JAN 9, 4:38 PM
As the investigations surrounding Councilmember Jack Evans’ ethical conduct ballooned last year, challengers for his Ward 2 seat began pouring in from all sides. But now, instead of challenging an incumbent, they’re running only against each other: Evans resigned his post earlier this week amid an ethics scandal and the high probability that he’d get booted off later this month if he didn’t step down.
Yilin Zhang, the only woman in the race, is a professional who works in business development at Kaiser Permanente. She’s never held public office before, and this is her first race—but she believes her experience managing large projects in the private sector and her passion for public service make her qualified for the Ward 2 role, she tells DCist.
“I would say that I’m a political newcomer,” Zhang says. “But I’ve done a lot in my professional life in terms of managing large projects, being passionate about health care and equal access for everyone.”
Zhang is a first-generation immigrant whose parents brought her to the U.S. from China when she was three years old. She has lived in the D.C. area for about 10 years, and in Ward 2 for about six years, she says. She’s the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship that allowed her to study women’s access to family planning, and most of her professional career has centered around health care in one way or another.
Indeed improving health care access is one of her biggest priorities for the ward and the city overall, even though she knows Ward 2 is not under resourced when it comes to health care access.
“I see this as a citywide issue,” Zhang says. “Within that issue, we need to make sure that our senior residents have access to their medicines. Ward 2 does have a significant amount of residents who are over the age of 55.”
Her other largest focus, she says, is creating affordable housing in Ward 2. She said she believes that a glut of development has both been too low in affordable and deeply affordable units and has been encroaching too much on green space (both in the ward and in the city as a whole). “We need to maintain enough green space to have … a third space for the community,” she says. “People still need to gather, and that’s what I hear from residents who’ve lived here for a long time. They want a place where all people from all generations can come together and be a community.”
Zhang also says she would push for the city to work harder to make the roads safer for pedestrians and every variety of vehicle, including scooters and bikes. She supports a stalled bill in the D.C. Council that would decriminalize sex work and says she would lead discussions with Ward 2 constituents (who are divided on the issue) to reach a consensus and try to move the bill forward at the council.
She says that her office would be more transparent and communicative than Evans’ has been, letting people know “what major decisions have been made and when we have made them.” Her office would be greatly focused on constituent services, she says.
Her focuses stem from her experiences as the child of immigrants.
“My passion for service really comes from my parents,” Zhang says, explaining that she grew up watching her mother struggle to communicate with people and participate in the community where they lived. “It was very hard for her because she didn’t know how to interact with the community, and that carried out through my life in that I see people with barriers and I think, it’s so important for people not just to have a seat at the table, but to have a voice at the table.”
Now that Evans has stepped down from his post, the city will hold a special election for his seat on June 16, two weeks after the District’s primary elections. The winner of the special election will serve the remainder of Evans’ term, which ends in January 2021, and the winner of the primary will serve a full four-year term starting next year.
Zhang and at least four of her competitors will run in both the special and primary elections.
The crowd of candidates includes two ANC comissioners, a Microsoft employee and former marine, Evans’ own former campaign chair, and a lawyer and former employee at the Department of Health Care finance.
““People still need to gather, and that’s what I hear from residents who’ve lived here for a long time. They want a place where all people from all generations can come together and be a community.”