METRO WEEKLY: How important do you think providing oversight is to performing your job as Councilmember, and what will your philosophy be when holding government agencies accountable for policy or spending decisions?
Elissa Silverman (I, At-Large): Oversight is incredibly important — it is one of the council’s core responsibilities. I believe that my experiences as a reporter and a budget analyst make me uniquely prepared to engage in real oversight: asking tough questions, getting answers, and pushing for change when necessary. Oversight is about more than holding occasional hearings to make a political point — it means doing in-depth research, requesting documents and ensuring they are delivered, poring over records, issuing findings and recommendations, and doing the follow-ups necessary to make sure that agencies actually implement promised changes. It also requires input from residents and businesses, who have front-line experience with D.C. government. And it is a year-round job, not something that can be undertaken quickly right before the budget is passed or a contract is renewed.
MW: The Council is often seen as fluctuating between two extremes: having an overly cozy or overly antagonistic relationship with the mayor. How can you assure voters that you will be an independent voice on the Council, and not beholden to either the mayor, other councilmembers or your political party?
Silverman: As councilmember, my job is to hold the mayor and agencies accountable. I look forward to working with whomever is elected mayor to ensure that D.C. government works well and that we spend our money effectively — and that means collaboration buttressed by meticulous oversight. Voters can be confident in my independence and ability to move an agenda because I have a proven track record. I helped lead last year’s successful efforts to raise the minimum wage and expand paid sick days. I have been a leader on campaign finance reform — and I don’t just talk about it: I have refused corporate contributions and PAC money in my own campaign. I have a long history of advocating on behalf of working families in the District and striving to reform our political system.
MW: Please share your views on how best to address LGBT homelessness, not only for youth, but for adults, families, and senior citizens. What are your proposals for ensuring District shelters are adhering to the nondiscrimination protections in the D.C. Human Rights Act?
Silverman: Discrimination in shelters is unacceptable. The District government has an obligation to ensure that our nondiscrimination laws are followed in shelters and in transitional housing. The Office of Human Rights has the authority to investigate discrimination, but they rarely use that authority. More aggressive oversight can help, and D.C. must offer shelter providers, staff, and guards LGBT sensitivity training. The Office of Human Rights must ensure compliance.
In addition to dealing with discrimination in shelters and other barriers faced by the LGBT community, the council needs to re-evaluate how we provide homeless services more broadly. We need a realistic plan to close D.C. General and supply safe, appropriate emergency shelter. The council needs to ensure that benchmarks are being met so that we are not facing another homelessness crisis next winter. In addition, we need to put in place a better assessment system to identify the needs of individual homeless residents and families and connect them with the services they need to quickly move into permanent, sustainable shelter.
MW: What specific recommendations do you have to decrease unemployment among the District’s transgender community and enforce existing laws relating to employment discrimination, both by D.C. government and private businesses?
Silverman: I support the development of employment initiatives aimed at all underemployed populations in the District, including the transgender population, returning citizens, and others who face systemic discrimination. To mitigate the effects of discrimination, the Department of Human Resources should give preferential treatment to groups that suffer from employment disparities — the District government should not be contributing to illegal discrimination. The Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative is a model for how the District can do better. Additionally, we should require that anyone appointed as Director of the Office of Human Rights has professional training and experience in civil rights law enforcement. The staff and director must make judgments on the law’s applicability, breadth, and limitations, all the while being sensitive to the personal and emotional nature of discrimination. This requires training and experience.
MW: Why should the LGBT community vote for you?
Silverman: The LGBT community should vote for me because I am committed to making our city more inclusive and welcoming and to tackling the big problems we face. I’ve lived in D.C. for 18 years and I’ve seen firsthand what an enormous positive force the LGBT community has been in our city. I’ve worked side-by-side with committed LGBT advocates and I hope to continue to work side by side with them on the council.
For more information on Elissa Silverman’s campaign, visit elissa2014.com.
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