Voters will elect two at-large D.C. Council members on Nov. 4, and 15 candidates are vying for the two spots. These are their stories, edited for length and clarity.
Name: Khalid Pitts
Neighborhood: Logan Circle
Education: B.A., College of the Holy Cross; M.P.H., George Washington University
Family: Married; 4-year-old son and 1-year-old daughter
Occupation: Co-owner, Cork and Cork Market; president, U.S. Action. Formerly director of strategic campaigns at Service Employees International Union and state director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
Notable endorsements: National Restaurant Association; Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America; Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood; Joe Solmonese, former president of the Human Rights Campaign; Obama campaign alumni Stephanie Cutter and Mitch Stewart.
Total funds raised: $172,392
So who are you? I’m an independent person with Democratic values. I’m a husband and a father. I’m a small-business owner, an advocate for working families and progressive issues. Finally, I’d say I’m a problem solver. I try to use my experiences, my skills to bring people together. That’s what I’ve been doing for 20 years.
What’s the one personal or professional experience that has best prepared you to be a D.C. Council member? I’m going to have to push back on the question a little bit. I don’t think that one thing allows you to be good at anything. I think people who are successful are well-rounded. I’ve been a policy person. I’ve moved legislative issues. I’ve been a small-business person who has created jobs. All those things allow you to address an issue 360 degrees and not just look at it one way.
What’s the one thing the council should be doing on affordable housing? You have to address the issues of property taxes. We’ve got a cohort of young professionals in the city who are emerging into the housing market that we have to keep here, and we’re not doing a good job of keeping them here. Those families right now who have bought the two bedrooms, where do they find the third? They’re being replaced by empty-nesters or people who can afford to send their kids to private schools. The idea I have is, how do we put a cap or reduction on property taxes for those low and middle-income families who have made that decision to stay and invest? We will keep your property taxes at a certain level, but when you sell that house, then we get proceeds from that sale. We get some of the money back to invest in another family. It’s like in “A Wonderful Life,” the Bailey Building and Loan — that money’s in your house and his house and her house.
And on education? I think we all agree that we have to invest in public education. One thing that’s different about me is that I support the boundary plan. I’ve been in politics a long time, and politicians on the tough issues kick the can down the road until it gets dented and rusted. I think we need to move forward and address those issues that come along. Another thing that distinguishes me is that there is no one else who has a background in public health. No one else has that. Half of the public schools here don’t have a full-time nurse. That is appalling. A kid that hasn’t been fed can’t get educated. A kid who is sick can’t get educated. That’s something no one’s talking about.
Where’s a third area you want to be impactful? Economic development and creating jobs. I’m the only person in this race who has created brick-and-mortar private-sector jobs. This city is going to develop and grow. One of the main jobs of the council is to lead in how that growth happens. Are we going to let the market govern how it happens, or are we going to engage in a conversation about how thoughtful development happens? The Department of Small and Local Business Development, the function and the profile of that agency has to be raised. And there’s the Olympics. Caveat, it has to be done right, but I’m pro-Olympics. Look at the example of London and how they were able to utilize the Olympics to build infrastructure. We’re talking about Metro, we’re talking about creating jobs in the city, building small-business infrastructure for the long term, and we’re talking about addressing some of our long-term housing issues. It can be done.
What is the first bill you plan to introduce? A jobs plan. I would introduce a bill that would create investments around job creation, particularly over in wards 7 and 8. It would create opportunities for public-private partnerships, to create seed capital and training resources to create jobs. In the first two years, we should be investing in 50 job-creating businesses over in 7 and 8.
Washington City Paper reported in June that while you’ve lived here for two decades, you’ve been registered to vote here less than a year. Instead, you voted in your home state of Michigan. How can you ask D.C. residents to vote for you when you haven’t voted for this office before? Well, I would say this. This question has been used to sort of define my commitment to the city, and my voting history does not reflect what I have done for the city in the past and what I will do for the city in the future. I helped reform the D.C. jail’s health care system; I served on the executive board of the D.C. health insurance exchange, and I invested in the rebirth of my neighborhood, creating two businesses with jobs with benefits like health care and paid sick days. For a long time I hadn’t decided where I was going to call home. We all know D.C. is a transient city. For a long time, I was an organizer. In 2008, for instance, I was gone for about five months. At some point, everyone decides where their home is going to be — not where they live at, where they call their home. After building two businesses and having two children, D.C. is my home and my future.