This post was written by Hatchet reporters Brandon Lee and Bridget Hughes.
One month before April’s Democratic primary, six of the eight mayoral candidates met Tuesday in Foggy Bottom to spar over education, GW’s relationship with neighbors, public safety and campaign finance.
Foggy Bottom Council member Jack Evans confronted five of his opponents – Council members Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells and Vincent Orange, Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis.
Mixed opinions on GW as a neighbor
Evans, who has represented Foggy Bottom for 23 years, said he thought the relationship between the University and its neighbors is in its best shape in years.
“We have had our conflicts over the years dealing with universities, the students and communities and the universities’ expansion,” Evans said. “We may have arrived at a situation where things are going okay. They’re never going to be great.”
Wells called GW a “corporate behemoth” and said the University’s expansion has hurt the historic nature of Foggy Bottom. The other candidates said universities across the city should work more closely with neighbors and vowed to make permanent residents’ voices heard.
“Yes, GW is an important institution that employs D.C. residents, but we want to make sure that their growth does not impact our quality of life,” Bowser said.
All the candidates except Orange said they would not support GW or any other university if it tried to expand campus police jurisdiction beyond campus boundaries, a proposal that GW floated in August.
Incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray didn’t show at the debate, but said in an interview last week that he would push for more collaboration and training between campus police forces and the Metropolitan Police Department.
For the second time in a week, candidates slam D.C. emergency services
Foggy Bottom Council member Jack Evans defended his record against his opponents on his home turf Tuesday. Desiree Halpern | Hatchet Staff Photographer
The District’s emergency services organization, the first topic at the debate, also came up at last week’s forum in Dupont Circle.
Wells called for D.C. Fire Chief Keith Ellerbe’s resignation, saying the department has failed to respond to emergencies, lacks sufficient staff and fails to properly maintain or inspect equipment. The department faced a public relations nightmare in January after a 77-year-old-man died of a heart attack across the street from a fire station.
“If there is anyone here who has an emergency event tonight, I cannot guarantee a firetruck or an ambulance will get here in time to help you,” Wells said.
Shallal attributed low staff morale in the department to a “leadership crisis.”
“It’s unfortunate we have to have somebody die first before we have this conversation,” he said.
Evans said as mayor he would replace the current fire chief, while Bowser said the mayor should have the ability to discipline the fire department and firefighters directly instead of working through an oversight board.
“We have a situation in the fire department that is not working,” Evans said, citing his experience on the city’s judiciary committee. “We rebuilt the finest police department in the country. We did the same thing with the fire department. We brought in a new chief, put the equipment on a schedule to be replaced. But somehow in the last couple of years, it went dangerously off track.”
Candidates go head-to-head over campaign finance
Evans and Bowser have both pulled in more than $1 million for their campaigns, and their opponents criticized them for spending money donated to their constituent services funds. Shallal questioned their fundraising, claiming donors would expect favors in return for their contributions.
Evans said in response that Shallal, who is worth about $15 million, shouldn’t criticize how other candidates raise money since he donated his own funds for his campaign.
“Under the approach that you take that the rest of us shouldn’t be able to raise that much money, it leaves us with the situation that only rich people can run for office because they can afford to finance their own campaigns,” Evans said.
In one of the most heated moments of the night, Bowser and Wells clashed over campaign finance, with Bowser pushing Wells to admit that he had accepted corporate contributions in past campaigns.
“Don’t be a hypocrite, Tommy,” Bowser said.
-Colleen Murphy contributed reporting.