Residents of Ward 7 convened a meeting Dec. 3 to discuss education, public safety, economic development, jobs and transportation, affordable housing, and health. D.C. Council member-elect Vincent Gray (D) presided over the Ward 7 Action Summit that took place at KIPP Quest D.C. Academy located at 5300 Blaine St, NE.

Vincent Gray is the D.C. Council member-elect for Ward 7. (Courtesy Photo)
Vincent Gray is the D.C. Council member-elect for Ward 7. (Courtesy Photo)

With more than 400 residents participating in the session, Gray said he put together the summit to get a sense of what Ward 7 residents want from their District government. “Ward 7 has many strengths and also many challenges,” he said. “I want to learn more about the issues that are important to you. Your input will help to set priorities for what must be done to make our community a better place for all.”

Ward 7 is located on the eastern edge of the District, bordering Prince George’s County and is largely northeast of the Anacostia River. It has working-class neighborhoods such as Deanwood and Marshall Heights but also has upper-middle class enclaves such as Penn Branch and Hillcrest. Ward 7 has the highest percentage of Blacks in the city – 96 percent of its residents.

Gray represented the ward on the D.C. Council from 2005-2007 and was re-elected in the Nov. 8, 2016 general election. He was elected as D.C. Council Chairman from 2007-2011 and as District mayor from 2011-2015.

Most conversations were civil and cordial as residents sought to reach a consensus on how to solve the ward’s problems. Each resident was given a keypad to record their choices on issues at the beginning and at the end of the session on demographic and evaluation information.

For example, 68 percent of residents felt that Ward 7 needed better grocery stores, 63 percent supported better and more diverse retail, and 45 percent wanted more sit-down restaurants.

“We shouldn’t have to go across the river to get nice things,”Zewdi Alem told the AFRO.

A plurality found Metrobus and Metrorail service in the ward unacceptable, 44 percent and 42 percent, respectively. However, 51 percent said that they would support a portion of the District’s sales tax to fund Metro improvements.

Affordable housing has emerged as a citywide issue and Ward 7 is no exception. The District’s homeownership rate is 52 percent while it is only 29 percent in the ward and 25 percent of the ward’s renters spend 50 percent or more of their income on housing.

The residents said that they wanted more police protection, more resources for public and charter schools, and 92 percent desired a new state-of-the art community hospital.

Gray, who will take office on Jan. 2, 2017, said the summit is only the start in determining his council agenda. “There will be a distillation of this process and we [his team] will draft a plan within 10-15 days of this summit,” the former mayor said. “We will have a final plan in place for Jan. 2, 2017.”

Gray said key community leaders, such as civic association presidents and advisory neighborhood commissioners, will get a copy of the final plan. He cautioned residents to be patient with the process of implementing the plan.

“When you are the mayor and I know this, you can generally say something and things will get done,” he said,” but when you are a legislator, you don’t have the same measure of control as the executive. Plans like this have to go through committees and the chair of committees set their own priorities.”

Gray also said that he will reactivate the Ward 7 Leadership Council that will consists of civic association presidents and commissioners, start a program for residents who want to be community leaders, and reinstate the annual “State of Ward 7 Address.”

Constance Woody is a longtime Ward 7 civic and political activist. She said the summit was fruitful. “I thoroughly enjoyed it,” Woody told the AFRO. “When Vincent Gray does something, he does a yeoman’s job.”

Alem said the summit was “nice” but wanted more participant input. “We needed more dialogue as a whole,” she said. “There should have been more than talk. We need to make sure that something happens.”