One thing was clear from the candidate questionnaires that Smokefree DC reviewed last week: Most candidates vying for office in the April 1 primary are spot-on when it comes to understanding some key secondhand smoke issues. At the same time, though, they are clueless about other secondhand smoke issues, often contradicting the logic they exhibited in a previous question.
In fact, we were pretty stunned by the variation within the same questionnaires — in one question, the candidate would recognize the health hazards of secondhand smoke, while in the next, he or she would express a market-forces-should-prevail opinion.
However, a few candidates stood out as fully grasping the fact that secondhand smoke is a health hazard, and that the right of nonsmokers to breathe clean air should trump a smoker’s desire to light up. Those who aced the questionnaire:
* Mayoral candidate Andy Shallal, who has been an early and longtime supporter of smokefree workplaces and made his restaurant/bar Mimi’s smokefree long before the law required him to do so;
* Councilmember Jim Graham, who also has been a longtime supporter of smokefree workplaces and is running for re-election to his Ward 1 seat; and
* Charles Allen, who is contending for the seat of his former boss, Tommy Wells, in Ward 6.
Brianne Nadeau, who is trying to unseat Graham in Ward 1, also got high marks, earning a B+.
Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3), did really well on some answers but not so well on others, which gave her a C+. It is worth noting that she pushed hard last year to expand a smokefree playground bill to include not just playgrounds, but parks and bus shelters as well. And a couple of years ago, she recognized and tried to block a move to blow a huge hole in the smokefree workplace law under the guise of making an exception for just two events. We greatly appreciate her support and took her record into account, as we did with all candidates.
Kenyan McDuffie, who is running to keep his Ward 5 seat, and Anita Bonds, who is vying to keep her At-Large seat, both got Cs for the same reason: they had really strong answers on some questions but very weak answers on others.
Even the candidates who didn’t do so well overall had some really excellent answers on some of the questions. But that wasn’t enough to outweigh some answers that we found really problematic. They were the current mayor, Vince Gray; mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans and Reta Lewis; and Ward 6 candidate Darrel Thompson, all of whom got Fs.
The questionnaire had 11 questions. We assigned points to each question so the points added to 100, then added up the totals for each candidate.
We admit that we are tough graders. It’s no longer sufficient to simply not oppose smokefree legislation. We want the cigar exception that the Council carved out in 2011 without public input repealed. Anyone who is okay with keeping it is not going to get an A from us. And because the questionnaire has just 11 questions, each one is weighted pretty heavily. So doing poorly on one question (such as opposing tobacco-free pharmacy legislation) may lead to a full drop in a letter grade.
You can view all the answers here. Candidates whose names do not appear did not respond to the questionnaire.
Thanks to the candidates who took the time to answer the questions. For those who didn’t do so well: If you win, we would be happy to meet with you and talk about how to help ensure the District’s nonsmoking residents can breathe cleaner air.