• Print Page

Legal Happenings

At Meet the Press Roundtable, Journalists Recap Latest D.C. Elections

June 11, 2024

By Jeremy Conrad

Denise Rolark Barnes, Tom Sherwood, Michael Brice-Saddler, Julia Karron, and Mitch Ryals
From left to right: Denise Rolark Barnes, Tom Sherwood, Michael Brice-Saddler, Julia Karron, and Mitch Ryals

On June 6, days after the District’s Democratic primary elections, the D.C. Bar gathered a group of area journalists to discuss recent developments in local politics at the 16th annual “Meet the Press” roundtable hosted by the Bar’s District of Columbia Affairs Community.

Moderated by Communities Committee member James S. Bubar, the panel discussion featured Mitch Ryals and Tom Sherwood of the Washington City Paper; Michael Brice-Saddler of the Washington Post, Julia Karron of the podcast City Cast DC; and Denise Rolark Barnes of The Washington Informer.

Ryals, Washington City Paper managing editor, said the incumbent sweep in the recent races was expected. “In my mind, the only upset may have been in the shadow senator race between Eugene Kinlow and Ankit Jain. Kinlow has a fairly extensive history in D.C. politics, working with [Mayor] Muriel Bowser for many years and on D.C. statehood initiatives, and Jain is a relative newcomer, so he beat the guy with name recognition,” Ryals said.

Brice-Saddler wondered whether the outcome was voters’ response to the question of whether D.C. Council had addressed appropriately the surge in violent crime in the city in 2023. “If you look at issues, specifically the crime and the public safety concerns that we had last year, the conventional wisdom might say that voters are going to look at the individuals who are in the office right now and say, maybe we want to go with someone different because our councilmembers are not responding to this issue in the way that we want. And we see that in some of the recall efforts that are taking place in races that were not on the ballot this year,” he said.

“However, the incumbents won so handily across the board, [so] it does make you think: Are our residents really blaming their councilmembers for crime? And that is an interesting dialogue in the context of the recall efforts that are going on,” Brice-Saddler added.

The panelists also discussed the closely watched Ward 7 primary election. Ward 7 houses the RFK Stadium site, and the election was effectively a referendum on the candidates’ differing visions for the stadium’s planned redevelopment, said Karron, interim executive producer of City Cast DC.

Ward 7 Advisory Neighborhood Commission chair Wendell Felder, who has promised to establish an RFK task force if elected and pursue the creation of an NFL stadium at the site if the community wants one, emerged as winner against Ebony Payne and Eboni-Rose Thompson, who opposed the creation of a new stadium.

Meanwhile, Councilmember-at-Large Robert White handily won his reelection effort, setting the stage for a potential run for mayor next year.

“Robert White has been on the ballot five times in 10 years,” said Washington City Paper’s Sherwood. “Sometime this time next year, he will announce his campaign for mayor in 2026. The question is whether someone like Kenyan McDuffie will come into that race.”

Rolark Barnes, publisher of The Washington Informer, expressed disappointment in the dismal turnout. “The city did not come out to vote … and it really disturbs me to see where D.C. is headed, particularly as we have a presidential election looming over us and further threats to our democracy, not only in the nation, but particularly in the District of Columbia,” she said.

Rolark Barnes pointed out that in Ward 8, for example, some 6,000 new voters have been added to the rolls but only about 4,000 people turned out to vote. “So, even with those newly registered voters, there was no real interest in participating in this primary,” she said. “I woke up in a really bad mood. Not that I opposed the incumbent — I can’t do that — but it was just the numbers.”

Downtown redevelopment plans also received a significant amount of discussion among the panelists. Karron said that at times she felt that her podcast, which focuses on local politics, had turned into a commercial real estate podcast. “There is data estimating that D.C., of all the states — in that data point they call us a state — has the most conversions of anywhere. It’s doing it the fastest. So, I think the question is, are there incentives to add affordable housing if you try to convert some of these commercial units downtown?” Karron said.

Sherwood said there have been prior efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing units in the city. “I spoke to the administration about this,” he said. “At one point the mayor was putting $500 million into affordable housing a year. She had to cut it back this year because of the budget.”

“A billion dollars-plus [later] that we put into affordable housing, show me the houses,” Sherwood said.