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[Note: Part I of this multi-issue commentary which appeared in the July issue is appended below for the convenience of our readers.]

On the cover page of the July 30th edition of the City Paper it is stated that Vincent Gray “is a creature of process,” followed by the question, “Is that what DC’s government needs?”

Absolutely. In our view, the current mayor has too often displayed a total disregard of “process” by, for example, openly defying the will of the legislature, our city council – for procedures enacted into law intended to ensure that statutory mandates are properly carried out by the Executive Branch. Among other transgressions that come to mind is his penchant for steering contracts to friends while figuring out ways to circumvent the statutory requirement that contracts of $1 million or more must first be approved by the Council. There has been too much of this sort of thing.

The Mayor’s excuse always seems to be that his shortcuts guarantee that things get done, projects get built –- full speed ahead and damn the consequences (to paraphrase a famous line). The problem with that approach to overseeing a complex governmental machine and other finagling with funds is that by so doing the mayor has been thumbing his nose at our elected legislators who are responsible for enacting the city’s budget. Consider the most recent outrage, his gambit to take away the dollars intended to assist the homeless so as to pay for an extra six days of youth summer employment in a program that was already over budget, a fact that had conveniently never been revealed to the council when it first became known.

We could go on and on –- the litany is loud and long. But it is what one can expect when we have a mayor who plunges ahead, cowboy fashion, with his own agenda notwithstanding that others may have different priorities.

We are strongly endorsing Vincent Gray because, among other things, he believes in “process” and collegiality; we are confident that his stated intention of working closely with the council and engaging all parties in setting priorities will be a hallmark of his mayoral tenure. We need to re-set the tone and to have a leader who believes in eschewing the adversarial approach to governing. Vincent Gray is that kind of leader, one who respects all groups and individuals and who is by nature a consensus builder. This is what we very much need at this time of reduced –- and further reducing –- resources.

Furthermore, we certainly do not need to elect a mayoral candidate who a month before the primary election has gotten so desperate that he has unleashed a hateful, negative advertising campaign with such vile imagery, as reported by the Washington Post on August 12th, in which in “grainy black-and-white photos, Gray is depicted as a sinister bureaucrat who mismanaged city funds and critical social services.”

We have heard and read much that Fenty must -– presumably at all costs –- be re-elected, otherwise School Savior Michele Rhee will depart in a huff. The assumption is that Gray would not keep her on anyway, though we have not heard him say so. But, contrary to all the hysteria, Rhee is not indispensable. Just because Gray has raised issues with things about how matters are going in the school system does not mean that he is not as committed to improving public education in the District as anyone else, Fenty included.

Rhee has engineered an amazing public relations self-promotion blitz that has carried nationwide to ensure that it’s all about her –- and to a lesser extent Fenty (though in her national PR he seems to be a mere footnote). Why he is so enamored with her can only be explained by the fact that he has built his entire reputation around having hired her. Will he acknowledge that maybe she isn’t the miracle lady he has been claiming now that the new DC Comprehensive Assessment System report, required by the federal No Child Left Behind law, is out showing a more than 50 percent drop over last year in schools meeting the federally-mandated minimum standards? Of the mere 15 out of over 150, only two high schools, Bannecker Academic and School Without Walls, made the grade –- and these are the city’s two magnet high schools requiring application and testing for admission.

In closing, we want to make one thing totally clear: Our endorsement of Vincent Gray is not to be interpreted as one of those “anybody but the other guy” endorsements, We are fully behind Gray’s candidacy for not only the reasons discussed above but also because of his deep understanding of the nuts and bolts of municipal governance and for the ease and personal confidence in himself that he displays in his gracious and empathetic interaction with citizens –- as distinguished from swaggering arrogance which only suggests fear of failure.



[Note: Part I, which was originally published in the July issue, is also available in the Publisher’s Desk archive.]

This month our focus is on the city council, specifically the Democratic primary races for the Ward 1 and one of the at-large seats. Our vote will be for the incumbents –- Jim Graham for Ward 1 and Phil Mendelson for at-large.

Yes, there’s talk that it’s “time for a change” but we are not in that camp.

In reviewing Councilmember Graham’s performance over the past four years. our view is that he has benefited his Ward 1 constituents immensely; we can discern no compelling reason to opt for somebody new, somebody without the kind of experience and incredible dedication to all economic and cultural sectors of this most diverse collection of dynamic neighborhoods.

Several example come to mind, including the influence he has gained over matters regarding public works (through his chairmanship of the council’s public works committee and his close involvement with Metro as a member of its board). In the extremely vital area of public works and transit he has been able to closely watch out for the interests of Ward 1 residents –- as well as all residents citywide. What can possibly be gained by giving up his influence over, and know-how about, these matters and the agencies which have responsibility for delivering the very “bread and butter” municipal services that are so important? Our answer is, simply, there can be no advantage.

But it’s not just public services that the council member has directed so much of his time and attention: it is housing and crime and neighborhood economic development, to name some vital quality of life areas, that he has worked diligently to craft practical solutions to deal with what often seem to be unsolvable problems.

Among many thingsm and just to single out one area, we give high marks to the council member for his tireless work directed toward ensuring more affordable housing and to preserving  rent control for citizens with limited financial means. By so doing, he has been instrumental in helping to maintain the diversity that we hear from so many residents is something they prize about city living and that they consider to be extremely important. These are residents who tell us that they do not want to see our city evolve into a bland demographic pool like the boring suburbs that more and more people are abandoning in favor of the more interesting and dynamic life in our vibrant downtown neighborhoods.

Our brief recitation of Councilmember Jim Graham’s work on behalf of not only his own constituents but all of us throughout the city who have benefited from the initiatives he has pushed has only scratched the surface. We enthusiastically urge his re-election without hesitation.

The other city council primary race that we believe is very important indeed is that of the at-large seat open to a member of the Democratic Party. In light of Councilmember Phil Mendelson’s long record of effective advocacy for residents across the city and for his thoughtful approach to carefully analyzing the complexities of policy issues as they affect our laws and regulations –- and ultimately our daily lives –- and crafting legislation solutions, we have no reason to suggest that there might be any good purpose to vote him off the council.

When we took a look at the 25 bills, eight resolutions, and five reports that the council’s public safety committee, of which he is its tireless chairman, has been responsible for issuing over the past year-and-a-half, we can only conclude that its highly competent output reveals much about the skill and worth to our city of the council member. This we are not prepared to advocate tossing aside.

Among his accomplishments that are of major importance has been his work in getting the council to declare the role of the city’s attorney general as being independent from the Executive Branch and calling for the position to be filled by election.

Another major accomplishment has been his bringing to fruition the “Omnibus Public Safety and Justice Amendment Act” which affected 39 separate laws by improving various provisions thereby improving law enforcement. The Act also created new crimes, including one dealing with illegal firearms in motor vehicles, and added a new authority to address gang violence by establishing a practical, on-the-streets intervention mechanism designed to reduce such violence.

We are puzzled by complaints that we hear in some circles that the council member is not “aggressive” enough, that he’s too “low-key” and therefore isn’t effective. We strongly disagree. While we admire legislators who come on strong (but only if they are especially smart and knowledgeable), this doesn’t mean that one who is quiet isn’t equally effective.

This is a council member who is deliberative, a stickler for detail, one who watches out for every nuance in the language of the legislation that he is called upon to vote. We need members on the council with that skill to ensure that what gets enacted into law doesn’t later reveal flaws that create unintended consequences for the city or for individual citizens.

With this, along with his constant watching out for efforts by city government officials seeking to chip away at civil rights in the name of crime prevention or other perceived dangers by bureaucrats, we enthusiastically urge the re-election without hesitation of at-large Councilmember Phil Mendelson.