D.C. Council candidate Charles Allen’s initial venture into political campaigning ended tragically.
His first day as a volunteer on Paul Wellstone’s 2002 Senate campaign was Oct. 25, 2002 — the day a plane carrying the Minnesota Democrat crashed, killing Wellstone and seven others. Allen remembers feeling “devastated” by the loss of the one politician he hoped could bring change to the federal level.
Allen agreed to fulfill his duties, catch his flight to Minnesota and spend the leave of absence he’d taken from his job with the District of Columbia Primary Care Association volunteering for former Vice President Walter Mondale, who replaced Wellstone on the ticket.
“It ended up being a phenomenal experience of trudging through snow, knocking on doors and fighting,” Allen remembered. Although Mondale lost the election, Allen returned to D.C. inspired to keep fighting for candidates he believed in and has been a part of Capitol Hill’s local political scene ever since.
In 2003, he focused his energy on Howard Dean. He founded DC for Dean at age 25 to help the former Vermont governor win the Democratic nomination for president, and credits the grass-roots effort to securing Dean’s victory in the District’s January 2004 primary.
Although Dean wasn’t able to win the party’s nomination, Allen successfully ran against current Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans to represent the District at the 2004 Democratic National Convention.
In spring 2004, Allen helped launch the left-leaning political action group DC for Democracy. He also served as president of the Ward 6 Democrats and continued working as a policy director for the D.C. Primary Care Association. From that post he successfully lobbied for a program that brings physicians, dentists and nurses to work in some of the poorest parts of the District in exchange for help repaying their medical school loans.
His passion caught the attention of Tommy Wells, who convinced Allen to quit his job and become his full-time campaign manager for his 2006 race for the Ward 6 seat on the D.C. Council.
“We first met when he was running DC for Dean,” Wells said. “I was impressed that he was such a young person with extraordinary leadership and organizing skills.”
At the time, local columnists mentioned Allen as a potential candidate in the race. He instead helped elect Wells and was then appointed his chief of staff.
Wells credits Allen for being his “point person” on H Street Northeast development, representing his platform with a “gravitas of his own” and commanding the respect of any neighborhood he spoke in.
Seven years and two terms later, Wells is running for D.C. mayor, and Allen feels he is ready to fill his former boss’ spot on the council representing Ward 6.
“I spent a long amount of time working to make sure that the right person gets elected, and I feel that it’s now time for me to step forward because I believe I’m the right person to get elected,” he said in a recent interview with CQ Roll Call.
Reflecting on major initiatives he’s helped fight for, including gay marriage, new business on H Street and the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act of 2009 that implemented a 5-cent fee on disposable plastic bags, Allen said, “I’ve been part of our successes and I know how to face our challenges.”
One of his primary concerns is making Ward 6 more family-friendly.
Allen and his wife, Jordi Hutchinson, will one day send their toddler, Cora Neal, to school near their 15th and D streets Northeast home. He has pushed to expand early education programs and supported the plan for a $98 million renovation of Eastern High School.
However, he said, “it doesn’t matter to some extent what we do on the high school level if we don’t give parents a pathway, so middle school reform is a major priority of mine.”
For older Ward 6 residents, Allen wants to repair the sidewalks they must traverse in walkers and wheelchairs and push for more neighborhood-based health care providers. The long-awaited H Street streetcar is another priority. He dreams a second Capitol Hill streetcar line could connect Union Station to the Capitol Visitor Center and stretch into the city’s Southwest quadrant.
Allen supported a failed 2012 ballot initiative that would have banned corporate contributions to local campaigns and claims to be the only candidate in the mayoral race rejecting corporate money.
His primary opponent, Darrel Thompson, a former deputy to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the fact that Allen is accepting money from the District’s small businesses is “hypocritical” and could be interpreted as “pay-to-play.”
Thompson chooses to balance his political campaign while holding onto his job as a principal with the Collins | Johnson Group, a local lobbying firm.
Allen boasts that he is the only candidate who has made campaigning his “full-time job.” Under the terms of the Hatch Act, he had leave Wells’ office when he launched his campaign.
Like his former boss, he’s made ethics reform a prime component of his campaign, saying, “This is the tough medicine that we need and I’m willing to live by it, and that’s important.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Allen's wife. Her name is Jordi Hutchinson.