Kwame Brown discusses his campaign, education, and community participation with the Dish
Today, the Dish spoke with At-Large City Councilmember Kwame Brown, who is in the midst of a robust campaign against Vincent Orange for D.C. Council Chair.
Dish: A lot of candidates are running as the City's fiscal saviors this year. What can you point to in your record that shows that you have been committed to fiscal responsibility in the past?
Kwame Brown: I don't think I'm running on being the fiscal savior of the District of Columbia. But for the last few years I've been for reducing the size of the government. When you look at the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission which was being subsidized by 5 to $6 million a year, I was able to consolidate that into the Washington Convention Center Authority, saving $3 to 8 million a year. [Read more.] The [National Capital Revitalization Corp.] and [Anacostia Waterfront Corp.], were two independent organizations in the District of the Columbia and we were able to consolidate into the Deputy Mayor for Economic Planning and Development. [Read more.] ... I've been able to not grow the size of the government and add agencies but instead to shrink it in size.
D: You're chairing a series of hearings on the Hurt Home and other City properties. How do you feel about the input residents have on issues like zoning and new building projects in D.C. in general?
Residents should always have a voice. And that's why at the hearing on the Hurt Home itself, there was clearly some concerns that hadn't been aired, or hadn't had a chance to be heard. I've been known and criticized by my opponents for holding up projects because I want to make sure residents have their say. I think I have demonstrated by the attacks I've talked about that I've talked about that on the Committee on Economic Development that I have been of the mind that residents should get their voice.
D: What do you think about the Campus Plan that Georgetown is proposing for 2010?
Georgetown is not the only one doing this thing. There's issues at American University and George Washington. I saw the Ward 3 Dems straw poll vote which said Georgetown needed to include more resident input on their plan, because they haven't really sat down with residents enough. I want to make sure that the University sits down with the community, because clearly there's people looking at where they're placing these houses and how many there are going to be. I'm taking the lead of the residents on this who say they're being affected by what the plan is.
D: Whose support do you have on the City Council?
I'm proud to have the support of Jim Graham, Councilmember Evans in Ward 2, Cheh in Ward 3, Tommy Wells over in Ward 6, Yvette Alexander, Marion Barry, David Catania, the At-Large councilmember, in total ten of my twelve colleagues have endorsed my campaign.
D: The latest campaign finance reports show that you are leading Vincent Orange in fundraising, but not by too far. With that in mind, and in general, do you think you're facing a strong campaign?
I didn't loan myself any money, so when you subtract the loan he gave himself, the picture is very different. But at the end of the day, it's not about money. We've won the Ward 3 Democrats straw poll, the Ward 8 Democrats straw poll ... Everywhere we go, we're working hard. We have a large percent of the ANC commissioners backing us, and more importantly, I have the endorsement of the majority of the Council.
I can only speak of my campaign. We've knocked on over 6,000 doors. I have spent no energy on what he's doing and how he's doing it.
D: Do you expect that this is a clear win?
We don't take anything for granted ... Campaigning is not something I just do because it's campaign season.
D: Who are you supporting for in the mayoral race?
I'm only focused on running as hard as I can in my race. I could see myself working well with the candidates, I am neutral in that race. I've spent all my time on my chairman's race of the District of Columbia.
D: A recent ad from Orange's campaign brings up your Nickles vote and Mike DeBonis has said that a common critique is that you can be "unreliable" in your voting.
Both of them have only talked about that one vote. There's applause in that YouTube video [from Orange's campaign]. I think that the audience there knows that you can't always be right for all sides all the time. I think it's time for the politics of the past to end. If you say you've made a mistake, you move on. This race is about making sure the citizens of D.C. have the responsiveness of their representation .... You're asking me to talk about something that I don't know anything about. Every time people have that criticism, they have no examples except Peter Nickles, which I've answered.
D: What are some of the first things you want to accomplish if you're elected?
We need to wrap our heads around the financial crisis in this city, and begin to be fiscally responsible. We need to continue to move education reform forward, focusing on our middle schools, because those students are moving out of our cities, and we want to attract more middle school students who will go on to attend D.C.'s high schools. There needs to be quality access to job training ... keeping Cardozo, open more on nights, weekend, and summers, keeping Hospitality open longer on nights, weekend, and summers, helping develop a skill set. I've put $2.6 million in the budget for 300 more adults this year, and that's still a drop in the bucket.
D: While we're talking about education, how do you feel about Michelle Rhee's performance?
I just want to say that as a native Washingtonian who graduated from our schools with a wife who was a teacher for 8 years and with two children in our public schools system ... I'm totally invested in the D.C. public schools system. A lot of residents are excited for someone with two children in the schools system to be the Chair. I'm invested as a parent.
D: How do you feel about Rhee and how she has altered the school system?
The chairman of the council doesn't evaluate her job performance [as a precursor to deciding whether to keep her on.] But let me just say that ... I think there are some things that she's done that are good, and some things she needs to work on ... such as treating our teachers with respects and how she handles announcing reforms. But test scores are up.
In closing, Brown said...
This election is really about moving forward, and how we continue to make sure that we do that and that the District of Columbia is in a better place than it is today ... In order to move your institution, what is important is having the support of your colleagues. I'm doing that, I have the respect, I am able to move forward to make change in the City. To make sure our schools have arts, music, P.E., that we're strengthening our schools, completing job training. I want to make sure we increase the quality of life. Most importantly, we need to get our financial obligations back in line.