BY JAMES WRIGHT, THE WASHINGTON INFORMER
As residents of a largely Northeast ward of the city prepare to elect a new member to the D.C. Council, many are asking questions about their ward and ultimately, the direction of the District.
The downfall of Harry Thomas Jr., as a member of the D.C. Council for Ward 5 has generated a great deal of discussion among the residents of Ward 5. The ward has been recognized as an economic microcosm of the city, with a solid Black middle class, a growing Latino population and whites who some consider to be outsiders.
“We as a ward need to get organized because there are many changes that are taking place and we need to make sure that the views of the residents are known,” said Albrette “Gigi” Ransom, an advisory neighborhood commissioner for 5C12 and a longtime activist in District politics. “There are economic development projects that are taking place on Rhode Island Avenue, North Capitol Street and Eastern Avenue and the residents need to have a say on those projects and how they are developed.”
For example, Ransom cites the newly developed Rhode Island Row which boasts 274 residential units and 70,000-square-feet of retail space next to the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station. A stone’s throw away from Rhode Island Place – home to the District’s only Home Depot, a T.J. Maxx and a super-sized Giant Food store – which was built on the watch of former Ward 5 Council member Vincent Orange.
When Dan Mullin was transferred by his employer, the Boys Scouts of America Inc., from Virginia to the District, he shopped around and decided to make the Rhode Island Avenue area his home. Mullin, 56, who is White, said that he’s happy to be in Ward 5.
“When I first came here seven years ago, I would say that the area was pleasant but there were a number of run-down businesses,” he said. “Things are much better now, particularly with the development around the Metro station. We have retail, nice storefront windows and the overall appearance of the area looks better.”
To some, Mullin could be considered the future of the ward because of his race. NeighborhoodInfo DC, a Web site that tracks trends in the District, indicated that the White population of the ward was 7.4 percent according to the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau report. Today, NeighborhoodInfo DC points out that in 2010 the white population jumped to 15 percent and many residents expect those numbers to dramatically increase in the coming years.
However, Mullin doesn’t see himself as an outsider.
“I was born in the District,” he said. “I can say that I did not encounter any hostility when I came here. My neighbors were very welcoming, and many people have moved in the neighborhood since I got here.”
Ransom, 50, said that many longtime residents who are Black are somewhat nervous about their new White neighbors.
“It has been a difficult conversation to have with some residents at times,” she said. “You can see that when you read some of the listservs. But what it really comes down to is that we are all in this together.”
While Ward 5’s development prospects are positive, there are areas of concern.
Trinidad, a neighborhood known for having a high crime rate, is one of the ward’s troubled spots. Despite its reputation, that didn’t stop Ken Fealing from moving there from Ward 1 a few years ago.
“Trinidad is close to the ‘H’ Street corridor and close to North Capitol Street,” Fealing, 47, said.
“This is one of the reasons I moved to Ward 5. In the part of the ward I live in, people are moving into condominiums that were once apartment buildings near Gallaudet University.”
He acknowledges that the Thomas scandal has taken its toll on the ward’s image but he said that can be quickly repaired.
“We have to begin to repair the trust and we need to rebuild a sense of leadership integrity on the D.C. Council level,” he said. “We have to be able to trust our council member.”