Charles Allen (Twitter Photo)
Ward 6 is the only political jurisdiction in the District that covers all of the city’s four quadrants — Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast. The ward’s growing racial and economic diversity has elevated it from a political afterthought in the 1980s to one where political leaders make it a point to visit in their campaigns.
“It’s a snapshot of both our city’s successes and our city’s challenges,” the ward’s Councilmember Charles Allen (D) told the AFRO Feb. 10. “It also has some of the fastest growing neighborhoods and has more registered voters than any other Ward by almost 10,000 voters. Whether they’re working for great schools, focusing on affordable housing, growing small businesses, or helping seniors age in their homes, Ward 6 voters have a big and powerful voice in helping shape and guide our city’s future.”
Marc Hilt, a White member of the Ward 6 Democrats attended the organization’s town hall meeting on Feb. 3 at the Friendship Chamberlain School on Potomac Avenue in Southeast D.C. The event featured D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), At-large council members Vincent Orange (D) and Anita Bonds (D), and Allen. The overriding concern for the residents at the meeting was the District’s housing crisis and homelessness. A majority of the attendees were White, but in the ’80s, a similar meeting would have had a majority of Black attendees.
In 2010, the census estimated that Ward 6 had a White plurality of 49.7 percent and the percentage has gone up because of the influx of young White professionals. “The thing that changed this ward from being predominantly Black to majority White is the g-word, gentrification,” Hilt said. “So many Blacks have moved out of the neighborhoods and so many Whites have moved in. As a matter of fact, there is only one Black family left in my neighborhood and they have been there since the 1950s.”
Ward 6 encompasses one of the world’s most famous buildings – the U.S. Capitol – and includes gentrifying neighborhoods such as Capitol Hill, Southwest Waterfront, NoMa (North of Massachusetts Avenue), Navy Yard, and Shaw while areas such as Sursum Corda, Barney Circle, and Near Northeast are majority Black.
In 1990, Whites in the ward showed political muscle when they voted overwhelmingly for the last Black politician Harold Brazil for the D.C. Council in the Democratic primary. He replaced incumbent Nadine Winter.
Winter, said Hilt, wasn’t too friendly to Whites in her ward. “I remember we had a block party in our neighborhood but we didn’t invite her to it,” she said. “She found out about our party and came and was madder than a wet hen. She lectured us that we shouldn’t have any event in her ward without her knowledge.” Winter died in 2011.
In 1996, Brazil was elected as an at-large member of the D.C. Council. He was replaced by Sharon Ambrose in a 1997 special election. She became the first White member of the council representing Ward 6. Her successors, Tommy Wells and Allen, are White.
Ward 6 racial demographics aren’t the only thing that changed. For years, predominantly Black Wards 4 and sometimes Ward 5 led in the number of registered voters. That changed in 2011 when the District’s Department of Elections reported Ward 6 became No. 1 for registered voters with 65,626 and it has stayed that way. In a January 2016 report by the elections department, Ward 6 had 69,457 voters followed by Ward 5 with 56,372.
Blacks have tried to reassert themselves politically but have fallen short. In 2014, Darrel Thompson, an aide to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and chief of staff to Barack Obama when he ran for the Senate in 2004, tried to get the Democratic nomination to the D.C. Council seat but was defeated by Allen, 58 percent to 42 percent.
The Rev. Frankey Grayton, senior pastor at the Edgewood Baptist Church in Southeast, lives in Ward 6 but his church is in Ward 7. Grayton said that change is good but it must be inclusive of all residents. “Things have gotten better but not for everyone,” Grayton said. “People who were here during the bad times should be able to stay here while the ward is prospering and reap the benefits.”