During the final Ward 6 Democrats/Hill Rag pre-primary non-partisan debate among the candidates for the Ward 6 council seat (which took place Tuesday, June 5), we ran out of time before we ran out of questions. The candidates graciously agreed to respond in writing to those we didn't have time to ask in person. Below are Republican Michael Bekesha's answers:
Q: Do you support the recent TOPA changes for single family homes that reduced notifications and eliminated the ability to assign tenant's right to purchase to a third party?
A: I absolutely support the changes. Between 2009 and 2015, TOPA enabled less than five percent of renters to buy their homes. TOPA did not make housing more affordable or enable more renters to buy. It only prevented or delayed single family homes from going on the market, which decreased supply and increased prices.
Q: Do you support legislatively exempting the affordable 595 units of housing owned by the United House of Prayer from residential property tax?
A: Under current law, the Council cannot hold a hearing on – let alone approve of – any real property tax abatement or exemption without DC’s Chief Financial Officer first providing a financial analysis. The analysis, in basic terms, is to make sure that the abatement or exemption is necessary and that the community will benefit from it. As Councilmember, I will not vote for any abatement or exemption the CFO determines to be unnecessary or does not have a community benefit. This includes real property owned by UHOP Properties, a national, for-profit developer.
Q: How can we help advise Build First residents that may not financially qualify for available units?
A: Build First simply means existing public housing residents are not displaced while redevelopment occurs. Ideally, Build First allows residents to move directly from their current home to their new home. In other circumstances, Build First may relocate residents on a temporary basis; however, the relocation would occur within the redevelopment or nearby. Build First does not change the level of affordability of the new homes. For example, the planned Greenleaf redevelopment will replace all existing homes at the same level of affordability and no displacement of current residents will occur. However, we need to make sure that Build First projects are recession proof, so projects are not stopped during a downturn in the economy, creating uncertainty for the residents.
Q: How can neighborhoods be protected from "pop up" construction, which threatens neighbors with lax DCRA code enforcement during construction?
A: Like many issues facing our residents, the root of the problem is not the lack of law but the lack of enforcement. Lax or no enforcement can only be corrected by strong oversight of the government agency (in the case, DCRA) by the Council. Unfortunately, the Council does not take its oversight and accountability role seriously. As Councilmember, I will ensure that every agency is enforcing the laws as enacted. If they are not, I will hold hearings to determine whether the law is outdated or misplaced or whether the agency is simply not doing its job.
Q: How can we make Early Childcare more affordable for low income and working families?
A: For pre-school age children, the Council should step in and prohibit the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s recently passed regulation requiring daycare providers to have a college degree.
Q: What will you do to address residency enrollment fraud in schools?
A: I will authorize and enable the Attorney General to initiate investigations and make decisions about whether to prosecute the matter. We need to make sure our public schools are available to DC students. Anything less is simply unacceptable.
Q: Does DCPS need further legislative reform?
A: Yes. We must:
- Return spending authority of at-risk funds to principals;
- Provide more autonomy to our schools and the community;
- Require full accounting of how funds are being spent at each school as well as in the central office;
- Authorize and enable the Attorney General to initiate investigations and make decisions about whether to prosecute residency enrollment fraud; and
- Create an independent, research body that is walled off from political interference.
Q: What steps should DCPS take to address the achievement gap between African American and white students?
A: Currently, DCPS is misspending 60 percent of at-risk funding, which is money that is supposed to be used on our most vulnerable students, who are predominantly African American. When the law first passed in 2013, 90 percent of at-risk funds allocated by the Council were to be spent at a principal’s discretion. However, in 2015, the Council changed the law and took the authority away from principals and gave it to the chancellor. Because principals know what works best for their individual schools and children, we must go back to the original law, so the money is actually going to the students who need it most.
Q: Should DC be a sanctuary city?
Q: What are the three most effective reforms that DC can make to its juvenile justice system?
- Fully fund and re-establish the Youth Court of the District of Columbia;
- Reform the system so that juveniles are not held at the Youth Services Center but instead remain in the community; and
- Prohibit juveniles from being detained for status offenses, which are only offenses because the individuals who committed them were minors.
Q: How will you ensure that the NEAR Act is fully implemented?
A: One component of the law has not been fully funded: the collection and study of stop and frisk data. This year, the Council has provided the Mayor with more money to ensure this last component is implemented. However, why are we conducting a study? Stop and frisk is bad policy and does not work. Instead, we should spend that $500,000 on combating violent.
Q: Is there anything that can be done legislatively to provide more services for homeless victims of domestic violence?
A: Amend the law establishing the Interagency Council on Homelessness to: specifically require assessment of the need for services for domestic violence survivors; and require the creation of a Women’s Task Force committee. Provide additional funding and resources to our non-profit and advocacy organizations so that they continue to provide the services for homeless, domestic violence survivors in conjunction with DC-provided services.
Q: Do you support the recent tax increases to fund Metro?
A: No. The increased sales tax will hurt all DC residents as well as our small businesses, and the increased commercial property tax will hurt our business as well as our workers. The 500 percent tax increase on ride sharing will hurt residents throughout the city. Often, Uber or Lyft is the only safe, reliable, efficient, and affordable mode of transportation. We also should be encouraging less cars on the road. So, why not have a tiered system for solo rides versus pool rides? Also, what about our workers who do not work 9-5 jobs? Why are we punishing them by increasing the cost for them to find safe rides home after Metro closes?
Q: Do you support protected bike lanes on Sixth Street, NW, in Shaw and on Second Street in SW? Please address concerns of implications for nearby churches and parking?
A: Yes. A protected bike lane on Sixth Street is needed, and a majority of the community support it. The process needs to be more transparent and inclusive of the entire community, however. This includes making sure sufficient parking spots are available for our residents and parishioners on nearby streets.
A protected bike lane on 2ndStreet, SW between T Street and P Street is probably most needed during the 17 DC United home games and other events at the new stadium. We should look into creating temporary, protected bike lanes during these events to ensure parking is available for residents on an everyday basis but also ensure that, when large events occur, we have the infrastructure in place to handle them.
Q: What improvements should be made to current campaign finance laws?
A: Simply put, we need nonpartisan elections. Starting in 2018, we will be publicly financing partisan activities, and taxpayer dollars should not be spent on partisan campaigns. Also, nonpartisan elections will allow for more residents (at least 110,000 residents) a meaningful voice in elections. Such changes would provide residents with more power at the polls and allow for greater accountability of our candidates, especially the incumbents.
Q: Do you support open primaries?
Q: What do you think of the Mayor's plan to close DC General?
A: I agree 100 percent with the Mayor that a smaller, ward-based shelter system is a more humane solution. The issue is implementation. The Mayor still plans to close DC General before all the shelters are ready. This should not happen. DC General should close, and all the families relocated only after the ward-based shelters are open and ready to house families.
Q: Do you support a sales tax exemption for women's hygiene products and diapers?
Q: Do you support DC legalizing sports gambling?
Q: What steps have you taken or need to be taken to make statehood a reality?
A: Statehood will only become a reality if we start acting like a state, have a governing system like a state, and have a strong multi-party system. First, we need to stop acting like we are the child trying to sit at the adult table. Instead of complaining about Congress, we need to work with Congress to ensure our legislative and fiscal independence. Instead of complaining about needing stronger national laws, we need to work with our neighboring states as if we are also a state. Second, we have a Council that acts like a city council but has the responsibility of a state legislature. Why don’t we reform our Advisory Neighborhood Commission system to empower our commissioners to handle our most local matters? Third, the one-party system must go, and one way to solve this is to hold nonpartisan elections where all DC voters can vote.
Q: What can be done to decrease minority unemployment?
- Remove barriers created by occupational licenses;
- Create a DC Work Opportunity Tax Credit;
- Hire DC residents to work DC government jobs and enforce agreements requiring companies hire DC residents;
- Strengthen and invest more in our apprenticeship programs;
- Ensure our schools are preparing students for both college as well as careers;
- Grow and strengthen our technical school program; and
- Repeal Ballot Initiative 77 if it passes on June 19.
Q: How would you create opportunities for our returning citizens?
- Remove barriers created by occupational licenses;
- Create a DC Work Opportunity Tax Credit;
- Provide our not-for-profit and advocacy organizations with additional resources and funds to work with returning citizens on acquiring the skills necessary to enter or re-enter the job market and workforce.
Q: How do we ensure there is equal pay for equal work for women and minorities in the District?
- Prohibit employers from asking for salary history of prospective employees during the interview and hiring process;
- Require full pay transparency; and
- Incentivize our business community to enable their employees to both raise a family and continue working, such as paid family leave and supported childcare.
Visit Michael Bekesha's website for more information.
Read Democrat Charles Allen's answers to these questions.
Read Democrat Lisa Hunter's answers to these questions.