- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2006

When asked who will be in charge of the public-safety sector in his administration, D.C. Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty flashed that fickle grin, raised his hand and said, “I will. That’s what I was elected to do.”

When asked who would head this department or that agency, we heard the same shallow answers. And so it went during a luncheon with editors and reporters at The Washington Times yesterday.

The Young Gun said he is going to be large and in charge of everything in this huge city government. Then he is going to make sure that every resident in every ward of the city can touch him personally to request and be granted everything their little hearts desire. And he promises there will be no new taxes.

I’ve got one simple suggestion for Mr. Fenty: Remember that you can’t be all things to all people.

Ask him how much all his largess is going to cost, for he has yet to voice an initiative that comes cheap. Ask him how he intends to take control of the city’s schools. Ask him how the city is going to deal with fractious infighting over development of the Anacostia Waterfront. Ask him a single specific on a single issue.

What you get is another plate of political pabulum instead of a well-thought-out idea.

“Instead of saying I’m all-knowing, I’m putting together a team to [fill in the blank],” he said. Blah, blah, blah. We have heard all this bureaucratic mumbo jumbo before, not only from Mr. Fenty.

But have no fear. Mr. Fenty is going to be “a General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower, if you will,” because the city hasn’t had a leader in the executive branch for a while.

If Mr. Fenty is Gen. Eisenhower, then the District is definitely going to need a more experienced person standing next to him in the war room in the Wilson Building. A Gen. George S. Patton or a Gen. Douglas MacArthur perhaps — somebody with a detailed strategic plan and even bigger stick.

Enter D.C. Council Chairman-elect Vincent C. Gray and D.C. School Board President-elect Robert C. Bobb, and we will have fun watching this trio try to outwit one another to gain real control.

To be fair, Mr. Fenty is emphatic about some issues that could be considered low-hanging fruit. He will seek statehood as well as full voting rights for the congressional representative from the nation’s capital. He will seek legislation to be able “to tax revenue at its source.” (Read, commuter tax.)

He said it is unconstitutional for Congress to have control over the city’s laws and finances, which means he hasn’t read the Constitution any more than he admits to not reading all of the master plans that Superintendent Clifford B. Janey has developed to improve the schools the Greenhorn wants to take over.

Mr. Fenty’s mantra is to enlighten us by repeating that “big-city mayors” do this and “big-city mayors” do that. The Greenhorn has been traipsing all over the country in a crash course on municipal government when he probably could find more applicable solutions from his hometown folks who have been dealing with the issues he will face.

This is not New York, or San Francisco, or Chicago, or Philadelphia, or even Baltimore, where the Young One seemed to suggest that even Mayor Martin O’Malley — Maryland’s next governor — should be viewed as a role model.

Give us at least three legislative initiatives you intend to start with. … “I haven’t made a decision.” “I haven’t prepared it yet.” “We are looking at best practices.” These are still Mr. Fenty’s answers.

Granted, the Ward 4 Democrat on the D.C. Council for six years deserves a grace period as mayor. But for someone who has been running for the Top Gun post for two years, he desperately needs a new playbook. Most of what he offers as new covers old ground.

So what’s all the noise about a Department of Education, a Cabinet-level position for the schools superintendent, or an advisory role for the elected school board? Again, your guess is as good as his answer.

“The goal is not to take over the school system; the goal is to fix the school system,” Mr. Fenty said. He aims “to breed more accountability into the system as a means … to the endgame.”

Blah, blah, blah.

Then what? He looks you in the eye with that deceptively innocent face and repeats, like a choral refrain, that the head of New York schools told him that the only difference between the way the Big Apple’s schools operate from the District’s “is results.” But how do you get results? We get more of the stump speech.

When pressed, he sometimes offers troubling thoughts such as suggesting that if he is in charge of the school system, neither he nor the D.C. Council will have to hold a lot of public hearings to implement their changes.

He said there is no excuse why third-graders, regardless of their home situation, can’t be taught to read. Tell that to my cousins and friends who actually attempt to teach vulnerable children who are ill-prepared to learn because of a host of issues that have not been attended to by the relevant government agencies.

Here’s the really intriguing part: I’m not so sure that the next mayor doesn’t sincerely believe his own hype. And while that naivete carries a certain sweetness and hopefulness, it can be downright dangerous for those who must depend on him to dig in his heels and stand up to formidable foes.

The first rule of success is to acknowledge your weaknesses so you can fortify them.

The wildly successful two-year walking campaign is over. Now Gen. Greenhorn must present a few definitive policies signaling substantial changes while he transforms himself from being the town’s chief critic to being its chief executive.


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