- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2000

Most things political certainly have changed in the District of Columbia. Whether they have changed the District of Columbia, though, remains to be seen.

The D.C. Council that will be seated in January, for instance, looks nothing like it did five years ago. The legislature is still controlled by Democrats but it is majority white, two members are Republican and two are openly homosexual.

Marion Barry is nowhere in city hall, and the city administrator is white.

People are moving back into the city; one in seven school-age children is in a charter school, and the city's budget is balanced.

Even the school board is different. Come January, the city will no longer have a wholly elected board. In June voters approved a referendum that changed the D.C. charter. From this November forward, or until the D.C. Council changes its mind, a hybrid nine-member board will run the school system. On Tuesday, voters elected the president and four members of the new board and any day now the mayor is expected to announce his four nominees, who must be confirmed by the Council. So more changes are in store.

The new board will likely have little effect on this school year or on the next. This is, after all, a spanking new entity, and for the first several months its members will do as the city's bureaucracy usually does. That is, focus on themselves and procedures instead of policy.

Voters have not changed their message, though. Only one in three registered voters cast ballots. For the most part they said the same thing on Tuesday that they said in 1998: elect some new folks, give them a little time to get acclimated, and then get busy.

The folks expected to be the busiest are the same, too: D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, Mayor Tony Williams and D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp.

Mrs. Norton, who was re-elected to a sixth term, will be the guidepost. She has to make sure the mayor and the Council do their jobs before she can even stand before her House colleagues regarding the control board.

Surely you remember the control board, the oversight board Congress created to restore fiscal sanity. As the federal law would have it, the control board is supposed to disappear after the District balances four consecutive budgets. So far so good, which means next year this time the control board should be persona non grata.

There is, however, no guarantee that will happen.

Tuesday's elections will likely leave a few other things unchanged and I'm not talking about in the White House or on Capitol Hill.

The Council, although controlled by Democrats, is often hostile to the mayor, also a Democrat, who often holds the Council in little regard. Expect more of the same as the mayor positions himself for re-election and those Council members who either A) seek his job or B) face term-limits position themselves to run for other seats in two years.

Your favorite newspaper will notify you of their fidgeting sooner than you think, and the issue will appear to be school governance.

Don't be fooled, my friends. The real fight will be over control of the school board.

On one side will be the mayor, his appointees and whoever he has obliged on the Council by nominating their choice. On the other side will be Council members who did not get their way.

Then come the budget discussions; at least they call them discussions. This is where you will be able to easily identify the Council members who stand to benefit from the control board staying right where it is.

These are the folks who say they want a better school system, but never say they want our children better-educated. These same folks say they want an efficient government but tie the mayor's hands to red tape. These also are the folks who say they want safer streets then dictate how to deploy police patrols.

Those are the folks you need to keep an eye on.

You will hear many of them say, "But we put money in the budget for that," and "I sponsored a bill that ordered the mayor" to do this or that. And one of their favorites is, "The mayor's people never tell the Council what they're doing."

Things have been that way for years folks, and don't expect things to change because voters changed the D.C. charter or elected a few new faces here or there.

I mean to say, I hope things will change. I want the control board to go away, I want the city to live within its means and I want a Giant Food store on Brentwood Road.

The thing is, as with most things in life, you can't take anything for granted least of all D.C. politics.

Email: simmon@twtmail.com

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