D.C. Council candidates answer questions on schools, bikes, and more

April 19, 2013

The special election for a D.C. Council at-large seat will be held Tuesday, after a three-month campaign in which six candidates staked out positions on education, development and public safety issues.

The citywide election is being held to fill the council seat that Phil Mendelson (D) vacated when he was elected chairman last year. The D.C. Democratic State Committee appointed Anita Bonds (D) in December to fill the seat pending the election.

Bonds is being challenged by Republican Patrick Mara, DC Statehood Green Party candidate Perry Redd and Democrats Elissa Silverman, Matthew Frumin and Paul Zukerberg.

The Washington Post posed a series of questions to the candidates on some major issues.

Only about a quarter of D.C. students attend their assigned neighborhood school. Is that a strength of the city or a problem, and why?

Coverage of the D.C. Council special election.

Frumin, Zukerberg, Redd and Silverman think it’s a problem, saying they would like more resources devoted to building strong neighborhood schools. Bonds said it’s both good and bad; she is happy students have a choice, she said, but would prefer that more choose their neighborhood schools. Mara said “it’s important to encourage” choice and would like to see parents have more “neighborhood options.”

Should there be more standardized testing in public schools, less, or about the same amount?

Zukerberg, Redd and Silverman would like to see much less. “The amount of testing is overtaking curriculum,” Frumin said. Bonds and Mara favor the current number, saying the focus should be on the integrity of the exams instead of the amount. “I would just like to see the testing be fair, and the strain on the educators to be less, so no one is inclined to cheat,” Bonds said.

Would you support a new bicycle lane on Connecticut Avenue NW, even if it resulted in fewer on-street parking spots or altered traffic patterns?

Frumin and Zukerberg would need more information about the lane’s design before giving an opinion. Bonds, Redd and Mara are inclined to oppose it, worried about a loss of on-street parking. Silverman is inclined to support it. “If we are to promote cycling, we need to promote cycling on our major thoroughfares,” she said.

Do you think the city has too many or not enough bars and restaurants. If not, where should more be located?

Zukerberg thinks the city has the right amount of bars and restaurants. All the other candidates think the city needs more bars and restaurants in communities east of the Anacostia River. Bonds and Silverman would also like to see more bars and restaurants in Northeast. “There is not one answer for the city as a whole,” Frumin said.

Would you support allowing taller buildings in the city?

Redd is opposed to relaxing the federal Heights of Buildings Act. Mara, Silverman, Frumin, Zukerberg and Bonds would support allowing taller buildings in certain areas, away from the Mall and historical areas.

Should the District legalize, tax and regulate the sale of marijuana?

Redd supports legalizing and taxing marijuana. Mara said he could support the idea but would like a referendum on the matter. Zukerberg, Frumin and Silverman would support decriminalizing marijuana, but worry about federal intervention if it is formally regulated. Bonds said she’s still grappling with the issue: “I’m not against it all, as a plant or a product, and decriminalization, if it becomes law, then, yes, there should be taxes, most definitely.”

Do you think the District needs 100 additional police officers? If yes, how should they be deployed?

Zukerberg opposes it, saying police should instead redirect resources away from drug possession cases. Redd is opposed, saying the money would be better spent on affordable housing and job training. Silverman could support it, but she also wants the police department to move officers from desk jobs to street beats. Frumin supports and wants a “data-driven” deployment focused on “community policing.” Bonds would hire the officers and station them in “new commercial corridors and alleys.” Mara wants additional officers, but would leave it up to Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier on how best to deploy them.

If you could raise, lower or modify any tax, fee or fine, what change would you make?

Redd and Zukerberg would decrease the cost of speed camera tickets. Mara would impose an across-the-board income tax cut. Silverman would offer property tax credits to low- and moderate-income homeowners and renters with household incomes of up to $50,000 annually. Frumin would freeze property tax increases for homeowners who have been in their homes for at least 20 years. Bonds would eliminate property taxes for property owners who are at least 80 years old and have lived in their homes at least 20 years.

Do you think the D.C. government should be obligated to provide housing to all homeless individuals who seek it?

Frumin, Silverman, Redd and Zukerberg support the goal. Bonds supports a commitment to housing for “families with children.” Mara supports a policy of “housing as many homeless as possible” while mindful that the city cannot house “all the homeless coming from Maryland and Baltimore.”

If Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder proposed to fund and build a new stadium in the District — presumably at RFK Stadium — but refused to change the name of the team, w ould you support the deal?

Redd, Zukerberg, Bonds and Frumin all said no. Silverman would oppose it, saying the focus should be on redeveloping the area around RFK Stadium with new housing and retail. Mara hopes the Redskins change their name, but the matter would not dissuade him from supporting a new team-funded stadium.

Who will win a national championship first: The Nationals, the Redskins, the Wizards or the Capitals?

Mara, Frumin, Redd, Silverman and Zukerberg all said the Nationals. Bonds selected the Redskins.

Voters may cast ballots Saturday at One Judiciary Square, 441 Fourth St. NW, from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. All 143 polling locations will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Mike DeBonis and Emma Brown contributed to this report.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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