I asked each candidate to fill out a questionnaire, the answers to which I would publish on the site. Below are the answers to a few prepared questions.
Leon T. Andrews is running for the Ward 4 Council seat in the District of Columbia. A resident of Brightwood, he's lived in Ward 4 for most of his life. Born here in 1975, he left for college and graduate school, and moved back to DC in 2005. He currently lives on Jefferson Street with his wife Kristine and their three children.
What is your current profession?
Public policy subject matter expert
Please briefly describe why you are running in this election cycle for Ward 4 Councilmember?
There are so many ways to serve a community – through mentorship, advocacy, activism or politicking. I am a positive mentor to young black men, a grassroots advocate against childhood obesity and a steadfast activist for sustainability, education, workforce development, safety and reduction of crime, improvements in community health and child welfare, and civic engagement. I would now like to serve my community as an elected official, where I will be in a position to effect permanent change for my neighborhood, ward and city.
I am running because I owe it to my grandmother and her generation to age in place safely and reside in the neighborhoods they have built. I am running to ensure that my peers share in the growth and development that is taking place in the District of Columbia. And, I am running because I owe it to my children and yours to assure they have every opportunity right here.
Provide a quick overview of your professional and/or personal background and experience, including volunteer work, activism, and what you have done to help residents that qualifies you as a great choice for Council.
I am a 3rd generation Washingtonian. I was educated in DC schools – St. Ann’s, Gonzaga, and Howard University. I completed my Masters degree in public policy and management at Carnegie Mellon University. I’m currently finishing my PhD in urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan.
I led First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative for local elected officials and work closely with the President’s team implementing the My Brother’s Keeper initiative. I am honored to serve on the DC Commission for African American Affairs where I was recently appointed by Mayor Bowser.
For the past decade, I have worked at the National League of Cities where I advise mayors and city councilmembers across the country, including the last four DC mayors, on strategies, policies, and evidence-based programs. I intend to bring my public service experiences at the local and national levels and focus it right in my Ward.
In brief, what are your Legislative priorities?
- Vocational education – We need to create access to quality education for all of our children that better aligns the rich resources we already have in the Ward and expands our options to include vocational education; so our children are prepared to compete for the jobs and careers of the 21st century. I will introduce and/or support legislation incorporating career technical education in schools.
- Public safety response – I will introduce and/or support legislation committed to a public safety response that incorporates prevention, intervention, re-entry and enforcement
- Creating a makerspace – Makerspaces are an innovative economic development opportunity to maximize resources and how we engage our young people.
- Housing – We need to implement and enforce quality, affordable, and accessible housing for everyone below the average median income; and cite developers and others who refuse to honor housing codes and tear apart the continuity of our communities. I will introduce and/or support legislation for affordable housing allocation at 0-30% of AMI, 30-60% of AMI and 60-80% of AMI.
Share your position on Education issues in Ward 4.
Public education faces many challenges, but the most important one facing Ward 4 is the lack of quality options for middle school. Currently, Alice Deal Middle School, which is in Ward 3, is one of the best school choices, but it cannot be our only option.
If elected as Ward 4’s next Councilmember, I would suggest a comprehensive approach that considers entering into a partnership with the community to improve the schools. Let’s tap into existing resources, think about better alignment, and redeploy resources if necessary.
We must create enriching learning environments for all Ward 4 children no matter what school they attend. Let’s increase our oversight responsibilities and end the blame game for the benefit of all our children.
Some areas I see for education improvements include:
- Promote reading proficiency by the end of third grade;
- Recruit mentors to help, particularly our students of color, stay on track in school;
- Push for in-school alternatives to suspension and expulsion;
- Work to reduce chronic absence and truancy;
- Develop alternative pathways to high school completion, including investing in vocational education and trade schools;
- Ensure that students receive at least two healthy meals every school day and during the summer months when school is not in session;
- Prioritize placing qualified teachers in places of need;
- Parent engagement and family supports to ensure they are empowered to be their child's first teacher and most important advocate;
- Connect families with the diverse supports they need for a safe, healthy and economically secure household; and
- Invest in creative funding strategies to allow communities to provide more a comprehensive and collaborative system of support for children and families."
Share your position on Transportation issues in Ward 4.
As a third generation Washingtonian, raised by my mother and grandmother, I understand the challenges associated with transportation and household economics. We need to ensure that as we address transportation issues in our Ward and city, the issues acknowledge the multi-modal options of transportation we want available for Ward 4 residents. As an avid bicyclist, we need to continue to make strides to create safe lanes for people in our Ward that use this form of transportation.
As someone who also often uses public transportation, I am a strong advocate for both our rail and bus systems. The rail system is something that has a larger regional impact and we need to do everything we can to ensure DC has an efficient, safe and innovative rail system that serves the region and effectively shares the responsibility for this rail system with Maryland and Virginia.
It is also important that we make strides to address the issues that strengthen our bus system that includes how DC takes appropriate steps to control the ownership of the Circulator bus. We need to take steps that acknowledge the benefits and needs for dedicated bus lanes on 16th Street and other coordinators in our Ward that provide opportunities for a more efficient use of our public transportation options.
I also support providing SmartTrip cards to MetroAccess ridership to ensure a safe transaction is conducted and, more importantly, riders are able to better budget as cash is taken out of the equation. MetroAccess is a share-ride, door-to-door, paratransit service in the region for the most vulnerable transit passengers (the elderly and those with disabilities that cannot take traditional transit). I support the allocation of additional funding to paratransit that will allow the companies to provide pay and benefits equivalent to their Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) bus operator counterparts. Paratransit van service is provided by three contractors with the goal of generating a profit on their WMATA contract. I support changing the language in future contracts to state, the contractor of choice must compensate its drivers, through pay and benefits, an amount equivalent or greater than WMATA bus operators. I would follow that change with a review of the Accessibility Advisory Committee to ensure the DC representatives are prepared, organized and engaged with the DC senior and disability community to ensure they fully understand the needs of the most vulnerable transit passengers.
What do you think are the biggest issues facing Ward 4 regarding Crime and Public Safety? What are you solutions to help fix these issues?
According to the Metropolitan Police Department’s database for reported crime statistics, of the 3,474 reported crimes in Ward 4 during 2015, 2,878 were property crimes, and 595 were violent crimes, of which seven were homicides. While public safety will always be a concern, we cannot police the problem away just by adding more officers. We need our elected leaders to require more from our police chief and the rank-and-file.
I will propose legislation that mandates collaboration between the Metropolitan Police Department, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, DC Public Schools, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and the Department of Employment Services. These partnerships will join preventive measures with intervention services, thereby facilitating the restoration of at-risk lives.
Among my many legislative priorities, I will advocate for a community-policing model, which allows for officers to know their beat, and for communities to interact positively with those officers. I will also focus the city’s finances on new methods to increase public safety, such as improving street lighting, beautifying public spaces, increasing visibility in high crime areas, removing impediments to clear lines of sight, and re-defining the usage of cameras for monitoring high crime areas.
Do you think the current focus on affordable housing in Ward 4 is correct? How would you balance affordable housing with the increased rent and home prices?
We need a dedicated fund for affordable housing. In 2006, the DC Council passed legislation that directed the Chief Financial Officer to begin depositing the first $100 million of non-dedicated sales tax revenue collected annually into the Public School Capital Improvement Fund to modernize our public schools. Should DC continue its revenue growth, I recommend Council pass language that directs the second $100 million of non-dedicated tax revenue to affordable housing construction and programming. We must look to innovative methods to ensure affordable housing remains in every ward and neighborhood across DC.
I believe the current rent control regulations must be stringently enforced by the DC Government, to include the DC Attorney General and DC Inspector General, and legislation needs to be passed to close the door on exploitative landlords and greedy developers that desire to displace seniors, people with disabilities and low-income tenants.
What is your opinion of "pop-backs"? (Whereby homeowners or developers are extending the rear portion of homes by ten feet or more.)
Ward 4 is a special place to me and I want to preserve its neighborhoods, character and history. Residents who purchase rowhomes in our neighborhoods are greatly affected when neighbors construct popups and pop-backs. It decreases property values by disrupting the historic character of homes on the block. I support legislation and zoning changes that would enforce height and length restrictions for properties.
I am not in support of R4 zoning. This continues to reinforce changing the aesthetic of our neighborhood that impacts other neighbors (their back yard experience, their lighting, and overall experience of living in our community).
Do you believe DC government and existing regulations (DCRA, Zoning Commission, etc.) favors homeowners / residents more, less or equal to for-profit developers? Is there enough residential availability in Ward 4 for the expected growth over the next 20 years?
With high prices and stringent lending, homeownership is still difficult for many DC residents and continues to favor developers.
I would support the following policies because changes to these will free up resources to make housing more affordable for DC’s workforce and first-time homebuyers:
- Increase transportation options
- Propose universal access to affordable childcare
- Support a percentage of rental payments placed into a purchase fund
- Advocate for a residency requirement for District Government Employees to create a new tax rate
- Modify the District Opportunity to Purchase Act (DOPA)
To ensure DC enables the development of housing sufficient to meet growth & demand, I would incentivize developers to price a percentage of new developments below market rate.
For new developments (rental or owner-occupied), I would advocate for the following set-asides for DC or US government workers: 10% set aside for 50%-80% AMI, 10% set aside for 30%-49% AMI and 10% set aside for 0%-29% AMI.
For existing developments (rental or owner-occupied), I would advocate for the following set-asides for DC or US government workers: 5% set aside for 50%-80% AMI, 5% set aside for 30%-49% AMI and 5% set aside for 0%-29% AMI.
The District’s recordation and transfer taxes are currently amongst the highest in the US. I would support legislation to decrease recordation tax rates for first-time homebuyers. The decrease in down payments would be beneficial for new homebuyers to the District, as well as families looking to upgrade and stay within DC. Lowering these burdensome taxes would have a positive impact on DC’s real estate market.
DC’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) has not been updated in nearly 30 years, which has resulted in unintended consequences for both tenants (in condominium units and single-family units) and housing providers. A policy that has not been updated in 30 years is unlikely to still be applicable. I believe strongly this needs adjusting to meet the current needs of tenants and housing providers and will work as your next councilmember to update TOPA.
How would you define gentrification? Do you believe Ward 4 is experiencing gentrification?
Gentrification is defined as demographic shifts in a city. Yes, we are seeing these demographic shifts in the neighborhoods in our Ward and the city. DC has become a much more diverse on many fronts – socially, economically, racially and ethnically.
Do you think the residents of Petworth, Brightwood and Shepherd Park neighborhoods are positively or negatively affected by gentrification, or no impact at all?
I think the impact of gentrification has both positive and negative impacts. I do not think gentrification is a bad idea for DC or any city for that matter. There are tremendous benefits that come from cities that experience gentrification that includes more cultural diversity, more resources and economic development opportunities available to residents in the city that can be used to improve social services for our families as well as creating a community where all residents have access to fresh and healthy foods and feel safe and secure to walk their children to school and enjoy the parks, people and places that enrich our neighborhoods.
However, gentrification has negative impacts if there is not a commitment to celebrating the history of the community that includes protecting our seniors so they can age in place safely and continue to reside in the communities and neighborhoods they built for years. Gentrification can also have negative impacts if there is not a commitment to our youth and our most vulnerable as we investment in options and pathways that provide opportunities for them to contribute to the health and vibrancy of our community.
Any additional thoughts you'd like to share?
If there is one thing I know that is critical to achieving success and delivering on these ideas and solutions its strong, effective, ethical and independent leadership.
Someone who knows how to listen, collaborate, partner, find common ground, take action, be accountable, and is not beholden to the mayor or any outside interest except the people.
No other candidate has the local and national experiences I would bring as your next councilmember.
I do not pretend to have all the answers but I know where to find them - in conversations with you, my neighbors and leaders in this community. I bring a wealth of knowledge from around the country about what works and what doesn’t. I know that by coming together we can achieve great things for our Ward and get back to the business of solving problems instead of just talking about them.
I do not think there is anything that we cannot figure out together. I am excited to bring new energy, acumen and leadership to our city as your next council member.
I appreciate the time that Leon Andrews spent speaking with me and answering questions. Be sure to check out the in-person interview with Leon. 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.