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D.C. Council candidates debate at Catholic University

Sunday - 10/21/2012, 7:09pm  ET

Four candidates for D.C. Council participated in a debate at Catholic University Saturday. From left to right: Councilmember Michael Brown (I), Councilmember Vincent Orange (D), David Grosso (I) and Mary Brooks Beatty (R). (WTOP/Mark Segraves)

Mark Segraves,

WASHINGTON - Four of the seven candidates running in the at-large race for the D.C. Council faced off in a 90-minute debate Saturday that erupted in heated back- and-forth arguments between the candidates as well as between the moderators and candidates.

WTOP's investigative reporter Mark Segraves and Washington Post political reporter Mark DeBonis moderated the debate at Catholic University.

The participating candidates included:

  • Councilmember Michael Brown (I)
  • David Grosso (I)
  • Councilmember Vincent Orange (D)
  • Mary Brooks Beatty (R)

It was a debate that had one current councilmember propose targeting Maryland and Virginia residents with speed cameras and the only Republican candidate distance herself from her party and refuse to say who she would vote for in the presidential race.

The hot topics included the future of photo-enforced traffic fines, parking for disabled individuals, teacher evaluations, and voting rights for District residents.

Listen to the debate below:

Red top meters:

On the issue of the proposed plan to reserve hundreds of metered parking spaces for disabled drivers, none of the candidates supported the legislation currently being considered.

Grosso: Wants dedicated free parking for disabled drivers

Beatty: Wants dedicated parking

Orange: Wants dedicated parking

Brown: Wants dedicated parking

Photo enforcement of traffic:

All of the candidates indicated they support reducing the fines for speed cameras. But Brown said the cameras should be placed near the borders of the city to target Maryland and Virginia drivers.

"If the cameras are going to be anywhere, let's at least put them on the fringes of the city so we can get the Maryland and Virginia folks to pay those fines rather than us," Brown said.

When the moderator pointed out that 65 percent of the fines are already issued to Maryland and Virginia drivers, Brown replied, "What's wrong with 100 percent of those being from Maryland and Virginia?" The comment elicited applause from the audience.

Beatty called the photo enforcement system "outrageous and ridiculous." She disputed data that shows speed cameras reduce traffic deaths.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, in the 11 years since speed cameras have been in use in D.C., traffic deaths have decreased by 76 percent.

Beatty said there is no evidence of a correlation between the cameras and traffic deaths.

"I've seen several analyses that show that is not a proper analogy," Beatty said.

Voting rights:

On the issue of voting rights for District residents, all the candidates agreed it was a top issue of great importance to residents. They all vowed to work for full representation, but the conversation led the only Republican candidate to take a swing at the only elected Republican in the District, Patrick Mara (Ward 1), who is a school board member and one of the most popular Republicans in the city.

Mara came within about 1,000 votes of winning a D.C. Council seat in 2011.

Beatty told the crowd she could have success convincing congressional Republicans to support D.C. voting rights because of her party affiliation. "Working with Congress might be easier for me," she said.

But when asked why it would be easier for her than Mara, who used the same logic when he campaigning, Beatty told the crowd she's no Pat Mara.

"His positions and mine are not necessarily totally in line with one another," she said, adding that perhaps Mara was not up to the task of negotiating with members of Congress.

"His collaboration skills may be not quite as refined as mine," she said.

On the same topic of voting rights, when Orange was asked why he decided to stay on the sidewalk and not get arrested several years ago when Mayor Vincent Gray and many others were arrested on Capitol Hill while demonstrating for voting rights, he said he attended the demonstration, but never planned on participating.

"That was not on my schedule," he said.

Brown, who did get arrested that day, took the opportunity to take a jab at Grosso who was arrested more than 20 years ago for possession of marijuana.

Brown called his arrest, "Getting arrested in a good way."

Rapid fire questions:

In a rapid fire round of questions when the candidates were asked to give yes or no answers, the candidates answered the following:

Q: Should the District aggressively ticket residents and businesses who don't shovel snow off their sidewalks?

Brown: Did not answer
Grosso: yes
Beatty: no
Orange: Did not answer

Q: Would you support a law restricting large sugary sodas similar to what New York City just passed?

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