After filing papers to establish an exploratory committee Monday morning, D.C. councilmember and mayoral hopeful Tommy Wells took his bid to the people of Ward 8. During a small meet and greet event Monday evening at the Big Chair Coffee & Grill on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, SE, Wells listened to the concerns of a largely African-American group of residents.
Although he is popular in Ward 6, Wells is less known East of the River – especially in Ward 8, where councilmember and former-mayor Marion Barry has enjoyed a very tight political hold.
The fact that Wells started exploring his mayoral bid in Ward 8 is significant. Outside his comfort zone of Ward 6, some say Wells has an uphill battle to win the Mayor’s office. Wells, however, seemed undaunted, confident and looking forward to the challenge.
“In deciding to run for mayor, I first wanted to explore,” Wells told the group at Big Chair Coffee. “What’s not regular about this [meeting] is that I want to start hearing from you,” said Wells. “Together, we can start formulating a plan of how we make this the greatest city, like it ought to be.”
It was clear from the beginning that Wells wanted to hear from the people. He wanted to hear their challenges, concerns and thoughts about Ward 8’s future.
Residents presented a number of wish list items to Wells during the 1 hour 15 minute event. Many voiced their desire to see a more efficient and effective government that is more responsive to the people, better public transportation and more economic development. One parent raised concerns about her child’s education in the D.C. public school system.
Wells said that the school system should be more responsive to parents, and that parents should have more say in where to send their children to school.
“One of the things I’ve learned from being on the D.C. School Board,” said Wells, “the most important things are not test scores, the most important thing is where do parents want to send their children. It’s the job of your neighborhood school … or some other school, to convince you as a parent that they can be trusted with educating your child.”
In communities East of the River, trust is an issue that Wells has to overcome.
Co-founder of the nonprofit Peaceaholics organization and one-time D.C. Council candidate, Ronald Moten, put the question of trust directly to Wells. “As an elected official, as a leader, how can I trust you,” he asked.
Moten’s question stemmed from his belief that Wells failed to support the Peaceaholics while “corrupt politicians” attempted to “slaughter” the organization. The Peaceaholics had come under scrutiny in recent years for alleged mismanagement of money.
Last year, The Washington Post reported that the organization mishandled millions of dollars designated for low-income housing development.
“I admit that one councilmember messed it up for a lot of folks,” Wells responded. “The fact that money was going out from the city with no bids enabled a city councilmember to just direct money to one group who turned around and wrote him checks.
“Again, that’s one of the reasons why I’m thinking about running, exploring, is integrity in our government.”
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