- - Friday, October 10, 2014

The Ward 5 Democrats is scheduled to host a forum Monday evening to air out the five candidates in the citywide attorney general race, the first ever in the District.

The candidates on the ballot are all Democrats and all lawyers: Lorie Masters, Karl Racine, Edward “Smitty” Smith, Lateefah Williams and Paul Zukerberg. They all have won important endorsements. 

Mr. Racine won the endorsement of former U.S. Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti, who served under President Carter. Mr. Civiletti cited Mr. Racine’s management experience and leadership traits.

“I am excited to endorse my mentee and friend Karl Racine. Karl is one of the best lawyers I’ve ever worked with,” Mr. Civiletti said. “He has broad experience, excellent judgment, and great integrity in ethics. Karl is a leader with real management experience and that is what this office needs,” he said.

“I am humbled to have the endorsement of such a luminary as U.S. Attorney General Civiletti,” said Racine. “Having served as our nation’s top lawyer, Mr. Civiletti knows what it takes to be a great attorney general, and I’m honored to have his support.”

Mr. Racine also distinguishes himself by becoming the first candidate to issue a comprehensive policy platform. The Racine campaign’s policy booklet, “Keys to Justice: Unlocking Fairness for Everyone in Our City,” proposes solutions on reforming our juvenile justice system, protecting consumers, rooting out corruption and other critical issues.

“I got into this race because I believe the first elected attorney general needs to have the right kind of experience, a clear vision, and be prepared to fight for the people of the District of Columbia. That’s why I’ve released my policy platform, ‘Keys to Justice’, ” he said.

To his credit, Mr. Racine also has a strong economic development plank that supports an investigative resource in the AG’s office for the under-utilization of small business contractors, but doesn’t take a strong position on Proposition 71 and the legalization of marijuana. Also, his platform only pays lip service to defelonizing nonviolent drug crimes. The D.C. electorate is split on both drug-related issues, however.

Mr. Zukerberg is a 56-year-old public interest lawyer who led the 2010 fight to have the AG position on the ballot by suing the District government, which wanted to delay the election. An early champion for marijuana decriminalization, Mr. Zukerberg’s advocacy for practical law enforcement jump started needed reforms to D.C.’s expensive, biased and untenable drug policy.

“As attorney general, I will continue to fight for all District citizens and defend the public interest with competence, independence, and compassion. I will also prioritize reform of our broken juvenile justice system, fair wages, fair housing, great schools, safe streets, and the equal application of the law to all, without favor or bias,” said Mr. Zukerberg.

Medical marijuana, the decriminalization of marijuana and the possible passage of Initiative 71 — which would allow people to possess, grow and giveaway pot — are thorny issues among seniors in general and Ward 5 voters in particular. Ward 5 has become the epicenter for the new medical marijuana industry due mainly to its abundance of relatively cheap warehouse/industrial land.

Said Carolyn Nicholas, president of Advocates for Elder Justice: “I am concerned that marijuana use will increase and be used at inappropriate times. For example, I am concerned that people who use marijuana before they drive or while they drive will be driving around ‘stoned’ or intoxicated. I am concerned that school-age young people will use marijuana during the school day and be unable to focus and learn. I am concerned that marijuana use may increase crime by young users. However, if it is safe and helps to relieve suffering, and is used in medical environments only, I am inclined to support it.”

The most cutting edge public safety plank on drug use has been advanced by not by an attorney general candidate but by a challenger for the position of D.C. Council chairman. John Cheeks proposes that all public officials be mandated to test for substance abuse.

“Proposition 71 will place an enormous strain on public resources and will force private employer to require mandatory drug testing and insurance coverage premiums will sky rocket, and it will have a negative impact on the workforce,” said Mr. Cheeks, an independent. “Zukerberg’s proposition will increase tax revenue but put an unreasonable strain on the public welfare system. There is a limit and I draw the accountability line and demand that public officials toe the line and walk the walk and show leadership on this issue by getting tested.”

B.J. Lockhart of Lockhart Insurance in Columbia Heights said he believes that employers will and can protect themselves against rising worker’s compensation premiums by implementing a consistent and comprehensive drug-free workplace policy that is backed by testing from a reliable outside testing service.

Silas Grant — chairman of the Ward 5 Dems, the host organization of the Oct. 13 forum at the Hospital for Sick Children — said the candidates forum is important because of the poor turnout during the April 1st primaries and the perception that voters aren’t as concerned as they used to be.

“I believe this election is critical because No. 1, we are electing a position that we have never elected before, and because we also get an opportunity to know who the candidate are and better understand what the position is designed to achieve. There is also a lot of confusion between U.S. attorney and the District’s AG,” Mr. Grant said, adding that voters need to know what each candidate’s position is.

“We have an opportunity to get a fresh start,” he said.

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