30 July 2010

Your undecided voter's report on last night's Ward 1 candidates forum

For those of you not the least bit interested in ridiculous minutiae of DC local politics, feel free to read on.  Or, better still, if you religiously followed my live tweets last night, you can at least skip to the end.  I must say that the City Paper's account of what went down seems hugely distorted.  The event wasn't a victory for incumbent Jim Graham by any stretch.  

There were four candidates present, including Graham, along with Jeff Smith (who lives in my current neighborhood), Bryan Weaver (hailing from Adams Morgan, my former home) and Marc Morgan, the Republican running in the November general election (the first three are Democrats battling in the primary).  There were large turnouts by supporters of at least the three democratic candidates, but I walked in truly undecided.  Graham has been helpful in some of my activist projects, and I appreciate that (even if it has required my serving as a presentable sexual object on behalf of my justice league pals, including knowing when to coyly grin).  But Jeff Smith chatted me up at the bus stop one morning, and had good things to say.  And Bryan Weaver had that catchy youtube video.  (And, let's face it, will I vote for a republican?  Not so much.)  And in spite of progress, our ward has faced it's share of idiocy.  Unemployment is still in the double digits.  Affordable housing stock is quickly being replaced with new (and ugly) condos for affluent people.  It's taken well over 5 years and repeated ripping up and repaving of 14th and Irving Streets to get Columbia Heights to where it is now.  Georgia Avenue is still woefully neglected, and there's the wee debacle over the closing/demolition of my neighborhood school (latest status update here).  I'm not saying that in 12 years in office, Jim Graham should have hung the moon squarely in Ward 1, but his accomplishments are not without critique.

That's where Smith and Weaver come in.  Last night was clearly a debate for nerds, and the biggest nerds were probably the ones sitting at the table.  Weaver's biggest strength is clearly in housing issues.  Smith's expertise in education.  Both these have impacts on jobs, so they're both strong there.  Morgan seemed like a nice guy, and definitely a DC Republican (focusing on green jobs, etc.), but public-private partnerships can't possibly be the answer to every question.  Then there was Graham himself, who seemed firmly entrenched in defending the past, and spent nary a second saying what specifically he'd do in the future.  In short, it was what DCist once dubbed Grahamstanding, and the performance wasn't terribly impressive.  He basically came across as an old crank, and that was disappointing.  

So again, I'm stuck on Smith and Weaver.  I like them.  Both.  A lot.  I think either would be an excellent legislator.  But I couldn't really distinguish much between them.  They seemed to agree on the substantive issues at hand (and, admittedly, the pre-selected questions were a bit odd), even whispering back and forth at the table.  There was definitely a style difference.  Weaver seemed slightly stronger in the rhetoric department, but Smith had his handy dandy charts, graphs and photos. A friend had a follow-up conversation with Weaver at the end, and he said most of the difference, in his opinion, was in process.  Not what the problems are, or even what the solutions should be, but how to get there.  See why this was a debate for nerds?

While I've made up my mind on most of the DC races, this one still leaves me puzzled.  I clearly can't merge Smith and Weaver together to form one ultra-wonky superlegislator, so I guess that means more research and more forums.  Stay tuned!

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