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Gray Courts Young Voters in Re-Election Bid

WASHINGTON INFORMER — There has been widespread speculation whether D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray will seek re-election to his Ward 7 seat in 2020. Some political observers say he has grown tired of the District’s political games and may want to do some other things in his life.

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By James Wright

There has been widespread speculation whether D.C. Councilmember Vincent Gray will seek re-election to his Ward 7 seat in 2020. Some political observers say he has grown tired of the District’s political games and may want to do some other things in his life.

Otherwise, while a growing number of young Ward 7 residents clamor for his position and influence, some surmise that the veteran councilmember and former mayor has served his time. However, Gray knocked down those summations on July 18 at Sala Thai restaurant and bar, where he announced his intentions to serve four more years as a city politician.

“I am running again because I want to serve the people of Ward 7,” Gray, who first served as the ward’s councilmember from 2005-2007, said. “I want the ward to prosper and I would like for your help in order to do that.”

In making the informal declaration, Gray addressed an audience of primarily young adults that included Ward 7 activists-Eboni-Rose Thompson, Erica Harrell and Chioma Iwuoha, who-acted as co-roundtable moderators. For his part, the councilmember who was queried on a broad range of topics, also requested a moment of silence on the death Sterling Tucker, first chair of the D.C. Council.

When Iwuoha asked about economic development, Gray who also served from 2007 to 2011 as council chair, responded on point.

“We have to bring more economic development to the ward and to neighborhoods east of the [Anacostia] River,” he said. “In Wards 7 and 8, we have about 150,000 people and we have only three full-service grocery stores. There are wards west of here that have six, eight or over 10 grocery stores and we have two in this ward and about to add another one and one in Ward 8 and still that’s not enough.”

Lidl, a German grocer, which will anchor the Skyland Town Center site in Ward 7, had made its official announcement earlier on July 18 with Gray and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) in attendance.

After Thompson asked Gray’s view on education, the councilmember stated pointedly that the conversation regarding the ward’s schools needs to change.

“We want people from across the city to come to Ward 7 schools and not for Ward 7 children to go other places,” Gray said, referencing his work on the recently passed budget to get more money for schools in his community.

Afterward, Gray spoke about his signature educational issue: pre-Kindergarten education. When Gray served as the District’s mayor from 2011-2015, he worked to formulate the nation’s first comprehensive pre-Kindergarten education program where three-year-old children start school at taxpayers’ expense.

Gray expressed pride in that achievement and spoke disparagingly of 2020 presidential candidates who want to take credit for his efforts.

“John Hickenlooper, the former governor of Colorado who is now running for president, said he started the first pre-K program in the nation when he was mayor of Denver,” he said. “That’s not true and we are calling him out on it.”

Gray spoke about the need for more police officers in Ward 7 to combat crime and for workforce housing for police officers, firefighters and teachers who work in the District.

Harrell questioned Gray about “when will he pass the baton” so that a younger person can represent the ward. Gray responded that he loved being a public servant and wanted to continue doing so, despite the increased number of young challengers posturing in hopes of taking over his post.

While Veda Rasheed, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for 7E01, has formed an exploratory committee on whether to seek the Ward 7 council seat, Anthony Lorenzo Green, 7C04 commissioner has already declared Gray’s seat.

“Too many times we have leaders that don’t seem to hear them [Ward 7 residents] when they speak, stand up against injustice or be an advocate for solutions to problems that affect us everyday,” Green stated in a post on his Twitter account.

In addition, James Jennings, a political activist in the ward, appears poised to run and Villareal Johnson, a commissioner for 7B05, has been rumored to be interested in as well.

Ambrose Lane Jr., chair of the D.C. Health Alliance Network and a Ward 7 resident, has also been mentioned by political observers as a candidate. There are whispers that former D.C. Councilmember Yvette Alexander, who served on council from 2007-2017, may want a rematch with Gray after losing in 2016.

This post originally appeared in The Washington Informer.

City Government

Sec. of State Shirley Weber Urges All Californians to Vote in Upcoming Recall Election

Weber is California’s first African American Secretary of State and the fifth Black person to serve as a constitutional officer in the state’s 170-year history. She said working as president of the San Diego Board of Education and serving four terms in the state Assembly after that showed her how elected officials can dismiss communities when they know that they don’t vote.

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Election Mail in Ballot at an Official Ballot Drop Box; Photo Courtesy of California Black Media

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber says all registered Californians should vote in the special election to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom. It is scheduled for September 14.

“This is an extremely important election,” said Weber, who said she comes from a family of Arkansas sharecroppers who migrated to California when she was three years old.

“My grandparents on my father’s side never had a chance to vote because they died before 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was passed,” she said. “We understand why it’s important to vote but we also understand what happens to communities when they don’t vote. We have to understand the positives of voting and also the negative impacts of not voting.”

Weber is California’s first African American Secretary of State and the fifth Black person to serve as a constitutional officer in the state’s 170-year history. She said working as president of the San Diego Board of Education and serving four terms in the state Assembly after that showed her how elected officials can dismiss communities when they know that they don’t vote.

Weber was speaking at a news briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services last week. During the virtual news conference, Weber shared details of how her office has been planning for the special elections, including making sure that every Californian will be mailed a ballot. Counties across the state will start sending them out in mid-August.

On the day of the special election, Weber said, polls will open at 7:00 a.m. and close at 8:00 p.m.

Voters will also be able to track their ballots via email or text messages by registering at wheresmyballot.sos.cagov.

Weber said the recall election ballot will ask two questions: Do the voters want to recall Newsom, and if so, who do they want to replace the governor. If 50% or more of voters cast no votes on the first question, Newsom stays on as governor. If 50% or more say yes, then he will be recalled and replaced by one of 46 candidates on the ballot who has the most votes.

Weber said planning the special election has been challenging, but her team has been effective and thorough.

“What I inherited in the Secretary of State’s office is a group of people who really know elections,” Weber told California Black Media.

“I’ve just been in awe of what they do. They have a system and they have it down pat. The last election was a good training ground for them to deal with absentee ballots, ballot boxes, and things that we’ve known would work but could never implement because people were hesitant about it. That is one thing that I know for sure that takes place in the Secretary of State Office: We know elections.”

Along with its elections duties and to safeguard the state’s official documents, including the Constitution and Great Seal, and the state archives, the Secretary of State office also registers businesses, commissions notaries public, and manages state ballot initiatives.

Each of California’s 58 counties oversees its own elections but Weber’s office sets the stage and regulations to ensure the counties have the tools to function properly and efficiently.

Weber meets with each county Voter Registration and Elections office each month. She learned when she took office in January that local election officials have been ahead of the process. Weber said, “this whole reality of elections is their life” and not something that is done one time each year.

“They were prepared for the recall before the recall was called,” Weber said during the virtual news conference.

“They are not the type to sit around and wait until July 1 and jump up and say we have to have an election. They have been preparing all along in terms of staffing, what they would do, and their plans to implement the election,” she added. “They are in the process of setting up voting centers, polls and mailing out the ballots. They know ( the recall election) is coming fast and that it has been an extremely unusual year of election after election.

Weber also provided details to media outlets needed to inform voters: from when to expect mail-in ballots, to the number of candidates, to when the polls will open and close, and the impact of voter turnout.

The budget for the Office of Secretary of State in the 2020-2021 fiscal year was $ 252,722,000. But the recall election has a hefty price tag.

“We are not really sure the total amount,” Weber said. “In the end, it could be close to $400 million and some people say $500 million. Yes, it is an expensive enterprise. It’s a serious one not only in terms of financing.”

Whatever the recall election outcome is in September, Weber said that Californians will have a chance to elect another governor in two years.

“No question. The regular elections move on,” Weber said. “We’ll have the primary election in June (2022) and the general election in November (2022).”

For more voter information about polling places, language preference for election materials and status about mail-in ballots, California voters should visit voterstatus.sos.ca.gov.

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Commentary

On Ishmael Reed’s Inclusion and Van Jones’ Amazon Prime

Complain about the media representation of Oakland all you want. Last week, in the national media, Oakland was portrayed as a great place to live, work, and dine, with restaurants where people come up to your table and greet you like a long-lost neighbor. 

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Ishmael Reed/Photo by Emil Guillermo

Complain about the media representation of Oakland all you want. Last week, in the national media, Oakland was portrayed as a great place to live, work, and dine, with restaurants where people come up to your table and greet you like a long-lost neighbor.

That Oakland. You know it? It’s the backdrop of a profile in the New Yorker magazine on Ishmael Reed, novelist, playwright, poet, and resident of Oakland. Hills? Oh no, the flats. Reed is a jazz guy; He B-flat. 

Hopefully, the joker in Reed laughs at that pun. It’s because of Reed that I am a writer. But let me not forget Flossie Lewis, my high school English teacher, and current Oakland resident. Lewis set me up. Reed delivered the punch.  

I first met Reed in St. Louis, Mo., where he was the “artist in residence” for Washington University’s first Writer’s Program. Intended to become a better Iowa Writers Workshop, it had all white writers like William Gass and Stanley Elkin. Reed was the token-in-resident. I was the token minority grad student. When one writer told me to stop writing about my Filipino family, Reed was there to tell me to put them back in. 

That’s what Ishmael did for me. 

The New Yorker profile published on July 19 compelled me to pull out Reed’s work again. “Mumbo Jumbo” (1972) re-read during the pandemic jumps off the page and is funnier than ever. People coming down with a virus that makes people dance the boogie?  It was a finalist for the National Book Award and considered for the Pulitzer Prize. 

The New Yorker also details Reed’s life with his wife, the dancer/choreographer/director Carla Blank, and their daughter, the poet Tennessee Reed. And you’ll learn how the writing all started–as a jazz columnist in the Black press for the Buffalo Empire Star.

That’s the enduring value of the ethnic media, the Black press, and newspapers like the Oakland Post. It’s still a place where diverse voices can let it all out.  

Asked about his legacy, Reed was simple and humble. “I made American literature more democratic for writers from different backgrounds,” he said. “I was part of that movement to be heard.”

I heard that. 

Van Jones’ $100 Millon Speech

Ishmael Reed is one of the only MacArthur Genius grant winners I know.

But Van Jones is the first winner of the Courage and Civility Award, which he received on July 20. Yes, that Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center. Way before CNN. I hope he remembers how he was a guest on my old New California Media roundtable talk TV show on the ethnic media more than 20 years ago on KCSM-TV. 

Because the Courage and Civility Award is $100 million unattached–from Jeff Bezos.

I wasn’t crazy about Richard Branson’s flight, so you know I’m not out-of-this-world over Bezos’s 63-mile jaunt, which I call the Neo-Space Age’s white flight. You can go beyond the suburbs.
Bezos has been hammered over not paying his taxes, and how spending billions of dollars into space travel during a time of real humanitarian need on Earth is on its face one word–obscene.

To his credit, he did what all rich people of money do when they stretch the limits of tasteful behavior.

They use their money by giving it away. It’s how the Rockefellers, the Fords, the Sacklers, the Mellons, etc., etc., can live with themselves. Albeit, far away from everyone else. Hence, the Courage and Civility Award. 

Jones was gracious about the hun mill gift. 

“I haven’t always been courageous,” said Jones.  “But I know people who are. They get up every day on the frontlines of grassroots communities. They don’t have much. But they’re good people and they fight hard. And they don’t have enough support.”
All true. And then he delivered the penance for Bezos sins.

“Can you imagine,” said Jones. “Grassroots folks from Appalachia, from the Native American reservation, having enough money to be able to connect with the geniuses that disrupted the space industry, disrupted taxis, hotels, and bookstores. Let’s start disrupting poverty. Let’s start disrupting pollution. 

“Start disrupting the $90 billion prison industry together. You take people on the frontlines and their wisdom and their genius and creativity, and you give them a shot. They’re not gonna turn around neighborhoods, they’re gonna turnaround this nation. That’s what’s going to happen.”

Then Jones had this for Bezos. “I appreciate you lifting the ceiling off of people’s dreams,” Jones said, then turned back to us. “Don’t be mad about it when you see somebody reaching for the heavens, be glad to know there’s a lot more heaven to reach for. And we can do that together.”

Bezos’ $100 million doesn’t buy a lot in the space biz. But handing it to Jones? Let’s see the disruptive good it can do on Earth.

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City Government

Mayor London Breed Celebrates Completion of Haight Street Transit Improvement Project

New streetscape design enhances pedestrian safety, activates public spaces, and creates a more vibrant Haight Street corridor

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Haight Ashbury Intersection Photo Courtesy of Robin Jonathan Deutsch

Mayor London N. Breed joined city leaders, merchants, and community members at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 28 to celebrate the completion of the Upper Haight Transit Improvement and Pedestrian Realm Project. The transformative project improves pedestrian safety, enhances transit efficiency, and builds on the neighborhood’s vibrant character.

The two-year, $22.3 million project was based on a community-supported vision to revitalize and improve street safety and public spaces in the historic Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The redesign of Haight Street enables the most significant possible degree of flexibility by reimagining urban spaces that can evolve with the changing demands of the community.

“The Haight has a rich history that attracts tourists and locals alike, and with the completion of this streetscape project, we are making this historic neighborhood more inviting for all,” said Breed. “As we emerge from this pandemic and begin to see our city come alive again, it’s critical that we invest in the cultural vibrancy of our neighborhoods and provide our small businesses with the support they need to help drive our economic recovery.”

The project was designed to incorporate numerous safety features, including new pedestrian-scale lighting, ADA-compliant curb ramps, and expanded bus-boarding areas. The project also replaced the aging sewer system to bolster resiliency, repaved seven blocks of Haight Street between Stanyan Street and Central Avenue, and added new street trees and sidewalks to beautify the neighborhood. Crews performed additional sewer and repaving work on Masonic Avenue between Haight and Waller streets.

“The improvements are a welcome addition to the well-known neighborhood with its trove of independent retail establishments, cafes, and restaurants,” said Sunshine Powers, president of the Haight Street Merchants Association. “This project provides many wonderful enhancements that retain the character of this magnificent, sparkly corridor and will keep us thriving.”

Construction began in September 2018 and continued uninterrupted during San Francisco’s Stay-at-Home Order, which allowed work to continue on essential infrastructure. This project supported more than 130 construction and electrical trade jobs at a time when putting people to work was crucial.

San Francisco Public Works oversaw the design and construction management for the project. Key partners included the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and the Department of Technology.

Through the Office of Economic and Workforce Development’s (OEWD) Construction Mitigation Program, OEWD staff partnered with Public Works to provide small businesses with the necessary support to help minimize construction impacts.

“The redesign and safety enhancements bring much-needed improvements to this historic part of the City. The project serves as a great example of successful collaboration among City agencies in partnership with the community and our elected representatives to enhance neighborhood safety and livability,” said Acting Public Works Director Alaric Degrafinried.

“The changes we see on Haight Street today include a faster travel time for Muni passengers, bringing meaningful improvements to the community as we emerge from the pandemic.” said San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director of Transportation, Jeffrey Tumlin. “The signals are designed to prioritize the 7-Haight– one of our highest ridership lines. Muni is delivering similar projects on most of our lines and we are proud to offer these improvements on Haight Street.”

“This project is another great example of City agencies working together to bring much needed improvements to our communities,” said SFPUC Acting General Manager Michael Carlin. “By upgrading and replacing our aging infrastructure, we are ensuring the safe and reliable delivery of critical sewer services to our customers.”

Funding for the improvements came from various voter-approved sources, including Proposition K sales tax revenue, the 2011 Roadway Improvement and Street Safety Bond, and the 2014 San Francisco Transportation and Road Improvement Bond. Additional funding sources included the City’s General Fund, Prop AA Grant, and Wastewater Enterprise Renewal and Replacement Funds.

“The Transportation Authority is proud to provide transportation sales tax and other funds for this project, which began with the community’s advocacy for safety and streetscape improvements along Haight Street,” said Transportation Authority Executive Director Tilly Chang. “The new traffic signals, pedestrian scale lighting, bulb-outs and curb ramps will enhance community access for the neighborhood and help achieve San Francisco’s citywide Vision Zero goal as well.”

Additional project information is available at www.sfpublicworks.org/upper-haight.

This report is courtesy of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Communications. 

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