- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On March 13, Mayor Adrian Fenty delivered his State of the District address, and it was replete with what the mayor deemed “accomplishments” by his administration over the course of the last 15 months. And, indeed, while the Fenty administration has a record worthy of measured applause on some fronts — such as working with the D.C. Council to restructure public education — but Mr. Fenty unfairly gave himself and his administrators credit for “accomplishments” that were in the pipeline long before he announced his mayoral run in 2005. Yet, at this juncture, it’s not our intent to focus on what the mayor said last week in his speech. We instead want to note what the mayor did not say.

On numerous occasions during the campaign, and, in fact, in his Jan. 3, 2007, inaugural address, Mr. Fenty used the term “world class” to characterize what this national capital could be. He has talked about a “world class” city, a “world class” education system and a “world class” shopping destination. Mr. Fenty has even used “world class” to describe the new baseball park that is slated to welcome not only a new season but the pope.

But what Mr. Fenty has yet to do is articulate his precise definition of “world class.” And after Mr. Fenty offers that definition will he marry that definition with a plan?

Indeed, does the mayor have a vision?

Washington is a world capital. But, by Mr. Fenty’s standards — whatever they may be — it is not a “world class” city.

To be sure,Washingtonisn’t what it used to be. Instead of wallowing in red ink, the city has produced 12 consecutive balanced budgets and earned its highest-ever ratings from Wall Street. Instead of being labeled the “murder capital,” it has substantially reduced crime. The delivery of such mundane municipal services as administering driver’s licenses, filling potholes, picking up trash and providing clean drinking water has vastly improved. That it took City Hall nearly 10 years to get a supermarket — a simple thing like a supermarket — in poor Ward 8 illustrates, perhaps more than any “accomplishment” worthy of note, how far the visionless City Hall has come.

Substantial problems still linger, however — and those problems stifle the quality of life in this city. Illiteracy, joblessness and a crime rate beyond national averages. Complex health issues — from alarming HIV/AIDS rates to such chronic illnesses as diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases among young people, and heart disease and substance abuse point to a very sick city. While the weekend sights, sounds and smells in some neighborhoods showcase the city’s ethnic diversity and vibrant retail sector, the sights, sounds and smells in others highlight the shortsightedness posited in City Hall.

Mr. Fenty wants the national capital to become a “world class” city?

What’s his model? Paris and its walkable boulevards (Pierre L’Enfant’s vision)? London and its antique emporiums and shopping district? Beirut, where locals are fiercely loyal to its bazaars and small traders?

Nobody can answer those questions because Mr. Fenty has yet to articulate his vision.

During the 2006 mayoral campaign, supporters were quick to cite the energy, enthusiasm and hope that Mr. Fenty would bring to City Hall, and each of those qualities has manifested itself in many ways.

What’s troublesome for Mr. Fenty, however, is that while he indeed seemingly presents the veneer of hope every time he approaches a microphone to announce a new policy initiative or to address a tragedy, he falls considerably short by failing to lay out his vision for the future “world class” city.

The hard work that the Fenty administration is putting into reforming schools has the mayor on solid footing. While not everyone is pleased — indeed even federal authorities are questioning his education vision — the fact of the matter is that Mr. Fenty does have an education plan. The problem is he seemingly has no plans beyond school reform.

With 15 months under his belt, Mr. Fenty no longer can merely mouth the word’s “world class,” and he no longer can get credit for the “accomplishments” of past administrations and legislatures. Elected to moved the city forward, Mr. Fenty must now present his own vision and tell stakeholders how he proposes to deliver it. After all, action speaks far louder than words.

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