Ward 8, the poorest ward in DC and often the most misunderstood or overlooked, needs a voice. It needs strong community leaders who want to devote their energy to improving the ward’s neighborhoods and building consensus among residents.
It needs people ready to put the good of others ahead of their own political advantage. It needs community leaders who are not only passionate and vocal but who are also capable and qualified. Ward 8 is in need politically of what it has long advocated in services and business: more quality and diverse options.
Unfortunately, Ward 8’s ANCs generally do not have this. Either languishing due to a lack of community buy-in, or frustration, or both, historically most Ward 8 ANC positions sat vacant or hosted the same cast of characters year after year, often with more emphasis on petty infighting than community progress.
As a result, many ANC meetings feature more drama than accomplishments and direction. Some commissioners spend more energy trying to silence the voices of others they disagree with rather than find new solutions and perspectives to old problems. Unfortunately, in too many Ward 8 ANCs there is no such thing as constructive criticism or accountability.
For every consensus building, forward thinking, qualified commissioner there are often too many others eager to drown them out in order to maintain the status quo. And the cycle of apathy continues. In a ward where the councilmember is often referred to as “Mayor for Life” it should be no surprise that there are some ANC commissioners who feel they should be “Commissioners for Life.”
But change is coming. It’s not just in the form of new 30-something professionals moving to Ward 8, but in the form of native Ward 8 residents who sat on the sidelines waiting for opportunities and allies to make a positive impact on their communities.
This year, the list of challengers has more than doubled from the last election. Neighbors have become the cheerleaders and recruiters for change in their own neighborhoods, from both sides of the generational gap.
We therefore are endorsing the majority of challengers in Ward 8 ANCs. In many races, we know the challenger’s specific ideas and how they would do a better job; in other cases, it’s simply valuable to get some new faces and new ideas into moribund ANCs.
ANC 8C perhaps the District’s most dysfunctional ANC, which is saying a lot. It has been been investigated by the DC Auditor for a number of problems, including allegedly paying rent for an office they never use, which was never approved by the commission according to ANC statue, and hasn’t had a working phone line in over six years. This led to the DC government withholding the annual appropriation it normally gives to all ANCs.
Chair Mary Cuthbert, whose district 8C03 spans St. Elizabeth’s East to capture small sections of Barry Farm and Congress Heights, was involved in disbursing the questionable funds and called her opponent, Larry Pretlow, a “dumb n*gger.”
We don’t think Pretlow is dumb but some constituents say they would prefer a ham sandwich to Commissioner Cuthbert. At the very least, the ham sandwich would be less combative. We urge voters to do better than a ham sandwich and pick Pretlow.
Adjacent commissioner Dion Jordan doesn’t attend ANC meetings or meet with residents of his SMD, 8C02, which also covers small parts of Barry Farm and Congress Heights across St. Elizabeth’s West. Residents can do much better with LaShaun Smith, a former blogger who wrote under the name Southeast Socialite and who has made clear her desire for a more transparent, functional and inclusive ANC. Some may accuse her of being direct and harsh on crime, but in a SMD that has seen a recent uptick in car jackings and armed robberies, residents need a commissioner who is not only available for meetings but is direct enough to do something about the crime.
One exception to ANC 8C’s dysdunction is treasurer (and unofficially secretary, sergeant-at-arms, and community liaison) William Ellis in Barry Farm’s 8C01. After a bumpy start, he has proven to be the only commissioner willing to follow DC laws and the DC Auditor’s recommendations, and willing to admit publicly and honestly, when and where the commission falls short. We support him for another term over challenger Zaccai Free.
Residents compare southern Congress Heights 8C07 Commissioner Cardell Shelton to Grandpa on The Simpsons for his way of constantly yelling, complaining and fist shaking, but with less grasp of facts. He is the formal secretary of the commission but doesn’t take meeting minutes and didn’t even respond to the DC Auditor’s findings. Meanwhile, Brenda Shields is executive director of a nonprofit and owns her own business. She could bring business and organizational skills that 8C desperately needs.
Anacostia is Ward 8’s most diverse and growing neighborhood, and while their ANC is probably the most successful at accomplishing community and ANC tasks, ANC 8A needs to reach out more to new residents. Our hope is that David White would do this as an ANC commissioner in 8A05 in Historic Anacostia. The incumbent, Carolyn Bridges-Ward, is not a change agent; she in fact publicly defended Marion Barry after the most recent scandal, saying nobody was perfect. That’s true, but the ward can do a lot better in many ways, including with their 8A05 commissioner.
Darrell Gaston, who represents the Woodland neighborhood in 8B03, is a common sight around the community and aspiring politician (he ran against Marion Barry in the last Ward 8 Council election), but hasn’t accomplished much and seems to focus more on raising his profile than solving problems. Gaston has also been quoted several times complaining of the influx of “newcomers” who have moved into the Ward. Gaston seems to focus more on the percieved differences in socioeconomic status among residents than the things that bring them together.
Shipley Terrace’s 8B06 commissioner Mitchell Hawkins, by his own admission, doesn’t read about or keep current on community issues and lacks good comprehension of simple concepts. In fact, residents in this area say that ANC 8B meetings are very painful, and few commissioners seem to know what is going on.
While we don’t have a lot of information about several challengers, we feel this problematic ANC needs some changes, and therefore recommend challengers India Blocker (against Gaston in 8B03), Charles Turner (against Hawkins in 8B06), and Louise Thorne (against 8B07 commissioner Von Pariss in the Shipley Terrace and Douglass neighborhoods).
Commissioner Karlene Armstead in 8E06, split between Congress Heights and Washington Highlands, is another longtime activist who seems more focused on being in charge than being right. Residents have voiced concerns about her inability to listen, few accomplishments, and combative tone with others. She does appear passionate and committed to a safer community but her attitude can turn off residents, especially residents voicing a different opinion or perspective. She seems resistant to any changes that she is not personally in charge of.
We endorse challenger Angela Hooker, who (if campaign signs are any indication) also has the support of at least one current commissioner and a fellow candidate in ANC 8E.
We are hopeful and inspired at such an overwhelming show of community activism across the Ward 8 ANC races. Regardless of who wins or loses the individual SMD races as a whole, the perspective and perception of Ward 8 politics as foregone conclusion is changing — one single-member district at a time.