By C.N. Staff Writer
The first mayoral debate for 2014 kicked off mid-November with six declared candidates present to present their stances on issues affecting the District. Councilmembers Muriel Bowser, (D-Ward 4), Jack Evans, (D-Ward 2), Tommy Wells, (D-Ward 6), Vincent Orange (D-At-Large), former State Department aide, Reta Jo Lewis and Bus Boys and Poets owner Andy Shallal were all present at the debate.
The DC Bar Association sponsored the debate for the April 1st Democratic primary. The four sitting councilmember’s were able to debate their vote on key legislation that has recently been in the news and Shallal and Lewis weighed in as the “outsider” calling for new reform to the city’s highest seat.
A big topic of debate was the issue of raising the minimum wage. Orange has long been a proponent of raising the minimum wage, first voting for the measure back during the summer on the Large Retailer Accountability Bill or “living wage” bill which would have made Walmart stores pay their workers $12.50 an hour.
Orange said he wants to District to be on par with nearby jurisdictions as it relates to the minimum wage debate. He said, “My number is $12.50 per hour, however during discussions with Montgomery County and Prince George’s County for a consensus, we’re looking at $11.50 per hour.” Shallal and Evans said they would phase an increase in with Evans saying he would phase it in until it reached $10.25 and Shallal said he would “phase it in at a dollar per year and then index it for the cost of living when it gets up to $12.50.”
Ethics were also another key factor in the race. Recently the council censured Councilmember Marion Barry (D- Ward 8) for allegedly accepting money for District contractors. Bowser said, “It’s not easy to censure Marion Barry if you’re concerned about politics,” but stressed the need to send a message about ethical reform. Evans and Orange were the only two members who did not vote to censure Barry. Orange said he was worried that the council members who voted to censure him were more concerned about running his political reputation and Evans said he did not want to embarrass Barry.
The attorney general’s race also proved to be a hot topic. In 2010 District voters overwhelmingly approved that the attorney general seat should be on the ballot in a voter referendum, instead of the appointment that has traditionally been selected by the sitting mayor. However, the council voted this year to take it off the April primary ballot, delay the race and voters are not pleased. The consensus among the candidates was that there is “uncertainty” about the implications of voting for the seat. The candidates suggested that the public is not well equipped with the best knowledge about how this would best fit on the ballot. Lewis chimed in saying, “It’s unacceptable that we are not upholding the will of the people.” Shallal said, “When the people speak, the Council should listen, I find it really kind of obnoxious, frankly.”
Some candidates took hits at notably missing candidate and current Mayor Vincent Gray. Gray hasn’t announced if he’s jumping into the race, leaving many residents and pundits wondering if he’s stalling on purpose. Wells used the debate’s platform to take a shot at Gray’s 2010 campaign, which remains under federal investigation. “We cannot ignore that the mayor ran a corrupt campaign and what we are seeing now with fallout with Jeffrey Thompson that a pay-to-play system is something we are paying for,” he said. He further said that corrupt government has overshadowed the city’s reputation and Bowser said the city needs a fresh new start, which she promised to bring if elected. One of her initiatives she would immediately implement is a deputy mayor for east of the river. This person would focus on development in Wards 7 and 8, where unemployment and illiteracy run high. Orange said, “It’s not about the job that Vincent Gray is doing. It’s about the job that Vincent Orange can offer.”