Thursday, February 3, 2011

Cincinnatus on Connecticut Avenue: I Was Wrong About Sekou

by Peter Brusoe

Last week I wrote a draft of a column that criticized the opaqueness of the DC Democratic State Committee's operating method. I then lambasted their choice of Sekou Biddle for the City Council. The piece was vicious, unpleasant, and very base. I decided to save it and mull it over for a few days. Later that week, I read an email on the Cleveland Park Listserv inviting the neighborhood to meet Councilmember Biddle and have brunch. It was a great opportunity. I could meet the man, and since I'm never wrong, he would quickly confirm all the things that I had written, and I could even get some decent quiche.

Was I ever wrong....

First, the quiche was exquisite and the lox rocked.

Second, Council member Biddle was amazing.

Somehow with over sixty of us gathered for the brunch, the Council Member still made it a point to talk to everyone, listen to each person's concerns and talk about solutions for our city. About an hour into brunch our hostess welcomed everyone and then introduced the council member to the group as a whole. Council Member Biddle then talked about his experience growing up in Columbia Heights back in the '70s and '80s. He talked about the education he received in the public schools. He talked about his experience in the classroom and his vision for the city. He talked about focusing on education and gave a very nuanced and detailed answer on school reform. When other politicians stopped after guaranteeing better academic performance for K-12, Biddle continued and talked about the important role that the Community College of the District of Columbia plays in continuing education for DC residents. He talked about the need for adult literacy. He talked about making DC an attractive place for families. He talked about his family, and the role of community. By the end of his presentation I was almost ready to start cheering. The cynical side of me kicked in and remembered, as Hillary Clinton quipped, making a good speech does not make for a good nominee.

He then opened the floor to questions from the group.

One question was about addressing the budget gap and what steps we could take to resolve our budget problems. While other politicians artfully walk talk around the budget crisis, Biddle addressed them directly. He freely talked about program evaluations to analyze what programs were being effective in job training and which ones were not. He talked about perhaps exploring furloughs for District employees. He discussed the importance of putting sunset provisions into any tax increases to make clear that these situations are temporary. It was an odd feeling hearing that answer because he addressed the question seriously and treated the audience like adults. It was shocking.

Another question dealt with how the Council Member would work with and connect the entire District. Again, the response was well thought-out, but backed up with specific actions and activities that he had undertaken so far in his very short time on the Council.

There were a couple of questions that Josh Willingham would have thought were out in left field, but rather than ignore the wild question, Biddle slowly addressed every single issue and calmed down the questioner and her concerns.

By the end of the brunch I had come away with two things:

1) a new respect for Council Member Biddle
2) an amazing recipe for Avocado salad.

And left behind two things:

1) a donation to the campaign
2) my cynicism.

It's a long path to the election, but I look forward to hearing more from our newest council member. It would also be great to hear from some of the other leading candidates, like Patrick Mara and Bryan Weaver, on their vision for the city. If they bring the lox, I'll bring the bagels. As far as the DC Democratic State Committee is concerned, I'm just an average citizen, and I doubt they care what an average citizen thinks or says anyway.


Salute to Civil Servant: Allen L. Sessoms

Last Friday was a historic day for the University of the District of Columbia. Our land grant university graduated its first student from the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Studies. The university system graduated over 200 students in its winter commencement exercises. At the same time UDC has increased its academic standings and its program offerings, while maintaining its affordability. This type of progress doesn't happen overnight, nor is it easy. This type of success and improvement can only happen with inspired leadership, hard work, and the ability to develop strategic partnerships. During the past two and a half years Dr. Sessoms has been leading our public university to new heights, and we are lucky to have him.


  1. Thanks Peter for your post. How nice it is to see something so thoughtful and open-minded. Full disclosure: I've known Sekou since he was 12 years old and a classmate of my daughter at Deal, and have kept up with him and his family over the years. I'm not surprised to see how he's grown and where he is today - right where he ought to be. You can't imagine how heartwarming this is and how proud I am to live and vote here.

  2. Peter, this column was refreshing. Thank you.

  3. Kudos to you for looking beyond initial assumptions. I've done the same and have become favorably impressed with Sekou Biddle.

    I hope that you also take the time to check in with your Ward's 2 Committeemen and 2 Committeewomen on the DC Democratic State Committee and tell them your concerns and interests. It's a big group -- some 82 members that meets once a month. As you can imagine, a number of different kinds of experiences and interests are represented. Likewise, there are also different views re the role of the DC DSC.

    For example, some of us would like to see it more issue-oriented and have made suggestions to that end.

    What do you think our role should be to be most effective in helping to bring about positive changes throughout DC, through the Democratic Party?

    Talk with your Committeemen and Committee women; come to the monthly meetings.

    I will caution you to question reports that you read in the paper. Reporters, like anyone else, are subject to reporting events through different lenses if they feel slighted. Apparently, that's what happened WRT the report on the DC DSC voting process for the Interim position of DC At-Large Councilmember that Sekou Biddle won. The Post reported chaos. I felt like I must have been in a different place from that reporter. The room was crowded. A political process was taking place. Caucuses were held. (I was part of one of them.) People were trying to convince others to vote for their preferred candidate. I understand that one or more reporters tried to be present at one or more of the caucuses and was/were not permitted. Nothing surprising.

    I observed an energetic, expressive process in a very crowded room. Some people were strongly committed to their preferred candidate. Others were not.

    I found the voting process clearly explained, amazingly well run and transparent. I certainly observed NO chaos. And that's a tribute to the care, thought and planning which went into that voting process by the DC DSC as a whole and its Party Organization and Function Committee under the leadership of Ronnie Edwards.

    The one significant problem was the size of the room. Too small for all of the people who showed up.... though quite sufficient for 82 DC DSC members and the normal number of additional attenders.

    Now, whether this is a proper role for the DC DSC is an entirely different matter. For that, you'll have to take a look at the Home Rule Charter.

    Faith Wheeler
    Ward 4 Committeewoman

  4. I agree. The DCDSC process is what we have. Would it have been better/different if Mayor Gray simply made a temporary appointment 9as Governors do in other places?). I don't know, but what I do know is that the DCDSC process was rigorous enough for viable candidates to demonstrate, through signature gathering and other metrics, their city wide support and viability for a full run in April.

    That said, some candidates dropped out, supposedly because of the process. Perhaps they realized they didn't have the support or infrastructure to meet the DCDSC threshold? Either way Mr. Biddle met the standards and subsequently was supported by other sitting councilmembers, ostensibly because everyone realizes that Vince Orange is a blowhard.

    You can watch the DC For Democracy forum from Thursday, February 3rd online. You will see that Orange's responses are incoherent as to any substantive policy or issue base.

    While there are a number of dedicated Washingtonians in this race, Mr. Biddle seems to embody the right balance between "knowing" the city yet being progressive and knowledgeable enough on important issues such as Education to be a fair and decent city wide representative on the Council.