WAMU 88.5 : The Kojo Nnamdi Show

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Video Recap: At-Large D.C. Council Debate

Half a dozen candidates are up for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council in a special election scheduled for April 23. 
Half a dozen candidates are up for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council in a special election scheduled for April 23. 

Six candidates running for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council discussed ethics, transportation and how to manage a changing demographic during a special debate Monday on The Kojo Nnamdi Show.

D.C. voters will choose an at-large member of the Council in a special election on April 23. The permanent seat was left vacant by Phil Mendelson, who replaced former D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown after a bank fraud scandal. The turnover opened up a flood of concerns about the ethics and trustworthiness of local government leaders. 

Watch highlights and video clips from the debate below. 

The first hour of the debate focused on issues related to ethics. 

00:10 - The candidates considered where they draw the line between horse-trading and unethical behavior. Democratic candidate Elissa Silverman said Jim Graham should have faced a more severe punishment: "I think that the Council should have censured Mr. Graham, and I think that we need to take a strong position because I think the public trust has been broken."

00:15 - On why the D.C. Statehood Green part doesn't take corporate donations, Statehood Green candidate Perry Redd said, "I don't do dancing. I'm a songwriter...Corporations are people, my friend, and we cannot allow that."

00:18 - Democratic candidate Paul Zukerberg discussed decriminalizing marijuana. "I am the only candidate who's actually running on a platform that's against his own personal interests. My livelihood is defending people on marijuana cases. And if elected, I want to decriminalize marijuana. I want to put myself out of business. I'm not running on my own personal interests, but for what's good for the citizens."

00:20 - Silverman discussed why she accepted campaign contributions from Sinclair Skinner and what she would do if he bid for contracting work that the Council had to approve. Silverman said she would consider a proposal "on the merits." She added that Silverman said he donated to her campaign because, "I want district government to move forward, and you have always been fair and accurate and honest. And your agenda has been a reform agenda to improve district government, and that's my agenda, too"

00:25 - A caller asked D.C. Council member and Democratic candidate Anita Bonds whether she would recuse herself from anything related to contracting work with Fort Myer Construction. Bonds, who is on a leave of absence from the firm, said she would quit her job if elected to the Council. "Yes. Unequivocal," she said.

00:26 - Democratic candidate Matthew Frumin said he would quit his job if elected: "I will unequivocally not go back to my work, not have any association with my law firm should I win this election." 

00:33 - The panel discussed how Patrick Mara, the only Republican in this race, is any different from the national Republican Party. "We have faux voting representation in the party platform. So we are really creating an urban model for the nation. And, you know, we're the type of, you know, more of a progressive Republican Party." 

00:56 - Frumin challenged Mara about his contribution to Romney's presidential campaign over Obama's, particularly why he donated an amount of $999. Mara didn't address the contribution, saying, "They just want to make me out to be this monster, but I'm not." He added that there's no one in the District who believed that Obama would fall short in the election. 

The second hour of the debate centered on the politics of a transforming city and what local government can do about it. Issues included gentrification, the racial makeup of the Council and affordable housing. 

00:11 - On the importance of having Council members who are black, Bonds said, "I just try to make it clear that people want to have their leadership reflect who they are. And the majority of the District of Columbia is still African American, 50 percent is African American, so there's a natural tendency to want your own."

00:16 - WAMU 88.5 reporter Patrick Madden pressed the issue of what the Council could do specifically to address affordable housing. Mara replied by suggesting the city lower taxes and create incentives. "Maybe we should examine ways to incentivize and make it easier for residents who have been living in the district for, you know, 25 years, 30 years to stay in the District of Columbia."

00:19 - Adding to the affordable housing conversation, Redd said, "The specifics include inclusionary zoning, holding these developers accountable for not adhering to the rules that are already in place, taking away their tax incentives."

00:20 - Host Kojo Nnamdi asked what difference it makes if the Council's membership is majority black or white. Redd said, "But the fact of the matter is that what we've learned from history -- and not just Washington's history but America's history, that whites -- when Europeans are in control of any elected body, they do not care for the most vulnerable who happen to be people of color. So that is the chief reason why that's important."

00:37 - On whether he would support the use of public funds to help D.C. United build a new stadium, Mara said, "I'm generally supportive, but until you can see the economics of a proposal it's tough to say that you support or oppose it."

00:47 - How do you think the city can encourage public transit, walking, biking, and the like, without alienating the people throughout the city who legitimately need vehicles for their everyday lives or for their jobs? Bonds said, "When I talk to young people, you know, they like the subway and what have you. We are -- we have to face it that we're landlocked as a community, and that means that we have to have a variety of sources of transportation."

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