- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2000

I am a lifelong resident of the District of Columbia, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, and president of my local civic association. My generation of D.C. residents has always been concerned with, and active in, the District. Whether we have held elected positions or not, young people in my age group are encouraged by the influx of leadership on the City Council and in the administration of the mayor.

In general, the District is moving into a new phase in which we will attract young families back into the District. As a soon-to-be father of twins, I am encouraged by the "young Turks" of the City Council who have promoted meaningful change in many quality of life issues, since the first of them were initially elected in the early 1990s. Generally, this leadership is willing to put in more hours concentrating on neighborhood issues essential to attracting young adults and their families back to the District and into all parts of the city from Brightwood to Bloomingdale, to Le Droit Park to Lamond-Riggs. Still, there is a dearth of new leaders, especially in the African-American community.

As an ANC commissioner and president of my local civic association, I am aware of the contribution required of the adults in the 25-40 age bracket. This new leadership has the energy, commitment and determination to get the job done. It was a young Marion Barry, who in 1978 was supported by a youthful social action group, who electrified government and brought blacks and whites, young and old, under one umbrella. However, as the Barry administration moved into the 1980s, during his second and third terms, a new generation of leadership did not develop. Further, the Council stagnated and the quality of essential government services and quality of life for the citizenry of the District declined. As evidence, the quality of foster care, child care, after-school activities and recreation fell into fiscal and programmatic ruin.

A city that does not groom and develop its own leadership dooms itself to mediocrity and can never truly return to a position of greatness. We cannot allow Washington to be that city. A city's ability to develop new leaders is a reflection of the strength of its education system, its economy and the pride of its people. Whether a resident is a native of this city, as I am, or moved to this city, as my parents did, they will likely agree that they want their children who grow up in Washington to be capable of one day taking over the reins of leadership. It is time for us to start making this desire a reality.

Washington has a rich tradition of young people being involved as key leaders in civic life. The list includes Charles Hamilton Houston in the 1930s and 1940s; Julius Hobson, Sr. in the 1950s; a young, idealistic Marion Barry in the 1960s and 1970s; and the "young Turks" of the City Council in the 1990s.

The Council must tackle afresh the questions of quality of life that District residents have wanted addressed for so many years. We need a new generation of leadership who are committed to being reliable, accountable and accessible to the citizenry, who can define the issues that impede the quality of life for our residents and who can educate the citizenry by including them in the political process. We need a new generation of leadership not financed by backroom deals and double-dealing, but put in office through the will of the people. Most importantly, we need a new generation of leadership that will return our neighborhoods to our families with useable parks and green areas, good schools and safe streets. This new generation of leadership will hold its executive to the high standards the people deserve without micro-managing, and will fight side-by-side with the citizens. If we don't pick, groom and support our next generation of leadership, other people are going to do it for us.

Adrian Fenty is an ANC commissioner and president of his local civic association who resides in Ward 4, with his wife. He is a lifelong resident of the District of Columbia.

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