DC's Ward 5 encompasses row house neighborhoods and detached house neighborhoods, areas with Metro and areas fairly far from Metro, very residential areas and much of the District's industrial land. Mostly in the northeastern quadrant, it's one of the District's most diverse racially, in age, and income level. Balancing all of these constituencies is councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, whom we endorse for re-nomination in the June 19 Democratic primary.
In his two terms on the DC Council, McDuffie has amassed a clear record of support on key urbanist issues. One of the biggest controversies in his ward is the McMillan development, which is near McDuffie's house and near where he grew up. He has been steadfast in supporting adding needed housing, offices, and usable park space here, even though some Ward 5 residents are nearly single-mindedly opposed.
He has likewise supported other opportunities to add new homes for the District's growing population. Some of those new homes should be affordable, and McDuffie was the driving force behind a bill to require more affordable housing when the District sells public land. When looking at amendments to DC's Comprehensive Plan, he emphasized the same issues we've been advocating for: allowing new homes to get built while also prioritizing affordable housing and protections against displacement.
McDuffie has also been on the side of better transit. He pushed for the G9 limited-stop bus along Rhode Island Avenue and more recently has asked for consideration of a bus line on New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road, an area with few buses now but growing need as old commercial and industrial sites redevelop.
There are also times we've disagreed with his view, like when he proposed an amendment that threatened to derail a bill to fix an unjust “contributory negligence” rule for people hit by drivers while walking and bicycling, or a tax deal for Union Market to subsidize 600 parking spots to the tune of $36 million. His responses to our questionnaire were also not as detailed as other candidates, but we feel he is a valuable part of the DC Council and his record warrants continued support.
Four Democrats are challenging McDuffie for the nomination: Gayle Hall Carley, Nestor Djonkam, LaMonica Jeffrey, and Bradley Thomas. Of them, only Thomas filled out our questionnaire, and he clearly put a lot of effort into it as his responses were detailed and well thought through. As a nearly lifelong resident and chair of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5E, he had extensive knowledge of issues facing DC and Ward 5, and agreed with urbanist views on many issues.
On preservation, his ANC has been considering a historic designation for Bloomingdale, and he was helpful in the motion to oppose a historic district. He wrote in his questionnaire:
As I understand it, 90% to 95% of all historic preservation applications are approved, often without any meaningful input from affected neighbors. Make no mistake, I am in favor of honoring and preserving history and heritage. Washington, DC, probably has more historic sites worthy of preservation than Boston, Chicago or Philadelphia. But it's the process of historic preservation that I have grave concerns about. I keep coming back to one of my favorite terms, “stakeholder engagement”. As much as in any other context, stakeholder engagement must be a vital part of the historic preservation process. I would support changing the rules to accommodate that concern.
It is important that neighborhoods have input into decisions and Thomas' efforts to listen to neighbors around preservation, and on other issues, are important. However, while something like a historic district primarily does just affect the immediate neighborhood, especially for transportation issues what happens in one area affects others.
A bus lane, for instance, helps riders from many other neighborhoods beyond the one the lane travels through. And if each neighborhood had the only say over a bus lane or a bus route, they'd either never exist or zigzag wildly. Thomas said,
I believe that just as the decision as to whether to grant a petition for the installation of Residential Parking Permit (RPP) signs requires the acquiescence of a majority of the residents of the affected block, any proposal to install dedicated bus lanes and protected bike lanes on residential streets should be subject to the informed scrutiny of the residents on the affected block.
This is particularly important where elderly or disabled residents exist. I would not like to see dedicated bus lanes or protected bike lanes on blocks where elderly people live and where the homes they live in don't have garages or other forms of off street parking unless those residents have been informed in advance and have affirmatively given their consent to the installation of those lanes. In newly developed communities, perhaps Planned Unit Developments, where the majority of residents are younger and less physically limited, my view is that dedicated bus lanes and protected bike lanes would make all the sense in the world.
First of all, PUDs usually have a certain amount of off street parking built in to their design. Secondly, newer, younger residents are more apt to rides bikes and use public transportation. Street parking is less important to those residents and providing more of it might encourage more automobiles, something that the District really doesn't need. In either case, it is my position that the final decision to install or not install dedicated bus lanes and protected bike lanes should be made with maximum stakeholder engagement on the micro-local level.
Unfortunately, this over-simplifies the issue. Neighborhoods are not either all younger residents or all older residents, and better bus service helps residents of all ages. A ward councilmember, in some ways unlike an ANC commissioner, needs to think holistically about how to listen to the views of all and consider them, but also make a decision based on their needs collectively instead of only “micro-locally.”
McDuffie struck a good balance on this issue in his questionnaire. He said he would collect community feedback before supporting a bus or bike lane that might even take away parking spaces, but didn't want to give a veto:
I support them even in cases where it may require moving on-street parking. However, each case is different and depends on residential population density and community sentiment in a particular area. The process of identifying these locations must include community engagement and feedback from the impacted business and residents.
In a follow-up conversation, Thomas did agree completely that there's a difference between engaging communities locally (good) and giving everyone a veto over bigger-picture issues. He said, “We have to balance both the local neighborhood concern and the greater need for the wider community. Often what happens is that local neighborhoods get short shrift because they don’t have as much political clout, and there is greater pressure to do the big picture things.” Some people who work on efforts like bus or bike lanes might disagree that local neighborhoods' needs get too little weight, though this certainly does vary by neighborhood and with the level of affluence and influence of its residents.
Thomas is also somewhat skeptical about McMillan. He voiced concern that it might be “too massive,” but clarified that his specific concern is about transportation, ensuring that there are tools to manage the additional traffic, rather than about the buildings themselves. Indeed, DC can and should do more to add transportation choices in this area.
We hope Democratic voters will renominate Kenyan McDuffie on June 19 based on his experience, track record, and policy views. We also look forward to working with Bradley Thomas on many issues to come in and around his community. We also would welcome engagement with any of the other people who are running for the Ward 5 seat, but since they did not respond to our questionnaire, we could not consider them.
This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. All endorsements are decided by our volunteer Elections Committee with input from our board and other volunteer committees. Want to keep up on other endorsement posts? Check out our 2018 primary summary page and sign up for our weekly elections newsletter.