Political Profile: Ward 1 Candidate Bryan Weaver

(Image from Weaver's campaign Web site)

On April 24th, Bryan Weaver announced that he would join Jeff Smith and incumbent Jim Graham in the race to represent Ward 1 on the City Council. Along with throwing his hat in the ring, he launched a new campaign Web site which lists issues important to him as well as other relevant data (www.weaverwardone.com). I was lucky enough to catch up with Weaver at his campaign headquarters where we had a great opportunity to discuss topics relevant to responsible government.

As some may know, Weaver has represented Single Member District ANC 1C03 for the past four terms and chaired 1C for the past three years. What people may not know is that he hails from Portland, Ore., is a graduate of Howard University, and once lived on Otis Place in Park View during the 1990s. Overall, he has lived in Ward 1 for 19 years.

In speaking to Weaver, it’s clear that he has a knack for seeing issues clearly which is coupled with vision and intelligence, but he wasn’t always the civically minded individual that is campaigning today. In answering my question about what was the impetuous for him to get involved in his community, his answer quickly focused on community youth.

He recalls a time shortly after moving to Adams Morgan when he would go to the park and there were a ton of youths playing basketball. On one occasion, a resident made a comment about all the children using the courts from other neighborhoods and wanting to know why they were there. Weaver recalled that many of the youths were from the Jubilee Housing development a few blocks away and bringing this to the commenter’s attention, only to get a retort that that side of the street wasn’t the neighborhood. This event got him to thinking that there ought to be a way to get the neighborhood more united and move it away from a ‘them and us’ mentality. Weaver became more involved at the park, becoming a mentor to many, yet it was not until a young man was murdered in 2001 that he realized how high the stakes were for the kids.

He began to talk to his ANC and recalls thinking that the multiculturalism of Ward 1 was its strength and the reason many residents chose to live there. When he first moved to Adams Morgan, the various neighborhoods tended to have a gang-like mentality when they spoke of their boundaries as territories. His initial goal was to focus on creating one Adams Morgan rather than the ‘theirs and mine’ attitude that once prevailed.

Moving to education, I queried Weaver about the Bruce-Monroe school issue. While he indicates that there is a better solution than the one currently before us, he adds that at this time, there is not much that can be done except to build a new school on the Bruce-Monroe site. He feels that the commitment that Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhea have made to the community must be honored. He also agrees with Fenty’s strong support and emphasis on education.

Though he asserts that there seems to be an aversion in DC to adopting best practices, he does point to examples where the public school system is improving – Reed Elementary, for example, where test scores are going up. What he is against, however, is the City’s willingness to embrace public/private partnerships as an easy way out of a problem. This refocused the conversation back to the Bruce-Monroe site.

To see the dangers of the public/private partnership model, Weaver states, one needs look no further than the example of the Boys & Girls Clubs, many of which ended up signing long-term leases with private entities that denied the land from public use. By carving out the most lucrative land from the City’s properties to lure developers to do business with the City, DC is giving away its future. Weaver contends that DC should sell its property as a last resort. It is an asset that cannot be easily replaced.

What Park View and Pleasant Plains should be looking to do with its schools, states Weaver, is find a two school solution where one school is an elementary school and the other is the middle school. A newly built Bruce-Monroe elementary school could graduate its students to Park View for the next phase of their education. In this, he points to Oyster-Adams as a good model to follow.

On the issue of Georgia Avenue and its future, Weaver is clearly frustrated but hopeful. When he lived on Otis Place in the 1990s, he recalls heroin dens that the City was ill-equipped to deal with. By the early 2000s, DC had finally started to address the issue of blighted property and we are starting to see some development along the avenue.

Still, where there are questionable practices, says Weaver, are where developers such as Donatelli get huge tax breaks for developing a site that they will likely develop anyway, but the best a small business owner can hope for is a tax deferment during a streetscaping project. This isn’t right, contends Weaver. The small business can’t afford to go 18-19 months with reduced income and then be expected to come up with the cash when the City is done with its project.

Economic development does not seem to be a focus of the City where Georgia Avenue is concerned. Georgia Avenue, Weaver points out, is like Mt. Pleasant in that they both have links to their historic pasts, and this should make them easier to develop, not harder. The only thing lacking from Georgia Avenue is a firm, honest commitment. The biggest win for Georgia Avenue, contends Weaver, would be the expansion of the businesses that have been established for years. Along with this the avenue needs to be crafted into a more walk able community.

The Park Morton development is an example where the City could do better, states Weaver. The most recent proposal has the units split up along the lines of 1/3 subsidized housing, 1/3 work-force housing, and 1/3 market rate housing. Rather than follow this formula, Weaver thinks there needs to be more flexibility in the plan. Along with this, there needs to be a better definition of what exactly is meant by work-force housing – nurses?, teachers?, hill staffers? Perhaps units supporting work-force housing should be 40% or 50%, with a reduced number of units set aside for market rate buyers – or held in reserve entirely until the market will bear them.

Shifting to the historic character of many of Ward 1’s neighborhoods, Weaver thinks that DC could develop a great job program by becoming involved in the retrofit of older homes and make them more energy-efficient. By hiring people to replace windows correctly, for example, they could teach a skill to workers that would be portable. This assistance could be provided to those on a fixed income that would not otherwise be able to undertake such projects.

Lastly, Weaver spoke about his strengths and challenges in this campaign. He points to his involvement in some of ANC 1C’s successes as proving his mettle. Among those success were implementing inclusionary zoning which requires a certain number of units be set aside in new developments for affordable or workforce housing and that those units must remain at those rates for the life of the project. Also, ANC 1C has been extremely frugal with their money, forgoing office space and other expenses whenever possible so that more grants could go for youth oriented programs or just invested in the community. Over half of the ANC’s money is invested in small community grants. The balance is split between business associations and civic association.

As to Weaver’s major challenge in this election, he cites his push for complete transparency in local government … and especially in who funds campaigns. He has pledged that no individual or corporation can donate more than $500 to his campaign and insists that this should be the norm rather than the exception. This is a huge hurdle for anyone trying to get into office, says Weaver, as DC has a complete lack of transparency and the city runs under a system of political patronage. To run on a platform to change this makes it difficult to seek donations from those that are comfortable with the status quo.

In taking in the larger picture, Weaver recalls John F. Kennedy’s remark that “Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.” The inefficiency of this City needs to end, contends Weaver. Everyone doing business with this City needs to be on an equal footing. It shouldn’t be about whom you know or which developers you’ve worked with.

(This is the second in a three-part series profiling Ward 1 Council candidates Jeff Smith, Bryan Weaver, and Jim Graham)


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5 Comments on “Political Profile: Ward 1 Candidate Bryan Weaver”

  1. Cliff Says:

    Good interview, but the market already supports enterprise development on Georgia Avenue. Having a set standard of 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 is a way to balance keeping long time residents in the area while allowing the market to rise to its potential. Too much flexibility in that model means developers will put the money where they can get the federal dollars, which in turn controls the market, keeping it down in most cases. Inclusionary zoning is the best example of that.

    I love his push for transparency in local government, which is a big problem here in DC. I’d also like to here what he says about the performance of city agencies.

  2. Dave Says:

    Thanks for the interview write-up. Although I’m not sure what is meant by “The biggest win for Georgia Avenue, contends Weaver, would be the expansion of the businesses that have been established for years.” There is very little existing retail on GA Avenue that I currently patronize. If Mr. Weaver believes that the best thing for GA Avenue would be to have those existing businesses expand, I disagree.

  3. A.Smith Says:

    Somehow expanding The House doesn’t sound like a positive for GA Ave.

  4. […] Bryan Weaver arrived the earliest and spent a significant amount of his visit tossing the pigskin with some of the neighborhood children. Jeff Smith swung by and spent some quality time chatting with residents.  Jim Graham brought his dog, Guapo, and characteristically asked folks if there were any issues that needed city attention. […]

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