- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

If you live, work or play on Capitol Hill, or perhaps own a business there, start paying close attention.

The lawmaker who has represented the Hill and its adjoining neighborhoods might not be around after December.

Tommy Wells of Ward 6 is all in, as the saying goes.

As one of several Democrats trying to unseat Mayor Vincent C. Gray in the April 1 primary, Mr. Wells could himself be unseated by voters if he doesn’t rein victorious.

None of the other sitting D.C. Council members in the race faces such a win-loss situation, and if Mr. Wells is going to set himself apart from the pack, he’s got to exhibit some chutzpah.

In the meantime, here’s a short take on Mr. Wells‘ key initiatives, which he outlined at a breakfast with entrepreneurs, and religious- and civic-minded stakeholders on Tuesday.

No. 1: Youths. Mr. Wells, a social worker by any measure, vowed to make a “substantial investment” in the District’s young people.

Education, of course, is the most obvious government vehicle to pull that off. Some of the program changes he wants to implement are senior-youth walking clubs, to help “change the culture” of youths.

To be sure, both demographics could benefit from the physical exercise and a new cultural perspective of each other.

Me thinks, however, that such dynamics are better left in the hands of private institutions, such as nonprofits and houses of worship.

If government becomes involved, any such program is likely to turn Uncle Sam into Aunt Samantha mimicking first lady Michelle Obama and her “Let’s Move” campaign.

The bottom line: Mr. Wells would reprogram $100 million in the public coffers.

No. 2: Education. This is always a tricky subject. Generally speaking, politicians think and finance public schools — not public education — because that is the way unions and their like-minded backers think, speak and write.

To that end, Mr. Wells said he wants all children to have good “neighborhood” schools, and a key reason why is because Capitol Hill has an old-fashioned cluster program.

Its pre-K, elementary and middle schools can plan, budget and anticipate easier than most because they know the kids, the families and the trends — and they work together to make sure their voices are heard and wants and needs are met.

No. 3: Transit. If you want an example of how transit planning is going, H Street/Benning Road in Mr. Wells‘ ward is a perfect example. The city began tearing up the major corridor several years and remains torn up as it awaits a streetcar line to nowhere.

For his part, Mr. Wells wants more government-subsidized buses on D.C. Circular routes.

Oh, joy, tax- and fee-paying motorists continue to be squeezed.

Mr. Wells deserves a public pat on the back, though.

For one, he said the need to shelter homeless youths is spiraling upward.

Sasha Bruce Youthwork, by example, is “turning away about 30 youths per month,” Mr. Wells told me in a phone chat Tuesday, saying he will address the problem “when we go through the budget cycle.”

Mr. Wells slammed the mayor regarding his “shadow campaign,” saying Mr. Gray’s legal troubles “didn’t start with Sulaimon Brown,” who first pointed a shadowy finger at Mr. Gray, “and end with Jeffrey Thompson,” a businessman and campaign funder under federal investigation.

“I do not see how Vince” was unaware that another campaign was being run “next door,” Mr. Wells said.

The words aren’t necessarily damning since he and Mr. Gray are political opponents, but they give a measure of credence to the potential change on the horizon by way of a poll by The Washington Post this week that shows a white post-home-rule mayor may finally be more than a pipe dream.

In a head-to-head post-primary battle between Mr. Gray and white independent lawmaker David A. Catania, 43 percent of registered voters leaned toward Mr. Gray and 40 percent went with Mr. Catania, who has yet to declare.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wells and another white contender, council member Jack Evans, barely broke double digits.

It’s the first poll that matters in the race for mayor, and I told you on Monday who the wild card is.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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