Q&A With Jim Graham
"Levey Live" appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It's your chance to talk directly to major newsmakers and to key Washington Post reporters and editors.
Our guest today is Jim Graham, executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Northwest Washington and a Democratic candidate for the D.C. Council from Ward One.
Graham, 52, has headed the Whitman-Walker Clinic since 1984. It is the largest AIDS and HIV treatment clinic in the Washington area. Two of every three people in the region who have the disease are served by Whitman-Walker.
Your questions and comments for Jim Graham are welcome throughout the hour.
Washington, D.C.: As Ward 1 councilman, will you continue to support needle exchange as a means of deterring HIV infection?
Jim Graham: For sure I will continue to support needle exchange..indeed we have got to find additional funds!
Bob Levey: Why run for the D.C. council when it has less power than ever under the modern form of Home Rule?
Jim Graham: It's curious..in the next several years, the Council--with its authority over the budget legislation and oversight--is in some ways more relevant than the Mayor! Also, I think good people who have the right motivation have got to be involved to see that home rule is restored.
Chicago, IL: Many people are saying the Latino vote will be crucial in determining the outcome of the mayoral elections. Will it be as important for candidates for the City Council? What have you done to tell Latinos they should vote for you?
Jim Graham: In Ward One the vote is actually very significant. But I am running to represent people, not registered Democrats. And something like 25 percent of the people who live in the ward are Latinos. We believe that about 1300 people are registered Dems with hispanic surnames. We are working hard to maintain and attract support in those communities. And with good results so far!
Bob Levey: Gays and gay lifestyles seem to be on the firing line in the national political arena. Trent Lott and several other Republicans have recently taken aim. Is this an indication that some successful politicians think that you can remain successful by criticizing gays?
Jim Graham: For sure. And it's a sad comment that any group can on the basis of such superficial categorization be subject to such discrimination for political purpose. I think the days for such behavior, however, are happily numbered.
Washington (Ward 2): The district spends a lot of money on its schools, yet the results are horrible. My children are not yet in school, but I assume that I will move to Montgomery County at some point because the district cannot provide adequate schools. I am convinced that the only way to fix the schools is to issue vouchers so that there is an alternative (available to everyone) to public schools. I know, however, that that will never happen here (hence the continued prosperity of Montgomery County). I've never met a council candidate who favors the broad issuance of vouchers. Is it safe to assume that I still have not?
Jim Graham: Yup, you are right about that. I think the broad issuance of vouchers in DC would really take away from the quality of schools here...So your record in that regard is still perfect!
Washington, D.C.: I am a Ward One voter. Mr. Graham, can you explain why you feel your experience at the Whitman-Walker clinic qualifies you for the responsibilities of a D.C. city council member. It would seem to me that being a city council member would require a more generalist leadership background, rather than a niche-oriented one, such as the Whitman-Walker clinic.
Jim Graham: My background at Whitman Walker is directly relevant to the Ward One council seat. What I find in the ward are people who are seeking a better response from their government and an advocate for them in the Council. I have spent 14 years building services for people. The experience and talent from that experience equips me to build a strong constituent services response for the people of Ward One. I am going to concentrate as my number one priority on basic government services: trash collection, public safety, and the like. I think that the people of the ward will really benefit from that effort. I hope I am persuading you that the response from the Council member can be different than what we have had in the past!
las cruces , nm: both you and Smith are dems: why are you the better candidate?
Jim Graham: Frank Smith has been representing Ward One since Jimmy Carter was President...he was on the school board from the Ward before taking the Council seat. His action and inaction has contributed to the imposition of the control board and other authority. I will work to see that a full measure of home rule is returned to DC voters and residents. I have a fresh and dedicated energy that this city needs. At the same time, I have a solid record of achievement. What I will do in the future can be predicted by what I have done in the past. The same can be said about Mr. Smith.
Half an hour remaining with our guest, Jim Graham, executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic and candidate for the D.C. Council.
Washington, DC (Ward 6):
What do you say of accusations that you are using Clinic donors, and Clinic time to fund your campaign?
Jim Graham: Not true. We have worked hard to keep the campaign separate from the clinic. Indeed, at this point, I am using leave time to campaign full time from our campaign headquarters on Georgia Avenue. No lists from WWC have been used to solicit donations or volunteers. Indeed much of our money has come from people who I have never met or previously had contact with. More than 800 people have donated to the campaign, and there are now hundreds of volunteers who we'll soon be utilizing.
Bethesda, MD: What is your vision for improving the poorer sections of the district?
Jim Graham: One of the principle motivations I have for seeking this office is to help the more disadvantaged persons within the Ward. What people need are schools that educate, police that protect and public health that responds. Neither of my parents had high school diplomas. But they believed that education was the gateway for their two sons to a better life. Their vision has made all the difference in my life. I want to work hard to do all that I can to improve public education, including our land grant university, UDC. Ward One needs jobs --and as many as possible that are not minimum wage. I think I have the right motivation and the right background to work with others to find solutions to these problems.
Clinton, MD: I am getting married and moving to the city to live in December. I have been taking a strong interest in the city as I plan to be an active member. Can you tell me what your stand is on the campaign to move people back into the city and the offerings of tax benefits, etc. to lure people in. What about those people that will be/are being driven out of the city to make way for the "new rush" that is hoped for?
Jim Graham: I am glad to hear that you are moving into DC. I also am concerned that we do everything we can to preserve our neighborhoods. For example, there will be a major challenge with Columbia Heights once the Metro is completed. --and that area becomes more desirable. We have got to insure that there will not be major disruptions of the neighborhood as property values escalate.
Why are there so many boarded and bricked-up houses in the District? Shouldn't the city sell these properties (even at rock-bottom prices) in order to encourage development of single-family homes and small apartment buildings? Why in the world is the city holding on to these eyesores? What will you do to remedy this problem?
Jim Graham: I am very concerned about the boarded up houses that are scattered throughout Ward One. Although I have got to say that the boarded up windows and doors are preferable to what they were just a year or so ago. Best I can figure out, it is still another inefficiency of this government that we are not doing more--and more quickly --to get these properties into a livable state. Much of what we do in DC seems to be so tied up in unnecessary and cumbersome regs and procedures. I would work hard to cut through all that, and get city properties into useful states as rapidly as possible.
Bob Levey: How will D.C. politics be A.B. (After Barry)? So many people on Capitol Hill can't wait to see him go. Do you think things will get better just because he isn't around any more?
Jim Graham: It's time for change. And as our campaign slogan puts it, change for the better. Mayor Barry had the good sense to step aside before seeking a fifth term. I think he is to be commended for his many accomplishments for the people of this city. But I am glad he did what he did.
washington, dc: what can be done about the district's higher insurance rates and taxes than those in surrounding communities? Give us some incentive to stay!
Jim Graham: I support making DC taxes more in line with those of the surrounding areas.
Washington, DC: What is your position on the Convention Center and are you supporting any of the Democratic primary candidates for Mayor?
Jim Graham: I am strongly in favor of a new convention center. If I am fortunate enough to be elected in Ward One, I will assume that seat in January 1999. At that time,. I will work hard to insure that there are maximum job opportunities in this construction for DC residents. I will also concentrate on making the expenditures efficient and effective.
Washington, DC: How do you feel that you can and do relate to the People of Color in Ward 1? How do you plan to make them a part of your plan of action and what roles do they play in helping to improve the life of Ward 1 residents as well as DC as a whole?
Jim Graham: I am proud of what I have done at Whitman-Walker for people of color. Our medical clinics have in the past four years served more than 4,000 African Americans. In virtually every service category, there are more than 60% people of color. I have built solid partnerships with people of color communities, including Latinos. I have never lost track of the fact that in this city, the minority is the majority. I would carry that attitude into the role as a council member. At Whitman-Walker I have been a moving force behind affirmative action in hiring a culturally competent services. I will do the same on the Council.
Bob Levey: What's the long term structural solution to the District of Columbia's problems? Statehood? Retrocession to Maryland? Something else?
Jim Graham: The ultimate key is voting representation in Congress. I am very encouraged by the lawsuit on that issue.
That's it for today. Our thanks to Jim Graham. Be sure to join us next Tuesday at the same time when our guest will be Katharine Graham, chairman of the board of The Washington Post Company.