Click on the headings below to see where Phil stands on the key issues that are at stake in this election.
“This election is not just about choosing a member of the Council: it is about selecting the leader of the Council. Since becoming the Council Chair in 2012, I have consistently demonstrated the ability to guide ground-breaking legislation through the Council and past the threat of possible Mayoral veto or Congressional interference. Just a few critical examples are: Marriage Equality; tax reform based on the findings and recommendations of the Tax Revision Commission; Universal Paid Leave, ward-based homeless shelters to replace DC General; budget autonomy; and having an elected attorney general. On all these issues, I have shown I am a trusted leader who can build consensus and get the votes. I have demonstrated a willingness to work with the Mayor when possible, and to stand up to her when necessary. The election of Chairman of the Council is about more than the issues; it’s about leadership and trust, and the ability to get results. Ten years ago, before I was chairman, I introduced the Paid Safe and Sick bill and then watched as amendment after amendment gutted the bill. A year ago, I was finally able get the Universal Paid Leave Act through the Council. Getting progressive legislation enacted into law requires experience, skill, respect from one’s colleagues – and a willingness to compromise at times and dig in your heels at others. These are qualities I will rely on as I continue to press for answers, and tighten oversight over the challenges facing the District: our public schools and public education; affordable housing; public safety, and getting to the root causes of violence especially among our youth. In many ways our city is better today than it was a few years ago, but there remain pressing issues. I am asking for your vote because there is still more work to do.”
“Education is by far the most fundamental challenge, and is and should be the city’s number one priority. Improving our schools so that every child receives a high-quality public education is also the best strategy to reduce poverty and income inequality. Education coupled with economic opportunity is the Great Equalizer in our society – generations of poverty and low academic attainment, can end in a single generation with successful education and job outcomes.
“The fact is, in the District the median household income for whites is $127,369 and for blacks it is $37,891. The median salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree is $65,886, but only $30,311 for someone with a high school diploma. Further, only 25.6% of blacks have a college degree, while 92% of whites in the District have a college degree. Improving the quality of public education in the District, especially in low-income, predominantly African American communities should be our number one priority. I have always been a strong supporter of fully funding our primary and secondary schools, as well as UDC. In recent budgets I have consistently supported and increased funding additions by the Council. I have protected the DC Community College and have been a leader in pushing for improved attendance in our schools.
“The Council’s main role in education is oversight. We are not education experts. And I do not believe the solution to better educational results is always more lawmaking. I have worked to ensure that legislation is not overly prescriptive, and, as chairman, I have worked to strike a balance between school accountability and autonomy.
“I support the continuation of mayoral control of the schools. The education sector in DC is experiencing a large amount of instability right now and furthering that instability will only cause the problems that we are currently facing to be kicked down the road. DCPS needs a new leader to take responsibility and accountability for the changes that need to be made. I wish the Mayor good luck in her search for a new Chancellor. Our students cannot and should not have to wait any longer.
“Regarding attendance, both DCPS and charter schools are doing much better with recording attendance. But what is missing are the supports necessary to get chronically absent kids back into school. My focus has been with the primary grades. Absenteeism is generally the result of other issues, such as feeling lost at school, trauma in the home, difficulties with transportation, etc. The schools have to do a better job of understanding the causes of chronic absenteeism on an individual basis, and then bringing the appropriate supports from other district agencies to help the students overcome and do whatever is necessary to get back into school and catch up.
“It is a scandal that DCPS has not utilized at-risk funding for at-risk students. As Council Chair, I have pushed, and will continue to push, for transparency in the school budgeting process. But it took an investigation by the DC Auditor (the investigative and accounting arm of the Council), to begin to uncover the full scope of the shenanigans that DCPS played with the funding the Council included in their budget to serve at-risk students. This successful, independent investigation of DCPS’s budgeting practices is one of the reasons I have asked Education Committee Chairman David Grosso to create and fund an education research consortium, to be housed in the Office of the DC Auditor to examine the full range of the District’s policies, look at best practices across the country, assess what changes the District should make to ensure that we are implementing best practices, and make recommendations to the Executive, education cluster, and the Council.
“I have expressed frustration to both the Chancellor and the Mayor with how DCPS’s budgeting is done and stressed that we need to be able to follow the money to ensure that money goes to students for whom it is intended. We know that at-risk dollars are not being used to serve the students for which those funds are intended and are supplanting rather than supplementing. One of the ways to combat this would be to set a baseline for what each school should have in its budget regardless of its size or location. The added transparency that we have called for in the budget, and that the Mayor has agreed to provide; should help individual members of the Council ensure that the schools in their Wards are receiving adequate resources to meet the educational needs of the students and families they service.
“Finally, I will continue to support teachers in this city through my commitment to adequately funding our schools, to transparency and accountability in schools funding, and by continuing my support for teacher professional development and training.”
“I understand the frustrations of those who think the Council is not doing enough to address the growing divide in our city between residents on one side of the city’s booming economy, and those on the other who are being priced out of their neighborhoods, and in many cases, their own homes. We have faced similar challenges over the years, and in all those struggles, I have always been a champion for the people over developers.
“For example, I have always been a strong supporter of the Housing Production Trust Fund, which provides financing for affordable housing development. We have one of the highest levels of financial support for affordable housing development of any city of comparable size in the country. As a result of this commitment, since 2015, we’ve had 5,000 units of affordable housing built, 5,000 more are under construction, and 5,000 are in the pipeline.
“But we must do more. My plan is that we use the tools that we have, strengthen and add to them, and stay focused on the goal of generating as much affordable housing as possible. We must do this through the strong support I have demonstrated and will continue to demonstrate for programs like local rent supplement; inclusionary zoning; the Housing Production Trust Fund, and the Comprehensive Plan.
“According to the DC Policy Center, only 21 percent (~63,820 units) of the District’s housing stock are considered affordable (80% AMI and below). The aggressive preservation of existing housing and the persistent creation of new units is essential to protect affordable housing in the District. The current shortage of affordable housing negatively impacts both renters and buyers of all incomes levels, but particularly middle and low-income earners.
“The present focus of private sector developers has been to construct luxury units for high income earners, over the larger demand for workforce and low-income units. Those that support this approach believe that building an abundance of new luxury units at market rates, will allow high income renters and buyers to avoid competing with middle and low-income earners for housing. But this approach is flawed. It is based on the premise that middle and low-income renters and home-buyers will wait for housing relief to reach them and will continue to pay higher rents and home list prices. In reality, middle and low-income earners opt out of waiting for affordable housing relief and instead move out of the District in search of more reasonably priced housing options.
“To be more responsive and change direction toward equitable development, the District government must first commit to the strategic coordination of existing local and federal government housing programs and policies (such as inclusionary zoning, vouchers, HPAP, LIHTC, etc.) and expand tax incentives to intentionally target both workforce and low-income housing needs. By redirecting developers into producing affordable housing options for workforce and low-income residents, the District can alleviate affordable housing pressures at all income levels.
“Even though the District’s most affordable neighborhoods are east of the Anacostia River, investment has been slow to take hold in our Ward 7 and 8 communities. That can be a mixed blessing, as it gives us time to redirect the investments of developers to support affordable housing, and strengthen the community rather than displace those who are already living there. The first step is to ensure essential amenities such as accessible public transportation, well maintained roads and public spaces, and affordable housing options, are available in underserved neighborhoods. The second step is to ensure that the District government is willing to make the first critical investment that will lay the groundwork that brings in private investors. By supporting anchor development with public funds (e.g. Skyland and Poplar Point), private investors become much more willing to follow and build upon existing government investments. The District government has to be willing to make the first investment in under-served neighborhoods to lay the groundwork that will bring in more private investors; and then help shape those investments to ensure they strengthen communities, and don’t displace them.”
“Finally, I plan to ensure that the District’s Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) is held accontable and that the funds for the program are being spent properly. I was deeply concerned with the DC Auditor’s reports regarding the HPTF, and I pressed the Mayor to follow the Auditor’s recommendations to ensure that the District’s dollars are being spent properly. We need a strong HPTF to increase the affordable housing stock in the District, and the Council’s oversight in this area is vitally important.”
“Under my leadership, the District will continue to invest in safety net spending. Already the human services component of our budget is over 42%. Over the past several years, we have increased investments in affordable housing, homeless services, transitional housing, healthcare, and a number of other programs vital to the economic security of our most vulnerable residents. I am also proud to have authored the landmark Universal Paid Leave Act which will provide a new safety net for workers across the District, affording them paid time off to care for a new child, self-health, or the health of a loved one. I will fight to ensure this initiative is fully funded and implemented. I expect the total cost of the safety net to continue to expand as the cost of living rises over time – however it is my hope that the safety net will serve as a stop-gap measure until residents can get back on their feet using all the wrap-around services offered by the government including better education and jobs that will lead to income security.
“To address homelessness, I will continue to advocate for and support Targeted Affordable Housing, Permanent Supportive Housing, and Local Rent Supplement Vouchers. My efforts are evidenced in the pending budget, with substantial increases for these services. Also, I will continue to work with the Committee on Human Services to expand the capacity of the Department of Human Services to provide more assistance to residents who are in need.
“Regarding homelessness funding, I have always looked for the balance between what advocates have called for in additional funding, and what DHS has had the capacity to actually spend. If you look at recent annual budgets, you will see that the Council has increased funding for homelessness services each year above the Mayor’s request. You will also see that each year the DHS returns monies unspent at year-end.
“The solution here, as with many of our challenges, is not simply to throw more money at the problem. While funding needs to be adequate, how it is spent is critical. For example, the Mayor proposed ward-based shelters to replace DC General, but it was controversial because of questionable leases. I steered the Council to support ward-based shelters costing almost $90 million less (requiring city-owned sites) – still helping homelessness but more carefully using our resources.”
“First and foremost, we must stem the flow of illegal guns coming into the District. As Chairman of the Council I have led efforts to call on Congress to institute tougher federal gun laws. Since I joined the Council, I championed the District’s gun laws and strengthened them to make it harder for individuals to obtain firearms. No one has fought harder to maintain and strengthen the District’s gun laws than I have. The incidents of deaths due to gun violence is astounding. I will continue to fight to guarantee that the District has the strongest gun laws in the nation.
“Additionally, dating back to the years when I chaired the Council’s Judiciary Committee, I supported approaching public safety as a public health issue meriting a community-oriented response. The goal of this approach is to utilize strategies (mental health, restorative justice, assisting victims, trauma-informed response) and proactively engage at-risk violent offenders to provide them the services they need, such as mentorship and workforce development. My support for this philosophy, for treating the root social causes of public safety concerns rather than just its effects, dates back to that earlier time, and can be seen in the initiatives I pushed back then.
“This philosophy coalesced into the NEAR Act, and I was an early supporter. As Chairman of the Council, I was deliberate last spring to ensure that the NEAR Act was fully funded, given that the Mayor initially opposed funding the Act. As Chairman of the Council my role is to support oversight by the relevant committee chair, in this case the Judiciary Committee, and to force the Mayor to more fully and speedily implement this law as we on the Council intended.
“I believe that community policing is key to having an effective safety plan. We need police officers to walk and bike so they get to know the community they are serving. Building trust between police officers and the community is essential in keeping a neighborhood safe. Retention of officers in their PSAs is important for this reason.
“The school-to-prison pipeline results from the basic fact that students are dropping out or are graduating without being career-or-college ready. The Council passed a discipline bill as an effort to keep students in school. But much more is needed so that they actually learn while in school. The solution to the pipeline is to significantly improve the chances that every child will receive a high-quality education and graduate.”