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  •   Candidates Give Views on Spending, Parking

    Thursday, July 2, 1998; Page J02

    The League of 8000, a civic group, sponsored a mayoral debate last week at Lutheran Church of the Holy Comforter in Southeast Washington. Erik Wemple, a senior editor at the City Paper, was the moderator. The candidates who participated included four members of the D.C. Council -- Harold Brazil (D-At Large), Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) -- who are vying for their respective party nominations in the Sept. 15 primaries. Former D.C. chief financial officer Anthony A. Williams and Jeffrey Gildenhorn, owner of the American City Diner, are running as Democrats. John Gloster is seeking the nomination of the D.C. Statehood Party.

    The following questions and answers are excerpted from the debate. Each candidate's answer is unedited and presented in its entirety.

    WEMPLE: Now this is a hypothetical question. If tomorrow Congress decided to eliminate the [D.C. financial control board] and give our mayor $500 million to spend at his discretion, we'd like to know, how would you spend the money?

    SCHWARTZ: Good evening, everybody. I'm Carol Schwartz. Sorry I was little late, but I was at a union interview. So that's why, and they kept me a little longer, so that's why I was a little late getting here, but it is nice to be with you this evening. If I had $500 million, I think I'd start with education. I think I would try to get the equipment and the textbooks that our students need and fix those roofs and fix them on time and get schools opened on time. I also think I would do police -- more visible police out in the community. So I guess I can think of a lot of things to do with that $500 million where you could see, feel it, and touch it.

    WILLIAMS: I'd do three things with $500 million, but first of all, I would do one thing. Unlike the status quo, I wouldn't leave millions of dollars lying around that could go towards neighborhoods and could go toward people. Now, that's number one. But well and beyond that, I'd, what I'd do, three things with that money. First of all, I would invest needed money in our children and their education and in the investment in our schools. The second thing I would do is I would put money into capital investment in roads, in our infrastructure and in our workers. And the third thing I would do is I would target some of that money for needed tax reduction in those businesses and those industries that show the strongest potential for growth and jobs for our people.

    CHAVOUS: Let me give you some specific uses for $500 million. First of all, in the area of education, we do need to look at investing in residential academies, nurturing academies, that would take care of children who come from homes where they don't get the proper love and nurturing so they can be educated. So we're investing in residential academies. Secondly, technology. Our information technology system has not been -- government-wide it is not what it should be. The Mayor's Office of Technology, under a Chavous administration, will make sure we access technology across the board -- every agency from department to department -- and we'll use the money to make that happen. Secondly, I mean thirdly, we'll use it for neighborhood revitalization. Within the first 100 days of a Chavous administration, we will identify five prime sites for neighborhood development, as I mentioned earlier -- Anacostia Gateway, upper-Georgia Avenue and the like. The fourth, fifth thing, fourth, which one was it you all, you all with me, fourth, thank you very much. The fourth thing we would do it is put money in our state university, the University of the District of Columbia.

    EVANS: You know, Erik, this isn't such an abstract question. This is exactly the situation the council of the District of Columbia has faced in the last year and a half when we had accumulated surpluses in the $300 million range. It is interesting that none of the candidates, including the chief financial officer, mentioned that the first thing that we should do is pay off the remaining accumulated deficit that the District of Columbia has. Pay off the debt. I say it is interesting because at our last budget meeting on April 29, when we were facing and still are an $80 million accumulated deficit, I was the person who put the proposal on the table to at least cut it in half, to $40 million, to carry into the next year. Secondly, capital infrastructure is absolutely the place where this needs to go. It needs to go into repairing our schools, our buildings, our roads, our entire infrastructure. This city -- seriously now, this is not a political answer that we are getting here -- this city has a billion dollars of deferred maintenance costs that we need to address today or tomorrow because if we don't address it, the city is never going to recover. A billion dollars of deferred maintenance that this city did not take care of in the 1980s and the 1990s, and we are paying the consequences today.

    GLOSTER: Well, this, in fact, is not a hypothetical question at all to me. Rather than talking about having a hypothetical half-billion dollars in the candy store, let's talk about what the Statehood Party's program is to rebuild our city. First and foremost, we ought to invest in people. How do we do that? First and foremost in education. We need to cut class size in our public schools in half. Instead of doing what the status quo has been representing that we need to do and increase it by one or two, to 32, it needs to be 15. Our children are starved for the personal attention from adults who could be mentors -- namely their teachers. They need this, and we can give it to them for $200 million a year. We need special counselors whose job is to get parents more involved in their children's education. Yes, UDC, as I've been saying all along, we don't need to cut it back to a two-year college as the status quo has been saying; and I'm sorry, but Mr. Chavous has sat on the education committee for a number of years, if this is what he would do, why hasn't he done it before? We've been cutting back on UDC. We need to build for the 21st century on the basis of education.

    BRAZIL: Boy, you made that $500 million went a long way. I would use the money like I said, a couple of people have said, on education to make sure the schools open on time, the roofs don't leak and the bathrooms work -- smaller class size. How about some money for reading teachers. We don't have any of those. Smaller size class. I would put the bulk of that money into making our education system work for the little ones even before the first grade but on through the primary and secondary and, yes, for UDC. I think he's right about that. I would use the money for some premium pay for these patrolmen. You know, the ones that don't come out in the neighborhood. I want them in the neighborhood. I want up and down the streets, and so maybe we ought to pay them a little extra, and we could pay some extra if police get out there and stop, or refuse to let happen, selling drugs in our neighborhoods and our corners. And I would use the money for job training cause I'm going to produce some jobs in the Brazil administration -- 25,000 over the next four years, but we have to have young men and women who have skills and training and can take those jobs and enjoy the prosperity.

    GILDENHORN: Since this question was a hypothetical question, there are three things I want to do with $500 million. First of all, I want to open a couple of sign companies because all the signs that are here today, that's the business to go into. The other $400,000 we're going to open up a chain of American City Diners. All right. But seriously speaking, UDC -- that has been a priority on my platform since I declared my candidacy over a year ago. Also on my platform are trade schools. Trade schools for kids that don't have like, say, college ability but they have -- you can make a lot of money in the trades, whether it's electrical, whether it's plumbing, whether it's bricklaying, computer industry, the hospitality industry. Let's get some trade schools with terrific teachers, and you'll see growth in Washington, D.C. That's what I would do with the money. Thank you.

    WEMPLE: Next question. In early June, the District's chief management officer, Camille Cates Barnett, had a meeting with the people at the bureau of parking adjudication enforcement, and what came out of that meeting was that ticket writers in our city have been working under a quota system under which they're obligated to more or less write 90 parking tickets per day. Now Ms. Barnett expressed that we need to find a different way. Is that good management or bad management?

    EVANS: The way we should be handling our parking, handling our parking enforcement, in this city is in a fashion that's fair. Not on a quota system. Not on any other system. And what that goes back to is management and training. The people who write the parking tickets need to have training and use discretion when they issue these tickets. Again, I represent the downtown area -- the area most impacted by traffic and by ticket writers. You cannot have a system where you issue no tickets because gridlock would ensue and you would have chaos in your city. On the other hand, you can't have a predatory practice, which exists in this city today, where parking tickets writers go out and in order to meet their quota stand at parking meters at 6:30 at night waiting for someone to come in a minute early to plop a ticket on that car. That is predatory. It drives out our residents. It drives out our shoppers. So it goes back to management. We should never have allowed the city to get in the situation where we have a quota system. We need good management. We need people who use good judgment when the tickets are being written.

    GLOSTER: What this is really about is a failure of leadership, of true leadership. We have too many different disguised taxes in the District of Columbia, and that's because nobody wants to tell the people the truth. Nobody wants to say this is what the bill is. This is what we're going to do for the amount of the money we're going to extract from you. So the parking situation is just a disguised tax just like our lottery system is basically a tax -- a regressive tax on the poor. Just like we have a tax for the MCI arena, so we're letting Mr. Abe Pollin get this money in taxing businesses all across the city that do not benefit from that development and other taxes that we try to hide. Let's just be honest with the people for once and say, "Look, this is what we're going to do, and this is how much we have to raise your taxes for" -- and streamline everything down and make simple.

    BRAZIL: Well, number one, when I make a promise to you about parking or parking relief, I'm going to keep it. And back long ago, when I first got elected, I said I'm going to do something about this punitive parking tax, and that is it. It is chasing customers and tourists and everybody else away. And I got the nighttime parking enforcement moratorium passed, and I went on, and I stuck in the face of -- then the Kelly administration -- they came up, in response, with a six-point plan. They reviewed discretion, and they swore there were no quotas. There was then and there is now, and I worked then [with] Chairman Dave Clarke, and we were trying to design a parking authority so that we can get in these crowded, congested neighborhood commercial corridors some parking, some municipal parking, so that we can handle some of that flow and it doesn't back up in the neighborhoods and cause difficulty. So we can do a lot with parking and parking is an economic development issue, because as we're punitive and predatory, we chase businesses and dollars and revenue away. So I will be your parking mayor in 1998 and beyond.

    GILDENHORN: I'm not happy with the Cates Barnett answer to the parking situation. We're Washington, D.C. We cater to tourists. We cater to Maryland and Virginia residents who come in here to shop and to patronize the city, and we chase these people. We're not going to have any tax base, so we have to use our common sense. I happen to agree with Councilman Brazil in his observations. We have to have a smart way of tackling the situation. We can't be nickel-dime and dollar-foolish. And that's what you got to think about. And I think Ms. Barnett's got a lot to learn here the city that's why we have, we're going to have a mayoral form of government. Thank you.

    SCHWARTZ: Well first of all, I would put the parking meter people in charge of every aspect of our government. I mean they know how to do. Are they the most efficient people you ever saw? I'd like them filling potholes. They would get it done. I would like them fixing the roofs in the our school buildings. They would get it done. So I think that that kind of efficiency is what we need throughout our government. But on a more serious note, I do think that we don't need to be punitive. We don't need to have quotas. Of course, we have to give tickets because we can't have the traffic jams or the double parking or the other things that would take place if we don't give tickets. I have, on the council, gotten passed, unanimously -- thank you, colleagues -- free parking on Saturday and in the evenings. It goes into effect July 15th, and you can go down to H Street and Georgia Avenue and all downtown, and you can park for three hours for free. So I don't just talk about these things, I do something about it. Now you don't have to pay parking meters on Saturdays or the evenings. Thanks to me.

    WILLIAMS: Yeah, I support what Carol has said and the elimination of this whole parking meter thing on Saturdays because I think at a certain point, collecting parking fines actually reduces what we take in on sales taxes, and that is, what, one of our major taxes in the District. I think there is a point of diminishing returns, and we should recognize that. But I think we should also recognize the role that retail trade plays in our neighborhood economy and, rather than just talking about it, look to make this government work to provide the police, the public schools and the public works that support the strong neighborhood economy.

    CHAVOUS: First, the answer lies in leadership and training, and on top of that you must know this city, because while we have a problem of parking downtown, we need more parking attendants out here. If you live east of the river, you know that a lot of Maryland and Virginia residents park in our neighborhoods, catch the bus and the subway and go into town. So the leadership comes in knowing the city and knows what works in one part of town and what doesn't work in another. The leadership comes in when you, [because] the question was, is that good management? The good management is reflected in the fact you put out goals and timetables. You set out the, the, the work plan. You work together. You teach people not to be mean-spirited in their approach to giving the revenue a base, and then you administer it the right way. That is how you make it work in this city. And we must be consistent with our parking plan, and the parking plan must fit the needs of the neighborhoods. Right now, it doesn't do that.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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