From Great Street funding to McMillan to a bus depot, Kenyan McDuffie is already a veteran of the DC Council with just six months into his post as Ward 5’s representative. No longer the junior member of Council, Chairman Phil Mendelson recognized McDuffie’s balanced, yet determined, focus and diplomatic ways by nominating him as Chairman Pro Tempore of the Council. But this position is nothing compared to the job ahead as Ward 5’s Councilmember. Taking over a seat of disgraced former Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr, McDuffie wants to bring integrity back to the seat and help bring all residents to the table as Ward 5 sees itself transforming and is constantly front and center on many of the issues facing the City.
The Insider recently sat down with Kenyan McDuffie at one of Rhode Island Avenue’s breakfast spots, FlipIt, to have a conversation about the past six months since his election, and what his priorities will be in the coming new year.
How has the transition from the average citizen of Ward 5 to now being its Councilmember been?
It’s going well. I have been aided by a solid and knowledgeable staff. I feel that I am working well with the rest of the Council and staff members. I came into office and the number one issue I wanted to focus on was integrity and ethics. In fact, everybody on my staff must have high ethics and integrity. I’m proud of the staff I have.
What are some of the highs of your first six months in office?
The best thing over the last six months has been then continued support of the community and other Council members. The Industrial Land Transformation Task Force Act of 2012 is one of my proudest achievements over the past few months. This task force, supported by my colleagues on Council, and working with the Mayor, is really important, especially in Ward 5. This will allow us to have more control over the industrial properties in the City.
Flood Assistance Fund Amendment Act of 2012 is another proud achievement. This will provide some relief and address the disastrous flooding that residents of Bloomingdale, Eckington, Edgewood, and LeDroit Park have had to deal with. We have so much more to do on this issue. It is a decades old problem and it has been nothing but patch work in the past. We are looking forward to a more permanent fix to help residents that have been affected by floods and backups.
What have been some of the lows of your first six months?
I wouldn’t call them lows but maybe more like “challenges”. The car barn at Springarn High School was a challenge. (editor’s note: immediately after coming into office, McDuffie asked Mayor Gray to consider other locations for the 15,000 sqft car barn in the City other than the high school property in Ward 5 that residents were angry about).
Another issue, and one that I had to face as soon as I got into office because it was an issue that started before then, is the bus depot/garage on North Capital. The issue with the bus depot and the car barn, in my opinion, other than the poor location is that the City was doing nothing to bring up or support the surrounding communities. It was as if they were putting these eye sores in these communities and not looking at the residents that lived around it. I made certain that I gave a voice to these residents as their Councilmember during these discussions with the City.
Looking ahead, what are some new bills or issues that you are focused on for 2013?
One of the biggest things we need right now is campaign finance reform. This is a priority. The issue lies with people donating to campaigns from multiple LLCs or businesses, or bundling. As you may remember, during my campaign, I refused to accept bundled donations.
Another issue that I want to tackle is to enhance Ward 5 development so that it can create more jobs for our residents. I want to ensure that our community college’s curriculum is in line with our job market. So its students can be ready for area jobs as soon as they graduate.
The McMillan Reservoir is another focus. We need to make sure that the community is engaged as much as possible for this project. It needs to be reflective of what the community wants balanced with the capabilities of the developer for the project to be successful.
What about Rhode Island Ave NE specifically?
The pedestrian bridge at the RIA metro is important. When DDOT put the project out to bid last year, there was only one bid received. They are looking to put it out to bid again soon. Bladensburg Road is also a focus. It is sandwiched between so much redevelopment as well.
Recently, I was able to get RIA and North Capitol Street funded as a Great Street. We passed funding of $1 million dollars for these streets to make them a Retail Priority Corridor. I am asking DDOT, who will recieve the money to distribute and use along these two corridors, on what is possible with the funding. In my opinion, this is not enough for these Great Streets and I will continue to work to get more interest and money for them. I would like to see more for infrastructure and facade improvements. I would also like to see bike lanes as part of DDOT’s plans for RIA NE. With up to four BikeShare stations coming to RIA, we need to create the infrastructure to keep bicyclists part of the roadway and keep them safe.
With Hyattsville and Mt. Ranier just over the border and part of the RIA corridor, I would like to continue part of the arts theme along RIA. I would like to see some pop up art places to help bring people to the Avenue. This will also help support local businesses. Speaking of local businesses, I would like to build on a Ward 5 business meet and greet that I held and start holding round table meetings on how we can bring more local businesses to Ward 5.
We have new (and old) ANC commissioners being sworn in next month. They are all good people that care about this Ward. I look forward to working closely with them and bring them together to help move our Ward forward including RIA.
Schools are another priority.Schools are community assets that should serve as resources to both students and residents. In 2013, I will continue to work with educators, students, and the community stakeholders to ensure that the children in our community receive the best education, one that provides them with the skills they need to succeed in in life.
Finally, your next election will be here before you know it (May 2014). Are you going to run again for re-election and if so, how are you preparing?
I am focused on the task at hand of improving the lives of Ward 5 residents. My record will speak for itself when the election comes around.