D.C. Council at-large candidates on the issues

After several D.C. elections dominated by debate about how best to reform ethics rules, this year’s at-large council race has largely focused on issues of character.

Seven candidates are vying for two council seats, one of which is reserved for a non-Democrat. The candidates have also clashed over speed cameras, social services funding and whether the council needs the experience of an incumbent or the fresh perspective of an outsider.

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Incumbents Vincent B. Orange (D) and Michael A. Brown (I) stress that voters should consider their records on issues such as jobs and affordable housing instead of what they view as unfair media reports about troubles with their campaigns. Brown has been forced to address reports that he failed to pay his rent, taxes and mortgage on time. Orange has faced questions about controversial campaign donations.

The challengers are: Republican Mary Brooks Beatty, Statehood Green Party candidate Ann C. Wilcox and independents David Grosso, A.J. Cooper and Leon Swain Jr.

The Washington Post posed a series of questions to the candidates. Orange and Brown declined to participate. “Interviews, questions, forums are over,” Orange said Thursday. “It’s up to the voters to decide.”

The challengers, however, shared their views.

Should future budget surpluses be saved in the city’s “rainy day fund,” used to fund city needs or used for tax cuts?

Cooper and Wilcox said a large portion of any surplus should be allocated for social-service needs. Grosso said the money should be divided among savings, new spending and tax cuts. Beatty would save the money. Swain would use it to make it easier for poor and middle-class homeowners to refinance their mortgages.

Should welfare recipients lose benefits after five years as called for under federal law?

Cooper, Grosso, Swain and Wilcox want more job-training programs for recipients before a five-year limit is imposed. Beatty said time limits should be considered on a “case-by-case basis.”

Would you support a tax increase or a surcharge on utility bills to pay for burying power lines to limit outages from rough weather?

Cooper would oppose, saying “Pepco needs to foot the bill.” Grosso would have to see “further studies” on the issue. Beatty and Wilcox would consider the proposal. Swain would support it only after a top-down reconfiguration of Pepco.

Residential parking permits cost $35 a year. Some suggest making them more expensive to discourage more people from owning cars in the city. What is the appropriate value of on-street parking?

Grosso and Beatty agree with the $35 price. Wilcox said on-street parking is worth $50. Swain and Cooper think the price should remain the same for one vehicle, but increase substantially for subsequent vehicles.

Would you support a mandatory bicycle helmet law? Some have said it would reduce bicycle usage.

Cooper, Swain and Wilcox support a law. Beatty opposes, calling it a “freedom issue.” Grosso would “have to think about it more” before deciding.

Should 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be tied to test score growth?

Grosso supports. Cooper, Beatty, Swain said no. Wilcox would support a 25 percent threshold.

Should the city decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana?

Wilcox, Grosso and Swain would support, arguing that too many young residents are burdened with criminal records. Beatty opposes. Cooper would support if the District “could tax it.”

Do you agree with plans to build a $1 billion streetcar network? If so, how would you pay for it?

Cooper supports and would seek federal dollars and budget savings to fund it. Grosso supports and would establish special taxing districts along streetcar lines. Swain supports and would look at higher parking and entertainment taxes. Beatty and Wilcox support the H Street line under construction, but want more planning before future lines are built.

 
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