Loose Lips

The Decided: It’s Gray’s Day

The Undecided Decides

Today’s Event: Since last week, I've reached out to favorite sources and in-the-know friends. Almost all of them tell me I should vote for Mayor Adrian Fenty. One source works in the schools and has had her battles with the teacher's union. Another has done amazing detective work on Vincent Gray's ties to some convicted felon frat buddy.  A former editor argues that Fenty has been just about perfect as a mayor. Then there are the drumbeat of comments from Downtown Rez and others who argue persuasively that Fenty deserves another four years. I can't help but offer a retort about Peter Nickles' latest nonsense or quote Councilmember Phil Mendelson. I spend the rest of my time debating in my head: Gray vs. Fenty.

In a way, Fenty is our Rudy Giuliani—another frustrating, sports-obsessed asshole who by-any-means-necessary cleaned up New York City. Fenty has ruled by fear, allowing himself and others in his administration to slime anyone who gets in his way. During this campaign, the shorthand for Fenty's jerkiness has been that stupid baseball tickets dustup with D.C. Council. I think it's way deeper than that.

I think about Bill Slover, or the two arson investigators turned whistleblowers whom Nickles took time out of his busy schedule to personally slam (“It’s quite an effort that these two guys are making, giving TV interviews, filing complaints. We dispute almost everything they claim, including that they are individuals of distinction"), Pershing Park, and the contempt Nickles had for the Children's Rights lawyers in the CFSA case. Fenty and Nickles even managed to turn Cora Masters Barry into a sympathetic figure.

And then there's the overall feeling that Fenty can never just shoot straight. During our interview with him, the mayor actually played up his administration's response to FOIAs. If there's any group of people that know better, it's us. Fenty also suggested that his response to homelessness had been a national model. Really? Maybe he needs to consult D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute's stats on affordable housing, or read the latest testimony from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. Fenty also played up the Fire Department's accomplishments. He needs to talk to Mendo, stat! I could go on, but you get the point.

Still, the comparison between Fenty and that other obnoxious mayor doesn't quite hold. The mayor is far more progressive than his haters suggest. Fenty deserves credit for spending all of his four years in office on public works projects that benefit everyone—from the new rec centers to school construction to a laudable housing-first program for the city's most desperate. His undying support of Peaceoholics suggests cronyism at its worst, but it also suggests that he really cares about troubled kids. [Full disclosure: Gray came off more the prickly politician than Fenty during our interviews].

And yet. Tomorrow, we get to become our own results-oriented big city managers. By that standard, I'm voting for Vincent Gray.

Influence: Final. To be a good big-city manager, you have to win over your constituents. When the majority of District residents with children do not support Michelle Rhee, what does that say about her school reforms? Why shouldn't District parents be worried about Rhee's Teach for America fetish? When the majority of voters do not trust you, what does that say about your leadership abilities? During this campaign, Fenty had huge advantages. He declared early and attracted a huge war chest. He could have used the campaign to reach out, and get all of us to buy in. Instead, he spent too much time slamming Gray over his tenure at DHS in the early '90s. That's like blaming Gray for the crack epidemic. No one could have succeeded in that job. Not once could he answer with an ounce of empathy the questions voters had about First Source enforcement, the high unemployment number, and shrinking affordable housing stock. Fenty spent the rest of his time on stage at various go-go shows as his own hype man.

Net impact: Voting Gray.

But: A vote for Gray won't stop a Chipotle from opening up or close out DDOT's Twitter feed. What a Gray administration might do? Empower big business and the teacher's union (yikes). And empower us to start participating in city governance again. Gray promises to listen to us. Let's hope we can provide him with honest critiques and impassioned arguments. In four years, if Gray fails, we won't have Nickles to blame. This time, it's on us.

  • Indeed


    I'm always rather confused by people who say that they will leave the city if Gray is elected. By your take on DC Public schools, no one who has gone to, and graduated from them has been successful. There are no good teachers in DCPS and the only way for your child to be successful is to either send them to private schools or go to the suburbs.

    None of those things are true. Plenty of people graduate from DCPS and go on to be successful. There are WONDERFUL teachers in DCPS. And here, I'm not saying that all of them are fantastic. But neither will they all be fantastic if you send your kids to private schools, either.

    The schools are about EVERYONE. Teachers, students, parents, administrators. All of them need to be on the same page, working toward the same goal. Rhee, unfortunately, never cared about being on the same page as other people. She claimed to know all the answers without any assessment of the problems. Having poor teachers in a failing school system might be part of the problem. But it is only a part of the problem.

    I guarantee that if you go to every single school in this city, you will see a great number of strong teachers. And you do not need to go to a Ward 3 school to succeed. I did not go to a Ward 3 school and went on to Ivy League schools for undergraduate and Business school.

    Let's stop pretending that complex problems can be solved through simple solutions or that one person has all of the answers to our educational problems. Don't give up on DC because Fenty is not re-elected.

  • Flernty

    "Look, I somehow made it out of DCPS despite it sucking" isn't a convincing rally cry to keep middle class folks in the city. While I've only been in DC for a few years I did attend an urban high school in California where I was the definite minority, so I have some idea of the problems and benefits of urban public education.

    Fact is Rhee is making progress. Fact is changing horses now is not likely a good idea. Fact is Gray has publically courted the union and the union's concern for students is an afterthought compared to keeping member's jobs no matter how crappy they are at their job. If teachers and other DCPS officials, including Rhee, can't be held accountable in the future, and that seems to be where Gray is leaning, that's a recipe for failure.

    Look, you can be "principled" and have your kid be one of only 10% or so not on free lunch, not learning English as a second language, or not scoring an average 50% on standardized tests, but what kind of experience is that? What is the point of that experiment when Montgomery County is four Metro stops away?

    More importantly, what kind of city do you want? One the panders to union teachers who shrug and say "what can I do with your dumb kids?" One that separates us up into "gentrifiers" (why not just call me "cracker" and be done with the pretense?) and "true Washingtonians"? One that looks back in pride to 40 years of dysfunction?

    Hey, you can live in the past if you want to. That's the American way. Teabaggers and Gray supporters have a lot in common. A perennial debate about who screwed who might keep you happy -- but I wasn't here then -- I'm here now and I'm telling you that if Gray plays politics with the schools to make the union happy, and recent reforms cease, that's all I care about. I'm sorry you can't get beyond the tired-old blame game or the idea that for "old timers" to win the "gentrifiers" have to be put in their place. 'Cause I got news for you, PLENTY more middle-class African Americans have abandoned this city due to schools and crime than whites have over the last couple of decades. It's not just ugly me that you are pushing out.

    You can fight those old battles all you want. The result is that people who can leave, will. And those that can't leave will suffer the consequences of bad schools, not the "gentrifiers" you want to stick it to. I have options, most poor residents do not. By keeping me, my taxes, and my kids in this city you get a net gain. By running me out you might feel real good about yourself, but we've seen this movie before, it don't end well.

    Ultimately I hope I'm wrong about Gray because I don't want to leave -- but he doesn't give me much hope. And the fact that so many Gray supporters are so openly hostile to the idea of a truly diverse city that includes an actual middle class and white people who don't stay west of the park like they're supposed to doesn't give me much hope either.

  • TL

    You'd probably have voted for Nader in Florida, too.

  • Ward 5 Res

    Flernty- The school situation here in DC is completely different from what it was 5 years ago, and even 10 years ago. It also isn't analogous really to anywhere else in the country. We have one of the strongest charter school laws in the country, and despite, or because of whatever positive or negative changes happen in DCPS, many middle class parents can stay in DC because of the parallel charter school system. I'll probably end up voting for Fenty today based on non-education related issues, but I think your linkage of Gray to poor schools and a return to the past is not logical. I've talked to Gray about schools, and he is a strong charter school supporter, and just because you are willing to LISTEN to opponents, doesn't mean you do their bidding.....

  • Flernty

    TL, Depends if Nader was nice to him and told him about whatever trips he'd taken. Otherwise Chicklets would pout-it-out and vote Buchanan because he was more "transparent" (and nicer to alleged journalists).

  • Flernty

    Charters aren't the way forward, period. Lottery results determining a kindergartener's fate may be George Bush's dream, but it ain't mine. If DC is to move forward, if it is to establish a middle class, if those on the lowest rung are to have a chance, then our kids need to go to school together. Balkanized schools like E.L. Haynes offer an option in a transitional period, but long term DCPS has to be the answer.

    Further, Gray can talk all he wants about charters and about "continuing reform" but it's all a big question mark further punctuated by his very troubling statements about the union, about teacher standards (i.e. scuttling them), and about school leadership. Why go with the unknown when Fenty, despite being a bastard, has had results? It's nothing but a city-wide fit of pique because the guy doesn't pander well.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    Flernty- what frustrating to me is that you are somehow under the assumption that Rhee will magically change all of this. The improvements made are very limited and her approach has only been successful in schools that weren't as badly off prior to her starting in the City. When a dozen of schools, who might have done as well under someone else, has shown improvement while the vast majority of them are still pretty bad, then I will be a believer. But so far, it's all smoke and mirrors and "take my word for it" because my kids use to be in private schools and now are in public schools in upper NW and are doing great.

    Somehow I really doubt that Rhee would stay on even if Fenty is re-elected.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    Correction- When a dozen of schools, who might have done as well under someone else, has shown improvement while the vast majority of them are still pretty bad, I'm not a believer.

  • Flernty

    Adrian Bent-Me, you are carefully ignoring two groups of schools, those that went from 20-30% to 50%, a pretty dramatic increase, and those that came out of nowhere to compete in the top bracket of DCPS (like Barnard Elementary). I pay very close attention to this. This IS the issue to me. There are far more than "a dozen" schools doing better. You can buy into the anti-Fenty/Rhee koolaid all you want, but facts are facts, and the NAEP scores in DC outpace all other urban district in 4th and 8th grade gains, across the board - not just a "dozen" schools.

  • Adrian Bent-Me

    Flernty- I didn't get any of the kool-aid, the Fenty camp already drank it all.

    Look, you may the ability to send you kids to a well-performing DC school because you migth live in a better area than I do, but it hasn't changed much for my kids since I attended. My neighborhood isn't that bad today, but the schools in close proximity to me are still horrendous and to be try to get them into one of the few well-performing ones, requires a long wait on the lotto list or connections I do not have (remember, Fenty himself doesn't have faith in DCPS, he's sending his boys to an out of boundary school with a fantastic pre-Rhee reputation).

    So why don't you go ahead and send me this magical list of great schools that populates the City in abundance now. I can auction it off to other parents like myself and fund my kids' college tuitions.

  • Indeed


    Did I say that I succeeded despite my school? No. I succeeded because of where I went to school.

    I know that everyone loves to imagine how ignorant everyone is who went to DC public Schools, but that mess is just tired. Truly tired. This portrayal of people who don't vote for Fenty and don't support Rhee as Luddites who want to go back to the days of Marion Barry smoking the crack pipe is ignorant and self-serving. It is a circular argument not based in reality. I get that you believe that Rhee has made progress. I believe that she has not. Further, I believe that she has set our schools on a collision course with mediocrity and that Fenty is the dumbest, willfully ignorant person we have ever had as mayor. He is fortunate that he has served during a boom-time, where people actually want to live and invest in the city. This man truly knows nothing. If you don't believe me, try talking to him about policy.

    It is really Fenty folks who are like tea partiers. You're the true believers who think your candidate and his disciple can do no wrong and consistently use facile language to distinguish between "us" and "them."

    I take it back. You should move to Montgomery County.

  • Young and teaching

    I am a teacher who does not support Fenty. My reasons have nothing to do with the union, as I teach at a public charter school in ward 2. We put in a bid for a building property of a recently failed public school. Fenty did not give us the bid and instead uses the location for storage. Our building is slated to be torn down to make room for Condos. With schools closing all around us, where are the children of DC to go? Where in ward 9 can they live as the rental rates around them rocket? Fenty doesn't care. And I don't care how many go-go shows he makes it out to, this is a class issue for us. Walk around ward 3, see all the grass and the green and the ranger rovers parked next to Fenty signs. We don't mind. There won't be a cab driver in the district who gives him a vote either. Ask one, if you doubt me.

  • Ronald c. Cooley-EL

    You know that the mayor should have been a little more thoughtful about that peaceahalolic situation because they have done nothing prevent our youth from killing each other, yes he did some good for the city, yet it was for the people who has not the people who thought he would help make their life better. You can tell that stuff about his help for the homeless to someone who does not live or be in the streets of Washington dc, Washington DC has the highest unemployment then it has very had under any mayor. Remember you can not look down on those who can make or brake your career, he forgot he works for all of the district; not just a few. We will be watching mr. Gray as well we the people will not be taken for granted, by no one who wants our votes because we can think, so mr GRAY be put on notice you must stay true to your words to do for all not just your friends !!!. Bro. Ronald CooleyEL