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Unlike the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, the D.C. Tenants Advocacy Coalition had the good sense to allow the recording of its Ward 3 Council forum Wednesday night. Loose Lips expects that everyone in the wild world of D.C. politics is a lot better for it.
The big issue with the Chamber’s forum is that the general public wasn’t able to see how Eric Goulet, a longtime D.C. government staffer and the Washington Post’s new endorsee in the race, responded to a question about improving diversity in the overwhelmingly white and wealthy ward. At the TENAC forum, voters had a chance to watch Goulet respond to that controversy, and the ensuing denunciations of his remarks by the eight other candidates in the Democratic primary field.
And what a response it was. Goulet claimed repeatedly that he wasn’t overly troubled by criticisms leveled by his rivals, but he also used the forum to accuse them of “political desperation” and “making a spectacle” out of the issue. He found any insinuation that his comments associating housing voucher holders with crime were racist or classist “hurtful,” “deceptive,” and part of a “mischaracterization” of his actual remarks.
“I think people are sick of raising valid concerns and then having people attacking them,” Goulet said during his closing statement for the roughly two-hour-long forum. “It’s just too much. I’m over it. I’m ready to fight for the ward. And I’m disappointed in everybody.”
Goulet also referred repeatedly to his decision to release a video of some of the Chamber forum comments that kicked off this kerfuffle (he tells LL it was recorded by a campaign staffer). It doesn’t include the question posed by the forum’s moderator, but LL hears from other attendees that the general gist is that the question described the broad mix of races and incomes in the ward and asked how the next councilmember could make the area more diverse.
“I think we need to start with an honest conversation about what is skewing those stats,” Goulet says in the video. “The issue right now is there’s been a significant increase in the housing voucher program, which brings African-American residents and families into the neighborhood without supports and really without any hope of then connecting to jobs and getting into D.C.’s middle class.”
He then proceeds to argue for more “mental health supports” for families who have used housing vouchers to rent apartments in the ward. And he lamented that “we’re losing the middle class in this city because we’re making programs, constructing government programs that sound really good but that really just expand the divide between the wealthy and the poor in this city.”
Goulet used the TENAC forum to argue that this answer was simply an example of him “fighting hard for oversight” of the voucher program. But his fellow candidates continued to press the point that the moderator’s question didn’t mention vouchers at all, but merely asked about the small number of Black residents in the ward—as Cleveland Park activist Bob Ward noted on Twitter, Goulet could’ve mentioned the area’s history of “exclusionary restrictions” in touching on its lack of diversity, yet, “of all the things he could say, about our history and ways to lower barriers, Eric starts with ‘Black people are coming to Ward 3 on housing vouchers.’”
“The issue was that it wasn’t responsive to the question, and the fact that you used that answer then offended folks,” said Ben Bergmann, an ANC and Council candidate who helped organize the effort by the eight contenders to call for the video’s release to highlight Goulet’s comments. “It offended everybody in the room. It offended everyone subsequently … It’s hard to do, but I would urge you to just apologize and move on rather than to double down and act as if it’s everybody else’s ears that are hearing the wrong things.”
Goulet argued that it was the other candidates themselves who made his comments seem offensive, and suggested that they “failed an important leadership test” by doing so. Indeed, Goulet certainly had his defenders online, with some claiming that these criticisms of Goulet were crocodile tears from politicians more interested in tearing down a rival than calling out racism.
But other attendees at the forum unaffiliated with the Ward 3 race have also since piped up to say they felt in the moment that Goulet’s remarks were inappropriate. And the other candidates to speak at the forum have repeatedly insisted that everyone who spoke after Goulet used their time to criticize his comments, stressing that they took offense contemporaneously, not just after the fact for political purposes.
“The fact that eight candidates felt the need to come out and say something publicly speaks volumes,” said Deirdre Brown, a former ANC and another candidate in the race. “When we talk about a leadership test, a leader knows how to move people from a place of fear to a place of hope. Unfortunately, candidate Goulet is still in the midst of this test and I don’t think he’s gonna pass.”
Of course, the release of the Chamber video in question would make it clear exactly how the room received Goulet’s answer. But the business group has continued to tell reporters that no recording is forthcoming.