High Hopes for Health Care

July 26, 2011


-In a recent New York Times op-ed, Paul Krugman, echoing Abraham Lincoln, remarked that the case for universal health care was “an appeal to our better angels, urging politicians to do what is right, even if it hurts their careers.” His politics and bias, whether you agree with them or not, are immaterial here. More important is to understand his use of a phrase now firmly ensconced in the American rhetorical canon, one which may help us to see how the passing of a landmark piece of legislation on Sunday fits into the larger picture of American social policy.

Better angels. It’s a Lincoln original, a curious turn of phrase he used, against the advice of his Cabinet and colleagues, to describe an aspect of America’s internal conscience. It implies the smallest lozenge of good residing within everyone, heavenly, metaphysical, one we strain to hear over the din of heated argument and impassioned emotion. Our ongoing struggle with this innate empathy also calls to mind a stark truth: that American crusades for civil and social justice, the ones we now deem unshakable and sacrosanct, were never popular with contemporaries.

At the turn of the 19th century, those who had fought so hard to guarantee free speech in the Constitution faced its erosion by sedition laws. In Lincoln’s own time, emancipation was reviled by the South and thought imprudent and reactionary in the North. A century later, a handful of legislators, state politicians, and citizens showed they would go to any length to curb the presidency’s quest for civil rights chartered by law. To question the spirit of these movements today, now removed from any political or prejudicial skew, would be to question what is now snugly assimilated into the country’s heritage.

Do we possess the prescience to feel certain the cause for health care will be remembered similarly? No, but we have a feeling it will be. Of the three fundamental rights Thomas Jefferson ascribed to humanity, life and liberty are the most easily stripped by the vindictive, heartless, cutthroat side of mankind. We must never allow that side to take ground. We must recognize for ourselves and for each other that the cause for life, like the cause for liberty, will be threatened constantly by the shallow, inhuman interests that lurk on the fringes of a harsh world. We must pledge to never lie beholden to these. We must pledge to take the steps necessary to ensure that our citizens, one and all, have the resources they need to preserve their own life and the lives of loved ones.

This may require us to quiet ourselves for a moment and listen within to that which binds us together as Americans, and as human beings. The better angels of our nature.

Evans for Chairman?

Well into the middle months of Mayor Adrian Fenty’s final year of his first term, there is an unsettled, faintly ominous feel to the political and economic atmosphere in the District of Columbia.

While the mayor appears to have made significant progress in many areas, large sections of voters throughout the city seem to be unhappy with Fenty, as well as his chosen Chancellor of Public Schools, Michelle Rhee. Speculations have it that some members of the city council, notably Chairman Vincent Gray, who has been visibly at odds with the mayor over a number of issues, will challenge the mayor’s re-election.

No one is exactly betting against the mayor, who has a fat war chest. But electoral politics are a background noise to the business of the council, which now has to contend with a looming budget deficit of the kind not seen by most of its members.

The man least fazed by turbulent political clouds or impending economic troubles, and who probably knows more about them than anyone on the council, is the council’s finance committee chair, Jack Evans. More telling, Evans is the longest continuously serving councilman, having won a special Ward 2 election in 1991, when he emerged the winner over a large field.

Evans has seen the mayor-council relationship ebb and flow over his nearly 20 years in office. “It’s never been ideal,” he says. “Mayor Kelly and council Chair John Wilson were at odds often. Mayor Williams at first didn’t have much to do with the council but that changed in his second term, where there was a lot more contact and cooperation. Right now, I’d say, we’re having some problems in that arena. It’s no secret that Chairman Gray and the mayor rarely communicate. There are several people on the council who’ve had no words with the mayor for months. Maybe years.”

Evans isn’t one of them. It is generally recognized that Evans, who supported Linda Cropp in the mayoral race, has become Fenty’s most consistent and strongest supporter on the council, as well as supporting the school reform efforts of Rhee. “That’s fair to say,” he says. “I think the mayor is a doer, he believes in action, and when something’s done or settled, he moves on.”

The electoral hubbub doesn’t really concern Evans, although if Chairman Gray should run for mayor, “I can tell you I will run for chairman,” he says. “No question.”

Right now, though, politics are not at the top of his list. The budget is. “We’ve been very lucky in terms of the economy,” he says. “We’ve done extremely well and haven’t felt the main brunt of things. That’s not true anymore. As everybody has noted, we’re facing a shortfall of nearly $500 million. It’s almost a cliché, but this requires some extremely tough, painful decisions. We’re better off than other jurisdictions, but things are not going to get better right away.

“There’s only so many places you can look, so many things you can do. Now we’re going to be perhaps talking about looking at freezes on wages, maybe even pay cuts. We are required to balance the budget.”

Evans is by far the most experienced member of the council when it comes to financial and budget manners, making him ideally positioned to be heard in his role as head of the Committee on Finance and Revenue.

Mayor Fenty is scheduled to bring the Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Request Act of 2010 and the Fiscal Year of 2011 Budget Support Act of 2010 to the Council April 1.

“That’s where it starts,” Evans says. The council will hold a public briefing on the mayor’s budget plan on April 12.

History Made Daily in Washington

It’s springtime, and in this city, in our neighborhoods, we could be living almost anywhere, with slight differences of details because we lead daily lives as prosaic as a suburbanite filling his SUV with soccer gear. You can close your eyes and the world is not that much with you, breathing down your neck with alarming tales of celebrity or war.

But in Washington, that’s hardly ever true. In the most beautiful weekend of the year so far, the SunTrust National Marathon, thousands strong, came through our neighborhood and others, the water bearers lined up along Columbia Road as the early batch, loped through. It transformed, if not transfixed, where we lived — streets closed off, drivers grinding through the maze of Lanier Place, Ontario Road or Adams Mill Road, trying to get out to the grocery stores.

“My daughter’s in this,” a neighbor said, rushing to get to the race. “Gotta get out there.”
Elsewhere, at Lafayette Park, thousands of anti-war(s) protesters gathered, protesting not only the U.S. presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, but Israel’s settlements. As of old, they brought masks, megaphones, coffins, the regalia and passion of the young.

They may have picked the wrong time to gather this way in front of the White House or in the city. For one thing, there was the spring fever burning bright, infectious. For another, the transient politician among us, and the occupants of the White House were pre-occupied with other things.

This was the weekend, when, in contradictory fashion, the big health care reform bill, almost in a flash, spurred by encouraging CBO statistics about its cost and by the impassioned pleadings of the president himself, suddenly was about to come to a vote.

Which meant, of course, that the Tea Party folks were in town. This may have meant little to people in Georgetown, or in my neck of the woods off Rock Creek Park in Adams Morgan, but they made their presence felt on Capitol Hill.

On the Hill, history and history-making kissed us squarely on the mouth. It was pure theater, mixed in with the regular theater, the president giving one of his classic campaign style speeches — “Don’t do it for me, don’t do it for the Democratic Party, do it for the American people” — while the GOP stalwarts, including the sour-faced House minority leader Jim Boehner, repeated his mantra: the American people don’t want this bill. Outside, the Tea party folks accused Democrats of socialism, communism, big-ism, take-over-ism, and so on, with a fury rarely seen in this city since the last Cowboys-Redskins game at RFK stadium.

Some members of the Tea Party, it should be noted, also exposed themselves, not in the usual way, but with racial and homophobic slurs directed against black and gay Democrat legislators on Saturday and again on Sunday. Mr. Boehner, when pressed, called this reprehensible, although somehow managed to say it in a way that suggested the American people were so angry about health care that they forgot themselves.

What was certain was that if the GOP party itself had previously tried to keep a thin distance between itself and the Tea Party, it disappeared entirely on Sunday. Faced with a vote that would pass a historic bill they had fought so bitterly, GOP legislators moved out to a balcony and egged the crowd on with “Kill the Bill” signs.

Eventually, history was made: the bill, by a 219-212 margin, had passed.

We were asleep by then. Many of us had also missed the sunny Sunday afternoon on the mall where still another group in the thousands had gathered to ask for immigration justice.

The very fact that history looms over our shoulders daily in this city is what makes the things we do from day to day so precious here, because we hear the hollering of the Tea Party, the banging of the drums of the protesters, the epic words of political opposites. We have our own little political struggles to overcome: the murmurs of discontent about our mayor pop up in the neighborhoods, there and there. Overnight, history sweeps through our sleep, through our locked doors.

We wake up, like everyone else and pick up the morning paper on the third day of spring, awaiting rain.

Remembering Robert Pyle

Georgetowner Robert “Bob” Pyle passed away on March 18 at age 83. A World War II veteran, he attended Japanese Language School at the University of Michigan before graduating from Dickenson College in 1948 on the GI Bill. He also wrote for the U.S. military newspaper Stars and Stripes, with assignments covering the Nuremberg War trials and the Paris Peace Conference. After Dickenson, he attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Pyle came to Washington, D.C. with Wilmington Congressman Herbert Warburton (R-DE) in the mid-1950s and later served on the campaign and as Chief of Staff to Representative Perkins Bass (R-NH). Pyle later served as chief of staff to Congressman David Emery (R-ME), a field staffer for the Republican Congressional Committee and a campaign consultant to the Republican National Committee, advising over 50 congressional, senatorial and gubernatorial campaigns throughout New England, the South and the Midwest. In 1974, a year that saw many Republicans swept from office due to Watergate, he managed two winning campaigns for Representatives Ben Gilman (R-NY) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). These were two of the three so called “Watergate Babies.”

In the mid-1970s, Pyle started a government relations firm and consulted with the American Bakers Association as the Republican lobbyist. In 1976, the Independent Bakers Association tapped Pyle to run a meeting in Washington, DC and later he became their president. He held this position for 29 years, operating out of their offices on Georgetown’s Potomac Street. During this time, Pyle lobbied Congress on numerous issues critical to the baking industry, ending Federal production controls over wheat and peanut markets.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan named Pyle to the Selective Service Commission, and he served as a local host on many Republican Inaugural Committees.

Pyle is survived by his wife Patricia Carlile Pyle. He is survived by his children: Sarah Moore, Dr. Robert Noble Jr., Mark C., and Nicholas A., children of Edith Ayrault Rose, and Louis Crosier, son of Claire Thorn. He is also survived by nine grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting that donations be made out to the Independent Bakers Association Memorial Internship Fund, c/o IBA, P.O. Box 3731, Washington, DC 20027.

Any Character Left?


-To the editors:

Regarding the feature “Reviving Dead Space” [March 10 issue], do clients who “loved old buildings” or their architect, “an expert in period Georgetown buildings,” truly believe that gutting “the entire house” yields a “creation” that has any “good bones” or “character” left? Far too much original fabric of historic Georgetown buildings is being wantonly removed in the interest of reviving ”dead, crumbly cottages” into “spacious light-filled beauties.” With design features such as the now-commonplace “open floor plan, sparkling stainless steel, skylights, limestone, etc.,” are we certain the author is not describing a contemporary loft condo downtown?

I can only wonder what the (apparently very diminutive) previous occupants, circa 1810, would have thought of this “transformation” while huddled around their basement kitchen hearth in “the four-foot earthen windowless crawlspace.”

Douglas Rixey, AIA

The author is a partner at Rixey-Rixey Architects on M Street.

Liquor Moratorium Needs Loosening


-May we request a moratorium on, you know, the moratorium?

Meaning, of course, ABRA’s liquor moratorium for Georgetown, which begins at Wisconsin and N Streets and applies to every restaurant within a third-mile radius, and is now up for its five-year renewal later this year. Several weeks ago, the ANC gave its blessing to a renewal, with the recommendation that two more available licenses be issued in order to, as ANC 2E05 Bill Starrels put it, “dampen the bidding wars.”

Such a comment touches on the larger issue at stake: that any restaurant hoping to sell liquor within the heart of Georgetown must bid for a finite resource. Too finite, in our opinion. Currently, new establishments seeking a license must purchase it at a premium from defunct restaurant owners, who may hold onto their license as long as they like until they get the price they want.

You can see where simple economics comes into play. Demand is skyrocketing, while supply remains dismally low, not to mention hoarded for profit. A Georgetown liquor license nowadays goes for $70,000. And insofar that any restaurant larger than a take-out sandwich joint cannot hope to profit without liquor sales, we can expect any prospective eateries to set up shop elsewhere, where they won’t immediately be set back a hundred grand.

Which is a shame. As Ginger Laytham of Clyde’s remarks, “This is not just a restaurant issue, it’s a whole community issue.” We agree. With a struggling retail market that seems to only attract national chains, this neighborhood more than ever needs to facilitate the establishment of locally owned restaurants and bars where Georgetowners, their friends, and visitors alike can gather to socialize and enjoy the cachet unique to this community. While we are sensitive to the notion that establishments selling alcohol may be catalysts for disorderly conduct, we also point out that incidents like the recent Philly Pizza fiasco don’t always require getting liquored up.

Does all this necessitate a complete repeal of the moratorium, or the handing out of licenses carte blanche? No, but we believe the law could do with a bit of curtailing. We urge ABRA and the city council to issue more liquor licenses to Georgetown, and to enact legislation that would lower the value of those already issued — by adding expiration dates for defunct licenses, for instance — so they are less of a cash cow and more of a transferable, affordable resource.

One On One With Vince

Walk into the offices of DC City Council Chairman Vincent Gray, and it’s like walking into two different

Along a small corridor of offices and cubicles, there are people talking on the phone; computers are on. It’s got all the signs of any busy bureaucratic office. Walk into his office, with Gray leading the way, and the busy sounds die down. His office is reminiscent of an expansive drawing room — leather chairs, a large desk, books and pictures on the wall.

The two-world metaphor works in another way now: Gray, who prevailed over incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty in the race for the Democratic mayoral nomination on September 14, now has his feet in two different places. He’s still the Council Chairman, but he’s also the presumptive mayor of the District of Columbia.

It’s presumptive because usually, in this heavily Democratic city, if you win the Democratic Party’s nomination you become mayor. There are only ever nominal Republican or third-party opposition in the general election, which this year is November 2. This will probably be the case again, even though some disaffected folks have started a Fenty write-in website.

“People don’t know what to call me or how to describe my status,” Gray joked as we settled in for an interview.

Gray’s victory has unsettled people. While it’s sometimes jarring even to Gray, it’s even more jarring to Fenty supporters and supporters of DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee, who had trouble imaging such a result ever coming to pass. Some of the same people have painted the results in the darkest of terms.

That included Rhee, who at first, in the aftermath of the Newseum’s premiere of “Waiting for Superman”, used the word “devastating” describing the election results. Of course she later backtracked.

Gray, who says he hasn’t yet seen the film, said that he’s not making personnel decisions at the moment. So the oft-asked question about Rhee’s status, asked almost routinely throughout the campaign, goes largely unanswered when I asked it yet again. “I know, I know,” he said. “But I haven’t made a decision on that yet. Honestly, when she and I met we didn’t talk about any of that. We talked about educational issues, education philosophy, ideas about schools and children and teachers. It was a pretty far-ranging conversation, so we didn’t get to that. We’ll obviously be talking again.” But if pictures and video of the two emerging from their recent meetings were any indication
— the two literally stood at some distance from each other, and Rhee left quickly — than clearly the discussions had some heft to them.

“Right now, nothing is off the table,” Gray said. Asked if that included Rhee staying on as chancellor, in some form or another, he said, “I haven’t ruled it out.”

As usual, Gray is being deliberative, not making up his mind quickly even if there is a certain amount of pressure — most of it coming from the media.

“Sometimes, it’s hard to believe that we are where we are,” Gray said. “I feel most of the time incredibly humbled by what’s transpired, but I was confident in making that decision to run. I never thought we couldn’t win. And as those first polls about the mayor surfaced, and later on, it was pretty clear to me that there were a lot of unhappy people out there, some angry people.”

“Of course, when some early polls came in election night they had us behind,” he said. “That had a chilling effect, to say the least.”

Back in the summer, when we first had a long conversation with Gray at the Busboys and Poets site near his campaign headquarters, he stated emphatically that this city was more divided today than at any time in its history of home rule. He turned out to be acutely accurate.

“I get these questions all the time,” he said. “What are you going to do about Marion Barry? Are we going to go back to the old politics? That sort of thing.”

“I understand that, believe me. But…people should remember that I wasn’t part of all that. I’m not a career politician, who’s been doing this stuff all of my life. I didn’t run for office until 2004, the first time,” he said. “And when it comes to Mr. Barry, I’m interested in responding to the needs of his constituents, as well as the constituents in all of the city’s wards. I’m not obligated to Mr. Barry.”

It’s fair to say he proved that earlier this year, when Mr. Barry once again came under fire, and the council as a whole voted to censure Barry and strip him of his committee chair position. When the vote came, it was Gray who handled it with both dignity and toughness, unwavering, because it was the correct thing to do, in spite of Mr. Barry’s emotional importuning during the proceedings.

“We did what we had to do. People seem to forget that,” Gray said.

There is certain toughness in Gray that isn’t always readily self-evident. He has what in old-school terms you might call good manners, but there are fires burning there. A widower, he’s lived alone, in a house in the Hillcrest neighborhood, in Ward 7 since the death of his wife Loretta, a schoolteacher, in 1998. He has almost a courtly way about him. He’s a man who believes in observing the formalities.
There’s almost an idiosyncratic dynamic about him. You saw it in the campaign. He carries himself with authority and confidence, fully aware of the importance of position and endeavor. But at the same time, he has the very quality that many people thought Fenty lacked: a consideration for and curiosity about people.

At candidate forums, he could get prickly and combative, but he also looked like somebody that was enjoying himself. His theme is that he will run a One-City government, inclusive of the participation and the views of others. “Don’t stand on the sidelines,” he urges people when it comes to issues. “Be a part of the debate, a part of the discussion.” Put him in a parade, and he might take hours to get through, as you could see, at the Adams Morgan Festival, two days before the election. His supporters surged forward only to lose the candidate, who had been buttonholed by someone he knew, jaw-boning as the parade passed by.

“Yeah, I guess it does take me a while to get through a parade,” he said. “I just think it’s important to talk with people and even more important to listen.”

He knows he’s got his work cut out for him. “We’re facing a huge $175 million budget deficit
— more than that I’m told — and we need everybody working together on that. We’re all in this together.”

He knows too that the election results, which showed him winning by huge margins in the mostly black wards and losing by large margins in the mostly white ward, exposed the great divide that he had identified. “It’s not just race. It’s economic; it’s perceptions of government,” he said. Nationally, his win was being touted by media types as a rejection of education reform.

Gray typically resented that notion. “That’s just not an accurate perception or reality,” he said. “I am firmly committed to education reform, and I think a lot of good things have already been done in that direction. The election wasn’t about whether or not to reform the schools or that they needed reform. They did. I want to continue to do that. In fact, I want education reform to expand to include early education, [with] more emphasis on charter schools, vocational schools. We have to tackle the other issues that impact schools — the lack of jobs in the poor wards. It’s disgraceful. My approach, I think, is a little more holistic.”

“We’re going to move forward,” he said. “Make no mistake about that.”

Gray’s vision of “One City” was tested in a previous race for the council chairmanship. There he defeated Kathy Patterson, the council member from predominantly white Ward 3, by a double-digit margin. “One City” was put into practice again this week, when he embarked on the first of eight promised town hall meetings across all of the city’s wards.

“We’re going to be there to listen to people,” he said. “We’ll have groups on different topics so that there won’t be redundancy. I want to know what’s on people’s minds — what they’re concerned about when it comes to myself.”

“I want to be the man that unites the city,” he said. “I want people to feel that they’re not forgotten — that they’re part of the debate, part of the discussion.”

He also said that he would revive Mayor Anthony Williams’ Citizens Summit, probably in November, in which residents from all wards can come together to provide input on planning and budget issues.

Gray is known as a consensus seeker, deliberative, and even “plodding,” as one critic described it. “That’s not it at all,” he said. “Leadership to me is not just about making decisions per se. It’s about making decisions and getting people to come with you — to understand what you’re doing, hopefully by inspiring people.”

Gray knows he’s walking a bit of a tightrope — allaying the fears of the people who voted against him while meeting the expectations of the people who voted for him.

“I think my wife would have warned me not to get a big head,” he said. “But I can tell you this much, nobody has to worry that I’m going to be wearing a hat that doesn’t fit me.”

There’s a solidity about the man. It’s not that he’s got a thousand close friends but that he has a solid life; his children, Jonice Gray Tucker and Vincent Carlos Gray, and grandchildren are proudly exhibited in photographs on the wall. There’s his Catholic faith and his best friend Lorrain Green, who was his campaign chairman and “the person I’ll talk with, go over things with” he said. “I’ve known her for 20 years or more.” Gray, who once was a highly touted high school baseball player at Dunbar High School — enough to make major league scouts look at him — still plays in a Washington Recreation League at first base. “Keeps me in shape,” said Gray, who at 67 is the city’s oldest elected mayor. He also has a cat named Samurai and is, apparently, known to be quite the hand-dancer.

Dignity and respect mean a lot to him. “I’ve always believed you treat people with respect,” he said. “Everyone.” [gallery ids="99204,103437" nav="thumbs"]

Congrats to Gray: Election Day and Beyond

The real deal begins Wednesday.

Ever since DC City Council Chairman Vince Gray scored a solid and surprising win over incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty back in September, there was a certain air of calm before the storm throughout the city, as voters waited in place for the validating election that occurred this week.

While everywhere else across the country, Democrats are all but shaking in their collective boots awaiting an impending wave of national discontent that seemed likely to take away their control of the House of Representatives, here in Washington, Democrat stalwarts can rest assured that they’ll stay in control of the city, in as much as the city has control over itself.

It’s pretty safe to say that what the Democratic primary brought about in September will pretty much stand as the election result. So, we feel safe in saying that, even though we went to press before the election results were tabulated, Gray will officially become the city’s sixth mayor, Kwame Brown will become it’s City Council Chairman, and the makeup of the city council, sans Brown’s seat, will stand pat.

The bigger question becomes what happens next, and what will be the major issue confronting the new mayor, chairman and council?

Hint: It’s probably not school reform.

The big cloud looming over Washington and its governing types is the huge ($175 million and counting) budget deficit, which, if it isn’t solved could lead the city back into the control of a control board. The city is required by law to present a balanced to congress or see the return of the bad old days of control board authority.

Nobody’s making predictions, but Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, who was the only council member to vote against the last budget and who’s something of an expert on city finances, said that tough decisions are ahead, and to him, that means severe cuts up and down the line.

Others on the council, Michael Brown and Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells among them, have talked about raising taxes. This would certainly fly in the face of all the mighty political winds blowing across the country, where tax cuts for anybody making a salary, however meager or large, are being proposed and will be the focus of major debates once the electoral blood-letting is done.

Not in DC. Presumptive mayor Gray hasn’t chimed in on that, although at the last of the town hall meetings held in all of the city’s eight wards, he did opine that he himself wouldn’t mind paying additional taxes. Which is not to say that everyone else in the city might not.

Gray has spent much of his time on the town hall meetings throughout the city, drawing largely favorable reviews from those attending. Ever since the resignation of DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the ensuing commentary, things have been quiet. Too quiet.

As Gray himself acknowledges, people throughout the city haven’t yet gotten a handle on what a Gray administration might look and feel like, and how it would differ from the previous tenant. It’s probably fair to say that it will be, as Gray promised, more inclusionary, less breathlessly active, more thoughtful, and more cognizant of the entire city. The city remains divided, as Gray was the first to truly see, and the post-election doings haven’t done much to bridge that gap. The town hall meetings were meant to give people an idea of who Gray was, and to begin healing that divide.

While there were initial rumblings in the media and in different parts of the city in the aftermath of victory (or defeat, depending upon where you lived and who you supported), the grumblings so far haven’t amounted to much. Except for the write-in effort for Fenty which will allow people to vote for Fenty as a write-in-candidate.

In typically contemporary fashion, the effort had its start on Facebook and launched to raise funds and support for Fenty. Never mind that Fenty lost by a clear10 percentage point and that nobody is questioning the result. It’s an effort by folks who fear and think that Gray, whom they otherwise like, is somehow going to derail school reform in the district which, depending on where you sat, was a big success under Fenty and Rhee.

Fenty disavowed any support for the effort, said he was supporting Gray repeatedly, and assured that he was going to vote for him. Although he stopped short of sharply discouraging the effort. “I can’t tell people what they can or can’t do,” he said.

The effort, while perfectly legal, only exasperates the divisions existing in the city. 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.

They’re not the only ones who have some of that attitude. Consider the Washington Post. The media always plays a heavy role in politics. It’s the nature of the best that we are. But the Post holds a particularly influential position on matters of local importance in this city.

During the course of this campaign, the Post looked almost schizophrenic
in its coverage, with the editorial page supporting team Fenty-Rhee consistently, strongly, and with all guns firing. On the other hand, the reporting has been, for the most part, consistently excellent and even-handed. There is no small amount of irony in the fact that it was a Washington Post poll which discovered early on that there was a growing groundswell of discontent around Fenty and Rhee—not against reform or policy, but against the high-handedness of their methods. That discovery was made early in January and no doubt helped a still undecided Gray jump into the fray. The fact that neither Fenty nor Rhee heeded the warning signs resulted in yet another late-election Post poll which showed the same results only more so. But by then it was probably too late.

Not that the Post has given up. This year, the Post editorial board appears to have discovered Republicans in our midst, something it hadn’t previously noticed outside of Carole Schwartz, the most unorthodox Republican that ever lived. The local GOP has avoided the mayor’s race, but has fielded candidates in the council races. Two of them managed to gain the support of the Post, in the name of political diversity. That would be David Hedgepeth, running against incumbent Democrat Mary Cheh in Ward 3, and Timothy Day in Ward 5 running against Harry Thomas Jr.

“They’ve come out of the closet,” a neighbor of mine suggested. But it’s doubtful that the Post suddenly got GOP fever, even with the ill political winds blowing out there. They chided Ms. Cheh for what they saw as her tepid support of school reform and, not coincidentally, her support of Gray during the primary election. Thomas is also a strong Gray supporter.

But still there seems to be a watch-and-wait attitude in the city. Even the announced and impending resignation of DC Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin caused barely a ripple in the media. The announcement was made via mass e-mail recently. Rubin said he would be working as a consultant through January 2.

Rubin’s departure, and a sure change in the city attorney’s office come January, along with Rhee’s departure mark three pairs of shoes that dropped. The rest await the workings of transition, a process that Gray hopes to finance through private donations, as opposition to tax funds. Speaking of taxes…we’ll that’s going to have to wait for now, too.

Orange Returns to a Changed DC Council

The last time Vincent Orange had a seat on the city council in 2006 after representing Ward 5 for eight years, he decided to run for mayor. Adrian Fenty rolled over him, just like every other candidate in a knockout victory.

Now, Orange is back as the newly-elected at-large city councilman, winning a special election to fill the seat formerly held by Kwame Brown, who was elected council chairman last year in a race against Orange. Talk about perseverance.

Orange won a tight race, considering the low voter turnout citywide, that featured a strong challenge by Republican Patrick Mara, who was endorsed by the Washington Post and won impressive pluralities in Wards 2, 3 and 6. Orange, boosted by a strong lead in fundraising late in the campaign, name recognition and experience ended up taking 28 percent of the vote to Mara’s almost 26 percent. Orange won by a margin of over 1,000 votes.

Sekou Biddle, a Shepherd Park resident and Teach for America worker, was the nominal incumbent, having been appointed to fill the seat on an interim basis by the DC Democratic Committee, with support from Mayor Vincent Gray and Chairman Brown. Incumbency was not enough to push Biddle across the finish line in the lead. He finished third, winning 20 percent of the vote.

Bryan Weaver, a Ward 1 activist and ANC Commissioner, made a credible showing at 13 percent (he won a majority in Ward One), followed by Josh Lopez, the young Hispanic candidate who worked on former Mayor Adrian Fenty’s campaign and helped lead a write-in campaign for him.

Looked at from a distance, the results of this race appear to be almost a replay of the results in the mayoral race, which saw Gray upset Fenty by winning heavily in the primarily black wards of 8, 7, 4 and 5, while Fenty took a large majority in the primarily white wards of 3, 2 and 6. Orange scored big in the same wards as Gray, while Mara took large majorities as Fenty. What’s clear is that Mayor Gray’s campaign slogan of “One City” remains no more than just a slogan.

Voter turnout, as usual in such special elections, was not even respectable, coming in at 9.48 percent of eligible voters, according to DC Board of Election figures. Before DC voters again rail against interference from the federal government or for voting rights in congress, they might look long and hard at that figure: 43,208 voters out of 455,842 eligible voters voted in this election.

True, special elections don’t draw a heavy turnout, but for an election deemed critical by many observers, it’s a poor showing that needs to be improved.

Both Orange and Mara indicated they would not support a tax increase on the $200,000 plus earners in the city, something of a surprise from Orange, but not from a GOP candidate. The tax increase is a critical part of Mayor Gray’s budget and the election results probably doesn’t bode well for it. Expect a big budget fight ahead in the upcoming weeks.

What the results showed is that the city, while losing black residents, remains a deeply divided city. Mayor Gray, under a continually raining cloud over hiring practices and investigations from a variety of sources, has been so far unable to effectively lead. School reform was probably not a major issue, since there wasn’t a candidate that doesn’t support reform. The ethical scandals surrounding the mayor, the chairman and some members of the council, however, was a big talking point in the candidate forums.

Orange returns to a council that is different from the one that he left. Brown, the man who defeated him in the chairman race, remains chairman but is a considerably weaker leader almost in as much hot water as Gray and even more unpopular.

For Orange, it’s something of a major comeback and triumph. He won in spite of having lost convincingly in his last two campaigns. He won in spite of a majority of the council support for his opponents. That signals a divided council, which Orange may have difficulty in influencing. On the other hand, Orange brings one quality that is healthy in these tense times to the council: he is an unwavering enthusiast and optimist, not the worst attitude for an elected official.

2010 Campaign Notes


-That recent Washington Post poll which showed Mayor Adrian Fenty trailing by double figures in his race against challenger Vincent Gray?

That wasn’t the only surprise in the poll.

Try the race for the Democratic Party At Large Council seat currently held by 12-year-veteran Phil Mendelson.

For as long as his challenger—relative newcomer Clark Ray—has been running, which is approximately a year, you’d have thought that this was a race between Mendelson and Ray, experience vs youth, twelve years of service vs. an impressive resume.
Guess again.

You’ll never guess who was leading the race according to the Washington Post poll. Guy by the name of Michael Brown. Better yet, call him Michael D. Brown, by which middle initial the current Democratic Shadow Senator can be differentiated from the other Michael Brown, (Michael A Brown) the at large Independent member of the council member who is not running this time around.

Mr. Brown, who didn’t enter the race until late this summer, raised no money and had no Web site, led Mendelson by 38-21 percent among all voters and 41-29 percent among likely voters.

Ray, who had been running hard throughout the campaign, was mired in single figures.

Brown, Michael D, in fact, registered high among African American voters, where he got 49% percent of the
vote. His name on the ballot says simply Michael Brown.

The news almost made hash of the at large campaign. “Well, sure, it’s had a big effect,” Mendelson said. “But we’re moving to correct it on every possible front.”

At a recent candidate forum (which also included Ward 1 and the Chairman’s Race) in Adams Morgan, Brown, Michael D, professed not to be surprised by the events.

“I think people like my story, like my message,” Brown, who is a successful businessman, after having dropped out of high school, which he had called the biggest mistake of his life. A big, affable man who’s lobbied hard for statehood, and jobs for DC workers, as well as the district having a voting power and taxing power over suburban workers in DC, said. “There’s no subterfuge. I’ve used that name all of my life. It’s my name. I don’t really think people are confused.”

A local resident disagreed. “I think what you’re doing is misleading and dishonest,” he said to Brown. “It’s not fair to the other candidates or voters.”

Mendelson, who clearly thought he’d be ahead in this poll, moved quickly to staunch the crisis. “I’ve been representing voters for 12 years now,” he said. “People know they can rely on me. But this, well, I just think this was something that was clearly misleading, clearly a mistake. He was at one forum where Brown was pointed out to a man who had voted for him in a straw poll and the man said he was voting “for the other Brown.” Michael A Brown has sent out recorded calls to voters saying he’s not running

Mendelson has passed out flyers showing pictures of himself, of Michael D. Brown and Michael A. Brown. For one thing, Michael A. Brown, who ran unsuccessfully for mayor, and who is the son of the late U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, is black which Michael D. Brown clearly is not.

“You have to get the information out there,” Mendelson said in an interview. “It’s a problem. No question. But it’s obvious that the poll shows two things: voters haven’t been paying enough attention because the mayor’s race has taken up all the focus of voters, and they obviously confused this Brown for Councilman Brown, who is not running.”

“I thought we were running against Clark Ray,” he said. “But I also think it’s obviously hurt him (Ray) more than it hurt me.”

Mendelson has often opposed Mayor Fenty, especially on school reform. He voted against the mayoral takeover. Surprisingly though, he has some different views about what to do with Chancellor Rhee. “I wouldn’t propose firing her,” he said. “I’d want to keep her here. I’m for reform, but didn’t agree with how she did things.” But I think we ought to stick with continuity. We can’t keep doing this, firing people after a year or two and starting all over again. that’s not good for the kids.”

Ray, who looks boyish with a bald look, is sometimes confused not with any Browns but with the mayor. He said he was “disappointed” in the results. “Look, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t both surprised and disappointed,” he said. “But I can sleep at night, pretty easily.”

Ray has run with energy, intelligence, and great enthusiasm. He brings a big resume to the table—services with the Clinton Administration in the White House and the Department of Agriculture, a former teacher, and a former Head of the Parks and Recreation Department under Fenty, whom he still admires, even though Fenty fired him. “I don’t want to get into that, in terms of feeling, it’s something that’s between him and me,” he said without a trace of bitterness.

Of the polls, he said that there’s still a large bundle of undecideds to account for. “I’m not discouraged,” he said. “I’m going to keep on doing what I’m doing and I’m going to run as hard as I can up to the last moment.

At the forum, the candidates were asked about what their biggest mistake was and how they handled it. Brown, D, said it was dropping out of high school, and then talked mostly about overcoming that mistake. Ray remembered eagerly proposing a project in his role as parks and recreation director that would have eliminated some 20 jobs. “I didn’t know that at the time,” he said. “The lesson is that there are consequences to policy decisions. That’s a hard lesson, but it’s not something you forget.”

The rise of Brown, which in some ways almost undermined the, months of campaigning that had been done by Mendelson and Ray, didn’t faze him.

“I kind of think of it as poetic justice,” he said. “I mean, here’s Phil, who depends hugely on name recognition for twelve years, and here he’s become a victim of it.

The subject never came up during the forum. Well, almost. “I realize that we have a problem over some confusion about names,” Ray said to the forum audience. “Well, I want to make it absolutely clear . . ., it’s Clark Ray. …Not Ray Clark. People make that mistake all of the time. So I wanted to clear that up.”