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From the Publisher's Desk...

WHO SHOULD FILL THE AT-LARGE COUNCIL SEAT?

Should it be Sekou Biddle who was designated to fill the seat temporarily until the April 26th special election? He got the nod thanks to the DC elections law which provides that when a vacancy occurs — in this case held by a Democrat — (as a result of Kwame Brown being elected last fall to serve as council chairman), the relevant party central committee is to hold an election to fill the seat until a scheduled special election.

So, Sekou Biddle, who was one of several contenders for the temporary position, won by virtue of receiving a little less than 80 votes! Of course, this gave him a big advantage since he immediately became a voting member of the council, with office space, staff and perks. And, the best part, from his point of view, is that he was then in the position of being the incumbent at the moment the real campaign got underway to elect a member to fill Kwame Brown’s unexpired term.

Unfortunately, Biddle gives the impression that he’s got the special election in the bag by virtue of his sort of artificial incumbency. Perusing his campaign website we could find nothing of substance, nor has he even provided us with anything that would inform us of where he stands on the many issues confronting the District, financial or otherwise. He wouldn’t even respond to our inquiry seeking his views on possible income tax rate changes. (More on that later.)

As for candidate Vincent Orange who is seeking to return to the council following having represented Ward 5 several years ago, we have not changed our negative impression which we expressed in this space last September when he was campaigning against Kwame Brown for the chairman’s position. Among other observations, we wrote: “[B]ased on what we were privy to back when he was a member of the council, . . . [w]e remember how he bulldozed through a major land grab sweetheart deal for the benefit of business friends in Arlington, much to the detriment of his own constituents . . . [causing] the food wholesalers [to get] pushed out from where they had been doing business for so many years –- and not just to their detriment but to that of their restaurant and food retail customers and to the Ward 5 economy.”

And, by the way. Orange never responded to our tax rate question either. That question, which was short and to the point and wouldn’t have taken more than a few minutes to provide a cogent response, was as follows:

“The Mayor has submitted a budget that includes an increase in the individual income tax rate from the present 8.5 percent to 8.9 percent. More than one current member of the city council has indicated a strong preference for raising taxes on individuals and small businesses as a partial solution for meeting the budget shortfall.

“If elected will you join in that approach or will you insist that the Mayor’s proposed .04 percent tax increase on incomes of $200,000 and above not be raised? Would you, in the alternative, vote for this increase but with a higher floor, such as $250,000 or greater?”

Why wouldn’t candidate Orange respond? Our readers would like to know where he stands. For that matter, why didn’t the other candidates — with the exception of one — respond? Did they not realize that this is an issue of real importance to the voters?

Clearly, though, one candidate understands this. We refer to Bryan Weaver, a longtime resident of Adams Morgan in Ward 1 who previously served for eight years as an ANC 1C commissioner, three of which as chairman. Weaver took the time to answer our question as follows:

“Before raising taxes, Mayor Gray and the Council must make a concerted effort to collect business taxes that are already on the books, collect millions in outstanding fees and fines such as parking tickets, and eliminate fraud, waste, and abuse already identified by the executive and legislative branches namely through the DC Auditor and Office of the Inspector General. . . .

“Should the District need to raise taxes, I firmly believe the entire District of Columbia tax code must be re-written. I support a progressive tax code that will create six tiers of taxation within in the District. Tax rates would begin at $10K, another increase at $40K, another increase at $124K, another increase at $350K and a final increase at $1.5M. While this would lessen the tax burden for some [of] our city’s neediest residents, it would also more equitably distribute the tax burden and increase revenues without dramatic increase in taxes.”

A follow-up question to the candidate generated this clarification:

“The rates I would propose would be 8.75 percent for $124K; 9 percent for $350K and 9.25 for $1.5M with a sunset provision in two years. I would support creating an exemption from higher rates for qualified [Schedule] C small businesses.” He also stated that for taxpayers in the two lowest brackets, for the time being he would keep those rates at the current 8.5 percent “but ultimately . . . would like to see something lower.” He also expanded on the matter of how small, unincorporated businesses should be treated by stating that he “would support creating an exemption from higher rates for qualified [Schedule] C small businesses.”

So, where do we stand on who ought to be given the vote to fill the remainder of the unexpired at-large term? Based on what we have heard others who value legislators who are clear-headed and knowledgeable and also capable and willing to analyze the facts and circumstances — as evidenced by Bryan Weaver’s thoughtful response to our tax rate question, not to say anything about the obvious fact that he was ready to state his views on the record, we are endorsing him for election to the at-large seat.