- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

D.C. Democrats are stumbling over themselves, jockeying for position in the 2006 mayoral primaries. The Republicans are nowhere to be seen, perhaps satisfied that the closest thing this city has ever had to a conservative mayor — i.e., Tony Williams — will take another look-see and jump to the front of the line of liberal wannabes.

Of course, it is way too early to attempt to conjure up visions of what the consequential race will look like a year from now, but there is more at stake than who will eventually come to perch in the mayor’s seat. Suffice it to say, however, that with no definitive announcement from the incumbent, stakeholders have as much to lose and gain as Democratic standardbearer Linda Cropp, the chairman of the D.C. Council who recently announced her candidacy for mayor.

Voters and other stakeholders will be deciding far more than whose name to select on electronic ballots. Indeed, the future direction of the capital will be hanging in the balance in 2006, the year of checkboxes. Ballots will include the congressional delegate, council chairmanship, two citywide council seats, four council ward seats and two school-board seats for the wards plagued with the worst-performing schools, and a slew of neighborhood advisory council seats.

As things now stand, both the announced and the potential candidates are aligned in two camps — with veterans touting their records and ambitious pols running under the banner of can-do.

The driving questions to determine who should be mayor are, interestingly enough, the same as they were a decade ago: Who can best maintain fiscal responsibility, encourage economic prosperity, prescribe law-and-order policies and sacrifice substantial political capital to improve the academic lot of youngsters. Post-September 11 and post-Katrina realities also now call for sound, forward thinking on homeland-security and disaster preparedness.

Troublesome is the fact that, even at this early stage of the game, with the declarations of a gaggle of candidacies, all-too-familiar liberal rhetoric abounds on affordable housing and health care, seating everybody at the table, and other avoidable issues.

Democrats disappoint by talking the same talk as their counterparts in the 1960s and 1970s. To stand above the pack sooner rather than later, Mr. Williams and Mrs. Cropp should put ideas to the public before legislation comes up for a hearing in City Hall, where the testimony almost always is stacked.

I suggest any serious mayoral candidate look at Doug Wilder, a Democrat who, because he carries no banner for his party, is courted by Republicans. Pundits label Mr. Wilder a moderate; truth is, he is an independent who happens to be a registered Democrat. This is, by the way, the same Doug Wilder who served as Virginia’s governor and lieutenant governor and who now is mayor of Richmond, and doing a good job according to people of both parties. Mr. Wilder has developed a wish list — getting students out of dangerous schools, rethinking the allocation of local tax dollars on big-ticket projects and proposing tax breaks for the working poor, among other things — which proves he thinks outside the traditional realm of Democratic socioeconomic politics.

To be sure, on the more parochial issue of motor vehicles, D.C. candidates can take another lesson out of Mr. Wilder’s book: Do away with the annual motor-vehicle sticker shock. As Mr. Wilder has said, “It gets rid of the need for mailing and writing checks, scraping off the decal, peeling it off, putting it back on, arguing [with bureaucrats] over whether you paid for it one time or not.” D.C. lawmakers and policy-makers habitually add red tape rather than eliminate it and make municipal government run more efficiently.

The Republicans — and the city is loaded with registered voters who are Republican in name only — are as derelict as the Democrats. There simply is no true Republican or conservative of considerable consequence who is poised to challenge the Democrats. As for the Democrats, they are as disjointed now as they were in 2004. Tony Williams, as mayor, is the titular head of the party — if only somebody would remind him.

In 12 short months, D.C. voters will begin deciding the future of the capital. Will we chose a Marion Barry lookalike or a mayor who can continue growing a capital worthy of new investment and new residents? Will Tony Williams seek re-election or rise to the challenge and run for congressional delegate? Are Republicans going to act like mice or men?

The rules of the glass ceiling is about to drop on three of the city’s popular politicians — Tony Williams, Linda Cropp and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. That’s not going to change between now and Election Day 2006. So, here’s hoping they talk not only about the last, the least and the lost, but about what they have done and will do to keep the capital of the free world on the straight and narrow.

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