How My Dog Taught Me Politics
Final Thoughts on the Campaign Trail
It’s Election Day in the middle of a picture perfect, weather-impediment free Tuesday afternoon of the kind that offers no excuses for would-be voters.
Around the city, folks are going to the polls, many of them taking advantage of a new rule which allows voters to register and vote on the same day – this day. At this point, it has turned out to be a cumbersome process, and at least one election official we chatted with said that it may slow things down some, since every polling place in the district allows same-day registration-and-voting.
Still, even now no one is certain of what is going to happen tonight at the end of it all, and no one knows for sure who will win and who will lose and why.
Did Mayor Adrian Fenty, running somewhat frantically and with more than his usual urgency, convince enough voters that his considerable accomplishments trump his considerable people-skill deficiencies which revealed themselves in not one, but two Washington Post polls?
Has City Council Chairman Vince Gray given folks enough reasons to vote FOR him, and not just against Fenty, and has he allayed worries about a return to old school politics?
Those are some of the true and remaining questions in the 2010 mayoral campaign leading up to today’s Democratic Primary election, which, in Washington DC is the election, to be formalized by the November election.
All of these things are important today, along with all the other races conducted by good and honorable men and women. For myself, I’m not running for anything, nor do I expect to win anything. But as the moment approaches where we see who won, who lost, I’d like to nonetheless offer a few thank yous.
This is predicated on an oft-mentioned adage almost as old as the ones that say “Thou Shalt Honor Thy Father and Mother,” “Never lend money to your friends,” and, “Never sleep with anyone who has more problems than you do.”
All politics are local.
That’s the one.
So on this day, I want to thank my dog. Yes, my dog. Sometime this month we will note his 14th Birthday. His name is Bailey and he is a Frishe Bichon. He is a true democrat and would ignore Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray with equal amounts of disdainful disinterest. He has a gift for this, but because he remains, even in old age, adorable and cute, people ignore his disinterest and substitute their own interest and try to pet him. Come to think of it, he might have been a politician in a previous life.
Bailey’s politics – or lack of them – is not important here. What’s important is that I walk him four times a day, out of the house on Lanier Place, around the corner to Argonne and back onto Lanier Place, across Ontario, past the 100-year-plus firehouse and the four apartment houses on the two blocks, past the hospice for the homeless, past the bed and breakfast, past the dry cleaners, the deli, the Exxon, around to Adams Mill Road and past the children’s playground and park, onto Ontario Place and its overarching trees, around past the Ontario, up the hill to Lanier again, and home.
All politics are local.
It doesn’t get anymore local than this. All along the length of this election campaign, roughly from the time about a year ago when rumors began that Vincent Gray (he had not yet become Vince) was going to run, through the poll that showed a divide in the city that was economic and racial, through Gray’s announcement and his One City signs, through the mayor’s muted announcement, through two major firings of DCPS school teachers, through the teachers contract agreement, through a blizzard of achievement announcements from the mayor’s office by e-mail – as well as three real blizzards – through the long and really hot summer and finally the big Washington Post poll that showed Gray with a double-digit lead.
That’s when things got really intense.
I want to also thank my neighbors. You know who you are. Because if not every day, almost every day, and with greater detail and force, my walks, especially this past month, were about politics. Which are, of course, local.
When politicians say all politics are local, they usually mean a state — as opposed to the big government — or a region, or city, town, or village. In cities, this sub-divides into neighborhoods, and again into street blocks and street corners, and finally – and this one turned out to be important in this election – the human heart. That’s how local politics can get.
Everyday my neighbors and I had conversations—about Gray’s chances, about his tour of duty as DHS director in the old days, about the police, about Chief Lanier, about Chancellor Rhee, about cops in the hood or the lack of them, about service cuts and snow plows, or the lack of them, about fire hydrants and the renovation of the Safeway, and the new jobs at Teeter, and how it wasn’t safe to be out on 18th Street at night at times, and about immigrants in this very, very diverse neighborhood where graffiti on garage doors was as omni-present as peeling paint.
I am here to tell you this: I knew the city was divided before Vince Gray told me it was, and even before the Washington Post told me so. There are people just on my block who admire Michelle Rhee or who dislike her intensely. There are teachers who live here, and EMS workers out of the firehouse down the street, and there are people who work for the city — quite a few. There are newer young people with young children, and people who lived in the same house for decades. There are houses being renovated, usually with work crews consisting of Hispanic workers. Trucks are all over the place. There are people that curse Mayor Fenty (cab drivers especially so) and there are people who like what he’s done. “The curbs, they clean, the crime, not so much,” a Hispanic homeowner who voted for Fenty told me today.
“That SOB had done more to hurt affordable housing than anybody,” an affordable housing advocate said angrily just a week ago.
You see where this is going. Vincent Gray hasn’t come here much that I know of, but he would be welcome here and asked tough questions. I think he’d be a little more at home here than the current mayor, even though the mayor grew up here.
All politics are truly local. There’s one man here I have practically daily talks with, which my dog allows me to do grudgingly. We solve the problems of the world and those of the more immediate area. We disagree on some things, but tomorrow, we will still talk about the things we disagree about. He likes what the mayor has accomplished and worries about the disruption that might result with a new mayor.
I happen to think, after much thought, that politics is as much about people and perception as it is about the use of power. What has puzzled me about the mayor since he came to power practically unanimously is that he appears himself puzzled about the displeasure, the disappointment with him in the city, especially in the economically stressed wards. It’s as if, being all but unanimously elected, that he shouldn’t have to worry about observing the niceties of basic human contact and interaction. Gray, on the other hand, doesn’t just worry about it; he often revels in it.
I think that the conduct of both Fenty and Gray since the last poll which electrified the city so much is to some extent revealing. Fenty has promised to change in addressing inclusion and listening to people and the promise doesn’t quite ring true. He lists his achievements, which alone are compelling, denounces Grey for his DHS reign, and promises to keep on moving forward. Grey presents papers and position tomes, but more than that he’s fleshing himself out as a candidate right before our eyes. He seems to often see the campaign as a way to get to know more people, as a kind of social gathering.
Mostly what I’ve learned from my daily walks is that politics is local in the sense of what I see and hear around the block every day. The man who has trouble finding work talks about his ailing 90-some-year-old father while resting on his bicycle: jobs, health care the elderly, and transportation. The woman living in an apartment tells me about the constant battles with landlords, half-hearted renovation and rent raises and dealing with city agencies: governance, rent control, urban housing issues. People gossip about the price of renovated houses in the neighborhood. Everyday you see more and more children in the park. In the neighborhood, there are two new grocery stores and a renovated Safeway. In the neighborhood there are also still no foot patrols. One of our neighbors is building an enclosed backyard patio. People move in and out.
On our block, one of my neighbors celebrated the birth of a son, his second child, last week. He helped deliver the baby himself on a night near midnight, and no doubt for a second felt himself a king.
All politics are local. Even the birth of a child, where all future policy planning starts.