Does Fenty believe enough in our issues? Does it matter?
Adrian Fenty has aggressively reformed education, made the city more walkable and bikeable, added housing, attacked crime and more. He's hired some great people (and some not so great people). Does he deserve reelection on that basis?
One nagging thought in my mind is whether the Mayor's support for Smart Growth or sustainable transportation is really heartfelt or strong enough. In education, there's no question where the Mayor's heart lies. He's absolutely, 100% for education reform, and he stands behind everything Michelle Rhee does. The same goes for public safety and Cathy Lanier.
But in other areas, sometimes his commitment to this vision is tepid, and in other areas, the vision is itself poor. On education, he knows where he needs to be. On transportation or planning, he has people who can explain where he needs to be. On economic development, he doesn't have either.
It's okay for Fenty not to be able to articulate a vision in great detail, or be as policy wonkish as Vince Gray. But I'd prefer him to be willing to stand behind his "A+ people" who have that great vision. Mostly, he does, but sometimes, when the chips are down, he doesn't, and not necessarily with a good reason.
Look at the sidewalk debate, where he intervened to stop sidewalks in North Portal Estates when some residents complained. When he sat down with me for an interview, he said that if some blocks really don't want sidewalks, he didn't want to push them. "Everything in moderation," he said.
Everything except school reform, you mean. When Michelle Rhee fires a school principal, even if almost all the parents at that school protest the decision, he stands behind it. Why does he do that with schools but not sidewalks, I asked?
Fenty replied that while he sometimes gets involved in high-level policy issues in transportation or education, he leaves specific engineering details to the experts, and thinks like firing a principal are the equivalent of engineering. But then what about the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes, where the experts designed an arrangement which the traffic analysis backed up, but then DDOT ripped it out before even launching it?
Well, that time, Fenty did intervene in engineering, but that's because the first draft hadn't taken everything into account, he explained. Maybe so. Though some people are pretty sure Michelle Rhee has made a few decisions that didn't take everything into account either.
Vince Gray says he's going to ensure everyone has a say in policies, though he will ultimately make the decision and go forward. Fenty is prioritizing action over participation. That's a legitimate style difference, and there are pros and cons to each, but why must Fenty be inconsistent and a bit disingenuous about it?
The starkest example of this was on inclusionary zoning, which his administration stonewalled for two years while numerous projects got built or got zoning approvals without any affordable component. Why did he do this, I asked?
"I'm a believer in the saying, 'measure three times, cut once,'" he replied.
His administration has done a great deal of good, but measuring carefully has not been the hallmark of his tenure. Again, some argue that it's better that way. But he doesn't defend moving quickly and the design-build process; he instead claims he only moves with great care... except when he doesn't.
So what if he isn't consistent? He's got cabinet officials who are feeding him stats and good policy ideas, and almost all of the time, he goes along. He often incorporates these good ideas into his speeches and his overall visions. Is that a problem?
What I worry about most is what would happen if, say, Harriet Tregoning left. Would the Mayor definitely replace her with someone equally committed to a similar vision? Or would he put in someone from DMPED who simply does the bidding of developers and wants to get as much done, regardless of what exactly is getting done or whether it's good?
A change in the head of a department can cause some pretty rapid change. Just look at DDOT after Gabe Klein came in or, even more starkly, NYC DOT after Janette Sadik-Khan. A DMPED lackey heading up OP might trigger a 180° turnaround in that quality of that department in no time.
Of course, we don't know who Gray would pick either, or how strong his commitment to these areas would be. On Smart Growth, I'm pretty confident. On transportation, his thinking may not be so clear, at least not yet.
And herein lies the issue. I could decide instantly whether to vote for Fenty or Gray if I knew exactly who would comprise their cabinets. But we definitely don't know for Gray, and while we know a lot more for Fenty, there's still some uncertainty. When the Mayor is really not as well versed in some of our issues as he could be, doesn't strongly stand behind the key principles, and has some bad people in related areas, it creates some doubt.
- Bikeshare is a gateway to private biking, not competition
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- Long-term closures: A solution to single-tracking?
- Metro policy for refunds after delays falls short, riders say
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- Cyclists are special and do have their own rules
- O'Malley announces first projects using new gas tax money