On March 27, 584 persons voted in the biennial election for officers of the Ward 7 Democrats at the East River Shopping Center. I was so struck by this amazing turnout that I reached out to interview Wendell Felder, the group’s newly elected chair.
The voting turnout in the Ward 7 Democrats election was impressive — particularly in light of the pandemic. No Democratic ward organization has had that type of turnout for many years. Why was that?
My team ran a comprehensive campaign focused on meeting voters where they live and identifying their needs. It was important to run a campaign that valued community engagement, voter education, and restoring civic participation. In the end, the voter turnout was reflective of the passion, hope and energy surrounding the campaign.
You and your entire slate won. What were you working with to make that happen?
My slate is a special group of people who share a core mission of service and are equally passionate and committed about moving our Ward forward. The high turnout is a victory for the entire Ward and a reflection of the desire of Ward 7 residents to turn the Ward around. I look forward to working with anyone interested in doing the hard work and addressing the needs of Ward 7 residents.
During the first 100 days that you and your team are in office, what do you plan to do that will make Democrats across your Ward take notice and start talking?
We will take a hard look at the operational and financial state of the organization to make sure it is above water. While my team will bring a new and innovative perspective to the organization, we will also adopt best institutional practices seen over the past years.
We plan to use the focus areas below to guide our work and to help us execute for our voters:
- Increase Democratic registration and turnout
- Advocate for Ward 7 priorities and engage with Democratic Residents
- Support and promote Statehood initiatives
- Cultivate existing and future Democratic leaders
Many years ago, Woodson High School had a Young Democrats club as an extracurricular activity. Do you plan to establish such clubs in all the Ward 7 high schools?
We understand that to effect change in our community, we must engage and develop our next generation of leaders. We want to empower young people to develop their skills and talents, create opportunities to participate in political, economic, and social dialogue, and become positive change agents within their respective communities.
On March 22nd there were visibility actions for DC statehood in each Ward. Only 15 people showed up in Ward 7. What do you plan to do to get Ward 7 residents active in the statehood movement?
Ward 7 residents care about statehood. However, many residents are essential workers and did not have the flexibility in their schedules to show up. While I can honestly say that the visibility turnout does not represent our residents’ sentiments of Statehood, I think there is still ample opportunity to educate Ward 7 about the benefits of statehood, and how it impacts their day to day lives.
The last two Ward 7 Democrats presidents failed to win their reelections. Councilmember Vince Gray won the 2020 Democratic primary with 45% of the vote. Is it fair to say that Ward 7 is searching for new political leadership?
Whether the leadership is new or existing, Ward 7 is looking for something different. They want responsive leadership in all positions – from the Ward 7 Councilmember to the five At-Large members to the entire District government. Throughout the campaign our team heard directly from our residents and the message is clear, Ward 7 residents do not feel that their voices are being heard, nor do they believe their needs are being met. This inattention takes the form of public safety concerns, subpar access to transportation, a lack of grocery stores, and many other inequities, just to name a few. Ward 7 is tired of being left behind.
Councilmember Gray began his elected political career as the Ward 7 Democrats president. Might Ward 7 voters expect to see you on the ballot for Ward 7 Councilmember in 2024?
My only goal right now is to focus on standing up and rebuilding the Ward 7 Dems Organization. We must restore the effectiveness of the Ward 7 Dems to ensure that the residents of Ward 7 are treated equitability.
For more information about the Ward 7 Democrats, visit ward7dems.org.
Philip Pannell is a long time Ward 8 community activist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.