- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The race for mayor, according to recent polling, has effectively left three candidates in the running: Linda Cropp, Adrian Fenty and Marie Johns and two who will likely be labeled also-rans following the Sept. 12 primaries — Michael Brown and Vincent Orange. All five are Democrats, and there is no Republican of consequence on the ballot. With registered Democrats outnumbering Republicans better than 9-1 (and since the winner of the Democratic primary is tantamount to victory come the November balloting), it is fairly certain that one of the three frontrunners will be sworn in as mayor in January. D.C. taxpayers, the business community and Congress are banking on the next mayor to continue the reconstruction of the District that began in the mid-1990s, when federal lawmakers exposed all that was wrong with the city and set out legislatively to correct it.

Establishing a governmental entity, or control board, to take the reins, Congress also created an independent chief financial officer and vested considerable authority in the control board. Back then, Tony Williams joined the Marion Barry administration as CFO, Michael Rogers was city administrator and John Hill served as executive director of the control board. The three executives didn’t always agree on the tough calls and the specific reforms necessary to pull the District out of its contemptible posture. In fact, the Barry administration tried to defy the board on occasion — whether the issue was union contracts, education or public safety. Yet, Mr. Barry, Mr. Hill and Mr. Rogers and the chairman of the D.C. Council, Mrs. Cropp, agreed on one aspect of their respective responsibilities: They all wanted to move the city forward.

The sense of urgency employed by the control board is obvious all around the city today. Indeed, with the exception of better schools, the District is well on its way toward becoming a vibrant capital. The District has regained the respect of Wall Street, the bureaucracy is measurably effective and economic revitalization is highly visible in each quadrant. Crime is down markedly and public-works crews don’t merely fill potholes anymore; entire blocks and corridors have been and are being repaved. The council also has used tax cuts and incentives to lure and retain city dwellers as well as businesses.

But the control of City Hall by liberal politicians still means that papering the city with parking tickets remains the most effective aspect of D.C. government. And we hope that, too, will change since voters will not only elect a new mayor this fall, but a new council chairman and several other council members.

Which combination will work best? Linda Cropp, who’s won several citywide seats, as mayor and Council member Vince Gray, the Ward 7 representative, as chairman? Mr. Fenty, a ward council member, as mayor and Kathy Patterson, another ward rep, as council chair? Mrs. Johns, a former Verizon executive, as mayor and Mrs. Patterson as chairman?

The next mayor must be willing to reject the status quo and push forward, work with Congress and, most importantly, lead the new and veteran members of the D.C. Council. He or she must also be a leader who can effectively coalesce the council around the will of the voters and meet the demands of being a chief executive. Much of the progress made in the past decade is based on a foundation laid a decade ago by the control board and executed by Mayor Tony Williams. Then as now voters demanded changes for both City Hall and the city’s landscape. To be sure, the capital hardly looks, or functions, as it did back then.

The changes and reforms came the hard way: with an urgent push from the outside and voters flexing their term-limit muscles. With the exception of education, the middle class likes what it sees. That’s why it’s vitally important that the next mayor (and chairman of the council) be an agent of constructive change, too.

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