Candidates interested in winning over voters east of the river had a chance to speak directly to constituents at a Ward 8 Democrats Endorsement Forum held March 16 at the Imagine Southeast Public Charter School.

Before the event kicked off, several people carrying signs and shouting support, rallied for D.C. Council member Anita Bonds, who was appointed to fill the position on a temporary basis by the D.C. State Democratic Committee in December, and former council member Michael A. Brown. Political observers believe Bonds and Brown are the strongest candidates in Ward 8 as they vie for an open at-large seat on the D.C. Council to be decided at a special election slated for April 23. Five of the Democratic hopefuls attended the event. There are seven candidates running for the seat.

The forum included a question and answer session and an endorsement vote by Ward 8 Democrats. Nearly 100 Democrats, press and interested citizens attended the forum including Ward 8 Council member Marion Barry. Barry, who was wearing an Anita Bonds campaign T-shirt by the end of the event, is endorsing the longtime political operative who managed a few of his political races and worked in his mayoral administration.

“This is a very important forum,” Barry said. “It’s important that we put to rest this lie that residents in Ward 8 don’t participate.”

Besides Bonds and Brown, candidates in attendance included attorney and former Clinton administration appointee Matthew Frumin, former reporter Elissa Silverman and attorney Paul Zukerberg.

Barry said he was glad the candidates took the forum seriously.

“I’m glad they showed up, all five of them,” he said. “That says something. If we weren’t powerful, they wouldn’t do that.”

Although the goal of the forum was to officially endorse a candidate, none reached the 60% vote threshold to receive an endorsement from the Ward 8 Democrats. Brown led with 26 votes, followed by 15 for Bonds, six for Silverman and two each for Frumin and Zukerberg.

In his opening statement, Brown emphasized his advocacy for residents of Ward 8 as economic development expands east of the Anacostia River.

“As our city continues to expand, we have to make sure we don’t kick people out of the city to make room for the new folks,” he said. “We can do both. We can have ethnic and economic diversity. We need to make sure the playing field is level for all. I’ve been fighting for that even when I was not on the council, fought for it when I was on the council and will continue to fight for it if you elect me back.”

Bonds highlighted her qualifications for the position and her ability to work with Ward 8 leadership.

“This is about who will advocate best for you in the District of Columbia on the council. Who will join with your leader here in Ward 8, council member and Mayor for Life Marion Barry,” Bonds said. “I’m that person. I’m sensitive, I’m caring, I’m committed, I’m competent and I have a record that shows that I have been a giver, an achiever and someone you can count on.”

Questions and comments for the candidates focused primarily on employment, economic development and affordable housing.

When the candidates were asked about their personal vision for Ward 8, Bonds responded by saying, “One of the things we have to concentrate on is making sure the unemployment rate is slashed. Employment of Ward 8 residents has to be one of the focus points.”

Brown discussed the future of Ward 8 by questioning the treatment of residents and how economic development will impact the predominantly Black ward.

“The issue is, is every ward treated the same and from my standpoint the wards on the eastern side of the city are not,” Brown said. “As development started to move east, the question isn’t where the development is going. The question is who’s going to benefit from it.”

On the question of housing, Brown emphasized the need to specify the meaning of affordable housing.

“I fought and won restoring $50 million to most of the affordable housing initiatives in this city. But until we change the definition of affordable, it doesn’t mean much,” Brown said. “Let’s talk about a teacher that makes $36,000 a year. You should be able to afford to live here, our teachers cannot.”

Leonard Watson, 40, a Ward 8 resident, said locals are worried about paying rent, as well as buying houses.

“Ward 8 has 80% renters. They should have been asking a question about how you are going to address the renters and keep them here with gentrification,” he said. “Those people that are renters cannot join in this because they are being displaced.”

According to political watchers, turnout for special elections is generally lower so candidates need to work hard to energize voters.

“Michael Brown does have household recognition at this point, but Anita Bonds who has worked constituent services for years. She’s tied into every ward, too—especially this ward,” said the Rev. Joyce Scott, president of the Ward 8 Democrats. “It depends on who really gets their vote out.” 

Teria Rogers

Special to the AFRO