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Who will win the intense political fight to represent Ward 4 on the DC Council?

“The current political landscape has witnessed a growing influence of national and local interest groups, often overshadowing the voices and concerns of our own community members … and those impacted by crime, pain, and fear,” Lisa Gore wrote in a letter announcing her decision to run against Ward 4 DC Councilmember Janeese Lewis George in the June 4 Democratic primary.

“We cannot afford another four years of representation that prioritizes broader agendas over our immediate needs,” added Gore, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Chevy Chase/Hawthorne, who touted among her qualifications experience in housing and 27 years in federal law enforcement.

Paul Johnson, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner and current Ward 4 Democratic Committeeman who lives in Petworth with his wife and daughter, is also seeking to unseat the incumbent. He said he was compelled to run because the ward needs leadership that is “less strident, less doctrinaire, and more pragmatic and focused on solving problems.”

“What I was hearing were platitudes and a lot of empty rhetoric and not the will or perhaps ability to work together to solve problems with the stakeholders as they exist, whether they be in the public sector or the private sector. I didn’t see myself represented or my neighbors represented,” Johnson, a former investment banker and municipal finance expert, said during an extensive interview with me last month via Zoom.

The candidates and most of the Ward 4 residents with whom I spoke over the past few weeks complained that Lewis George has shown poor leadership and offered spotty constituent services. They painted a portrait of an elected official who is inaccessible to large swaths of the community; who has been inattentive to constituent service calls; who has turned a blind eye to the need for more economic development in the ward; who has elevated issues and policies irrelevant to most of her constituents; and whose votes in the legislature, including on public safety, represent her personal preferences as a democratic socialist — not those of many of the people she represents. 

Neither Lewis George nor any representative from her campaign spoke with me — although I made at least five requests: via telephone calls; DMs to her X account; and emails to her council office, through the campaign’s media link, and to Shannon Talbert, the contact person on the candidate list posted on the DC Board of Elections website. I also emailed Alex Dodds, the communications director for Lewis George’s council office, to reschedule an initial appointment. I received no replies. 

I can take a hint. However, residents’ voices and leadership choices are important enough to proceed here, with or without a chance to interview the incumbent. 

Elections matter. Politicians chosen through that process should be held accountable for their actions — or inactions.

“There are so many things where the ball was dropped,” Jocelynn Johnson, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner and chair of the Ward 4 Mini-Commission on Aging, recently told me. Johnson took multiple issues — including discriminatory on-street handicapped parking practices, sloppy trash collection by the Department of Public Works, and failed traffic enforcement over bicyclists’ infractions — to Lewis George and her staff with little success. Further, she said the councilmember refused repeatedly to provide her group with a briefing on the Fiscal Year 2025 Budget and Financial Plan.

One day during a break from a public hearing she was attending, Johnson went to Lewis George’s office in the John A. Wilson Building, hoping to briefly meet with the councilmember about her earlier request. Johnson was told that Lewis George was too busy to meet with her. Lewis George did subsequently attend the commission’s monthly meeting in April but did not discuss the budget in detail at the time, Johnson said.

“She hasn’t talked to us. Who is she voting on behalf of?” asked Johnson, who distributed a press release calling attention to the issue. 

“I am so disgusted and discouraged,” Johnson told me.

“Drive down Georgia Avenue and you see signs of an elected official who is not taking care of bread-and-butter issues,” said one resident who, like some others, requested anonymity. “The street is dirty; there is open drug dealing and she is [raising objections to] the Secure DC drug zones. Who is she representing?”

Lewis George voted for the final version of the Secure DC Omnibus Amendment Act, which included restoration of the Metropolitan Police Department’s authority to designate drug-free zones. However, in a February candidates forum, during council deliberations and in her March 22 Ward 4 Dispatch, she questioned the legality and efficacy of the zones while noting that many residents wanted to see their resumption.

There may be pockets of low-income residents in Ward 4, but it is largely middle- to upper-middle-class with a population of more than 86,000. According to a 2022 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, 62% of those residents are between the ages of 18 and 64; 52% are female. Additionally, Black people comprise 48% of the population, whites 25% and Hispanics 21%.

Despite the perception some may have as a result of Lewis George’s advocacy for rent-related programs, 62% of the 36,590 housing units in Ward 4 are owner-occupied. 

She has offered support for a so-called mansion tax, which could be levied on homes worth $1 million or more. However, 22% of owner-occupied units in the ward are worth over $1 million while 55% are valued between $500,000 and $1 million, according to the Census Bureau.

At least one longtime resident is looking at the race through the prism of time and experience with Lewis George’s predecessors.

“[Adrian] Fenty took really good care of the ward,” said E. Ethelbert Miller, referring to the former Ward 4 councilmember who rode that wave of stellar constituent service to the mayoral suite in 2006. “I think [Muriel] Bowser needed Ward 4 to satisfy her political ambition, so she did good.  When [Brandon] Todd came, things went down; Janeese has replaced him,” said Miller. 

“Residents are not being informed about what is going on. You get a little newsletter or a glossy mailing that says nothing — heavy on photographs and low on text,” Miller continued. “In Ward 4, we definitely feel an increase in crime — carjackings, robbery, property damage. Trash pickup is bad; I pick up the trash in front of my house. If you don’t have clean streets, it lends itself to crime.

“If people running for office, running for council are interested in moving up, are they developing themselves so that they can become national leaders?“ he asked.

“If you want to become a national leader, you have to be a good local leader now,” added Miller.

“Our current councilmember is a nice person,” said a resident in the section of Chevy Chase that was once part of Ward 3. “She doesn’t talk to my neighborhood. Her staff has failed to respond to me about everyday issues like broken trash containers.

“For me, she is flat,” he added.

“I don’t expect that you are going to do everything, but we don’t even know that she got the issues we bring to her; she doesn’t respond to emails,” added Jocelyn Johnson, the senior leader. “I thought she was going to be a fireball.”

That’s how Lewis George was branded in 2020, when members of DC for Democracy, a far-left-wing political organization, persuaded her to run for office against Todd; he was characterized as a tool of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration. Lewis George pledged to be independent and improve constituent services. 

In that three-person Democratic primary race, she won 10,965 votes or 54.76% of the total ballots cast; Todd brought in only 8,624 or 43.07% of the votes. The third candidate, Marlena Edwards, captured a mere 411 votes.

In candidates forums and other public appearances, Lewis George has defended her tenure. She said her office had handled 7,000 calls for assistance. Among her ward-focused achievements, she cited securing an all-electric bus fleet in Metro’s Northern garage, ensuring the modernization and renaming of John Lewis Elementary School, alleviating crowding at Roosevelt High School, getting Upshur Park renovated, opening a senior citizens apartment building in the Lamond-Riggs neighborhood, collaborating with the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement to locate its training academy at MacFarland Middle School, bringing Cure the Streets violence prevention program to Kennedy Street NW, and securing passage of legislation to have a public library constructed on that same street. She also said she has introduced, co-introduced or co-sponsored 200 legislative proposals, though many of them focused on citywide issues. 

Interestingly, there is no mention of economic development in that list. “Under [Lewis George’s] leadership, strategic investment and development, I would say, have not been a priority,” said Gore, offering that the mixed-use redevelopment of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center “was left over from Councilmember Brandon Todd.” 

“You have to actively go out there and work to bring that investment and work to bring that development into the ward,” said Paul Johnson. “In order to do that, you have to have a cooperative relationship with everybody.”

“She hasn’t welcomed that type of activity and conversation. She’s been a councilmember where development has been a devil to her,” added Johnson.

“I think her [political] base rewards her for being outside and blaming a process, but there’s no reward for actually working together,” he said. Many businesses, especially restaurants in neighborhood corridors, are struggling. “So, when issues like accelerating the implementation of the tip wage or the minimum wage, they have not gotten any advocacy for them. 

“I’ll also say this: How are we going to address safety and problems in Kennedy Street if we don’t have credible messengers? You can’t just outsource the problem to violence interrupters,” said Johnson.

Almost no one with whom I spoke — residents or candidates — believed Lewis George has properly addressed crime in the ward. They complained about her votes that favored reducing funding for the Metropolitan Police Department and, more recently, her efforts to block key provisions in the Secure DC Omnibus Amendment Act.

Exacerbating residents’ concerns about her public safety positions, not only has Lewis George voiced doubts about drug-free zones, but during a forum in February sponsored by DC for Democracy, she said she supported the creation of public spaces where drug users can legally shoot up. She offered that she visited a facility in New York City where such activities occurred and praised the fact that drug users could even get massages as part of wraparound services aimed at harm reduction.

“She’s crazy. She wants to spend tax money on massaging drug dealers. Is that going to stop them from shooting up?” asked one resident flabbergasted by the idea.

“I value just as many progressive policies as other people, but the one thing that I don’t tolerate is crime. You have to address public safety issues head-on,” said Gore. ”That means meetings; that means walk-throughs; that means making sure [residents] understand what legislation is on the table, they understand how [the councilmember] plans to vote, and they have opportunity for feedback on that, [and] that we’re following up with MPD.”

Had she been a councilmember, Gore said, she would not have taken the votes or made some of the public statements made by Lewis George. “You have to be accountable to people and you cannot lead by surrogacy in a crisis issue.”

Both Johnson and Gore have well-demonstrated support for their candidacies. However, if money matters — and it always does in elections — Lewis George has the edge. 

According to the April 10 reports filed with the Office of Campaign Finance, Lewis George had slightly more than $95,000 in cash on hand. Gore had about $24,000 on hand. Johnson had the least amount of available funds, at just over $5,000. 

They are all participating in the public financing program. The Office of Campaign Finance’s website shows that they each received Fair Elections payments in April. The total payouts thus far through the program are listed as $215,850 for Lewis George; $97,440 for Gore; and $81,375 for Johnson.

Another financial reporting deadline is today (Friday). How well will the opponents fare?

A version of this article was published in

Photo credits: Lisa Gore, Lisa Gore campaign

Paul Johnson, DC Democratic Party

Janeese Lewis George, Lewis George Re-election campaign


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