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Despite Competition, Campaign Volunteers Unite as Neighbors in Ward 5

By Brittany Johnson
On September 15, 2010

  • The tents and signs of the candidates in Ward 5 made a colorful statement on primary day. Brittany Johnson/Howard University News Service

With tents raised and signs prominently displayed, volunteers for Ward 5 candidates lined the sidewalk. The groups seemed fired up, their passion electrifying. But this was no campfire gathering. It was the last day of campaigning for longtime Ward 5 residents who, for years, have witnessed the day-to-day changes in their neighborhoods and wanted to see more progress.

The volunteers waiting outside Precinct 66 at the former Bertie Backus Middle School on South Dakota Avenue Northeast were vocal about their support for their candidates early evening, yesterday as they waited for the polls to close in the district's primary elections.

Gray or Green: One Color to Unite the District

For weeks, Vincent C. Gray and Adrian M. Fenty had been locked in a dead heat in the mayoral race. Some volunteers said both sides engaged in unethical practices during the election season.

"I saw so many dirty and ugly things," said Valera Commissiong, a Ward 5 resident since 1994. While volunteering during the early voting sessions at Turkey Thicket Recreational Center, she said she noticed that some Howard University students had organized to vote for Fenty without truly understanding why and for whom they were voting. She said they even changed their addresses to be considered D.C. residents eligible to vote in the primary.

"How dare [Howard students] silence the voice of real citizens," she said. "Howard is supposed to be the best and the brightest. How dare they compromise such a legacy." Commissiong spoke of a Howard's legacy of integrity that included the likes of SNCC leader and Black Panther Stokely Carmichael.

Trent T. Williams, a Fenty campaign volunteer and nearly 12-year D.C. resident, also noticed some of the underhanded actions that seemed to dog the race.

"I've heard more anti-Fenty rumors instead of comments on actual results," said Williams, as he compared this election season to the 2006. "Results show the city being better than it was. The rumors are unsubstantiated."

Both residents regard education reform as a key issue that the mayor must continue to address.

"Gray will look at the big picture," Commissiong said about how Gray will handle reform. "The community must be included. You can't exclude the parents of students. There has to be involvement on every level."

Williams said he supports development of more libraries and education facilities, such have already occurred under Fenty's administration.

"The development ties into safety," he said. "It gives kids something to do.

 Interest High in Council Chairman Race

In Ward 5, Democratic candidates Vincent Orange, Kwame Brown and Dorothy Douglas were running for the D.C. Council chairman's seat. Voter enthusiasm for the chairman race was just as high as that in the mayoral contest. Their supporters said they wanted the same reliability and accountability in the D.C. Council chairman that they wanted in a mayor.

Ten-year Ward 5 resident Linda Perkins is a volunteer for former Ward 5 councilmember Democrat Vincent Orange, whose platform focuses on educational improvements, implementing energy efficient practices and ensuring fiscal responsibility, according to his website.

"Legislation is law. It's there after council members leave," Perkins said. "Orange is a visionary and will help bring astute legislation."

Perkins, who has been a member of Council staff, said she supports Orange because of his foresight on economic development, citing his work on the Brentwood shopping center as an example.

"Orange is ward centric and city centric. We need someone to bring that balance," she said.

Marquita Rodriquez, Ward 5 resident for 15 years, supports Kwame Brown, who she said has already proven to be a natural leader. Brown, currently a councilmember at large, advocates improvements in education, the workforce, housing affordability and the environment, according to his campaign site. "He has the best interest of his constituents. He listens to them," she said.

Rodriquez, an office administrator for Brown, said the next chairman must focus on vocational training, education reform and job creation, all areas she said Brown has begun to address. She said she particularly wants to see a more equitable allocation of resources among the schools.

Council Candidates Focus on Education

The selected D.C. Council Chairman will have new and returning councilmembers to lead. Citizens want a ward representative who is responsive to their needs.

Candidate Kenyan McDuffie, a lifelong Ward 5 resident, plans to strengthen the education system, including implementing post-secondary education partnerships. His campaign also focuses on community health and financial literacy.

"Kenyan can offer something unique that the other challengers don't really bring. He has been on both sides of the track," said his older brother, Daion McDuffie, about the candidate's upbringing in Ward 5 and his government experience. Kenyan McDuffie attended local public schools and worked with Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and in the Justice Department.

Brother McDuffie stressed that maintaining strong constituent services is necessary. "The people who have been here can't be forgotten," he said. "It is an uphill battle. [D.C.] has to get back to people owning their government."

Monique Smith, an eight-year Ward 5 resident and scheduler for Councilman Harry Thomas Jr., whose platform addresses good health and educational opportunities, said  "[Thomas] has done a lot of great things. He was one of the main people who advocated for UDC to move to the [Backus] location.

"Thomas will continue to support more youth programs," Smith said. "The youth are really crying out. Youth advocacy is a big for me because I have a 17-year-old daughter."

Candidate Delano Hunter, whose platform includes job expansion, economic growth and youth development, can relate to younger and older people, said Devonte Little, a Ward 5 resident for all of his 19 years. "He looks at situations from all perspectives," Little said.

The residents of Ward 5 said what they really want is to make sure all the candidates are focused on meeting their needs. 

As resident Linda Perkins said, "We as a people have to understand the power of our vote."


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