Though one candidate called for Americans to follow Cuba’s lead and stage a communist revolution, students witnessed a more restrained debate than the Democratic primary in September when candidates for
District mayor faced off at GW Wednesday, two weeks before the general election. Despite a nearly empty auditorium, Mayor Anthony Williams debated three candidates polling in the single digits, in a forum where District statehood, education and housing took center stage.
The forum, moderated by WTOP political analyst Mark Plotkin, featured questions by a panel of three students representing DC area high schools.
D.C. Council member and Republican party candidate Carol Schwartz, Independent Tricia Kinch and Socialist Workers Party candidate Sam Manuel often ganged up against Williams, the Democratic party candidate, during the debate. Questions were taken from a panel of students in classrooms participating in the Student Voice program and from the online chat rooms hosted by Student Voices.
There were approximately 50 university and high school students in attendance because only three of the 21 schools involved in the program allowed students to attend the event due to safety concerns after the sniper killings in the area.
Washington D.C. Student Voices and the School of Media and Public Affairs sponsored the mayor’s forum. Student Voices aims to engage youth in civic and local politics and includes approximately 600 students in 212 public, private, and parochial schools throughout the District.
The D.C. statehood debate took center stage during the debate. Though D.C. elects a delegate to Congress, they lack a vote in Congress. Both Kinch and Manuel stated support for full statehood.
Mayor Williams and Councilwoman Schwartz stopped short of support for DC statehood, but both favored full District representation in the House of Representatives and in the Senate.
“It is an abomination in this great democracy of ours that the citizens of D.C. have no right to vote,” Schwartz said.
Williams said he would work to “raise funds for national political action like other interest groups” in his effort to secure representation for the District in Congress, and supported “full voting rights for Eleanor Holmes Norton (the District’s non-voting representative) and two senators.”
The debate also included numerous criticisms of the Mayor’s record, including a primary ballot controversy this summer, when the Williams campaign was found guilty of forging signatures on nominating forms.
Councilwoman Schwartz also raised the issue of the Mayor’s ethics.
“This Mayor has ethical problems, he has been fined three times by the Supervisory Boards of Elections and Ethics,” Schwartz said.
Criticizing alleged cronyism during the Mayor’s term, specifically in the closure of DC General hospital, Schwartz said, “this mayor makes Marion Barry look like a piker when it comes to bloated bureaucracy.”
While the moderator’s questions often led to political rancor, student questions regarding increasing drug use and education often brought the candidates back to the issues.
When asked their positions on Iraq and the Bush resolution, all candidates said they were not familiar enough with the details of the issue. Manuel and Kinch were opposed while Schwartz and Williams were both in support of the resolution.
“I generally agree (with the resolution), Iraq represents a threat generally to our country, Bush should have flexibility,” Williams said.
Students in the audience said they were interested to hear the candidates speak at the debate and some said Schwartz impressed them.
“I would vote for Ms. Schwartz,” said Quinton Lewis, a 12th grader at Anacostia Senior High School. “The mayor looked nervous and always had his hands over his mouth.”
“I think the forum was interesting and dealt with many issues, and I would like to be a part of this event again,” said Nathaniel Carter, a twelfth grader at the Integrated Design and Electronics Academy. Carter also said he believed Schwartz had performed the best in the debate.
The candidate forum was taped and will be broadcast on NewsChannel 8 at 10:00 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 19.