- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

What will “the new elected mayor of D.C. do to address the fact that one in three children in the District lives in poverty?”

This is just one essential question about the District’s future that comes from the desk of Antoinette Roach Powell, deputy director for communications and development of DC Action for Children (DC ACT).

The children’s advocacy group is seeking volunteers “to put pressure on candidates” in the final weeks before the Sept. 12 primary to make a real commitment to youths in the city.

“We urge D.C.’s new mayor in November to craft an agenda to address the most critical needs of the city’s youngest residents,” Ms. Powell says.

Her group’s “5 Promises to Kids Campaign” is the cornerstone of the organization’s election-season strategy.

Week One’s tall order? D.C. children “will be safe in their homes and communities.”

Week Two: Children “will have the resources to meet life’s challenges.”

A week before the D.C. primary, DC ACT plans a major event involving children to get the attention of the candidates.

Close your eyes and cover your ears. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve certainly heard it a thousand times.

No matter what D.C. candidate is running for which elected office, they all make the same predictable, rhetorical promises.

Isn’t improving the lot of children at the top of every politician’s agenda running for mayor, the D.C. Council and the city school board?

Yet the sad statistics, reiterated by community groups like DC ACT, tell a much different story. No need to regurgitate the abysmal numbers.

At this late date in this dreary campaign season, no mayoral candidate seeking to lead the nation’s capital has stepped forward to distinguish himself or herself from the pedantic pack by presenting a bold or innovative initiative that will provide visible solutions to the city’s politically useful — but obviously expendable — children.

Few candidates for other offices get a pass either.

“There’s not ideological struggle here. Everybody has the same position,” said one veteran D.C. political observer. “That’s why there is so little voter interest.”

And time is running out fast.

Another communique of note from Bill O’Field, spokesman of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics: City residents have until 4:45 p.m. Monday to register to vote in the primary.

Possibly helped by the city’s motor-voter program, an estimated 1,500 applications a month have been filed leading up to the deadline, “which is a lot,” Mr. O’Field said.

Now, 315,560 persons in a city of 550,000 are eligible to vote in the primary for candidates from the three major parties: Democrat, Republican and Statehood Green.

That number is up from 301,593 voters in 2002, when the city held its last mayoral primary.

Even so, only 34.5 percent of the registered voters cast a ballot that year. Voter participation will be critical this year with such tight races for mayor, council chairman and school board president.

“This year’s election will be won on the doorsteps of the residents of the District,” said a D.C. businessman who asked not to be identified.

Indeed. This trend appears despite the daily diet of nebulous endorsements and campaign forums across the city, which are carrying lesser weight than even checks from the business community.

And no one has taught anyone more about retail politics in this city than the energetic but inexperienced council member Adrian M. Fenty, the Ward 4 Democrat who got out early and often, pressing the flesh.

Community activist Lawrence Guyot is an unabashed supporter of council Chairman Linda W. Cropp’s bid for mayor.

“I’ve got Cropp signs all over my house from the roof to the front stoop, and still Fenty knocked on my door and asked if he could talk to me,” Mr. Guyot said.

Talk on the street is that Mrs. Cropp, at-large Democrat, is going to have to spend some of her campaign chest and step out of her conciliatory character to become a relentless attack dog if she hopes to make any gains against her closest competitor, Mr. Fenty.

The latter is leading in the polls at this juncture.

Other Democratic mayoral candidates, Ward 5 council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. and business executives Michael A. Brown and Marie C. Johns have failed to rise above single digits in polling.

Further, Mrs. Cropp, a proven citywide vote-getter, has to overcome her establishment image as being the candidate of the “big guys” versus Mr. Fenty’s “fresh” image as the candidate for “the little guys,” said the businessman.

A lot of folks are hedging their bets, seeming to support both leading candidates, now that the tide seems to be rising in favor of youth versus experience.

But voters will do well to remember that you can’t run a government with pithy sound bites or constant criticism alone.

The D.C. Council gained unprecedented power during the absentee administration of Mayor Anthony A. Williams. An equally weak executive in the future portends an even stronger legislature.

This prospect means the races for council, where the power may shift, take on even more import.

If you care about this city, and especially its children, you will not only register to vote by Monday, you should get involved in the final frenzy toward the primary finish line.

Become part of a campaign that does more than make political promises for children.

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