Monday, July 24, 2006

Choosing a mayor in Washington, D.C.

By Nancy Jane Moore

We're going to elect a new mayor in Washington, D.C., this fall. Our current mayor, Anthony Williams, isn't running for re-election.

I can guarantee you two things about our next mayor: He or she will be African American and a reasonably liberal Democrat. The only serious candidates are all African American and the winner of the September 12 Democratic primary will also win the general election in November -- winning the Democratic primary is tantamount to election.

According to The Washington Post, the race seems to be coming down to two candidates: Ward Four Council member Adrian Fenty and Council Chair Linda Cropp. The Post conducted a poll that shows Fenty at 39 percent of the vote and Cropp at 31 percent. Among likely voters, Fenty's lead is even larger. He has a slight lead among both white and black voters -- an unusual event in a city where race is often an issue, even when, as in this case, all candidates are African American.

I'm leaning to Fenty, but I have to confess that I don't see major political divisions between him and Cropp -- or even between the two of them and the other candidates.

Fenty's my council member and I've noticed improvements in our ward since he took office. I agree with his stand against the so-called emergency crime legislation, though I disagreed with his opposition to baseball. Mostly I think he brings new ideas and new energy and is the most likely person to come up with some different approaches to solving our problems.

Cropp strikes me as a representative of the old guard. I haven't been impressed by her leadership on the council, nor by her baseball flip-flops. But I won't be heartbroken if she ends up as mayor -- we could certainly do worse.

My impressions of the candidates have been formed by listening to the DC Politics Hour every Friday at noon on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU radio. Everyone who is anyone in the District appears on that show to be grilled -- sometimes mercilessly -- by the show's resident analyst Jonetta Rose Barras, various other reporters and community activists, and members of the public who call in. This show combines good political reporting with citizen involvement -- a good way to become informed if you don't have time to go ask all the questions yourself.

Every candidate for mayor has been a guest on the program. This coming Friday the guests will the candidates for Council Chair -- Kathy Patterson and Vincent Gray. I plan to listen to help me decide which one to support.

Being mayor of the District is a funny job -- in some ways it's like being a governor, because we are like a state in many respects (except for that pesky lack of votes in Congress). We have the same issues as many other large cities -- schools, crime, poverty -- but we also have special problems because the federal government is right on top of us. And while we are the central part of a large metropolitan area, we have virtually no clout in handling our suburbs -- they're part of Maryland and Virginia.

In truth, our mayor -- like our nonvoting delegate to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton -- has to be a good negotiator, because we don't have much power in the larger world.

Local elections are generally that: local -- of interest primarily to the people who live in the jurisdiction. But I suspect that most people who follow politics do care about elections in other states and cities. I know I followed the California recall of the governor and subsequent election closely and bit my fingernails over the Washington state governor's race cliffhanger in 2004. I watch mayor's races in places like Chicago, LA, New York, San Antonio. I'm curious about how the system works in other cities, about why certain people get elected. For that reason, I'll try to keep In This Moment readers posted on the D.C. election.

1 comment:

Forgotten Washingtonian said...


It never ceases to amaze me how every election year the same drone and dribble of news coverage and punditry about mayoral and council candidates gets discussed. Will there ever come a time when the REAL issues and concerns of everyday average hard working Washingtonians (long-timers and newcomers) get comprehensively addressed. After 38 years in DC, it appears that what matters is the money, moronic campaign rhetoric, irrelevant candidate statistics, and the same predictable stale candidate choices. To quote a lesser known, but highly engaged and articulate candidate, "D.C. is not an abbreviation for Dumb Citizens." Hopefully local news media, the usual cast of candidates, and blogs will raise the level of intelligent discussion to what really matters to most District residents: effective public safety, affordable housing, much better schools, responsible spending of our tax money, and TRULY ACCOUNTABLE public officials. In the meantime, as quiet as it's kept, our REAL best bet for an intelligent, substantive, and capable mayoral candidate -- and a smart discussion of what really matters in our city -- may be found at the website of Dennis Moore. Dare to compare and become more aware. This year, on election day, you can't say "I didn't know!"