After a competitive primary and special election in June, the November general election will be the third competitive race in the past six months for Ward 2’s representative on the DC Council. The Greater Greater Washington Elections Committee endorses independent candidate Randy Downs for the seat.

In addition to Downs, two other candidates — independent Martín Miguel Fernández and Statehood Green nominee Peter Bolton — are challenging Democratic incumbent Brooke Pinto. You can read more about the candidate backgrounds here and their responses to our questionnaire here.

Randy Downs is the best candidate on housing and transportation issues

Downs’ answers to our questionnaire show that he strongly supports the issues we care about – housing, transportation, good governance, equity, and sustainability. It was encouraging to see that all candidates expressed support for Mayor Bowser’s housing goals to produce 36,000 new units of housing by 2025 by setting targets in each part of the city. But going further than this, Downs showed an awareness of the historical land use inequities that motivate equitable housing production:

Through a resolution I supported as an ANC Commissioner, I further acknowledge that the District’s land use and development policies and actions were deliberately used for decades as a means to achieve de facto segregation by race and income class, and applaud current initiatives, such as eliminating restrictions in broad areas of the District that limit those areas to single family housing only. Eliminating single family zoning to allow duplexes, triplexes, and townhouses throughout those areas would be a means to increase density and diversity.

Regarding public housing redevelopment, Downs expressed support for including right to return and “build first” provisions in the DC Housing Authority’s 20-year plan to redevelop or rehabilitate aging properties. Such policies would prioritize building replacement units prior to any redevelopment and guaranteeing a right to return for residents living in public housing that is slated for renovation. This right to return should come, as Downs says, without “any restrictions based on credit scores, background checks or other red tape.”

Additionally, Downs affirmed his support for Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau’s Public Housing Preservation and Tenant Protection Amendment Act, which importantly would clarify DCHA tenants’ rights and provide for more council oversight in DCHA redevelopments.

Downs’ responses to our questionnaire and experience also make it clear that he is a strong advocate for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders. As an advisory neighborhood commissioner, Downs passed resolutions in support of the recently passed Vision Zero bill, banning right turns on red, and the 17th Street bike lanes, for which he was a major driving force in support during planning. His questionnaire responses affirm his support for re-appropriating on-street parking spaces for bike or bus lanes, or expanded public space.

More broadly, Downs shows ambition to challenge DC’s transportation status quo with his support for several transformative future projects, such as the 16th Street bus lanes, expanding bike lanes on major state avenues, the K Street Transitway, and the Dupont deck over Connecticut Avenue. Downs also brought up the possibility of raising parking fees to subsidize transit, which would be a politically courageous and important step in a more efficient use of our public spaces.

He supports common sense measures to reduce violent crime and police violence, such as banning stop and frisk and using some of DC’s budget to fund more health, housing, and violence interruption programs.

Downs’ experience as an ANC Commissioner in Dupont Circle shows that he has the experience to back up his progressive vision. Through drafting resolutions and working at the neighborhood level for several years, he knows the community, DC government, and what it takes to gain support for urbanist ideas. For example, during the implementation of temporary outdoor dining space during COVID, he worked with local businesses to preserve street spaces for deliveries. Making DC’s public spaces more walkable, sustainable, and equitable requires an understanding of how to manage competing interests, and we’re confident Downs can do so.

Brooke Pinto gives some very concerning answers

In her brief time in office, Brooke Pinto has supported $50 million for new public housing repairs in the FY 2021 budget, and says she supports the mayor’s housing goal and Nadeau’s efforts for public housing and tenants. She also voted in favor of the Vision Zero bill.

However, Pinto has made some statements that are major red flags. For instance, when asked what she might cut in DC’s budget given that times will be tight, she listed “McMillan Park,” along with the DC Streetcar and Cherry Blossom Festival.

While she didn’t elaborate on what exactly she means by “McMillan Park” as a budget item, it’s almost certainly a reference to a last-ditch demand from the small group of die-hard opponents of plans to build medical offices, stores, housing, and a new park on the fallow McMillan Sand Filtration Site off North Capitol Street. While the council has voted to move McMillan forward multiple times, the plan has endured years of opposition and near-constant lawsuits against a project that will generate jobs and tax revenue for the District along with needed housing, retail, medical services, and usable rather than vacant open space for area residents.

Despite this, the current demand from what’s a fringe element of DC policy debates is to “defund” McMillan by asking the District to withhold the cost of demolishing the site. As a budget matter, this isn’t fiscally prudent, since what’ll be built will bring even more tax revenue.

That Pinto suggested the McMillan project as a cost burden to DC demonstrates one of two things: either she is opposed to new housing and offices in DC on sites that have gone through years of public review (probably unlikely), or she is so unaware of long-running District issues, having never voted in DC before running for office, that she is basing her position on a fringe element that supported her in the primary rather than a detailed understanding of the issue.

Likewise, in non-Covid years, the Cherry Blossom Festival brings in over $120 million to the region, according to the National Park Service, and the festival period accounts for more than its share of DC sales taxes.

Asked in our questionnaire if she would support removing on-street parking in favor of dedicated infrastructure, Pinto equivocated, stating:

I do support expanding dedicated crosstown transitways, bus lanes, and bike lanes around the city. However, it is important to note that parking is already limited for our neighbors, so we need to be guided by the data and input of the residents of each neighborhood to understand what impact removing parking would have on a case by case basis.

The reality of the status quo is that the vast majority of DC street space is currently dedicated to single-occupancy vehicles and any shift to more sustainable modes of transportation requires drastically reducing this space. This will take more than just listening to neighbors; it will take commitment to a vision and political leadership.

If Pinto wins in this election, she will have work to do to learn more about the issues to effectively represent Ward 2, and there’s no guarantee she will support good policies. Residents should give their vote to a candidate who has a demonstrated commitment to a positive vision: Randy Downs.

In their questionnaires, Fernández and Bolton also had some good statements, but fell short of the quality of Downs’ answers and also lack his record.

How to Vote

This year’s election is one like no other, but there are several options to vote in DC:

  • Early in-person voting: Open from Tuesday, October 27 to Monday, November 2 from 8:30 am to 7 pm.
  • Election day in-person voting: Tuesday, November 3 from 7 am to 8 pm.
  • Vote by mail: Any mailed ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday, November 3 and received by the 10th day after the election.
  • Deposit ballot in one of the mail-in ballot drop boxes: Open now until 8 pm on Tuesday, November 3.

The Board of Elections (BOE) is sending a mail-in ballot to every registered voter. Anyone who isn’t registered can register to vote here or register in-person at one of the polling locations. Many Election Day polling places are not the same as in non-pandemic years past. Voters can check or update their registration status, find out more about voting and their polling places, at the BOE website.

SOURCE: Read the full article on Greater Greater Washington