Last Friday, DC Council Member Harry "Tommy" Thomas Jr. invited Ward 5 bloggers to "break bread" (well more like giant pancakes) with him at the Cap City Diner for his Blogger Breakfast. The Council Member's goal was to share his vision and plans for Ward 5, and allow the community bloggers a chance to get answers on specific questions regarding their individual neighborhood. The informal event was a unique opportunity for local bloggers representing Brookland Avenue, In Bloom, Rhode Island AVE NE Insider, Frozen Tropics and of course us from The Totten Life to get some answers for our readers.
For many of those in attendance, the increase in violence by youth (and in particular around and near metro stations) was a major concern, one shared by Councilman Thomas. He identified the need to engage the various police department jurisdictions that oversee the metro stations and surrounding areas, and create better communication as well as better cooperation. He also stated that he will working with the City Council to create a better metro by drafting a Public Safety Amendment which not only addresses crime at metro stations, but doubles penalties and fines for crimes perpetrated around metro stations. The goal is to create a form of strategic deterrent for criminals targeting commuters by having a better organized law enforcement effort and heavier fines. In order to address youth crime, Councilman Thomas believes that prevention and engagement of youth in other activities is the best way to stop the problem before it happens. In a city where youth programs have been slashed, children must be engaged and given options for activities that nurture them both physically and mentally. He also identified the fact that he was (and still is), in support of the youth summer jobs program, that were recently severely paired down, being extended (a program Mayor Fenty also supported the extension of) to all summer long. The Councilman felt the way to reduce youth crime is not to throw them in youth correctional facilities, but to try and prevent them from getting to that point in the first place.
The Councilman then addressed Ward 5 economic concerns, most notably the increase and need of business in Ward 5. Mr.Thomas identified the fact Big Box stores (like Target, Costco, Best Buy etc) are looking to open their doors in Ward 5, however he does not believe this should be the sole focus of economic development in the neighborhoods. While the increase of jobs in our ward created by these major retailers (Mr. Thomas indicated that there are set asides for ward 5 jobs with these companies) is an excellent perk, the focus should be on opening community based enterprises that are there to serve the neighborhood. The Big Box retailers should be viewed as the hub of the retail center's and used as a means to attract "white table cloth restaurants" and businesses owned and operated by community members. There is also a need to incentivize small business growth in the district in the form of tax breaks and zoning changes that will make it easier for the average person to open a business.
Outside of business growth around the major box retailers, Councilman Thomas shifted focus on the neighborhood business corridors. Focusing particularly on H St, 12th St, and Rhode Island Avenue, the Councilman stated that "Our goal is not to make the neighborhoods new economic areas, but rather to return them to what they used to be. Many of the long term residents once enjoyed and want to see the same amenities that newer residents want." He also supports an increase in smaller Community Grocers and Farmers Markets as a means to to get fresher and healthier choices into the city. Through the use of incentives (like tax cuts), the Councilman would seek to ensure the right businesses for the community are brought in. However, the need for educating and training workers goes hand-in-hand with any long term business development. Mr. Thomas explained how the new CCDC campus near Ft. Totten is an essential piece of this puzzle, one that will "provide workforce development in the community, as well as lifelong community development programs."
Councilman Thomas also identified the need to have effective communication between the different ANC's, Civic Associations, MPD and himself. The Councilman stated the importance of community input on any issue effecting its residents. The ANC, MPD and SMD meetings are one part of this process, and he frequently attends the various meetings held by these organizations. Councilman Thomas, however, singled out the importance of Civic Associations in gaining community support and input. The end goal Councilman Thomas would like to see is joint communication and cooperation between the various organizations in order to get the most information out to the residents of Ward 5.
We would like to take a moment to thank Councilman Thomas in identifying the value Neighborhood Blogs add to the dissemination of information in a quick and hyper-local manner. The Councilman was very attentive to all of the questions thrown at him, as well as confident in his platform and his vision for making Ward 5 a better place to live and do business. Thank you Councilman Thomas for taking time out of your schedule to answer the questions of a few concerned citizens, a shout out to our fellow Ward 5 Bloggers (if you haven't been to their sites, check them out Brookland Avenue, In Bloom, Rhode Island AVE NE Insider, Frozen Tropics) for participating and making this event meaningful and a special thanks to CapCity Diner for hosting and providing a delicious start to our mornings. If you haven't been to the Diner over in Trinidad, it is a must go. When you do stop by, maybe take a page out of Councilman Thomas' playbook and dive into the Super Fat Boy Breakfast which looked killer!!!