Posted by: Jeff | September 14, 2010

If I Lived in DC, I’d Vote for Fenty

I lived for a year in the District during Mayor Adrian Fenty’s first term, and even though I’ve since moved to Arlington, I get the distinct sense that the city is moving in a good direction.  Sure, the economy has suffered, and local unemployment isn’t significantly better than the national average (though it is across the river in Arlington).  But I view that as the result of national economic stagnation more than any lack of local policy.

Over the last four years, D.C. has seen commercial diversification, neighborhoods undergoing renaissance, and a broken education system embarking on a large-scale program of reform.  The Vince Gray campaign presents no clear policy alternatives other than “he isn’t Fenty”.  And that seems like no reason to change horses midstream.  These are the reasons I support the Fenty re-election campaign:

  • Continuity. Transitions of power are tricky things.  The election of a new mayor doesn’t simply mean a new personality speaking on behalf of the city – a new mayor means a new District government, new processes, and, ideally at least, new policies.  All of this takes time.  With the District at a pivotal moment (neighborhood transformations, the infancy of new education reform, uncertain commercial climate for food carts and other local businesses, and high unemployment and economic stagnation in several Wards), it seems awfully risky to switch leadership and governance.  It could take more than a year for a Gray mayoral team to fully transition into governance capacity.
  • Urban Renewal. Under Fenty, many neighborhoods in D.C. have enjoyed a renaissance of urban and commercial redevelopment.  The Southwest Waterfront redevelopment project is transforming a stagnant neighborhood into a vital center for entertainment and living.  The real estate downturn has slowed, but not stopped the redevelopment of a commercial center along M St. SE, near the new Nationals Park.  Neighborhoods in the near north, like NoMA (along the north edge of Massachusetts Ave.) and Shaw have become destinations for living and entertainment as crime rates continue to fall.  The H St. NE corridor is blossoming as one of the premier nightlife areas in the entire District.  And perhaps more importantly, D.C. violent crime rates continue to decline, despite some public tragedies, resulting in the lowest murder rate in 45 years in 2009.
  • Education. Under Mayor Fenty, education has truly been a priority.  Putting a District outsider like Michelle Rhee in charge of the D.C. Public Schools may have been a controversial move at the time, but over the past several years, the school system has begun a slow move in the right direction.  Test scores are up since the beginning of Rhee’s term, though it is still too early to tell whether this is a systemic shift or a short-term trendline.  Rhee has, however, put public education back on the radar as one of the paramount issues in local politics.  The time and investment in education is a long-term process, and cannot be measured by things like test scores.  The mark of an administrator is instead on things like capital investment, human resource management, and the ethic of accountability and responsibility for the education of thousands of young people.  To that end, I believe Rhee is making a great deal of progress.  The IMPACT evaluations, adopted overwhelmingly by vote of local teachers, became controversial when it resulted in the termination of over 100 educators this summer.  But in a system where accountability and merit are devalued, this is an absolute necessity.  It is unfortunate that there are teachers in any school system that don’t carry their weight.  And in urban public school systems that consistently struggle, this is doubly true.  Creating an incentive structure for teachers to care, and for good teachers to be rewarded for excellence, is a positive policy reform that will likely improve the overall learning environment for thousands of local students.  If Fenty loses, Rhee has hinted that she will leave.
  • Public Transit. As an urban city with a very large commercial center, transportation is a daily issue for residents and non-residents of the District alike.  Driving, parking, and public transit are issues that impact all residents of the region.  Under Fenty, the mayor’s office has labored to create safe bike lanes throughout the District that will improve commuter safety and promote alternate forms of transportation.  D.C. has worked to propose and develop street car lines to areas not serviced by Metro, and re-write archaic zoning code in a way that promotes a more livable city.  Furthermore, during the mayoral debate, Fenty clearly stated that the city needs to continue to work to develop more functional and efficient means of transportation, while Gray simply complained that parking in the city is too expensive.  More parking is not the answer.
  • Food Carts.  I happen to work in an area of the city where lunch options are few and far away.  Over the past two years, D.C. has seen a deregulation of the commercial code that formerly prevented mobile food carts from operating within the District.  These codes included stipulations about what could be served (hot dogs, yum), mobility, and size.  For this reason, there were not only many options, but not many areas outside of the main tourist corridors serviced.  Now, we have a whole range of food cart options, providing a very diverse array of food options to working consumers across the District, and filling in gaps where there are few profitable options (i.e. in neighborhoods with a lunch crowd but few residents).  This is thanks to the leadership of the current District government, and one that is much appreciated.

For these and other reasons, go out and vote Fenty for re-election.

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Responses

  1. Let’s use any possible synonym for urban renewal. It’s terminology that people have every good reason to hate, even when there are positive outcomes. =)


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