Still undecided, but happy for the debate

by: Adam Bink

Wed Sep 01, 2010 at 16:30

The DC Mayoral primary here between Council Chairman Vincent Gray and incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty rages on, and it has become what I thought it would- but with a twist. From the start, as I wrote here in late March, I thought this would be a primary based on style over substantive issues, which is what it has turned out to be. The Sunday WaPo poll showed Gray up 53-36 among likely voters and with all the momentum, without a lot of daylight between the two candidates on issues. This comes in the same poll in which 67% of registered Dems say Fenty has brought needed change to the District (including 58% of blacks, a demographic where Fenty is cratering). 66% of registered Dems and 64% of all voters say Fenty has accomplished "a great deal" or "a good amount". I even find I can name at least half a dozen things Fenty has worked on in Mayor that I like as a part of living here. Yet large numbers say the Mayor isn't willing to listen to other points of view, is arrogant/aloof, etc.

For my part- I'm still undecided, and it's hard to find an election in which I've ever been undecided this close to election day- it's Fenty's personality that leads to things being done that could have been even better. Lack of willingness to meet with LGBT activists over a number of important issues including a trend in hate crimes. His schools chancellor, Michelle Rhee, running roughshod over teachers and parents (40% of registered Dems find her tenure a reason to vote against Fenty). And so forth. On the other hand, there's something to be said for moving forward without consensus, or having long debate. I tend to agree with this sentiment (although I won't be moving):

"If Fenty doesn't get four more years, I have to move out to the suburbs and commute," said Amy Weiser, 43, who has a child in kindergarten at Key Elementary in Northwest Washington. Gray, she said, strikes her as someone who is "going to hold hearings and hem and haw and nothing's going to get done."

Actually, Gray reminds me a bit of Gov. Paterson during his indecisive process to choose a replacement for Sen. Clinton. On key issues of importance, like the public schools here, lengthened debate is needed- but I'm not sure to the extent that Gray's inclination shows he's likely to provide across the board.

I'm interested in all this because I think it's become a fascinating process debate, one you don't usually see in politics. Slow and consensus-making versus fast and roughshod, the debate has become, even among my most apolitical friends.

A friend opined to me that the race has turned into another version of the 2000 Presidential election in terms of personality, e.g. guy you'd like to have a beer with (Bush) vs. guy with the personality of a dial tone (Gore). And her other complaint is that there hasn't been any discussion on the issues. Instead, I actually think it's become something more along the lines of the 2008 Democratic primary- Obama vs. Clinton- and a process debate on who would be best suited to bring change. I don't think that's such a bad thing.

Adam Bink :: Still undecided, but happy for the debate

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I think that part of the problem (0.00 / 0)
is that the issues that are driving the contest are not being discussed as openly as they could. For example, I don't think the questions surrounding Rhee - which appear to be the main fault line in the race - are really about whether she listened to people (although that is part of it). It has to do with the substance of what she's doing.  See my Quick Hit on the recent Washington City Paper article that unwittingly makes the case against Rhee (in my opinion.) From what I can tell, Fenty's support from the black middle class collapsed, which was formerly his base.  The article I linked to offers a pretty good explanation as to why - and they are substantive. I doubt these concerns are limited to education.

Race and class swirl just below the surface when it comes to what's going on in DCPS. We're rarely good at talking about these things, which I suspect is why people so often talk about personality and style instead.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

I find this race fascinating (0.00 / 0)
It seems that almost everyone agrees that Fenty has been a good mayor, even plenty of people who don't like him. Moreover, the consensus seems to be that Gray has been a pretty good council chairman. And the result of this successful governance team is going to be that one of them winds up out of a job. It seems to be a perverse result.

In my opinion, too many people approach elections thinking about whether they'd like to work with or for the candidates, rather than whether they'd want the person working for them. I wonder if there's something psychological/subconscious going on, where these people are perceived as powerful so voters treat it as choosing a boss rather than choosing an employee.

Watching from afar, and with only a middling understanding of the issues, I think it would be a horrible decision by the voters to fire an effective mayor because they don't like him personally. It would in fact be reminiscent of the Bush/Gore election (obviously reduced in magnitude).

As an aside, god I hate that thing about how people "would rather have a beer with" Bush. (1) Bush doesn't drink. (2) Bush was an arrogant doofus; why would anybody want to have a beer with him? /rant  

Fenty's just not that into you (4.00 / 1)
What part of "Fenty's just not that into you" do people not get?  If, like Obama, he only wants to talk to you when it's election time, then he doesn't care, and he's not being a good mayor.  His rudeness, magnified by Rhee's explicit rudeness, (like Obama/Emanuel/Gibbs) is not just personal--he's making an explicit point about how little he cares about our viewpoints.


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