Alumnus battles for council seat

by Danielle Telson

Alumnus Max Skolnik, right, greets Ward 4 resident Gregory Alston as he canvasses Saturday afternoon in the Takoma neighborhood for a seat on the D.C. Council.
Media Credit: Shannon Brown | Hatchet Photographer
Alumnus Max Skolnik, right, greets Ward 4 resident Gregory Alston as he canvasses Saturday afternoon in the Takoma neighborhood for a seat on the D.C. Council.

It’s been a decade since alumnus Max Skolnik left the University, but his passion for education has not let up.

As a Democratic candidate for a seat on the D.C. Council representing Ward 4 – the northernmost part of the city, including Fort Totten, Petworth and Takoma – Skolnik hopes to have a hand in mending the city’s struggling school system if voters usher him through April’s primary election.

“I just believe in my heart, with every fiber of my being, that unless we get this right, unless we fix this educational challenge, honestly we will never be a great city again,” the 2002 Elliott School of International Affairs graduate said.

A recent report commissioned by Mayor Vincent Gray’s office and released Jan. 26 recommended the shutdown or turnaround of three dozen public schools citywide. It also found that 67 percent of students within D.C.’s public school system live in households with incomes that fall under the federal poverty line.

“To me, it’s not fair that you have to win a lottery to put your kids in a charter school, or you have to win the real lottery to put your kids in private school,” Skolnik said. “Real folks don’t have access to high quality public education.”

Skolnik is campaigning on a platform of fixing the city’s schools so that they offer “all the needs of a child from cradle to career,” by adding a year-round youth employment program, increasing anti-bullying efforts and enhancing the quality of after-care programs. He points to his experience at Kid Power, a D.C. nonprofit he founded upon graduation to boost literacy rates, as a testament of his leadership on youth issues.

Kid Power also includes a “CookieTime” bakery operated by middle school students in a partnership with the bakery chain CakeLove to help them gain financial and food preparation skills. A “VeggieTime” program focuses on nutrition and urban gardening.

After spending a portion of his childhood living in Mexico, Skolnik came to GW to indulge his fascination with the Spanish language and Latin American history and culture. He also spent a summer during his college years in Chile.

"I was intensely interested in the ways that countries heal after dictatorships," Skolnik said, adding that GW was an "amazing place to conduct this research."

His drive to champion youth issues took root during a service trip to Cuba, where he helped children develop original plays from scratch, while studying at the University.

“I came back to the States totally mesmerized and just totally knew that this was my passion and this is what I wanted to do with my life,” Skolnik said, adding that GW prepared him for that route by reinforcing traits like discipline, patience and compassion in his work.

He served on the Southwest Waterfront Advisory Neighborhood Commission from 2004 to 2008 and now sits on the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, a coalition to promote youth development.

The New York native said, during his time in local politics, he noticed serious flaws with education and ethics in city government.

“I’ve run an organization. I know what it’s like to be a small businessperson. I know what it’s like to make payroll,” Skolnik said. “I understand those concerns from a development perspective.”

While incumbent Muriel Bowser has the home-field advantage, Skolnik said he “knew it was going to be a battle” and is running a “very smart campaign and a very professional campaign.” Bowser has held the council seat since 2007.

Skolnik backed a recent proposal to offer voters a ballot initiative in November to ban corporate contributions to city political campaigns, charging that Bowser’s camp accepts funds from business developers and he would not.

The alumnus earned an endorsement from the GW College Democrats, who organized an event to knock on doors Saturday on his behalf. The group’s communications director Shiah Shahmohammadi, said the CDs have not endorsed any other city candidates this year.

“We’ve made a decision to focus solely on Max’s campaign to maximize our impact on that race,” Shahmohammadi said.

Skolnik, who said he was humbled by the endorsement, attributes his commitment to the community to his growth at GW.

“I just learned so much about who I was, and my place in the world and what I was excited about,” he said. “My time at GW really kind of defined me in a really profound way, and in the process, I fell in love with D.C. as well.”

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