No matter who wins the Ward 8 Council election to replace Marion Barry, and we may not know that for a few more days, it will be a huge change. Marion was larger than life and even toward the end still had a magnetic personality and the ability to make people believe in him. The problem is despite all Barry did for the city, many of his constituents in the ward continue to struggle.
I met Barry in 1978 when I moved to D.C. and he got me involved in local government. He appointed me to a commission and through him I learned about D.C. government, both the good and bad.
Barry was many things to many people, including a civil rights icon and a community activist. Thousands of devoted Barry voters over the years had no idea Barry, according to Wikipedia, “Held a master’s in Organic Chemistry from Fisk University and began first taking doctoral courses at the University of Kansas. He then took courses toward a doctoral degree in chemistry at the University of Tennessee. He was the only African American in the program and discovered he was prohibited from tutoring white children, while his first wife, Blantie Evans, was not allowed to work at the school. He left the program when he was elected the first President of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).” Barry moved to D.C. to manage SNCC’s office in 1967, and with Mary Treadwell, who became his second wife, co-founded Pride, Inc., a Department of Labor-funded program to provide job training to unemployed black men. In 1971 he began his political career, winning a seat on the school board.
So whoever wins this election in Ward 8 won’t have the stature or background of Barry. But while the world and D.C. have changed the person elected, LaRuby May or Trayon White, will still have many of the same issues to face trying to get the government to focus on the needs of their constituents.
White is a native of D.C. who grew up in difficult circumstances. He overcame those and today is a father, community advocate and organizer, and former member of the school board. In 2007, he founded and until recently served as executive director of Helping Inner City Kids Succeed (HICKS, Inc.), which creates activities for youth engagement and violence prevention in some of Washington’s toughest neighborhoods
May began her professional experience in Ward 8 through the Gift Family Resource Center (GFRC) serving families and children by providing academic, financial, life, employment and social skills through after school educational and summer enrichment programs. May is the founding chair of the board of the Community College Preparatory Academy in Ward 8, the first adult charter school east of the river.
Both worked with Barry and understood his connection to the people of Ward 8. So whoever wins will bring a background of knowledge and work in Ward 8 to the Council. But the reality is only 12 percent of voters in Ward 8 bothered to cast a ballot. It is still a win but they will have their work cut out for them energizing people in the ward to get behind the ideas and projects they want to promote.
It won’t be enough to just hand out turkeys to constituents on Thanksgiving. The new Council member will have to work with the mayor to improve education opportunities, create more relevant job training programs and spur economic development in the Ward. Some of the most beautiful parts of the District are in Ward 8 and it is primed for economic development. The issue facing the new Council member and the city is how to spur economic development, which usually leads to gentrification and do it in a way so that current residents of the Ward can benefit and continue to afford to live there.
Yet even before the results of this election are final many of the losing candidates have said they are starting their campaigns for the full term in the 2016 election. That is a presidential election year and the turnout will be bigger. What will be sad is if the people of Ward 8 have to wait two more years for any progress because their new Council member, whoever that is, is focused on the next campaign even before they take office.