- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The Save Our City planners are looking to bring a California-style recall effort to the office of D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

Their fun is barely under way, and barely worth the promise of change in a city stuck in the grasp of a cradle-to-grave bureaucracy.

No politician is up to the challenge of a single-parent family, an ever-growing social dynamic that shortchanges the young. The eternally inadequate D.C. public school system is the insult to the single-parent injury.

The nature of this one-two punch is hardly complex.

The legions of unprepared are sentenced to compete in a highly competitive, high-tech job market. The results are fairly predictable.

It was the everlasting legacy of Marion Barry to build his political machine with city jobs, too many of them unnecessary in a bureaucracy that moves at two speeds — slow and slower.

Mr. Williams was hardly the first mayor to be whisked into office with a vow to clean house and improve public services. That was the platform of Sharon Pratt Kelly, as well.

The reality soon intrudes on good intentions, which is: It is extremely difficult to fire anyone in the city, barring scandal.

The courts protect the merely incompetent with buyouts and assorted parting gifts. These hits to the budget inevitably serve to discourage the urge to purge.

So the mayor is left with a bloated work force and a burdensome tax rate that challenges even the middle-class, many of whom have sprinted to the dollar-saving, service-efficiency havens of the suburbs in the last generation.

What is emerging in its place, ever so in the real estate boom of the last few years, is a city of haves and have-nots, with the latter sometimes being stressed to the breaking point through property-tax assessments or skyrocketing rents.

The city is in the throes of a massive renaissance, beckoning the wealthy, the hip and the preferably single to take up residence in the increasing number of fashionable addresses. Previously troubled neighborhoods are being transformed into trendy enclaves that feature eye-opening price tags of admission.

Developers are having a good old time, tearing down this, refurbishing that, building condominiums at a feverish pace.

All this change has the approval of the Williams administration, as part of the mayor’s vision to restore the city’s demographic health.

The newcomers accept the high taxes and inefficient bureaucracy in exchange for the convenience of living in the city, the energy of the place and the emblem of success that a Washington address bestows on them.

Of course, the gentrification process is sometimes messy and hurtful, and no antidote to the fundamental issues before the city.

Another school superintendent is in the plans, the city’s unacceptable murder rate shows no sign of abating, and the health care system is quaking under the strain of the uninsured.

Yet as a spokesman in the mayor’s office notes, none of this is new. None of it developed on his watch.

Mr. Williams inherited the dysfunction, and no, he has not eliminated it or necessarily made progress against it. Then again, all of it involves the ability to make hard choices, and who in these parts is prepared to do that?

Who is prepared to pare a city work force of 32,000? Who is prepared to undergo the legal equivalent of a root canal with the discredited teachers union? Who is prepared to utter the simple truth of personal responsibility, as Mr. Barry famously once did to a welfare mother who had a zillion children?

The answer is no one.

Politicians rarely develop the habit of committing professional suicide.

The recall initiative, however well-meaning, has the markings of being mostly a frustration-relieving exercise.

The mayor, after all, is an easy target who, the joke goes, spends almost as much time at 35,000 feet as he does in the neighborhoods of the city.

Yet he knows the deal. The remedies are fairly obvious.

No city runs on sympathy. It takes a fat budget and a robust citizenry.

The mayor is just refining what always has been true in the region.

Washington is a jewel, as its runaway property values and building boom confirm.

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