ERIC WOLFERT, ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT DIRECTOR
To make a statement so painfully obvious that it almost need not be said, 2014 was a disheartening year for advocates of racial justice. From Ferguson, MO, to New York City, stories describing a dispiriting lack of progress were seemingly omnipresent. While these stories rightly adorned front pages across the United States, a study from the University of Minnesota added a new layer to issues of racial injustice--in a vastly different form than most headlines. The study found that, controlling for other factors, non-whites are exposed to significantly higher levels of environmental toxins than whites in the United States, with the most significant finding being that non-white Americans are exposed to a staggering 46% more nitrogen dioxide than their white counterparts. The inequality holds even when adjusting for income--poor whites are still, on average, exposed to fewer environmental toxins than wealthy non-whites. Startlingly, the study found that if black Americans were exposed to same level of nitrogen dioxide as white Americans, nearly 7,000 deaths resulting from coronary heart disease could be averted. Nitrogen dioxide is also a primary cause of a variety of lung diseases as well as preterm births.
The Environmental Protection Agency updated its nitrogen dioxide standards in January 2010, establishing a maximum threshold of 100 parts per billion of the gas in a given area. If during any hour the average level of nitrogen dioxide is found to exceed that threshold, it is considered a violation. This policy applies to non-stationary sources such as cars and trucks, as well as stationary sources such as power plants. Furthermore, the EPA required individual states to enact State Implementation Plans (SIP) that detail how the state plans to reach that threshold. As of November 2014, seven states and the District of Columbia were found by the EPA to still not be in compliance with the regulation, a full 22 months after the deadline to submit a SIP. Interestingly, the states little in common with regards to demographics or politics--running the gamut from Vermont to Arkansas.
What can be done about this issue? The most obvious answer is, of course, to address the pollution at its source. Upon finding this delay, the EPA is authorized to supercede state concerns and establish a Federal Implementation Plan (FIP), which strictly regulate nitrogen dioxide in a more “one-size-fits-all” manner. This is used to coerce the seven holdout states into compliance with the new standards, but twenty-four months is a severely long period of noncompliance, as evidenced by the thousands of deaths from coronary heart disease described above that are caused by nitrogen dioxide emissions. Given that fact, economic penalties are necessary in the interim. These penalty funds should be used to help fund further research into the various diseases that arise from the excess nitrogen dioxide pollution--an imperative particularly as federal spending on medical research has dropped significantly in recent years, leaving the United States at risk of being eclipsed in levels of research and innovation. Furthermore, the federal government should create a tax policy that encourages private businesses to cut back on harmful emissions on their own. Would businesses be willing to further cut their own emissions if they were promised that the tax rate on their profits would fall by 0.5% for every five parts per billion below the EPA standards their emissions were? I would bet they would,spurring new technologies that both help the environment and public health while creating new economic sectors and more jobs.
Finding a way to cut nitrogen dioxide emissions is more than a public health issue; it is also a racial justice issue. At a time when significant discussion is being devoted to how to better ensure racial equality, policy makers would be wise to include environmental barriers to such equality in the debates.
ADAR SCHNEIDER, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
DC’s 7th Ward is one of the worst pockets of poverty in the city. According to a report by the Urban Institute, half of the Parkside-Kenilworth neighborhood inhabitants are under the federal poverty line. 90% of households are headed by a single mother. About one third are under the age of 18 (compared to a city-wide rate of about 17%), and every primary school in the area sees rates of nearly 100% of the students qualifying for reduced or free lunches.
Intergenerational poverty is one of the most pervasive problems in inner-city neighborhoods like Parkside-Kenilworth. But the Department of Education is partnering with cities to try to solve this problem through an initiative called the Promise Neighborhood. These areas are funded through a DoE grant that aims to integrate community services, especially those targeted at childhood development. Promise Neighborhoods use data-driven goals to build up community resources and infrastructure that serves entire neighborhoods. This type of initiative is now operating in 18 states and DC.
The DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI), beginning in 2010, is a long-term community development plan aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty that pervades residents of Ward 7. The initiative takes a Cradle-to-College-to-Career Pipeline approach that focuses on improving public schools within the community while building complementary services.This means that while a focus is put on improving the effectiveness of neighborhood schools, the community aims to build integrated services for all residents that support the overall goal of graduating from college and prepared for a career.The Promise Neighborhood Initiative actively utilizes 40 community and government partners that deal with every aspect of child and adolescent growth and development, including physical and mental health services, arts and cultural engagement, mentorship programs, and academic support.
The initiative also puts a focus on parents by providing parenting classes, technical training, and workforce development. It specifically aims at breaking down cyclical poverty by supporting two generations.
How well has the initiative been doing? It is perhaps too early to tell. Since the beginning of the program, one of the focus schools has shut down. The DC Housing Authority’s application for a $30 million supplemental grant for the area has been denied. Impact data has not been updated recently, but immediate success is not exactly easy to find.
But the potential is still there, with case workers being assigned to children in the coming months and an effort put into increasing parent access to GEDs and job training programs. One mark of success is Caesar Chavaz Public Charter school in Parkside, which has recently been promoted to a Tier 1 School -- a mark of academic achievement among public schools in DC.
DC should support the success of the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative, following the model of the Harlem Children’s Zone. It may take time, and it will certainly see stumbles, but breaking the pervasive cycles of poverty in DC’s pockets of poverty is not only important for the immediate neighborhoods, but essential to the success of the city as a whole. By improving the long-term success and opportunities of those in Ward 7, we can boost jobs and wages, reduce crime, and make progress toward transforming the school to prison pipeline into a cradle-to-college pipeline.
When schools are funded primarily through property taxes while situated in an area dominated by public housing and low property values, neighborhood schools end up underfunded and racially segregated. Students who lack strong support systems and early education do poorly and have high dropout rates. More than half of fifth graders in Ward 7 fail reading and math proficiency tests. It is no coincidence that most schools in Ward 7 lack supplemental programs, including physical education, and rates of childhood obesity are extremely high.
This intergenerational “Promise Neighborhood” model is still relatively uncommon and considered experimental, but it has seen success in the past. It is based on the Harlem Children Zone, a neighborhood initiative beginning as a one-block pilot in the 1990s, that has seen incredible success. It combines a holistic approach to community success by integrating health care, early education, college readiness, free financial services, and parent education. The model has been praised across the country as an innovative approach to tackling intergenerational poverty.
Harlem Children’s Zone has expanded to include a 97 block radius, with nearly 70% of youth inside the “footprint” utilizing HCZ pipeline programs. They currently serve 10,700 youth and 8,000 adults each year. By creating seamless support for participants from prenatal to post-college, they have seen 92% of program participants accepted into college. One hundred percent of their pre-K students were tested “school ready,” and, in 2012, the Harlem Children’s Zone actually built their own $100 million state-of-the-art elementary school inside a low-income housing development complex, complete with healthy meals, new technology, after school family support groups, and on-site mental health and medical clinics. Programming includes mentorship, active lifestyle, team-building, and character development, with the overall goal of revitalizing the culture and economic power of Harlem from the inside-out.
One of the toughest parts of successful programming is, of course, funding. The city is spending millions of dollars on a project they are unsure will be successful. Is this sustainable? Can DC afford it, and how will funding change over time? Eighty-three percent of funding for HCZ now comes from corporate, foundation, and individual donations, compared to 6% from public funding.
JACK NOLAND, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
This is, admittedly, way out of left field. I am about as green as they come in policy work, and even more so in television critique, but their intersection provides a rare opportunity for commentary. I suppose this could be considered a “meta” moment. As an organization, GW Roosevelt has had a number of campaigns, events, and discussions over the last semester and year, and as we sit at the crossroads and look toward the future, some self-reflection is always appropriate. If you’ll indulge the levity, there may be something worthwhile to come.
When we emerge from the crypts of policy analysis and plop down in front of the tube, few shows seem to tie intimately to the rewarding, if less-marketable, world of public policy. There aren’t many chase scenes here. The two do meet, on occasion, and in doing so offer a useful representation of reality to hold up to our own. It’s a new year, and in the spirit of setting a moral course for the semester, I think there are two television shows worth examining – The Wire, for depicting a world where plucky, bright-eyed idealists can (and often do) fail, and The West Wing, for showing that they can succeed.
The Wire is a show that deals intimately, intensively, and sometimes uncomfortably with institutional failure and the corruptive effect this process can have on well-intentioned people working within these systems. David Simon’s cross-section of mid-2000s Baltimore artfully and masterfully showcases the parallels between institutions formal and informal on both sides of the law, and offers ambiguity and even bold-faced cynicism where other programs generally adhere to a good-bad dichotomy. It is a show praised for its realism, and is darker and gloomier than case-a-week police procedurals for this reason. Successes are often piecemeal or delayed, and failure is rampant.
There are people motivated by greed and altruism, anger and kindness, within every institution the show deals with, be it the drug trade, schools, or the police force. The characters with good intentions do not always win, and they often get trapped or marginalized for not playing the game the way it is designed to be played. Politics--racial and personal --work desperately to keep the system intact. It is unbelievably hard to create change that sticks in The Wire’s Baltimore, and the archetypal roles remain in place as their inhabitants shift. This is not meant to be dissuasive; in fact, the intractability of the status quo itself makes good policy paramount. However, in not drinking the Kool-Aid of believing in some sort of karmic balance propping up the forces of justice, the show offers a realistic, if cynical, guidebook to municipal malfeasance.
On the other hand, The West Wing covers the ups and downs of the administration of fictional Democratic President Jed Bartlet, and his core group of advisors. The West Wing is one of the best shows about American politics ever made because it recognizes and draws the realistic distinction between politics and policy that other acclaimed programs, like Scandal and House of Cards, smooth over. That it deals intimately with the plodding, often mundane process of writing and implementing policy makes the show fun to watch for people like ourselves, but also useful in considering how to move forward.
As Bartlet declares, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world,” for, as Will Bailey responds, “It’s the only thing that ever has.” This is fundamentally true, and it is the spiritual cornerstone for ours and other student groups seeking systemic change. This is where watching The West Wing can be an inspirational experience, as, even through the successes and failures of the administration, progress is made incrementally. The good guys win more often than they lose. In our world of legislative intransigence, bureaucratic quagmire, and sometimes unbelievably archaic institutional proceedings, this measured hope is necessary.
Critically, both shows deal with idealists who really are trying to make change. The Wire’s McNulty, Bunk and the detectives trying to focus on high-level crime, Colvin and his attempts at drug decriminalization, and Pryzbylewski and his curricular priorities exemplify people fighting back against a system that is crushingly corruptive and misaligned. The West Wing follows Josh, CJ, Toby, and the rest of the senior staff as they attempt to find progress amid compromise, setbacks, and even failure. There are key lessons to be learned here. While the outcome for these sets of characters is largely different, the methodical process that they go through is surely valuable.
The point, I suppose, of all this TV talk is this: neither show is completely right, but both are useful. In truth, our sphere is probably somewhere in between gritty Baltimore and dignified Washington, and neither failure nor success is guaranteed. Institutional forces can be, and often are, incredibly hard-headed and unjust. Policy – especially progressive policy – demands both pragmatic concerns and an overpowering desire to see things get better, to see the immutable status quo made fluid, and molded for the better. We must waterproof our hope with awareness and realism if we want to make policy that lasts, and works. These are two of the best shows ever made, for my money, for artistic and dramatic value. For policy wonks seeking to change the way the world works, however, I think they are absolutely essential.
ERIC WOLFERT, ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT DIRECTOR
Germany is hardly anyone’s idea of a sunny paradise--its capital city of Berlin sits at a higher latitude than Detroit and Pittsburgh. Yet Europe’s greatest economic power has become a world leader in the development of solar energy, with solar providing nearly 75% of the nation’s energy over periods of several hours and 17% of its total consumption during the first six months of 2014. (By comparison, solar made up a paltry 0.23% of American energy consumption in 2013.) In doing so, Germany has demonstrated that transitioning away from fossil fuels, far from being a painful and expensive process, can actually have a number of positive effects. Its energy grid, far from being unreliable and blackout-prone as many postulated, has been ranked the most reliable in the world since at least 2008, and there is ample evidence that the increased production of renewable technologies is leading to reduced energy prices in Germany and neighboring countries.
Given the European Union’s seemingly endless economic stagnation and the poor performance of austere economic policies since the global recession hit in 2008, cheaper energy prices provide a glimmer of hope for recovery. Furthermore, a September 2011 study from the German Institute for Economic Research found the deployment of renewable energy to positively impact GDP growth in Germany, citing a net increase in private investment, as well as a decline in energy imports, improving Germany’s trade balance. If there is one sincere drawback to the program, it is that increased use of renewable energy technologies has not decreased the use of coal as quickly as many advocates had hoped--though coal use is unquestionably on the decline.
One simple, prominent reason for Germany’s success with renewables comes from more sustained public support for the industries, especially when compared to the United States. German renewable energy producers have taken advantage of a program known as feed-in tariffs, in which the government pays the renewable energy companies a fixed amount per kilowatt of energy produced, thereby incentivizing the companies to expand and produce more.
Similar programs do exist in the United States, but are decidedly more fickle--programs such as the Production Tax Credit are structured in a similar way to Germany’s feed-in tariffs. Unfortunately, they have become a case of political football, with conservative lawmakers often seeking to see the program halted, though some conservatives have rightfully lauded the tax credit for supporting jobs.
The program in Germany may also provide a geopolitical advantage. As Russia continues its rise as a global aggressor under President Putin, many of the nations in the region are dependent upon Russian natural gas imports as a crucial part of their energy supply. The less Germany is required to depend on Russia for energy, the better for German security; it is no wonder that Ukraine has begun to take steps to this effect.
Herein lies a lesson for policymakers in the United States: Consistent investment is key if we are to achieve the economic, environmental, and public health imperative of increasing renewable energy use. German renewable energy providers are virtually guaranteed that the feed-in tariff will provide a consistent source of revenue, even though the amount paid out by the German government has decreased recently as production and cost of the energies has bettered the projections. In the United States, the partisan wrangling over relatively modest programs like the Production Tax Credit has caused inconsistent deployment of renewable energy and often sacrifices jobs at the altar of ideology. Five times Congress has allowed the program to expire, and a corresponding loss in energy output and jobs has followed each time.
According to the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands, German solar energy “over its lifetime uses 86 to 89 percent less water, occupies or transforms over 80 percent less land, presents approximately 95 percent lower toxicity to humans, contributes 92 to 97 percent less to acid rain, and 97 to 98 percent less to marine eutrophication” when compared to coal. Perhaps it is unsurprising then that even in the United States, which leads the world in CO2 emissions per capita and has yet to significantly develop renewable energy, a decrease in the use of traditional energy saves more money on health impacts than it loses on slightly increased energy costs.
Solar energy has, on net, positively impacted Germany’s economy, environment, public health, and national security, and much can be attributed to the feed-in tariffs described above- a relatively simple, straightforward policy. The United States is perfectly capable of following their path, but consistent investment in renewable technologies, as has been seen in Germany for several years now, will be key. Political posturing over a policy that is vital to the economy, public health, the environment, and national security is simply unnecessary and counterproductive.
JACK NOLAND, ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
Immediately after I had committed to GW, I searched for a student discount on a Metro SmarTrip card. Plans of exploring this historic city filled my head. Surely there must be some sort of deal for college students, I thought, but there was none to be found.
GW prides itself on its location and opportunities, but fails to fully equip students with the means to take advantage of both by doing nothing to ease the burden of access to these unique jobs and internships. Subsidizing student Metro transportation would allow the university to back up its commitment to community integration and would help to expose and ingratiate students into the city around them.
It’s an open secret that there is a bubble in which GW students live, work, and play. Many students will stay in Foggy Bottom with occasional jaunts to Georgetown, Columbia Heights, or Capitol Hill, and in so doing miss out on much of what makes DC such an interesting place. Easier access to transportation would help expose students to a wider swath of such a diverse cultural and historical city.
Yes, discounted Metro fare would help students get to the nightlife of U Street and Adams Morgan more easily. Lowering transportation costs for students might just make it easier for students to travel to the places they already go. One way to better ensure that such a discount aids students doing unique off-campus work would be to grant transportation subsidies to those who have volunteer opportunities or unpaid internships, especially in underserved communities.
Anyone who has worked an unpaid internship or volunteered around the city can tell you that even with the professional experience and sense of accomplishment that may accompany those opportunities, there are very real costs at hand. This often leads to students having to pay for transportation to and from their work, which, over the course of a semester, or four years, can add up dramatically.
GW can ease this burden on its student body by subsidizing the cost of transportation for those students who demonstrate a willingness to get off-campus and work an unpaid position. Students could fill out a form with their transportation costs to go to and from the workplace, documenting daily and weekly costs of transportation, before having it signed by a supervisor and submitting it. The university could process these applications and distribute cards with the value for each student’s transportation costs on a monthly or semester basis. This puts the burden of researching, applying for, and documenting costs on the students who want the benefits.
Distribution could be done at an event that also provides promotional materials for the wider range of transportation offerings in DC, including information about the robust but perhaps under-utilized bus system. While Metrobus ridership was up in Northwest DC in FY 2013, total ridership is down, especially in southeastern and eastern DC. Getting students to travel to those areas is key to widening their view of the city and its range of experiences. Prioritizing subsidies for students working in underdeveloped areas, as are many parts of southeastern and eastern DC, could help in this regard.
Conversely, a more difficult alternative that would require a good deal of negotiation with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which runs Metro, would involve allowing students to use their GWorld like a SmarTrip card. Interestingly, WMATA has just announced a pilot program that would allow the use of near-field communication (NFC) technology to pay at fare gates, along with federal ID cards, and contactless credit and debit cards. Should this program prove successful, GW could work with WMATA to expand the accepted payment methods to include GWorld. The university could conceivably credit students the transportation fare on their student IDs, which would also make it easier to ensure that the students who applied for and received the subsidy were using the transportation and not giving it away or selling it.
It is important to note that GW already acknowledges the financial burden unpaid internships can have. The Knowledge and Action Career Internship Fund (KACIF) provides grants of up to $3,000 for students working unpaid internships. It is a highly competitive process to receive such a grant, but it also evidences the Career Services Council’s understanding of the heightened importance internships have in today’s job market. KACIF is made possible through donations, which is the way a subsidized transportation system would almost necessarily have to work, given the school’s current budget woes. This is a tenuous source for funding, but KACIF is also useful as a precedent for this kind of program. Donors clearly care about student internships, so it is not unreasonable to think that such a program could be expanded. In the pilot stages, the budget for this could be limited to less than $10,000 per semester. This would allow for the gauging of efficacy without significant financial investment. Ideally, subsidized transportation would be overseen by the Center for Career Services.
Some employers offer interns money to cover transportation costs already, and, while laudable, this is something that should be the norm. There is an argument to be made that if GW were to implement such a subsidy program, firms might end their subsidies, passing costs onto the university. This is a legitimate concern, but the smaller nature of this program, at least initially, could largely keep this from happening. Even with the KACIF program’s internship subsidies, some employers still offer paid internships for students.
Ideally, WMATA would implement a student fare for the Metro. In Pittsburgh, the Port Authority of Allegheny County allows local college students to ride the bus for free by tapping their student ID on the farebox. This may not be feasible in DC, given the massive size and budget of the Metro program, but changing costs on the demand side may be reasonable.
Enabling students to work across the city would help lead to more-experienced graduates better prepared to enter the professional workforce. Subsidized transportation could also link nonprofits and programs across the city, especially in underdeveloped areas, with students willing to broaden their view. This double advantage, of creating more active, engaged students with more professional experience, is exactly the sort of benefit GW should undertake. One way to develop these students is to make it easier for them to take advantage of the opportunities that abound in and around DC.
SHANNON QUINN, EDUCATION DIRECTOR
This past month, California passed a law mandating that colleges follow a “yes means yes” consent policy for dealing with sexual assault on campuses. This law follows months of momentum across the country, with calls from the White House and groups on campuses such as Students Against Sexual Assault to drastically change how colleges handle sexual assault cases.
In order to be eligible to receive state funds for student financial aid, public and private universities in California that accept state grants must adopt an expanded definition of consent. The new law states, “It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time.”
This law is certainly a victory for advocates who have been pushing for a change in responses to how sexual assault is handled. Considering one in four women in college are sexually assaulted, it’s time to start taking education seriously and uniformly. Other states and the District of Columbia should follow suit in order to push colleges towards making their campuses safe for students.
For example, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on October 2 that the SUNY campuses will comprehensively reform their policies on sexual assault to match up with the affirmative consent model. This shows that states are beginning to take seriously the call to action on sexual assault and enact the policies from advocates.
Along with these new policies, there needs to be a fundamental reform of how we educate students about sexual assault and violence. While colleges should transition to educating incoming students on the “yes means yes” policy immediately, it should also be integrated into education as early as possible in order to shift the paradigms of how sexual assault is viewed and understood.
High school health classes vary from state to state on sex education policies. This “yes means yes” consent model should be put into these health curricula across the country, which will reinforce positive sexual values such as respect and communication. By providing students with inclusive sex education that parallels the standards they are expected to adhere to in college, this could work to decrease the number of cases of sexual assault overall. In a study done assessing the overall impact on different sexual assault education programs across colleges, community development organizations, and other groups, it was found that 90% of the education programs had positive outcomes in knowledge and comprehension about sexual assault.
These programs focused on clear communication and empowerment of women to understand their choices when it comes to sexual behavior. Students should understand the legal definitions behind the personal choices that they will be confronted with both in college and throughout life. Putting affirmative consent definitions and explanations into the curriculum would expose students to the idea early, allowing them to grapple with it and gain a thorough understanding before they’re confronted with the realities of rape culture that are pervasive in college life.
While emphasis on punishing perpetrators of sexual assault is of high importance, it’s also vital to look at educating comprehensively and clearly to reduce incidence of sexual assault. If students are exposed to these important consent standards earlier, it will begin to shift attitudes on sexual behavior and assault, which would be a welcome first step to combating rape culture and making campuses safer places for students.
FRANK FRITZ, EQUAL JUSTICE DIRECTOR
Note: The comments expressed here are solely the opinions and observations of the author and do not reflect any position of, nor constitute an endorsement from, the George Washington University Roosevelt Institute.
Less than a week after GW Roosevelt Institute and GW Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s student Forum on Initiative 71 with representatives from the Yes and No Campaigns, the GW College Democrats hosted a candidate forum for the new elected office of DC Attorney General.
In a 2010 city charter amendment, DC voters opted to directly elect their Attorney General, the city’s top lawyer. The Attorney General is currently appointed by the Mayor, and many voters felt a more independent office was needed to tackle issues such as corruption. While the council delayed the first Attorney General election for 2018, a court overrode this decision, finding that it the city was capable of holding elections this fall and therefore must do so.
The race for Attorney General could hardly be more undecided, with an October 16 poll showing 57% of likely voters undecided (see chart 1). The panel was an excellent opportunity to hear firsthand why each campaign thought their candidate should be elected.
Karl Racine’s campaign was the first to speak. His literature touted his endorsement from the Washington Post, which stressed his 25 years of experience practicing law, management of a large firm (comparable in size to the DC Office of Attorney General), and record of community service. In addition to his service as legal counsel in the highly litigated second term of Bill Clinton, Racine was the first African American managing partner of a Top 100 law firm. His representative eagerly discussed his background, being born to Haitian immigrants and living in the District since the age of two. His representatives also noted that Mr. Racine has been financially successful in his career, being able to lend his own campaign $225,000, and would not apologize for that fact regardless of the accusations of his opponents.
Mr. Racine holds two major advantages beyond his Washington Post endorsement: a campaign war chest about double that of his closest opponent and the top spot on the ballot. Mr. Racine did not seem to have much popular support, being tied for last at 5% of likely voters, however due to his other major advantages and 57% of the electorate undecided, many observers and the other campaigns treat him as the frontrunner.
“Smitty” - Edward Smith
The campaign of Edward Smith, running as “Smitty,” was quick to compliment all but one of the other campaigns for Attorney General. The Smitty team hit a populist note, playing to the base of the GW College Democrats and Democrats of the District of Columbia, and spent most of its time attacking Karl Racine and trying to pose himself as the only alternative choice. They discussed how Smitty was born and raised on the other side of the Anacostia, in a low income family and worked his way to get a degree from Harvard law. Smitty’s campaign notes that Racine, a Democrat like all five candidates, does not mention the Democratic party a single time in his literature, while Smitty worked early on in the 2008 campaign to elect the first African American president. The Smith campaign blasted Racine’s massive fundraising for the election and his donations to Political Actions Committees that have supported Republicans, including Ted Cruz. Smitty’s campaign is trying to present him as the Democratic alternative to the big money, corporate financed, status quo candidate they see in Karl Racine. His platform was more briefly discussed, but it centered around juvenile justice and consumer advocacy and protection.
In his favor, Smitty has several standard Democratic endorsements, such as the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club of DC and the AFL-CIO, and is the best financed opposition to Racine, just beating out Lori Masters. Factors working against him include his young age and relative lack of experience, especially with specifically relating to DC.
Ms. Williams was the first candidate to represent herself at the forum. While she was running second in the crowded fielding according a Washington Post poll, she notes that she is an underdog due to a fundraising disadvantage. Ms. Williams posed herself as the most grassroots candidate, noting her work after graduating from Georgetown Law in union organizing with the ATU Local 689 (Metro’s largest union), serving as President of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club (which endorsed Smitty), and many positions in the Democratic Party. She has raised less than $20,000, which is one-fifth of the money of her nearest opponent, Mr. Zukerberg, and acknowledges that her largest contribution to the race might be simply shifting the overall discussion towards more community based issues.
Ms. Williams is by far the most idealistic of the candidates in the race, running on a social justice themed platform, that seeks to promote worker’s rights, gender and LGBTQ equality, Juvenile Justice, and DC Statehood. She does have the benefit of being listed second on the ballot for Attorney General, and many of the College Democrats at GW expressed interest in volunteering for her campaign, ever after she had left the forum early.
The Masters’ campaign sent two representatives, both of whom spoke highly of her progressive record as a lawyer and her work ethic that made her a leader in her office and in her community. Her 30 years of experience as a lawyer and manager are only rivaled by Mr. Racine’s, and The Washington Post placed her in the top tier of candidates to fill the position. Her campaign stressed the wide spectrum of legal issues that Ms. Masters has tackled during her time as an attorney, ranging from insurance issues, discrimination, voter disenfranchisement, and international human trafficking. The representatives noted that Ms. Masters, unlike Mr. Smith and Mr. Racine, has worked and volunteered her time with issues that are specific to the District of Columbia.
The campaign acknowledged that Masters, a white woman, is unlikely to win the African American vote over Misters Racine and Smith (both African American), but a strong third place showing in the predominately Black Wards 7 and 8, which have low turnout, could allow her to win if she can win in the predominately white, high turnout Ward 3. Her experience and fundraising do seem to indicate that she is a serious contender with so many voters undecided.
Mr. Zukerberg, arriving late, hit very populist notes discussing his many past efforts to improve the District of Columbia. The Washington Post found that the Adams Morgan lawyer was one of the most qualified in the field, alongside Ms. Masters and Mr. Racine. Mr. Zukerberg ran for the Council’s At-Large Seat, but is now running to be the first elected Attorney General. He discussed his leadership in suing the City Council for delaying the Attorney General election until 2018; after three appeals a court ruled in favor of Mr. Zukerberg, moving the election to this fall.
Mr. Zukerberg also discussed his long time efforts to decriminalize marijuana and his advocacy for students in DC public schools. He stressed that while he did not have the fundraising advantage of “K Street money,” he was the most independent candidate, which would allow him to tackle government corruption head on. The Washington Post poll found that as of early October, he was the only candidate with double digit support, but it is difficult to know how undecided voters will break this fall.
For more information:
The DCist- Interview with all five Candidates
If you would like to volunteer for a campaign, you can find their information below.
More Candidate Information:
Karl Racine: Website - Financial Report
Edward “Smitty” Smith: Website - Financial Report
Lateefah Williams: Website - Financial Report
Lorie Masters: Website - Financial Report
Paul Zukerberg: Website - Financial Report
How to register to vote in the District of Columbia, including through same day registration.
Somewhere between farm and fork, Americans waste up to 40% of our food. Organic waste is the single-most common item to end up in landfills; this is an underrepresented detriment to the environment: According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, “in the landfill, food scraps decompose and give off methane, a greenhouse gas at least 25 times more powerful in global warming as carbon dioxide.” The economic costs of food waste are enormous as well. NRDC estimates nearly $165 billion worth of food is wasted annually in the United States alone.
Massachusetts has begun implementation the most aggressive state policy to reduce food waste in the country. Beginning on October 1st, any business or institution that produces at least one ton of food waste every week must now divert that waste away from landfills. These businesses and institutions include restaurants, supermarkets, and universities, among others. This act is filled with positive intentions: reducing the state’s carbon footprint, supporting hunger relief organizations, and producing green energy.
Institutions that qualify under this new law are banned from sending their food waste to a landfill. Instead, they are encouraged to:
a) Reduce as much waste as possible;
b) Donate usable food to hunger relief organizations, such as food banks, shelters, and soup kitchens; and
c) Divert any extra food to composting, animal feed, and biofuel programs.
Because of the emphasis on diverting waste to useful sources, Massachusetts has provided online resources for qualifying establishments to find recycling facilities. The local agricultural economy is supported by the significant increase of animal feed and compost to Massachusetts farms.
Furthermore, diversion of solid waste can go to anaerobic digestion facilities; bacteria process food and turn it into biogas, which is used for electricity and heating/cooling. Biogas is a growing clean energy industry that is saving Massachusetts millions of dollars. In fact, the facility that serves the Boston area is estimated to save the state government $15 million every year because of its biogas production. As part of the food waste ban, the state is offering up to $1 million in grants and low-interest loans to private businesses that start anaerobic digestion facilities. This policy is part of Governor Patrick’s larger goal of reducing the state’s carbon footprint by combining renewable energy goals with waste reduction and economic development.
For the past year, USDA has been encouraging restaurants, supermarkets, and food service companies to take the “Food Waste Challenge” and set their own goals to reduce waste. Several cities have taken the pledge, such as Seattle, New York, and San Francisco. Massachusetts’ new law is different: it signals a transition from voluntary programs to policy mandates. States have the unique power of proposing and enforcing bans on excessive food waste, while simultaneously supporting their agricultural and energy sectors.
In order to make real progress, other states and cities should follow suit and create food waste bans to divert organic waste from landfills and into useful alternatives.
State and local governments aren’t the only ones that can make an impact on food waste. As an issue that reaches every level from farm to fork, many different institutions can make a difference. Consumers should be more conscious about the amount of food they buy and conserve, and supermarkets can develop new ways to package food to reduce waste. For example, a new supermarket in Berlin, Germany, is a new “Zero Waste Supermarket” that sells every item in bulk.
Universities should invest in diversion of food waste to donate or to compost -- or even to start treatment facilities of their own. For example, UMass-Amherst has begun constructing their own anaerobic digester which is intended to take in food waste from campus and surrounding towns and generate clean energy back to campus.
Addressing food waste is a practical way that communities and states can take real steps toward reducing their carbon footprint, saving scarce landfill space, and growing their economies.
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