To the Winner:
First of all, congratulations on running a clean and honorable campaign. Sure, some verbal punches were thrown, but each candidate recognized the others’ love of the Nation’s Capital and commitment to solving its toughest problems.
You’re taking the reins of the city that The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently found the most expensive in the United States and that Forbes declared the coolest. These two superlatives may also point to why D.C. is also, arguably, the most difficult city to govern.
As a native Washingtonian and president of the Greater Washington Urban League (GWUL), I am deeply gratified to see robust economic development all around me, but I am also concerned that so many who have been part of the fabric of the city for so long have been left out of the bonanza.
If there could be just one word, sculpted in bronze, that you would keep on your desk at all times, let that word be balance. In your public declarations and private conferences, in your budget and policy and plans, please do your best to balance the demands of a thriving metropolis with the needs of the less fortunate. The mandate would be to balance our illustrious past and our dynamic future for all D.C. residents.
As you meet developers with ambitious visions for transforming our landscape, please keep in mind longtime residents like the elderly woman I encountered recently who had sold her home for $150,000—only to see it re-sold, in a matter of months, for more than five times that amount. Since $150,000 isn’t enough for her to buy a new home in the District, or even a condominium, where does she go after spending over 40 years here?
To maintain balance in the face of gentrification, the Greater Washington Urban League offers its full cooperation and partnership with your administration. We have assumed a leadership role in housing issues, building financial bridges to help residents transition from rental housing to home ownership. We conduct community workshops on How To Invest and Strategies to Accumulate Wealth, factors that lead to economic and family stability. We coach young people on how to apply for a loan and resolve credit issues.
Undoubtedly, you will confront a host of other challenges and even crises during your tenure. Education, safety and transparent government will always matter to your constituents, but in my conversations with community members who take advantage of GWUL’s programs, one question comes to the fore: Who will look out for the grassroots community in a rapidly changing city?
As a child, I lived in an apartment at Harvard and 15th Street in Columbia Heights—literally just one block from where the Greater Washington Urban League’s headquarters now stands. As I navigate the neighborhood I sometimes have to rub my eyes to make sure I’m not dreaming.
While it is a myth that D.C. is built on a swamp, it is a fact that it is built on dreams—dreams of equality, fairness and democracy. When I urge a balanced approach, I do not necessarily mean taking the safe or established path. Governing our city will take imagination and fresh thinking. When the voters cast their ballots for you, they were entrusting you with their dreams.
Congratulations again on your victory and on your opportunity to see those dreams put into action. We stand ready to help make the District of Columbia the best place to live for everyone—a superlative so inspirational that it serves as a model for other cities across the nation.
George H. Lambert Jr. is president and CEO of the Greater Washington Urban League.