Trying Times for Mayor Gray, Washington

March 17, 2011

Just around three months into his four-year terms, District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray is in trouble. Big trouble.

Sulaimon Brown, a fringe candidate during last year’s mayoral campaign who often attacked incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty and urged people to vote for Gray if not for him, claimed that he had made a deal with the Gray campaign to continue his attacks on Fenty in exchange for a job in the administration and money. All this broke like a flood in a front page Washington Post story on Sunday.

Brown charged that he had received money “in the thousands” from Gray campaign officials Lorraine Green, the Gray campaign chairman, and campaign consultant Howard Brooks by way of cash tucked into envelopes. The Post said it could not verify the payments of the money, which Brown said he had spent.

The story is rife with all the elements of a major scandal—envelopes of cash, cell phone records (although not their contents) between Brown and Gray, Green and Brooks, and text messages from Brown talking about “agreements.” It also had one salient fact: Brown did get a job in the Gray Administration as a special assistant with the Department of Health Care Finance, from which he was fired after the vetting process. He is now on paid administrative leave.

Gray in a press conference did two things: he denied any wrongdoing, but admitted “missteps had been made” in the vetting process. He also indicated he had never promised Brown a job or position, only a job interview.

He also called for an independent investigation of the matter, at first by the interim DC District Attorney and the DC Council. Later he indicated that he would be happy for the DC Inspector General, as suggested by Council Chairman Kwame Brown, to investigate the matter. Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans wants the U.S. Attorney’s Office to do the investigation. The DC Office of Campaign Finance has already begun a probe.

The whole thing seems shocking and unseemly. And it comes on the heels of hiring practices by Gray that have been roundly criticized for smacking of cronyism.

In fact, Gray seems to be strangely diffident in his reactions, as if this was not a term-threatening or direct attack by Brown. He’s already called Gray, “an organized criminal.”

Told about that charge by WRC4 reporter Tom Sherwood, Gray said, “he said that, did he?” He then laughed quietly and got into his car.

But this is no laughing matter; it has the making of a political tragedy. Brown, with a dubious employment and political record, ran for mayor anyway. He claims his attacks—which included saying that Fenty did not respect his parents—gave Gray the election. At the Georgetowner Candidate Forum just prior to the election, Brown created a ruckus by insisting he had been invited to participate when he had not.

When a reporter pointed out to him that his charges also made him a criminal, Brown insists that he’s willing to pay for what he did, although he hadn’t said a word about it until being forcibly removed from his short-lived office.

The tragedy, of course, is how this will affect Gray, his administration, his agenda and the city as a whole. In two lengthy talks with Gray during and after the campaign, Gray gave the impression of a man who was proud to be a true city native, a son of Washington, growing up in its largely black communities, graduating from Dunbar High School, getting a degree from George Washington University. He’s a man who clearly values family and friendship. He was widely seen as an honest, good man of integrity, and his term as city council chairman was widely seen as successful, handling the hard-charging Fenty’s wide-ranging agenda and the controversies that ensued.

That reputation has taken a hit with this political firestorm. It’s not that Brown’s charges should be believed at face value, especially those involving cash payments. More than one person has described Brown as a loose cannon, and that’s evidenced in these attacks and charges, and his previous behavior at forums. He received a little over 200 votes in the Democratic Party, so his claim that he swung the election for Gray is not very credible. Politically speaking, you can’t trust him. The surprising thing is that there was any sort of contact between the Gray camp and Brown at all.

Here’s one thing to consider. Gray came to politics late in his life, and, and he’s not a natural by any means. He and his friends don’t appear to understand that in an economic climate where you’re asking people to make sacrifices, you don’t hire your friends at big salaries, or their children. The mayor is Caesar, but he has to be Caesar’s wife too, beyond reproach—especially if you ran on a platform of integrity.

More than once, and from those who said it throughout the campaign, I’ve heard people sayit’s like the (Marion) Barry days. It’s not, but you can see why people feel at ease saying it.

For many of his supporters this is a kick in the gut, and the effects will linger. “There are a lot of people who are kind of heartsick, beyond buyers remorse”, one Adams Morgan resident said.

There can’t be a rush to judgment, but there must be a rush to honesty. I believe without any hesitation that Mayor Gray is a man of integrity, but a politician who gets elected can often lose his bearings under this kind of pressure. The mayor ought to be laying down the facts as he knows them, emphatically—with emotion and anger if appropriate—on the table to the public, and instituting the help of colleagues and friends. Trust is not like a credit card or a cell phone. You can’t get a new one if you lose it.

The Future of Griffin Market

March 14, 2011

The Griffin Market has unfortunately closed it doors for what we are assuming will only be for be a very short period of time. This market is and has been part of the neighborhood for generations and holds a very special place in my heart, as I am the granddaughter of the original owners. My grandparents acquired this property back in the 1930s, and the market was my grandfather’s first place of business. My father and his brothers were born in the apartment upstairs, and grew up there for a time. So this is not just a building owned by an out-of-towner.

My grandparents operated the market for many decades. They did eventually sell the business, but have always owned the real estate, and over the years have leased the space to a few different tenants, always with the notion of maintaining the original integrity of having a local, friendly neighborhood market.

Upon the death of my grandmother in 2008, it was requested that I manage the asset on behalf of the Miller Family. The same lease has been in place since the 1980s and has simply been assigned over the years, but with very minimal rental increases. In June and July of 2010, the tenants exercised their option to extend the existing lease through 2018 in writing, but in February announced that they would be leaving and closed their doors. Under the current lease, the rental increase amounted to a total of $84 and not 40% percent, as previously stated. As far as plans for the building are concerned, we are in the process of replacing the windows as well as making minor allowable improvements to the exterior, all in conjunction with the Historic Preservation Society, and I believe we are in the final stages of that approval process.

I am a 5th generation Washingtonian, having attended the National Cathedral School. Having grown up in the District and having heard my family talk about the city and Georgetown, and knowing how they grew up in the area makes this matter even more important to me and my family. This property represents a period in time when small business owners could prosper, and it is my goal as the manager to hold it in the same regard. Our family continues to live and operated businesses in and around the city and will continue to maintain a presence in the city. We will always call it home.

I would like to take this opportunity to assure neighbors that we are actively working to find the perfect tenant for this space, and I’m sure the new tenant will welcome your business and support. It is extremely important for us as a family to maintain the integrity of this building, this neighborhood, this city and Griffin Market, and we thank everyone for their continued support.

Save Our Health Care System

March 9, 2011

Don’t mess with my health care!! Throw out Obamacare!!!

A majority of the House of Representatives voted to do just that, carrying out, as they said, the people’s wishes.

Polls indicate that half the country wants Congress to repeal Obama’s health care law.

Remember when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were being chased by the guy in the white hat and weren’t sure who it was? One of them said, “Who are those guys?”

Well, who are the people who want Obamacare repealed?

Is it the 45 percent covered by employer health plans (down from 60 percent five years ago)? Is everyone covered by an employer-sponsored plan satisfied? Or are they nervous about losing what they have? Do the 30 percent covered by government health care oppose Obamacare? Or the 10 percent who have individual policies? Or the 15 percent who have no health insurance coverage? Do the 9 percent unemployed want Obamacare repealed? (The numbers don’t add to 100 percent because of overlap.)

The Department of Labor recently reported that the number of self-employed grew from 9 to 14 million last year because many of the unemployed are trying to start their own businesses. That’s almost 10 percent of the workforce. Most are single-person businesses with no health care, no unemployment insurance and no workers compensation coverage. Do they want Obamacare repealed?

The U.S. spends twice as much per person on health care than does any other nation in the world. Yet U.S. life expectancy – the ultimate measure of health care – ranks 37th in the world, right behind Cuba. Those poor people waiting in line for medical care in Canada, ranked 11th, outlive us by an average by 2.4 years.

Government policies encourage the development of small businesses because they are the job generators, but government policies exempt small businesses providing employee health care. Am I missing something or is that schizophrenic?

My company has approximately 25 employees, but we’re conveniently reminded that we are exempt because we have less than 50 employees. How does that help our employees or our company? We want them to have health insurance. It’s good for them and good for us.

Several years ago, we got a quote for a group insurance plan. It was approximately $10,000 per year per employee, more than our profit, and about 33 percent of our entire payroll.

Our agent suggested individual policies for each employee since that reduced the cost. We offered to cover 70 percent of everyone’s cost, but most couldn’t afford that and few bought it. We ultimately set up a plan where we set aside each employee’s benefit each month. When they need money to pay health care, we give it to them out of their fund.

That worked until last week.

Sadly, we have an employee facing a cancer scare. Medicaid will cover her after she’s incurred (and paid) $15,000 out of pocket. She’s having trouble getting an appointment with an oncologist because they want proof of a source of payment before they will see her.
My son just turned 24. He is a self-employed artist and also works for a small, privately owned company in Washington, DC that cannot afford health care for its staff. He is now headed for grad school, which requires proof of health insurance upon admission. He was on his mother’s policy until last year when he was kicked off. Obamacare would let him stay on his mother’s policy until he’s 26—next July 1. It didn’t apply last July 1. So, we bought him an individual policy.

My hips were replaced five years ago at a clinic that also operates a research facility with the FDA. In fact, my left hip is part of an FDA study. I was a “star” patient. Literally. I did everything required and more, and had such a good recovery that the clinic did a movie about me to show what a good outcome looks like.

Even so, no insurance company will touch me. They are worried that I might be in a car wreck that will really mess up my hips and result in very high medical bills. (If I’m in a car wreck, my concern is more about other parts of my body, like my head and lungs and bleeding.)

The North Carolina high risk pool will cover me after I pay $15,000 per year in premiums and deductibles. I can afford that, but most people can’t.

Obamacare proposed an 8 percent payroll fee on employers who didn’t cover employees to help provide those workers with health coverage. We’d love that. It’s a lot better than the 33 percent cost of insurance.

The irony of Obamacare is that it is essentially the Republican alternative proposed during the Clinton health care debate almost 20 years ago. It was fashioned after the Massachusetts law championed by Mitt Romney, a Republican governor and leading Presidential contender.

Politics is funny. The minority’s idea is a good one until the other side adopts it as its own.

Sometime next year, right before the 2012 election, Anthony Kennedy is likely to decide whether Obamacare should be kept or thrown out. He is the tie-breaker on the Supreme Court. He has the best health care government can buy, guaranteed for his entire life. He will decide whether my employee might have to battle cancer (and fear) without insurance, whether my son must buy his own insurance, and whether I’m insurable.

We are truly a modern medical family.

This is the system half of us want to preserve, right?

Two Weeks In a Nutshell…Or a Bombshell

March 7, 2011

When the world teems with upheaval, oddities get overlooked. The revolution in Cairo has been an uprising to unnerve every man in the Middle East holding the title of king, ruler, president [for life], or prime minister. Still, even amidst the revolution, I noticed a few other things that puzzled me, ticked me off, or seemed worthy of comment So here ‘goes:

I read Sally Jenkins’ column about the wretched excess of the Super Bowl in Dallas and didn’t feel so alone any more, just even more appalled. $900 for a parking spot? $20 for a margarita made in Dallas? This must be a Texan version of hard times, by way of Marie Antoinette.

There was a perfectly terrific football game buried in a horrible half-time show and an all-day television extravaganza, which included Fox News roughneck Bill O’Reilly interviewing President Obama. I guess I haven’t been watching: when did this get to be a tradition?

There was way too much pontificating going on in the commercials, the commentary, and all the mouths churning a mile a minute. More than a football game? Really? This was America? Really?

Would it be too much to ask for pop star Christina Aguilera to remember the lyrics to the Star Spangle Banner? Sure you love your country, yadda yadda yadda. But if you can remember to add a pelvic bump to every song lyric you ever sang, you can surely do the Spangled.

On the other hand, there were the Black Eyed Peas and a few thousand radioactive extras, reminding us again of the mystery of Fergie, who, unlike Christina, did remember her lyrics. But on the other hand, she can’t sing. How much did this little party cost?

I don’t care about the commercials, or the little Darth Vader kid, and so on. Commercials are the times in my life when I go to the bathroom, even if I don’t have to.

Speaking of Dallas, as in “only in Dallas”: A Dallas city councilman who had heard Michael Vick, the renewed, re-invented, redeemed MVP of the NFL, speak to a group of youngsters, was so moved that he offered Vick the key to the city. One cowboy fan apparently complained that you shouldn’t be giving a key to the city to an Eagle.

I could care less about that. Just one thing, you strange people of Dallas: if you want to give Michael Vick the key to the city that’s fine. Just don’t give him the key to the kennel.

Speaking of football, we have a little freedom of the press issue becoming very pressing in our own fair city. Dan Snyder, the owner of the Washington Redskins, got all bent out of shape about a City Paper cover story which basically, but factually, ridiculed the owner of the Skins, a team which he’s managed to mess up so thoroughly that naming all the coaches and free agents of the Snyder era could become a difficult trivia question.

Snyder is so mad that he’s threatening to sue the paper, asking for an apology and demanding that the writer be fired. Whoa, Nellie. He’s made wild accusations of anti-Semitism, picking on his wife, and so on. No doubt the details have been on the local talk shows, so we won’t go into them.

We have just one thing to say: Are you kidding me?

Snyder’s attorney basically has suggested that since the victimized Snyder has such deep pockets he can practically bankrupt the City Paper, which is not the Washington Post.

I’ve got an idea. There must be some lawyer with time on his hands in this city of lawyers who can take this case on pro bono. The publicity value alone would be priceless. And the case is bound to be a slam-dunk. Nobody has yet won a libel suit for suggesting that an idiot is, well, an idiot.
And if you don’t like this, Mr. Snyder, sue me. Please.

Moving on to Cairo: I have no advice to offer Mr. Obama. I think he’s done the best that can be done in a painfully tricky diplomatic situation, while probably biting his tongue so that he won’t blurt out “don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out!” to Mr. Mubarak.

So far, most of his political foes in this country have kept quiet, realizing that it is the President’s job to conduct foreign policy, not the Tea Party.

Everyone except, of course, for Sarah Palin, who shoots and knits at the same time. She said that she was not happy with Obama’s handling of the crisis, and said that it was one of those 3 a.m. calls that went straight to the answering machine. Other than that, she said a few words—freedom, liberty, Bristol—and offered no suggestions on what to do, since she cannot see Cairo from her back yard.

Speaking of Palin, she is apparently, according to some reports, attempting to trademark her name. A similar effort was conducted by her daughter Bristol. Ah, the eternal conflict between self-interest and self-interest.
Every time I start writing about Palin, I can’t stop. Time to go to rehab.

The Jack Evans Report

February 9, 2011

On Thursday, February 10, District of Columbia officials will make their annual trip to Wall Street. Every February, the Mayor, the Chairman, myself as head of the Committee on Finance and Revenue, and Chief Financial Officer Nat Ghandi visit the three bond rating agencies: Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s, and Fitch Ratings. The purpose of the meeting is to present the District’s financial situation, which helps the rating agencies determine our bond rating. Our bond rating is important for two reasons: it determines the amount of interest the District pays when borrowing money and it acts as a report card on our overall financial health.

At the beginning of our fiscal year on October 1, the District is authorized to borrow approximately $350 million for cash-flow purposes. Over the course of the year, as our collections come in, the money is repaid. Our big collection dates are January 15 (fourth quarter payments), March 15 (first half of property taxes), April 15 (income taxes), and September 15 (second half of property taxes).

Our bond rating determines the interest we pay on the money that we borrow – the higher the rating, the lower the interest. For example, in the early- to mid-1990s, as the District’s finances deteriorated, the bond rating fell to a “B,” greatly increasing the interest we paid. By 1995, our finances were so bad that we couldn’t borrow money at all, which was the primary reason for the Control Board. It was only when the Control Board came into existence in April of 1995 that the District could once again borrow money.

After the District met several criteria, the Control Board went dormant on September 30, 2001. But what many people don’t know is that it can be reactivated if any one of the following seven events occurs:

1. Requisitioning by the Mayor of advances from the Treasury.
2. Failure to provide sufficient revenue to the debt service reserve fund.
3. Default on borrowing.
4. Failure to meet payroll.
5. Existence of cash deficit at the end of any quarter.
6. Failure to make required payments to pensions.
7. Failure to make required payments to entity under interstate compact.

The Mayor and the Council must remain focused to ensure that none of these seven “deadly sins” occurs.
Over the years, our bond rating has increased from “junk bond” status to an “A+” on our General Obligation bonds and the highest rating of “AAA” on our income tax bonds. The District’s finances remain strong and we have a good story to tell when we visit the rating agencies on Wall Street. Wish us well!

DC Voting Rights Making Strides

December 8, 2010

We have heard it before: “DC voting rights is dead.” That is what people said after the House failed to take up a bill in 2006 and after Senators filibustered in 2007. After each of those setbacks, we regrouped and push forward. Not only did we keep the DC Voting Rights Act alive, we also secured more votes for the bill each time we “resurrected” it from the ashes.

Now a Washington Post article argues that, in light of Republican control of the House in the next Congress, the ‘window on voting rights has closed’ for the next ten years. Defeatist sentiments like these were wrong before and they are wrong now.

If recent elections have taught us anything, it is that such bold blanket predictions of the political future are almost always incorrect. None of us know what lies in store for the next two years, much less the next ten.

DC Vote, working with our allies in Congress and the DC government, will look for new opportunities to advance voting rights. We will not give up just because the fight is getting harder.

But, our fight is about more than voting rights. It is about obtaining full democracy and full citizenship for DC residents.

While DC did not obtain a full vote in the House, we made many other significant advances. For the first time in a long time, this Congress passed DC’s budget bills without riders limiting DC’s Home Rule authority. That success is a direct result of the collective work of the DC democracy movement.

Yes, we will have a harder time with the next Congress. Some Republicans have promised to roll back the Home Rule gains we have made. Let’s continue working together to retain DC’s local democracy and advance pro-democracy legislation.

Truth & Consequences Scarce of Late


-If somebody tried to launch a new version of that old quiz show, “Truth or Consequences,” it might be a tough sell. In public life—whether it’s the media, entertainment, education or politics—there’s precious little of either. In fact, if there were some modern day rehash, its title would more likely be akin to: “If you tell the truth, there will be consequences”.

The absence of consequences is everywhere: David Hasselhoff had his drunken babbling aired on television and flunked out of “Dancing with the Stars” in the first round. The consequence: He received his own TV show.

The wife of the Prince George’s County Executive was arrested (with her hubby) for corruption in public, but was allowed to keep her seat on the city council—lacking a particularly keen awareness of the consequences.

Speaking of Dancing With the Stars: Bristol Palin managed to make it to the finals of the same show, in spite of the fact that she finished on or near the bottom of the judges’ voting every time out. Her fans, including conservative dance fools who wanted to punish liberals, voted over and over again—sort of the hundred-vote do over.

These days, it would seem, if you lose you can still win. The young Palin said that she wanted to show up all the “haters out there,” apparently aiming to dance the dance of vengeance. She lost in the finals.

In a nearby school system, school officials not only tried to eliminate the letter grade F but also wanted to create a policy in which students, who were caught cheating on tests, were allowed to take the test over.

Fortunately, someone (It may have been the school board, parents, or the superintendent who started the whole thing.) ix-nayed the idea. Finally, there was a consequence for promoting no consequences. That’s the truth.

But please don’t blame me. I don’t want to suffer the consequences of whatever I may have done.

The War On Government


-Right-wing politicians have stepped up their assault on government spending. But the latest salvo on the war on government came from an unexpected source: President Obama. His preemptive proposal to freeze non-military federal pay undermines the local economy while achieving little politically.

Home to more than 15 percent of federal workers, D.C. would receive about $750 million less by freezing about 400,000 salaries. This area has suffered less than many other cities despite having the third highest cost of living. Washington—with the most highly educated residents nationwide—draws many people who pursue dreams of public service over better-paid private sector work.

Still, the two-year pay freeze could be worthwhile were it moving us much closer to financial stability or progressive bipartisanship. But it seems to represent only a step back from a message to help the middle class.

The financial impact will be negligible, at $2.5 billion in annual savings. Compare that to what we would save by not extending Bush tax cuts for just the wealthiest two percent ($700 billion over 10 years), cutting a few percent of over $500 billion dollars in defense spending or canceling any of several multi-billion dollar weapons programs. Without the context of a larger effort, the freeze on our country’s largest employer lacks heft.

Nor will it bring bipartisanship. “Can we all just get along?” Rodney King famously asked, after his brutal beating by the Los Angeles police led to citywide riots. President Obama similarly wants cooperation. But major concessions on health care and climate change didn’t bring Republican support, and the freeze proposal drew a one-two punch: Republicans refused to act on legislation before addressing tax cuts, then voted to block them unless $1 million earners were included.

Clearly the answer to Rodney King’s question for President Obama is: “We just can’t.” Republicans have sold a broad, misguided message of antigovernment, anti-business and anti-growth to Congress and backed it up with their legislative votes. Now they say, in so many words, that our job-killing city is unfairly rich at the expense of the middle class.

Corporations brought money to the Tea Party and to conservative candidates to amplify such a message. Massive and growing corporate donations are aimed at promoting an unfair and unsustainable status quo: sacrificing a middle-class ravaged by recession, stagnating wages, and high fees to corporations and the rich.

At his best, Obama championed the priorities of most Americans. His emphasis on the commonality of federal government and middle class interests energized his campaign and his presidency.

Soaring rhetoric on common sense injustices in health care and financial services resonated with the American population, as did calls for investment in clean energy and infrastructure. And while the legislative process has been messy and marked by premature concessions, he’s racked up significant wins for most Americans through the stimulus, health care and financial reform.

But his efforts drew the ire of cash cow corporations highly dependent on old products and technologies. Rather than investing in development of the next generation of sustainable, innovative and globally competitive products, these companies spend little in research, stockpile cash and rack up profits.

These profits have come increasingly from deceptive or illegal practices, such as violating safety regulations, downplaying health risks, and presenting consumers with comprehensive solutions and then later surprising them with extra hundreds of dollars on monthly bills. The result is a middle-class wracked by foreclosures, obesity, shrinking savings and retirement, and rising poverty levels.

Despite a broad anti-government message polling well, most Americans support initiatives like health care protections, limited credit card fees, and continued unemployment benefits.

Obama should return to his impassioned rhetoric emphasizing the consistency of federal government and middle class interests. He should champion the heroes in the government (including the 45 percent in public health care) and other federal accomplishments. He should point out clear failures and shortsightedness of corporations and offer regulation and investment to improve it. He should hold fast on tax cuts, forcing Republicans to explain why they support millionaires over popular measures like extending unemployment insurance and continuing START.

“You lose nothing when fighting for a cause,” said Muhammad Ali. “In my mind, the losers are those who don’t have a cause they care about.”

The president would do well to heed this legendary fighter’s advice. Obama should abandon a proposal wrong for our city and our country, and once again embrace the message of our government and the middle class.

Against the Fenty Write-In: A Rebuttal

December 1, 2010


-Georgetown resident John Hlinko, founder of the Adrian Fenty write-in-campaign for mayor on Facebook, offered an objection to my take on the write-in campaign, including my opinion that the effort appeared to be “peculiarly un-democratic” (“The Fenty Write-in: A Democratic Success Story,” from the November 16 issue).

I don’t mind people objecting to my analysis and opinion—it’s an opinion page after all. And I only mildly mind that opinion being called “Orwellian” or that I saw the write-in as some sort of attempted coup complete with tanks.

But there’s one hyperbolic description too many in his rebuttal: that’s the claim that “it’s hard to see how this was anything but profoundly democratic” (His words).

Let’s also admit that while the primary was not the final or general election, it was indeed a democratically conducted election, meant to choose the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer in the general election, and the principal candidates were Mayor Fenty and Chairman Gray. The fact that DC is a heavily Democratic city has historically made the primary winner the winner of the general election. To use a fine democratic American phrase, Mr. Gray won fair and square, for a variety of reasons, most of which were documented in the Washington Post and other media, and they were born out in the result. The election was not a verdict on education reform. It was a verdict on Mr. Fenty’s political and leadership style, and the autocratic way that education reform was processed.

That’s what primaries are: an electoral method to choose candidates to represent political parties in a larger election.

I don’t have an objection to people offering up write-in candidates, or candidates unhappy with the results of primaries attempting to do the same. Nobody likes to lose, by twenty votes or by thousands. It’s been done before. Up in Alaska, one candidate lost the Republican primary for a senate race, took on the Tea Party-backed candidate in a write-in and won in the end. Joe Lieberman, ousted in a Democratic Party primary in Connecticut by an anti-war candidate, ran as an independent and won. And several years ago, Mayor Anthony Williams was forced to run as a write-in candidate due to a technical foul up by his campaign. Two years ago, Carol Schwartz, the lone Republican on the DC City Council, was undone in the primary by a young GOP candidate backed by the local business community and ran a write-in campaign and lost. Michael Brown—the one on the council—ran as an Independent, even though he’s been a heart-and-soul Democrat from practically his first breath, and he won.

But write-in campaigns are usually run by candidates themselves, not their supporters. Mr. Fenty repeatedly said he was backing Mr. Gray in the general election, even if those assertions were not made with any great passion. It is not productive or very reasonable to vote for someone who is not even running.

The write-in supporters often claimed that while they liked Mr. Gray, they feared he would not continue the education reform efforts begun in dramatic fashion by Mr. Fenty and School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who resigned before the general election.

In effect they, like Mr. Fenty and Chancellor Rhee and national media types, were claiming that Mr. Fenty was a victim of an anti-school reform effort, and they were trying to save reform, which apparently only Mr. Fenty would pursue with enough rigor, energy and vigor.

This was, to begin with, a misreading of Mr. Gray, who has repeatedly insisted he will continue reform, that there would be no going back.

What was undemocratic about the write-in, to my reading of it, is that it cavalierly disrespected the primary vote results and those voters who supported Mr. Gray. If the primary election and the Washington Post polls that preceded it showed anything, it was that DC was a city dramatically divided by race, class and wealth.

What exactly did the write-in accomplish? The write-in effort proved to be very effective indeed, racking up solid numbers in the very same white and affluent Wards 3 and 2 which had given Mr. Fenty a solid advantage in the primary. In short, the write-in exposed again the racial and economic divides in the city.

But there was never a chance that the effort would actually succeed in coming up with a win for Mr. Fenty. That was always a fantasy. Elections are about consequences, winners and losers, as well as risks. This write-in accomplished nothing that was constructive, or anything resembling clarity. It muddied the outcome, suggested that the primary result was somehow illegitimate or beside the point. Far from being “profoundly democratic,” it ended up being an exercise in electoral peevishness.

The Fenty Write-in: A Democratic Success Story

November 29, 2010


-This letter is in response to Gary Tischler’s editorial of November 3rd, “Congrats to Gray: Election Day and Beyond.” As a Georgetowner myself, and as the founder of the Facebook page Mr. Tischler referenced, “Run, Fenty, Run”, which helped jumpstart the write-in campaign, I thought it would make sense to address some of the points Mr. Tischler made regarding that effort.

Overall, there are a lot of good points made in the piece, and we too have joined in congratulating Mayor-Elect Gray on his November 2nd victory. We’ve posted it right on the page, and even offered Gray use of the page to reach our supporters.

My only quarrel with Mr. Tischler’s piece was with the section apparently ghost-written by George Orwell:
“It is a peculiarly undemocratic approach that says: We won’t accept the election results that we don’t like and we’re going to try and change them.”

It’s hard to know where to begin with this sentence. First, when this was written (as Mr. Tischler notes), the election for mayor hadn’t actually happened yet. The September election was a primary to choose party nominees. The November 2nd election was when the mayor was chosen. That’s why they called it an “election.” Call me old fashioned, call me sentimental, but I kind of like the quirky American tradition of waiting for the actual vote before declaring a winner.

The truly confusing part, however, is the claim that this effort was somehow “undemocratic.” Which part was undemocratic? The part where we tried to get more votes in the actual election? The part where we tried to run a campaign for our preferred choice for mayor? The part where volunteers stood out for 10, 12, 14 hours or more, trying to convince other voters to consider writing him in as well?

Now, in fairness, I was out of town for a few days, so I apologize if I missed the part where write-in supporters rolled out the tanks and declared a coup. And if they made Fenty “Generalissimo for life” in my absence, well, my bad.

But otherwise, it’s hard to see how this was anything but profoundly democratic. A group of grassroots supporters rallied behind their preferred candidate, and, with almost no budget, miraculously convinced
23% of voters to write in the name of that candidate. No, Fenty wasn’t on the ballot, and wasn’t running. But that’s the whole point of having a write in. If a voter thinks the best choice for that office is not on the ballot, he or she writes in the person they think is best, even if that person would need to be “drafted” to accept the office. The vast majority of people written in on Election Day are in fact not running.

Was it a long shot? Absolutely. Was it a pain in the neck for Mayor-elect Gray, and even Mayor Fenty himself? Almost certainly. Was it undemocratic? Well, since when is democracy “undemocratic?”