Posted by: Jeff | September 16, 2010

No Gracious Winners in DC

With the mayoral election finally over, and District voters casting ballots overwhelmingly for a change in leadership – Vincent Gray’s insurgent campaign won nearly 10,000 more votes than the incumbent Adrian Fenty administration – Gray supporter Courtland Milloy is taking off his gloves:

In a stunning repudiation of divisive, autocratic leadership, District residents Tuesday toppled the city’s ruling troika: Mayor Adrian Fenty, Attorney General Peter Nickles and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. All busted up. The trio’s contempt for everyday people was handed back to them in spades at the polls.

I completely understand the misgivings and mistrust directed at Fenty over the past four years, and can also empathize with the outrage at perceived abandonment by the city government.  I’m not sure that perception is backed up by data, but for many, perception is reality.

That said, is Milloy’s rant really justified?  He claims to be airing out old wounds, but he seems bent on inflicting new ones as well.  His column speaks to an unspoken point about this election – opinions about the Fenty administration, and the vote itself, were highly racialized.  But instead of explaining how this is so, he instead seizes the stick to hit back:

And lordy don’t complain about Rhee.

She’s creating a “world-class school system,” they text. As for you blacks: Don’t you, like, even know what’s good for you? So what if Fenty reneged on his promise to strengthen the city from the inside by helping the working poor move into the middle class.

Rhee is bad with public relations, no question.  Many in the community despise her for her arrogance, and resist the changes she has ushered forth.  But how do you explain that in a system where the majority of students are black, polls show overwhelming support among parents of D.C. schoolchildren for Fenty?

The Gray campaign was supposed to stand for a change in politics but not policy.  Pursuing the same progressive goals, but doing so in a way that doesn’t favor one constituency over another.  In an election where over 40% of District residents chose Fenty, what possible benefit is there from describing Fenty supporters thusly:

Watch them at the chic new eateries, Fenty’s hip newly arrived “creative class” firing up their “social media” networks whenever he’s under attack: Why should the mayor have to stop his work just to meet with some old biddies, they tweet. Who cares if the mayor is arrogant as long as he gets the job done?

Myopic little twits.

Myopia is nearsightedness.  For a supporter touting Gray’s ability to unite constituencies across the city to crow indignation and disdain from the city’s loudest mouthpiece (The Washington Post) – well, that’s what seems myopic to me.

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Responses

  1. Nicely done, Jeff.

    Milloy’s most salient argument, to me, was about how Fenty’s tenure promised a home-grown (and Black) middle class, but it fostered the growth of a supplanted (and White) middle class instead. And lots of Fenty supporters are people (like me) who have only lived in the city during Fenty’s tenure and have seen it get better (for me).

    At the end of the day, though, he excoriates Fenty (and Rhee and Nickles) for callously firing people and closing down community organizations, but conveniently fails to mention anything about the efficacy of those people/organizations. And his slave imagery was really intense, in both a way that offended me and in a way where I could tell Fenty offended him (and others). But his article gave a little insight for me into why people felt the way they did about Fenty.

    However, boiled down to its simplest level, I feel as though Gray supporters wanted (and thought they were promised) handouts, and Fenty’s people provided the instant shock of self-sufficiency. Somewhere, I think both the politicians and the electorate missed a solution in the middle.

    • I think it is true that Fenty failed to deliver on a promise of economic improvement for the city’s poor – but it’s impossible to separate that from the nationwide recession that is hammering America’s poor everywhere. The educated middle class is, unfortunately, substantially white, and much better suited to ride out this type of economic shock. I know that the perception that Fenty didn’t do enough is a salient one in many Wards throughout the city, but I only ask myself what else he could do given the parameters of the economic crisis.

      That said, I completely agree with you that Milloy – much like the electorate – view this election as not one so much about the efficacy of policy (no mention of results, whatsoever, from most Gray supporters), but one about Fenty and his administration personally. They disagree with the way he ran the city, the way he handled the media and the public, and the people he put in place to run city agencies. IMPACT aside, not much disagreement about his policies – and even with IMPACT, I think you’re right to ask whether it will result in an overall improvement of the schools?

      More community input in local governance is a solid ideal, and one that the Gray campaign does well to promote. But Milloy is really seeking to get off on the wrong foot here, and in doing so he’s catering to a more clientelistic patronage style of governance, completely ignoring that his support was supposedly gained through a “One City” unity mantra.


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