A conversation with Calvin Gurley, candidate for Ward 4 council

If you live in Ward 4 or just drive around the area, then you've probably heard of Calvin Gurley or at least seen his campaign signs. Never described as shy of sharing his opinions, Calvin's emails on the various area listservs have garnered him some fans and some detractors. While you might not agree with all of his positions, it's hard to disagree with everything Calvin Gurley discusses, as he talks about important issues from the point of view of wanting what is best for DC residents. 

Photo courtesy of the candidate

Mr. Gurley has worked for the Federal government for most of his career as an auditor, and most recently for FEMA in the Department of Homeland Security as an accountant. He left that job to campaign full-time for DC Council.

Mr. Gurley lives near Takoma with his wife, where he has lived since 1995. He has two grown children and plans to work on the council full-time if elected. We met up at the Safeway on Georgia Avenue and Randolph Street to talk about his campaign and his ideas for Ward 4. 

Read Calvin Gurley's campaign positions on several key topics >

Drew/Petworth News: You didn't run last year in the special election, but you ran for At-Large Council seats in the past.

Calvin Gurley: I ran for At-Large and for Chairman twice. Kwame Brown and Vincent Orange challenged one of my petitions; someone thought I was a threat. That's something I did not really appreciate. When you're running in a primary, we're all Democrats. So why would you try to silence another member of your party?

They don't want to split the vote.

In this campaign, we have some Chicago-Louisana politics. I mean, a vote for Ron Austin is a vote for Brandon Todd. Ron Austin and Adrian Fenty go way back to when Fenty ran for Council and Mayor. They have a strong bond, and that includes Muriel. He's a split-vote.

As far as Andrews, he has not convinced me of his community commitment. He has no community service. He hasn't served on an ANC or president of civic association. He has Federal experience but that doesn't equate to local. I've never seen him at a public service commission meeting, saying no to PEPCO's request for an increase on our electric bill or DC Water. He hasn't gone to a Council hearing in opposition or support on community driven issues. To me he hasn't proven himself. 

There's an underswelling of folks saying that Todd's too close to Muriel. I don't think Todd is the issue, it's crime in our city. Ward 4 has become the new Southeast, to tell you the truth. I remember 15-20 years ago, I moved here in 1995 from Southeast in Anacostia, where I was the president of Fairlawn civic association. Also the vice president of the Orange Hats. 

When I moved here in '95 it was real quiet, right there below Piney Branch Safeway, below Piney Branch and Georgia. Really nice. Only thing you could hear at night would be the subway cars. Next thing you know I hear gunshots. Next you know I'm hearing people getting robbed. Crime is a big thing now. 

The Mayor and the Police Chief, they do listen to me. I do my emails, you know about my emails? And they either directly or indirectly respond. Recently the Police Chief took my recommendation to take 300+ policemen from behind their desks and put them on street detail. Now we have more presence of police. There's a summer crime prevention initiative program, and each summer there's a spike in increase in crime. The Chief selects three Wards to receive an increase in police presence. I asked for Ward 4; 7 and 8 and 5 got it last year. I solicited the Chief and asked her to select Ward 4 for your third place winner. She responded back and said she's going to expand it to five Wards. So I'm hoping that Ward 4 will be one of the recipients for this year.

You have your priorities and what you think is important for the Ward. What are those initial first priorities if you are elected?

It would be the police and crime, and education. I would try to get a foothold, a connection with the Chancellor and the Ward 4 school board member to where we are regarding modernization, are our classes being complete with teachers, special ed teachers. Are there any gaps in services and resources that need to be addressed, and anything I can do to speed things up, and I'll lift my hand to it. 

As far as crime, we need to put a stop to crime and those types of crimes we've never seen in this part of the city before. There is evidence that folks are jumping out of cars, doing a quick 1, 2, 3, and then jumping back in their cars and going toward the state line or out of Ward 4 here.

So how do you think the Council can take measures to resolve that type of crime?

What they need to do is listen to the local commander. He's the closest officer, manager, to the battle lines. The Chief has her ideas and agenda, but its the chief of 4D that knows what's happening. And also, listen to the officers, get their tell-tale signs. They're the rank and file, they can tell you what they need and don't need, what they're lacking. They need more presence, more police technology, they can let you know. It's like my experience with unions, being between management and the workers. We represent our own, but we try to help management out, too. Make things better for the workers. So that's where I'd find my niche, from a union perspective, coming in trying to find what I can do to make both sides, management and rank and file, productive in trying to solve some of this.

What do you see as the top crime MPD or the Council would be looking to resolve? There's theft from auto, home break-ins, shootings and gunshots... do you think it's a more "satisfied" police force, a larger police force? What are the elements that will help stem the tide of some of those crime increases?

It's more police presence, period. And that will take care of that. It will decrease the fear in the public and increase the public confidence in our elected officials and police force, to see them there and connect not only to us, but to folks who are known to the community. The police should know who belongs in the neighborhood, and who doesn't belong just from the point of being there on a routine basis. 

Now there's other social endeavors that should go with policing, too. And that is dealing with our children, dealing with children at-risk, and dealing with some of the poverty that we have in this city. We have more teenagers now that are homeless, and that does have a risk factor in that, will they try to get their next meal or their next dollar? They make the choice, but if there's factors and resources out there to help them stem from that negativeness, and give them some type of help or what have you, a meal right now, something of that nature. Our rec centers can be used to reach out to these kids at-risk, and also to the adults, too, because the kids are mimicking or following behind those young men who decide that they want to be gangsters or take the negative route. 

What we need to do in this city, citywide, and I've sent the Mayor, is a program to establish our own gang. And that gang would be a gang of positiveness. We need to do a citizenship program at different rec centers where we teach the kids, go through a three-month program to learn about civics and responsibility and authority to the community. They may come out with a ring or something saying "I'm a DC citizen" or "teen citizen" and they pass the course. Maybe that has some kind of effect on what they should be contributing to the community. Sometimes there's a disconnect with kids who don't think they have a relationship to the community, but they do. I will not, and I would vote against Kenyon McDuffie's resolution of paying at-risk kids $9,000 a year to stay out of trouble. I think that is, it may be harsh, but it's stupid. It reminds me of Fenty, or the Chancellor, who wanted to pay kids to come to school. That's not creative at all.

Do you see the role of the Councilmember as being a legislator, as constituents-driven person--

Let me cut you off on that. And that is, unlike any other councilmember, I take a little bit from Marion Barry, and take a portion from [Adrian] Fenty. There would be two parts to me being Ward 4 Councilmember. I would be more active as a councilmember in the community. You'll see more of me and my participation in the community. The council legislator is just a part-time job, there is another four hours to the eight hour day. My staff, my constituent services, would be represented and visible in the community here. 

When Fenty got into Ward 4 [council], he wasn't really a legislator, he was out there ambulance-chasing, and the cameras. He was showing his presence. Well that's good, he was concerned. Then you have the Marion Barry style, where you go out and talk to folks, you say "How you doing? What's happening? What do you need?" And that's the blend of both Fenty and Marion Barry that the voters are going to see from my administration. I'll be more in touch with the community.

I don't think Todd really wants this position in Ward 4. I believe that he has been so close to Muriel, boy-Friday, that he misses that touch with being that close to Muriel. He wants a deputy mayor's job, recreation, education, whatever. Because he's not getting that respect from his colleagues on the council, I think they're really snubbing him. He's feeling the effects. I think he feels bad about going to the Wilson building every day because being snubbed out and disrespected. But if he became a deputy mayor, he'd get paid more, it would be a high-profile job, and then the council would be asking him to come to hearings to testify, and giving him that kind of respect that he wants. I think that may happen, if I become Ward 4 councilmember. That's why I don't think his heart and desire is really there in representing Ward 4 as a councilman. He wants to be close to Muriel.

Let's talk about DC General and what's going on along Kennedy Street. They Mayor has proposed to close DC General and open temporary housing facilities in all the Wards (the one in Ward 4 is 5505 5th Street). Share with me your thoughts on the Mayor's decision and on that location designated for Ward 4.

DC General is in Ward 6, only one block from where I was raised. My sister still lives in the area. The first couple of months that they had the hospital as a homeless shelter we had many children just wondering around on the campus. Sometimes you see parents meeting their boyfriends at the bus stop, and wandering through the neighborhoods. Homelessness has a different dimension than folks who are on the waiting list for public housing. And those folks who are homeless should not be able to leap-frog over the ones who are on the housing list for 10-15 years, waiting for public housing. I sat on the Mayor's blue ribbon commission on housing, and we had a report as thick as a phone book.

The problem of homeless right now is that we have so many services that are needed: drug abuse, mental, people with children, and that have types of disabilities. To put them in an environment of a shelter or confined place with other families, we don't know -- unless we examine each family and know the problems they're suffering with -- and we have to evaluate their needs. They call is a shelter which is denigrating to anyone. Not a home, not a housing, not an apartment building, but putting a family of 400 or families of individuals into a 3-4 story apartment building and labeling it a shelter is hard on children who have to weather that type of disrespect. 

What do you think would be a better option instead of the temporary housing facilities?

Families need to be integrated into the community. DC has a lot of housing that is boarded up; you can place those families into the community. The community will make sure or enforce their particular culture and responsibility on that family through pressure from the community to make sure kids are going to school, not sitting on the corners.

I also don't agree with the Mayor cutting corners and cost to give each floor a public bathroom, not individual bathrooms for each unit. That's unsafe, it's not secure. We don't know who these family members are, disabilities, mental and physical. If you allow your child to go in and brush their teeth, it's inhumane and a situation of denigration. It's disrespecting our residents, they should have their own bathroom and living facility to feel like they're worth. Give them some value to their living, to their life and to the children also. Hopefully that will shape their belief that they're worth something. We're talking about belief system here now. If you put them in situations of poverty and situations of being in a homeless shelter and not a living unit or as a family, it has a lot to do with the belief system, too. We're trying to get these kids to believe they're worth something. 

That's the difference between me and the other candidates. I do stand up for the residents. 

[Ed note: Mr. Gurley had brought a sign with him about lead in the water, and how to get residential water tested. This seems to be his hot button issue, and something he's been pushing on the listservs.]

Mr. Gurley is passionate on the topic of residents getting their water tested for lead.

We have a problem right now. Everyone else is trying to get votes and endorsements, but we have a situation with lead in water. Payne Elementary school, in Ward 6, that's the elementary I attended, was found to have elevated lead levels there. Then we found out it was 13 others. I just stopped the campaign and said "hey folks, we need to concentrate on this." [He gave out the number for DC Water to get residential water tested for lead: 202-612-3440]. You can get a free lead water test, two bottles, they'll come and pick them up from your house. They'll test it and let you know your lead water levels in your house. I'm trying to get parents to get the Chancellor to test the water at their schools now.

From the New Hill East Yahoo group listserv, some were saying the DC School Board knew about the lead in the water last year, and all they did was turn the fountain off.  I have a friend who lives in Petworth who's concerned about Petworth and that his neighbors don't know about lead. It's the service lines under your property that might contain lead and would have to get changed. This is disrespectful for our children. We can pay $1.2 billion for a trolly car that goes less than a half a mile. But we can't spend that kind of money on kids to give them what they need for a full, complete gym? If that was Fenty, that gym would be complete, and the cafeteria. [Ed note: Mr. Gurley is speaking about Shepherd Elementary and the loss of previously allocated funds to complete renovations at the school.]

Let's talk about the development in Ward 4, related increases in costs and the impact on new and existing residents. How do you as Councilmember ensure the changes we're seeing benefit all residents, and don't leave people behind?

I think the council, especially in Ward 4, must bring enterprise zones to the area. Boost small businesses, and keep the costs affordable so the community can participate in the commerce of that business. If a new bar wants to open and offer $1 beers, or have a community night with free hors d'oeuvres and drinks are half price, that brings on a community camaraderie, a community like "Cheers" where you support your local pub. You can walk and feel good about it, and that's what I like to see. I do my best to patronize local restaurants.

It's something the Council has to get involved in. Even as you bring in new development, most of those tenants will be on a shoe-string budget to a point where they support their local tavern, their local cleaners, etc. 

Do you think there's a place for the Council to find ways to support the existing businesses, so when rents go up there's a way to help them stay or relocate?

They need to stay. There needs to be government assistance / supplement ... maybe the government can come in and strike a deal with that particular owner of the building. 

Is that the councilmember, is that a DC agency?

That's the councilmember. He has to be concerned about businesses at a location for 10 years, or was a ground-breaking business. The councilmember should go in and say "What can we do as far as balancing the cost with the increase, perhaps we can reduce taxes or whatever the owner owes the city in taxes, to help keep them there and keep the rent lower. We do it for new development, so why can't existing companies also partake in that leveraging mechanism to induce new business, also to keep and maintain business. We could use the same thing, "7 year tax abatement" or whatever it may be. The community has to be the one to make the request to the councilmember. 

Do you think it's the same idea for affordable housing, ensuring we have both new development and existing property availability for people who can't afford the market rate?

You have to understand that, and I have to be straight with you on this: DC government and elected officials are pushed against a powerful force, the developers. They want to make a dollar, they want to put food on the table... but they're also a force to be reckoned with when it comes to affordable. They're not going to build these expensive high-rises and then the government is going to undercut them and bring in affordable 500 one-bedroom apartments. But we need to strike a balance, we need to do something to take those folks off the housing list, 70,000 still waiting. We have college students with a bundle of student loans. An entry level job is $35,000-40,000... they can't afford $2,000 a month. I want to keep that college student here.

The word "public housing" is not a nasty word. We're not talking about homeless people or low income, we're talking about keeping these college students here, too. Give them investments. Our affordable housing should be priced to where a teacher can stay here, or our policemen, or EMS. And that's what I'm gauging to, that we can make affordable housing affordable for a teacher's salary.

Calvin Gurley talking to a Ward 4 resident

Let me take you to the topic of emails and stop signs. These have been the topic of many emails on the area listservs. You are very loquacious on the listservs, you send a lot of email, getting across your point-of-view. Emails to Chief Lanier, talking about lead... what value do you see in those emails to the listservs? Do you think your emails are making a difference and that people are listening and responding positively? 

Those emails are driven from a commitment to inform, to warn and to update the community -- everybody is so busy working 10 hours a day -- too busy to go down to a council hearing and find out the results of a bill that was passed, or what's happening or what's coming to the community. I've been in politics a long time, I do have the respect of the Council. I have the respect of the Mayor and the Police Chief, and I get a response. 

Some of Muriel's and Todd's supports who may call me crazy or why am I attacking? It's not attacking, it's saying it's not all right for Tommy Wells in Ward 6 to come into our Ward and take the DC Youth Orchestra out of Coolidge that's been there for 50 years. Yes, the school is in bad condition, but Muriel could have made a contract with the Capital Hill folks and Ward 6 and said "Look here, take it over to the new Eastern High School, since it's rebuilt. But as soon as Coolidge is rebuilt, renovated, you are going to bring the DC Youth Orchestra back because this is where it was born." You don't take an institution like that out of here.

You see the emails as a public service?

As a public service, to let people know that the real situation, what's behind it, the truth behind it, and is this the kind of service or respect we need? 

You are a prolific campaign sign poster. Who is putting up your signs? Is it you, is it your staff or a combination of the two?

It's a combination of us, as I can't put up all those signs by myself.

Because, bless you man, they are everywhereCan I get a commitment from you, win or lose, 60-days after the election, signs come down?

No problem with that. The signs always come down. Now, there may be one or two left over, but I'll get them on the listserv, "Hey Gurley, you got a sign over here on 14th and Upshur or something," and I'll have one of my people go over. But I usually get kids from Coolidge, give them like $20 each and ask them to take down the signs down for me. They do put them in the trash. You don't see my signs laying around on the street.

Is there anything else you want to get out in terms of a message to people?

There is. You need to be serious about lead in the drinking water. Especially at the schools in their drinking water, that's something we can do right now. Have the Chancellor or the Mayor have our schools' drinking water system tested. 

Walter Reed. A lot of folks are not interested in my idea for Walter Reed. I expressed this on the listservs, that we should have the FBI headquarters relocated at Walter Reed. That would bring 40,000 plus employees there, and those downtown restaurants, cafes and entertainment spots that have been serving the headquarters downtown, they're going to follow their money right up here and relocate along the Georgia Avenue corridor. So all these fast-food, Korean hot foods and grease, nail salons, will be replaced with those restaurants downtown that were servicing those government employees up here now. We'll have hotels, that's more money in tax. It'll be an extension of City Place, coming all the way down Georgia Avenue to Walter Reed, and that type of renaissance.

I mean H Street had their renaissance, Chinatown had its own. We can have our own right there on Georgia if the FBI building were to relocate there. Plus, we can use the FBI uniformed police to canvass the area. They'll canvas the area of the Takoma metro station, especially as their employees will be walking Butternut to the metro. That would be a very much needed and pleased-to-see police force there. A gift from the FBI. 

Read Calvin Gurley's campaign positions on several key topics >

I appreciate the time that Calvin Gurley spent speaking with me and answering questions. Be sure to check out the full responses to the prepared questions Petworth News submitted to the campaign. If you have questions for the candidate, feel free to post them below or contact the campaign directly. As a reminder, Petworth News is not endorsing a candidate, only offering interviews and overviews of their campaign positions.