Congrats to Gray: Election Day and Beyond

The real deal begins Wednesday.

Ever since DC City Council Chairman Vince Gray scored a solid and surprising win over incumbent mayor Adrian Fenty back in September, there was a certain air of calm before the storm throughout the city, as voters waited in place for the validating election that occurred this week.

While everywhere else across the country, Democrats are all but shaking in their collective boots awaiting an impending wave of national discontent that seemed likely to take away their control of the House of Representatives, here in Washington, Democrat stalwarts can rest assured that they’ll stay in control of the city, in as much as the city has control over itself.

It’s pretty safe to say that what the Democratic primary brought about in September will pretty much stand as the election result. So, we feel safe in saying that, even though we went to press before the election results were tabulated, Gray will officially become the city’s sixth mayor, Kwame Brown will become it’s City Council Chairman, and the makeup of the city council, sans Brown’s seat, will stand pat.

The bigger question becomes what happens next, and what will be the major issue confronting the new mayor, chairman and council?

Hint: It’s probably not school reform.

The big cloud looming over Washington and its governing types is the huge ($175 million and counting) budget deficit, which, if it isn’t solved could lead the city back into the control of a control board. The city is required by law to present a balanced to congress or see the return of the bad old days of control board authority.

Nobody’s making predictions, but Ward 2 Councilman Jack Evans, who was the only council member to vote against the last budget and who’s something of an expert on city finances, said that tough decisions are ahead, and to him, that means severe cuts up and down the line.

Others on the council, Michael Brown and Ward 6 Councilman Tommy Wells among them, have talked about raising taxes. This would certainly fly in the face of all the mighty political winds blowing across the country, where tax cuts for anybody making a salary, however meager or large, are being proposed and will be the focus of major debates once the electoral blood-letting is done.

Not in DC. Presumptive mayor Gray hasn’t chimed in on that, although at the last of the town hall meetings held in all of the city’s eight wards, he did opine that he himself wouldn’t mind paying additional taxes. Which is not to say that everyone else in the city might not.

Gray has spent much of his time on the town hall meetings throughout the city, drawing largely favorable reviews from those attending. Ever since the resignation of DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the ensuing commentary, things have been quiet. Too quiet.

As Gray himself acknowledges, people throughout the city haven’t yet gotten a handle on what a Gray administration might look and feel like, and how it would differ from the previous tenant. It’s probably fair to say that it will be, as Gray promised, more inclusionary, less breathlessly active, more thoughtful, and more cognizant of the entire city. The city remains divided, as Gray was the first to truly see, and the post-election doings haven’t done much to bridge that gap. The town hall meetings were meant to give people an idea of who Gray was, and to begin healing that divide.

While there were initial rumblings in the media and in different parts of the city in the aftermath of victory (or defeat, depending upon where you lived and who you supported), the grumblings so far haven’t amounted to much. Except for the write-in effort for Fenty which will allow people to vote for Fenty as a write-in-candidate.

In typically contemporary fashion, the effort had its start on Facebook and launched to raise funds and support for Fenty. Never mind that Fenty lost by a clear10 percentage point and that nobody is questioning the result. It’s an effort by folks who fear and think that Gray, whom they otherwise like, is somehow going to derail school reform in the district which, depending on where you sat, was a big success under Fenty and Rhee.

Fenty disavowed any support for the effort, said he was supporting Gray repeatedly, and assured that he was going to vote for him. Although he stopped short of sharply discouraging the effort. “I can’t tell people what they can or can’t do,” he said.

The effort, while perfectly legal, only exasperates the divisions existing in the city. It is a peculiarly undemocratic approach that says: We won’t accept the election results that we don’t like and we’re going to try and change them.

They’re not the only ones who have some of that attitude. Consider the Washington Post. The media always plays a heavy role in politics. It’s the nature of the best that we are. But the Post holds a particularly influential position on matters of local importance in this city.

During the course of this campaign, the Post looked almost schizophrenic in its coverage, with the editorial page supporting team Fenty-Rhee consistently, strongly, and with all guns firing. On the other hand, the reporting has been, for the most part, consistently excellent and even-handed. There is no small amount of irony in the fact that it was a Washington Post poll which discovered early on that there was a growing groundswell of discontent around Fenty and Rhee—not against reform or policy, but against the high-handedness of their methods. That discovery was made early in January and no doubt helped a still undecided Gray jump into the fray. The fact that neither Fenty nor Rhee heeded the warning signs resulted in yet another late-election Post poll which showed the same results only more so. But by then it was probably too late.

Not that the Post has given up. This year, the Post editorial board appears to have discovered Republicans in our midst, something it hadn’t previously noticed outside of Carole Schwartz, the most unorthodox Republican that ever lived. The local GOP has avoided the mayor’s race, but has fielded candidates in the council races. Two of them managed to gain the support of the Post, in the name of political diversity. That would be David Hedgepeth, running against incumbent Democrat Mary Cheh in Ward 3, and Timothy Day in Ward 5 running against Harry Thomas Jr.

“They’ve come out of the closet,” a neighbor of mine suggested. But it’s doubtful that the Post suddenly got GOP fever, even with the ill political winds blowing out there. They chided Ms. Cheh for what they saw as her tepid support of school reform and, not coincidentally, her support of Gray during the primary election. Thomas is also a strong Gray supporter.

But still there seems to be a watch-and-wait attitude in the city. Even the announced and impending resignation of DC Fire Chief Dennis L. Rubin caused barely a ripple in the media. The announcement was made via mass e-mail recently. Rubin said he would be working as a consultant through January 2.

Rubin’s departure, and a sure change in the city attorney’s office come January, along with Rhee’s departure mark three pairs of shoes that dropped. The rest await the workings of transition, a process that Gray hopes to finance through private donations, as opposition to tax funds. Speaking of taxes…we’ll that’s going to have to wait for now, too.

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Fri, 19 Sep 2014 01:47:55 -0400

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