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Robert White is the Democratic nominee for an at-large D.C. council seat in November. (Photo/robertwhiteatlarge.com)

In one of the first interviews since winning the Democratic At-Large council primary, presumptive council candidate Robert White, who grew up in D.C., talked to the AFRO about being on the District’s legislative body and the upcoming Nov. 8 general election. White, former legislative counsel to D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and the prior director of community service for D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine (D), defeated veteran D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large) and political newcomer David Garber by getting 39.48 percent of the vote.

White carried the majority White Wards 2, 3, and 6, and led substantially in Ward 1 that is plurality White. In the majority Black wards of 5, 7, and 8 he came up short to Orange but in his home Ward 4, which is predominantly Black, he was edged out by Orange by only two percentage points.

“I will reach out to those residents that didn’t vote for me,” White told the AFRO on June 27 about his plans for the general election. “I will work hard to get the votes particularly in Wards 5, 7, and 8.”

As the Democratic nominee, White is the favorite to win one of the two at-large council seats in the general election. The Democratic Party voter registration edge over the Republicans in the District is 10 to 1 and no Democratic at-large candidate in a general election cycle has ever lost.

White is campaigning to be elected with a strong mandate to make “Washington, D.C. a place for everyone.”

“I want to make sure that the growth that is taking place in the city will reach everyone,” he said. “There are African Americans who don’t feel that they are full participants in the growth of the city and I want to change that. I like the fact that people want to come to D.C. and live and that hasn’t been the case in past generations.”

White said the city’s well-known high cost of living and limited housing stock are deterrents to some who left the District but want to come back. During the campaign, Orange proposed tiny houses while others suggested District government employees live in comprehensive dormitory-style housing. White rejected both of those ideas. “The land that tiny houses are on can be used for bigger houses for higher density.” he said. “Besides, a tiny house would not be a good thing for a senior citizen to be in. Dormitories aren’t a desirable mode of living especially for young professionals.”

White said that dormitory living wouldn’t be comfortable and that city should offer rent subsidies and tax breaks for District government employees to live in the city. “Seventy percent of all District government employees don’t live in D.C.,” he said. “They don’t make the salaries that allow for that. That needs to be changed.”

White said the city’s policy on economic development should be small business-centered instead of focusing on large corporations. He said small businesses are the key to the revitalization of struggling corridors such as Kennedy Street, N.W., and Alabama Ave., S.E. “Small businesses aren’t moving to these corridors because it is too costly to locate there,” he said. “We need to make setting up a business on Kennedy Street or Alabama Avenue financially feasible.”

White, a scholar from American University Washington College of Law, said small businesses can buttress the lack of big-box retailers. “In New York City, a large number of communities don’t have large grocery retailers but instead have smaller stores with fresh food at affordable prices and they aren’t food deserts,” he said. “If you strengthen small businesses you don’t need the large corporations.”

White is looking forward to working with his council colleagues in January 2017 and he knows he has a lot to learn.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) has a policy that freshman legislators won’t chair a committee. Some D.C. Council observers say that limits the power of freshman lawmakers but White disputes that. “The D.C. Council is a 13-member body and every member has a vote,” he said. “As a council member, to push your agenda, you have a vote, a bully pulpit, the media, and a lot of tools at your disposal.”

White has pledged to work with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), who didn’t support him in the primary, and will work with D.C. Council member Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), his ward council member. Todd said that he will work with White as well. “Robert White is my neighbor and he is my friend,” Todd told the AFRO at his annual “Family Fun Day” event June 26. “I look forward to working with him on the council.”