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Ward 5 Candidates Debate at New Samaritan

Joy Freeman | 5/1/2012, 10:01 p.m.

"This is a chance for the church and the community to get together and raise relevant issues as we elect a new Ward 5 council member," Kelsey said.

Currently, there are 11 candidates - including one Republican and an independent along with front-runners Delano Hunter, Kenyan McDuffie and Frank Wilds - who are vying for the hotly contested Ward 5 council seat.

During the debate, candidates fielded questions about education and training; public safety, government operations, economic and workforce development; health and human services; affordable housing, including keeping seniors in their homes; the alarming HIV/AIDS rate in D.C.; and parking for individuals who attend local churches in the District on Sundays.

Hubbard, 34, said that he would support a strong elected school board which would be fully active, and held accountable. "I would put the authority back in the hands of the school board," he said.

Gardner stressed her belief in strong neighborhood public schools and in shoring up elementary school education. "Learning is a lifelong process that will keep D.C. residents competitive. I would fight for federally-mandated public charter schools to have the right of first refusal for any public school building that is being sold by the city," she said.

Zapata weighed in.

"I support a school board that has power. I identified the middle school crisis in Ward 5 and successfully negotiated to have two middle schools brought back to Ward 5. D.C. Public Schools are not on an even playing field with charter schools, as charter schools can pick and

choose their students and D.C. Public Schools cannot," said Zapata, 61.

All of the candidates opposed closing Spingarn Senior High School in Northeast, along with any notion of defacing its front yard for streetcar related construction.

In addressing AIDs in the District, Henderson endorsed a unique approach of providing mental health services to impacted communities.

"I would have the Department of Mental Health take a more proactive role to talking to the community about the virus, negative mental health indicators, and risky behavior," Henderson said.

Hubbard argued that he would "maximize the resources we have by utilizing home-grown health personnel to provide care and combat the virus. Health care is one of the biggest industries in D.C."

Candidates also tackled the controversial marijuana dispensaries. In 1998, 69 percent of District voters overwhelmingly approved an

initiative legalizing medical marijuana; however, today, it remains a divisive issue in Ward 5 where the majority of growth sites are slated to be located.

Henderson, who has a background in biology, adamantly opposes marijuana legalization. "There is no scientifically proven medicinal purpose for marijuana," Henderson said.

However, Hubbard appeared more open on the issue. "Ward 5 residents should have been included in the planning process. We need real information about medical marijuana. I am supportive of licensed distribution centers for the ill being capped to one in the ward," he

said.