|Mayor Adrian Fenty at the Ribbon Cutting of the new Watha T. Daniel Libary on August 1.|
Photo: Executive Office of the Mayor.
Why vote to reelect Fenty despite the mounting criticism, much of it deserved?
Fenty had the courage to throw out the status quo. Obviously, the most frequently cited example is the schools. Perhaps he’s taken too much credit for what is essentially moving the system from under rock bottom up to the sea floor, but he’s taken the hardest first step, which is not continuing to do things the way they have always been done.
But there’s many other areas where Fenty has found that the old ways are not good enough anymore – and with results. Over the past four years, I’ve seen ineffective police brass replaced with effective leaders, unlicensed porn shops closed, illegal billboards torn down, parking laws enforced on Sundays, dogs parks built, and application of the city’s long-ignored vacant and nuisance property laws. Additional Circulator routes, bike lanes, and street cars are also important to many smart transit-oriented folks. Developers now put in covered walkways to keep open pedestrian traffic where before they closed off entire streets, stifling small businesses and making it difficult for pedestrians. We now have bans on sales of single bottle of alcohol in Wards 2, 4, and 6, a measure that the Mayor championed when he was a Councilmember.
When I ran for Ward 2 on the DC Council – improving our schools, parks, and libraries – essentially rebuilding our public infrastructure, was one of my main goals. Fenty has done that. In my neighborhood, we have a new state-of-the-art Walker Jones Education Campus, which, in addition to a new public school, includes a library that replaces the embarrassing Sursum Corda porto-library that was the first glimpse of our public amenities for visitors driving in on New York Avenue. This month, the Watha T. Daniel Library opened in Shaw, replacing a riot-era library that looked more like a concrete fortress than a place of expanding horizons. Several long-awaited park renovations are underway – even if some have stalled due to the Mayor’s lapses in judgment in contracting and his zeal for quick progress over all else.
There’s legitimate debate over whether the Mayor is responsible for the lower murder rate in the District, but I have greater confidence in our police force under his Administration. While perhaps not consistent, there appear to be more foot and bike patrols. The city is using “shotspotter” to better track and more quickly respond to gunfire in our neighborhoods – before, if a bullet was shot in the hood and no one was hit, it didn’t happen. Police officers seem more responsive and community-oriented. Fenty has supported strong anti-gang and other crime legislation, while some on the Council, including his opponent, have not. While I do not personally know Cathy Lanier, we are fortunate to have folks like Assistant Chief Diane Groomes in leadership positions.
Mayor Fenty has successfully imparted the constituent services values that made him an effective councilmember to his staff - they move at blackberry speed. The Mayor's Office of Community Relations ward members (MOCRs), in my experience, have been excellent. Burned out street lights in high-crime areas and parks get fixed within days, if not hours, of a request. But it’s not just the MOCRs. Many of those who are working in government agencies are not the types that sit around at a desk, letting calls go to voicemail, and collecting a pay check. They return calls and e-mails, spend late nights at community meetings, typically are prompt to address citizen concerns, and will take the initiative to consult residents for their advice on how they can make government work better. They may not always resolve a situation how I would prefer, but my impression is that they try hard to reach the best possible result.
While one can raise legitimate questions about some of Fenty’s nominees to the city’s boards and commissions, there is little question about the quality of his appointments to top cabinet level positions: top notch. Particularly worthy of being singled out are Linda Argo in the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and Gabe Klein at the Department of Transportation.
Vince Gray is a likeable guy. I respect him. Attacking his record as head of a city agency at a time before the District’s youngest voters were born and others lived here is counterproductive. It is disappointing that Gray sacrificed his important and still fledgling leadership of the D.C. Council to roll the dice for mayor. Gray has highlighted areas where Fenty should place additional emphasis in his next term, such as on building a stronger community college and job training programs for District residents. But overall, Gray’s comments give a sense that he may backtrack in some of the areas discussed above or, at minimum, that he has other priorities. He is surrounded by many of the folks who were in power for many years, but who are furious now find themselves with significantly less influence.
Fenty certainly has received the message that he needs to refocus and change his way of governing in his second term. He has publicly recognized that he has made mistakes and I will take his pledge to do better at face value.
The city is on the right track. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Re-elect Adrian Fenty on September 14.