- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

The bleary-eyed members of the D.C. Council always have been swayed by the far-flung agendas of those who somehow equate the financing of a baseball park to the dysfunction of the public schools and libraries.

It is as if the public monies being raised in the building of a ballpark magically could be allocated to improve the deplorable condition of the public schools and libraries.

The city is investing in baseball to recoup its investment, which just cannot be done with the public schools and libraries. The public schools are where they are — in varying degrees of decay — because of the lack of political will to begin shuttering underused school buildings.

It seems every neighborhood in the city wants to preserve its underutilized elementary school instead of having one that fills the needs of three or four neighborhoods. The city hardly has the population density of the 1950s, as declining census figures reveal every 10 years. And yet, city leaders lack the political courage to streamline what is a grossly inefficient system and to spend taxpayer money wisely instead of using the public till to throw goodies at their constituents.

You want to keep your tiny neighborhood school? Sure. Not a problem. Would you like a recreation center to go with it? You got it. A shiny, new library, too? It can be arranged.

None of it makes fiscal sense, only political sense, because getting re-elected is never too far removed from the political process.

The Internet has changed the way many of us secure and digest information, which perhaps comes as a shock to those who tout the value of libraries. Nothing against libraries — having once spent many hours in them myself — but the Internet has undermined their relevance to an extent. To what extent is unknown unless the D.C. Council has research that shows otherwise.

We can debate the merits of the proposed ballpark until all of us turn purple in the face. We can object to the heavy hand of government employing eminent domain to seize private property. We can wonder about the vision of a ballpark transforming that area of the Anacostia River waterfront into a vibrant corridor.

But none of these elements has a thing to do with the unacceptable state of the city’s public schools and libraries. You might as well pin the proposed ballpark to the issue of speed cameras, or whatever your favored cause is.

As the history of the city’s public school system shows only too clearly, you can throw money at a problem, and still more money, but none of it amounts to much unless genuine change is implemented.

And that change is not about to occur, not now, not ever, because it is impolite to fire the incompetent in this city, because neighborhood activists would be horrified if their child had to travel eight blocks to a centrally located elementary school, and because the easiest solution is always to dig deeper into public coffers.

This is a city of parochial neighborhoods that rarely sees beyond a couple of blocks. So long as each neighborhood has what it thinks is an inalienable right of city life — be it an elementary school, library, recreation center, the right mix of big-box retailers, restaurants or shops within walking distance — the question of fiscal prudence is muted.

The D.C. Council is sort of a rent-a-nanny, forever endeavoring to provide constituents with whatever they want, no matter how at odds it is with the marketplace at times.

You want a Target? We are our on way to the big-box convention in Las Vegas to make it happen.

The proposed ballpark was not business as usual, which is why it was destined to be a mess. And who knows? There could be yet another twist.

Just don’t hang the various civic wrongs on the proposed ballpark.

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