- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2011

A group of influential Ward 7 residents voted last week to back a campaign to oust D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander, who is up for re-election in 2012, The Washington Times has learned.

Disappointed by her support for a recent redistricting decision that put a cemetery; the decrepit site of D.C. General Hospital, known as Reservation 13; and the D.C. Jail within its boundaries, and concerned about the pace of redevelopment and the quality of representation they have received, more than 20 civic leaders met at the offices of former Ward 7 council member and real estate developer H.R. Crawford to address their concerns.

According to multiple attendees, the group met to decide whether to have a “Come to Jesus” meeting with Ms. Alexander or whether to identify a replacement to run against her next year.

Having reached a consensus to unseat Ms. Alexander, a Democrat and staunch ally of Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who has represented and lives in Ward 7, the group plans to meet again later this month to discuss the criteria for a credible challenger and plans to move Ward 7 forward.

“It’s nothing personal,” Mr. Crawford told The Times on Friday. “But we’re becoming the joke of the city. We need someone who is going to speak up for this community. We are an intelligent, well-educated community, and we want good representation. You look at Wards 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 and you see development all over. No community would sit idly by and do nothing.”

Ms. Alexander did not return a call and email seeking comment.

The group consisted of advisory neighborhood commissioners, civic association presidents, former school board representatives and lawyers, according to those in attendance. Among them, Paul Savage, who led a grass-roots movement to draft former Mayor Anthony A. Williams and chaired his re-election campaign, said Ward 7 has not been well-served by Ms. Alexander.

“What is the reason Ward 7 is not making progress?” Mr. Savage said. “We shouldn’t be left behind. This has led us to what John Foster Dulles called an ‘agonizing reappraisal.’ We cannot be flat-lined like this.”

Mr. Savage, Mr. Crawford and others said the recent redistricting decision left Ward 7 - where, according to a recent D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute report, unemployment is highest in the city at 20.7 percent - with undesirable portions of the city. “Ward 6 raised heck, and their councilman supported them,” Mr. Savage said. “Ours didn’t. It’s about fairness and equity, and we don’t have it here.”

Although a major redevelopment initiative is under way on Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast, the dividing line between Ward 7 and Ward 8, Ms. Alexander’s constituents are frustrated with its progress.

“The avenue will look great when it’s finished, but nothing else has changed,” Mr. Savage said, pointing to shopping “nodes” along the avenue that are overdue for redevelopment. “An aggressive council member is the genesis to how you get things done. I can’t predict the future, but nothing starts without citizens being engaged, asking questions and making demands. Sometimes, you have to hold people’s feet to the fire, and it gets uncomfortable.”

Fort Davis Civic Association President Barbara Morgan pointed to the redistricting of Ward 7 as a chief concern, and added that she too was dismayed by the feeling that residents’ voices had not been heard.

“Why would you agree to take the jail and Reservation 13?” she said. “How many of them live in Ward 7 and vote? I didn’t get answers to those questions.”

The Ward 7 leaders who spoke with The Times stressed that the search for a challenger to Ms. Alexander’s incumbency will be conducted with full community input. “That’s something no one will do in isolation,” Ms. Morgan said, noting that quality-of-life concerns, such as excessive signage, unsightly storefronts and litter are things that Ward 7 residents will not tolerate. “People are not satisfied. We are not being represented the way we feel we should.

“This end of Pennsylvania Avenue shouldn’t be any less important than on the West End,” she said.

Until earlier this year, Mr. Crawford, who has property interests throughout the city, had leased office space to Ms. Alexander for her use as a campaign headquarters and as an office for her constituent-services fund. But after her phone was cut off for unpaid bills, and after it was revealed by The Times that Ms. Alexander spent less than 5 percent of the more than $120,000 she raised since 2007 to help constituents with urgent needs such as funeral expenses, rent and utilities, a group of Ward 7 residents asked for an investigation.

The Office of Campaign Finance opened an investigation in April. Ms. Alexander has insisted she will continue to do the “real work of Ward 7.”