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White House gate-crasher Carlos Allen has found a new publicity stunt: Running for mayor of the District of Columbia.
At a three-ring circus of a mayoral forum last night, complete with a voting rights song and a lady in a red cat suit, Allen squared off against seven other minor candidates before members of the D.C. Tenants Advocacy Coalition (TENAC). He seemed to have mastered the form of the campaign stump speech, but had little in the way of substantive proposals—so much so that Housing Complex, having just realized why Allen’s name was familiar, didn’t take down any quotes. The gist, though, was that the government must offer job training to foster entrepreneurship, which you can read all about on his website.
Third-place candidate Leo Alexander, whose supporters made a wall of purple signs in the back of the room, demonstrated at least some familiarity with the issues. After adding his voice to the chorus of support for rent control, he talked mostly about education, including his plan to require all parents using social welfare programs to complete a needs assessment.
“It’s not the teachers. It’s not the students. It’s the families of these students that are broken,” Alexander said. “If we can fix the families, we will see a drop in unemployment and an increase in test scores.”
The other “second tier candidates”—as TENAC president and forum moderator Jim McGrath called them before withdrawing the term after cries of protest—jockeyed for air time before the arrival of the heavyweights, Council chairman Vince Gray and Mayor Adrian Fenty. The two sitting politicians were allotted ten minutes each, before taking questions.
Gray was the clear favorite in the room full of advocates for affordable housing, starting out with a personal story of his childhood sleeping on a rollaway bed in an apartment at 6th and L streets. Though he wouldn’t promise to make rent control permanent, citing legal scholars who had warned that it might be unconstitutional, he supported extending the renewal cycle from five to ten years. And Gray was able to take sideswipes at the mayor by touting the council’s restoration of money for in the budget rapid housing, the local rent supplement program, and the Office of the Tenant Advocate.
By contrast, Fenty knew he was there on the defensive. Reading from notes, he had no feel-good story to start out with, launching instead into his administration’s efforts to conduct proactive inspections throuh DCRA, sue slumlords with housing code violations, and move “our homeless neighbors” into supportive housing. And he placed the blame for what Gray had called a “dysfunctional” Rental Housing Commission—the quasi-judicial body that can now barely operate, having several empty seats—squarely at the Council’s feet.
“As soon as the council votes on those names that we’ve sent down to them over the past couple of years—they haven’t voted on them—we will have a Rental Housing Commission,” Fenty said. “Of course, all nominees should be voted on in a timely manner. That’s the whole point of having the advise and consent process.”
McGrath, though, wasn’t letting him off easy. “Tenants in this city are very upset with some of the things that have occurred under your administration,” he told the mayor, before asking him why the budget for the Office of the Tenant Advocate had been slashed. Fenty responded that he was having all the agencies of government act as tenant advocates—and that, really, what can you do?
“I mean, you never want to be the mayor who the year that you get into office, you face the worst recession that the city’s had since the 1970s,” Fenty said.