“A New Era of Polarizing Racial Politics in the District”

Flickr: dharmabumx

Adidas shoes, Chocolate City-edition

Now reading: “Will white identity politics come to post-post-racial D.C.?“, by Adam Serwer at the City Paper.

But just as the browning of America has awoken a novel white identity politics nationally, the demographic forces that framed D.C.’s last mayoral election may prove to be the prologue to a new era of polarizing racial politics in the District, one in which explicitly catering to its most affluent white residents is a path to victory rather than a route to an ignominious defeat.

The Census numbers released last week showed that D.C.’s black residents have been fleeing the city in even larger numbers than expected, leaving blacks with a bare 50 percent majority of the population. The raw racial and cultural divide exposed by the contest between Gray and Fenty is also exacerbated by which residents are leaving. In 2009, the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute noted that “while incomes have risen for white households and those with the most advanced educations, incomes have been stagnant or falling for others.” The exodus of the city’s black middle class only exacerbates the trend. Playing to a base of black voters, now more than ever, also means playing to a base of poor voters.

Fenty Lost Because of Style, not School Reform

Flickr: Intangible Arts

Former D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty with a young constituent in 2007.

Our former Mayor is in denial about why he’s no longer in office, according to TBD. Hint: he may not be a martyr to education reform, after all.

In interview after interview, the ex-mayor and Michelle Rhee, his former schools chancellor, have argued that political defeat is what happens to those who are so bold as to champion an aggressive stance toward teachers unions and a program of radical shifts in how business is conducted in the classroom…

The real danger lies not in pursuing Fenty-Rhee-style education reform, but in pursuing anything in the Fenty-Rhee style. That means no dissing the media at every turn. No brushing aside the concerns of great Americans. No scorning the notion of legislative oversight.

For as long as he remains in denial about his mayoralty, Fenty will likely keep peddling his tale of woe about education reform. As time wears on, however, he’ll have to make peace with the facts: His signature issue of education reform is popular among District voters, who still saw fit to vote him out of office.

An Age Divide? Or a Racial one?

Current District Department of Transportation chief Gabe Klein (whose name is trending right now on Twitter, locally) has announced that he will leave his post on January 1, rather than stay on under a Gray administration (which he characterized as “not a good fit” for him). Aaron Morrissey, Editor-in-Chief of DCist.com, just tweeted this about Klein:

Klein discussing age divide, as opposed to racial divide, as reason for many of DC debates over new transpo projects.
Aaron Morrissey

I’ve never thought of it that way, but it makes a little bit of sense. Some of my older relatives don’t understand why anyone would want to ride a bike on the crazy streets of D.C. when they could be driving or on the Metro. Having typed that, I would be very wary of downplaying the “racial divide” that exists here; when certain residents of this city see the passion exerted over bike lanes, they wonder where that same energy is, when it comes to the social problems that vex some of our neighbors.

Tax Yoga, Help the Poor?


Double-taxes for this well-groomed, flexible Frenchie!

No one enjoys higher or additional taxes, but judging from some of the pleas for support I’ve received from various groups that are worried about how budget cuts will affect the poorest, youngest, most vulnerable residents of our city, I wonder if taxing yoga and sweet-smelling dogs is preferable (or more ethical). Via the City Paper:

Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry wants to extend D.C.’s sales tax to include: pet grooming, health clubs, armored car services, private investigations and admission to live performances.

You’ll recall that similar measures were considered last budget go round, but the all-powerful Yoga lobby put a squash to them.

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Mayor-Elect Gray Prioritizes Lunch over a Funeral

My twitter feed is buzzing about Mayor-Elect Vince Gray missing the funeral of a police officer who died while serving, last week. Gray was having lunch downtown:

It’s going to be a long day for Vince Gray, Mayor-Elect of the District of Columbia.  Instead of attending the funeral of Officer Paul Dittamo, who died last week in the line of duty, Gray was in the dining room at the 4th Estate, the restaurant in the National Press Club, according to the restaurant’s Twitter account.  We called The Fourth Estate, and he arrived at 1pm for a lunch with Council Chair-Elect Kwame Brown, where he still sits at press time.

According to the Post’s Mike Debonis, Fraternal Order of Police chief Kris Baumann was “apoplectic” at the no-show.  You can understand his frustration and anger, given that Baumann and the Police union were leading supporters for Gray on his campaign.

Local blog We Love DC deserves credit for spotting the restaurant’s tweet and figuring out where the Mayor-Elect was. Even outgoing Mayor Adrian Fenty, who was criticized in the past for being a no-show at high-profile funerals, managed to make an appearance and offer remarks, though he was late.

The comments under this We Love DC post highlight why this was a bad move for Gray. “Welcome back to Barryland!“, a reader said, comparing the Mayor-Elect to Mayor-for-Life, Marion Barry. Here’s another:

Is anyone at all surprised by this? Vince’s first two days post election have been a disaster. It’s not going to get any better, people.

It’s been years since I worked on a campaign, but I feel qualified enough to offer this wee bit of advice; don’t give your detractors fuel with which to flame you, if you can help it, especially when you’re trying to eliminate division and lead “one city”.

More proof that Voting is confusing.

This is still my favorite Election Day story:

Supporters of a write-in campaign for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), aiming to make the process as simple as possible, have made ink stamps bearing Fenty’s name, which voters can take into the polls to stamp their ballots.

But it wasn’t so simple for one Fenty supporter Tuesday afternoon. That voter, at Precinct 51 at Lafayette Elementary School in the Chevy Chase neighborhood, appears to have used the stamp on the screen of an electronic machine, election officials said.

The stamps, it apparently does not go without saying, are meant to be used on paper ballots only. [wapo]

I promise, no voting machines were harmed during the making of this post. I was surprised that the ink stamps are legal– and that this isn’t the first time they’ve been pressed in to service. Supporters of Anthony Williams used them eight years ago as well!

“I think the bike lobby liked Fenty.”


Random cab in D.C. I was too busy typing to photograph mine!

I opened the door and threw my laptop bag and purse down the expansive backseat of a weathered American sedan. “NPR, please”, I said. The driver looked at me in his rear view mirror, eyes crinkling.

“They are building a new building.” His voice was low and lovely. I instantly relaxed, as I often do, when I hear the lilt of an accent.

“NPR? Yes, they are.”

“I hope they tear all the walls. It’s just a warehouse, that thing was old.” He pronounces thing like “ting”. I love it.

“You’re awfully opinionated about a company you don’t even listen to,” I teased. “Isn’t this WTOP I’m hearing?” He decisively punches one button on his radio, and the car is filled with the Diane Rehm Show. “I work for WAMU,” I tell him.

“I switch from time to time. Whole thing is great. Rehm is doing well, Kojo is doing fine. You work with Kojo from time to time?”

I mention that I work on the same floor but that no, I don’t work with him. He changes the subject.

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More on Why Fenty Lost

Just finished reading Mike DeBonis’ column, “Consultant’s postmortem: Fenty became ‘flawed and expendable’”:

Bill Knapp — the veteran political communications consultant, whose business partner Anita Dunn consulted for both Fenty and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee — has come forward to explain to Democratic operatives that this was more about Fenty’s preternaturally bad communications instinct than a latent anti-incumbent mood…

Fenty lost, Knapp writes, because he “neglected a critical base” and “symbolic of that was the Sunday before the election when he participated in a triathlon in DC instead of visiting African American churches, as his opponent did.”

Ugh. That’s brutal. Triathlons are impressive, but he needed to focus on some church-going folks at that point, not his fitness. Continue reading

The Mayoral Race– by the Numbers

How you voted, via Mike DeBonis at WaPo:

Black turnout went up. It wasn’t just gentrifying areas where turnout rose. In Ward 8, with the highest proportion of African Americans, the number of ballots cast rose 27 percent, and 82 percent of them were for Gray. In Precinct 107, in Ward 7′s Greenway neighborhood, 148 more voters showed up this year than in 2006 – a 46 percent jump. In the wards Fenty won (1, 2, 3 and 6), there were about 9,400 more votes than in 2006. But in the wards Gray won (4, 5, 7 and 8), turnout rose by more than 6,800. Fenty-friendly areas might be growing fast but not nearly fast enough to help him: There were 7,800 more votes in Gray’s wards than in Fenty’s. The city might be changing, but one still cannot win by the white vote alone.

Where Fenty lost. The story of this election can be found in the city’s largest precinct: Precinct 66, voting at Bertie Backus Middle School in Ward 5, next to the Fort Totten Metro station. It’s in the heart of middle-class black Washington; according to 2000 Census figures, the precinct is 96 percent black and the homeownership rate is 75 percent, well above the city average. It’s also the only precinct in the city that saw more than 2,000 votes, and 79 percent of them went to Gray. Gray emerged from 66 with a 1,287 vote lead – more than one-tenth of his total victory margin. Backus, incidentally, was among the 23 public schools Fenty closed in 2008.

I’ll admit, my eyes tend to glaze over when I see that many numbers encased in a paragraph, but I couldn’t stop reading– and learning and confirming.