- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

With a full buffet of liberal policies on the D.C. Council dais, it is anybody’s guess what priorities are in store for taxpayers and businessmen. We are expected to trust our elected leaders who say, publicly and privately, that they plan to conduct the peoples’ business and not take the usual, obvious posture of an ambitious campaigner.

Ordinarily, next year’s expectations wouldn’t be worthy of discussion so soon, but next year is no ordinary year for this city. As I postulated on Sept. 16, “A 2006 mayor’s race without a mayor?” Mayor Tony Williams answered in the affirmative on Sept. 29, announcing he would not seek a third term, “that it’s time for a change.” (I wish the mayor good luck and God’s speed on his quest for “new challenges.”)

What I am most appreciative of is “Tony,” looking as comfortable as I’ve seen him in quite a while, pointedly addressing voters, taxpayers and those who want to try to follow in his City Hall footsteps. Saying he didn’t want his own plans for the future “to cloud the landscape of our great city,” the mayor offered the same advice to us as we did to him when he first ran in 1998:

“I want to allow candidates to make their case to the people as to why they should be elected. I hope that the candidates offer specifics — I hope they put forward concrete ideas about what they would do if they were mayor. People should listen closely. I know I will.”

First up is Linda Cropp, the current chairman of the D.C. Council who announced her mayoral candidacy in September. Mrs. Cropp is scheduled this afternoon to brief the media on her legislative agenda. Her priorities: Jobs and workforce housing; a new medical center to replace the old public hospital; aiding grandparents who, by design or happenstance, find themselves caring for their children’s children; bringing in new development to spur revenue and jobs; and she articulated other legislative measures as well.

While Mrs. Cropp’s agenda sounds about what you’d expect from a Democrat, there is another priority of hers that is worthy of particular appreciation from Republicans and businessmen: reforming vocational education programs so that teens and young adults can move as skilled laborers directly into the workforce.

Nationwide, skilled labor is in high demand but short supply. In fact, federal labor statistics indicate that the construction industry has an annual need of 250,000 new specialty-contract workers — plumbers and electricians, carpenters and masons, etc. While other blue-collar workers, including machinists and auto mechanics, are needed, too, we see the evidence that’s driving the demand — whether it’s a new residential subdivision outside the Beltway, improvements to the Mother of All Roads (Route 66) or a reinforced levee on the Gulf Coast.

Unfortunately, like most urban school systems, D.C. Public Schools blew its voc-ed funds. D.C. wasted too much time and very precious resources teaching old-school shop classes, and now finds both its young and its not-so old unemployable during the construction boom.

Mrs. Cropp, a former school board member and educator, fully appreciates what is at stake at this unprecedented juncture, including the fact that City Hall has no absolute authority over the school system or the board that runs it. That she had the foresight to create a special D.C. Council panel on vocational education and jobs gives credence to her attempts to, as they say, think outside the status quo box — unlike her two major Democratic opponents. Council member Adrian Fenty, for example, believes that schools suffer from a lack of funding; he wants to use lottery revenues to give to schools. Council member Vincent Orange, meanwhile, wants to stem crime by adding 1,600 officers to the 3,800-member D.C. police force. But there is potential danger in such high numbers. As Chief Chuck Ramsey said, we might “end up hiring people who ought not be police officers.”

That’s not to say that school funding and public safety are not pivotal issues during local election cycles. Of course, they are. But the issue isn’t where resources are coming from; it’s how are they being used.

Usually, a Republican insider told me recently, you can count on people to “screw up” anything that has anything to do with kids. And so we have with schools, job training and community policing on their behalf.

Here’s hoping Democrat Cropp is on the mark today when she makes her first post-Tony pitch for the peoples’ business.

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