"Dustin, why weren't you the President?" - My principal, the late Dr. Rebecca Newman said aloud at a student government meeting during my senior year of high school.
If elected the next Mayor of DC, I'll turn 34 years old during my first week in office. High school is a distant memory, but the public display of support by one of my mentors (my principal) is something that has never left the forefront of my mind.
She saw me leading at a young age, and clearly knew which 'buttons to press' to make sure that her students went on to be the best version of themselves that they can be.
If she was still alive today, and if I become elected Mayor (knock-on-wood), I've thought many times that it'd be fitting for her to hold the book that I take the oath on during inauguration.
I think she'd be proud of my run for Mayor, and even prouder to know that the first set of donors to contribute to my campaign were high school classmates of mine.
Dr. Newman is the second most influential woman in my life, second only to my mother. My early supporters told me that I should get out ahead and share my life's story ... How does one even begin to summarize a life? ... so I brought my confidant John to meet my mother in the Spring of 2017, and to review my family photo albums.
John and my mom had a blast looking at all the photos, from the day I was born til the present moment. John was enthusiastic to see that my mother had documented so many memories, and he was elated to have access to these photos.
John is my biographer. Here is what he wrote ...
The following biographical account was collected by the author during a series of informal personal interviews with Dustin Canter in May and June of 2017.
The New York Times asks… 2016: Worst. Year. Ever? – and it was quite a roller coaster. In Washington DC, the 2016 presidential election loomed large and despair fell upon most of the city once the election returns began to roll in. Negative waves of emotions – from shock, to panic, to fear, and so on – afflicted so many of us as we faced the prospect of a future that we never dreamed could become a reality.
I asked Dustin Canter what he felt during that time that we all remember. I asked him how he processed the events of that day in light of his decision to run for Mayor of Washington DC. I asked him if it changed anything for him, since he hadn’t told anyone about his decision to run for mayor at that point.
“Yes of course it was shocking, and there are so many things for all of us to be extremely worried about after the loss in that election. The thing that bothers me the most is the uncertainty – where we just don’t know what he’s going to do next.”
“I had told my family and close friends about my calling to run for Mayor. Everyone’s reaction was positive but some of my people suggested I think about running for DC City Council instead. I took the opinions of those close to me very seriously and I was considering whether which path would be a better option.”
But after the events on Election Day 2016, Dustin knew his decision. He posted on Facebook
“I knew that running for Mayor was the right path for me before the surprise of the election results. I decided to announce my decision on Facebook the day after because I just saw my country – our country – taken over by a real estate tycoon.”
“The one issue that is my most central, must-accomplish mission in this campaign is the issue of real estate and the economics of what is actually happening in DC.”
Dustin began his campaign almost 2 years before Election Day 2018. The way he sees it, if he’s going to ask people to join him for the long haul, he wants to be able to deliver the solutions they are demanding.
“The Mayor is the one who can actually stand up to the vulture real estate companies who are going wild – with no regard to what their actions are doing to the communities that they are building in.”
“If I’m going to deliver real solutions to the issues that matter – I’ve got to do it from the Mayor’s office.”
“The way I see it, it doesn’t matter who the president is – when it comes to fixing the chronic problems in this city.
The same old elites are going to be in charge. The same old big money players are going to be cutting fat campaign checks left and right. This is the same old story that DC has faced for years.”
“They just don’t care…”
Once I thought about it, I realized he was in fact right.
“I decided to step up as a leader for the people of this city and that’s what I’m going to do. I am going to be on the ballot. I am going to run full speed from now through election day. Anyone who wants to join me on this journey is welcome. We are going to campaign and volunteer in this community like nobody has ever done before.”
“And at the end of the day, we are going to get back to the basics of governing. We are going to return to honesty.”
Sounds good to me.
Montgomery County (MoCo), Maryland is an interesting place. It is an idyllic and forward-leaning suburb of Washington, DC which gives us a sneak peek of what the future of multicultural suburbs in America will look like. This special part of Maryland was able to become a model of cultural harmony and progressive politics for two reasons – ethnic diversity and economic growth.
Only 44.7% of the residents of MoCo consider themselves ethnically “White.” The majority of the residents are from one of the many non-white ethnic groups, the largest of which are Hispanic (19%), Black (17.6%), and Asian (14.9%). (Source: Data USA) The balance of diversity in MoCo, combined with the fact that it is Maryland’s most populous county, is a major reason why this community has been able to take the lead in local, state, and regional politics.
Additionally, MoCo is Maryland’s economic powerhouse. Decades of savvy leadership at the state and local level have leveraged the county’s position outside the nation’s capital to spur economic growth and development. The county also boasts some of the most successful IT infrastructure and public transportation projects in the nation’s history.
Dustin’s story begins here – in Montgomery County, where he spent his formative years:
Growing up in a middle class family in the suburbs of Washington DC, Dustin found an early affinity for work. He started his first job at 13 and found work he enjoyed in a variety of different areas during his teenage years.
Early on, Dustin found himself out cutting lawns and shoveling driveways. Later, he got a job with the Rockville City Government as a basketball scorekeeper and baseball umpire. He was also a golf caddy and drove the “ball picker.”
So, Dustin said to me that he “drove the ball picker” and, then, he had to explain what that meant because I had no idea what he was talking about. Apparently, he drove the special golf cart that drives around and picks up the balls on the driving range while everyone tries to hit it with their own golf balls.
I figured that there was no way the the proper term for that vehicle was “ball picker” but I Googled it – and it is in fact known as the “ball picker.” So, Dustin was the actual teenager out there driving around in the “ball picker” in the middle of the summer heat who you were using for moving target practice. I personally love that about him haha
When he wasn’t picking balls, Dustin tried other forms of work and learned additional skills. He performed administrative work in a law office.
“I was organizing files… in filing cabinets. This was before the cloud.”
I could not get enough of this I love people who truly understand the connection between hard work, effort, and making money. Honestly, this was my favorite part of our interview.
Work was important to Dustin but he was also learning about entrepreneurism during his early years in Maryland. Dustin told me that his father was a strong influence on him to be an entrepreneur and he gave Dustin the inspiration to eventually pursue his dreams by starting his own business. Fittingly, Dustin returned the favor by inspiring his father to then start his first business.
On his father’s side, Dustin shared a part of his family’s history that I can tell is extremely important to him. After serving in WWII, Dustin’s father’s father returned from the pacific theater to DC and started a family furniture store on 14th street in Northwest DC.
Dustin’s grandfather fulfilled his goal of owning a family business but, sadly, the family lost him at a young age. With Dustin’s father still in his teens, the family decided to exit the business and move on. Dustin shared with me that the family’s loss of the business stayed with his father, and he believes that this is why his father always made sure to pass down important lessons about business and entrepreneurship – “Dustin, it is always good to work for yourself.”
Finding out all this context about Dustin definitely helped me understand much more about the friend I’ve known for several years now. This is the environment where he grew up and these are the experiences and people who were major influences on him. I knew I liked a lot of things about Dustin, but learning about his youth gave me a lot of answers about why he is the way that he is.
After Dustin graduated from Wootton High School, he moved to the Midwest to earn a degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He had excelled at math and numbers while in high school and got into the College of Business which offered the nation’s highest ranked accounting program.
Dustin worked towards his degree in accounting and many avenues into the corporate and professional world were at his fingertips. However, Dustin ended up following his entrepreneur passion and started burning those same fingertips in his bagel shop instead.
Dustin’s college days were his days of entrepreneurial freedom and exploration. First, he started a moving and storage company with two close friends in his college town called MyCollegeStorage.com. Then, after graduating, while one of the three friends left to take a corporate job, Dustin stayed on an entrepreneurial track with his best friend and opened his first brick and mortar business.
Together, they opened a bagel shop in their local college town called “Howbowda Bagel Co.” After operating the business for two years, the duo split when Dustin’s partner moved to the west coast for a corporate position.
Dustin enjoyed the moving and storage business and operated it for some time until he decided to move back to the east coast and find out where his path would take him next.
Shortly after moving back to the DC area from Illinois, Dustin found his passion. After several years operating the moving business and the bagel shop, Dustin had learned a lot about running businesses efficiently. He also realized that what he enjoyed most about his moving business was the development of technology and processes for solving his customers’ problems.
It wasn’t long before Dustin found the DC tech startup scene and experienced fast-paced entrepreneurial innovation for the first time. He stepped into a business development role at a high-growth tech startup located in DC. During this period, Dustin was travelling around the country meeting and cross-pollinating with all types of technology industry professionals. This is when Dustin fell in love with the culture of innovation in the tech industry.
Upon experiencing the excitement and endless opportunities available in the tech industry, Dustin decided that his next company would build on his previous experience with technology (in the moving business) and provide technology-enabled solutions to his clients. After exploring the possibilities, Dustin decided that his vision for his next company would be a blend of three things he was passionate about: Technology, Entrepreneurship, and Fitness.
Dustin started his fitness career with yoga classes in college starting around 2007. He stuck with yoga and branched out into personal fitness training in 2012. Later, he would become a certified yoga instructor in 2014. All along his path, Dustin has grown increasingly more aware on issues around fitness, nutrition, health, and wellness.
But Dustin Canter, “head coach” for a downtown fitness tech firm called Routeam, had no idea the proposal was on the table. When he read about it on this blog Wednesday afternoon, he biked down to the Wilson Building and confronted Mendelson in the council chamber on the short-notice proposal.
“There are a lot of things you can tax that are not good for the body,” he said. “So why tax yoga?”
Mendelson tried to explain that the proposal was in the tax commission’s recommendations and that “the burden is on the public to pay attention to what we’re doing,” but that did not do much to ease Canter’s concerns.
“We want to be able to know a lot of these things well in advance,” Canter told Mendelson, “and not a lot of us have the dollars to hire a lobbyist.”
And on WTOP.com:
“A doctor can prescribe a pill and that pill won’t be taxed; a doctor can prescribe a woman for prenatal yoga classes but that’s going to be taxed? That doesn’t make sense to us,” says Dustin Canter, who operates a business that helps connect individuals to health care services, including classes, clubs and professional training.
When the final vote came on the budget resolution including the tax, it passed overwhelmingly with just one council member, Tommy Wells, abstaining.
The budget resolution is now bound for Mayor Vincent Gray’s desk.
But long before he stepped up to oppose tone deaf laws passed by the city council and signed by the mayor, Dustin started his next company – Routeam.
There’s two ways to explain what Dustin created Routeam to be. In business terms, Routeam meets the needs of its B2B clients in the health and wellness industry by streamlining online financial operations through business process improvement and custom technology solutions. In human terms, Routeam helps the businesses that help you get healthy and fit by solving their business and technology problems.
However you prefer to look at it, Dustin built Routeam’s client list and has shown that his company can provide effective solutions to its clients. It was during this time that I first met Dustin. My impression of him at the time was that he was meeting people, making friends, and solving problems. It seemed like he loved what he was doing.
At the same time that Dustin was building Routeam, he was meeting more and more people in the city and getting more and more involved in non-profit volunteering. His work and volunteering began to intersect as he pursued his passion in business at the same time that he gave his personal time generously to help various organizations around the city with support, hard work, and pro-bono consulting. Dustin makes a difference at all the places where he gives his time.
Though he was providing impactful solutions to help his non-profit allies improve their operations, he was also doing hard work on the front lines of volunteering in this community. Dustin’s favorite areas of volunteer involvement are in teaching entrepreneurship, youth sports, and working with the homeless and other politically marginalized people.
I remember doing a few calls with Dustin in 2016 while he was working out of some cafe in Costa Rica. I could imagine him down there by the beach in sunglasses and shorts clicking away on his laptop while we chatted. It was a long trip – about two months – but I didn’t think much of it at the time. Until I asked him as part of this interview, I thought he was just going to relax and explore down there.
“I went to figure things out. I needed to figure out what my next step was.”
Since it’s no big surprise that he decided to run for mayor at the end of his self-reflective journey, I decided to ask about the process he went through.
“I was teaching yoga, practicing my Spanish, staying in hostels, working remotely for clients…”
“I was doing a lot of meditation.”
I was starting to get the picture of Dustin’s yoga, laptop walkabout adventure. I became more interested in the psychological process he was feeling during his meditation and thinking.
“I needed to let my mind wander for a bit so I could figure out what type of person I wanted to be and where I was going in life. What is important in my life? What makes me happy? How can I make a difference?”
“I thought about the great people out there that I admire and what it is that I admire about them. I kept exploring my mind and brainstorming ways that I could try to be more like them. I was looking for a way to step up and follow in great people’s footsteps and carry on important ideas from their lives and their campaigns into our lives and our future.”
I knew I was going to ask Dustin who it was that inspired him at some point. I decided to ask him at a moment in one of our conversations when I knew he was switched on to thinking about politics but wasn’t necessarily ready for such an open-ended question. I also asked him for a list of three separate inspirational individuals within a short time-frame. My intent was to try to get a rapid reaction to my question and to read his body language so I could get a good sense of where exactly he was coming from. I also hoped to get a few layers deep by asking him to name separate inspirational figures in succession.
Ok, I didn’t know what I was expecting him to say – but I wasn’t expecting him to look me in the eye and say “Nelson Mandela.”
I must admit that though I knew the rough outline of the history of Nelson Mandela’s life, I did not actually know that much at all. After talking to Dustin and doing some of my own research, Nelson Mandela is an amazing person to draw inspiration from and it totally makes sense that this is who Dustin was thinking about in Panama.
This was also how I learned about Dustin’s summer in South Africa in 2007.
“I was at a soccer game with Nelson Mandela on his 89th birthday!”
All I could think was that this is so Dustin haha
“I spent the summer in South Africa. I knew about him before I got there but I learned a lot more about him over the summer.”
“I was at a charity soccer game and he was there too. They announced him in the stadium and he was celebrating his birthday. So I got to celebrate his birthday with him haha”
We also discussed his other top inspirational figures including Bill and Melinda Gates.
Dustin looks up to philanthropists and this husband/wife duo is shaping up to leave the greatest philanthropic example in the history of mankind. Once the richest man in the world, Bill Gates has decided to leave the bulk of his vast fortune to charity. He is giving so much money away, they are having a tough time figuring out what to do with it all… truly amazing! The example this family has set will resonate throughout the generations.
At this point, you may be wondering who the third person is. I was interested too and I was pleasantly surprised when Dustin named John F. Kennedy – the 35th President of the United States.
I am also a fan of John Kennedy and I wondered what it was about Kennedy that inspired Dustin. Was it his heroic military service in WWII? Was it his steady resolve during the Cuban Missile Crisis? Or was it his noble leadership in the Civil Rights Movement?
For Dustin – it was all those things and more.
“I respect Kennedy for NASA, for space exploration, because he is one of those people who looks to the sky and imagines what is possible.”
This made sense to me. Dustin feels a kinship with Kennedy because they both see the problems in front of them and they refuse to believe they are unsolvable. They both refuse to accept that people cannot be inspired or that change cannot be realized.
I thought Dustin named a great group of people to draw inspiration from. I was really impressed.
Dustin outlined many of the ideas and thoughts that were running through his mind as he asked important questions to himself. He kept returning to ideas centered around DC and his friends and partners here. He thought about all the businesses he knew here, and the non-profits, and the fitness professionals, and the artists, and the friends, and his family…
Helping people is what it is all about for Dustin. He’s not motivated by money. Shady political people make him queasy. If he could just help non-profits all day and not have to pay bills I’m sure he would love it.
But that’s not a reality, so he performs honest work as a yoga instructor and meditation instructor. He also helps his long-term clients with business process and technology services through his company Routeam, just like he’s been doing for years.
When I asked Dustin how all this reflection and contemplation came together in the end. When I asked how he summed it all up. When I asked how he arrived at his decision to run for mayor… he referred me to a quote from Confucius that he had been thinking about at the time.
“If your plan is for one year plant rice. If your plan is for ten years plant trees. If your plan is for one hundred years educate children.”
“I realized I wanted to lead. I wanted to volunteer as a leader. So I thought about how I could help the most people, make the biggest difference…”
“The mayor is the leader of the city. So I decided that I would volunteer to be the leader of the city.”
“I decided to run a campaign about unity, compassion, and justice because it’s what I want to do with my life. I want to serve the people of DC.”
I love it. I think it’s brilliant. Dustin is literally the most DC person I’ve ever met.
Even his initials are DC.
I’ve never met anyone in my life that has ever said they want to be the Mayor of DC until I met Dustin Canter.
I think he would be great at it. I think it would be great for him. I’m voting for Dustin.
“So I’m running for Mayor of DC!”