[from September 2006 issue]


We believe that there is no argument around the city that probably for the first time in our little over three decades of home rule we have a truly “big city”-like campaign, even with some of the kind of rough and tumble voters here are not used to dealing with. Maybe that helps explain why so many have seemingly been lured into buying into the notion -- perpetuated, we are sorry to say, by so much of the press -- that this primary race for mayor has been one between two “obvious” front-runners. But there are others whose messages have been drowned out and whose worthy credentials have been overlooked. Probably it’s because they didn’t have the kind of war-chests that those so-called “front-runners” have amassed.

So, where does all this take this commentator (I speak only for myself, not for the others in our organization; I know that some of my colleagues will disagree with my opinions expressed here.) Where I have ended up after months of rumination, conversation, playing “Devil’s advocate” with myself and anyone else I encountered on the streets?

I have ended up concluding that, yes, we need new vigorous blood infused into the highest echelons of the city’s leadership but we also need experience and maturity simply because we are, politically and economically not out of the woods yet; we are at a crossroads. Great progress has been made but great problems remain and we need a mayor who will be more than just vigorous new blood; we need experience, but not necessarily years of “in-house” experience, rather experience with a new perspective.

This, then has led us to decide on Marie Johns.

Yes, it is true that Marie Johns has not served on the city council or in some high government post. (She has, however, a great depth of experience with government regulatory processes as a result of her having been in charge of government relations before she took over as her company’s resident; she knows much about the importance of regulatory due process, something that is often absent at the highest levels of DC government.) But she does have a background that no other candidate can claim: former president of the Verizon operating company for the District, a $700 million enterprise that was her responsibility to ensure kept to its budgets and carried out its plans -- and unlike politicians, she did not have the luxury of making excuses; corporate boards don’t allow excuses!

She has also had a long involvement and hands-on experience serving in the non-profit sector in leadership roles with vigor and creative ideas and true commitment to the very kinds of issues that we all are so very concerned about, education and health being at the top of the list. She understands those needs well; she, herself. comes from a humble background and got where she is by her own determination and struggles.

Throughout her campaign she has stuck to coherently, and with stunning conviction, articulating her vision and concept for governance; she has avoided the name-calling and distracting circus-like photo-ops and has chosen instead to actually work on conveying a true substantive message of how she would approach being mayor. She understands that the job is vastly more complex than waving and glad-handing; that a mayor has to actually manage a huge bureaucracy and budget and that means considerably more than using the office to issue slogans and whip up the troops.

Further, a successful mayor will be one who surrounds her or himself with highly competent managers and senior staff, not old college buddies or cronies from the past. Unlike a former mayor who came out of the private sector, Marie Johns has an amazing Rolodex filled with names of brilliant persons who would enhance her administration.

In summary, then, it is this commentator’s considered opinion that here is a truly engaged executive who does her “homework,” understands the issues as well as the fine points behind the issues, and who would ensure more responsive government service, less reliance on the old ways, and new ideas tempered by pragmatism.

But as outstanding a mayor as we believe Marie Johns can be, she, like any mayor who a true leader -- and that she is without doubt -- needs to have a good working relationship with the city council. And if there is to be a good relationship, a kind of partnership dedicated to good government services and beneficial programs then that means the mayor needs a special kind of person chairing the city council.

Linda Cropp was that kind of person; Vincent Gray, presently an extremely effective council member serving Ward 7, would be that kind of person; Kathy Patterson would not. This is not to suggest that Mrs. Patterson is not brilliant or that her view of the role of government is somehow suspect. Certainly not. But what she lacks -- and what is so essential to ensure that the council operate effectively -- is the kind of temperament that would ensure cooperation and productive results from 12 other highly individualistic, mostly opinionated, and sometimes even overly self-important politicians. She is aggressive (we like that in a ward representative) but she has not impressed us as being able to easily obtain consensus (with a few notable exception like the school funding). But we are afraid that she will turn out to try to run the council in ways as did a predecessor by the name of Dave Clarke. And that was a contentious period and that is something we absolutely must avoid.

On the other hand, Vincent Gray is the opposite --collegial, inclusive, respectful of all views. We have seen comments that suggest his willingness to compromise is a negative. In our view, it is essential that the leader of a legislative body understand compromise and inclusiveness in order to ensure that the body works for the common good.

But Mr. Gray is more than what we are extolling here. He has an impressive background in DC government, having been brought in during a prior administration to bring order out of chaos of a highly dysfunctional Department of Human Services. Given the horrendous problems he inherited, his tenure was in fact an impressive one as he set the stage for ongoing improvements. And, in the nonprofit sector serving the most vulnerable of our fellow residents, he has built a record of achievement that has garnered plaudits far and wide for accomplishing what many believed to be impossible.

Electing Vincent Gray to lead our city council will ensure smooth leadership during a period of some major turnover on that council and will ensure an experienced partner to work with our new mayor.

Finally, a quick word regarding the District’s Congressional Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton. We have admired her accomplishments on behalf of the city for years and urge her continuation. She may not have floor voting privileges, but by virtue of her unique personality, her brilliant intellect, and her seniority (which on the Hill is everything), she has been instrumental in moving both the Congress and the Executive Branch more and more away from the centuries-old penchant for interfering in every detail of the lives of us residents, notwithstanding that the Constitution allows for just that. Her record is amazing, and without her up there we would never have been unleashed to the extent that we have. She may not have gotten us everything we want, but then no member of Congress ever gets everything either. We will be once again casting out ballot for one of the most effective members the U.S. Congress -- voters in other Congressional districts should be so lucky to have a representative as good as she.

Copyright (c) 2006 InTowner Publishing Corp. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited, except as provided by 17 U.S.C. §107.