The five candidates running for the D.C. democratic nomination for mayor fielded questions from journalists and residents before a full auditorium at the University of the District of Columbia Wednesday night during the first of many forums to come before next year’s primary.
Sponsored by the D.C. Bar Association, the event allowed the candidates to take a stance on key city issues such as affordable housing, the public school system and taxation without Congressional representation.
The candidates attending Wednesday included D.C. City Council Chair Linda Cropp, Councilmember Adrian Fenty, Councilmember Vincent Orange, lobbyist Michael Brown and former Verizon executive Marie Johns. Current Mayor Anthony Williams announced he will not be running for re-election this past September.
Journalist Mark Plotkin, an alumnus with WTOP Radio, focused on how previous mayors had unsuccessfully pushed for representation in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. He asked candidates how each plans on pursuing the issue. Cropp pushed her experience regarding the issue through her work on the council.
“I’ll continue to fight the fight until we get full voting rights representation,” Cropp said, mentioning how she has worked with the issue in the D.C. Supreme Court. “I fully support the District of Columbia having two voting representatives and to have a Senator.”
Health care and building a new general hospital within the District were also debated by the candidates. Williams’ administration has proposed a new 250-bed hospital in Southeast Washington but is behind deadline in the planning process. Williams’ administration closed D.C. General Hospital in 2001 and has been criticized for failing to greatly improve the health care situation among the district’s lowest income residents.
“I know that we have health care disparities that rival Haiti,” Johns said. “As a city, we have got to figure out the need to develop a seamless system of primary care so that we can bring our citizens to help and avoid the health disparities that we find. That’s the most important thing facing our city right now.”
A question from the audience regarding city funds going toward the construction of a new baseball stadium for the Nationals in Southeast received a lively response from the crowd. While Johns said that the mayor should use revenue from the team and future stadium to build a better city, Fenty said he disagrees with the stadium’s financing altogether. He said the stadium, which is going to be publicly funded essentially takes public funds from the impoverished public school system.
“The simple answer here is that we are subsidizing a baseball stadium for multimillionaires who could pay for it themselves,” Fenty said to a large round of applause. “It is a travesty that (the government’s) priorities have a baseball stadium anywhere ahead of (other issues).”
Fenty and Cropp appeared to have the greatest number of supporters in the crowd, with Cropp being regarded for her experience and Fenty regarded for his youth and enthusiasm behind his positions. Brown focused on his proposal to rejuvenate the city but was frequently lightly laughed at by the crowd, who did not appear to take him as a serious contender for mayor.
When Tom Sherwood of NBC4 asked Fenty to name the three major bond rating agencies that the District has to get approval from twice a year in order to bonds for financing projects, Fenty was only able to name one, allowing Cropp to seize the moment to display her familiarity with the city.
“Our bond ratings are Moody’s, Finch, and Standards & Poor’s, and I have gone to Wall Street the past seven years,” Cropp said, emphasizing her experience.
The District usually votes overwhelmingly Democratic in elections, and in 2002 Williams received 60 percent of the vote while Republican contender Carol Schwartz, currently a council member, received 34 percent. A Republican candidate has not yet been announced. The primary will be held in September 2006.