May 29, 2024 - Politics
Town Talker

Tight race to represent Ward 7 on D.C. Council nears finish line

A lawn yard sign opposes a new stadium at RFK

The future of RFK Stadium is figuring in the Ward 7 race. Photo: Cuneyt Dil/Axios

The retirement of Vincent Gray has left a power vacuum in Ward 7, with 10 candidates clamoring for the job and a gush of spending and campaigning until the finish line.

Why it matters: The ward's next council member will confront generational challenges — and be a key player in the city's biggest project-in-waiting, the 190-acre transformation of RFK Stadium.

The big picture: Ward 7 is home to many working- and middle-class neighborhoods of rowhouses, stretching from Benning Road NE to the border with Prince George's County. It's also the flipside of Washington's decade-plus resurgence.

  • Nearly one in four live in poverty. Development here, where most live east of the Anacostia River, has trailed other city corridors. For 89,000 residents, there are only three major grocery stores and few sit-down restaurants.

"There's a lot of opportunity," says candidate Eboni-Rose Thompson, a member of D.C.'s Board of Education. "There is not one stat that sums up Ward 7."

  • With the promise of new amenities, she says, "We also have to balance how good people who live here are able to stay here [and] benefit from those things."
Locator map showing Select locations in Ward 7 in Washington, D.C. The three grocery stores in the ward are shown, two  Safeways and a Lidl. RFK Stadium and Fort Dupont Park is also shown.
A map of Ward 7's food desert. Data: Axios research. Map: Axios Visuals

What I'm hearing: Four candidates have the most momentum.

  • Wendell Felder, a neighborhood commissioner, has a mix of labor and business-friendly groups supporting him — and also Gray.
  • Ebony Payne is a neighborhood commissioner representing the entire RFK land with backing from some civic leaders and members of Congress.
  • Eboni-Rose Thompson is a longtime public school advocate in her first term on the education board. She aligns with many progressive causes and is a former neighborhood commissioner.
  • Veda Rasheed is a former staffer of the D.C. Attorney General's Office who ran for the seat four years ago. She has the endorsement of charter-friendly and big campaign spender D.C. Democrats for Education Reform.

Reality check: Without much public polling, the outcome could be a wildcard. The rest of the candidates are Kelvin Brown, Ebbon Allen, Villareal 'VJ' Johnson, Denise Reed, Nate Fleming, and Roscoe Grant.

"It's overwhelming," Laura Padin, a mother of three, said about the big field. Felder was recently door-knocking in her Hill East neighborhood, where some have anti-stadium lawn signs like, "No billionaire's playground."

  • Padin doesn't want a stadium, but she's open to compromise, especially if the public field where her son gets to play soccer is retained.

Felder keeps the door open. "If residents want the stadium, then I'm for it," he tells me later.

  • Would he support public funding for it? "I'm not 110% sold on it. I would have to see the deal."

Payne is staunchly "opposed to a new NFL stadium."

  • "Anything that increases traffic is a concern," she tells me. "One place we all agree is everyone wants to see mixed-use development."

Zoom out: Crime is the first thing most voters talk about. Over the past 12 months, the ward has recorded 20% of all of the violent crime incidents that have occurred in D.C., a disproportionate share.

  • "Every parent wants to make sure every child is going to and from school safely," says Rasheed.

Follow the money: Opportunity D.C., a group well-represented by the city's downtown business set, joined Gray in endorsing Felder.

  • Meanwhile, D.C. Democrats for Education Reform endorsed Rasheed because, per the group's director Jessica Giles, she is "aligned with us," including on improving behavioral health support in schools.
  • Both well-funded groups have Super PAC-esque affiliates, which in previous elections have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to boost their candidates.

What's ahead: A close finish is expected, and the winner of the June 4 primary is heavily favored to win the November general election.

💭 To go deeper into the candidates, read the Washington Post's very good voter guide. Town Talker is a weekly column about local politics and power. Send me tips: [email protected].

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