Ask any Ward 5 resident what’s important to them and you get a litany of answers ranging from crime, education, affordable housing, senior citizen care, and any number of shortcomings in the Ward. There’s no shortage of bitching and moaning about gentrification, the Ward 5 City Councilman or ANC Commissions. However, it takes more than street corner complaining and ANC meeting grandstanding to effect meaningful change. Declining voter turnout is a recipe for sweeping changes. The clock is ticking, and the door is closing on how much change longtime Ward 5 residents can influence.
Don’t be surprised within the next couple of election cycles when someone cracks the code to permanently and irreversibly change the face of Ward 5. The code is simple – vote! The declining voter turnout in the three pillars of Ward 5; City Council, ANC, and the D.C. State Board of Education (SBOE) all show declining voter turnout over the past 3 election cycles.
If people truly vote for candidates who represent their interests, what does it mean if those interests are changing to favor a younger, affluent, and whiter population? Cut through the noise and chaos and realize that the time to influence the future of Ward 5 is now; not 10 years from now.
The numbers below spell out the changing demographics since 2000 for Ward 5. It also hints at the undercurrent of concern for longtime, low-income residents. The chart below it shows the corresponding increasing diversity of D.C. citywide.
Ward 5 Demographics
- Total Population up 6%
- Ages 20-34 up 36%
- African American Population down 7%
- White Population up 54%
- Median Income up 17% from 2005 to 2010
So, what does all this really mean? With the changing demographics in D.C. and growth of Ward 5, sitting on the sidelines means you’ll be bitching and moaning from a different zip code. People vote their interests. If those interests are truly favoring income, age, and race then consider the voting record in Ward 5 with respect to City Council, ANC, and the SBOE.
The DC Board of Election reports that nearly 60,000 of Ward 5 80,000 residents are registered voters. That’s an amazing 75% of the population. However, it only took 7,737 for Kenyan McDuffie to secure the Democratic nomination for the Ward 5 seat. That’s a stunningly low 13% of the registered voters. Thirteen percent of the voting population is a bargain basement price to wield the level of power over the direction the Ward takes. We are entering dangerous territory considering that Harry Thomas Jr. collected 11,185 votes in his 2010 Primary win. That’s a staggering 45% decrease in votes.
The price of entry is even lower when you move down to Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. It took as little as 397 votes to win one of the single-member district (SMD) ANC slots. The ANC website states that “The ANCs’ main job is to be their neighborhood’s official voice in advising the District government (and Federal agencies) on things that affect their neighborhoods. Although they are not required to follow the ANCs’ advice, District agencies are required to give the ANCs’ recommendations “great weight.” There’s no wonder that 3 of the last five Ward 5 Councilmen have served on the ANC and 4 of the last 5 Mayors have served on the City Council. The path is remarkably clear.
The last pillar of control lies in the State Board of Education. It can be argued that our SBOE representatives are even more critical than the Councilman or ANC Commissioner. They literally control the minds, hopes, and futures of our youth. There was a 38% drop in voting from the 2010 to 2014 with 9535 votes to 6903 respectively. We must continue to ensure that our youth have advocates to prevent them from being steamrolled like bulldozers that demolish housing structures seemingly overnight.
So, let’s sum it all up. Continue to vote the status quo, stand on the street corners complaining about city government or act like the ballot box is radioactive and needs to be avoided. But just remember, the demographics and economics are starting to favor a younger, more affluent, and whiter population in D.C. Where will you be when the other shoe finally falls?
There’s a ton of information hiding in plain sight. There’s a lot at stake.