D.C. mayoral candidates reach young voters at American University


March 11

All articles are written by YJDP Student Correspondents and edited by mentors from The Washington Post prior to publishing.

In an attempt to reach young D.C. voters, six Democratic mayoral candidates discussed marijuana regulation, higher education and public transportation, among other issues, in front of a young crowd at American University last month.

Dozens of Washingtonians and university students braved an impending snowstorm to hear the candidates’ visions for the city on Feb. 12. The forum was an opportunity for Democratic candidates to distinguish themselves in a tight and crowded mayoral race. Many candidates arrived early with campaign workers to promote their campaign, and many stayed up to an hour after the event, taking interviews and speaking to audience members.

After opening remarks, Councilmember Tommy Wells’s marijuana decriminalization bill took center stage. Wells called marijuana decriminalization a “matter of social justice” because he said “90 percent of all arrests in D.C. for marijuana use are of African Americans.” The two other
current councilmembers who attended the mayoral forum, Vincent Orange and Jack Evans, spoke in support of decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana—less than 1 ounce—but voiced concerns about gray areas in the bill, regarding employment drug testing and smoking on the street.

In an interview after the debate, Wells openly talked about using marijuana as a youth.

“Did you ever smoke pot as a youth?” a reporter asked. Wells replied, “Absolutely, of course I did. I mean, not of course, but I did, sure. It was a part of the culture I grew up in.”

Since the debate was held, the marijuana decriminalization bill passed the D.C. Council on March 4 and now awaits the signature of Mayor Vincent Gray.

The 300-person auditorium broke into fervent applause after Tom Sherwood, an NBC4 reporter and moderator of the debate,mentioned the free Metro bus pass program for D.C. high school students and asked: “Why not give college students free metro passes?” He also called upon the candidates to share their vision for improving D.C.’s colleges.

 Orange and Reta Jo Lewis admitted they were unsure if they could get free metro passes for college students in the District. Orange spoke in favor of funding for the University of the District of Columbia. Andy Shallal and Lewis spoke about adding opportunities for colleges to give back to D.C. Wells laid out his loan forgiveness program plan for college students, a program Lewis also supports. Evans, a father of six children, said he “absolutely would support free metro passes,” going on to say he also wants free tuition at all universities in the city, albeit in a light hearted manner.

Carlos Allen mainly spoke directly to college students in the crowd.

“You young folks here are very blessed, to have parents, to allow you to be able to come to a great university like American University,” he said. “There’s a lot of young folks who don’t have that opportunity.”

 Allen encouraged students to “continue being activists” and called on college students to help District residents in need, in exchange for a “moratorium” to help their school system. “Again, it’s all about helping one another.”

Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser and Mayor Vincent Gray, both of whom lead the rest of the Democratic candidates in the latest Washington Post Democratic primary survey, did not attend.

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