice cream at the zoo. When I went back, I was more focused, more mature and goal-oriented and graduated in the top five percent of my class at Howard University."

McDuffie said there are thorny questions surrounding growth in the ward and decisions that must be made about how best to balance development, green space, density and related environmental issues. He also identified crime, healthy food options, financial literacy and transparency, securing jobs and creating an environment where small businesses can thrive and grow, as among the key issues with which the Ward 5 representative must wrestle.

McDuffie said his prior experience makes him eminently well-suited to the council job.

He worked as a legislative staffer to Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, served as a trial lawyer for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice where he enforced civil rights laws while overseeing and monitoring states and other institutions to ensure the rights of the elderly, the mentally ill, nursing home residents and people with disabilities.

While he respects McDuffie for his talent and ties to the community, longtime Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Bob King said whatever McDuffie brings to the table pales in comparison to Delano Hunter.

"Delano has the best organization, he's raised the most money and he has perhaps the best vision of the ward among anybody running," King said. "His is pound-for-pound, the heavyweight champion of Ward 5."

King, the longest serving elected official in the District of Columbia, said the problems his ward faces needs a unique person to turn it around.

"You say someone is good, better, best. Some of the candidates are good, some are better, but when you get Delano, you have the best," he said. "I think he is beyond reproach. We need someone who will help to restore sanity. You have to put in someone you trust, someone who will pay the piper. You need someone who will respond to his constituents. Delano will not forget where he's from."