Thursday, January 27, 2011

Providing Opportunities to High Level Learners in DCPS

The Post recently ran an article on a program that would allow students at School Without Walls and Wilson High School to take college courses during their junior and senior year, then attain a bachelors' degree in two years at the University of the District of Columbia. A similar program allows School Without Walls students to earn college credit in their final two years of high school, in order to complete an associates degree at George Washington University concurrently with their high school graduation. These two programs are great options to allow our city's brightest students to acquire college degrees in an accelerated format. The GWU program allows students to earn their associates degree without paying tuition, an exceptional benefit for students from financially challenged backgrounds. The programs both admit only a small pool of elite students (roughly 30, total), but hopefully these programs will be expanded to all DCPS high schools. It might also be advisable to include some component of service to the programs, whereby participating students must work in the community for some period of time with the skills that they have acquired in these programs. Tying service with education through these programs could lay the groundwork for a lifelong love of service to the community among our most academically gifted students (and hopefully will allow them to be role models for others with whom they interact during their period of service).

As we face an increasing budget crunch, it is imperative that DC government partner with local stakeholders such as area universities to pioneer programs such as these.

An additional idea might be allowing for accelerated completion of high school for advanced students. We cannot afford to stick to traditional models as we confront our massive budget shortfall. If students have the desire to complete high school on an accelerated basis, we are not currently in a fiscal position to compel them to remain for a senior year when they can complete the credits for that final year in an accelerated program. Again, this is a time for us to think creatively, as well as the time to present new options to our best and brightest students.

(Photo of Washington Math Science Technical High School Class of 2009 by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Monday, January 17, 2011

In Dr. King's memory, Let's Unite And Save This City

I had the honor and the pleasure of marching with DC Jobs With Justice, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400, and hundreds of our fair citizens in Dr. King's memory up the street that bears his name: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. I was inspired by the experience to complete the press release below, that outlines my positions for media figures (and fellow citizens) who may be interested in my views, positions and background. Please take a look:

Alan Page brings Three Core Principles to the race to fill the At-Large seat vacated by Kwame Brown:

- We are a Diverse City
- Our Public Schools Are Our Treasure; and
- We Cannot Balance The Budget on the Backs of the Poor

WASHINGTON, DC -- In light of a budget shortfall, longtime Washington DC resident, DCPS parent and attorney Alan Page has decided to jump into the race to fill the seat vacated by Kwame Brown when he moved on to Council Chair.

"I have operated on the periphery of local politics for seven years now, since I became a homeowner and a father, knowing at that point I was then invested more than ever in the city I have called home for almost 20 years, because I need the schools in this city to succeed for my daughter to excel and I need this city to thrive for my home to be a part of a vibrant community," said Mr. Page.

Buying a home on then-blighted Wylie Street NE, Mr. Page worked hard with his neighbors in the Wylie Street Homeowners Association to improve conditions and access to city services for the one-block street. Overcoming an open-air drug market culture, trash, illegal parking (including stolen cars), seven years later the conditions on Wylie Street have changed 180 degrees from its prior state. Through this process, Mr. Page learned first hand that the city and the members of a community can radically improve even the most challenged area if they work together. Mr. Page continued to work with H Street Main Street to help foster the environment that new businesses needed to thrive in the area. As a result, many new businesses have opened on the once-thriving commercial corridor, helping it move closer to its former glory.

Now, as the District faces a crushing budget shortfall, it is time for the whole city to work together to get us past this crisis, without balancing the budget on the backs of the poor, by attempting to solve our crisis with disproportionate cuts to social services. Since we currently have one tax rate for income above $40,000 a year, creating a scenario where a schoolteacher and Bill Gates could share the same tax bracket if they were neighbors in our city, I believe it is also time to create a new tax bracket so our earners in the top 5% bracket can contribute just 1% more of their income above the $200,000 threshold, to help our city stay on the path towards prosperity. Understanding that our most successful citizens will expect more efficiency in government if they are asked to give more to help us all, Mr. Page also advocates a citywide appraisal of where cuts can be made to eliminate waste and duplication of services.

Mr. Page is also concerned about the future of the city, beyond our present budget challenge. In light of that, Mr. Page is a strong supporter of the Promise Neighborhood planned for Ward 7, which will coordinate educational and social services to maximize the chances for academic success for students in the Kenilworth neighborhood, by addressing their challenges in holistic fashion, from the classroom to the home. This program is supported by President Obama and is based on the successful Harlem Children's Zone analyzed in the book "Whatever It Takes". The key success in the Harlem Children's Zone is the elimination of the racial gap in mathematics performance on standardized tests for students who were part of the Zone, by the time they reached middle school. If we can support this effort and bring Promise Neighborhoods to other neighborhoods where students face a range of challenges that hamper their academic performance, we can secure the future of this city. Our public schools are our treasure and it's time to invest in maximizing their success.

Join Alan Page in his quest to turn this budget crisis around and take us over the water to a brighter tomorrow.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Our Public Schools Are Our Treasure

MLK I Have a Dream celebration from jill cashen on Vimeo.

Not long after recent reports that DCPS enrollment has seen a year on year increase for the first time in 39 years, fourth grade students from Watkins Elementary and Peabody Elementary demonstrated today at the Lincoln Memorial why public schools are our treasure, by passionately reciting Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech in the video above. They close the recital with a stirring rendition of "We Shall Overcome". It's powerful to watch and indicative of some of the beautiful things going on in our city's public schools. This is just one of many reasons why I am proud to be a parent of a DCPS student.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Case Against Wal-Mart (and the case from its proponents)

The Korean-American Grocers Association of Greater Washington has comprised a list of reasons why District residents should oppose plans to bring Wal-Mart to our city.

1. Walmart may bring 1200 new jobs to DC however, a recent study shows that for every 1 Walmart job, there will be a loss of 1 1/2 jobs from small businesses and their distributors.

2. 50% of the revenue generated by local small businesses, stays in the community but for Walmart only 14% stay in the community and mostly in form of payroll. The rest of the money goes out of the community and to their headquarter (sic) in Arkansas.

3. Roughly 84% of the sales generated by Walmart are taken from existing businesses, therefore many small businesses will be forced to go out of businesses or suffer greatly by loss of sales.

4. In all urban areas where Walmart or big-box stores open, the surrounding areas are left scarred by boarded-up storefronts, thereby lowering the neighborhood moral (sic) and the sense of community is lost.

These reasons do not include accusations made by laborers that Wal-Mart has been sued repeatedly for failing to pay workers the overtime pay they are owed, numerous sex discrimination suits (including the largest sex discrimination suit in american history), and long-running accusations that Wal-Mart systematically prevents many of its workers from unionizing.

Obviously, there is also support for Walmart among District consumers which also has to be discussed. Walmart representatives claimed in the December 2010 edition of the ANC 4C newsletter to have conducted surveys indicating 70% support among Ward 4 residents for the opening of a Walmart there (at the intersection of Georgia and Missouri Ave).

Walmart claims, as mentioned above, that the four stores they plan to open in the District will bring 1200 jobs. In a city with a persistently bleak employment picture for residents who lack a college degree, these type of retail jobs have appeal in our current economic climate that cannot be ignored. Still, there are other big box retailers with a better reputation for worker conditions that we should consider supporting as a city. Walmart is not the only employment option available for District residents.


A mostly positive blog entry illustrating potential benefits and drawbacks of the four proposed Wal-Mart locations is available on the Urban Turf (UT) blog here. No empirical data directly supports or contradicts claims by two quoted sources regarding the proposed New Jersey Ave NW location's lack of "negative [e]ffect" on small retail in the H St NE corridor a few blocks to its east (which starts in earnest around 4th St NE after the mostly vacant 300 block ends). The Korean-American Grocers Association of Greater Washington (KAGAGW), quoted above, clearly disagrees. The blog entry does not include any discussion of potential traffic impact on the three block stretch of H St NW between North Capitol and the entry ramp to 395, which will be on the southern border of this proposed location and is already noticeably congested during rush hour.

As regards the proposed New York Avenue location, Urban Turf makes the rarely-challenged argument will likely bring sorely needed jobs to Ward 5, which UT cites as having a 16% unemployment rate. While KAGAGW argues that such jobs will be offset by job losses in surrounding small businesses, it is not clear whether job losses at businesses in the Bladensberg corridor will offset the potential 300 jobs created at that specific location. The proposed East Capitol & 58th St location discussed by Urban Turf appears to have similar unemployment dynamics in the surrounding neighborhood and UT quotes several sources that seem to look forward to potential new jobs created by the site (a 19% area unemployment rate is cited by UT).

The comments section to the Urban Turf blog posting is decidedly less enthusiastic than the blog author regarding the benefits of Wal-Mart to the District. I hope to see the debate continue in the comments section below this entry.

(Photo by Douglas C. Pizac/AP)

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Issue of Police Brutality

The civil suit surrounding the alleged beating of a black family (including a woman pregnant with triplets and a five year old) has been dismissed, but the family is appealing the dismissal. I'm working with them to raise awareness about their particular case, but I have long been worried about the endemic nature of police brutality. Every few months or so, a case appears somewhere in the country where police officers are videotaped (or otherwise accused of) beating (and sometimes killing) an unarmed civilian. These cases vary in terms of egregiousness, but sometimes have involved up to forty-one shots fired at an unarmed citizen. This state of affairs is intolerable and I sincerely believe if there was greater community control over the investigation of police brutality incidents, the number of fatal incidents would decrease to zero. The presence of the Internal Affairs Department (here and in other cities) is clearly not a deterrent to these incidents recurring continually, nor is the presence of the Office of Police Complaints, which offers mediation as an option but not the option of termination of the officer's employment if he is determined to be guilty of offenses. I believe a citizen board with the authority to fire police officers found guilty of misconduct is the necessary tool to sharply curtail police brutality in urban communities (or the creation of an internal affairs department completely separate from the police department, so political pressure within the department is neither assumed by the public to exist or present in reality). The unresolved nature of cases like these and the perception by large segments of our population that the police act above and beyond the law hampers the harmonious police-community relations necessary for crime prevention to be most successful. I salute the hardworking officers of the Metropolitan Police Department for their efforts to reduce crime (particularly violent crime) across the board in the District over the past decade, but it is time to work towards a revolutionary solution to the problem of police brutality.

(Photo from 10-42Adam on Flickr)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Statehood: A Moral Imperative

Statehood for DC isn't just a central tenet in the DC Statehood Green Party platform, it's a moral imperative in a society that proclaims democratic values. Our efforts to spread democracy abroad cannot be complete while over half a million people are disenfranchised at home. The pursuit of equal congressional representation for District residents has been pursued in various ways, including a recent effort to secure a single House seat for the District in exchange for an additional House seat in Utah. The District ranked 31st amongst states in terms of how much federal income tax revenue was paid by our residents in 2007, just under South Carolina (a state with 9 times our population). It is unconscionable that District residents pay $20 billion in federal taxes and receive no vote in Congress. If I am chosen to serve as At-Large City Councilperson for the District of Columbia, I will work tirelessly to raise awareness of this injustice and work to remedy it.

addendum: You might ask, how does the lack of statehood affect DC residents? Let's take one practical example: the services available to our veterans. As noted above, South Carolina and the District of Columbia pay roughly the same amount in federal taxes. Yet, South Carolina has an office of veteran affairs for every county in its state, while the District of Columbia only has an Office of Veteran Affairs in one suite in a single office building downtown. This is true despite the fact that the District of Columbia has one-ninth the population of South Carolina and a comparable number of veterans per capita, including almost 60,000 District veterans who served in wars in Korea, Vietnam and Gulf War I alone (roughly one tenth our total population), not even including District veterans who served in Afghanistan and the current war in Iraq (or served in peacetime or non-combat areas). By contrast, Charleston County (the county comprising South Carolina's largest city) has a 18+ plus population that is 13% veterans, but when you include the number of persons under 18 (23% of that county's population, roughly 81,000 people) into the equation, you see that the percentage of veterans in their total population is roughly equal to the percentage of District residents who are veterans of the three major conflicts prior to the current wars in which we are currently engaged. If the District of Columbia was a state, I have no doubt that we would see offices to serve veterans in every ward in our city comparable to the veterans offices in each county in South Carolina. Every American deserves services comparable to the taxes paid by their locality. Statehood, in my opinion, would provide this for the District.

My Platform, Briefly, And Why I'm Running

There are two main questions the average person might ask when someone says they are running for public office: (1) What is your platform and (2) Why are you running?


I would like you to read my five main ideas first, then take a little time to review my summation for why I am running below.

First, bullet points, followed by more expansive discussion below each point :

- Assure that our current budget challenge does not lead to a disproportionate cutting of services to our poorest residents

With a budget shortfall projected at $175 million, the Council is going to have make severe budget cuts across the board this session. Monied interests receiving tax benefits and developers seeking tax breaks have an army of lobbyists ready to protect their interests, but who will protect the interests of our poorest residents in this upcoming round of budget cuts? I want to be the voice for the working poor and the middle class in our city as these budget cuts move forward. We're all going to have to share the pain of the cuts, from the business community to the folks that punch a clock every day. I am determined to assure, if elected, that these cuts are fair and equitable and don't disproportionately affect those of us that are too poor to hire a lobbyist.

- We need to adopt "best practices" from other successful educational reform efforts in other cities

For one specific area where we can adopt best practices used in similar urban areas, we need to work with the private sector, Congress and tap District funds to properly fund the Promise Neighborhood planned for Ward 7, which was inspired by the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ).

What is the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ)?

The Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ) is a 97 block area in Harlem, New York, where children from some of the most financially challenged neighborhood in New York City receive the benefit of coordinated social and educational services from the womb to college, in order to optimize their educational achievement. To quote the Brookings Institute, "The entire rationale and appeal of the HCZ is its holistic, neighborhood-based approach to the educational achievement of low-income students" (researchers concluded after studying gains made by students in the Zone that “the effects in middle school [attendance in Zone schools] are enough to reverse the black-white achievement gap in mathematics.” The Department of Education has agreed to create a Promise Neighborhood (PN) (an area similar to HCZ) in the Parkside-Kenilworth neighborhood in Ward 7, but even before this announcement, there were concerns that Congress has not allocated the requested funds and may allocate less than the amount authorized (source: Brookings). Besides an intense effort to determine how much the District can spend on this effort, we have to work with the House Oversight Committee to see if we can drum up support for more federal funds for this PN in Ward 7. I think it would also be smart to seek private sector funding sources to aid this project, from the wide range of funders who support education reform projects throughout the country. This could be a chance to radically change education in Ward 7 and hopefully inspire educational excellence throughout the city. From a long term perspective, success here may enable us to acquire (or raise) funding for another Promise Neighborhood in Anacostia and other neighborhoods facing educational challenges in the city.

- Work with Congress to create more job internship opportunities for District youth

My main position is, the District needs to improve education and youth services if it's going to continue its growth. We need to find a way to partner up with Congress (our partners in overseeing the District) and the federal government right here so we can create internship and apprenticeship opportunities train our local youth for the federal jobs of the future. Existing internship programs could be amended to include a built-in "local District youth" preference in the application process, similar to the veteran's preference included in the federal job application process, to avoid having to create a (potentially expensive) new program to foster District youth inclusion. Ideally, the federal government would shoulder the expenses of creating marketing materials (posters, flyers, etc) advertising this program on WMATA buses and in high school career offices throughout the city (if not, we might have to split the expense of creating these materials). We may be able to get regional support for this program by including the greater metro area (Southern Maryland and Northern Virginia)

- Coordinate District service and eliminate duplication of effort and waste

In our current budget crunch, we're going to need an across the board review DC agencies to determine which agencies have overlapping authority, in order to eliminate duplication of services (for example, DDOT runs Circulator while WMATA runs Metrobus; one of those agencies should be running both bus lines, we can't afford to operate parallel bus lines in our current economic state).

- Progressive income tax

We live in a great city. Many of our citizens are able to make a great living due to our proximity to the seat of our federal government; this is why our city is not suffering the same type of job losses that other urban cities must now face.

Washington, D.C., collects income taxes from District residents utilizing three tax brackets:

- 4% on the first $10,000 of taxable income
- 6% on taxable income between $10,001 and $40,000
- 8.5% on taxable income of $40,001 and above.

There is something inherently unsound in a tax rate system where the tax rate for a family earning $40,001 a year is the same as the tax rate paid by a family who earns $400,000 a year or even $4 million a year.

If we added one additional tax bracket (9.5% for residents earning over $200,000), we could bring in the dollars necessary to close our revenue gap; this could be accomplished with only a 1% increase on the tax rate of our top earners, implicitly acknowledging the reality that there is a difference between the tax burden that can be carried by someone earning $40,001/year and someone earning $400,000/year.

To whom much is given, much is required. From whom much is earned, much is expected. Our city faces a looming budget crisis and those of us with the most to give should be called to step forward and play their part in saving our city. It is time, I believe, for a progressive income tax in the District.


I am running because I am familiar with the platforms of the other major candidates in the race and, without personally attacking any of them, I believe their vision for the future of the city is limited at best. We are going to need to take a serious look at best practices in cities internationally in order to truly keep this city on the right track. Unfortunately, we're also going to have to make some tough budget choices in the near future that will challenge established constituencies in the city, especially within our own local bureaucracy. Although I will take their concerns into consideration, I'm not allied with any particular set of interest groups and I am beholden to nothing other than finding the best way to move the city forward. I hope you join me.

Addendum: The other major reason is pictured below: my daughter, Amina, who attends DC public schools and whose future I cherish, alongside the futures of all the children in our city.