McDuffie speaks to Ward 5 residents. Image from video by Tom Bridge.

With a special election for the Ward 5 seat on the DC Council coming up on May 15, the candidates are hot to deliver their messages and woo voters. Kenyan McDuffie, whom Greater Greater Washington endorsed 2 years ago, is starting to articulate ideas for how he might lead Ward 5.

With development opportunities at the McMillan Sand Filtration site, near the Brookland Metro, and along Rhode Island and New York Avenues, there is a lot of change coming to Ward 5 that needs stewardship, oversight, and community input.

McDuffie expressed a commitment to “livable, walkable” communities, nodding his cap to Councilmember Tommy Wells, who uses these words a lot. I hope he, and by extension the residents of Ward 5, do more than use the words.

Ward 5 is home to massive big box development with large surface parking lots, fast-moving commuter roads like Rhode Island and New York Avenues, busy intersections, and has perhaps the least amount of bicycle infrastructure and Capital Bikeshare coverage in the city.

Yet it also has three Red Line Metro stops and the Met Branch trail, and room for new transit-oriented development. McDuffie also mentioned a priority of “solving traffic problems” associated with development. I hope that he, and other candidates in Ward 5, understand the benefits of changes which slow down cars but benefit travel by transit, on foot and by bicycle.

Ward 1 and Capitol Hill provide good examples of residential and retail density with bike infrastucture that create desirable destinations and connections between adjacent communities. The tree-lined streets of residential Ward 5 can have the best of both worlds — good urbanism while preserving a sense of suburban tranquility.

McDuffie has made education a key point of his candidacy, creating an education priorities page on his website. He says he will “tackle truancy,” “prepare students for higher education,” and “increase vocational programs.”

At a recent meet-and-greet, someone asked about the disposition of vacant or underutilized DCPS school buildings. McDuffie gave what I consider the “correct” answer without hesitating: make sure that operators who have shown themselves to be effective at educating kids have a fair crack at the buildings, and if that avenue is exhausted, seek a deal that is good for the city in terms of generating the most revenue.

As with most campaign platforms, the lofty pronouncements may be on the right track but don’t delve into as much detail. It’s easy to promise to address big problems, but harder to specify exactly how, (or how to pay for any changes). The challenge for voters is to read between the lines and guess what the candidates will do if and when they sit on the council.

The education priorities page does not address school modernization, school funding, or the equity and adequacy issues raised in the recent DC Public Education Finance Reform Commission report (and covered in the Washington Post). It also does not address any of the various education proposals that Kwame Brown has floated in the past few weeks. Will McDuffie side with Brown or take a different approach? What about the other Ward 5 hopefuls?

I look forward to hearing more about the specifics of McDuffie’s views, and what the other Ward 5 candidates and at-large candidates running in the April primary have to say. I hope they will write position papers on their website, post on this blog, and even engage with voters in comments.