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D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells arrived late to the interview, glistening with sweat after rushing from one appointment to the next on a typically sweltering summer morning.
But the Ward 6 Democrat who represents Capitol Hill and its surrounding area was unruffled. Striding into his office on the fourth floor of the John A. Wilson Building, he was generous with a smile and a firm handshake as he sat down at the head of a long conference table. He had a pattern of sailboats on his tie.
“Where I wish I was right now!” he joked.
But he quickly got down to business. He was there to talk about why he wants to be the next mayor of Washington, D.C., and why he thinks he’s the best man for the job. At the same time, he knows he has to tread lightly amid the city’s current political turmoil.
Wells emphasized to Roll Call his track record during his six-year tenure representing Ward 6. During that time, he said, the area has had “the greatest renaissance of public schools anywhere in America” and leads all other wards in public housing growth, job creation and crime-rate decline.
A public transportation enthusiast fond of using the phrase “livable, walkable community,” Wells wants to improve access to Union Station and is a relentless advocate of the potential for streetcars to connect the District’s neighborhoods.
“We have a plan for 37 miles of streetcar traffic that will automatically connect east of the river to west of the river,” Wells said. “There is no doubt in my mind that Anacostia is the next H Street Northeast.
Not everyone shares Wells’ enthusiasm. Critics, including Councilmember and former Mayor Marion Barry, have argued that the plan is not well-conceived and costs too much.
‘A Tragedy for All of Us’
It’s also a challenging time for Wells to be talking up his ambitions for higher office: In the background, the District government is roiling from the latest installment in a series of recent political corruption scandals.
In January, Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr. (D) resigned after pleading guilty to embezzling more than $350,000 of government money and filing false tax returns. Last month, D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D) stepped down after being indicted for bank fraud.
Now, Mayor Vincent Gray is being scrutinized for the extent to which he was aware of, and involved with a “shadow campaign” his associates oversaw to bolster his 2010 bid for office. Depending on how things develop, Gray could be forced to resign.
If the mayor chooses to leave office before his term ends in 2015, it would thrust Wells into a mayoral race much earlier than he anticipated.