Photo by Erwyn van der Meer on Flickr.

While Vince Gray is running under a mantra of “one city” and claims to want to bring all residents together, Kelvin Robinson is working hard to drive them apart. His campaign strategy revolves around inflaming divisions within Ward 6, a shameful strategy that doesn’t belong in DC.

As Mike DeBonis first reported, Robinson is challenging Tommy Wells’ “livable and walkable” mantra, claiming it doesn’t encompass all residents and that Wells is neglecting crime issues.

There is certainly nothing wrong with debating what Wells has or hasn’t done about juvenile crime on Capitol Hill. But Robinson is choosing to cast the issues facing Ward 6 as an either/or situation. Either DC builds a streetcar, or there are more police on the streets. Either bags cost 5 cents, or there is a curfew. Either chickens become legal, or DYRS becomes more effective.

It’s a false choice.

This isn’t a matter of budget priorities. The 5¢ bag fee doesn’t cost anything. In fact, it raises money, though that is properly delegated to keeping the Anacostia River trash-free, which certainly benefits residents of the RFK Stadium area. Allowing chickens doesn’t take money away from anyone.

There have been plenty of DC Council debates where Wells was visibly and audibly exasperated with his colleagues for not passing legislation like the Mayor’s recent crime bill. In fact, Wells has pushed strongly for some of the anti-crime legislation which I, along with many Councilmembers, worried might run roughshod over civil liberties.

In many areas, people are suspicious of bike lanes. Sometimes it’s just an aversion to change. Sometimes it’s a car-centric view. Sometimes people fear it’s going to accelerate gentrification. We can’t respond by deriding those who fear these innovations; we must educate and persuade. Wells has been a patient ambassador of this vision in often hostile forums.

Meanwhile, Robinson seems to have few actual concrete objections to any of Wells’ initiatives. On the Kojo show, he said he supports the streetcar. Reader Bradley Soule, who attended a recent Ward 6 debate, said Wells had a detailed explanation for his transportation ideas, from the streetcar to Southwest Waterfront road capacity, but Robinson passed on the question.

Their biggest concrete policy difference between the two, across all issues, is whether to maintain the Shuttle-Bug bus. Soule wrote,

Kelvin Robinson claimed that after speaking with residents of the affected neighborhood, he felt the free service should be funded by the DC government in perpetuity because of issues with crime around the new Waterfront Station development at 4th and M SW.

Tommy Wells defended his position that the need for the shuttle, the closure of 4th Street between M & I during construction of Waterfront Station, had been resolved. He also voiced concern that if DC funded this special program, other neighborhoods would hold it up as an example for why they should get a similar service that the city could not afford.


But wait, Robinson says that Wells’ transit initiatives are taking resources away from crime fighting, even initiatives like the bags and chickens that don’t take any resources. But then he wants more transit in another area as a crimefighting tool. Maybe “livable, walkable” is actually making the ward safer.

A few commenters have criticized my brief characterization of Robinson’s argument as using “vague racial innuendo.” I agree that it may have been too facile to call it that, though I can’t help but see subtle catcalls in his use of the extremely non-diverse Andy Griffith Show in this ad, or his refusal to clearly reject racial divides in response to Tom Sherwood’s questions on the subject.

There is a divide in terms of who is excited about walkable neighborhoods and who is not, though that is more of an age and income level divide, and in DC it just so happens that at the moment, most younger, newer, and/or wealthier residents are white. But everyone needs to get to work, school or shopping, and bicycles, trains and buses are no faster or better depending on the color of your skin, or how long you’ve lived in DC.

The reason to vote against Kelvin Robinson has nothing to do with race, his, yours, the ward’s, or anyone else’s. It has everything to do with the fact that he’s trying to set one improvement for the neighborhood against another, and in so doing set one side of the neighborhood against the other.

He’s criticizing Wells for making improvements to the neighborhood, but when challenged, won’t criticize the acutal improvements themselves. He could be talking about making the neighborhood more walkable and also doing more on crime. Instead, he’s trying to convince some residents that walkability is their enemy.

Former Mayor Anthony Williams endorsed Robinson yesterday, presumably because Robinson was his chief of staff. But when Williams says he can “bring together divergent perspectives to advance the common goals of our Ward and our City,” he must be looking only at Robinson’s “United for a Stronger DC” slogan rather than the actual candidate who is putting a long-shot, divisive political strategy over common goals.