At an event hosted by DC Students Speak last night, D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) addressed approximately twenty students about a variety of issues facing the District and the Council, including Georgetown University’s 2010 campus plan, the use of RFK Stadium, and ethics reform.
While he spent most of the evening addressing District issues, Wells also discussed the vitriol that has defined the 2010 campus plan process. After lauding DC Students Speak for getting students involved in local politics, he compared the campus plan processes at Georgetown University and George Washington University. While GWU has an aggressive building plan that neighbors have sometimes disliked, its campus plan approval has not been a difficult fight. Wells credits this to the make-up of their leadership and their engagement with the community. ”GW has local influential people on their Board of Trustees,” Wells pointed out. GWU also employed a communications firm to interact with neighborhood groups to ease the process.
Wells contrasted this success story with Georgetown’s own efforts:
Georgetown did everything internally, and their board is not a board of local civic leaders, so they were isolated when they came out, so there wasn’t really a counterpunch to the neighbors that said, we don’t like this, guys. There wasn’t other neighbors or other influential folks to stand up and say, well we can compromise but we’re not going to give up our campus plan. There wasn’t effective pushback and the groundwork was not done.
Wells also relayed a lovely anecdote of his own interaction with the Office of Planning, which had recommended last year that Georgetown be mandated to
house all of its undergraduates on campus offer housing (on or off-campus) to 100% of its undergraduate population by 2016 if it wanted to maintain its current enrollment cap:
I asked the person who’s head of the Office of Planning, why did you say Georgetown needs to do this—this isn’t realistic, no other universities are being asked to do this in terms of the number of students to be housed on campus and she essentially said, we just don’t like their attitude. And I said, well you don’t get to have that opinion, this is about planning. You can’t change based on attitude.
Wells’ take on luring the Redskins into the District, ethics reform, and Kwame Brown’s Lincoln Navigator after the jump…
On attempts to attract the Washington Redskins into the District proper, Wells clearly articulated his opposition to the Redskins moving to RFK:
My perspective is about rebuilding the urban area through smart growth—I think taking that chunk of land for a football stadium and all the acres of paved parking lot is a stupid, bad use of urban land. It has nothing to do with how bad I don’t like the Redskins owner [Dan Snyder] or anything like that. It’s just that we see there has been no economic development around the [current] stadium related to football.
Speaking about his recent removal from the Transportation Committee, Wells defended his report that criticized Council chair Kwame Brown for his excesses:
Talking very candidly—the story of why I’m no longer on the transportation committee, I had worked hard to get our new chair elected, and the new chair… made some bad decisions about what vehicle he decided that the city should provide for him. And the first Lincoln Navigator was not what he asked for and he sent it back, and asked for another one… It just really became not the right symbol for government.
Wells described the process by which his report came into being, and made clear that he was not accusing Brown of any criminal behavior: “I’m not saying that the Chair broke any laws, but certainly he encouraged the executive branch to provide him something that was not consistent with D.C. law.”
For several months, ethics reforms has dominated the Council’s, and Wells’, agenda. His proposals have included an end to contractor donations to political campaigns and constituent-service funds (which Wells’ called “our slush fund”), and more stringent disclosure requirements. Condemning the “pay-to-play system” that creates “relationship[s] of expectation,” Wells called for his fellow council members to “do a better job in how we run our campaigns.”
While the Council has voted down Wells’ measures, he is now taking ethics reforms to the voters themselves, aiming to put an initiative on the November ballot to end all corporate contributions to campaigns for city office. “It’s the kind of thing probably people will vote for,” he said.
Photo: Jackson Perry