- Photo: Jay Wescott
If you've been following the Democratic primary race for the Ward 6 council seat in D.C., you already know that some race issues have been curdling beneath the surface. Incumbent Tommy Wells says he's for a "livable, walkable city," while challenger Kelvin Robinson has floated the question, "livable and walkable for whom?"
The question here is whether some of the livable, walkable hallmarks of Wells' tenure -- the impending arrival of street cars, the proliferation of bike lanes, and the institution of a plastic bag tax -- have tended to benefit the more affluent citizens of Ward 6 at the expense of the poor.
Yesterday Wells and Robinson went on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, where the inimitable Tom Sherwood laid the race issues right out on the studio table. He asked Robinson point-blank whether Wells' pet projects cater to white folk and whether it's fair to view such issues through a racial lens. Unfortunately, Robinson pretty much ducked the questions. But it certainly made for some good radio. A transcript of the exchange is after the jump.
SHERWOOD: Some people have suggested this is a racial question… that street cars, the bag tax, and bike lanes and all that are anti-black, or favoring white upper-income people of the city. I find it a little incongruous that people would say that, but you’ve heard that. But do you buy into it, that that’s somehow catering to the well-to-do white people in town, that somehow black people don’t ride bicycles?
ROBINSON: I think that those issues don’t really deal with the day-to-day lives of people who are struggling to make ends meet.
SHERWOOD: Is there a racial aspect to that?
ROBINSON: You know, some have certainly suggested it.
SHERWOOD: I don’t mean some. Do you think there’s a racial aspect?
ROBINSON: I’ll leave that to those who would consider whether or not they’re getting the kind of support they need in the area.
SHERWOOD: You’re suggesting that you’re open to the idea that there’s a racial aspect to Mr. Wells’ support of those issues. It’s a very sensitive issue. That’s why I want to be as clear as possible and not use code words.
ROBINSON: I've been clear, and I’ve said in my ANC commission meetings that I chair in 6A that the racial tension is palpable and we need to have a conversation in our ward. We can’t ignore them and we ought to be forthright in having a real conversation about the change going on in the ward.
SHERWOOD: So you believe there’s a racial disparity the way Mr. Wells represents the ward? It’s like you wanna have a conversation about it but you don’t wanna say it....
[Kojo steps in here to steer the conversation.]
KOJO: It seems to me that what you are talking about is the more affluent members of your ward seem to be getting more benefits from Mr. Wells’ tenure than are the poorer residents of your ward…. What do you think it is a streetcar does for affluent residents that it does not do for poorer residents?
ROBINSON: Again, I’m a supporter of the street car, so it's not that I think the streetcar does something different for one or the other. The question is where do we put our scarce resources? Do we put it into street cars? Do we put into bike lanes? Do we put it into the bag tax? Do we put it into chicken farms in our back yards? What do we do about these major other issues that need to be addressed, like juvenile crime?