Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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It’s election season in D.C., but by the paltry turnout for early voting in the June 19 primaries, you wouldn’t know it. Our heavily Democratic city is, historically speaking, light on drama this year. Mayor Muriel Bowser faces no viable challengers and is set for a second term, yet has amassed more than $2.5 million in campaign donations. A majority of the D.C. Council is up for re-election too, but only a few of the races are competitive in a way that excites residents. Exhibit A: The marquee contest between Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and policy veteran Ed Lazere, which pits two wonks’ wonks against each other, hasn’t emerged as a whole lot more than infighting on the left. 

The most controversial ballot item—Initiative 77, to eliminate the tipped minimum wage—isn’t even a race (all registered voters may vote on it regardless of party status). Here City Paper presents an annotated version of the ballot question, and the results of a phone poll with the candidates in contested primary races. We asked them about issues that residents care about, or should: schools, housing, the economy, and money in politics. While some candidates pushed back on the wording of certain questions, asking to give longer or more nuanced answers, we intend this as a snapshot of their positions and personalities. Learn more about them in our ongoing coverage. —Andrew Giambrone, Tom Sherwood, Matt Cohen, Morgan Baskin, Caroline Jones, Alexa Mills, and Kayla Randall 

The Issues

Schools

DC Public Schools face a multitude of issues. Former Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles and former Chancellor Antwan Wilson resigned in February after Niles helped arrange for Wilson’s daughter to skip the lottery system and be transferred to an out-of-boundary school. Beyond that drama, reporting revealed that many high school students have graduated despite chronic truancy. And after that revelation, an internal investigation found that nearly 30 percent of students at Duke Ellington School of the Arts appeared not to live in the District and were not paying the requisite tuition. The tumult is prompting some critics to question whether the city’s executive branch should have less control over schools. —Caroline Jones

Amazon

D.C. is one of 20 finalists that Amazon has named for the location of its second headquarters, branded HQ2. With Maryland and Northern Virginia also on that list, the District is engaged in a regional competition for HQ2, which Amazon says will bring 50,000 jobs, millions of dollars in tax revenue, and other economic benefits to its chosen jurisdiction. But questions of whether HQ2 should come to D.C.—and whether the city should offer the company incentives beyond those already provided in the law—have divided residents and District leaders, including councilmembers. Amazon is expected to announce a decision this year. —Andrew Giambrone

D.C. General

D.C. plans to close its largest family homeless shelter, D.C. General, this fall. The city is building seven smaller shelters across the District in its stead, but six of those seven shelters likely won’t open on schedule. (Three are slated to open this fall, while the rest will open on a staggered schedule through 2020). 

Because each new smaller shelter will hold only about 30 to 50 families, and D.C. General supports 700 to 800 people on any given night, the city will now have to determine where current D.C. General residents will go when the site closes. The plan, as of this spring, was to give them rapid rehousing subsidies. But rapid rehousing vouchers, which often end after a year, can leave people back on the street with no long-term support system. Advocates are worried that hundreds of homeless families won’t have any stable, clean place to go when D.C. General closes. —Morgan Baskin

Housing Programs

D.C. has a handful of locally- and federally-funded programs that help keep at-risk, low-income families in their homes. Rapid rehousing is a controversial housing subsidy program that helps low-income families make rent, with assistance often expiring after about one year. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds back-rent payments for tenants who are at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty line. The Local Rent Supplement Program, modeled after federal Section 8 vouchers, is a longer-term housing subsidy program with a waiting list of about 40,000 residents. Project-based vouchers tie housing subsidies to specific units, instead of the tenants living in them—meaning that a family would lose their subsidy if they had to move for some reason. The director of D.C.’s Department of Human Services, Laura Zeilinger, has said that the city will largely rely on rapid rehousing subsidies to re-home the people living in D.C. General when it closes. —Morgan Baskin

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Sex Work

Ask nearly any professional in the orbit of commercial sex whether sex workers routinely experience abuse by police officers, and you’ll usually get an emphatic yes. That abuse is at the heart of At-Large Councilmember David Grosso’s legislative effort to remove criminal penalties for buying and selling sex. His bill, the Reducing Criminalization to Promote Public Safety and Health Amendment Act of 2017, also decriminalizes pandering (loosely defined as helping to facilitate an illegal sexual encounter) and creates a task force of 13 local stakeholders to study the bill’s impact on sex workers, should it become law. But some officials and advocates, even those who favor decriminalizing sex work, say Grosso’s bill doesn’t properly address critical nuances that would keep sex workers safe. —Morgan Baskin

Pay-to-Play

The District has long had a reputation for petty (and sometimes not so petty) corruption. Its ethical standing has improved in recent years, in large part thanks to a series of scandals that forced resignations from the D.C. government, but concerns about an entrenched and now more scrupulous pay-to-play culture remain. Developers, government contractors, and lobbyists retain a remarkable amount of access to District politicians, and advocates worry that the official channels for bringing corruption to light are hamstrung or toothless. This has led to new efforts by elected officials to limit the influence of money in politics, but not everyone agrees on how.—Andrew Giambrone

Maternal Care

Recent maternal mortality rates in D.C. have been troubling. In 2016, according to statistics compiled in America’s Health Rankings for the United Health Foundation, D.C.’s maternal mortality rate was 40.7 deaths per 100,000 live births. The United States’ maternal mortality rate was 19.9 deaths per 100,000 live births. In addition, Providence Hospital and United Medical Center, both having recently shuttered their labor and delivery and maternal and infant care units, have left women in Wards 7 and 8 with a lack of access to maternal care. To address this issue, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen has brought forth a bill, enacted in April, to create a Maternal Mortality Review Committee. But maternal health disparities and lack of access to quality maternal care are problems that District mothers have faced for decades, and many mothers and health providers have expressed that the city is not doing enough to change this. —Kayla Randall

Initiative 77, Annotated

Delegate to the House of Representatives

United States Shadow Senator

Mayor

D.C. Council Chairman

Ward 1

Ward 5

Ward 6

At-Large D.C. Councilmember

On Politicians

NOT A POLITICIAN?

I call B.S.

It’s the silly season for politics as primary elections near.

And I have a request.

Please vote against any candidate—regardless of party or office or position—who declares, “I am not a politician.”

It’s their first lie.

Of course, they are politicians. They’re running for office, for God sakes. That’s what a politician does. Someone who runs for office. It’s in the damn dictionaries, a person running for office is a politician engaged in politics.

Vote against someone who insults your intelligence by denying what they are.

Some candidates try to weasel their way out of this bald faced lie. “I’m not your ‘typical’ politician,” they equivocate. It’s an attempt to insulate themselves from the natural contempt Americans—maybe all people—hold for politicians.  I’ve got news for you.  “I’m not your typical politician” is something a typical politician says. —Tom Sherwood

This post was updated to reflect Ed Lazere’s position on Amazon.