Making D.C.’s Ward 3 ‘an example for all the land’
So what did Frumin say to those voters?
“I said this: Ward 3 looked the way it looked” – that is, white and rich – “because of exclusion due to premeditated politics – exclusion and then segregation,” Frumin told me. “And we need conscious policies to correct what has happened in the past.”
And instead of tuning it out, voters leaned in to hear more.
Three candidates drop out of the Ward 3 race and support Frumin
He held book readings at his home in American University Park, where residents gathered to learn about the district’s racial history. It’s not nice. In fact, Ward 3’s story is pretty ugly. From the last decades of the 19th century through the mid-20th century, blacks, including those formerly enslaved, along with Civil War veterans, built a community in the Fort Reno area. Vibrant and thriving, it included homes, businesses and a school.
Then local white-led civic groups representing Tenleytown, Chevy Chase, and Cleveland Park called on the federal government to purchase the neighborhood and turn Reno into parkland and schools for white children.
And that’s exactly what they did – they tore down the city of the blacks and stole the land. As researcher Irina Cortez said in a 2003 study for the National Park Service, “Tenleytown acquired a beautiful new park and new schools, but the price to pay for it all was the destruction of an entire community of people with hopes and dreams for themselves and their children.” .”
Apparently enough of the community’s 41,000 registered Democrats were willing to understand more about how the past affects the present — and work to do something about it.
Frumin believes that improving schools across the city is vital.
“The schools in Ward 3 are very, very strong and they are the glue that holds communities together,” he said. “That’s what the city is trying to replicate. But that’s one of the things that Ward 3 can be a model for.”
As of the 2021-22 academic year, nearly 70 percent of Division 3 students were proficient in language arts, compared to about 30 percent of DC’s students as a whole, and 56 percent of Division 3 students were proficient in math, compared to just under 20 percent of all city students, according to a report by DC Kids Count.
That’s due in no small part to a median income for a household in Ward 3 with children of at least $250,000, according to DC Kids Count. The poverty rate in the community is only 8 percent. In the predominantly black community 8, poverty rates are 30 percent and skill rates are 12 percent for language arts and 6 percent for math.
Today, white households in DC have 81 times the wealth of black households — with 1,500 households in the city worth more than $30 million, according to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.
“There are parts of the city that need more investment to create successful schools, but that’s what we should be doing,” Frumin said. “To me, making sure we have great neighborhood schools in every community is an economic development issue because it keeps families in the city. And it’s also about public safety, because if you create places where kids feel like they have a chance, it’ll save them trouble.”
His cure also entails diversifying Ward 3 — ending its identity as a privileged white enclave that has been perpetuated by decades of restrictive race treaties, real estate redlining, and denial of access to capital for black residents.
But diversity doesn’t simply mean building more “affordable housing,” as the district began doing. With only a few low-income earners moving to the ward, the dissatisfaction among the long-established residents can already be heard.
As someone on a community email group noted: “My elderly aunt had to move out of her rented apartment in one of the large buildings in Ward 3 because there were too many leased tenants who made life noisy, smoking and Attacks made increase unbearable. They also no longer felt safe in the neighborhood and felt that crime was increasing.”
In Ward 3, the violent crime rate last year was 0.9 per 1,000 residents, according to DC police, compared to more than 5 per 1,000 residents citywide. But as someone else in the email group noted, in neighboring Chevy Chase, Md., the rate was just 0.2.
“You have 4.5 times the chance of being a victim of a violent crime in Ward 3 than Chevy Chase. That’s a big difference,” the person wrote.
Frumin acknowledged those concerns, saying that Ward 3’s safety is tied to the city as a whole and that when there are “tens of thousands of hopeless people out there, no one is safe. Part of the solution is finding housing for low-income residents, “but if those are the only people we’re putting on the ward, that wouldn’t be the complete solution,” he added.
Frumin also wants more middle- and upper-middle-class African Americans to move to the station.
He believes Ward 3 owes the city something and that residents want to use its political and economic clout to solve systemic issues that are preventing people from enjoying the basics of life — like safe neighborhoods and good schools. His campaign theme could have been a quote from abolitionist Charles Sumner, who believed that the district should be “an example for the whole country” in terms of social justice.
Frumin recalled his early years as a lawyer in DC looking for a home. He found one in American University Park and told a black friend who was also looking to buy a house about it.
“I said, ‘Come look at this place; it’s really great. But he never did it, never said why, and it confused me,” recalled Frumin. Years later he came across an article about the ordeal of “buying a house as a black man” in which the author was reluctant to live in a neighborhood where few people looked like him and his children.
How to fix this? He’s not quite sure. But he’s pretty sure of one thing.
“I think the vast majority of Ward 3 residents don’t care about the skin color of the person who lives next door, but do care if that person takes their parking space,” he said.