Balance in the Hood

The Emerging Race for ANC 1B

Wallach and U Street-area dwellers were struck recently at current ANC 1B-02 representative Aaron Spencer‘s announcement he would be stepping down, immediately, due to his many other commitments.  Well…struck, but not totally surprised.

He was newish to the job, and – as he says – had a lot of other commitments.   Still, we wish him well and are now left to wonder: who will step up and replace him?

The first hints came to our doostoop Saturday morning, in the midst of prepping for the racing pigs, funnel cakes and carnies at the Montgomery Co. Agricultural Fair,  when we were visited by Alexandra Lewin-Zwerdling.  Just one of many stops during a full weekend of door-bell ringing for the Wallach Place resident, it turns out.

Alexandra and her husband Alex (‘Alex & Alex’ must haunt them) have lived on Wallach Place for a few years now – long enough to meet a lot of the neighbors, attend some community meetings, and get a general sense of where the area is heading – and what it’s needing.  So Alexandra has decided to run for Spencer’s open seat.

A native New Yorker and Cornell grad (Go Big Red!), Lewin-Zwerdling is a professional foodie – at least of the scientific bent.  Currently a nutritionist working at the USDA (is Congress still funding that old thing?), she’s also done her time here in DC like the rest of us – working a variety of positions at non-profits and do-gooder organizations like the Center for Science in the Public Interest and one of the Pew Charitable Trusts.  “I’m really happy to be where I’m at, and doing what I like now,” she says with a wink.

And while Alexandra may not sound like a politician, it’s not because she doesn’t know them intimately.  Husband Alex is the former political director of Rep. Steny Hoyer’s AMERIPAC.  (Yes, you read that correctly – and no it is not that OTHER pac with the same name that’s run by, among others, “B-1” Bob Dornan and Trent “<3 U Strom” Lott).   These days, he’s principal at the Baughman Company, a marketing and advertising firm.

All in all, a cute couple.  But does she have what the ANC needs – and what is she hearing from her neighbors about what they need?

“It’s about balance,” she says of her vision for the neighborhood.  Alexandra, from our email interview:

“I love living an exciting and bustling part of DC, and one that’s full of great restaurants, shops, and an ever-growing farmers market.  But we must balance this growth with residents that have lived in the neighborhood for years, newer residents, as well as long-standing and newer business development.

As a public health professional, I am very interested in bringing a mix of restaurants and creating a safe, walkable community with businesses that add to the uniqueness of this neighborhood.  I’d also like to create a community that feels empowered to communicate, weigh in, and help make decisions that ultimately help shape their backyard.  If elected as commissioner, I’d expect my vision of the ‘gold standard’ ANC1B to develop over time to reflect what I’m hearing from residents, some of their concerns and challenges, as well as what they like about the neighborhood.”

Safe, walkable community, empowered, unique..all good words.  Most of us could sign on to this.  But in there are hints, perhaps, of some of the low-level tensions residents have been experiencing the last several years.  “We must balance this growth” no doubt speaks to some in the area who want development, but not wholesale change.  “Empower to communicate, weigh in, and help make decisions” clearly references a number of the arguments residents have had recently about unresponsive government & developers.  The recent thumbs-down – and subsequent positive reworking – of the development at 14th and Wallach (which can no longer be called “Wallachzilla, given the significant design modifications from Level2 and Colbert & Associates) serves both as the most recent example – and importantly one that proves how involving the locals can actually benefit everyone…while trying to sneak things past them is only going to make them angry.

Fine for her vision – but what’s she hearing standing on all those doorstoops around the ‘hood?:

“Not at all in order of priority, I’d have to say: 1) public safety, 2) balancing business growth with residential concerns, and 3) the public school system.

“I’d like to work with the ANC public safety committee to address the most pressing safety concerns.  I’d also like to work with local police enforcement to learn more about their concerns, the crimes that occur, and what both residents and businesses can do to ensure kids and adults feel safe and secure.  I’d also reach out to the churches and schools in the neighborhood – as part of the ANC – to get their input and help ensure their voice is heard.  Public safety intersects so many areas – from bike lanes and parks to crime and violence – that I can foresee addressing these issues through multiple channels.

“To balance growth with residential concerns, I will solicit continual feedback from residents regarding new developments in ANC1B.  I plan to attend ABC meetings to monitor new restaurants/bars and changes to existing businesses; I also plan to attend design review committee meetings so that the commission works to maintain the historic nature of this area. So many residents move to this neighborhood because of its charm, character, and smaller local businesses.  To me, the authenticity of this neighborhood serves as a backdrop for what may best fit in the area.

“Last, the public schools.  I don’t have kids yet but my husband and I plan to raise a family here.  Like so many other residents, we are concerned about the quality of the public schools in the community.  At my monthly meetings that I plan to hold, I’d hope to continue discussions with parents, school administrators, teachers and others about what can be done with improve the public school system for all kids.”

Lewin-Zwerdling gives the impression of one in the middle…dare I say in these perilous times, but something of a moderate.  She’s clearly not for stopping all growth (as she’s already embraced some of the larger developments under way) but neither is she for pulling out all the stops and pouring the neighborhood under concrete.  For her, it’s a building by building, and proposal by proposal thing.  Think more Clinton than Bachmann.

That said, some things, she says, just are negotiable.  Good schools – for the kids here now and a few years from now.  Safe streets – not just one or two high-traffic arteries.  And public input – the neighborhood associations, the development and alcohol boards, and yes the ANC must listen harder to residents concerns, and then act accordingly with both the government and business & development interests.  Like a good soup (or drink), it’s all in the mix.  Get it wrong and everything goes off.

To this last point, Lewin Zwerdling stresses that, if elected, she will make sure to be listening to all her neighbor’s voices:

“I’m a very well-organized person that thrives on getting out into the community and being an active participant in shaping the neighborhood where I live.  Being an ANC commissioner is a big job, and one that I’ll take extremely seriously.  Thankfully I have a job that I leave at work when I leave for the day.  I plan to devote evenings to ANC meetings, and other time to making sure I’m keeping up-to-date with residents’ concerns and any issues that may arise.  I thrive on conversation and feedback – without talking to the community, going to eat in the neighborhood, and visiting the schools, churches and other businesses, there’s a separation between ANC commissioners and the people they represent.  I will work hard to break down any of those existing communication barriers.  It’s an amazing opportunity that will no doubt require a lot of time yet I’m ready for the task.  I  couldn’t be more excited to know that I can have a hand in creating a transparent, communicative and increasingly happy neighborhood.”

So that was that, we thought.  We chatted on the stoop for a while, she left some flyers, and answered our few questions by email.*  “Sounds so far like no-one else is running,” I said to Craig, fried Twinkies on my brain.

Not so fast.  We’re now hearing rumors that others may now be tossing their hats into the ring.  Among them, Stanley Mayes – another neighbor, friend, and long-time Wallach resident.  Mayes has about as thorough a list of accomplishments in the community as anyone could imagine – his long presence on the block (he spent part of his childhood growing up in our current house), expertise as a property manager and decades-long commitment to working the ins and outs of DC government make him something like the local secret weapon.  Most recently Stanley ran (unsuccessfully) for Kwame Brown’s open DC Council seat in 2010.  We’ve sent emails and knocked on his door, but haven’t had any luck catching him of late.  If he does run, it may risk splitting the vote in the area…but that assumes they’re the only ones running.

There were also some decidedly fainter rumors blowing out there that a third – Tucker Gallagher, friend of Aaron Spencer, long-time professional at AARP – might have tossed his hat in the ring, again.  However Mr. Gallagher squashes those rumors himself, writing that while he won’t run this time, he still might in the future, given potential redistricting.

So it may be a one person race.  Or two.  Or more…we just can’t say for sure yet.  Nor can we say exactly when the election will take place, which depends, in part, on how many candidates actually enter and get the requisite number of petition signatures.  We’ll keep on it.

Still if Mayes and/or anyone else jumps in, we hope they’ll answer our questions as we profile them as well.  A crowded field may cause stress for the candidates themselves, but it can only be a healthy sign of the local community.

*Full disclosure: Doug recently made a $25 dollar contribution to Alexandra’s effort.  He may do so as well with Stanley, or other candidates, if it comes to that.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Balance in the Hood

  1. Pingback: Adversity breeds comradery | ustreetbeat

  2. Long Time resident

    Great news! Of course, anyone who runs for our smd will be spending a lot of time with abra because we have lots of restaurants. A monthly meeting with residents would be a huge improvement!

  3. Pingback: October 19 Special Election for ANC 1B District 2 Seat | Borderstan

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