September marks our 4th anniversary in our home in Tenleytown. Please, hold your applause. Despite the poor health of the economy in general, and real estate in particular, I would wager that my Ward 3 has remained as rock-solid and recession-proof as any on this planet. But while some in the city have felt the crushing effects of the economic downturn, I feel that – for once – the fundamental structures and people are in place for reversing systemic problems with public education, health, and safety.
Yet the results of last week’s Democratic primaries revealed a blunt repudiation of Mayor Fenty and his top lieutenants. As expected, Mayor Adrian Fenty’s bid to retain his office against Council Chair Vincent Gray fell short.
Why was that, when so many tangible signs of progress surround me in my city? Since my days at Janney and Deal in the 1970s until four years ago, very little had changed – even in the civic-minded paradise of Ward 3. Oh, except the Wilson Pool – built in the late 70s – sat derelict. And the Tenleytown Library was closed – warehoused down Wisconsin Ave as the empty structure stood as a monument to indecision.
The pre-primary Washington Post poll indicated that while a strong majority of residents feel the city is on the right track, there is an equally strong counter-current of disapproval for Fenty, predominantly from the city’s majority black wards 5-8.
Fenty staked his successful campaign four years ago on his committment to get things done while in office. His primary goals were to implement needed reforms in the struggling DC Public Schools, improve District services, and upgrade and/or construct new facilities.
The larger goal was to reverse the population decline in the city by improving services and facilities, then gradually grow the tax base. He has largely succeeded in achieving those goals, yet in doing so has seemingly sealed his fate.
It is one thing to view Fenty as a fiesty “go it alone” figure who has managed to polarize many people – including his supporters – while accomplishing Big Things for his hometown. His greatest attribute as a Mayoral candidate was his energy and willingness to make things happen – and happen they did.
He sought and appointed a Chancellor who would be outside the auspices of the City Council – a political body that has stood by as a silent accomplice to decades of negligence in educating the city’s youth.
Everyone agreed we had to do something, but the entire city was stuck “in committee”, or trying to sustain an unwieldy patronage system that rewarded complacency over tangible results.
From when I left DC in 1979 until I returned to live in 2006 I could have mapped the city – declining – and its services – abysmal – from memory. Today, I would need an iPhone app. But the best Fenty’s critics can come up with to undermine obvious progress is he ”squandered opportunities to make our community better.”
I can only judge him by what he has accomplished. The list is long, and it touched every resident and ward throughout the city.
Rather than bore you with a recitation of the progress made by DC Government under Fenty’s administration, I ask that you close your eyes and try to remember back 4 years ago. Open your eyes and look around you. The engine was always there, but it needed someone to give it a kick start. That someone was Fenty.