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D.C. mayoral candidate forum addresses sustainability and the environment

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Six candidates for D.C. mayor squared off Friday night to discuss sustainability and the environment in an unfinished second floor room located several blocks from the Navy Yard Metro Station in Southeast Washington, D.C.

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“I don’t need to tell you what I would do. I can tell you what I’ve done,” Mayor Vincent C. Gray said to the several hundred people at the candidate forum sponsored by a number of environmental and neighborhood organizations.

Mayor Gray largely relied on the city’s Sustainable DC plan to support his environmental credentials.

The city released the Sustainable DC plan on February 20, 2013, after a long outreach period. It sets an overall objective of making the District “the healthiest, greenest, most livable city in the nation” by 2032.

Referencing Sustainable DC, Mayor Gray said he wanted to increase wetlands and tree canopy, diversify transportation options, clean up the Anacostia River and increase reliance on renewable energy.

Councilmembers Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and Vincent Orange (D-Ward 5) each said they would continue to implement the city’s Sustainable DC plan if elected mayor. The three members of the city council largely agreed with Gray and each other on the issues although their approach and emphasis were different.

Councilmember Wells (D-Ward 6) took the most aggressive approach of all six candidates. “We need to have a LEED-certified city,” Wells said, returning to that vision in several answers.

Councilmember Evans took a pragmatic approach and emphasized his experience. “The environment is a regional issue,” Evans said. In order to clean up the Anacostia, D.C. will need to work with Maryland and Virginia.

“What we need is a leader who knows how to be mayor on day one,” Evans said.

Councilmember Orange emphasized social justice together with sustainability.

“We will continue to be the number one sustainable city in America. I want to make sure we have a good environmental policy. I also want to make sure we bring everyone along. We don’t want to leave anyone behind,” Orange said.

The other two candidates at the forum seemed less familiar with the city’s environmental issues. At one point, a candidate who goes by the single name “Faith,” asked the moderator what Sustainable DC meant.

But Carlos Allen, a lesser known candidate who appeared unfamiliar with many of the environmental issues, nonetheless seemed to influence the conversation. From his opening comments, Allen stressed homelessness and jobs, and he repeatedly returned to those topics.

“When people are making a living wage, they will take care of the environment. When they are in survival mode, they could care less,” he said emphatically.

“It’s all about taking care of people. We’ve got all these homeless people, and we’re talking about the environment,” he said, his voice rising.

Allen said the city needs to change the way it defines “affordable” in order to include a more reasonable portion of D.C. residents who need housing assistance.

As the forum progressed, Councilmembers Evans and Orange also began to talk about affordable housing.

“We promised affordable housing in four areas,” Orange said. “Development of the Anacostia waterfront came with the promise to develop affordable housing in four areas of the city. If a promise was made, we need to keep those promises for everyone.”

Both Orange and Evans said the city needs to keep its commitment to build affordable housing.

Even though the candidates seemed to reach a rough consensus as to the benefits of D.C.s current sustainability initiatives, not everyone in the audience agreed.

Holding a young child in her arms, Andria Swanson, criticized Mayor Gray for not dropping the city’s appeal of a court-ordered injunction against the city’s construction of a diesel-bus parking lot on the site of a historical school located in Ivy City, near H Street and New York Avenue in Northeast Washington, D.C.

Swanson said she wants the city to give the Alexander Crummell School back to the community for job training.

Early voting in D.C. for the April 1, 2014 primary election has already begun and is available across the city.

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