GW Hosts Candidates Forum for Ward 7 D.C. Council Seat

Ten people seeking to succeed retiring Council member Vincent Gray, B.A. ’64, answered questions at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church.

May 7, 2024

Ward 7 candidates forum at Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church

Ten candidates participated in the forum at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Ward 7. (William Atkins/GW Today)

George Washington University and community organizations hosted a forum for candidates running for the D.C. Council from Ward 7, a seat currently held by Vincent Gray, B.A. ’64, a former D.C. mayor who is retiring at the end of his term this year.

Ten candidates participated in the forum held at Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church on April 29, which was co-hosted by the League of Women Voters DC, the Federal City Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the Anacostia Coordinating Council. The event provided District voters an opportunity to hear the candidates’ priorities and positions on important issues facing D.C. More than 200 people attended the session, with another 600 viewing the online stream on YouTube and Facebook. The forum also will be shown at local D.C. Department of Corrections facilities for incarcerated citizens to get informed ahead of the June 4 primaries.

“George Washington University has a longstanding partnership with Ward 7 and esteemed council member, former D.C. mayor and proud GW alumnus, Vincent Gray,” said Kevin Days, GW’s director of community relations. Days mentioned the university’s involvement with the new Cedar Hill Regional Medical Center, GW Health, which will deliver high-quality, comprehensive healthcare services to the citizens in wards 7 and 8 once it opens in 2025.  “This partnership has created high impact projects and activities. [The forum and new hospital] represent a great example of how when we work together, we can do great things to make D.C. an even better place to live, to work and learn in.”

Most of Ward 7 falls east of the Anacostia River, its hills rising above the center of the city. The ward is comprised of neighborhoods with leafy streets, single-family homes ranging from bungalows to newly developed townhouses to grand dwellings and large public housing projects. Its neighborhoods include Deanwood, Hillcrest, the corridors of Benning Road and Pennsylvania Avenue in Southeast, as well as Lincoln Heights, River Terrace and Kingman Park.

For Ward 7 residents going into the June 4 primary, concerns mirror those in other parts of the District. Rising crime, health care disparities, falling post-COVID 19 education test scores for students, and a lack of basic services and quality-of-life amenities such as restaurants and shopping. Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Keith Alexander, from The Washington Post, moderated the forum.

Candidates present were:

  • Wendell Felder, the director of local and regional affairs at Howard University, a current four-term advisory neighborhood council (ANC) commissioner and former community liaison in the mayor’s office
  • Roscoe Grant Jr., a workers' right advocate and former union president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 631
  • Nate Fleming, a private attorney who has served as a council member’s legislative director
  • Eboni-Rose Thompson, Ward 7 representative on the State Board of Education and a three-time ANC commissioner
  • Denise Reed, who is retired from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency and has served as chief of staff and communications director for three council members and as a former ANC commissioner
  • Ebony Payne, a business owner and ANC commissioner
  • Veda Rasheed, an attorney in private practice and a former ANC commissioner
  • Ebbon Allen, a teacher, community advocate and former ANC commissioner
  • Kelvin Brown, a Fannie Mae executive, ANC commissioner, Army veteran and former schoolteacher
  • Villareal “VJ” Johnson II, a management training consultant, vice president of the Hillcrest Community Civic Association and a five-term ANC commissioner

Keith Alexander of The Washington Post moderated the candidates forum.
Keith Alexander of The Washington Post moderated the forum at The Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Ward 7. (William Atkins/GW Today)

Every candidate mentioned public safety as a priority, some noting a rash of carjackings often involving teenagers. Alexander asked candidates what they thought the city should do about its crime problem. Felder proposed “an expansion of the police cadet program” and suggested enlisting universities such as Howard and GW to train cadets who join the police department with a five-year commitment of service to the city. That would also qualify the cadets for the city’s first-time home buyer’s program.

Education was another hot topic of the evening. Grant wants to bring back vocational training to the schools. “Not everyone is going to go to college,” he said. He also urged more support for an increase in teachers’ pay. Fleming said the key to education is to start early. “[Programs] like Bard Early College High School, the only selective high school, which I brought to Southeast, where students in four years not only earn their high school diploma, but they also have two years of college and an associate degree. Thompson thinks the city needs to take a closer look at its budget. “I’m very invested in making sure all of our schools are fully funded, not just the per pupil allocations and their share of at-risk funds but are also fully modernized to make sure we have quality programming in all of our schools across the spectrum,” Thompson said.

When the issue around health care disparities for residents east of the Anacostia River came up, Reed noted too many residents are unfamiliar with the many available resources. “There’s a stigma attached to health problems in the community,” Reed said. “We need to engage the professionals in our community who may gain more trust of our neighbors who have misgivings so they can find out what’s available such as mammogram services for women, healthy child services.”

Payne said a lack of healthy food options in parts of the city is an underlying cause of health disparities, while Rasheed said she would build on improvements already started by Council member Gray. “We just opened Cedar Hill Care Center,” Rasheed said. “I would make sure we have more access to health care here, that our women have more access to doulas (in childbirth) and not just any health care, we deserve quality care in Ward 7.”

Regarding transportation, Allen said the city’s limited streetcar service along H Street NE and the elimination of the downtown Circulator bus are not the answers.  “We have to meet with the CEO of WMATA to talk about these budget cuts and fare increases and make sure our seniors have assistance to ride the buses and the trains,” he said. “Also let’s talk about safety. Our Metro station is probably one of the most violent Metro stations in Washington, D.C. We have to make sure our passengers feel safe. A lot of our students commute from east of the river to the west, young people as young as 5 to 7 years old.”

Near the end of the forum, Alexander asked candidates, using the lens of racial equity, to talk about their priorities for economic development. Brown expressed his interest in providing tax breaks to small business owners. “As a small business owner, right now, it seems very punitive. When you start there’s a $400 tax to incorporate, another $400 for a biannual report fee. I want to waive those through legislation to make sure that a viable small business owner for the first five years pays no business taxes.”

Johnson focused District-wide on what development equity means, saying that other wards in the city must have a fair share of affordable housing. “Ward 7 has absorbed 220 percent of the goal for affordable housing,” he said, “while Ward 3 has only absorbed 3 percent. If we’re going to talk about wealth creation, using home ownership as an opportunity to sustain communities, to pass generational wealth on, to have an enhanced quality of life, we need to share not just the good but the bad across the wards.”

Forum organizers reminded those in attendance the importance of making a voting plan, including how, when and where to vote. The Democratic and Republican primaries for local offices are on June 4, though early voting starts before then with many ways to vote in person and by mail. You can learn more at