Brianne Nadeau represents Ward 1 on the D.C. Council. (AFRO File Photo)
D.C.’s Ward 1 Democrats club is being revived, from a rather influential contender, to capitalize on the ward’s changing demographics and new leadership.
On April 30, the Ward 1 Democrats held a convention and elected new officers for two-year terms at the Frank Reeves Center on U Street., N.W. The new chairman of the Ward 1 Democrats is Brian Footer, who replaces Tania Jackson, who served as the acting chairman of the organization when China Bok Terrell, the elected chairman in 2014, left the District last year to pursue a master’s of public administration at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She now lives in Baltimore.
“In the next couple of months we are going to develop a strategic plan for the 2018 election,” Footer, who is White, told the AFRO, referring to the next election cycle in the District. “We will have a strong plan to register and increase voter turnout for that year but also for this year’s election.”
Footer is an ally of D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1). Footer will serve along with ] Rashida Brown as vice chairman, Hector Huezo as treasurer, Josh Brown as a corresponding secretary, and Tony Donaldson as the recording secretary.
Ward political clubs in the District serve as branch’s of the Democratic Party and attempt to get residents involved in the political process and serve as a training ground for new leaders. Lenwood Johnson was the vice chairman of the Ward 1 Democrats from 1994-1996. Johnson told the AFRO that when he was an officer, the club was robust and influential in District politics. “We were active and very inclusive,” Johnson said. “When I was vice chair, we decided to have meetings around the city instead of in Adams Morgan and we also had social events such as the picnic at Malcolm X Park and during the Christmas season, we would have one of the bars offers us discount rates on drinks and light refreshments.
“However, when there was a change in the council position in 1978, the club started to flounder.”
Johnson is talking about when then Black incumbent D.C. Council member Frank Smith was defeated in the September 1978 Democratic primary by White HIV/AIDS activist Jim Graham. Graham served on the D.C. Council from 1979-2015, until he was beaten by Nadeau in 2014.
Johnson said that when Graham became the ward council member, changes took place swiftly.
“Jim had his people in the Ward 1 Democrats running things the way he wanted,” Johnson said. “Jim’s people were nice but they didn’t seem interested in political activity. To me, it seemed that they wanted to court favor with Jim.”
Graham did not agree. “Lenwood Johnson is not correct,” he said. “We had outstanding chairs of the Ward 1 Democrats such as Calvin Woodland and we had many activities that benefitted the community. The Ward 1 Democrats was a strong organization and we got a lot of things done. The things Lenwood said are simply not correct.”
There were other changes in Ward 1 also during that time. In 1990, Ward 1 was 60 percent Black with a Latino enclave in Mount Pleasant and White residents in Adams Morgan, according to census data. However, according to the 2000 census, the Black population had shrunk to 47 percent, a plurality of the ward and in 2010, the percentage further declined to 33 percent. During that 20-year period, predominantly Black neighborhoods such as Columbia Heights, Pleasant Plains, and LeDroit Park became majority White, with some Blacks leaving the ward because of escalating housing prices.
“We are in a state of state-sponsored hyper-gentrification,” William Jordan, a Black resident, has lived in Ward 1 for decades, told the AFRO. “There are visible changes taking places such as neighborhoods changing but there is also something else. The ward is losing a sense of what a community is, what a neighborhood is.”
Vicki Wright-Smith, a Black attorney and a former Ward 1 advisory neighborhood commissioner, said she didn’t vote in the club elections because it was a waste of time. “The Ward 1 Democrats has become very cliquish,” Wright-Smith told the AFRO. “The leaders of that organization know who they are going to elect in those positions so they get their people to the polls to vote them in. It doesn’t matter whether it is Jim Graham or Brianne Nadeau, they work to put their people into power.”
Nadeau has heard the talk of favoritism and dismisses it for the bigger picture for the ward. “I am really excited and confident about the energy that the new leadership of the Ward 1 Democrats will bring to the ward,” she told the AFRO.