- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

D. C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty this week delivered a vacuous State of the District speech titled “Moving Forward Faster.” Judging from its catch-all contents, it appears that perhaps Gen. Greenhorn should slow down.

The camera-crazed first 78 days of his administration present plenty of examples to substantiate initial predictions about Mr. Fenty’s attention span. At this whirlwind pace, the first 100 days surely will not be remembered for their substance. Neither will his initial status address.

While Mr. Fenty is filling up his staff playpen — with some unpopular choices, I might add — a new speechwriter is definitely in order.

We’ve witnessed this campaigning versus governing phenomenon before. Politicians never consider that inevitable moment when they must put away the platitudes and the pithy quotes and rattle off more than a bunch of empty promises to a staged audience.

Never was this more evident than Mr. Fenty’s first State of the District address, a hastily scripted luncheon speech designed to dazzle 200 select senior citizens at the Congress Heights Senior Wellness Center in Southeast on Wednesday.

As a teacher, I can always tell when a student has rushed to get an assignment done. I can always count on a few students to write the same thoughts repeatedly by varying sentence structures to fill up the assigned number of pages. And my favorites are the students who think they can slip one by me by submitting an assignment handed in by a former student.

Mr. Fenty’s initial address includes all of the above. It was clearly a rush job. It includes a government goodie for everyone across the bureaucratic spectrum. It promises no new taxes. It forecasts happier days ahead. It copies for credit the accomplishments of his predecessor, fellow novice Anthony A. Williams.

And for good measures, he rallied the crowd by sounding the clarion call for a march against the Congress for voting rights. Mind you, this charge for democracy comes from a mayor who would terminate elective offices in his own hometown like they were merely digital images in a video game.

“This speech failed to provide any insight into any new policy or project initiatives that will mark the Fenty administration,” said D.C. Watch’s Dorothy Brizill. “The only recurring theme in Fenty’s speech was that under his administration the District ‘will move forward, smarter, stronger and faster than ever before.’ ”

Where have these words whizzed by us before?

“We can hope that Fenty will detail his real plans for the District [today], when he submits his [fiscal] 2008 budget to the city council,” Ms. Brizill concluded.

Ms. Brizill’s husband, Gary Imhoff, editor of the Mail who has complained about the “vacuity” of Fenty speeches, couldn’t resist the temptation to go even further.

“Here’s a chicken-or-the-egg problem for you: Which came first, a literate audience or good writing? That’s a question that has obviously stumped Mayor Adrian Fenty, because the quality of his major political speeches has been so abysmally low as to encourage illiteracy.”

If the Young Gun were my sixth-grade student running for class president and he asked me to preview his “moving faster” speech, I would have returned it for lack of originality alone. Then I would have told him to “take your time and slow down and really think about this before you turn it in again.”

Quoting a passage from poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Mr. Fenty was so pleased with himself that he stopped as if to receive a teacher’s pat on the head for successful completion of the rote task. And, with little prompting, he congratulated himself twice for what he clearly assumed was his adept delivery of the lines.

Again, style over substance.

The really troubling part is that Mr. Fenty, who took office “just 78 days ago,” as he kept reminding everyone, didn’t even have to deliver an inferior State of the District address this year. He should have waited until he had a few real accomplishments tucked in his running shoes.

But in his burning quest to flash his fleet feet and that silly, senseless grin, he fell woefully short.

Why all the rush? Do it right or don’t do it at all, my grandmother always said. Once upon a time in this Southern city, the State of the District address was a special event filled with pomp and circumstance and modeled after the president’s annual State of the Union speech. Invitations were mailed out well in advance. People anticipated the political as well as social interaction, and they dressed up for the occasion.

But there is a distrustful tendency these days on the part of politicians to orchestrate public events with as little dissent as possible.

D.C. voters signaled their desire for expediency over experience when they voted for Gen. Greenhorn. I’m not sure they bargained for unbridled energy, though that fails to focus on the daily drudgery of running an $8 billion government bureaucracy when there is a photo opportunity to be taken.

It would be such a waste and disappointment if the D.C. electorate’s hopes are dashed because their new mayor does not take the time and teaching needed to provide more thoughtful, meaty initiatives and accomplishments.

“Thank you very much” was the continual refrain Mr. Fenty uttered Wednesday after odd applause for nearly every paragraph of his now-familiar laundry list of banalities. Surely there are those, like Ms. Brizill, whispering, “No thank you.”

And it is becoming crystal clear that “hasty” will be the unproductive watchword for the Fenty Frenzy years.


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