Last Wednesday evening I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Uqdah and his wife and campaign manager Pamela Ferrell to discuss Mr. Uqdah's run for Ward 4 City Council. My neighbor and Domku bartender Joe was making fun of me for pretending to be a journalist when Mr. Uqdah and his wife arrived. Mr. Uqdah had a presence about him that allowed me to recognize him immediately even though we had never met. Mr. Uqdah, dressed impeccably in a tan suit, is a tall man with a magnetic personality that makes you feel like you are in the presence of a TV star, a professional athlete or a, well a politician.
Although, as I was to learn, Mr. Uqdah did not come across as a traditional politician littering our conversation with campaign rhetoric, rather Mr. Uqdah comes across as the exact opposite, frankly he is a passionate person with an engaging personality and with some bold and somewhat controversial new ideas, if not the most politically sophisticated ones. Clearly there is no Greenberg and associates feeding him polling data behind the scenes here. Nevertheless, Mr. Uqdah seems to be brimming with confidence and charm. The fact that Ms. Ferrell was able to join us was an added bonus. Ms. Ferrell was about half the size of Mr. Uqdah with very serious eyes that exuded intelligence. So we sat down for a half an hour interview that ended up lasting one and a half hours. Mr. Uqdah had the mussels and a black coffee while Ms. Ferrell had a specialty tea and apple pie.
Mr. Uqdah is a lifelong DC resident who attended public school in DC and now lives in the Brightwood Park or 16th Street Heights neighborhood of Ward 4. He is 54 years old and the father of two young children. He has lived in Ward 4 for the past 26 years and he previously ran for city council, unsuccessfully, in 1992. Currently he is a businessman, he and his wife own and run Cornrows & Co. hair salon on 14th Street. In addition to a businessman, Mr. Uqdah, is a community activist, volunteer and lobbyist for a variety of causes. Although he seemed most proud of his efforts working with community youth as well as working on efforts to beautify neighborhoods in Ward 4. When asked why he was running now he replied "the opportunity presented itself."
DC Public Schools
Mr. Uqdah supports in principle Mayor-elect Fenty's plan on taking over the school board, however, he will first need to see the plan in full before he will make a final judgment. Mr. Uqdah presented some unique ideas as we discussed the DC public school system. DC should consider establishing more vocational schools to teach our youth practical skills that can help address the City's future needs. He offered the teaching of elevator and escalator repair as an example. Secondly, and a bit more controversially, Mr. Uqdah stressed the need for more parental involvement vis a vis their children's education. He suggested an admittedly radical solution to make the parental role a mandatory one. When I inquired further as to what exactly he meant by mandatory he alluded to the fining and/or incarceration of parents if they failed to fulfill their roles. Now what exactly their roles are to be aside from attending PTA meetings was not completely flushed out. Nevertheless it was refreshing to hear a point of view that included the importance of parents in the successful education of their children.
Mr. Uqdah's children are currently home-schooled.
Garbage on the streets
"Consider legislation that would make an additional tax for carry out restaurant orders" Mr. Uqdah boldly suggested. This additional tax could then be used to fund additional cleanup crews. But to get at the root of the problem Mr. Uqdah believes that this issue must be addressed in DC public schools. "The kid need a civics lesson," he said. Couple that with more garbage cans on the street and you can make a dent in the problem. Mr. Uqdah hopes that if the children are educated to take pride in their community they can then transfer this pride to their parents and guardians.
Cameras will not solve the problem according to Mr. Uqdah. Rather we need a revised community police effort. This effort will allow Ward 4 residents to get to know their neighborhood police officers just like many residents know their mailmen/women. When I asked Mr. Uqdah who his mailman was he answered without hesitating. He also told me where his postman lived and when his birthday was. It was very impressive. Mr. Uqdah said he can train people to do what he has done successfully: cleaning up neighborhoods, working with troubled youth, even getting a dysfunctional mental health home removed from his neighborhood.
In Mr. Uqdah I saw a man who practices what he preaches. But my concern is that many of his answers worked on a small scale but I question whether they can work on a larger Ward wide scale. It was not clear he had fully thought out the obstacles to translating his personal experiences to a Ward of over 50,000 residents.
Not an issue according to Mr. Uqdah. The best way to get people to integrate into their neighborhoods is simply to get out with your kids or your pets and meet and talk with your neighbors.
Georgia Avenue Revitalization
We need more restaurants, bookstores, flower shops, bistros, watering holes, we need all of those things according to Mr. Uqdah. This was music to my ears. Although Mr. Uqdah does not believe that the government should dictate what type of stores must go in certain locales. Let's let the market take care of that, said Mr. Uqdah.
Proposed Homeless Shelter in Ward 1 on Georgia Ave
We need to create a program to transition the homeless not simply to shelter them temporarily said Mr. Uqdah. The people running the homeless shelter must give real assurances that they will have ultimate accountability for the shelter he said. When pressed if he supported the specific shelter in Ward 1 off Georgia Ave, he said he would not support its move from the U Street area.
Old Soldiers' and Airman's Home
"In a perfect world I'd like to see really affordable housing" said Mr. Uqdah. He tweaked Mayor William's wish that DC attract 100,000 new residents, rather Mr. Uqdah would like to see DC attract 100,000 new families. The key to that success, according to Mr. Uqdah is affordable housing. Mr. Uqdah did not mention anything about the need for public green spaces.
Books, Music and Movies
Mr. Uqdah is currently reading a book on Martin Luther King's leadership style by Donald T. Philips.
Mr. Uqdah is listening to a CD by John Legend.
As for movies, Mr. Uqdah reminded me that he had two little children and mentioned something about the wheels on the bus going round and round.
Mr. Uqdah is someone with a real passion for the City and for Ward 4 in particular. He has adopted the successful green colors (his campaign literature does feature a photograph of Mr. Uqdah in an unfortunate combination of light green turtle neck sweater and green felt hat but this is not a fashion critique) from the Fenty campaign, and most importantly he is not afraid to speak his mind. I have no doubt he would be a passionate advocate for Petworth.
You can visit Mr. Uqdah's website at www.UQDAH44.com