- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

This is a pivotal year in politics in the District of Columbia. Tony Williams, the bow-tie conquistador who captured City Hall, has decided not to throw his baseball cap in the ring. The seat for the chairman of the D.C. Council is open, and there are so many candidates running for other council seats and for the school board that it is hard for voters to keep pace. Voters must stay focused on the prize if we want to build upon the solid foundation that we began building five years ago.

Candidates tell us that they have a vision for the city. But does their vision match our vision?

Today, I begin an exchange that, I hope, will give D.C. voters in particular and American voters in general some insight into the various races. This city, after all, is not just a city. It is America’s capital, which means every taxpaying citizen in the country has a stake in what’s goes on here — a fact that, for some reason, annoys “city leaders.”

My major goal is from time to time to urge the candidates in the various races to articulate their positions. The first challenges are directed at Michael Brown, a lobbyist running for mayor, and Adrian Fenty, a sitting member of the D.C. Council, who also wants to be mayor. Both are Democrats, and both are liberals.

What to say about Michael Brown, son of Democratic Party leader Ron Brown, who put Bill and Hillary Clinton in the White House? He is a husband and father. A former official with the Democratic National Committee. A community activist and philanthropist. A candidate who speaks out of both sides of his mouth. An ambitious candidate raised on the right side of the tracks.

Mr. Brown’s campaign reminds me of my music collection, of which my 45s and LPs are the most precious. Mr. Brown, like 45s, has an A side and a B side. His A for Ambitious side addresses the middle class and the affluent, while his B for Black side is what I label Poverty Pimpism, politicians who prostitute the have-nots to advance their agenda on the wrong side of the tracks. His is a long-playing record — singing old-school liberal refrains that blame single moms for the plight of black America. In the music industry, it’s called a “hook,” taking the chorus or a string of lyrics from, say, a top-hit from a generation ago, and updating it for the hip-hop generation.

My question to Mr. Brown is this: You were a member of the school-superintendent selection committee. You are keenly aware of the fact that the overwhelming majority of students in D.C. Public Schools are ill-equipped to enter the workforce and institutions of higher learning. You also know that the mayor has no direct authority over the school system. You purport to want to build a “bridge” between the haves and the have-nots, but, since the mayor’s influence over schools is restricted, will you detail how you will build such a bridge to the academic benefit of students?

Adrian Fenty is one of my favorite D.C. Democrats. Here’s a politician whose phenomenal campaign unseated a longtime and well-respected lawmaker (Southeastern University President Charlene Drew Jarvis). Mr. Fenty is what I call a Ward Boss, taking care of the people in his political district. Green-and-white Fenty signs are sprouting up faster than spring bulbs. I think the 18-to-34-year-old demographic is his to win or lose come the September primary. A lawyer with a young family, it is Mr. Fenty’s generation of Democrats (of which Mr. Brown is a bona fide, card-carrying member) that has been the largest beneficiary of middle-class Washington. But to what end?

Mr. Fenty is part of the status quo. He served as a council aide while our schools, recreation centers and libraries continued to decline. Currently, he is chairman of the Committee on Human Services, and he sits on both the council’s Special Committee on the Prevention of Youth Violent Crime and the council’s Committee on Government Operations, the very panel that, if it were more aggressive with its oversight authority, could probe into any and every corner of the Executive Branch of government. My question to Mr. Fenty is this: Your “vision” for the city pledges “Making Education Our #1 Priority.” Your vision statement rightly uses the term “public education” instead of “public schools.” On the other hand, you pat yourself on the back for having “led the fight” against school vouchers for public education. Mr. Fenty, you cannot have it both ways. Which is it: Do you vow to make educating the public “Our no. 1 Priority”; or do you vow to continue to pour public dollars into a bureaucracy that, as former lead counsel on the Committee of Education, Recreation and Libraries, you know meets neither public need nor expectation?

Similar exchanges will be posed to the candidates in this and other races. Readers will learn of the candidates’ responses as I hear from them. If any candidate chooses not to respond, which is their prerogative, I’ll let you know about that, too. Stay in touch.

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