Photo from Tommy Wells on Flickr.

Tommy Wells is the best candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia. He has the strongest vision for the future on transit, housing affordability, education, social services, and many other subjects. We urge voters in the Democratic primary to cast their ballots for Tommy Wells. You can vote in person on April 1, or in early voting starting March 17.

As regular readers know, many editors and contributors grappled — sometimes publicly — with the question of whom to support. A minority of contributors chose current Mayor Vincent Gray in our endorsement poll, but of those almost all did so for strategic game theory reasons while still believing Wells was best on the issues.

That game theory may well have gone out the window Monday with revelations about the 2010 “shadow campaign” for Mayor Gray. However, even before then, the consensus among contributors for Wells was strong.

Wells’ strengths

Wells clearly understands the forces that shape our city more deeply and thoroughly than any other mayoral candidate. On transportation, he does not just rattle off a list of projects he helped fund on the council, or give platitudes about schedules, community support, or process. Rather, he has very good insights into what is working well and poorly.

He wants to see important progress but also has a very critical skepticism of simply letting people inside District agencies run wild in what could well be the wrong direction. On transit, he has strongly pushed for better bus service, something that most politicians (including Mayor Gray) either ignore or just pay lip service to.

Wells also believes in good planning, and in particular planning that ensures less fortunate residents are able to stay in the city through affordable housing, affordable transportation, and much more. He proposes many specific ideas, like his “flex buildings” concept (which is far more than just a “slogan” despite the opinion of the Washington Post editorial board).

On education, he was the only candidate who went beyond banal statements like “all neighborhood schools should be good.” He is the only candidate willing to explore more significant ways to close the achievement gap, beyond a small laundry list of minor programs.

Many of our contributors were particularly swayed by their feeling that Wells would appoint smart, capable agency heads who would actively formulate a vision and push to realize it. Here were some of their comments:

“The only candidate I see as selecting good appointees or pressuring DDOT and OP to make the right changes is Tommy Wells.”

"Wells’ vision for the city is inclusive and progressive. He has a track record of hiring stellar public servants to work with him, and I would like to see that play out on a city-wide level, particularly for appointed departmental heads, which has been part of my frustration with Gray as Mayor.”

"Wells is the most progressive candidate in the race. Of those with a public service background, he is the only one without some sort of ethics cloud hanging over him. He is not perfect, but he is the best choice in a flawed field.”

"He has been the biggest supporter of ... smart growth, equitable transportation policy, good government, strong education, etc., of all of the candidates there over the long term.


No candidate is perfect. No elected official can be a saint (City Paper nicknames aside). We don’t, and won’t, agree with everything Tommy Wells stands for or would do as mayor. Some supporters were disappointed by his ready defense of the height limit; others befuddled by his vote on the Large Retailer Accountability Act (the “Walmart bill”). But these are issues about which not everyone in the Greater Greater Washington community agrees.

What about Mayor Gray?

It’s clear that Gray has championed many issues we care about at Greater Greater Washington. Residents who predicted he would rip out Fenty-era innovations like cycletracks once in office, despite his public statements that he supported bicycle infrastructure, have now come around. The city is moving in a positive direction. One contributor who voted for Gray in the poll wrote,

Shadow campaign aside, Mayor Gray is advancing all of the initiatives that GGW discusses in advocacy. Sustainable DC, which is fully a brainchild of Gray’s administration, is a progressive plan that calls for us to begin to make tough decisions as a city. It has been more than a plan, the city is moving forward with specific plans and actions as a result. I’d prefer to stay the course than to lose 1 to 1½ years of momentum for an administration change.


However, contributors had some significant reservations as well (even before this last round of revelations about the shadow campaign). The biggest among those was the quality of Gray’s appointments to agencies. Indeed, the main architect of the Sustainable DC plan was planning director Harriet Tregoning, who was one of those Gray kept in office from the Fenty administration, but who recently stepped down.

Gray’s record on new appointments has been more disappointing. For example, it is often hard to tell whether DDOT head Terry Bellamy is providing meaningful leadership at that agency, which seems aimless and uncoordinated. Sometimes DDOT pushes forward on important initiatives, but often simply lapses into inaction or lets inertia continue work on bad projects from a past era.

One contributor (who also voted to endorse Gray) wrote,

I’m pretty okay with the policy direction Gray has taken.  I am less thrilled with some of his department heads, most of whom seem to have no vision and are bad at managing.  I know the most about DDOT, and Bellamy can’t even get his internal folks to talk to each other, much less to get some paint down on a bike lane.


Some were far more strongly negative, citing, for instance, the recent homelessness crisis where the Gray administration crammed people in recreation centers in terrible conditions. His strongest critic among our contributors wrote,

Strategic voting for Gray is being floated by folks who don’t appear to mind if DC grows into a playground for the wealthy, a future that neither Bowser nor Gray have a plan to prevent and GGW opposes.  Gray cut money from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund the first 2 years of his administration, something that seems quickly forgotten by those thanking him for his $100 million pledge last year. 

He was further to the right of the Chamber of Commerce on the minimum wage, opposing indexing it to inflation, which [the Chamber] supported. And he had no plan for winter at DC General even though it was full when winter began, and in response to the crisis asked for power to keep families out of shelter on freezing nights if DHS claimed it found friends willing take them in for a couple nights.


It’s worth noting that any mayor will have some issues where they fall short — certainly Fenty did, and if elected, Wells would too. Still, these are important concerns.

More importantly, even if Gray is the second-best candidate (now perhaps only true if Jeffrey Thompson is lying and Gray really knew nothing of the “shadow campaign”), a strong majority of contributors and editors still felt confident making the endorsement for Tommy Wells.

What about the rest?

Our contributors and editors were not impressed by any other candidate in the field. Jack Evans has made it clear, in his statements and actions, that he stands very firmly against inconveniencing the wealthiest and most powerful Washingtonians, whether in terms of accommodating a wider range of income levels in their neighborhoods, or having to share the road with other modes in a way that causes any appreciable hassle.

Muriel Bowser is trying to rise to the top of DC’s political world by being concerned about anything that agitates residents. She has been the quickest of all on the council to introduce resolutions blocking administration action that angered some people — sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly.

She is extremely smart and very talented at making statements that sound like she’s agreeing with you, such as praising the DC Zoning Update to the rafters with the tiny caveat that she has 4 little quibbles — the only 4 significant policy shifts in the proposal, and the items that some people in the most exclusive neighborhoods of Ward 4 are fighting against the hardest.

Andy Shallal has a lot of good basic values but unfortunately lacks an understanding of the deeper implications of various government actions. It’s easy to say that we shouldn’t close schools or unfairly give away land to developers, but not as easy to develop a realistic plan for how to get better education and more housing.

Vincent Orange did not follow up to our request for an interview, nor does he have a platform that warrants consideration for mayor. No other candidates appear to have any significant level of support.

Conclusion

Tommy Wells has agreed with the Greater Greater Washington community on many issues during his years in office. But April Fools jokes aside, our endorsement was never a foregone conclusion. We made him jump through the same hoops as anyone else such as the video interviews, asked tough questions, and listened carefully to his responses. Our editorial team vigorously debated the merits of Mayor Gray’s candidacy before coming to an endorsement decision.

However, it’s clear from looking at the candidates’ records, their statements, and recent actions that Tommy Wells is the best mayoral contender. He deserves our support, especially given the latest news about Gray’s 2010 campaign but independent of that as well. We hope DC voters in the Democratic primary on April 1, or voting early beginning March 17, will cast their ballots for Tommy Wells.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine endorsements, we invite regular contributors and editors to participate in a survey about their preferences and opinions about upcoming races. The editorial board then decides whether to make an endorsement based on the responses in the survey and whether there is a clear consensus.

For more information on the mayoral contenders and their views, see our video interviews with the candidates on housing supply, affordable housing, bus lanes, streetcars, charter schools, and middle schools.

You can sign up for more information, volunteer, and/or contribute to Tommy Wells’ campaign at tommywells.org.

Also see our other endorsements in the April 1 Democratic primary: Brianne Nadeau in Ward 1, Kenyan McDuffie in Ward 5, and Charles Allen in Ward 6.