The room was packed at Thurgood Marshall Academy (TMA) Tuesday night for the Year of the Anacostia Forum for At-large Candidates sponsored by the Anacostia Coordinating Council and the Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative.
The forum was an opportunity for candidates for the at-large seat on the Council of the District of Columbia to talk about their positions on the environment in Ward 8, among other topics. While APACC does not endorse any specific candidates, we believe that it is important for city government leaders to discuss their plans and priorities for achieving a clean Anacostia River, vibrant parks, and a thriving community.
The at-large candidates attending the event were Ralph Chittams, Sr. (R), Rustin Lewis (I), Dionne Reeder (I), David Schwartzman (Statehood Green), and Elissa Silverman (I), the incumbent.
Students from the school were the first to pose questions to the candidates, followed by questions from a panel and open questions from the audience. In response to Lauryn Renford, a TMA senior student who is organizing a new mural to commemorate youth victims of gun violence, many of the program and event participants agreed that evidence-based approaches to violence prevention were important. Addressing questions on voter and youth engagement, nearly all candidates supported a measure put forth by Councilmember Charles Allen to reduce the voting age to 16 in DC.
Steve Coleman of Washington Parks and People (an APACC member) asked the candidates how parks and open space could be used to achieve equity, justice and jobs in Wards 7 and 8.
Chittam argued that more funding needed to be assigned to open space, and Silverman argued that while the east side of the river has parks that are some of “the most beautiful parts of the city,” the National Park Service (NPS) doesn’t do enough to keep it up. Reeder suggested working with NPS to improve community policing of parks, and Schwartzmann said he would put more pressure on the Federal government to improve the parks. Lewis said that the environment was simply not one of his priorities.
When asked about the biggest environmental injustices facing communities east of the river, the candidates talked about safety, lead, litter, poverty, and health disparities.
In addition, many candidates supported splitting the Council’s Committee on Transportation and the Environment into two separate committees. Most of the candidates agreed that support for more urban farming could lead to more productive use of open space, while Reeder and Silverman emphasized the need for more green jobs and green job training programs east of the river. When discussing the need to invest in sustainable energy and climate resilience, Silverman and Schwartzmann argued that the burden of improvements shouldn’t be put on low-income families.
A straw poll was conducted at the end of the forum and all attendees regardless of age were allowed to cast votes. (Conducting and sharing the results of this straw poll does not in any way constitute an endorsement of any candidate by the Anacostia Coordinating Council, Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative, or any of its members.) The results:
Dionne Reeder: 44
Elissa Silverman: 27
Ralph Chittams: 14
David Schwartzman: 9
Rustin Lewis: 9
Anita Bonds: 7
Jeremiah Lowery (write-in): 1
Karen Lee (write-in): 1