Who will you pick for DC Council at-large on April 23?

Matthew Frumin

Matthew Frumin is an international trade attorney and chair of ANC 3E, which represents Tenleytown and Friendship Heights. He served in the State Department during the Clinton administration, focusing on women's rights and human rights issues. Frumin currently serves on the Mayor's Taskforce on Undergrounding Power Lines and has previously served on panels for traffic safety and the DC Circulator. He is active in the Washington Interfaith Network.

Question 9

We asked the candidates:

DC is moving towards implementing a number of changes to its zoning code. To that end, where do you stand on eliminating parking minimums near transit; allowing residents to rent out basements, garages, etc. in low-density areas; and allowing more neighborhood-serving retail in residential neighborhoods?

Matthew Frumin responded:

I support the ADU and corner store proposals in principle. I do not doubt they can be refined in the community comment and Zoning Commission review processes but they represent important and useful steps in the right direction.

On parking minimums, our ANC approved a significant mixed use project in what would be a transit zone that included only one parking space. As part of that negotiation, we required the developer to take significant mitigating action including prohibiting residents from having access to RPP rights, providing access to some off-site parking in other private lots for residents, providing one year memberships for new residents to car and bike share programs, instituting tangible programs to encourage residents to use public transit and requiring certain businesses to provide validated parking at other sites.

Based on my experience in that matter, I would favor allowing significant reductions in on-site required parking, and have shown leadership in doing just that, subject to specific criteria to be addressed in a traffic and parking management plan.

Such plans should be crafted to ensure that the level of parking at a site does not result in an unfair burden to nearby neighbors and that the overall approach to parking and transit supports a strategy for the relevant area. For example, such a plan should include prohibitions on residents securing RPP rights so that the cost of parking is not simply externalized to the neighborhood, address managing drop offs, handicapped parking and visitors, include a demonstration of available parking within a reasonable distance and build in affirmative support for public transit options and affordable housing.

We can and should move in the direction proposed, but also need to ensure, as we did on our ANC, that we address neighbors concerns as we do so.

Here is how you rated the candidates' responses:

Question 8

We asked the candidates:

Last year DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said that DC schools are suffering from a "truancy crisis." The DC Council is now debating a bill that would increase penalties on parents for kids who chronically miss school. Should parents be held to account for when their kids miss school? How can DC ensure that students attend school consistently?

Matthew Frumin responded:

Truancy is devastating for the truant and costly to taxpayers — over the lifetime of a high school dropout we lose on average close to $300,000 in lost tax revenue on lowered earnings and increased costs for public assistance and incarceration. Truancy also often results in crime, undermining quality of life in communities in which truants gravitate. Everyone pays a price from rampant truancy.

But we should ask ourselves: Will mandatory punishments — including time in jail — for parents of truant children actually help solve the problem? In my view, such punishments, except perhaps in very rare circumstances, are unlikely to help and more likely to do harm.

The hard truth is that solving truancy will require more than placing blame and penalizing families. A lasting solution will require schools to fully meet the needs of our kids, taking into account the situations in which those needs are greatest. As it stands, programming and services in the schools suffering the most from truancy has been shrinking.

We also need to protect kids from bullying that may drive them away from school. And, where the cost of transportation becomes a barrier, provide solutions. At the same time, we should ramp up outreach to families to engage them in their schools and keep them informed both when their kids are truant and when they are performing well.

We need to be realistic about the magnitude of this problem and its causes, and not delude ourselves that throwing a parent in a dysfunctional family in jail for a few days is going to solve our much deeper societal challenges.

The reality is that it will take more and that by any measure — either the impact on kids' lives or an economic cost-benefit analysis — it is worth it.

Here is how you rated the candidates' responses:

Question 7

We asked the candidates:

Below are a set of proposals for ethics reform which some have advocated in recent years. For each, would you vote for or against? Further, you can explain any position in more detail if you wish and offer any additional ethics measures you would advocate for.

  • Ban or limit outside employment
  • Eliminate or constrain constituent service funds
  • Ban corporate contributions to campaigns
  • Ban "bundling" from multiple entities controlled by same person
  • Ban contributions by contractors and/or lobbyists who do business with DC
  • Forbid free or discounted legal services, travel gifts, sports tickets for councilmembers

Matthew Frumin responded:

We cannot afford delay in this critical area.

I have worked for years to support emerging democracies around the globe. The mantra is clear. Confidence in a political system begets strength. The lack thereof is insidious.

On the Council, I will work to build confidence in the system through the example of the approach I take to tackling problems and by pressing to enact sensible ethics and campaign finance legislation.

On "pay-to-play" — corporate contributions, bundling and contributions by contractors and lobbyists — I will work to enact the comprehensive legislation put forward in 2012 based on Attorney General Nathan's draft. That legislation addresses limitations and disclosure related to corporate donations and bundling by corporate entities and lobbyists as well as strengthening enforcement. Experts at Public Citizen said that if enacted, the proposed pay-to-play reforms would be among the strongest in the nation.

Constituent service funds offer a second field on which potentially to pay to play. They should either be banned or their uses limited to meet critical community needs (no more doling out of sports tickets). And, donations should be limited and both donations and expenditures subject to full transparency disclosures.

On gifts, we must strike a balance to avoid excessive, undisclosed generosity intended to buy influence without unduly impeding common gifts between family members and friends. I would favor disclosure requirements for gifts over $75 or gifts from related persons or entities that total over $75 in a year.

On outside employment, I would support legislation to make the Council a full-time body and prohibit outside employment. Until such legislation is enacted, I support strict enforcement of prohibitions on any outside employment that could create a conflict of interest on a matter before the Council.

In our City and across our nation, we grapple with the challenge of ensuring that the voices of individuals as opposed to the dollars of special interests dominate our political process. Trying to keep money out of politics, however, is unlikely to be the most effective method to do that. Money will find its way into politics. Unfortunately, the reaction to campaign finance reforms on the national level has made that amply clear.

Given that, a more promising approach would be to move to a public financing model along the lines proposed by Councilmembers Grosso and McDuffie. Such an approach would not bar donations, but would create a framework through which candidates who received only lower dollar donations, and could win support from a broad base of such local donors, could be insured the ability to project their message and compete.

We should move promptly to enact laws based on Attorney General Nathan and Councilmembers Grosso and McDuffie's proposals. We would then lead the nation in terms of laws on the books on these critical issues. Our challenge then, as it has been recently, will be to elect leaders who will adhere to those laws and strictly enforce the laws when they do not.

We can and should get this done.

Here is how you rated the candidates' responses:

Question 6

We asked the candidates:

Residents who walk and bicycle often feel our streets are not sufficiently safe for them. Others feel that projects to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians have impeded quality of life for those who must drive. Is there a way forward that can bring peace among all road users? What would you say to each of these groups?

Matthew Frumin responded:

Diversifying our transit system to incorporate bicycles and to create livable, walkable communities pays clear health and environmental benefits. We have appropriately committed as a city to such a multi-modal system.

That said, there is a pattern that when new infrastructure to accommodate bicycles or pedestrians is introduced there are concerns about adverse impacts on those who rely on cars. Once the various users get used to the new infrastructure, the complaints subside.

In the meantime, where such infrastructure is lacking, we have the greatest conflicts between bicyclists, pedestrians and cars. I have for years commuted on my bike, so I understand fully the dangers of roadways that do not properly accommodate both bicyclists and cars.

A key first step to facilitate the shared use of our roadways is to build out the necessary infrastructure — bike lanes, sharrows and sidewalks — to minimize direct physical conflicts. Even where the necessary infrastructure exists, though, we all know there will still be conflicts. Many bicyclists feel at risk from hostile drivers. Many drivers feel endangered by what they consider reckless bicyclists. Too often pedestrians fear both bicyclists and drivers.

To address these challenges, we need clear rules of the road, including protection for bicyclists from reckless or hostile drivers, and consistent enforcement. That can and should involve training for our police and public education. It could be useful, for example, for MPD to issue something like a "bill of rights" for bicyclists and pedestrians as has been done in other jurisdictions. We should also focus enforcement methods, including evolving technologies like traffic cameras, in places where they provide the greatest public safety benefit.

As we move towards a shared, "complete streets" system, the message to each group will be the same: Respect. Bicyclists must respect the rights of pedestrians and comply with all relevant traffic rules to avoid inviting conflicts with cars. Pedestrians must respect the rules governing their behavior and the danger posed to them from both cars and bicyclists if they do not. And, drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians must respect the fact that our transportation system is increasingly a shared one.

Transit is not an either/or proposition. With proper infrastructure, clear rules of the road, consistent enforcement and respect, we can and should be able to share.

Here is how you rated the candidates' responses:

Question 5

We asked the candidates:

What do you think the District should do with its $417 million surplus?

Matthew Frumin responded:

This year's surplus raises two important questions:

  1. How much should we save and how much should we invest?
  2. What does it imply for our future budgets?

This is our third major surplus in a row. Its size should give us confidence that our fiscal house is strong, and that it is time to lift the 2010 edict requiring all surplus dollars be used to build the city's reserve. I would urge that half the current surplus go to the reserve and half be used to begin to address some of the city's most pressing needs.

  • Creating more affordable housing, first by bolstering the Housing Production Trust Fund
  • Supporting job training
  • Strengthening our social safety net, particularly serving our homeless
  • Investments in parks, recreation centers, libraries and schools
  • Targeted support for arts projects

Going forward, the CFO should take into account these serial surpluses and present a realistic revenue projection for the coming fiscal year. Then let's end the phase of "eat your spinach" budgeting — it worked and we can move on. We should use our increasing fiscal strength to more fully serve those in the greatest need and make the city a more attractive place to live, work and do business.

Taking into account the upcoming recommendations of the Tax Revision Commission, we should retool our taxes to strengthen our competitive position in the region. We should also consider modifying our approach to the debt cap, which currently constrains infrastructure investment. And while we work to meet the needs listed above, we should finalize new employee contracts, invest to strengthen our local schools and expedite our transportation improvements.

Our third consecutive surplus sends a clear signal that we are more than deserving of budget autonomy and can move to a period of investment designed to strengthen our local economy and grow our tax base. This virtuous cycle will be key to our efforts to advance our city and achieve long-term growth and success. As we do that, let's invest with a strategy to benefit all of our communities. Let's grow together.

Here is how you rated the candidates' responses:

Question 4

We asked the candidates:

Mayor Gray has set a goal of growing by 250,000 residents in 20 years. Previous mayors had similar goals. GMU studies suggest we need over 122,000 new housing units (each of which might hold multiple people) by 2030. How can and should the District accommodate this growth?

Matthew Frumin responded:

The theme of my campaign is "Let's grow together."

Our current growth is very exciting, but we must ensure that growth going forward benefits all of our communities and brings us together and does not work to divide us. That philosophy should be the compass point as we seek to meet the aggressive goals for growth in the coming decades.

To accommodate that growth we should:

  • Follow through on the efforts to develop major projects like Walter Reed, St. Elizabeths, MacMillan Reservoir, the Southwest Waterfront and The Yards.
  • Encourage mixed use developments in our commercial corridors and near Metro, streetcar and bus lines to concentrate new residents in places where they can be the least dependent on cars.
  • Support efforts to create innovative and smaller dwelling units, as is being done in other jurisdictions, particularly on currently unused land.
  • Facilitate the process through which homeowners may create limited and supervised accessory dwelling units.

We once had a population over 800,000, so the current goal is achievable. When we get there, however, we need to be certain that we have preserved and strengthened our greatest asset — the diversity and beauty of our wonderful neighborhoods. To do that we must make an unshakeable commitment to strengthening our stock of affordable housing and making housing affordable to our workforce.

Meeting our goal will also require much more than simply building the necessary housing stock. We must also invest significantly in our infrastructure. Once again, as an example, our schools become a key factor. We have many new residents, but if we want them to stay we must strengthen our schools.

On the Council, I will continue, as I have as an ANC commissioner, to work to support strategies for smart growth and affordable housing. I will also continue to work to promote investments in schools, parks and transportation infrastructure that can make our city increasingly attractive to potential and existing residents. In 20 years, let's be a city that is seen as the place to be for new young residents and for seniors.

Let's grow together.

Here is how you rated the candidates' responses:

Question 3

We asked the candidates:

DC's education system has improved in recent years for many kids, but many schools remain inadequate to our children's needs. If you could design a better school system for DC, what would it look like? Would we have more teacher evaluations or fewer? More charter schools, fewer, or different ones? More or fewer kids going to local schools? How else would your school system differ from the one we have today?

Matthew Frumin responded:

Every D.C. neighborhood deserves excellent local schools. Where they exist, the benefits are enormous. We must make great local schools the rule. To get there we need to:

  • Complete the modernization of our buildings;
  • Couple those investments with equally compelling programmatic improvements;
  • Recognize that where children start school with the greatest disadvantages, they will need more from their school to have a chance at success; and
  • Require DCPS to operate more efficiently and with greater accountability including in the effective use and deployment of resources.

Teacher evaluations based on test scores may figure into that effort, but cannot be the only measure. We cannot afford a system that relies solely on teaching to the test.

To build a successful system, we must also sort out how the local and charter school sectors fit together and complement each other. Charter schools can and should serve as incubators of innovation and housing specialty programs. However, the growth of charters in parts of the city has contributed to compromising the ability of local schools to succeed. And, while there are great charter schools, not nearly all are great. Drifting towards a charter takeover in parts of the city would be a mistake.

Why don't we set a goal that by 2022, the 50th anniversary of Home Rule, local schools will serve two-thirds of our children and charters one-third? We expect to see a 50% increase in our school age population over that period. The charter sector, therefore, need not shrink, but individual charter schools would need to demonstrate the value they add.

Setting such a goal would help guide our investment in local schools moving forward and end the downward spiral of closures and consolidations. It would also commit us to having great local schools in every neighborhood. Meeting this goal will also leave our children and families one of the largest set of school choices in America.

An important part of creating great schools in every neighborhood will be increasing parental and community engagement in the life of the schools. We must foster that engagement by showing our commitment as a city to the schools both by investing in them and emphasizing the role of local schools as community centers. We can and should leverage our capital investment in our schools by using them to meet community needs such as recreation, after school programs, adult education and, where appropriate in high schools, community health centers.

A big part of my work has been devoted to dramatically improving schools, leading efforts to modernize buildings and secure funding for school programs. My work has brought significant benefits to children and their families. I want to see such improvements throughout the city. The challenges in different communities will vary, but the lesson applies. With hard work and creativity, the city, working with parents and the community, can turn this oil tanker. On the Council, I will work to make that happen.

Here is how you rated the candidates' responses:

Question 2

We asked the candidates:

Chief Lanier and Mayor Gray have made a lot of the drop in homicides, but other crimes — assaults, robberies — remain stubbornly high. How should DC police deal with those challenges, and do you have an opinion on how many officers MPD needs?

Matthew Frumin responded:

Public safety will always be a top priority, and I applaud Chief Lanier and MPD for the progress they've made. Given its recent record, the Department deserves deference in mapping out its strategy. But the role of the Council remains critical — we must ensure the necessary resources are available, provide active oversight and work vigilantly to address the ways crime relates to the realities of our communities.

  • Let's grow the force to 4000 officers to increase police presence in the places where data and experience tell us crime has been the highest. There can be diminishing returns from additional officers, and we could one day feel the police presence is too great, but we are not there yet.

  • Let's continue to use civic education and outreach efforts to confront the rash of robberies of electronic devices that has plagued our city. We should focus on breaking up the fencing rings and working with manufacturers to combat this crime, now seen as a low risk way to turn a profit, and much of the source of the increase in reported robberies.

  • Similarly, the Council should support MPD's efforts to work with community and activist groups to respond to the spike in sex offenses.

  • Let's also do what we can to encourage first responders to live in the City. When an officer lives in the neighborhood everyone feels more secure. More vibrant streets, in turn, are safer for everyone.

And, we must recognize that wherever there are great disparities in income and opportunity there will be the risk of crime. Important parts of any crime prevention strategy will fall outside of MPD's purview in the form of strengthening our education system, providing job training and creating jobs. These too will be high priorities for me on the Council.

Here is how you rated the candidates' responses:

Question 1

We asked the candidates:

The District has changed a lot since 1993, and will likely change much more by 2033. What are 2-3 changes you hope to see by 2033, and how will electing you to the DC Council help bring them about?

Matthew Frumin responded:

Over the next 20 years we must work to make a great city better still, strengthening our education system, creating jobs for D.C. residents and ensuring housing options for all.

We must make a series of investments in transportation infrastructure, utilities, parks and public buildings. Those investments should promote livable and walkable neighborhoods, put our people to work and impose the least burden possible on D.C. taxpayers. I have worked in the trenches on these issues and delivered results. After the modernization of Wilson High School a senior D.C. official said: "You pushed us hard, and made a real difference." I will play the same role on the Council.

A successful City requires a great education system, from pre-K to the workforce. Today, we are succeeding in some areas and failing in others. I have worked for years to improve schools throughout the City, I know what the challenges are and I have come up with creative ways to address them. I will bring that passion and expertise to the Council and be a part of solving our education issues at long last.

One change we need to avoid is the City becoming inaccessible to all but the most fortunate. We must ensure that people of all incomes can live in the City. I will be a strong advocate on the Council for practical affordable housing solutions.

By 2033, we should also have long since achieved budget autonomy and voting rights and taken our place as a state.

Here is how you rated the candidates' responses:

Whats next

We will be asking the candidates more questions, and will post their responses to one question each week on Tuesday. In addition, after voting ends, we will analyze the results and post a summary of your reactions.

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