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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 02/24/2011

At-large council candidates debate budget, pay cuts, taxes and education

By Tim Craig

D.C. Council member Sekou Biddle (D-At large) said Wednesday that the city should get rid of taxpayer funded SUV's for top-ranking city officials and cut council members' pay to help close a budget shortfall.

Biddle, an interim member who is seeking a full term in an April 26 special election, made his remarks as he squared off against five other opponents Wednesday night in a candidates forum sponsored by The Georgetown Dish and The Georgetown Current.

The forum, held at the Social Safeway in Georgetown, was one of the best opportunities to-date for the candidates to try to distinguish themselves and set the narrative for what is expected to be a noisy citywide campaign.

Running as an incumbent following a spate of negative news stories about the District government, Biddle sought to distance himself from one of his earliest and strongest supporters, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown.

"We cannot have Navigators that are paid for by the government, we just can't," Biddle said, an apparent reference to reports by the Washington Post and Washington City Paper that Brown had requested a Lincoln Navigator that was costing taxpayers $2,000 a month.

Later, in response to a question about a Pew report that found District council members are the second highest paid in the nation, Biddle suggested that council members cut their $125,000 annual salary and eliminate some staff to help close an estimated $400 million to $600 million budget shortfall for fiscal 2012.

"It's reasonable to accept that council members ought to be getting less," Biddle said. "I'm certainly for reducing council members' salaries and council members' office staff."

Biddle's response left an opening for Josh Lopez, another Democrat in the race. Lopez challenged Biddle to use his authority as a council member to introduce legislation to reduce members' salaries.

"Put your money where your mouth is," Lopez said.

Following the debate, an informal poll of several organizers and Georgetown residents found many were impressed with Lopez's performance. Some said Ward 1 Democratic activist Bryan Weaver and Ward 8 Democratic Committee Chairman Jacque Patterson also performed well.

On education, nearly all the candidates stressed that ongoing educational reform efforts need to continue. They also generally expressed dismay over how former schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee handled the reassignment of former Hardy Middle School Principal Patrick Pope, which has been a major source of contention in Georgetown.

When asked to grade Rhee's rocky tenure as chancellor under former mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), Lopez gave her an A, Biddle a B, and former council member Vincent B. Orange, also a Democratic candidate, gave her a "B or B-minus."

"I give her an A for effort but at same time I think she made some fatal mistakes," Orange said.

Weaver said Rhee deserved an A for her efforts to negotiate a new teacher contract but "probably an F" for how she interacted with the community.

The candidates also differed on whether to raise taxes on the wealthy to help close the budget shortfall. Currently, all residents who earn at least $40,000 a year pay an 8.5 percent income tax.

Lopez said he supported a tax increase for those who earn more than $200,000 a year so long as the increase included a "sunset provision." Weaver, a former Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, said he would also like to add three new tax brackets for top wage-earners to make the income tax more progressive.

Under Weaver's plan, new brackets would be created starting at $130,000, $250,000 and $1.5 million. The new top bracket for those who earn $1.5 million or more would be 9.5 percent, Weaver said.

Patterson also said he would consider raising taxes on the wealthy if needed, but Orange and Biddle stressed they would prefer to balance the budget through spending cuts.

In a potentially controversial stance, Biddle suggested at one point the city could forgo its annual curbside fall leaf collection program to save money.

"We've got to ask ourselves, 'are there services that we can live without?'" Biddle said. "I love the fact that (Department of Public Works) comes around twice a year and vacuums up the leaves so I don't have to rake them up and bag them, but I could live without out," Biddle said.

The debate also offered voters a window into the candidates' personal lives.

When asked how many cars they own and whether they use public transportation, Biddle said he two, including a Volkswagen, but rode his bicycle to work last week.

Lopez does not have a vehicle, drawing a chuckle from the audience when he stated he relies on a BMW - "bus, Metro, walking." Patterson owns a 2008 Maximum and a 2003 BMW.

Weaver has an Isuzu Rodeo, but appeared to make inroads with the audience when he told them he road the 96 Metro bus to the event.

Later, the candidates were asked to name their favorite movie of all time.

Recounting how he watched it as a youth at the Uptown theatre, Biddle's favorite movie is "Star Wars." Lopez cited "Motorcycle Diaries", the 2004 flick about Che Guevara. Patterson's favorite movie is "The Color Purple," while Orange named "Defiance", citing it as an example of how people "persevere and survive."

Weaver cited "Milk", which recounts the assassination of the San Francisco Supervisor and gay rights activist Harvey Milk in the late 1970s. Weaver then turned his answer into an indictment of the current city government.

"The most important thing that comes out of that movie is about machines. Machines are dirty and grimy and they are only worried about the interests of the operator of that machine," Weaver said. "And, unfortunately, that's become our District government."

By Tim Craig  | February 24, 2011; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Bryan Weaver, Budget, Josh Lopez, Joshua Lopez, Kwame Brown, Sekou Biddle, Tim Craig  
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Josh Lopez is vile scum to say the least.

I am in complete shock that this guy has the audacity to run for public office. Apparently he doesn't realize how he publicly disgraced himself with his reprehensible behavior during the entire Fenty re-election campaign. Lopez has proven himself to be an individual that lacks character, integrity and basic respect for others.

For those who did not experience the displeasure of seeing Lopez in action, let me be the first to share with you some important details.

This guy who Fenty hired as his Ward 4 coordinator was nearly arrested 3 times during the campaign for disorderly conduct at campaign events. He was verbally abusive, regularly using the word "B**ch" and racially derogatory slurs to address older black women and men. He used a bull horn to disrupt a public press conference held by Mayor Vincent Gray and Barbara Lang at 441 4th Street. Police actually had to escort him off of the property.

Please see here ....

He famously disregarded the Board of Elections rules and regulations by using Fenty campaign material during the FAILED write in effort. This genius actually decided to cut the required campaign treasurer information off of the bottom of Fenty campaign signs and then turn them inside out. He is now scratching his head as to why he has been fined $18,500.00 by the Board of Elections for his rules violations.

He was given a $80,000 a year job in DMPED at the end of the FAILED Fenty re-election campaign as a means to use Government money to pay him for his services on the Fenty Campaign. Needless to say he was absolutely NOT QUALIFIED for. When he was CAUGHT by Dorothy Brazil from DC Watch, he sarcastically stated he would then donate his 3 day's of salary to her. A little frustrated you got busted AGAIN???

And this person actually believes that he should be elected to public office. What a joke!!!

When you inquire around this city, most people are disgusted by him, have nothing positive to say about him, and this is a testament to who he is as an individual. The guy is so out of touch with reality it's pathetic.

Fenty was so fiscally irresponsible that this city is nearly broke in just 4 YEARS!!!!!!! Meanwhile all of his cronies were made instant millionaires. MANY of which were the first to write contribution checks to Lopez's laughable campaign.

Well, this should be very interesting to watch as reality sets in that he has absolutely ZERO chance of being elected. I'm sure we'll see the true Lopez come out with a bull horn, eyes bloodshot red, reeking of alcohol and disrespecting people with racial slurs.


Your candidacy is a cosmic JOKE!!!!

Posted by: RealTalkDC | February 24, 2011 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Dear Real TALK DC...

hmmm.. how about the bull horn being used after it was done to Fenty campaigners and the Mayor at the opening of early voting, prior to use by Josh Lopez

How abnut the Gray campaign workers that were pushing, swearing and spitting (YES SPITTING) on Fenty campaigners??

Did you miss some of that..
And if you read the Craig article above.. personally, I think Josh Lopez was RIGHT ON POINT.

good for him.

oh, ps.. i guess you are also proud of Kwame Brown, and the other Browns also???

Posted by: pdv1 | February 24, 2011 2:40 PM | Report abuse

and, are you also missing the Friends of Gray that are being given positions (that they are not qualified for) at salaries almost double the Fenty staff????

something amiss?

Posted by: pdv1 | February 24, 2011 2:42 PM | Report abuse

To PDV...

I've been watching your comments on these blogs during the entire Fenty Campaign. Your comments are as laughable as Lopez's candidacy. LMFAO!!!

I'm convinced you are LOPEZ himself.

And you are actually attempting to justify his reprehensible actions during the Fenty re-election and write-in campaign???

This city needs to rid itself of GREEN slime like JOSH LOPEZ!

But thank goodness for Josh Lopez because his behavior turned off MASSIVE amounts of voters and sealed the CRUSHING LOSS for FENTY! GREAT JOB in WARD 4 for completely blowing it!

What I did witness as I STATED before was that JOSH LOPEZ has exemplified himself to be anything BUT someone who should be elected to public office.

1.) His consistent use of derogatory racial slurs

2.) Nearly arrested 3 times for disorderly conduct

3.) Clear connection to corruption with Fenty "GIVING" him a job in DMPED (HE WAS CLEARLY NOT QUALIFIED FOR AND COULD NOT SPECIFICALLY IDENTIFY WHAT HIS RESPONSIBILITIES WERE..... OH I FORGOT JUST SIT AND COLLECT A CHECK UNTIL JAN 2.) This was a temporary employment placement for him so that FENTY could use government funds as a monetary reward for blowing it in Ward 4. I guess Fenty figured, "Me and my frat brothers have stolen all this money so far, why not till Jan. 2nd."

4.) The $18,500.00 fine for his actions during the Fenty Write-In Campaign are an embarrassment. He clearly disregarded the Board of Elections Rules and Regulations. Good luck with that! LMFAO!!!

This person now really expects for the city to vote him into office????

Unless you are Josh Lopez himself PDV, even you must be laughing at the prospect of this.


This guy doesn't have a prayer!

Posted by: RealTalkDC | February 24, 2011 3:35 PM | Report abuse

You should change your name to Real Talk Too Much.

Seriously, you're making me want to vote for this Lopez guy.

Posted by: nmoses | February 24, 2011 7:59 PM | Report abuse

Corrections – where are the copy editors? Spell check will catch all errors. You need a human being to make some distinctions, like the different context for rode/road.

Patterson owns a 2008 Maxima

Weaver has an Isuzu Rodeo, but appeared to make inroads with the audience when he told them he rode the 96 Metro bus to the event.

Posted by: sheridaw | February 24, 2011 9:37 PM | Report abuse

To NMoses...

In conclusion...

I witnessed Josh Lopez call an African American Mother of 2 a B**ch to her face.. How disrespectful and offensive!

And that's REAL TALK ... "TOO MUCH" as you say.

Posted by: RealTalkDC | February 24, 2011 10:13 PM | Report abuse

I already got my I miss Fenty bumper sticker

Posted by: buytheImissFentybumpersticker | February 25, 2011 1:46 AM | Report abuse

Lopez is exactly what this city needs. In less than three months, Grey has already returned DC to the bad old days, handing out payraises and jobs to friends. Somebody on that council needs to check him, and Lopez is just the guy to do it. It would also nice to see DC's growing latino community represented on the council. The demographics of this city are changing, and the council should reflect that.

Posted by: asuka1 | February 25, 2011 4:46 PM | Report abuse

I am just about to get me the "I miss Fenty bumber sticker"

Posted by: Ward3three | February 25, 2011 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Adrian Fenty returned DC to "The Bad Old Days." Apparently you don't remember the Banneker Ventures/Liberty Engineering multimillion dollar Parks and Recreation scandal. Well let me remind you.

Banneker Venteures/Liberty Engineering owned by two Frat Brothers (Omar Karim and Sinclair Skinner) of Adrian Fenty's received millions of dollars in construction contracts while .... YOU GUESSED IT... Not possessing a VALID ENGINEERING LICENSE.

How would you explain that cronyism asuka1???

You are extremely naive to believe that monetary kickbacks were not a part of that deal which eventually cost Fenty the election.

I agree wholeheartedly that all cultures and ethnicities should be represented on the council, but not by someone who shares the same unethical principles and lack of integrity as the former administration.

Stay tuned for the Trout Report.

Posted by: RealTalkDC | February 25, 2011 10:52 PM | Report abuse

I'd never waste a vote on Josh Lopez, another of Fenty's frat brothers.

Truthfully, I am not very impressed, at this point, with any of the candidates.

However, educationally, Vincent Orange appears to be what is required in city hall. He is a lawyer and CPA. We need a council member who can count to attack this record deficit we are facing.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | February 26, 2011 6:47 AM | Report abuse

I am also inclined to vote for Vincent Orange who is not a member of the elite group at the Wilson Building, and who will not owe Chairman Brown or Mayor Gray anything. He can shake up things there and has the professional background needed to represent the voters at the Council. The current Councilmembers waited for nearly a week after the Chairman's Navigatorgate episode before saying anthing.

Posted by: dcgovcorruption1 | February 26, 2011 2:28 PM | Report abuse

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