Watch out, D.C. welfare reform is heading for the table — if Yvette Alexander is re-elected to the D.C. Council.
Miss Alexander is a Democrat, a Hillary Clinton Democrat, and words like “welfare reform” don’t easily roll off their tongues. They’d rather take the dog for a walk than discuss changing rules regarding the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) timelines, restrictions and dollar signs.
Yet in an interview at her campaign headquarters on Benning Road Northeast, Miss Alexander used such words as “self-sufficiency,” “sustaining themselves” and discouraging people from “that cycle” to describe what she wants to do and why, including maintaining a five-year limit on TANF. Thing is, while she is using rhetoric ordinarily used by Republicans, Miss Alexander is claiming a socially conservative mantle that liberals do not ordinarily want exposed.
And you know what? She’s going to have to go where her chief contender has not if she wants to win at the polls next Tuesday.
For the most part, Miss Alexander has her to-do list priorities in good order: a better-engaged faith community regarding the underprivileged and others in dire social straits; resources that follow children, not schools; targeted policing; and economic development in her ward, Ward 7, that benefits her constituents.
When I asked her to gauge the city on a spiritual meter, she gave D.C. a 5 overall and her ward an 8. That sounds about right, considering the city’s top leaders don’t talk about the faith community or houses of worship, both of which sustained the social and moral foundations of the District.
Miss Alexander also wants to pursue the possibility of building a hospital in Ward 7.
As far as the contentious homeless proposal that’s in the pipeline, Miss Alexander remains a bit narrow-minded. I say that because the proposal addresses relocating only those families currently living in the city’s former public hospital, D.C. General. The plan she and her council colleagues OK’d last week does nothing to alleviate the thousands of other homeless people living in shelters and motels.
So, when Miss Alexander said we’ll get to them “later,” I concede that drew a yelp from me. Then she also confirmed something the advocates do not want you to know: A lot of the people who claim to be “homeless” are not from D.C., she said. The key to stemming the tide is that the city “has to crack down on the residency requirement, it has to tighten up the requirement,” she says.
Having represented Ward 7 since 2007, when her predecessor, Vince Gray, stepped down to become council chairman, Miss Alexander is going toe-to-toe against Mr. Gray in the June 14 Democratic primary. He, recall, was a one-term mayor because of the shadow(s) of campaign shenanigans. He has detractors, and so does she. But there’s something else that’s muddying the race.
Some voters think that if they vote for Mr. Gray, the former mayor will be returning to power. They don’t fully understand that if Mr. Gray were to beat Miss Alexander, his victory would relabel the Ward 7 seat as “rookie” — and rookies get no committee chairmanships. (At least, that’s the way the game is now played.)
As chair of the council’s Health and Human Services Committee, Miss Alexander holds sway over agencies that touch every human being who resides in the District — not merely people who live in Ward 7.
Mr. Gray, on the other hand, is a former D.C. Human Services chief and a former director of Covenant House, a social services nonprofit that not only knows a thing or two about people in need but also makes doing things for people in need its mission.
For sure, Mr. Gray has a chance of beating Miss Alexander to get his old seat back — and according to his polling, he has a very good chance.
Still, the fact of this election is that the seat is Miss Alexander’s to lose.
Ward 7 is in a tight spot.
Vote, people. Vote.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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