2022 Election

Southwest Voice announces our endorsements for the 2022 primary election season: Robert White (DC Mayor), Phil Mendelson (Council Chairman), Lisa Gore (At-Large Council Member), and Bruce Spiva (DC Attorney General). As the District's only neighborhood-based social and racial justice newspaper, we have endorsed these candidates because they are the best hope to preserve Southwest's social diversity and neighborhood character while protecting against threats of eroding affordability and community autonomy. Our endorsements are based on candidates' positions, political viability, and familiarity with public policy discourse. We endorse two current councilors and two newcomers. We discuss at length our strong opposition to Ward 6 Councilor Charles Allen's reelection bid.


Strong Endorsement - Robert White (DC Mayor) - View online

Mr. Robert White has laid out a bold vision for this District during his mayoral race. We strongly endorse Mr. Robert White for DC Mayor because he represents compassionate leadership and forward-thinking to make meaningful Council reforms aimed at deep racial and economic inequity in the District. This paper has heavily criticized District political governance in the modern era (post-Control Board) for failing to address deep racial divides in health and wealth. There is a sixteen-year gap in life expectancy between Ward 8 and Ward 3. Median white income is nearly three times greater than black income. This paper refuses to normalize this apartheid-adjacent social reality. We believe that Mr. White is the most viable and experienced mayoral candidate who can meaningfully tackle these social ills.

We believe that Mr. R. White's stance on the issues are consistent with addressing structural determinants. On the issue of gun violence in the city, he is left-of-center of the mayor. She seeks a police force of 4,000 officers. He seeks a comprehensive approach that is more aligned with Chairman Mendelson's position. Mr. Robert White's position is that, "Violence is a symptom of a larger disease – when we underinvest in communities and don’t address the big obstacles holding people back from success, crime rises." His Seven-Point Plan reflects a root cause analysis that means we interrupt violence and ameliorate the social conditions that make a life of violence undesirable.

On the issue of affordable housing, he is right to point out that the Bowser administration misspent $82 million intended for affordable housing. "We have spent a lot of money, but people have not seen the value," chided Mr. White in a recent mayoral debate. "I am going to stand up to developers. If you want to be a part of our community, then you have to build the housing that we need." Mr. R. White offers fresh ideas for addressing the shortage of affordable housing - purchasing or subsidizing new affordable units on private land, social housing, working with developers to build more family-sized units, and turning vacant downtown office buildings into affordable housing units. These solutions have great potential because construction costs have skyrocketed as the ANC6D noted, "The Trust Fund has produced over 10,000 units since 2001, but because of rising construction costs and other factors it was expected to produce one-third fewer units last year than it did in 2015 (710 vs. 1140)."

We disagree with Mr. White on one issue - that of of his principle that increased density creates additional affordable housing. This should be qualified. Mr. White is no different from other candidates running for citywide offices who are reticent to discuss the legacy of racist housing policies in the District. The District has a structural problem concerning the housing crisis. Rock Creek West has zoning limited to low-density single-family homes. It is unfairly buffered against the severe community disruption and threats to neighborhood character. The intensity of redevelopment in Southwest contrasts sharply with the modest redevelopment on Capitol Hill, Georgetown, and elsewhere in less diverse and more affluent neighborhoods. As we discuss below, Ward 6 Councilor Charles Allen has taken great measures to protect his neighborhood from the intensity of change that he has facilitated in Southwest. Another buffer is that there are over three dozen historic districts in the city. DC has more individual historic buildings than Boston, Chicago, and Philadelphia combined. Despite Southwest's history dating back to the nation's founding, the city's oldest townhouses, and historic architecture, it remains the oldest neighborhood without a historic district. This has created a vulnerability that the District and developers are exploiting to cram luxury, oversized developments in our neighborhood.

We believe that Mr. Robert White is more willing to listen and act on such concerns than the current mayor. We say this because Mr. White has never denied this paper's request for a meeting. We must credit Mr. White for his openness and goodwill in serving as at-Large Councilor. When we and other public housing residents asked for a meeting several years ago to discuss deplorable housing conditions and environmental pollution, he expressed deep concern and committed to follow-up. With the levers of mayoral power, we believe that Mr. White will advance the public good for a more inclusive District.


Soft Endorsement - Phil Mendelson (Council Chairman) - View Online

For his part, Mr. Mendelson's leadership in steering the Comprehensive Plan of 2021 toward greater racial equity, anti-displacement, and affordable housing production was a master class in legislative writing. When Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George exhorted that affordable housing targets should be defined for 40% of median household income or less, Mr. Mendelson made further changes to the Comp Plan. He engaged extensively with constituent groups throughout the city. This paper had at least four opportunities to interface with him in a public forum. In addition, the new law requires District agencies to apply a racial equity lens on land use decisions. A year before passage of the plan, Mr. Mendelson played a key role in the passage of the Racial Equity Achieves Results Amendment Act of 2020. Introduced by Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, the REACH Act provides for racial equity impact assessments on proposed legislation and directs each executive agency to establish at least one racial equity goal and to work closely with the newly created Office of Racial Equity. "Even though Councilmember McDuffie introduced the REACH Act, that was substantially revised by me. I'm the one who proposed two offices on racial equity - one at the Council and one on the executive branch," said Mr. Mendelson in response to our question during his May 2021 townhall.

It is true that the Comprehensive Plan is under litigation. More than a dozen Plaintiffs, including this paper's editor-in-chief, are alleging harm arising from inadequate impact assessments in 2021. The District did not conduct impact assessments in 2013 and 2017, as the law requires. Those actions affected Southwest especially hard because District agencies led by the Office of Planning approved projects before the Zoning Commission such as the Wharf, Randall School, and Buzzard Point without the benefit of a thorough impact assessment. No doubt, had there been assessments, it would have shown an imminent threat to social diversity and displacement in Southwest. After all, the original plan for the Wharf included one-third truly affordable housing. The government conducted no analysis after DC Council waived deep affordability at the Wharf in 2011. There is judicial signaling that the Zoning Commission's decisions within the last year or greater could be declared unlawful if the lawsuit is successful.

It is also true that Southwest Voice was critical of Mr. Mendelson and Mr. R. White following Black Southwest residents' meeting in April of last year. We had rightfully concluded at that time that Mr. White was tone deaf to the concerns of Black residents and that Mr. Mendelson extinguished hope that the Comprehensive Plan would fundamentally reform the District's urban planning policy. Both men displayed courage, leadership growth, and new awakenings since that time.

There are few elected officials in the District in recent memory as deeply analytical, conversant in policy, and willing to consider opposing views as Mr. Mendelson. Most importantly, Mr. Mendelson is adaptable to change and makes himself available to the public through his "Meet Up with Mendo," a townhall of sorts where he takes questions. Mr. Mendelson's quick thinking and command of issues are on full display.

Our soft endorsement of Chairman Mendelson is conditional. This should be Mr. Mendelson's last term for two reasons. First, a democracy best functions when there is turnover in political leadership. Mr. Mendelson has served on DC Council since 1998. That is long enough. This is not ageism. It is rooted in deep democratic conviction - that the consequences of unchanging political rule can be too great and ruinous. A third-term Bowser administration would be disastrous. Even for a slaveowner like Thomas Jefferson, such rule at the national level would be intolerable. He portended a dire future, "God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion..And what country can preserve [its] liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?...The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time..." We omitted errant parts of his 1787 letter that sought to justify violence to achieve political change. If he wins, Mr. Mendelson should consider that to be his last term and immediately bring potential city leaders under his tutelage. Our second reason for our soft endorsement is that Erin Palmer is unfamiliar to this paper. In reviewing her stance on issues, we cannot pinpoint how her proposals would directly affect Southwest. They are too vague. We endorse Mr. Mendelson, in part, because his opponent has not provided sufficient evidence that she can come close or can meet Mr. Mendelson's almost encyclopedic understanding of District issues. We strongly implore stronger candidates to run against Mr. Mendelson after his next term expires, assuming he is elected in the fall.


Strong Endorsement - Bruce Spiva (DC Attorney General) - View Online

Before we discuss why we are strongly endorsing Mr. Spiva for Attorney General, we need to provide our readers with some background. Attorney General Karl Racine leaves behind a complicated legacy. On the issues that this paper cares most about such as gentrification, public housing redevelopment, affordable housing, and displacement, Mr. Racine has been on the wrong side of history. Until recently, the Office of Attorney General served as legal counsel for the Zoning Commission and had advised the Commission not to consider the threat of gentrification in evaluating a project's potential impact. Since OAG evaluated every project before the Zoning Commission, it provided a legal framework that was directly responsible for widespread displacement. A court later ruled against this legal advice and told the Zoning Commission that gentrification was within its purview. When this paper met with the Office of Attorney General about gentrification and displacement in Southwest over the years, we were repeatedly told that gentrification and displacement were "political questions" beyond the reach of the Office of Attorney General. It goes without saying that OAG remains in a position of defending the mayor's problematic housing policies. Now, to salvage its reputation, the Office of Attorney General is playing the victim card. "I think the development arm of this city has acted intentionally with great purpose, and we see the result. The highest level of displacement of anywhere else in the United States of America...We're going to work as hard as we can for the next 13 months to ensure that zoning laws and other actions actually don't hurt longtime DC residents and vulnerable people." said Attorney General Racine in a recent interview. Respectfully, Mr. Racine, it is too little too late - the irreparable harm has been done.

Which brings us to Mr. Spiva. We need a clean break from Mr. Racine who is endorsing Brian Schwalb in the Attorney General race. Southwest Voice strongly endorses Mr. Bruce Spiva for Attorney General. Mr. Spiva has fought against discrimination in housing and obtained funding to improve public housing conditions. He successfully defended Black, Asian, and Latino residents of Columbia Heights who had been displaced by developers and the District under the guise of “housing code enforcement" and secured them compensation. Mr. Spiva has represented labor unions as a civil rights lawyer. His analysis of wage suppression reflects deep analysis of structural inequity, "These practices [of circumventing labor laws] also harm honest businesses that pay their workers fair and lawful wages and benefits, because they often get underbid for contracts by firms that are cheating their workers and therefore can underbid for jobs knowing that they will achieve “savings” by unlawfully underpaying their workers."

Mr. Spiva is prolific - serving as lead counsel for a nationwide consumer class action against an Internet service provider, achieving an antitrust settlement against a big oil company, and representing classes of District residents who were overcharged for products such as computer screens and e-books. Mr. Spiva provides the experience in social and racial justice that District residents desperately need and deserve in an Attorney General.


Endorsement - Lisa Gore (At-Large Councilor) - View Online

Southwest Voice endorses Lisa Gore for at-Large Councilor to succeed Anita Bonds. Ms. Gore brings considerable federal housing oversight and accountability. As a former special federal agent, she has conducted investigation on mortgage and financial fraud and would bring a wealth of timely experiences to Council. "My expertise is is rare. I want to bring that to DC because we need it," said Ms. Gore in a recent interview with Team Rayceen. She is right. With the DC Housing Authority under a HUD investigation and its former officials under a Department of Justice investigation, Ms. Gore is the right choice given not only DCHA's poor performance, but also the city's less-than-stellar track record. The Bowser administration misspent $82 million from the Housing Production Trust Fund that were intended for affordable housing production and awarded housing contracts to low-scoring applications. Gore's investigative expertise is desperately needed. She is seeking to advance social housing models and community land trusts to address affordable housing needs while funding public housing repairs.


Hard Rejection - Charles Allen (Ward 6) - View Online

We cannot in all good conscience endorse Charles Allen - the only ballot-eligible contender in the Democratic primary for Ward 6. In fact, Southwest Voice charges Mr. Allen with structural racial violence against African Americans. He has been too indifferent to the plight of Blacks in his Ward - yawning chasms in health and economic security, not to mention Black displacement. His staff member, Naomi Mitchell, said to this paper during the redistricting process last year that, "Charles cannot win Ward 6 reelection without Southwest." That may be true (and illegal since mapping should not be drawn for incumbent advantage), but what is also true is that Mr. Allen uses Southwest instrumentally and would cease to be as useful to developers if he did not have Southwest in his Ward. As opposed to Navy Yard, Southwest remains a "hard nut to crack," as Ram Uppuluri, DC Council Committee on Housing Director, described.

Mr. Allen oversees the most gentrified ward in the most gentrified city in the nation. He has said little publicly about Black displacement, growing racial disparities, and declining affordability. Mr. Allen's top priority for Southwest is to oversee the completion of urban renewal. He is indifferent and silent on its costs for Black and low-income residents in his ward. Mr. Allen is deeply aligned with developer interests and wants to use Southwest for wealth-building for the top 1% who have exploited public land and the tax system (e.g. cash subsidies, tax abatement) to maximize their profits at the expense of meaningful affordable housing investment. While he is content to allow Southwest become a developers' playground (e.g. two stadiums, three professional sports teams, the Wharf, high cost housing), Mr. Allen opposes the NFL team returning to RFK Stadium, which is a quick car ride down the street from his home.

Mr. Allen derives his power from two main sources: the economic activity within his ward and many Southwest homeowners who would like nothing more than to see the structural violence against Blacks continue if that means their property values continue to rise. They want to get richer off the backs of the poor and Black, salivating at the prospect of Greenleaf redevelopment. Many homeowners have privately told this paper that they are waiting with bated breath for Greenleaf.

Mr. Allen may occasionally support, even introduce progressive legislation like the “Books From Birth” program and propose increasing taxes on the rich, but these distract from his central governance principle. Mr. Allen's primary, secondary, and tertiary goals are to finish urban renewal in Southwest. Black displacement, rising rents, and social whitening are merely collateral damage to his gentrified vision.

His priority is to see that urban renewal is completed expeditiously. It is our belief that he needed to retain Southwest in Ward 6, in part, to shepherd major projects coming online like Buzzard Point, Greenleaf, South Capitol, and both Waterfront Stations on Fourth Street. Another goal is to use his political influence and patronage to curry favor with vulnerable communities and minority leaders, so as to prevent the aggrandizement of collective Black power and assuage developers' concerns about the preponderance of public housing in an anticipated sea of Class A luxury housing. In short, he is engaged in a surreptitious campaign to sow seeds of deep division among Blacks. This paper is intimately aware of his manipulative tactics to play favorites with certain African American leaders, elevating those who are more private or less strident in their views about deep racial injustice. His most recent move involves his former chief of staff heading a new non-profit in Southwest set up by individuals associated with the SW BID. This coordination within Mr. Allen's fiefdom exemplifies his level of sophistication in social control. Mr. Allen obscures his real intent and the racial consequences of his political agenda to many of his African American allies. As we discussed in previous issues, Mr. Allen misled Southwest for years that the fire station was a viable Build First site for Greenleaf. It isn't and never was. This paper categorically rejects Mr. Allen as the Ward 6 Democratic nominee and highly encourages a viable general election challenger.