Thursday, May 16, 2013

Talking with Tommy Wells

Photo by Elizabeth Gorman

As you have probably heard, Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells is running for Mayor. He’s officially announcing the launch of his campaign Saturday at noon at the Starburst Intersection. Tommy Wells has been an extremely popular Councilmember for Ward 6, and he’s someone I have repeatedly interacted with regarding H Street, the Florida Avenue, and other area issues. He recently sat down with me to explain why he wants to be mayor.

Wells sees the primary issue right now as corruption, and for good reason. The past two years have shown us both a Council, and a Mayor, mired in scandal. Not simply a matter of gossip and whispers, we’ve actually seen Councilmembers forced to resign, sentenced, and even headed to prison. Wells says multiple people asking him to step up, and run for higher office have approached him. He feels he can bring greater transparency, and integrity, to the Mayor’s office.

Wells articulated plans that went far beyond just restoring integrity to District government. He spoke of the vast possibilities for the District, building upon his well known tag line of creating a livable, walkable, city. Wells talked about replicating many of the successes of Ward 6 elsewhere in the District. For example, H Street has experienced a major revitalization over the past several years. In recent years, the H Street Corridor has added an amazing number of new businesses, and around 800 local jobs. These jobs range from staff for the new Giant, to sales at the Daily Rider, to the food runner who brings your dinner at the H Street Country Club. In short, it’s not just about bringing businesses in to meet resident needs, and generate tax revenue. It’s about creating jobs, and recognizing the potential of small businesses to act as a vital economic engine in the District.

At the same time as businesses flocked to H Street, crime along the strip plummeted. Part of it was increased police presence, part of it was the new lighting, but a major factor was the increase in business density and eyes on the street.  Crime dropped partly because there were simply more people on the street. No longer do pedestrians on the northern side of H Street’s 1300 block walk a dark street, as they did only a few short years ago when a friend had his jaw broken by teens who attacked him as he walked home from his job. These days, that same walk would take him past a couple of bars, multiple restaurants, and a clothing store with evening hours.

Predictably, Wells focused heavily on his vision for creating a 21st century transit system in the District. Beyond the much discussed streetcar, Wells sees a need for an increased focus on multi-modal transportation. That means making sure the District works for drivers (both car owners, and those using car sharing services), pedestrians, cyclists, bus riders, Metro train users, and beyond. He pointed out that public transportation tends to be the worst in the eastern portions of the District. Unfortunately, that includes some areas where many people do not own cars, and are entirely dependent on public transportation to get to their jobs. So, Wells would seek to expand public transportation coverage in those areas.

As a former social worker, Wells is deeply aware of some of the issues facing youth in the District. He would like to see a more comprehensive approach to reducing youth crime. He would task a variety of District agencies to come up with out of the box thinking about how to do so. He gave the example of senior walking groups set up in New Orleans’ 9th Ward to keep seniors active and connected as people slowly returned following Katrina. Every day, the seniors would walk around the neighborhood at the same time. Though it was not the initial objective, they found that the walks reduced you crime in the area. Wells told me that he believes that it is entirely possible to cut teen crime in half over a 24 month period if we really make the commitment, and follow through. Cutting such crime would not only make everyone safer, it would have a truly transformative effect on the lives of those kids. Helping them to make healthier and better choices now, and in the future. But coordination among District agencies is key if we want to make it work.

We spoke about the fact that many of the District’s recreation centers are not maintained at all. For example, Trinidad has two new recreation centers (well, technically one is a community center), and both are poorly maintained, and lack quality programming. Wells said this is huge problem that we really need to address; we can’t just build things, and walk away from them. Wells also stressed the importance of high quality neighborhood elementary schools. He believes that every family should live within a ten minute walk to an elementary school that the children can attend as a matter of right. He pointed to the success of the public schools on Capitol Hill, and said he wants to extend that model to other parts of the District. Ensuring that all children in the District have access to high quality neighborhood elementary schools should be a priority. It can help raise up children who may be at risk, and also make it more feasible for parents of young children to remain in the District, rather than moving to the suburbs for the schools.

Wells also recognizes that is vital that we remain a diverse city in terms of race, class, and beyond. A key part of maintaining that diversity is ensuring that we have enough affordable housing. He pointed to the Ellen Wilson Townhomes ( on Capitol Hill as a model project. Wells wants to expand HPAP, and other programs like it to help homebuyers. He argued that if we truly pushed for it (i.e. made cuts elsewhere) we could use the District’s Housing Production Trust Fund to create 1000 new affordable units a year. He pointed out that development interest surrounding the streetcar provides great opportunities for public private partnership to create more affordable housing.

Details of the campaign launch below:

WHEN: Saturday | May 18th | 12pm

WHERE: Starburst Plaza | Crossroads of H Street, Benning Road, Bladensburg Road, Maryland Avenue and Florida Avenue NE.

9:00AM: Volunteering | Capitol Hill Group Ministry | Shirley's Place
11:00AM: Eastern Market
11:47AM: X8 Bus to Starburst


John said...

Thanks for a nicely-written summary to capture Wells's priority areas. This will be a very interesting election. The city has had male and female mayors but it will be interesting to see whether it is ready for a non-Black mayor. It's encouraging that Wells is prioritizing access to public transportation, affordable housing, and other areas that might benefit many of DC's lower income residents.

pat said...

if he can be Adrian Fenty with better temperment,
he will win

John Smith said...

I think Tommy Wells would make a good mayor, I question whether or not he can carry enough of the long-time residents vote to win though.

Alan Page said...

I don't think Bowser or Wells can beat Gray if he runs for re-election, but this ought to lay the groundwork for future runs by both of them.