Kenyan McDuffie has represented Ward 5 on the D.C. Council since 2012.
D.C. Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) is running for attorney general, confirming longstanding rumors about his plans. In the process, he leaves the race for his council seat as one of the most open and competitive this election cycle.
Standing outside his family home on North Capitol Street on Thursday morning, McDuffie cited his own experience growing up in D.C. as a factor that motivated him to jump into the race for attorney general after almost a decade on the D.C. Council.
"I saw my friends stripped of their rights and treated like criminals simply because of the color their skin. I saw the environment around us degrade before my eyes. As I grew older, I saw qualified people passed over while the opportunities that they worked for and they earned got handed to others. And I know that I'm not alone. We've all seen injustice and its many ugly forms together. We've made progress, but we've got much more to go and much more that must be done," said McDuffie, flanked by his family and close friends. "I will stand up to the powerful interests and hold to account anyone who takes advantage of our vulnerable residents."
The race for attorney general is as open as it's ever been since it first became an elected position in 2014. Two-term incumbent Karl Racine has said he won't run for office in 2022. The only other current candidate is Ryan Jones, a solo practitioner and political novice who lives in Ward 4.
McDuffie, 46, attended Howard University and the University of Maryland School of Law, later working for D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and then as a trial lawyer in the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice. A lifelong resident of the Stronghold neighborhood, McDuffie was first elected to the council in a special election in 2012, taking the seat after his predecessor Harry Thomas Jr. resigned in the wake of accusations that he embezzled public funds. McDuffie was quickly appointed the council's chairman pro tempore — a mostly symbolic position but one that spoke to his rising stature in the legislative body. He was re-elected in 2014 and 2018.
Known as a low-key and sometimes cautious lawmaker, McDuffie in 2016 wrote the NEAR Act, a sweeping bill that pushed city agencies to address violence and crime as public health problems. He also authored the REACH Act, which created new tools for the promotion of racial equity within the D.C. government; spearheaded an initiative to rethink how to best use Ward 5's large stock of industrial land; passed legislation requiring D.C. to honor more native Washingtonians with statues and memorials; and, more recently, wrote the bill creating the city's first "baby bonds" program to give annual payments of up to $1,000 into trust funds created for low-income kids.
He didn't escape criticism, though, especially from progressive activists who panned his votes against tax increases on wealthy residents, as well as fire from some Ward 5 residents who said he wasn't responsive enough to neighborhood concerns. Some activists have also criticized his support for the city's development plans at the McMillan Sand Filtration Plant located directly across the street from his house; he said Thursday he hopes the long-delayed project kicks off before he ends his term on the council.
McDuffie commended Racine for building out the office of more than 600 employees and focusing on everything from consumer protection and tenant rights to juvenile justice reform and Big Tech. He said he would continue to focus on those areas, while taking on something that he said was close to his heart in Ward 5.
"I have a particular interest — and if you know anything about Ward 5 — on environmental justice, and that's one of the areas that I think I'm going to focus especially on to make sure that we are enforcing against those businesses who take advantage of our residents and communities across Ward 5 and the rest of the District of Columbia," he said.
In August, he unsuccessfully moved to block a city bus lot from relocating to the Brentwood neighborhood, saying it would have negative impacts on residents' health. And in 2018 he pushed D.C. to use eminent domain to close a trash transfer station in the same neighborhood.
McDuffie also said housing affordability would be on his radar, calling the spiraling costs of homes in the city one of the most "dire" issues residents face. He admitted that he and his wife likely wouldn't be able to afford the rowhouse he lives in and has been in his family for more than 60 years; the house next door is currently on the market for more than $900,000.
"As attorney general, I'm going to fight and use all of the myriad of tools that are in the toolkit to make sure that we protect housing affordability and make sure that housing providers in particular are not taking advantage of our low-income tenants," he said.
McDuffie also said he would focus on gun violence, but recognized that the attorney general's office is limited in prosecuting violent offenders; that's left to the U.S. Attorney for D.C. But he said that raised another issue he would continue to support: D.C. statehood.
The Democratic primary is on June 21, 2022. McDuffie said he would be using the city's public financing program to pay for his campaign. As for any endorsements in the Ward 5 race, which already has three contenders — Zachary Parker, Faith Gibson Hubbard, and Gordon Fletcher — McDuffie demurred.
This story is from DCist.com, the local news website of WAMU.