Kenyan McDuffie. Photo by mediaslave on Flickr.
Harry Thomas Jr. has been an unremarkable and disappointing member of the DC Council, getting little done and having few noteworthy positions. In Ward 5, he has favored big-box and strip mall development over neighborhood commercial corridors.
For those neighborhood corridors, his leadership was primarily reactive in nature. In Brookland, for example, residents pushed for burying power lines during a major streetscape renovation, but despite verbal support, Mr. Thomas was ineffective at actually winning the change for the neighborhood. That project remains in flux two years later.
Mr. Thomas has continued many big box development initiatives begun under former Councilmember Vincent Orange without pushing for immediate improvements neighborhoods need. The Rhode Island Avenue NE Great Streets Initiative looks nice on paper, but some short-term facade improvement funds would be a huge boost right now for the corridor, and Thomas has not fought for that.
A new Aldi is under construction across from an existing, open Safeway in Carver Langston, but Thomas has done little to bring retail investment to Edgewood where another Safeway closed earlier this year. And rumor has it we may get a Wal-Mart where Jim Abdo once envisioned a mixed-use gateway on New York Avenue.
As chair of the Libraries, Parks, and Recreation Committee, Mr. Thomas seems to favor recreation over libraries, perhaps because of his athletic bent. He’s directed money to Ward 5 recreation centers, but very little in the way of needed capital improvements have been made to the ward’s two libraries.
Kenyan McDuffie represents a promising alternative to Mr. Thomas’s lack of leadership.
Mr. McDuffie has a strong background, with degrees from Howard University and the University of Maryland School of Law and work history with Eleanor Holmes Norton, as an assistant state attorney in Prince George’s County, a judicial clerk in Maryland’s 7th Circuit, and a trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division at the DOJ. His background in policy and legislature will bring, according to the City Paper’s endorsement, a “wonkier style” to the job, but we believe it will also bring some much needed focus.
Regarding commercial development, Mr. McDuffie understands that continuing to focus on large-scale projects sets a potentially negative precedent for the ward. He told us, “The same $1.5 million allocated to the large, suburban-style development in Ft. Lincoln could go a long way toward revitalizing an existing small business corridor or attracting smaller-scale development to corridors like Bladensburg Road and North Capitol Street.”
Related in many ways to commercial development, the improvement of food systems and access is critical to Mr. McDuffie, who supports efforts to bring healthy food to children. Councilmember Thomas was a leader of the charge against the soda tax, but didn’t help provide any alternate revenue source for healthier school food.
Crime, particularly juvenile crime, continues to be an important topic throughout the city. Mr. McDuffie’s experience as an attorney is evident in his thoughtfulness in addressing the many factors juveniles face before becoming delinquent.
Overall, Mr. McDuffie is able to identify current barriers to progress, including the real and artificial boundaries that divide neighboring communities. He believes in holistic methods to move beyond the status quo the ward has become accustomed to, and we believe he is the right choice for Ward 5 voters on Tuesday.
Cross-posted at The District Curmudgeon.