Voters place ballots in the straw poll that followed the Ward 7 Democrats’ Council candidate forum on March 23. (Robert R. Roberts/The ϰſ Informer)

NOTE: This article was updated at 7:47 am on March 28, 2024 to reflect that Wendell Felder took a leave of absence, not resigned, from the chairmanship of the Ward 7 Democrats.

On Saturday, March 23, the tallied more than 300 votes in a straw poll that followed what, at times, became a contentious Ward 7 D.C. Council candidate forum. 

In the end, , and secured the top three spots with 126 votes, 81 votes, and 47 votes respectively. More than half of the respondents who converged on in Southeast also expressed their desire for the Ward 7 Democrats to endorse a candidate.  

While Felder relished in the victory, he maintained an even-keeled mood the next day as he and campaign volunteers knocked on doors throughout Kingman Park, the stomping grounds of , a Ward 7 D.C. Council candidate who placed fourth in the straw poll. 

“With such a crowded race, everything that shows a separation from the pack is good,” Felder told The Informer. “I think that we’re one step in the right direction but much work needs to be done,” he continued. “We want to get in front of residents, hear their concerns and come up with a collective vision that moves Ward 7 forward.”

In December, Felder announced his candidacy for the Ward 7 D.C. Council seat while in his capacity as president of the Ward 7 Democrats. He took a leave of absence from his role weeks later, citing a need to avoid accusations of impropriety.

By the time Felder did so, D.C. Councilmember Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) had already announced that he wouldn’t seek reelection. Since that announcement, the field of candidates expanded from five to a dozen.

On Saturday, the Ward 7 Democrats split the candidate forum into two parts. 

The first forum was scheduled to feature , , , and   while the second forum featured Felder, Thompson, Rasheed, Payne, , and . 

Grant didn’t attend Saturday’s event. He secured no votes in the straw poll. 

Meanwhile, Brown placed fifth with 18 votes while Johnson placed sixth with 9 votes. Reed, Fleming, Deloatch, and Allen secured 8 votes, 5, votes, 3 votes, and 1 vote respectively. 

Felder Shares Platform on Prosperous Future

On Saturday, Felder, whose political experience also includes stints as an advisory neighborhood commissioner, told voters he wanted to shape a prosperous future for Ward 7 via public safety, economic growth, quality schools, and senior wellbeing. 

Candidate Wendell Felder speaks at the Ward 7 Democrats D.C. Council candidate forum on March 23. He later secured the top spot of the straw poll with 126 votes. (Robert R. Roberts/The ϰſ Informer)

During the forum, Felder told ϰſ Informer reporter and moderator James Wright, Jr. that he would like to sit on the council’s Committee on Business and Economic Development if elected. He  pledged to form a task force dedicated to boosting economic development and touted home ownership as a pathway to economic mobility. 

Felder’s other focus areas included the launch of an application high school in Ward 7 and the inclusion of the violence interrupter program into the Executive Office of the Mayor. Felder also expressed a desire to ease security officers’ transition into the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and help police cadets navigate the Home Purchase Assistance Program (HPAP). 

As it relates to Metro’s anticipated budget shortfall, Felder pledged to conduct monthly meetings with ϰſ Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) General Manager Randy Clarke and add a bus stop near Kingman Park. 

In what became one of the forum’s more intense moments, Felder questioned Payne about whether out-of-towners represented the majority of her campaign funding sources. He followed up with a question about how Payne was able to purchase what some describe as expensive campaign mailers, robocalls and commercials that aired on a major cable television network.

Felder, later speaking to The Informer, said that the aforementioned inquiries highlight the question of  Payne’s ability to maintain transparency and truly represent Ward 7 residents’ interests. 

“Residents need to know where money is coming from,” Felder said. “Ebony’s had five mailers. She’s sent out several text messages. She also has more than 1,000 yard signs in public spaces. She’s had several commercials. None of that’s been reported on her finances.” 

Payne, Brown Question Validity of Straw Poll Results 

filed with D.C. Office of Campaign Finance show that Thompson has $126,625 on hand, while Felder has $102,676. Payne has $116,000 and Rasheed has $104,475. Brown has $76,825 and Fleming has $49,055. 

During that filing period, Payne had $33,007 in non-D.C. resident contributions compared to $20,028 in contributions from D.C. residents. 

Ward 7 D.C. Council candidate Ebony Payne disregarded the straw poll results and questioned Wendell Felder’s viability as a candidate. (Robert R. Roberts/The ϰſ Infomer)

At the candidate forum, Payne cited her more than a dozen congressional endorsements, much to the chagrin of some residents seeking more evidence of grassroots support within Ward 7. However, she  continues to maintain that she has support within the ward, citing the “positivity and warmth” she received from voters eager to learn about her platform. 

“We’ve raised just as much money from D.C. donors just as other candidates and we maximized our networks outside of D.C.,” Payne said. “We’re following laws and regulations and everyone will see the campaign expenses on the next report. We’re filing the expenses as they come up.”

Payne, who likened this stage of the race to the final four of March Madness, attributed her fourth place showing in the straw poll to what she described as Felder’s strong influence within the Ward 7 Democrats. She still went on to question Felder’s viability as a candidate. 

“If anything, the amount of effort and resources that Wendell had put into winning that straw poll and only winning 36% of an organization that he chaired for years shows an underlying weakness,” Payne said. 

Like Payne, Brown said the straw poll results didn’t provide an accurate picture of the Ward 7 council race.  While speaking to The Informer, he questioned its significance, pointing out that the 333 votes gathered are a far cry from the total number of Ward 7’s Democratic voters.  

Not long after the straw poll, Brown and members of his campaign team canvased the Ward 7 community to engage an electorate he said wasn’t represented within the Ward 7 Democrats organization.

Kelvin Brown told The Informer that he’s taking his message to voters that are beyond the Ward 7 Democrats’ sphere of influence. (Robert R. Roberts/The ϰſ Informer)

 “You find the real sentiments of the community when you knock on doors,” Brown said. “A couple of neighbors had my opponents’ signs in their yard. They said they appreciated my honesty and transparency. They had additional questions [but] said they would cast a vote for me.” 

Brown, currently serving as advisory neighborhood commissioner of Single-Member District 7B06, has several years of experience in the housing and education sector. He said he’s running to improve the Ward 7 community and provide leadership that tackles lack of education funding, unaffordable housing and other quality of life issues. 

One of his priorities, as explained to voters on Saturday, includes the elimination of property taxes for seniors and veterans. 

When it comes to education, Brown expressed his support for school resource officers. He also said that he wanted to assess the underlying causes of truancy and see to it that schools provide better quality of wraparounds services for the students with the greatest need. 

Family engagement, he said, counted as a public safety issue and a matter of transparency. He also touted vocational education as a viable pathway to economic stability for Ward 7 residents. 

Fulfilling these goals, Brown said to voters on Saturday, requires some honesty about D.C.’s precarious financial situation. He didn’t shy away from telling those in attendance at Ryland Epworth United Methodist Church that the District’s budget shortfall might prevent elected officials from fulfilling lofty goals. 

“Time after time, we had politicians who came in and promised the world to our residents and underdeliver. That leads to disenfranchisement, failed  voter sentiment and low morale,” Brown told The Informer. 

“I’m a man of integrity and I’m not going to do anything to besmirch my integrity and character,” Brown continued. “I’m going to tell the truth, explain what we can potentially do, and the limitations of a council member in their ability to push and fund policy. Voters need to know that.” 

Last November, Payne launched her campaign with a focus on public safety, food insecurity, education and economic development. Her vision for public safety involves investments in D.C. ‘s police cadet program and the hiring of more Black female office officers while ensuring police accountability. 

Payne counted among several candidates on Saturday who criticized D.C. Department of Transportation for what’s been described as its lack of community engagement. She also decried D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s efforts to attract the ϰſ Commanders back to the District with a stadium, later telling The Informer that other candidates have been following her lead in their opposition. 

As it relates to Ward 7 unity, Payne said that she never grew up with a negative connotation of the ward and she stands prepared to bring communities together around what she believes to be a significant cause.

 “I see a unique opportunity to really focus on how to get more grocery stores, get better food access and further ingredients into our grocery stores,” Payne said. “Just to improve the overall food shopping experience. I want to support small business owners, work with developers to make sure we’re holding them accountable and that these grocery stores are part of their development plan… That’s ultimately what I want to achieve.” 

Ward 7 Democrats Leadership Respond to Concerns about Felder’s Influence, Straw Poll Results 

Dr. Delia Houseal, interim chairwoman of the Ward 7 Democrats, said the organization’s leadership will engage in deliberations about an endorsement, as willed by the straw poll voters. 

Dr. Delia Houseal, interim chairwoman of the Ward 7 Democrats (Robert R. Roberts/The ϰſ Informer)

Houseal outlined a process she said safeguards against “undue influence.” She told The Informer that no Ward 7 council candidates participated in the planning of the candidate forum and straw poll. She also noted that the D.C. Democratic Party, not the Ward 7 Democrats, oversaw the execution of the straw poll. 

The planning committee for Saturday’s event, Houseal said, included executive committee members and members of the public who expressed interest via the submission of a form. The committee convened for more than a month, during which it kept the Ward 7 Democrats leadership and general public abreast of updates during scheduled meetings. 

Each candidate simultaneously received information about the straw poll, Houseal said. She went on to note that the “diverse composition of participants” in the straw poll ensured a diverse base of support that would be attracted to the candidate forum. 

As it relates to Felder’s influence within the Ward 7 Democrats, Houseal said that Felder took a leave of absence from the chairmanship, despite the nonexistence of rules in the bylaws about organizational leaders running for elected office. 

Opposition to Felder’s decision, Houseal added, came from executive committee members who pointed out that D.C. Councilmember Gray and Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) continued serving as chairman of their Democratic organizations while running for office. He, however, remained steadfast in his decision, she told The Informer. 

“This choice was the result of extensive deliberation with [Felder’s] advisors, driven by his determination to prevent his campaign from overshadowing the organization’s core mission,” Houseal  said. “Our mission focuses on actively contributing to the growth and influence of the Democratic Party within our community, increasing Democratic party membership and voter participation in Ward 7, and fostering a more engaged and informed electorate.” 

Thompson Gives Call for Ward 7 Unity 

On Saturday, Payne elicited a range of emotions among voters at Ryland Epworth United Methodist Church when she targeted “lazy politicians” who produce “mediocre results” in her closing remarks. 

Moments later, Thompson later drew a contrast between herself and Payne by expressing her commitment to unity, telling voters that long after the end of the election season, all the candidates and constituents will continue working together to advance Ward 7’s interests. 

Eboni-Rose Thompson commmitted to unity during the Ward 7 Democrats’ candidate forum and straw poll on March 23, 2024. (Robert R. Roberts/The ϰſ Informer)

During the forum, Thompson touted her work on the state board to expand D.C.’s safe passage program, address truancy and chronic absenteeism, modernize Ward 7 recreation centers and school, and pass financial literacy education standards. 

When it came to economic development, Thompson outlined a strategy that included investments in educational pathways, balancing housing and development, and full investment in HPAP. She later pointed out her knowledge of what a council member could and couldn’t do for District schools, all while pledging to work with the mayor to increase teacher retention. 

In speaking about public safety, Thompson said she wanted to facilitate a partnership between MPD and District schools to strengthen the police cadet pipeline. She also cited lack of youth-focused activities as a key driver of youth crime. 

Thompson later told Wright that she wants a council committee assignment in education, youth services, and economic development. In an email to The Informer, Thompson articulated a vision focused on constituents of all ages. 

“As council member, I’m committed to making sure Ward 7 gets its fair share in the budget and good city services,” Thompson said. “From public safety to recreation to clean streets and more, while capitalizing on opportunities like Capitol Gateway, Reservation 13, Fletcher-Johnson and RFK, we can bring much needed amenities, housing and services our young people, families and seniors need.” 

Rasheed, Allen Position Themselves as Grassroots Candidates 

Rasheed set herself apart as the only candidate who’s the mother of a school-aged child. She mentioned her work, which included an anti-violence rally in the aftermath of a bullet flying into her child’s school, KIPP DC LEAP Academy on Benning Road in Southeast, during a nearby shooting in 2016. 

If elected, Rasheed has her eyes on the economic development and public safety committee assignments. She counts expansion of vocational schools, community development organizations, HPAP funding, and what she calls “whole economic development” among her priorities. 

Veda Rasheed has her eyes on the economic development and public safety committee assignments. (Robert R. Roberts/The ϰſ Informer)

As it relates to education, Rasheed emphasized to Ward 7 residents on Saturday the need for greater investments in Ward 7 teachers and school infrastructure. She also spoke favorably about safe passage, support of Ward 7 families through out-of-school time programming, and further investments in Office of the Attorney General’s Cure The Streets violence interrupter program. 

Community members responded favorably to Rasheed’s insistence on the development of a comprehensive transportation plan to mitigate gridlock and slow emergency response. In speaking with The Informer, Rasheed said that residents came to better understand her vision. 

“I shared what was important to me and what I heard from community members when I engaged with them,” Rasheed said. “We have to work with each other and many of us have. We have many communities and we want the best representation.” 

Rasheed went on to say that representation proved most important for young people, who bear the brunt of Ward 7’s public safety and economic woes.

“I don’t want our young people to wait and be reactionary,” she told The Informer. “We have to show up early on. That’s why I’m committed to this community. I’m running because I can do the job, not because I need a job.” 

On Saturday, Allen focused on his experience as an advisory neighborhood commissioner, through which he had been able to bring Public Safety Day to Benning Park and secure the Woody Ward Recreation Center and 15 units of housing.  

Ebbon Allen has identified housing insecurity as a focal point for his campaign. (Robert R. Roberts/The ϰſ Informer)

To that end, Allen has identified housing insecurity as a focal point for his campaign. 

When it comes to education, Allen expressed a desire to bring a STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) middle school to Ward 7. He called it a matter of “legacy building.” He said that the increase in specialized program offerings, along with parent engagement and a stronger safe passage program, would better attract Ward 7 families to their neighborhood public schools. 

In the realm of public safety, Allen emphasized the need for partnerships between violence interrupters, grassroots organizations and middle schools. He also said that he wanted to work with MPD to better facilitate safe passage. 

A couple days after the straw poll, Allen said he’s more emboldened to differentiate himself as a candidate, especially as it relates to public safety and recreation, what he sees as two deeply connected issues. 

“It’s more motivation to connect with more voters throughout the ward and make sure they know who I am,” Allen said. “A lot of folks have seen my literature and seen my knocking on doors. It’s good that the community can see my vision and what I can do to represent the ward.” 

Allen told The Informeer that recreation centers must be more involved and supported in their efforts to curb youth violence. He also touted the need for further engagement of young people during the election season, primarily through civic engagement coursework and outreach to local schools and institutions that young people frequent. 

“We have to reach out to our schools and build more relationships with our recreation centers,” Allen said. “We have to educate our youth about civic engagement. The earlier we can educate them, the earlier they’ll be active [as] young leaders.” 

Villareal “VJ” Johnson, Jr. Assumes Role as Elder Community Leader  

During the forum, Johnson said he wanted to engage and be accountable as Ward 7 council member. He touted his 20 years of community leadership, including stints as a precinct captain, advisory neighborhood commissioner, and president of the Hillcrest Community Civic Association. 

Villareal “VJ” Johnson, Jr. has 20 years of community leadership, including stints as a precinct captain, advisory neighborhood commissioner, and president of the Hillcrest Community Civic Association. (Robert R. Roberts/The ϰſ Informer)

If elected, he counted among his greatest priorities moving along ongoing development projects in Deanwood, Fletcher-Johnson, and Capital Gateway to the finish line. 

As it relates to education, Johnson focused on bolstering support for parents, grandparents, and siblings who serve as caregivers, telling audience members that children need to be in nurturing environments before entering school. 

To that end, Johnson also pledged to further support D.C.’s Birth-to-Three program. He also expressed a desire to instill positive values into young people and expand mentoring opportunities. 

Johnson later told Wright that, as council member, he would seek a committee assignment related to government operations. He later responded to a question about Metro’s budget shortfall with a demand that Maryland and Virginia pay an equal share of the expenses. 

When asked about rat abatement and the environment, Johnson spoke about accountability for restaurants and suggested that they receive resources to curb rodent infestation. 

Since entering the race, Johnson has positioned himself as the experienced elder in the field of candidates. That experience, he said, started as an organizer of block parties and events and youth advocacy that snowballed into leadership in his advisory neighborhood commission.  

Johnson also touted his leadership of Hillcrest, particularly as it relates to what he described as his role in the development of Skyland Town Center. While he expressed his respect for the other candidates, Johnson emphasized his seniority and ability to reproduce results in other parts of Ward 7. 

Not long after entering the race earlier this year, Johnson told The Informer that his balanced viewpoints would better serve Ward 7 during its transition in leadership. 

“It’s impossible for a 30-something to have control of something so complex,” Johnson said. “I don’t hear the millennials talking about Ward 7 the way I have done. I can talk about where I land to transform communities and lighten the burden. I am the best person for government work.” 

Denise Reed Stands as Custodian of D.C. Government History 

Similarly, Reed emphasized that her decades of government experience have prepared and qualified her to represent Ward 7 residents on the D.C. Council. 

Denise Reed retired from the Court Services & Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) in January to run in the Ward 7 D.C. Council race. (Robert R. Roberts/The ϰſ Informer)

In her candidacy, she’s prioritizing public safety, healthcare, economic development and housing. 

In January, Reed retired from the Court Services & Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) to run in the Ward 7 D.C. Council race. Her D.C. government experience includes stints as Ward 7 D.C. Councilmember Kevin Chavous’ chief of staff and a communications director for D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke, Chairwoman Linda Cropp, and Chairman Vincent C. Gray.  

She told The Informer that those experiences have familiarized her with the oversight process designed to hold agencies more accountable to D.C. residents. 

Reed also served as a public information officer under then-D.C. Chief Financial Officer Anthony Williams, the late Peggy Cooper Cafritz at the school board, and D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services under Chiefs Ronnie Few and Adrian H. Thompson. 

In 2010, she was elected as a Ward 7 Democratic Party committee woman. She served as an Obama delegate in 2012 and became national committeewoman of the D.C. Democratic Party in 2022. 

During the candidate forum, Reed told residents that she wants to better connect returning citizens to employment opportunities and resources during quarterly fairs that take place within different pockets of the Ward 7 community. 

Those events, she said, would build off of similar work she’s done in CSOSA’s intergovernmental and community affairs office. 

When it came to education and public safety, Reed placed the onus on parents to review homework and involve their children in extracurricular activities. A day prior, while speaking to The Informer, Reed said that the council, regardless of who’s mayor, needs more authority over the school system to improve infrastructure and secure more resources for teachers. 

One resource Reed emphasized was mental health support, which she said she would like to see increased via better collaboration between D.C. Public Schools and D.C. Department of Behavioral Health to meet students’ and families’ needs.

She said that she stands ready to navigate the legislative process and leverage longstanding relationships within the John A. Wilson Building to pass legislation that makes Ward 7 better in that regard. 

“I worked behind the scenes for years and, as a result, I know how the council works,” Reed said. “I don’t need on-the-job training as I can see with the other candidates.”

Reed explained why she feels she’s perfect for the position.

“It would be a great disservice to sit on the sidelines and watch this race without jumping in, knowing that I’m fully qualified. I’m not in it to build my career or for self-aggrandizement,” she said. “It’s purely because I’m more than qualified to do it.” 

Deloatch Focuses on Education and Workforce Development 

Deloatch, an 18-year resident of Ward 7 and alumnus of in Northeast, counts economic development, housing and education among his priorities as a Ward 7 D.C. Council candidate. 

Dwight Deloatch, Jr. has served on the D.C. Public Charter School Board’s parent and alumni leadership council, where he proposed solutions to improve the District’s charter schools. (Robert R. Roberts/The ϰſ Informer)

If elected, Deloatch’s ideal committee assignment is business and economic development. 

On Saturday, Deloatch touted his experience creating jobs for residents, including in partnership with . He told voters that, as council member, he would facilitate the creation of a workforce pipeline for non-college bound students. He went on to center investment in early childcare and mentoring programs and family development as viable responses to chronic absenteeism and low academic achievement. 

As it relates to public safety, Deloatch pledged to address the underlying causes of violence more so than focus on punitive measures. He pointed out the need for improving community policing and coordination. He also suggested opportunities for juvenile record expungement through community service — what he called Project Redemption. 

Deloatch’s council run follows stints on the ’s parent and alumni leadership council, where he proposed solutions to improve the District’s charter schools. 

During the pandemic, he served as a Ward 7 family support worker, helping clients apply for emergency rental assistance and utility assistance, all while handling negotiations between landlords and tenants. 

He said he wants to bring a similar spirit of collaboration to the Ward 7 D.C. Council seat. 

“I want to lean in and make sure all residents have resources,” Deloatch said. “You have to lean in and make sure you’re fighting for your ward. It’s about stepping in and making sure your voice is heard on behalf of Ward 7 constituents.” 

Nate Fleming Emphasizes Importance of Community Power 

On Saturday, Fleming told residents that he had the experience needed to get Ward 7 “more than its fair share.” 

Ward 7 D.C. Council candidate Nate Fleming has served as D.C.’s shadow representative, D.C. Council legislative director in Ward 8 D.C. Councilmember Trayon White’s office, and director of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Recreation, Libraries and Youth Affairs.  (Robert R. Roberts/The ϰſ Informer)

Fleming’s council run follows stints as D.C.’s shadow representative, D.C. Council legislative director in Ward 8 D.C. Councilmember Trayon White’s office, and director of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Recreation, Libraries and Youth Affairs. 

As a legislative director, Fleming helped bring to Southeast. 

He also noted that he played a part in the restoration of Fiscal Year 2020 funding to Ward 7 and 8 schools by authoring legislation that permanently increased funding for schools with an at-risk student population. Pandemic-era legislation he wrote included an eviction moratorium and further investment in mental health resources for Ward 7 and Ward 8 schools via an increase in the estate tax. 

On the statehood front, Fleming explained that in his capacity as shadow representative, he helped lay the foundation for the D.C. statehood bill’s passage in the House of Representatives. Fleming also touted his authoring of legislation that funded the , through which entrepreneurs in Wards 7 and 8 receive financial and technical assistance for their ventures. 

Fleming told The Informer that, if elected, he wants to push for a standalone education committee. He also expressed a desire to sit on the labor and workforce and judiciary and public safety committees. 

On Saturday, Fleming told voters at Ryland Epworth United Methodist Church that he wants to secure investments for Ward 7 entrepreneurs, year-round youth employment with substantially higher pay, and guaranteed employment for young adults. Other priorities include bolstering early childcare programs, expanding literacy and bringing application middle and high schools to Ward 7.  

In the face of Metro’s budget shortfall, Fleming said he wanted to fund a subsidized fare program intended to stem fare evasion. He also emphasized the need to maintain the vast parkland in Ward 7. 

These goals, he said, can’t be fulfilled without mobilization of the Ward 7 community.

“We have a disconnected community that hasn’t really been engaged and empowered to have the information that’s needed for people to advance their goals,” Fleming said.

To expand the capacity of community organizations, Fleming pledged to create an outreach team that spreads the word about programs and services. He also expressed a desire to increase coordination between nonprofits that provide services.

 These efforts, he told The Informer, would go a long way in unifying Ward 7. 

“The council member’s role is to create the environment for our residents to get off the sidelines and participate in the advancement and development of the community,” Fleming said. “We’re taking the first step to build that community power by meeting residents at the door.” 

Sam P.K. Collins has nearly 20 years of journalism experience, a significant portion of which he gained at The ϰſ Informer. On any given day, he can be found piecing together a story, conducting...

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  1. Great article! Hope voters can really take a closer look at Denise Reed. She is the logical next step forward in representing this ward.

  2. This article is excellent. Much appreciation for this piece that even includes your following up with candidates to gather more information about the ideas they expressed at the forum. This has helped me tremendously in thinking through which candidate to support.

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