By James Wright, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]
One of the District of Columbia’s most active political and cultural wards has a Black population over one-third and yet there are no Black candidates for that council seat this year.
Ward 6 encompasses the U.S. Capitol, the popular Eastern Market, gentrifying Shaw and the booming Southwest Waterfront that includes the Nationals Major League Baseball Stadium. It is 51 percent White, 35 percent Black and the rest Latino and others. The ward is represented by Charles Allen (D), who is White, and he believes his jurisdiction has matured beyond voting for candidates based solely on race.
“I appreciate the strong African-American leadership that is in my ward,” Allen told the AFRO. “As a council member, I am supposed to represent all of my constituents regardless of their race and deal with issues that matter to all residents.”
Allen has supported strong criminal justice reform on the council, making the system more humane for juvenile offenders, and wants more affordable housing in the District and modernizing school buildings. “These are issues that resonate for all Ward 6 residents and for working families and that includes African-American families,” he said.
Allen is seeking re-election to a second term on the D.C. Council and faces one opponent, Lisa Hunter in the June 19 Democratic primary. Allen will face a Republican, Mike Bekesha, in the Nov. 6 general election.
Hunter, who is part Jewish and part Latina, told the AFRO she will focus on affordable housing, job training and attainment and improving access to the District’s maternal and prenatal care system for African Americans in Ward 6.
African-American Nadine Winter (D) was elected as the first Ward 6 council member in 1974 and she served until 1991 when she was defeated by another African American, Harold Brazil (D). Brazil ran for an at-large position on the council in 1996 and served in that capacity until 2005.
When Brazil was elected at-large, his Ward 6 position was won by Sharon Ambrose, the first White woman to hold the position. Ambrose was followed by Tommy Wells (D) and Allen, who was elected in 2014.
In 2014, Allen defeated African-American Darrel Thompson in the Democratic Primary. Thompson chose not to seek a rematch this year but said the lack of a Black candidate is less a matter of race than an issue of getting involved in the political process.
“If people want to run for political office, they should run regardless of race,” Thompson told the AFRO. “It is good when people of different backgrounds become candidates. It makes the political process competitive and the voting public is exposed to a full range of ideas.”
Francis Campbell, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 6, told the AFRO he hasn’t decided who he will support for the Ward 6 position. “Many of the newer residents of the ward, who tend to be White, aren’t cognizant of the contributions of the long-term residents,” he said. In District lingo, older residents tend to mean Blacks and newer mean White and younger.
Campbell said when his Black neighbors go to meetings in the ward they become frustrated when there is talk about dog parks and not about economic development and public safety issues that should be addressed. In some ways, Campbell doesn’t blame the new residents entirely. “The new residents do have more resources and the African Americans in the ward aren’t as cohesive as they should be,” he said.