WASHINGTON – Four of the seven candidates running in the at-large race for the D.C. Council faced off in a 90-minute debate Saturday that erupted in heated back- and-forth arguments between the candidates as well as between the moderators and candidates.
WTOP’s investigative reporter Mark Segraves and Washington Post political reporter Mark DeBonis moderated the debate at Catholic University.
The participating candidates included:
Councilmember Michael Brown (I)
David Grosso (I)
Councilmember Vincent Orange (D)
Mary Brooks Beatty (R)
It was a debate that had one current councilmember propose targeting Maryland and Virginia residents with speed cameras and the only Republican candidate distance herself from her party and refuse to say who she would vote for in the presidential race.
The hot topics included the future of photo-enforced traffic fines, parking for disabled individuals, teacher evaluations, and voting rights for District residents.
Listen to the debate below:
Red top meters:
On the issue of the proposed plan to reserve hundreds of metered parking spaces for disabled drivers, none of the candidates supported the legislation currently being considered.
Grosso: Wants dedicated free parking for disabled drivers
Beatty: Wants dedicated parking
Orange: Wants dedicated parking
Brown: Wants dedicated parking
Photo enforcement of traffic:
All of the candidates indicated they support reducing the fines for speed cameras. But Brown said the cameras should be placed near the borders of the city to target Maryland and Virginia drivers.
“If the cameras are going to be anywhere, let’s at least put them on the fringes of the city so we can get the Maryland and Virginia folks to pay those fines rather than us,” Brown said.
When the moderator pointed out that 65 percent of the fines are already issued to Maryland and Virginia drivers, Brown replied, “What’s wrong with 100 percent of those being from Maryland and Virginia?” The comment elicited applause from the audience.
Beatty called the photo enforcement system “outrageous and ridiculous.” She disputed data that shows speed cameras reduce traffic deaths.
According to the Metropolitan Police Department, in the 11 years since speed cameras have been in use in D.C., traffic deaths have decreased by 76 percent.
Beatty said there is no evidence of a correlation between the cameras and traffic deaths.
“I’ve seen several analyses that show that is not a proper analogy,” Beatty said.
On the issue of voting rights for District residents, all the candidates agreed it was a top issue of great importance to residents. They all vowed to work for full representation, but the conversation led the only Republican candidate to take a swing at the only elected Republican in the District, Patrick Mara (Ward 1), who is a school board member and one of the most popular Republicans in the city.
Mara came within about 1,000 votes of winning a D.C. Council seat in 2011.
Beatty told the crowd she could have success convincing congressional Republicans to support D.C. voting rights because of her party affiliation. “Working with Congress might be easier for me,” she said.
But when asked why it would be easier for her than Mara, who used the same logic when he campaigning, Beatty told the crowd she’s no Pat Mara.
“His positions and mine are not necessarily totally in line with one another,” she said, adding that perhaps Mara was not up to the task of negotiating with members of Congress.
“His collaboration skills may be not quite as refined as mine,” she said.
On the same topic of voting rights, when Orange was asked why he decided to stay on the sidewalk and not get arrested several years ago when Mayor Vincent Gray and many others were arrested on Capitol Hill while demonstrating for voting rights, he said he attended the demonstration, but never planned on participating.
“That was not on my schedule,” he said.
Brown, who did get arrested that day, took the opportunity to take a jab at Grosso who was arrested more than 20 years ago for possession of marijuana.
Brown called his arrest, “Getting arrested in a good way.”
Rapid fire questions:
In a rapid fire round of questions when the candidates were asked to give yes or no answers, the candidates answered the following:
Q: Should the District aggressively ticket residents and businesses who don’t shovel snow off their sidewalks?
Brown: Did not answer Grosso: yes Beatty: no Orange: Did not answer
Q: Would you support a law restricting large sugary sodas similar to what New York City just passed?
Grosso: yes Beatty: no Orange: yes Brown: yes
Q: Would you support expansion of the types of illnesses that qualify for medical marijuana?
Beatty: no Orange: no Brown: no Grosso: yes
Q: Would you vote to repeal the D.C. 5-cent bag fee?
Beatty: yes Grosso: no Orange: no Brown: no
Q: Do you support school vouchers?
Grosso: no Beatty: yes Orange: yes Brown: yes
Q: Would you vote to censure Councilmember Jim Graham, who was found to have violated the Metro’s code of ethics?
Beatty: yes Orange: Would have to hear case Brown: After recommendation of ethics panel Grosso: yes
During a round of questions specific to individual candidates, the following remarks were made:
Grosso, who has worked for several years as a vice president for CareFirst, one of the largest insures in the District, said he would recuse himself from voting on CareFirst-related legislation for a year, but not on all health care-related votes. He said he’s been paid by CareFirst while campaigning for more than a year, but is now on a two-month unpaid leave.
Beatty further distanced herself from the Republican party saying, “I don’t agree with all those Republican positions that you hear so much about. I want you to think of me as more like a Carol Schwartz Republican.”
Beatty said she is pro-choice and supports marriage equality, but declined to say who she is voting for in the presidential race. “That’s none of your business,” she said.
Orange talked about his decision to run for council, after losing a bid for the chairman’s seat, was based on being guided by a sign from God.
“I had given up,” Orange said. “I wasn’t going to run.”
Orange mentioned a sermon by his preacher that seemed to move him, and then he mentioned a call he received, saying he was ahead in the polls. That poll was paid for by millionaire Jeffery Thompson who is at the center of the federal investigation into the alleged shadow campaign for Gray.
When asked about connections he has with Thompson and people connected to his campaign and the shadow campaign, Orange dismissed those allegations.
“You think I had time to set up a shadow campaign?” Orange questioned.
He then went on to attack the reporting of the Washington Post and the Washington City Paper.
“You report the news, you don’t get to make the news,” he shouted.
Orange went on to say that an investigation by the Office of Campaign Finance looking into what Orange had called “questionable contributions” he received from Thompson has been completed and will exonerate him.
“I just signed off on the final report. You should be issuing me an apology – you and the Washington Post.” Orange said, directing his comment to DeBonis.
“The law states that no one should go out and have someone else make a contribution in someone else’s name, and a campaign should not knowingly accept fraudulent contributions, and in both cases I did not do that nor did anyone on my staff and that’s what the report is going to say,” Orange insisted.
The back-and-forth between the candidates and the moderators continued to heat up as Brown was asked about his personal financial and legal problems.
“Nobody’s perfect,” Brown said, adding that the press had unfairly target him. “It’s not a level playing field,” Brown said.
He added that some of the reporting by the Washington Post had been incorrect.
“Some of the things are just flat-out wrong,” Brown said.
When pressed for examples by the moderators, Brown said the Post had written that Brown “did not pay taxes.”
“That’s not true,” Brown said. DeBonis countered that the Post had written that Brown had “not paid his taxes on time.”
Brown said he “wished that was what the Post wrote.”
A quick review of Post coverage of the issue found that in the vast majority of reporting of the Post did use the phrase, “did not pay his taxes on time,” but in a recent editorial endorsing Grosso and Leon Swaine, the Post did write “unpaid taxes and rent.”