One might say that I experienced DC in an Age of Gold. (As opposed to an Age of Lead.) I was there for the latter Williams Administration and the Fenty Years and the early days of Vince Gray. I missed the Crack Wars, the City in Receivership, the brace of empty commercial districts, when the only open store fronts were social service nonprofits. There is even a Target now, over in Columbia Heights, H Street NE is picking up (after forty years dormant, like the princess in Sleeping Beauty), and even the Yuppie-scum-formerly-urban-pioneers-now-real estate-barons are starting to complain about property taxes.
I was among the critics of Adrian Fenty, although always above the belt. It wasn’t that I disliked him personally, or even felt that he was dishonest. I admire the intention of what he and others are trying to do by making government services more *efficient*, but it is commonly understood that the Road to Hell Is Paved, and apparently Good Intentions make good pavers. The reality is that part of good government is taking a 360 look at the impact of your actions, and that takes time. Simply because someone somewhere wants something to be different because it costing them money and inconveniencing them and they are waving around a handheld, doesn’t mean that government should respond immediately, or at all. Yes, city streets develop potholes. That they do. Potholes are tough on your suspension if you have a car and are in the wrong pothole at the wrong time. Gotcha.
The reality is that a lot of Fenty Administration initiatives wound up as bad ideas because they were carried out in some public policy theory vacuum as if there were no actual people or communities involved. I’m thinking of the genius who decided to move the Office of Tax and Revenue, in March. When I called Tax and Revenue at the end of May to find out where my income tax refund was, I was informed that if I filed my taxes on paper, there was no tracking of my return until my refund was finalized. And because of the move, they were behind and all the paper refunds filed after mid-March were sitting in a big heap, processing as fast as possible. Nice. I was told I could have filed online. Well, except, I own my own home and I don’t have simple, straight forward taxes and I didn’t make that much money so paying for a tax preparer was something I could skip and I’ve filed taxes on paper every year I’ve filed. And no one told me the City was going to move the Tax and Revenue. In March.
The reality is that Tony Williams was a pretty effective administrator, a tough act to follow on that point. Boring as Hell, with his bow ties and perpetual frown, but this was a guy whose watch was set to the atomic clock, not his cell phone feed. He pulled the city up by its bootstraps and made it respectable. And interesting. Somehow (or someone) the Williams years were characterized by the development of an independent arts scene in DC—experimental theaters, art-o-matic, independent craft fairs, unique locally owned shops. Much of this went under a bulldozer (literal or figurative) during the Fenty years. How many of those wheels were already in motion before Tony Williams left office? That’s always tough to tell. Certainly, the disastrous Eastside Streetcar project had its origins in the Williams Years, but someone in that Administration had the sense to see it Mothballed. Permanently. Or so we all thought until it reanimated itself like some kind of hideous policy zombie under Adrian Fenty and others.
Some people consider Vince Gray a rewind. A return to the “old ways” when DC was a mess. He certainly is a format change from Adrian Fenty—twice Fenty’s age, working his way through DC government rather than a series of prestigious schools and Georgetown cocktail parties. Getting arrested instead of playing with his Blackberry. Getting a printer cartridge plant in Ward 8 instead of a Pottery Barn in Ward 2. This guy got arrested for protesting for DC’s ability to self-govern and Statehood. And several Members of the City Council were right behind him.
The thing is, that Tony Williams wasn’t always efficient, but he tended to be effective. Adrian Fenty was efficient, but noooottt necessarily that effective. My sincere hope (and early signs are good) is that Vince Gray will be a throwback to Tony Williams, with more personality. The District could use some personality these days, Lord knows if one more superchain lands in Chinatown it’s going to look like Epcot Center or something.
Anywho, when I was in college, I remember hearing a story about William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy. He inherited the title “Duke” from his father. Apparently, though, it wasn’t always a Dukedom, a few generations back it was a County. Normandy was big for a County, so some uncle or grandfather started using the title Duke and it stuck. So, I think Vince Gray should start calling himself Governor Gray instead of Mayor. That’s DC right? All grabby-grabby, take what you want when you want it, no? So why not? What are they gonna do if he starts calling himself Guv’nor, and everybody else does, too? 🙂
Long live the Dream . . . .