Friday, May 11, 2001

A little more than two years ago, taxpayers in Ward 8 were up in arms when they learned that the Clinton administration was in cahoots with D.C. government to build a prison of all things on property perfectly suited for commercial, recreational and educational development. Less than a year later, they had to put city hall on notice again “Trash. No. Grocery store. Yes.” This time the target was a proposed trash-transfer station. So far both their yes and no demands have been answered.
City dwellers complain in this fashion from time to time, and the smart politicians listen and take heed. When Ward 3, which lies west and south of Rock Creek, said no to new telecommunications towers, the mayor obliged, and when Ward 4, which sits east of Rock Creek Park, thumbed its nose at Kmart and Ward 3 did the same to Home Depot, Ward 5, another voter and homeowner-rich political district, bought new welcome mats for both retailers. Ward 5 which includes Civil War sites, Catholic and Gallaudet universities, Howard Universitys Divinity School, the National Arboretum and two hospitals also pulled off the coup of 2000 by managing to get the mayor to renege on his promise to open a new high-tech high school in Ward 8 and instead finagled him to assign it the old McKinley Tech in Ward 5.
So it seems everybody was happy, right? Elected officials gave the masses what they wanted, leaving politicians buffing their nails on their lapels? Hmph.
The really smart politicians the ones who appreciate the differences between a resident and a taxpayer know they cannot please all of the people all of the time and that they always have to do still more. Their primary people-gaugers are not mere residents but taxpayers: residents who own property and vote. Their voices speak loudest of all.
Hear those in Ward 7, who are saying Mr. Williams and the D.C. Council will have to block Habitat for Humanity from building a multi-housing complex on swamplike land at 55th and Clay streets NE. Nothing against Habitat for Humanity, those taxpayers say, but substandard cannot be built in Ward 7. What will the houses look like three or five years down the road? Why should poor folks live in substandard housing?
Indeed, really smart politicians are the ones who, already having asked taxpayers what they want, follow through to see that it is delivered and they know ignorance can lead to one-hit wonders (former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly comes to mind).
Politicians must be mindful of that as they begin shaping their campaigns for the 2002 races which, by the way, will include not merely the mayor but key at-large, ward and school board races. There are several current events that will certainly hang around until then. That trash-transfer station that Ward 8 nixed now must be built in someones backyard, and the D.C. Councils redistricting plan has racial backlash written all over it. Moreover, the critics of the mayors health-care plan have sworn revenge.
Many of those critics live in Ward 8, where the fact of this particular political matter is that tax-wise, Ward 8 is the poorest of the citys eight political districts. Situated in the southeast corner of the city, Ward 8 has no supermarket, no big-box retail, no movie theaters and no commercial establishments of any consequence. Its largest employers are Greater Southeast Community Hospital, the citys sewage-treatment facility and Bolling Air Force Base. Its most famous private resident is former Mayor Marion Barry; some of its quieter residents are the brass who live on Bolling, and its most vocal and opinionated are ordinary homeowners. The latter, those voting taxpayers, are also the ones who were somewhat appeased when city officials announced recently that a long-abandoned National Guard site, called Camp Simms, will be converted into retail-residential development.
While four mayoral administrations promised to develop that site, Mr. Williams delivered. Nonetheless, the please-dont-close-D.C.-General-Hospital-gang cant wait to raise the roof on city hall come 2002. The council, however, doesnt have to worry about this particular group of malcontents, because theyve been sucking face together for two years.
Mr. Williams, meanwhile, should continue to listen to the voices who have been calling his name since 1998. They know what they want and, to be frank, helped the elected leadership make this city what it is today. If that isnt smart politics, then I dont know what is.

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