Incumbent D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson faced his challenger, Ed Lazere, at a June 7 debate, hosted by the Washington Interfaith Network.
They agreed that the council must do more to improve working conditions for transit employees, increase spending on affordable housing and protect immigrants. Mendelson spent much of his time talking about his accomplishments over two terms. Lazere, the former head of the left-leaning think tank DC Fiscal Policy Institute, criticized his opponent for not going far enough.
Both men said that if elected, they would vote against any contract for the D.C. Circulator bus that didn’t ensure better wages for transit workers. They also agreed that the council should do more to hold private contractors accountable when entering into public-private partnerships.
Lazere accused Mendelson of allowing Mayor Muriel Bowser to work out deals with private contractors without input from the public, which contributed to poor working conditions for employees of the Circulator and the D.C. Streetcar. Mendelson said this was a “distortion of the record,” because the contracts were signed before he became council chair.
“In the case of the Circulator and the streetcar, it was done in secret until 2010 during the [Adrian] Fenty administration,” he said.
Mendelson also touted his support for the displaced service workers compensation legislation in 2012 that gave paychecks to unemployed city workers. But that law didn’t cover transit employees, he said because their job stability “wasn’t an issue at the time.”
On affordable housing, Mendelson said he recently convinced Bowser to add $16 million to next year’s budget. That wasn’t enough for Lazere, who has proposed doubling the annual affordable housing trust fund, which has been the main source of funding for affordable housing construction and preservation in Washington since 2002.
“My opponent is intent to make modest progress,” he said. “A 40- or 50-year plan is not enough.”
Mendelson responded by defending his record, and telling Lazere that the trust fund had doubled under his leadership. (In 2013, expenditures were about $55 million according to the Office of the District of Columbia Auditor).
“To call that minimal progress is insulting,” he said.
Both candidates agreed that $2.5 million should be spent on benefits for undocumented immigrants who were previously protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, or DACA.
“In my view, if you are a resident of the District of Columbia, you are entitled to the full range of services,” Mendelson said. That is my record and has been my record.”
Lazere said if elected, he would ensure health care for all immigrants in the city.
“I’m fully committed to providing legal assistance to anyone who feels “under threat by the federal government,” he said.