The race for Ward 1 representation in the D.C. City Council is shaping up as one of the most heated contests leading up to the Sept. 14 primary if a recent candidates’ forum is any indication.

A July 29 forum convened in downtown Washington to familiarize voters with Ward 1 candidates got off to a contentious start after two of them, Marc Morgan and incumbent Jim Graham, were criticized by some among a crowd of 150 people for showing up nearly an hour late.

But things quickly got back on track as the pair joined Jeff Smith, executive of DC Voice, and Bryan Weaver, a four-term ANC commissioner in Adams Morgan in making their cases before voters.

While the biggest hurdle for Morgan, Smith and Weaver is the challenge to unseat Graham, who’s been in office 16 years, the ward’s hotbed issue is a lack of affordable housing. Added to that, a recent and skyrocketing spate of larcenies, burglaries and thefts, has left many residents on edge.

Smith said he’s running for office because he believes the District is a good place to live and work. “, on the trajectory we’re headed, it’s becoming more expensive, less green, over developed and under-employed here in Ward 1,” he said, “and I think we need to do something about it now.”

Then, in a swipe at Graham, Smith said there’s been no leadership on issues of safety, responsible development and public education. He also said Graham’s been in office has been far too long.

“I think that a politician who has been at City Hall for more than a decade is too comfortable, too cozy with developers that are driving an agenda for Ward 1,” Smith asserted.

Alluding to the jurisdiction’s growing poverty, Weaver said the value of people in the ward has been diminished to an unacceptable level. “I believe that poverty Ward 1 is a moral crisis . . . and we’re quickly becoming a ward of haves and have nots,” Weaver said. He added politics is not about power, money or victory “for the sake of victory,” but about the improvement of people’s lives and about justice.

Said Weaver: “If you look at developers who give massive checks to campaigns in this city, they run the tape on who ends up getting projects that are built on city lands, using city dollars—and the only thing we’ve asked for and gotten from that is that we get 51 percent of the jobs for District employees and that everyone who works on those projects is paid a livable wage.”

Weaver said that over the past 12 years, the ward had lost 24,000 affordable housing units. As a result, “we need to find a way to create workforce housing which is the moral dilemma that this ward is facing,” he said.

Morgan, who has worked in the public and non-profit sector, accused the incumbent of failing Ward 1 residents, saying that the Council contest was not a race of the past, but rather “a race of what can happen.”

The candidate criticized what he deemed a glaring lack of transparency in city government and said that if elected, one of his first steps would be to establish an ethics committee.

“There’s a need for proper oversight,” he said.

Graham, seemingly unfazed by his opponents’ accusations, appeared confident, boosted by a large contingent of supporters who loudly cheered his effectiveness.

Renouncing claims of a lack of affordable housing, he said affordable housing has become more prevalent in the community in recent times, citing a group of tenants who are now owners of a building in the 1300 block of Kenyon St., N.W. “We snatched the building out of the hands of the person who owned it, and this was a great victory for tenants,” Graham said.

He added that he’s been diligently working to restore affordable units in the ward. “I was there working on the budget, making sure a safety net was preserved for housing programs for the District’s most vulnerable residents,” said Graham, who said he’s running on a solid record of delivery of services.

He also said he’s been one of merely two Council members, who have worked to advance affordable housing in the city, recently. As part of the solution, he added, “What we need to do with the Housing Trust Fund is very straightforward: We have to ensure that a larger percentage of the reincarnation tax goes in there because we know there’s been a drop off in the amount of money that we’re raising.”