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D.C. Council hopeful Jeff Smith last night immediately went on the attack during a debate between the candidates for the Ward 1 council seat, hosted by the Kalorama Citizens Association at Goodwill Baptist Church, accusing incumbent Councilmember Jim Graham of sabotaging Smith’s campaign efforts by tearing down street signs.
Graham denied the allegation. “If you have a video of any of my staff taking down signs, bring it forward,” Graham told Smith last night.
Smith further accused Graham of employing city contractors to hang up his own signs around town. Graham said there’s no impropriety. He’s paying the contractors to do campaign work outside of their public duties.
Fellow Ward 1 candidate Bryan Weaver, meanwhile, emphasized the “power of we.” At least until the subject of the playground at Oyster-Adams Bilingual School came up.
“If you can bounce up and down on that rubber, think of me, ” said Graham, apparently referring to a piece of playground equipment at the school. Weaver’s voice went up as he stated that the new playground was great, but that the neighborhood boundaries of the well-performing public school need to be redrawn: “It’s a Woodley Park school, it’s not an Adams Morgan school,” said Weaver.
Graham opened by rattling off some of his Ward 1 accomplishments, including getting rid of the scores of undesirables who once hung out at 17th and Euclid NW. “Now there’s a police camera there,” he said.
“I’m running for re-election on that record,” said Graham.
Smith concedes that Graham has accomplished some good things during his long tenure as council member, but it’s time for him to go. “Eight years would have been plenty, 16 years is too much,” Smith said.
When candidates were asked about funding for the arts by debate moderator Davis Kennedy of the Current newspapers, Smith took the opportunity, as he would many times that night, to point out some of Graham’s many shortcomings. Smith said that Graham’s version of funding the arts involved giving out earmarks to his favorite non-profits. Smith also charged that the incumbent has given out more earmarks than anyone else on the council, excluding Marion Barry.
Graham countered that he stood by his earmarks: “They spend the money responsibly,” he said of the organizations he’s funded.
Weaver didn’t join in the scuffle but stated that non-competitive earmarks were a problem.
However, he later took a swing at Graham for his relationship with developers, pointing out that after Graham had helped get $8.5 million in tax abatement for Donatelli Development Inc., the company contributed $5,000 to his reelection fund.
Graham challenged the accuracy of that remark, and then brought up how he’d championed development in Ward 1 without getting rid of its low income residents:”We have not torn up the fabric of our diversity,” he said.
As the night wore on, Smith and Weaver continued to bring up various Graham controversies. But it was the moderator who brought up the biggest one of all: Ted Loza. Asked whether the incumbent would ever rehire his former chief of staff, now up on bribery charges, Graham simply stated: “Let Ted Loza have his day in court.”.
In his closing remarks, Graham attempted to portray himself as a unifier. “Where we have worked together is where we have worked our best,” he said. In their closing remarks, both Smith and Weaver took parting shots at the incumbent. Weaver pulled a line from the movie Wedding Crashers: “I’m not saying marry me. I’m saying just don’t marry him.”