By Markus Batchelor (@MarkusBatchelor)
The past few weeks have manifested every ugly feature of politics that there could be in Ward 8. As the 2012 campaign gears up and more and more people announce their interest in running as Ward 8’s representative on the City Council and, in turn, ousting 2-term incumbent and 4-term Mayor, Marion S. Barry, more controversy and conflict appear.
With so much dysfunction going on even before petitions hit the streets next week, one has to wonder what kind of leadership will emerge from a political fistfight that is destined to continue all the way through April and beyond. Here is a rundown of the breakdown happening in Ward 8.
“[ ] on the dotted line”: I am sure that everyone around the city has become aware of the war between Ward 8 Council Candidate/ANC Commissioner Darrell Gaston (@DarrellGastonDC) and Immediate Past President of the Ward 8 Democrats/ Soon-to-Announce Ward 8 Council Candidate Jacque Patterson (@Jacque4DC). Days after Patterson announced his intention to enter the Ward 8 race a few weeks ago (a race Gaston had been running for months before), Gaston announced that he would be pressing criminal charges against Patterson for forging his signature on a letter of support for a Charter school coming into the Ward. The forgery apparently occurred some months before.
Patterson’s account was that Gaston asked him to sign his name on the letter of support, which he says was a bad idea in hindsight. However, Gaston says he never supported the new school and would never have asked Patterson to sign on his behalf.
What’s most interesting about the situation is the reaction that this conflict has produced from Ward 8 pols and the public who have known Gaston or have become versed on the issue: Most of the backlash from this “mystery of the forged signature” has been dropped in the lap of Gaston, especially from people who think that, whether the letter was forged or not, Gaston is using the situation as political blackmail to cut down on 2012 competition. In fact, Patterson forwarded an email to The Washington CityPaper allegedly from Gaston that told Patterson that he could make the situation “go away” and that his family and supporters could be freed from public shaming if he decided not to run. Apparently, Patterson refused because Gaston held a press conference Tuesday to “air the dirty laundry”.
The Result: The conflict is far from over and could last all the way until the primary in April, but the initial shockwaves are toppling “The House of Gaston”. People are losing faith in his integrity and other people just downright don’t trust him. The immediate effect on Patterson’s candidacy is yet to be seen, but the next few weeks will be the real judge of who will come out of this scuffle victorious. Right now, Gaston is against the ropes.
The Reaction: I do have to say that this situation is months old, and I feel like the fact that it exploded when Patterson showed remote interest in the office is just “Gaston being Gaston”. In the long run, I’m predicting that this will have a tremendously negative effect on the Gaston campaign and will be an irreversible self-inflicted wound. He will have to make a tremendous rebound with both his political allies and his base to turn it around.
“Keeping It In the Family”: It’s not secret that Councilmember Marion S. Barry, whose political career spans more than 30 years, is aging. Questions have gone around the Ward for years now regarding who would follow the “Mayor for Life” when his retirement came, voluntarily or otherwise. The most mysterious aspect was if Barry himself was grooming a successor. It turns out he has one person in mind: his son, Christopher.
In a recent Washington Post article, people close to Barry and even some of his rivals report that they have had conversations with Barry in which he describes his tactic to have his son follow him as the Sultan of the Ward. The post reports that Barry has let pols in on his plan to win a third term in 2012, retire half way through his term and support Christopher as his successor in a special election.
Christopher, who was arrested in May on felony charges on possession of PCP and marijuana with intent to distribute, has told many that he has no interest in seeking the Council seat or even being involved in city politics, putting a damper on the high hopes of his overzealous father.
The Result: This one event points out something daunting: the “Barry Era” in Ward 8 could last long after Barry leaves the scene. It is also a sign that Marion Barry looks to solidify some type of control over the politics of the Ward for years to come and that the continuity of this political regime threatens to build a stronghold.
The Reaction: The only reason for the continuance of Marion Barry’s success in Ward 8 politics for almost 8 years (we may see 12 years) is because there is so many factions and political disunity. There are currently 5 candidates (with possibly 2 others waiting in the wings) challenging Barry in the Democratic Primary on April 3. These candidates, at the base, all have the same goal: to unseat Barry. So why in the world would they risk splitting the vote (like they have done for years) instead of getting behind one strong candidate who could have a chance of beating Barry? The answer is simple: political ambition. If any candidate believes that they can run alongside half of a dozen other candidates, with similar voter bases, and beat a man who consistently gets over 70 percent of the vote and has never lost an election, they are out of their minds. But these candidates consistently don’t care. It seems like Ward 8 pols have an uncontrollable addiction to seeing their name on the ballot and while they get their rocks off, they constantly stall progress in this Ward. If we all would get around one candidate, we would have a chance. If we never do, Welcome to Barrytown.
Congress Heights, Washington Highlands, Bellevue, Shipley Terrace
These are the neighborhoods that spent the crack era in the crime briefs. Their complex geography and complex struggle whittled down to an endless series of short paragraphs that revealed only the simple facts: an address, a bullet, a body sometimes with a name and age, a date, and time of death.
It didn’t matter that the briefs only told the end of a story. It didn’t matter that the briefs rarely if ever touched on motive. This was the crack era, and these were the neighborhoods that took the brunt of it. “Drug-related” was the catchall for everything, just part of the sad familiar.
But the byproduct of civic despair and feeling ignored is activism, a pursuit in which the Dissed-Trict is steeped. Congress Heights alone serves as a breadbasket of political feistiness, including in its ranks such bully-pulpit vets as Phil Pannell, Sandra “S.S.” Seegars, Mary Cuthbert, and Cardell Shelton.
Behind their hopeless runs for office, their wacky feuds with one another, these activists care deeply for the problems within their neighborhoods—whether it’s doing battle with the police (Seegars), calling out the Nationals for anti-gay policies (Pannell), advocating for vocational training (Shelton), or feuding with Marion Barry (all of the above).
Unlike their virtual peers squatting on message boards, this breed of rabble rousers has spent years fighting over simple things like getting a grocery store. There’s plenty of other reasons to head out to ANC meetings, too. Since the neighborhoods had their post-war boom in the ’40s and ’50s, Ward 8 activists have had to contend with the District’s poor planning, neglect, and failed promises.
To wit, the landscape of dysfunction:
• Congress Heights residents have long had to commute for goods and services. The Eastover Shopping Center across the line in P.G. County has long benefited from the patronage of its citizens.
• Washington Highlands was cursed with a landscape that was 83 percent apartment buildings—what a 1971 District report labeled as pure “monotony”—and extreme poverty.
• Bellevue has had to contend with butting up against the sewage treatment facility at Blue Plains. It has also been dealt a name that has only now started to stick. Residents and the press used to refer to Bellevue as “Bellview.” Flags now adorn lampposts bearing the correct name and the slogan: “A Great View to the Future.”
This publication saw the bright future almost a decade ago. In 1999, it declared in a cover story titled “When Hell Freezes Over” (11/5/1999) that gentrification in the form of new town-home development had hit the Dissed-Trict, that the familiar drive-by tableau of liquor stores and blight, and the feeling that this was a place stuck in time had been bulldozed. That old cliché had been replaced with fresh bricks and new money.
New town homes have since been built up all over the Dissed-Trict, most notably in Congress Heights. The neighborhood finally got its grocery store—a sprawling Giant in Camp Simms—with an IHOP coming soon.
But its main commercial strip—Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue—remains an ugly charm bracelet of liquor stores and carryout joints. The new Subway franchise that opened up—with its three tables—hardly counts as classic sit-down dining.
In the next decade or so, there will be plenty of battles, from crime reduction to the Department of Homeland Security’s taking over the ward’s best views on the grounds of St. Elizabeths.
Pannell sees another issue—the graying of the activist set.
Is it hard to get angry? “Not difficult at all,” says Pannell. “The difficulty with me is as I have aged, I can’t really back up the anger because of limited resources, time, and energy.”
Pannell worries that the new homeowners aren’t filling up the civic meetings. He worries that Congress Heights is turning into a series of enclaves. “It will become a place where not only each person’s home be each person’s castle but each person’s fortress,” he says.
Pick any block within these communities, and you’re bound to find a mix of transition, tension, and old war stories still all too fresh. The unit block of Forrester Street SW in Bellevue, for example, begins with vacant units butting up against new apartment construction. Up farther, the apartments give way to a string of stable brick homes bearing rose bushes, ADT signs, an American flag, and a beware of dog poster.
The owner of that poster is Anthony Cunningham. His son was shot and killed two years ago. He got a three-sentence crime brief. His case remains unsolved. “That’s the reason I live here,” Cunningham says. “I earned the right to be here with my son’s blood.”
• Whereas Congress Heights has a group of over-the-top activists, Bellevue has a whole family of eminently reasonable ones. The Kinlows, at one point or another, have played big roles in city finances (patriarch Eugene Kinlow sat on the D.C. financial control board), Democratic city politics and statehood (Eugene DeWitt Kinlow serves on the Democratic State Committee), and the D.C. public schools (Tonya Vidal Kinlow serves as the ombudsman for public education). When big-time city issues hit Bellevue, the Kinlows swing into action: Eugene DeWitt led a successful movement to prevent a proposed Ward 8 prison. He also wrote a history of Bellevue. For him it’s personal: “I moved to Bellevue in 1969 as a kid. We were the first black people on the block…I tell people kids used to try to take my bike and they were white kids and they can’t even imagine that.”
• In the early ’90s, the William C. Smith realty company started planting tulips in these neighborhoods. According to CEO Chris Smith, the apartment juggernaut’s tulip tally has now reached close to 1 million.
• Washington Highlands Public Library, located at 115 Atlantic St. SW, is not actually in the Washington Highlands neighborhood; it’s in Bellevue. But that hasn’t stopped the facility from becoming the go-to spot come election time. Count on the library to host its share of heated mayoral and council race forums.
• On a weekday night, you might want to stop by the concrete landing at Ferebee-Hope Elementary and check in on the wonder that is the Washington Showstoppers Community Marching Band, the Highland Dwellings’ own squad of about 40 dancers, flag-wavers, cheerleaders, and drummers. The neighborhood-sponsored band practices twice a week, so expect to hear booming percussion and prideful callouts.
By Markus Batchelor (@MarkusBatchelor)
Something new out of the Democratic party: According to a Washington Post blog released today, the D.C. Democratic State Committee quietly ended a decades-long tradition of having members of the committee selected in a direct election every four years during the party’s primary.
The party informed the DC Board of Elections and Ethics on August 16 that the positions of Committeemen and Committeewomen (both at the ward level and at-large), which are usually selected by the many Democratic voters in a September primary (the primary will be held in April in 2012), will be chosen instead in a convention or caucus conducted by the party organization.
The DC Democratic State Committee, in a statement, explained that an alternative election process had to be chosen in order to be in uniform with party organizations in other states and to follow party rules. However, some members of the Committee say that there really is no conflict with party rules. The D.C. Republican Party, in contrast, will continue to elect the members of it’s committee in their primary next year.
I believe that the move to change the election style of Democratic Committee members in DC is not a necessity, but has effectively shut out hundreds of thousands of Democratic voters in the District of Columbia from being able to have an effect on the direction their party takes in this city. It will most definitely benefit party insiders and the “usual crowd” of pols in the city, who will more than likely be the only group to venture to attend a convention or caucus that probably won’t be heavily publicized by the committee to begin with.
The Democratic Party is supposed to be the party of the people, the party of inclusion and the party seeking transparency and fairness. The D.C. Democratic State Committee, through this decision, has single-handedly flushed all these principles down the toilet simultaneously and I believe it is our duty to call for new leadership and a new way forward for the Democratic party in this city.
By Markus Batchelor (@MarkusBatchelor)
We can all come to the safe conclusion that the day of the statesman is coming to a rapid end in politics around the country. From Capitol Hill, the Wilson Building and community centers around the city, politics is becoming a back-and-forth argument not necessarily over the pressing issues of the day, but as a product of personal rivalry and conflict of strong personality.
What affect does this have on the community?
Nothing gets done: those elected as public servants can get so bogged down in their personal squabbles or vendettas against their colleagues that all their time is taken up butting heads over issues that normal people would be able to solve almost immediately. And then to make matters worse, it’s a very common occurrence that politicians will intentionally block ideas or initiatives presented by their colleagues not because of any real concern, but only because of the person it was presented by. This short-changes the people of the community and makes government ineffective. You can see examples of this from Capitol Hill to Advisory Neighborhood Commissions.
People become disengaged with the process: I’ve attended my fair share of public meetings that at times can resemble an elementary schoolyard with slightly less organization, decorum or composure (and not by the public). Back and forth exchanges, vulgar language and terrible management of the meeting are all constantly present, and surprisingly, not too many constituents find this entertaining or acceptable. I have actually sat in on numerous meetings where the behavior of those running the meeting has gotten so terrible, that attendees have gotten up and left, vowing to never return. People expect for their elected officials and community leaders to get things done and when they cannot get along long enough to solve the matters at hand, the public is very quick to give up on them and not venture to even be involved anymore.
Integrity, Faith and Legitimacy are lost: When elected officials (or those running for office) engage in such petty bickering, the faith that the people have in them to effectively do their job (or their capability to take office) is often lost. To a certain extent, the public looks for their elected officials to have “something more” than the average man and for those officials to be “in the gutter” all the time, not doing the work of the people but tending to their personal rivalries is disheartening. In turn, the little work that these officials do in between their underhanded infighting loses legitimacy in the eyes of the people. If you can’t have any “home training” and constantly embarrass your constituency with your personal behavior, all the rest doesn’t matter much.
Solution: Elected Officials: Have some class! Citizens: It’s sometimes the fault of we, the voters, for electing officials who have questionable public personas and in other instances it kind of just sneaks up on us. But we need to not only keep our officials accountable for doing the work they need to do, but also to behave in a way conducive of an elected official, but more importantly, a representative of the people. Usually, those go hand in hand. Personally, anyone who acts less than civilized in the public sphere or behind the closed doors of our government will never get my vote.
Published in Greater Greater Washington by Fiona Greig October 27, 2011 10:27 am
The District of Columbia is at a turning point. The strategically important issues for our city’s future are broader now than they were 20 years ago.
This is particularly true for Ward 2 where I live with my husband and daughter. It’s time to think more boldly about our future as a city
and to pivot to a broader strategic agenda.
Unfortunately, our council too often holds the city and my ward back through a focus on yesterday’s challenges and successes. Instead,
members should be asking what are the issues that must become central to the Council’s agenda going forward?
20 years ago the city was hemorrhaging residents and attracting few new residents to take their place. This damaged our tax base, and contributed to our fiscal problems.
Today, attracting new residents isn’t a problem—retaining them once they have children is the new strategic challenge to growing our
One would expect that the DC Council would have pivoted to focus on schools, parks and walkable, livable communities. Yet we still have councilmembers who see parks and transportation as constituent services, not as the linchpins to improving our city’s fiscal position. We have councilmembers who disengage from education issues instead of holding the Mayor accountable for outcomes in their Ward. city’s tax base. Schools, parks and walkable, livable communities are the issues that are critical to retaining these families and thus to growing our tax base.
In Ward 2, parents aren’t asked by their councilmember what would convince them to send their kids to their public schools. Their councilmember isn’t engaged in the discussion on middle schools, despite the fact that half the elementary schools in Ward 2 feed into a middle school (Shaw) with 29% reading proficiency.
20 years ago the city was mired in bloated, slow-moving agencies that couldn’t deliver basic government services. Today, DC agencies generally deliver the services that residents pay for with their taxes.
The challenge for the future is to deliver more with less through smarter government. Yet we still have councilmembers who believe that 5% across the board cuts will make government more efficient. Instead, we must look to re-engineer government processes to squeeze out waste and fraud in a targeted way.
Earlier this year, KPMG warned in an audit that conditions at the Office of Tax and Revenue were ripe for continued theft, and sure enough another theft was discovered last month. My own councilmember refuses to hold hearings on the conditions at the Office of Tax and Revenue, which is under his oversight. He says, “My job is to do oversight. It’s not to catch people who are stealing”.
Our council won’t be able to effectively address this new strategic agenda while it’s mired in the ethics scandals that have so tarnished the city’s past. With this next election, it’s time to send a message that conflicts of interest are no longer tolerated and that ethics scandals are not just embarrassing to the Council, but, more importantly, to residents.
My councilmember has not offered any ethics legislation and has said the problem the Council is facing “is not because the laws need changing.” I couldn’t disagree more. Even the General Counsel for the Board of Elections and Ethics says that “the ethics laws of the district are not sufficient.”
Do you believe that the DC Council needs a bolder vision for the future? What do you believe the strategic issues are that the council must address?
Come out and let me know what you think tonight, Thursday, October 27th, 6:30 pm at Stoneys (1433 P Street, NW). I’ll be there with others who want to move past ethics scandals and yesterday’s news and start talking about the future of the District of Columbia.
Fiona Greig is a prospective candidate for the DC Council from Ward 2. The views in this article are hers and do not necessarily represent those of Greater Greater Washington. We invite all candidates running for the DC Council to share their views with our community, but reserve the right to edit posts to fit our content and format rules. If you are a candidate and would like to submit an article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Big Story around DC for the past few days (and the past few months) has been about ethics reform in the Wilson Building. Here are some interesting posts from Twitter surround the recent call for more honest government:
Yes, you are absolutely right in your sentiment: Markus Batchelor needs to stop starting blogs that don’t really go anywhere. I agree.
But I also feel that this needs to be done. The District of Columbia is in a dire situation. Many of our elected officials are not serving the people and it is time to garner a new breed of honest, accountable, visionary and hard working officials that work for the people, not the power.
This platform will be the place to start this revolution. I (and as many people as I can recruit) will blog about the growing revolution for political integrity in the city and also let you in on the news that affects our relationship with government.
Also, we will be posting interesting political news that we get from other sources. AND: not only will we spark the conversation here, but also on Twitter by using the hashtag #PolRevDC. It’s time to share our concern, present our solutions and change Washington, D.C.
The Revolution will be Twitterized. The Revolution Starts Today.