Thursday, January 6, 2011

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.

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