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In Response to the Washington Post

Candidates recently received a Yes/No questionnaire from the Washington Post addressing complex issues facing our city. In my opinion, the Washington Post's questionnaire reflects what is wrong with our political discourse today. Unfortunately, it only provided me the option to answer narrowly and without nuance. Moreover, it framed questions in false choices and false dichotomies. These types of choices are not how we should approach policy decisions to create a city where everyone is thriving. We need thoughtful policymaking, not governing by soundbites or fearmongering. I declined the opportunity to participate in the Washington Post's questionnaire — I refuse to pretend that the most complex issues facing our city today are as simple as yes or no.

Below are the questions asked in a Yes/No format and my expanded views.

Should D.C. employ more police officers than the current size of the force? * Y/N

Violence and accountability are huge concerns for our community, and our city must be urgent in finding solutions. More importantly, we must ask the right questions to make informed choices. I believe the choice of whether or not to hire 4,000 police officers to address violence is a false one. While it has been noted that our police force is smaller now than it has been in recent years and our city’s homicides are at a recent high, we have not been provided sufficient data or proof that the size of our police force is the cause of rising violence. Correlation does not equal causation, and DC still has more police per capita than any other city.

Crime is on the rise across the country (even in jurisdictions that have not seen a reduction in police) during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. That says to me that the recent rise in violent incidents like homicide and carjackings in DC is likely linked to a widening wealth gap, mental health strains due to the pandemic, lacking family accountability, the continued disinvestment in schools and communities, and the policy choices that keep low-income communities across the country stuck in cycles of trauma and violence.

Before we pour such a significant amount of additional funds into policing, we need to know what specific needs exist within the police force that are not being filled and work to address them. We deserve to hear the Mayor’s plan to improve MPD culture, efficiency, and effectiveness. In 2021, only 46% of the year’s homicide cases were solved, and only 26% of the robberies were solved. Yet, the Mayor is asking Council to sign off on a $30 million check that will produce only 36 more officers in FY 2023 without any mention of improved training or effectiveness. Imagine if $30 million was split across many life-changing resources and funneled into building healthy communities that would lead to fewer crime incidents. The debate is not whether we staff MPD to 4,000 or not, but whether we invest in the many resources necessary — all of them (including MPD) — to address violence.

We need to use the police we already have more effectively. Police should prioritize enforcing and responding to violent crimes, and move away from the myriad of duties they perform that are better suited for others, such as behavioral health or traffic enforcement professionals. We need to use data more effectively and aggressively to target repeat offenders. And we also need a strategy to make sure that we reduce the number of very-high risk individuals every year until we get to zero.

It is troubling that years after the Council’s Police Reform Commission, our city’s leaders have ignored the recommendations and returned to the failed policies of our past: centering only the police in its policy prescriptions for community safety without asking for accountability and effectiveness from them. We need a comprehensive public safety plan, not arbitrary numbers or more attempts at passing the blame. As the National Institute of Criminal Justice Reform recently said, “the District should establish a clear citywide strategy that focuses intentional, structured, and intensive intervention efforts on those [500] individuals [per year] identified as being at very high risk of being involved in gun violence.”

I maintain that the Mayor’s Building Blocks DC, a program designed to bring together various government agencies to address underlying causes of violence, was a step in the right direction. But a lack of coordination, transparency, and community engagement has hindered the program’s effectiveness. As the next Ward 5 Councilmember, I will do whatever it takes to be a partner with the Executive in addressing violence. Still, in doing so, I will not simply sign a blank check without evidence or accountability for making sure to use it effectively. I encourage neighbors to read my Violence Prevention Platform to learn more about the strategies I will advance to improve safety. We must invest money in ways that will make neighbors safer.

Do you support continued mayoral control of D.C. Public Schools? * Y/N

I’ll admit, I’ve moved on this issue, given my work on the State Board. The promise of mayoral control of DCPS was to make the education system more efficient to benefit student outcomes. But I have seen how our current system isn’t working up close.

Undoubtedly, there have been improvements within DC’s school system that we should build upon, including student achievement gains, data collection at OSSE (although much more is needed), and increased trust with parents. Unfortunately, however, our governance structures have also produced significant inefficiencies and inequities, insufficient support for school leaders and teachers, a lack of budget and decision transparency, and a flagrant lack of accountability.

Schools across DCPS lack working technology and sufficient access to nurses, social workers, and other critical resources. Performance for our most vulnerable students has not improved. Parents were promised schools would be ready on day one of the school year, and they were not. Still to this day, during a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, many DCPS schools do not have functioning HVAC systems. And in some cases, parents have to do daily runs to drop off bottled water because school water fountains are inoperable. Parents and students have been subject to buildings falling apart with no real solution and no actual system check.

I witnessed school leaders overwhelmed by having to run school buildings while conducting contact tracing at the height of the pandemic. In some instances, school leaders spent half of their day engaging in COVID-19 protocols. Unfortunately, this meant they could not effectively facilitate student learning in their buildings. What’s more, DCPS leadership promised COVID coordinators, and only a handful of Ward 5 DCPS schools have them today. And outside of any actual check on the system, issues are only elevated when journalists or parents dig in and tweet out what’s happening in our schools. This is unacceptable.

At Washington Met, mayoral control gave DCPS leadership cover to unilaterally close a school with no community engagement, insufficient communication, and no plan to transfer the students after the building’s doors closed. Regardless of whether you agreed that Washington Met should have been closed or not, we should all agree that process matters. Instead, our students, parents, and teachers bear the brunt of poor planning and execution without any actual check or balance.

As with any system that is not transparent or accountable, changes are needed. I believe it is beyond time for us to center parent and educator perspectives in DCPS decision-making by establishing a local board for the LEA. (I do not support the State Board playing this role, as it is important to maintain the State Board’s statewide functions.) In doing so, we can improve communication and coordination (which are desperately needed within DCPS) and ensure there are sufficient checks and balances for our largest school system. This change will build upon the improvements we’ve seen in our school system, not hinder it. And for those worried that a local DCPS board will mean increased bureaucracy, I can point them to the many parents and educators exhaustingly calling for more structure, input, and clear feedback loops.

Should D.C. replace on-street parking in some places with bus lanes or bike lanes? * Y/N

There is no blanket answer to this question, as each situation and each type of parking is unique. In general, we need to redesign our streets for safety and address the now routine occurrence of speeding cars through our communities. I’m willing to facilitate tough conversations between neighbors about the best approach for doing that in each instance. I encourage neighbors to read my Safe Streets Platform to read more about the strategies I will advance to improve safety.

Do you support congestion pricing downtown to reduce vehicular traffic during rush hour? * Y/N

After sufficient planning, study, and engagement, yes.

Would you support increasing the density of some parts of the city, such as converting single-family zoning to zoning that allows construction of multi-family buildings? * Y/N

Changes to zoning should not be taken lightly. What’s more, changes to zoning present a great opportunity to expand affordable housing in Ward 5 where there is so much industrial land. I support changes to single-family zoning that allows construction of multi-family buildings through the development of Small Area Plans (SAPs) and significant input from community members. I often say that neighbors are less resentful of change but rather change that happens to them versus with them. As the next Ward 5 Councilmember, I will honor the need to deal with population growth while centering community voices in the decision process.

Should the city require people who are homeless to leave tent encampments, after they are offered housing assistance? * Y/N

The city promised that it would expedite housing for unhoused neighbors through the Rapid Rehousing Program, and then it would clear encampments. Unfortunately, what ended up happening is that before some unhoused neighbors received housing, the government took bulldozers to encampments to destroy the few belongings some of our most vulnerable neighbors possessed. One unhoused neighbor was bulldozed while in his tent, which speaks to the callousness of this approach.

If we want to make sure we don’t have tent encampments in the city, we need to put in the work to do meaningful engagement with folks to build trust and secure permanent housing for them. We then need to place people in permanent supportive housing so that we aren’t just moving people around. After we do that, I support clearing tent encampments. It is important to note that this is not what happened in DC.

As the next Ward 5 Councilmember, I will do whatever it takes to be a partner with the Executive in addressing homelessness. Still, it is critical that the government keeps its promises and works to solve problems versus settling for temporary fixes that do more to cause trauma and prolong homelessness.

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