Seven candidates for the D.C. councilmember at-large position vied for the support of students Saturday at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, telling those in attendance how they would work to address issues facing college students and youth in the District.
Democratic candidates Sekou Biddle, Tom Brown, Joshua Lopez, Dorothy Douglas, Bryan Weaver, Statehood Green Party candidate Alan Page, and Republican Patrick Mara took questions from students before an audience of about 70 people. Candidate Vincent Orange had a seat at the forum, but wasn’t present.
The forum was hosted by DC Students Speak, an organization started by Georgetown University students, which advocates for students District-wide and attempts to overcome the underrepresentation of students in city government.
Scott Stirrett, chair of DCSS, told the candidates how discontent college students feel with the new Disorderly Conduct Amendment Act of 2010, which makes it unlawful for someone to make an “unreasonably loud noise” between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. that “is likely to annoy or disturb one or more other persons in their residences.”
DCSS member Ricky Garza, 20, said disobeying the ordinance could result in arrest or even incarceration at the officer’s discretion. Garza advocates less ambiguous rules regarding noise levels, such as setting a specific decibel level for what constitutes “unreasonably loud noise.”
Biddle – appointed as an interim at-large councilmember in January after Kwame Brown became Council chair – acknowledged that the ordinance is mainly “directed at how we address the behavior of students.” Most of the candidates were in agreement on this issue, proposing student task forces and better communication between government, students and residents to address the issue.
Jake Sticka, a commissioner for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2E and a Georgetown University sophomore, voiced concern over a possible ban on off-campus housing for college students through campus plans.
Currently Georgetown and American universities are debating proposed campus plans with local residents.
Some candidates like Page, who wants to ensure budget cuts don’t disproportionately affect poorer residents and education initiatives, said the issue was extremely complicated. Another candidate, Douglas, had a simple solution: “You can come move to my house if y’all don’t have nowhere to stay,” she said.
Regarding a question about the lack of student engagement in D.C. politics, Weaver – whose platform includes youth engagement initiatives with D.C. high school students – said the problem of voter apathy doesn’t surprise him at all, but that this is changing.
“We’re moving away from a system that fails students at every level of government,” Weaver said.
After the forum, YouthPAC members voted for their favorite candidates by ballot. The group, a co-sponsor of the event, is a Washington area youth-based political action organization with more than 90 members represented throughout the District.
Weaver won with 15 out of 21 votes, becoming the candidate symbolically endorsed by the organization.
“Weaver was clearly the young person’s candidate in this race,” said 18-year-old Markus Batchelor, founder and director of YouthPAC.
“He is committed to youth empowerment and is energetic in person,” Batchelor said.
More than anything, Batchelor said it felt very good to know that the candidates cared enough to come to the forum.
Ryan Ashley, the communications director for event co-sponsor D.C. Federation of College Democrats as well as for GW’s College Democrats, said the event was a success.
“This is, as far as I know, the first time an event like this has happened,” Ashley said.
The special at-large election is slated for April 26.