On July 8, city council chairman candidates Kwame Brown and Vincent Orange squared off at a public forum held in the basement of Georgetown’s Latham Hotel, one of several debates between the pair in recent weeks, as the days leading up the Democratic primary in September begin to wind down.
At the forum, during which the two men alternately delivered extemporaneous responses to policy and ethics questions submitted by Georgetown’s community leaders and the public, it was disappointing to hear from both men what amounted to little more than canned, anemic responses to the issues confronting Georgetown today.
Granted, the chairman race has been and will be overshadowed by the Fenty-Gray mayoral battle, and Georgetowners are probably still a little puzzled why their own councilmember withdrew his bid right out of the gate, despite earlier indications that he would go head to head with Brown for the council’s highest seat.
But even though neither candidate lives in Georgetown, should we be impressed by their coy and cautious responses to the issues confronting the neighborhood?
At best, the two spoke obliquely. When CAG President Jennifer Altemus asked about Georgetown University’s 10-year campus plan, specifically whether the council chairman would “ensure that the community’s concerns are given great weight when the [Zoning Commission] votes on the plan,” Brown called for “transparency” and “consensus” without bringing much to the table. Orange was a little more direct, declaring that “residents always come first,” but seemed to lose rhetorical momentum when the conversation turned to finance, dusting off the old “tax and spend” line that seems to lose teeth more and more every time it gets used.
At worst, the candidates seemed to pursue contradictory objectives. While both endorsed tax breaks and increased government spending for local, privately owned businesses in Georgetown (and the District), each later said he supported incentives for large luxury retailers to entice them back into the city. That balancing act will surely prove a headache for District legislators down the road, the future chairman included.