Housing Complex

Clark Ray Goes for Smart Growth Vote

Clark Ray won't slow down your streetcars.

Clark Ray won't slow down your streetcars.

Former D.C. Parks and Recreation director Clark Ray has been running a balls-out campaign for the city council at-large seat held by snoozy Phil Mendelson, and yesterday released a sharply negative ad that hits Mendelson on his smart growth credentials. Ray boils smart growth down to two things: Streetcars, and vibrant neighborhoods, highlighting Mendelson's opposition to a high-density residential development on top of the new Giant supermarket on Wisconsin Avenue.

When defending himself on these points, Mendelson talks about the need for more careful planning, which is not in itself an invalid concern. On the Giant issue specifically, his argument is that the city should be looking at changing its zoning overlays comprehensively–which it is–rather than handing out exceptions for individual projects, which sends a signal to developers that overlays around the city don't really mean anything (Jack Evans raised similar concerns about the Follies hotel in Dupont). But I doubt Mendelson's advocating for the overlay he helped design to be modified to allow for greater density. At that point, you have to wonder whether Mendelson is using concerns about process to avoid opposing politically popular things on their merits–and if internet polls are any indication, the Giant proposal is quite popular.

On the other hand, I'm not convinced that Ray has a great understanding of smart growth himself. At the end of the spot, he complains about Mendelson's opposition to a bank at the site on Wisconsin Avenue–but from a Jacobean perspective, banks are totally unfriendly to vibrant streets, and Mendelson's opposition isn't necessarily a knock on his smart growth record (which has some other, not-insignificant achievements).

The most interesting thing about Ray's video, though, is that the smart-growth crew has made itself into a constituency to be courted. It centers around Greater Greater Washington, where Ray clearly got much of his ammunition. But its power became clear when thousands of calls, e-mails, and tweets poured in to defend streetcars when they were threatened by Vince Gray's 2:00 a.m. switcharoo. That's what political power is: When elections become about your issues, you've essentially won.

More on this in next week's column!

  • John

    I'd be voting for Clark Ray... And the whole "hold on now. I'm not AGAINST this. I just think we need to plaaann more" is total BS. See Gray and Steetcars. Its election season posturing. Lets get the Giant development going now with a special exemption AND change the zoning overlays. No need to wait and sit and plan and plan and sit and wait. This has been in the pipeline for like 5 years with about a million townhall meetings. It's been PLANNED to death at this point. And it's all being held up by a group of wealthy single family home owning nimbys. Meanwhile the district and community at large is missing out on what would be a highly beneficial development.

  • ThomDC

    Another goofy photo of Clark Ray (he seems to have toned down the "black like me" make-up)! He looks like he just finished getting a high colonic intervention from his "frat buddy", patron, and mentor Adrian "King" Fenty.

    Compared to Phil Mendelson, no matter how "snoozy" you may think he appears, with Ray there is no there, there.

  • ChinainDC

    I saw the video of this and it's great. Mendo is lame on smart growth and I for one would like to see the Giant opened pronto!

    Great going Clark Ray! You have my vote.

  • Rick Mangus

    Ah yes, the great streetcar dabacle!

  • Skipper

    I've found Greater Greater Washington's quality to have become far more hackish in the past several months, especially when it comes to its political leanings. It was far more useful and unbiased when it stuck to wonkyness, rather than it's current foray into politics.

  • The District Sleeps Alone

    It's entirely appropriate for GGW to step into politics. I mean, this shit matters.

  • Rick

    I found Clark Ray's video ad about the Giant development to
    be very surprising, because at a neighborhood picnic this summer, he told me that
    he agreed with those in our community who seek an improved Giant store but want the
    developers to address the loading, traffic and parking issues related to this
    project. Clark Ray seems to want to have it both ways.

    Also, I've never heard him provide a good explanation for why Fenty dismissed him.


  • http://facebook.com/joellawson Joel

    "Rick," who posted the same claims over at CP: I too heard Clark, in person, early on, state that he wanted this project to go through, and yes address a few impact details. That was his approach at Parks & Rec. and it's one of the reasons I support him: listens to the community, but keeps the progress going.
    That's mighty different than Mendelson's approach, which is to wrap your arms around a few details, and the process, to then testify that NOTHING has changed in 20 yrs to alter your late-80s vision.

    And as for Ray's removal as Dir. of Parks and Rec., it has been addressed directly, repeatedly and openly by Ray, from one of the earliest CM Thomas oversight hearings on Parks many months ago, to most recently on the TBD debate. See pt 7:41 on the first vid here:


  • http://facebook.com/joellawson Joel

    (correction: over at GGW)