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Two years ago, Christina Henderson leveraged endorsements from the Washington Post’s editorial board and her former boss, outgoing At-Large Councilmember David Grosso, along with a targeted mailer campaign, to slip right past a bunch of bickering opponents and into a coveted at-large Council seat. This year, Ward 5 Council candidate Faith Gibson Hubbard is following a similar game plan.
Like Henderson, Gibson Hubbard has the endorsements of the outgoing councilmember, Kenyan McDuffie, the Post editorial board, and Henderson herself (the two are close personal friends).
“From a Council perspective, I feel like she’s extremely qualified to join us here and do the work,” Henderson says.
Gibson Hubbard hasn’t worked as a legislative staffer like Henderson, but she does have a fair amount of experience working in and around local government, particularly on issues related to education. She’s served in various governmental roles since at least 2015, most recently as Mayor Muriel Bowser’s appointed director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs.
With early voting starting this week and less than two weeks to go before Election Day on June 21, Gibson Hubbard’s opponents are beginning to sense her momentum. Supporters of Zachary Parker’s campaign, in particular, are coming forward with their concerns about Gibson Hubbard’s leadership before her time in government.
Specifically, they point to her tenure as president of the Ward 5 Council on Education, an organization she led from 2012 to 2015. Her supporters list that role as evidence of her good work in the ward.
Raenelle Zapata does not share those sentiments. Zapata immediately preceded Gibson Hubbard as president of the nonprofit that has acted as an advocate for Ward 5 students, parents, and teachers. Over the years, the Council on Education has hosted backpack drives and fostered conversations among principals and school staff in the ward. The organization was also heavily involved in bringing standalone middle schools to Ward 5 when there were none. In Zapata’s telling, Gibson Hubbard is at least partially responsible for the organization’s demise.
“It was clear to me after about six months she was not going to build the organization, and it was more or less a stepping stone,” Zapata says. She acknowledges that the unpaid, volunteer position is incredibly time consuming, but says it looked to her like the organization became much less active under Gibson Hubbard. “The organization just went to complete ashes and part of that was not developing good leadership to take her place,” Zapata says.
Theodora Brown, another Parker supporter who backed his run for the State Board of Education in 2018 and who has also been part of the Council on Education, echoes Zapata.
“It pains me when people don’t follow through and then they abandon it and go on to do something else,” Brown says. “And that’s what her trajectory has been.”
Brown was later part of two attempts to revive the organization, most recently in 2020. She and others involved in Parker’s campaign say Gibson Hubbard frustrated their efforts when they asked her to hand over banking and organizational information about the council, which remains inactive.
Gibson Hubbard says that’s a mischaracterization. The Council on Education did eventually become dormant following her tenure, but by the time 2020 rolled around, she’d been away from the organization for years. She says she agreed to help revive the group, but is adamant that she did not have access to any of the banking account information the group was seeking, an assertion supported by Rip Preston, who served as treasurer when she was president. In fact, she says, when she was president, she spent her own money and had to ask to be reimbursed.
Preston, who was also involved in the effort to revive the organization, says in 2020 he had an accountant conduct an audit of the finances that he says did not find any improprieties.
Gibson Hubbard objects to Zapata and Brown’s assertions that the organization declined under her leadership. She says she sought to include parents of students attending public charter schools and collaborated with other education councils across the District.
Henderson recalls Gibson Hubbard organizing a school fair of sorts to connect elementary school families with schools in their neighborhoods. It would allow parents and students to meet teachers, walk through the buildings, and interact with each other in hopes of changing the schools’ reputations.
“They laid a good foundation of work to continue to grow from,” Gibson Hubbard says of Zapata and her predecessors. “I don’t remember them being around to offer support or criticism during that time.”
Which is to say that Gibson Hubbard sees these criticisms now as purely political attacks on her work.
“I was blindsided then,” she says of the demands in 2020 for information she says she didn’t have. “And I still feel blindsided and frustrated now because this seems to be an effort to attack my integrity, which is breathtaking to me.”
Gibson Hubbard left the Council on Education when she was appointed by the State Board of Education as D.C.’s first chief student advocate in 2015. In that role, she helped families citywide navigate the complexities of the public education system, pushed for changes to student discipline, and started the conversation about safe passage to school, she says.
In 2019, Bowser appointed Gibson Hubbard as executive director of Thrive by Five DC, an initiative that focuses on the health and wellness of parents and kids from birth to age 5. She was appointed as director of MOCA in September of 2021, a post she resigned in February to run for office.
Brown and other Parker supporters who’ve discussed the race with City Paper see her trajectory in the Bowser administration, and her husband, Drew Hubbard’s role as interim director of the Department of Housing and Community Development, as cause for concern. They question whether those connections would influence her work as a councilmember.
“I don’t think she would be the person for our ward,” Brown says. “She is the mayor’s pick, so I don’t have good feelings about her getting stuff done to the benefit of folks in Ward 5.”
Henderson says those concerned about a potential conflict due to her husband’s job appear to be grasping at straws.
“This idea that a person can’t do their job because they know or are related to someone in the administration is ridiculous,” Henderson says. “And it’s a shady attack on Faith’s character and her husband’s character.”
Gibson Hubbard, for her part, says she would consider recusing herself if a matter involving her husband came up. She emphasizes that her first priority would be Ward 5 residents. From her perspective, these criticisms of her previous work are distractions from the issues that voters care about.
“June 22 will come, and one thing I know for sure is someone will win, and others will not, and we’ll continue to live here in Ward 5,” she says. “So I continue to stay above the politics, and continue to focus on issues close to neighbors.”