Ward 1 Democrats to host candidate forum

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Two candidates, Ed Lazere, who is on leave from his post as executive director of the left-leaning D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, and Calvin Gurley, an accountant and frequent political candidate, are hoping to secure the Democratic nomination for City Council chair from the incumbent, Phil Mendelson, in the June 19 Democratic primary.

The three are scheduled to participate in a forum on April 19 at 6 p.m. at St. Stephen’s Church at 1525 Newton St. NW, along with the Ward 1 Democratic candidates.

In an interview with The Current, Lazere, a cum laude Harvard graduate who has served on major city panels including the Public Education Finance Reform Commission and the D.C. Tax Revision Commission, said his major focus if he is elected would be homeless services and affordable housing. In other interviews he added endemic homelessness and the effects of gentrification. He has also chaired the board of Temple Micah Synagogue.

Gurley, a Bowie State University alumnus who has worked as a tax auditor for the District government and is a former president of the Fairlawn Civic Association, said his major focus would be reinstitution of the elected school board’s authority over the school budget and the superintendent selection. He received 18 percent of the vote as a candidate for City Council chair in the 2014 Democratic primary and has run unsuccessfully for other offices.

Mendelson, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner, ran successfully for an at-large seat on the City Council in 1998. After being named by fellow council members as chair in 2012 when the then-chair resigned, he ran successfully for the position in 2014 against Gurley with 81 percent of the vote. He came to the District from Cleveland to attend American University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. Under his chairmanship, the council voted to establish an elected attorney general, an independent crime lab, and the District’s tree canopy law. If he is re-elected, he said his two major focuses would be public education and affordable housing.

All three support legislation to increase the minimum wage in the District by 2020 to $15 an hour, as well as the paid family leave bill for all District employees, of whom about two thirds live in Maryland or Virginia. Mendelson strongly disagrees with Gurley about allowing the elected school board to name the superintendent and supervise the school budget, saying when the board had these powers it was most unsuccessful. Lazere said he was uncertain on the issue.

All three favor the District’s investing in more affordable housing. When asked how it should be paid for, Lazere and Gurley favored using funds from budget surpluses. Mendelson expressed a fear that if previous savings were used, there could be serious problems.

“City’s reserves (rainy day fund) should not be used. The rainy day fund is a cushion should there be another recession. If the District ever fails to meet payroll or make payments to Metro, the Federal Control Board will come back. The city could make affordable housing dollars go farther if it managed the funds better,” he said.

Both Lazere and Gurley favor making the estate tax effective for estates over $2 million as it used to be. Mendelson favors keeping it at the current $5.5 million level to keep us more competitive with nearby states. Lazere and Gurley would also increase business profits taxes to higher previous levels. Mendelson, worried about keeping businesses and jobs in the District, approves the current level.

When asked whether firms that do business with the city should be forbidden from making political contributions, Gurley said yes and Lazere said yes “for a two-year period.” Mendelson answered with a slightly different approach, “Political contributors shouldn’t have government contracts.”