Smokefree DC is a citizen-based group whose goal is to promote smokefree environments in Washington, DC.

D.C. candidate forum: entertaining, informative

I just got back from D.C. for Democracy’s candidate forum. It was quite an entertaining show. D.C. for Democracy did a great job running the forum and luring candidates – most of the people running for local offices showed up, including the Mayor Adrian Fenty, Council Chair Vincent Gray and five Councilmembers (Kwame Brown, Jim Graham, Phil Mendelson, Harry Thomas and Tommy Wells). Oh yes, Eleanor Holmes Norton showed up, but she was late and missed the delegate segment. She said she was held up at the House of Representatives, which is curious, since Congress is not in session this week. She was allowed to give her opening statement but she missed all the questions.

I was standing outside by the entrance talking to Doug Sloan, candidate for D.C. delegate to Congress, when the mayor approached. He moves quickly – it took just a split second for him to glide inside One Judiciary Square, at which point I realized that I have a question to ask him: What happened to his principles? Why didn’t he veto the really bad Jack Evans cigar exemption bill? Hopefully I’ll catch him at the next forum.

Questions for the candidates focused on economic development, schools, marriage equality, income inequality and the nuts-and-bolts of city governance.

Not surprisingly, incumbents focused on their records and experience in office, sometimes seeming a bit irked by criticism from their opponents (think Fenty and Councilmember Jim Graham of Ward 1, whose opponents were particularly ascerbic). (Graham has always been a huge smokefree supporter but we were disappointed in his support for the Jack Evans bill.)

The council chair race features Kwame Brown, currently an At-Large councilmember (and a strong smokefree supporter), who deftly answered questions and showed that he has gained a lot of knowledge during his years on the Council. His opponent is Vincent Orange, who did vote for the smokefree workplaces legislation in 2006 but was a latecomer in voicing support for it. Orange’s stated reason for jumping into the race: The district is headed to disaster and the financial control board is about to take over if he doesn’t come back to straighten things out. Not exactly a positive, upbeat message.

In the contested At-Large race, Councilmember Phil Mendelson (also a huge smokefree supporter) provided thoughtful and straightforward answers. He said he would like to do away with earmarks, while his opponent Clark Ray defended them and said they were necessary; Mendelson also said he is for streetcars, but spending money on them before planning for them is folly.

Very little came up in the way of health, save for some questions about HIV prevention; hopefully we’ll hear more about tobacco control efforts, childhood obesity and other health matters at future forums.

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