Exclusive Interviews with At-Large Council Candidates

By Mike Goodman

Through mail-in ballots during the month of October, and on election day of November 3, voters in Southwest, and throughout the city, will have the opportunity to vote to fill two At-Large City Council seats. Voters can cast two votes for the two seats, though by DC law, only one vote can be for a Democrat. 

Incumbent Councilmember Robert White is up for re-election, and widely expected to be re-elected. Councilmember White is running as a Democrat. The other seat is to fill the vacancy of retiring Councilmember David Grosso, so the majority of candidates running to fill that seat are running as Independents.

There are 24 candidates vying for this position. “The Southwester” reached out to all of these candidates and requested answers to three questions: 1) Please provide a brief biography; 2) Why are you running?; and 3) What specific ideas, proposals, changes, or thoughts would you consider related to Southwest DC? 

The following interviews outline the responses of those who replied to our request. The submissions have not been edited, other than to abide by limits on word count, or to ensure consistent formatting for print.

Robert White (Incumbent)

Please provide a brief biography.

Robert White is a Democrat who has served on the DC Council since 2016. Robert is also vice-chair of the regional Council of Governments. As a lawyer, Robert has worked for DC residents on Capitol Hill with Congresswoman Norton, and with Attorney General Racine, building relationships between the Office of the Attorney General and the community. Robert is a 5th generation Washingtonian. He lives in Ward 4 with his wife Christy and two young daughters, Madison and Monroe.  

Why are you running?

I ran for office because I was watching my hometown change around me – my family members getting displaced, businesses that I grew up around closing, and everyday people being left behind. I knew that I could use my skills as a lawyer, my experience working on Capitol Hill for Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, and in the Office of the Attorney General for Attorney General Karl Racine to help my community. That’s what I have fought to do every single day. I have authored nationally recognized early childhood education and voting rights legislation, led the fight to increase funding for public housing, and conduct strong oversight to hold our government agencies accountable to residents. We have a lot of work to do to make DC more equitable and inclusive. I want to keep leading this fight, so I am asking you for your vote so we can finish what we’ve started.

What specific ideas, proposals, changes, or thoughts would you consider related to Southwest DC?

Part of making DC more equitable and inclusive means that when we see economic development, like what we are seeing in Southwest DC, we are committed to engaging residents to make sure we aren’t turning our back on the community that made Southwest the diverse and wonderful place that it is. Our Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANC) play a critical role in communicating with local businesses, developers, and government officials. As the Chair of the Committee on Facilities and Procurement, I oversee the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, and I have worked hard to increase funding for Commissioners, improve their technology, and expand access to ANC meetings through new technology and additional communication tools, like foreign language translation and ASL interpretation. If re-elected, I will continue to invest in tools and reforms that will help ANCs to bring more people to the table. Southwest DC still has several projects that are currently under construction or in planning stages, and it’s important that each neighborhood feels they have a say in their community’s future.

Markus Batchelor

Please provide a brief biography.

Markus Batchelor is a native Washingtonian, advocate and activist who currently serves as the Ward 8 Representative, Vice President and the youngest-ever elected member of the DC State Board of Education. He has spent his career in government, non-profit and as an elected leader working to close the city’s deep divides and advocate for our most vulnerable neighbors and disinvested communities. He previously served as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Congress Heights where he was raised and still lives, President of the Ward 8 Democrats, National Committeeman for DC’s Young Democrats and, as a student, DC’s 52nd Youth Mayor. He is running for the DC Council to usher in a new generation of DC leadership rooted in community and focused on expanding equity, opportunity and government accountability.

Why are you running?

I stand for truly affordable housing across incomes, equitably funded and supported public schools in every community, and a moral economy that expands and protects the dignity of living wage work. I’m fighting for healthy, safe, and accessible communities that are ripe with opportunity and free from gun violence. I’ve proven through over a decade of service to our city that I am a leader DC residents can trust, with the experience and perspective needed for the critical decisions ahead; one who has the unique ability to build broad and diverse coalitions inside and outside government to get things done.

What specific ideas, proposals, changes, or thoughts would you consider related to Southwest DC?

COVID-19 has highlighted the deep digital divide that exists in our city. One of the programs that I plan to implement in my first term is an Internet for All plan, which includes expansion of municipal wifi and tech literacy. 

Our entire city, especially our waterfront communities, must also be focused on efforts to build our city’s climate resiliency and I have been committed to that work. I’ll use my experience, like my members as a DC delegate to the Chesapeake Bay Local Government Advisory Committee, to invest in a green economy that advances our climate goals and provides the infrastructure that protects our communities with the impending impacts of climate change.

Gun violence has also been an issue that has plagued our city for decades and continues to impact a number of communities in Southwest DC. As Councilmember, I fight for a public health approach to ending gun violence, focused on expanding opportunity, community-based violence interruption, mental health and trauma recovery, and getting illegal guns off of our streets.

Franklin Garcia

Please provide a brief biography.

Franklin Garcia is serving as the US Representative (Shadow) for the District of Columbia.  He is the former President and founder of the DC Latino Caucus, and current President of the non-profit DC Latino Leadership Council.  He holds an undergraduate degree in Finance from the George Washington University and a Master of Arts degree in Financial Economics for Public Policy from the American University.  He is the founder of the DCiReporter, and the DC Statehood Today shows.  He works in IT, and lives in the Woodridge neighborhood in Ward 5.

Why are you running?

I’m running because there needs to be representation that reflects the true composition and diversity of our city. A diversity that can be quantified in economic power.   A diversity that is a substantial factor and that makes us a center of attraction for professionals and businesses alike that seek to settle and make our city their home, as we have seen in the past decade and more.  This diversity lacks a representative voice that advocates for our rights. It is time we have a representative from the diverse communities of the District to take our rightful place at the decision making table and advocate for fair and balance services and resources, focused on minorities which for many decades have been systematically denied.  I believe I speak for all of our ethnic communities when I saying that we are tired of crumbs.

What specific ideas, proposals, changes, or thoughts would you consider related to Southwest DC?

Change for our city and across our nation can only happen once we begin to recognize our misdeeds from the past, and fast track corrections that will bring fair balance to those who have historically been left behind. 

My priorities include:

  • Economic investment
  • attracting business anchors to attract development, including relocating governmental offices by decentralizing our local government operations
  • provide real ownership opportunity to housing for low and middle income families
  • affordable rental properties, with strong guidelines for fair and dignified housing
  • Quality educational public, charter and  private institutions with 21st century infrastructure and educators
  • Safe and quality communities
  • Quality health centers

Christina Henderson

Please provide a brief biography.

Christina Henderson is a dedicated public servant with experience fighting for equitable policies not only here in DC, but also nationwide. A trusted political advisor, she has counseled US Senators, DC Councilmembers, and state and local education officials on array of domestic policy issues that deeply impact working families and children. Christina served in various capacities in DC government from 2012 to 2017. As a staffer at the DC Council, she crafted and helped advance over 40 pieces of legislation on an array of issues like DCPS facilities, early literacy, and healthcare. A former resident of Southwest, Christina now lives in Ward 4 with her husband and daughter.

Why are you running?

I am running to serve on the DC Council because I believe we need more leaders who are focused on policies to make DC more equitable and sustainable for us all. I also believe we need fresh, innovative voices on the Council who will represent communities often overlooked in policy discussions. The global pandemic and ensuing economic fallout underscore DC’s need for leaders who take a commonsense approach to policy making, embrace a collaborative working style, and possess a tireless commitment to equity. That is my kind of leadership.

Ms. Henderson submitted the following policy ideas:

As a Councilmember, I will work to stabilize our childcare market, while improving quality and bringing down costs for families. I will fight to radically improve our delivery of health care, especially for Black and brown women in DC. I will focus on affordable housing, not just new construction but also preservation, helping families who’ve been in DC for generations stay in DC. I want to invest more in public transportation, especially the bus, making it more reliable for residents. And I will fight for safe streets for our communities and young people, while ensuring their schools are welcoming environments for learning and success. My life’s work has been guided by the principle that your zip code should not determine your opportunity for success, and as a Councilmember I will fight each and every day to make that a reality. Learn more about my policy ideas at: www.christinahenderson.org

Chander Jayaraman

Please provide a brief biography.

I immigrated from India when I was 10 and have called DC home for 25 years. I live on Capitol Hill with my wife, Suzanne, and son, Kol. I’m an experienced community leader, devoted husband and father and an emergency planner. I directed a job-training program for at-risk youth, fought for the disability community and now run my own small business. During eight years as an ANC Commissioner, I’ve earned a reputation for honesty, and getting results. I will work to reopen schools safely, reimagine policing to rebuild community trust, and help small businesses survive. 

Why are you running?

We can do so much better for our families and community. We’re in a crisis and we have an obligation not only to recover, but to fix the inequities and failures that have been laid bare by the pandemic.

As a Council member I will focus on three areas: making sure we don’t lose a generation of learning to the pandemic by ensuring a safe and effective reopening of schools that ensures equity of opportunity for our kids; supporting our small businesses and their employees, the lifeblood of our communities, in recovering from the pandemic; and making our neighborhoods safe for our families and children.

What specific ideas, proposals, changes, or thoughts would you consider related to Southwest DC?

Lack of opportunity is killing our kids. Literally. When they cannot see a path to a successful future, it takes away their hope for success, stunts their future. This is a root cause of gun and other violence. We must do better for them and for our communities. One solution: expand opportunities for the 60 percent of young people who are not ready for and will not go to college.

DCPS should restart career and technical education and use our community college system as the post-secondary career pathway to a good paying job

I will advocate for paying youth and returning citizens enrolled in job training programs so they don’t have to choose between training for a good job and providing for their families. When I directed the YouthBuild job training program for at-risk youth at the Latin American Youth Center, I saw how relevant training changed their outlook and their lives.

I recently convened ANC Commissioners from every ward, Council members, the Deputy Police Chief, NAACP, and the Deputy Mayor to discuss how policing is experienced in our diverse neighborhoods, what policing would look like if we got it right, and rebuilding trust between our officers and our communities. 

Ed Lazere

Please provide a brief biography.

I came to DC in the mid-1980s to teach math to 5th graders in low-income families and have been here ever since. My wife Suzanne and I have lived in Brookland for nearly 30 years, raising our sons, David and Adam, through DCPS.

I’ve devoted the last two decades to promoting economic and racial justice in DC, through leadership of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. At DCFPI, I highlighted DC’s deepest inequities — in housing, schools, and jobs — and built relationships and coalitions across the city to address them through the DC budget. I have contributed to historic wins for DC residents, like paid family and medical leave, steering more school resources to high-poverty schools, and property tax assistance to ensure seniors are not pushed out by rising taxes.

Why are you running? [This answer also responds to the third question: What specific ideas, proposals, changes, or thoughts would you consider related to Southwest DC?]

I’m running because our prosperity has come at the expense of rising homelessness, wider school inequities and displacement of Black residents.  I want to put racial and economic equity at the heart of DC’s agenda and tackle DC’s biggest challenges at the scale they demand.

The Southwest-Waterfront neighborhood is one of the most racially and economically diverse communities in the city. I know many Southwest residents are concerned about declining affordability, lack of housing to raise families or age in place, and the lack of neighborhood-serving, affordable amenities.

As a Council member, I pledge to support an array of housing types and significant investments in affordable housing. I fully back a “build first” commitment for Greenleaf redevelopment and believe that all public housing redevelopments need legislative oversight to prevent displacement.

I want to address the transit needs of Southwest. The District should thoroughly evaluate foot and vehicular traffic patterns and their impact on the Southwest community, and mitigate adverse effects on air quality and livability. For decades, the environmental health needs of Black residents living near industrial activity in Buzzard Point have been neglected and abused. 

Southwest holds historical, cultural and architectural significance dating to the start of our history as the nation’s capital. I support SW community organizations’ desire for public memorials for historic figures, buildings, and events, such as the Pearl Incident – the largest escape attempt of enslaved persons – urban renewal, and SW’s many famous residents. 


I pledge to the Southwest community to fight to preserve your economic, racial, and social diversity and look for innovative solutions to meet pressing problems in housing, neighborhood character, and equity.

 

Jeanné Lewis

Please provide a brief biography. 

For 20 years Jeanné has built bridges between groups to create just and empowered communities. As VP at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP), Jeanné leads strategies to drive grant dollars to empower marginalized communities. In a previous position, she directed bipartisan initiatives about race and policy among members of the U.S. Congress. Jeanné has volunteered with the DC Initiative on Racial Equity, the Washington Interfaith Network, is a board member of Faith in Public Life, and previously served as president of the Women of the Dove Foundation through a local chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. 

Why are you running? 

We need leadership that can respond to this crisis and empower us to thrive in the future. It’s possible to grow our economy and improve our quality of life without pushing residents out. As Councilmember I will bring people together across divides to find creative solutions for these unprecedented times. 

What specific ideas, proposals, changes, or thoughts would you consider related to Southwest DC? 

Improving the quality of life for residents is a key focus on my candidacy and includes students. Excellent schools are a pillar of my platform and addressing the overcrowding problem in Southwest is a priority. In addition we must re-imagining community safety in a way that supports the residents of Greenleaf Gardens and makes them partners in the solutions. Though we may be a long way off from normal traffic levels we should think about how we address parking issues in Southwest. Adding a shuttle to Navy Yard station to help east traffic congestion might be ideal. These are just a few ideas I would like to get buy-in from Southwest residents about.

Improving the quality of life for residents is a key focus on my candidacy and includes students. Excellent schools are a pillar of my platform and addressing the overcrowding problem in Southwest is a priority. In addition we must re-imagining community safety in a way that supports the residents of Greenleaf Gardens and makes them partners in the solutions. Though we may be a long way off from normal traffic levels we should think about how we address parking issues in Southwest. Adding a shuttle to Navy Yard station to help east traffic congestion might be ideal. These are just a few ideas I would like to get buy-in from Southwest residents about.

Will Merrifield

Please provide a brief biography.

Will Merrifield now lives in Deanwood in Ward 7 with his wife Renata. Will has been an attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless for the past eight years, defending people facing displacement and eviction.

Why are you running?

I am running because I have seen first hand how special interests influence housing, healthcare and education policy in Washington DC. I have been fighting against these special interests for the last 8 years during my work as an Attorney. I am running because I have been and will continue to be a frontline fighter for human rights – including the right to affordable housing, quality education and employment, and free healthcare. There is no reason that DC should not have one of the best public school systems in the United States, be a model for the creation of a new housing system that guarantees housing as a human right and employ a forward thinking preventive healthcare model that connects the dots between housing, food and access to quality medical care. I have a plan to accomplish these things anchored in a proven housing model called social housing.  

What specific ideas, proposals, changes, or thoughts would you consider related to Southwest DC?

It is essential that public housing residents are not displaced from Southwest DC. Public Housing in SW should be repaired and made safe, not demolished and privatized. Further, more affordable housing needs to be incorporated into the booming development projects in SW DC. I am running on a housing model that builds deeply affordable mixed income housing units that are available to everyone at 30% of household income. I would also fight to make sure that neighborhood public schools in the Ward are properly invested in and that the community has a say in their local schools. 

Alexander Padro

Please provide a brief biography.

During my 20 years as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner and 16 years as executive director of Shaw Main Streets, I have been an agent of change. I’ve led the effort to transform Shaw from a neighborhood primarily known for drugs, prostitution and gang violence to a world-renown dining and entertainment destination filled with public art and restored African American landmarks, adding thousands of new residents while maintaining the neighborhood’s economic and ethnic diversity. 

Why are you running?

My campaign’s slogan is “Dreams Come true,” short for “I want to help make every DC neighborhood’s dreams come true.” The top three issues I want to focus on if elected are affordable housing, equitable development, and helping our small businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic. As an At-Large Councilmember, I would use my proven leadership and successes in protecting and expanding affordable housing, serving seniors, supporting small businesses, improving libraries, helping the arts flourish, and promoting equitable development and historic preservation to help rebuild the District as a city of healthy, clean, safe and prosperous neighborhoods. I want to help District neighborhoods that are still waiting for brighter days to get the new development, businesses, and public safety and civic improvements that others already enjoy, without displacement. I helped make it happen in Shaw, and I can help make positive change happen in all eight wards as an At-Large Councilmember. I would add diversity to the DC Council as a representative of both the Latino and LGBTQ communities. 

What specific ideas, proposals, changes, or thoughts would you consider related to Southwest DC?

During the campaign, I have heard from Southwest residents that among their top concerns are gentrification; the redevelopment of public housing, such as Greenleaf, and the suggestion that new housing be built before existing buildings are demolished; transportation congestion, including the need to better manage traffic during multiple sports and entertainment events at venues in Southwest, improved signage directing event attendees to existing parking lots and garages, and nighttime and weekend parking enforcement. I have demonstrated experience in preventing gentrification and supporting existing tenants’ efforts to be part of redevelopment plans. I helped address neighborhood parking issues related to the opening of both the Washington Convention Center and the Howard Theatre and pledge to be engaged with residents and responsible District government agencies to address traffic and parking concerns, in conjunction with the Ward 6 Councilmember.  

Monica Palacio

Please provide a brief biography. 

I am a civil rights lawyer, an advocate, and a government executive who has devoted her career to public service in the District and is now a candidate for Washington DC City Council At-large 2020. I have lived in DC for thirty years. I believe in a vision for our city that supports economic progress while honoring our values as a city: Respect, Inclusion, Equity, and Accountability to all our residents. As Director of the Office of Human Rights, the District’s civil rights enforcement agency, I led a team that investigated thousands of civil rights investigations, built partnerships with housing advocates, local businesses, law enforcement, and hundreds of District programs in order to get services to residents. I am a proud Latina and social entrepreneur. I am a mother, a community leader, a survivor, and a bridge-builder. Raised most of her life by a single mother, I know how hard it can be to make ends meet when you have a family and need to pay for child-care, groceries, and a safe place to live. 

Why are you running? 

I am Monica Palacio and I am running for a seat on the DC City Council At-Large because I am tired of seeing people being crushed. Crushed by lack of healthcare, police brutality, our education system, unemployment and lack of food access. I am tired of seeing the human rights of entire communities crushed. I am tired of immigrants being an afterthought. During this pandemic, I have grown tired of waiting for our government to do something about it. I am a civil rights attorney, a single mother and an immigrant. I am determined, I am qualified, and I am committed to fixing our system. This election is an opportunity to bring about the change our city needs – for our business owners, our children, and our frontline workers that were long overdue. 

What specific ideas, proposals, changes, or thoughts would you consider related to Southwest DC? 

This election is about saving lives and protecting families. My top priorities are: 1. Housing: Funding for residents to pay their rent and mortgage during this economic crisis; 2. Education: Investing in schools and students who need us the most right now and build an equitable education system; 3. Public Safety: Ending police brutality and ensuring all District residents feel safe in the hands of the government.

Those need to be our priorities as a city. Together we can really make DC home for us all.

Marya Pickering

Please provide a brief biography. 

Mrs. Pickering has extensive experience in Government and industry, including startup of small technical services firms and management positions at Fortune 500 companies. She previously served as Vice President, Business Development for Vertical Jobs, Inc., a Virginia-based woman-owned small business providing experienced role players for law enforcement and security training exercises.

Mrs. Pickering’s career has encompassed acquisition of various Navy ships and intelligence community assets. Mrs. Pickering was Senior Advisor in the General Services Administration’s Office of the Chief Acquisition Officer during the second term of President George W. Bush. Her first Government position was Professor of Systems Acquisition Management at Defense Systems Management College (now part of Defense Acquisition University).

Mrs. Pickering is an immigrant and the daughter of Polish Army veterans. She holds a B.A. in History from Emmanuel College and an M.B.A. from Boston University. She recently translated “A Legionnaire’s Story” – her late Uncle’s account of his adventures with the Second Carpathian Brigade during WWI.

Why are you running? 

My campaign motto is “No more business as usual.” It is time to bring true diversity of ideas and prudent management to the DC Council. My experience in industry and government uniquely qualify me for the Council’s oversight role.

  • As a mother, I believe that all DC children deserve a quality education; I support choice for parents, including vouchers and charter schools;
  • As a homeowner, I support a strong and well-trained police force for keep our city safe;
  • As a businesswoman and taxpayer, I support improvement of our contracting process;
  • As a senior, I favor reduced taxes on pension income and support passage of the Pension Exclusion Restoration and Expansion Act, 23-0060.

Why vote for me? As a former small business owner, contract management professional with an MBA degree, and government employee, I am the best qualified candidate to effect positive change for all D.C. residents.

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