- The Washington Times - Monday, June 6, 2016

D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander touted a plan to bring economic development to Ward 7 on Monday, with just a week left before voters take to the polls to decide if she’ll keep her seat or lose it to former mayor Vincent C. Gray.

“I’ve spoken with retailers, and it will probably end up being two or three smaller stores anchoring Skyland,” Ms. Alexander told The Washington Times.

She said she has been in talks with the Regal Cinemas movie theater chain, which often partners with the TJX group, and owner discount stores T.J.Maxx, HomeGoods and Marshalls with regard to filling the more than 100,000 square feet of retail space.

Ms. Alexander also said Target is interested in building a store at Skyland, which could be a good fit since it tailors its stores to the needs of the residents rather than simply trying to find a place where a store will fit.

“They weren’t interested before, but now they’re at the table,” the Democratic lawmaker said.

For Capitol Gateway, Ms. Alexander said Kohl’s department store, AMC movie theaters and Harris Teeter supermarkets are all interested in taking the space that Wal-Mart decided to leave vacant when it pulled out of promises to build stores at Skyland and Capitol Gateway Marketplace in January.

To lure those stores to both Ward 7 locations, Ms. Alexander said she has the backing of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development to ensure incentives are in place to sweeten the deal. She didn’t go into detail about what those incentives would entail.

Next Tuesday, D.C. voters will cast ballots in the Democratic primary for citywide races including Wards 2, 4, 7 and 8, as well as one at-large council seat. Early voting started this past weekend.

Ms. Alexander faces a tough battle with Mr. Gray, her former ally, and who previously held the Ward 7 seat. Though she has not released any polling results, Ms. Alexander confirmed that she did internal polling early on, and it showed a close race between her and Mr. Gray.

Asked why she didn’t release the results, Ms. Alexander said she never releases internal polls.

The Gray camp has released two polls this year, with the latest showing Mr. Gray with a commanding lead over Ms. Alexander. In the poll released May 19, Mr. Gray led Ms. Alexander by 31 percentage points, 53 percent to 22 percent. Delmar Chesley and Grant Thompson had 3 percent each, with about 18 percent of voters undecided.

Other than development, Ms. Alexander said she’s taking a multifaceted approach to the skyrocketing homicide rate in her ward.

Though violent crime overall in Ward 7 is down compared to the same period last year, homicides have more than tripled, according to D.C. police stats. Last year at this time, there were seven homicides in the ward, while this year there have been 24 slayings. That trends much higher than the city as a whole, which has seen 55 killings, compared to 50 at the same time last year.

For Ms. Alexander, better community relations with police, as well as more visible social services in Ward 7, will go a long way to reducing crime.

“People know things, but they either fear retaliation or they just think it’s the norm,” she said. “We have to encourage the community to not accept people hanging out on the corners.”

A longer school year, more summer jobs programs and better mental health services for youths will help parents as well as the community keep track of children who might need help.

“This is a public health issue too,” she said.

Ms. Alexander supports Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to extend the school year for 10 schools, nine of which are located east of the Anacostia River.

The District plans to extend the 2016-17 school year for those elementary and middle schools, lengthening the number of school days from 180 to 200. Those schools also will offer two weeks of extra instruction in October and June, when students usually go on fall or summer break.

Ms. Alexander also said she supports Ms. Bowser’s plan to hire five community outreach officers to try to find at-risk youths so they can get enrolled in a job-training program that provides stipends that could lead to full-time jobs.

City officials have attributed much of last year’s spike in homicides to a pattern of repeat offenders, and for Ms. Alexander, that means job training and social services need to start before those felons come back home to the District.

“Are they getting help in these prisons? Are they equipped with skills when they get out?” she said.

Ms. Alexander suggested wresting control of D.C. inmates from the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“We need to take more control of our returning citizens,” she said. “We have to have a relationship with the feds so that, when citizens return, they have opportunities.”

Among the issues that have come before the council recently, Ms. Alexander said she supports the $15 minimum wage and a slight bump in pay to tipped workers, but prefers to keep the tipping system in place.

She also supports the city-owned shelter plan because it guarantees that each ward will face the homeless problem in the same way. Under Ms. Bowser’s original plan, each shelter site, with the exception of those in Wards 7 and 8, would have been leased for up to 30 years to the District, but the city would not own the shelters after the leasing period.

For Ms. Alexander that meant that the two east-of-the-river wards would get stuck with permanent shelters, while the other wards would see those shelters gone at the end of their leases.

“I feel more secure about the [city-owned] plan.” she said. “I know it’s going to take longer, but we needed to be in agreement that all wards will stay on the same timeline.”

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