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: Courtney R. Snowden
Education: B.A., Beloit College
Family: single; 5-year-old son
Occupation: principal for The Raben Group, a public affairs firm
Notable endorsements: Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, D.C. Women in Politics, Apartment and Office Building Association political action committee
Total funds raised: $110,451
So who are you? I’m a sixth-generation Washingtonian that has had the benefit of growing up in various parts of the city. I grew up in Shepherd Park and now live east of the Anacostia River. I’m a passionate advocate who has worked 15 years to improve the lives of D.C. residents and Americans generally though good, strong public policy. And most importantly, I’m a mom who is tired of the city not taking care of all of its residents and who wants to see a D.C. as amazing as the D.C. I grew up in.
What’s the one personal or professional experience that has best prepared you to be a D.C. Council member? I can’t pick just one. I think certainly working to build strong coalitions of unusual suspects has really prepared me to be a council person. I was the chair of the National Coalition for Public Education, which was 80 education organizations focused on strengthening public education and ensuring that federal funds were not used for private school vouchers. I led the local effort in Congress to defeat the federal voucher program. We were unsuccessful, but we did get more resources for D.C. Public Schools and D.C. public charter schools. I pulled together a lot of people who didn’t always agree on all the issues to help secure additional support for our schools and families.
What’s the one thing the council should be doing on affordable housing? The issue of affordable housing is a pretty serious one, but here’s the honest reality: There’s not a homeowner in this city who wants their property value to decrease. So the question becomes, how do you create a situation where people can afford to rent and purchase and have a robust ability to increase property values at the same time. Montgomery County has been able to do this through the creation of a Housing Opportunities Commission. It works with a network of nonprofit organizations to purchase vacant and blighted properties with the sole goal of increasing the affordable housing stock. It’s a great idea I think we should replicate.
And on education? Education is the reason I got into this race. Looking for public school options for my son has been really difficult, particularly in Deanwood where I live. I had to make some really tough choices about where to send my son to school. I entered the lottery, and we just couldn’t get into the good ones. People are hungry for excellent options. The challenge in transforming low-performing public schools is figuring out how to make that transformation rapidly. What we know is, if you create economic diversity, test scores increase rapidly, but that takes time. There are two things the council can immediately fund that would make rapid transformation possible. First, blended learning models, which provides opportunities to have technology in the classroom and tackle a student’s learning challenges on a more individual level. The second piece is potentially increasing the school day and school year. Successful charter schools add 300 hours of additional learning to the school year. If we can do that, we’ll see rapid transformation in these schools.
Where’s a third area you want to be impactful? Transportation. About two months ago, I participated in the minimum-wage challenge. I had to live on $77 a week. I took the bus from Deanwood to my job 17th and Rhode Island NW. It took me two-and-a-half hours one way. If I was a low-wage employee, I would have lost my job. We as a government have continued to put Band-Aids on this problem and not come up with a comprehensive, achievable solution to fix the transportation problem. Transportation should connect neighborhoods, and it should connect low-income communities to employers. So I think we need to create a better system for the movement of buses, and we need a closer look on these streetcars. We’ve spent millions of dollars on a streetcar that doesn’t go anywhere. To me that’s a problem. It’s coming up with a comprehensive plan that is more achievable than moveDC, and it’s conducting appropriate oversight on the transportation department to make sure they are implementing the plans in a way that achieves those two goals. And it’s also holding them accountable when they don’t.
What is the first bill you plan to introduce? It’s to ensure that the senior real property tax bill that Anita Bonds led gets implemented the way it was originally written. As it was written, passed, and supported, the exemption is the way we can ensure we retain the families who helped build the city and were here through the hard times in D.C. We’ve got to do a better job taking care of our seniors, and this is one way we can do that.
There’s a lot of former Democrats running as independents in this race, but you stand out above in the others: You resigned your elected post as the alternate Democratic national committeewoman to run. Since you changed your party for political expediency, what do you say to people wondering what else you might do for political expediency? Let’s talk about why I switched. At the unity breakfast after the primary, Mayor Gray said Congress has required we have these set-aside seats. I think a lot of us probably agree that is unconstitutional, but what he said was, look, we have to elect people to those seats who share the vision and values that the majority of people in this city share. That resonated with me. I met with a number of the candidates, and none of them spoke to the issues that are so important to me and voters across the city. We need quality schools now. We need a transportation system that works for everyone now. We need economic development that happens with us and not to us now. So I what I think I would say is, I’m committed to improving this city and I’m committed to having leadership that has integrity and is accountable to the residents. That’s me. I’m still the same person I was the day before I changed my registration.