Greater Greater Washington

What does Gray's dismissal of Klein and others mean?

In the wake of disappointing news that Mayor-Elect Vincent Gray won't be keeping Gabe Klein and several other Fenty cabinet officials, District residents and smart growth advocates have a distinct duty to avoid doom-and-gloom projections and frantic searches for apartments in Arlington or Silver Spring.


Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

Gray's decision to replace Klein is disappointing, no doubt, but should not come as much of a surprise. While the Committee of 100 and a host of entrenched Ward 3 residents may gloat that the transportation policies of the past few years are on the way out, it's more likely Gray made the decision out of discomfort with the process rather than the policy.

The bottom line from this year's primary election, that many seem to have forgotten by now, is that there were pretty minuscule policy differences in the Gray and Fenty platforms. What most distinguishes the two are their approaches to decision-making.

Gabe Klein was the poster child for Fenty's reliance on fast-acting, agile agencies that were willing to push new policies quickly into fruition, evaluate them on an interim basis, and, assuming successful outcomes, work quickly to push for broader implementation.

This style is anathema to Vince Gray's affinity for more reserved, intricately studied, broadly discussed, and carefully compromised policy-making. As many have stated, this move does not necessarily amount to a rebuttal by Vincent Gray of those smart growth and alternative transportation policies that were coming out of DDOT. Though some of Gray's supporters would like that, it is still too early to tell.

While I'm disappointed by Gray's need to very apparently distance himself from the Fenty administration, despite his continued statements of support for a smart growth agenda (David didn't endorse him for no reason), it's pretty much standard operating procedure in changing political administrations for the biggest heads to roll. We will have to see who Gray picks to succeed Klein, to make a better judgment on where DC's transportation and growth policy is heading.

What is perhaps more disappointing is the dismissal of DCRA's Linda Argo. Argo has been relatively low profile throughout their tenure, despite making major strides in their agencies. Under her leadership, DCRA has undertaken a variety of daunting regulatory rewrites in an open and informative way, to the benefit of Washington business.

Bryan Sivak, another cabinet member let go today, has pushed OCTO to continue open up DC government to the public, releasing mountains of data and creating a variety of tools to provide District citizens with a window into the workings of their government. While relatively low key in DC, Sivak has become something of a superstar in Gov 2.0 circles for his great work in the District.

As such, I will be eagerly awaiting Gray's cabinet announcements to see if he keeps any Fenty appointees on board. Gray's announcement that he will promote Fenty's head of DCPS school modernization, Allen Lew, to City Administrator is encouraging on this front. Rumors have also begun swirling that Office of Planning chief Harriet Tregoning will be asked to stay or even promoted to Deputy Mayor for Economic Development.

Most disappointing in this whole saga was this morning's revelation that Gray and Klein have not spoken in 3 months. I'm baffled that the man who ran on a platform of "One City" and touts himself a public servant who believes in the importance of hearing opposing viewpoints, listening to all the disparate voices, and making compromises, was unable to find time to discuss the direction of the city's transportation department with its current head.

Perhaps neither is true, and the two just simply didn't have time to talk. After all, they have both been extraordinarily busy with running the city. All in all, I think it's too soon to make summary judgment about where Vince Gray will take the District.

While I voted for Fenty, I'm not ready to throw the towel in on the incoming Gray administration. If anything, now is the time to make our voices heard, as Gray looks for new people to fill these positions.

Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 

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Well, I'm not sure why the heck I'd think about leaving just because one person who I didn't know 4 years ago is out of a job today. I loved DC long before Gabe Klein took a job, and I still love it today and think it'll be just fine. It still has the rowhouses, trees, streets, parks, buildings, places and all the people that made me love it in the first place.

by Steve D on Dec 8, 2010 1:33 pm • linkreport

There's one commonality between Linda Argo, Michelle Rhee, Gabe Klein, and Bryan Sivik. They aren't African American.

by JM on Dec 8, 2010 1:40 pm • linkreport

@JM correlation is not causation.

And I might actually agree with Gray on this one. Agile project management is very good for the private sector, because if mistakes are made in that fast moving environment it is consenting investors that loose. If you make mistakes with tax payers dollars that's a different story.

by Joshua Davis on Dec 8, 2010 1:54 pm • linkreport

JM - Allen Lew must be one of those new-fangled African-Americans

by Contrarian on Dec 8, 2010 1:57 pm • linkreport

@Steve D - My point exactly.

@Joshua - What about slower, more deliberative governing precludes mistakes? They're bound to happen under both styles of government. I would argue that the faster, more agile method reduces waste on mistakes, by testing small scale pilots, rather than spending huge amounts of time and money on arduous, large-scale planning, studying, and implementing without have tested real world implications. Maybe you end up with fewer "mistakes" but those that happen are more costly and less reparable.

by Erik Weber on Dec 8, 2010 2:01 pm • linkreport

@Erik Weber, doing due diligence is not to the exclusion of pilot programs. The problems I've seen, though, are kind of the worst of both worlds. On big projects (like streetcars) we didn't do due diligence, and to this day still haven't figured out the overhead wire situation, the union station connection, or how to pay for the thing.

On the small scale, we've got at least three different kinds of multi-meter systems, we've got several pilots of pay-by-phone systems. Then we mucked with the rates in the middle of all this. It's very chaotic, and we can't possibly know the effects of any one of these things because they're all going on simultaneously. And it's been going on for years-- have they forgotten about these pilot programs? When are we going to actually decide what to implement uniformly?

I am not sure if the different multi-meter systems are even pilots or not, they are pretty widespread, did we actually install them in just a couple locations to see how they worked and how they were received? Why do we have several systems in widespread use that are from different vendors and work differently? That doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.

And then of course we still haven't had time to reflect on a half-dozen different bike lane constructs: separated on 15th, center of Penn (which had to be redone the day it opened), NH Avenue, for starters.

Then the barnes dance. The crazy traffic circle at NY & Fla. We are seem to change traffic patterns weekly.

What kind of analysis has been done on seeing how any of these things are working out? Shouldn't we take the time to look at the impact of these "pilots" before continuing to charge ahead?

The approach DDOT has had has been willy-nilly, not thought out. The pilots are inconsistent and conflicting. We don't do any analysis, we just keep throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. But it's hard to see what's "sticking" when the wall has so much stuff hanging from it.

by Jamie on Dec 8, 2010 2:39 pm • linkreport

Like I said in the other thread, I can kind of understand why Gray wanted nothing to do with Klein. Klein, after all, is the guy who cost Gray over $10,000 by forcing him to take down his household fence because of some rarely-enforced DDOT regulatory issue. This issue was even miraculously discovered right at the start of campaign season. No surprise that Gray doesn't want a guy on his team who did political dirty work for his opponent.

by Phil on Dec 8, 2010 2:40 pm • linkreport

@Erik,

You're going to have a hard time explaining this to anyone outside of a few professions. It's just runs counter to folks conventional wisdom.

Of course, folks who work in any field with complex systems know the benefits of these kinds of techniques.

Want a project that's expensive, slow, and ultimately mediocre? Use the waterfall model. It sucks for anything but large-scale infrastructure projects, but it's a great way to ensure that large numbers of superfluous paper-pushers to drain resources out of the system.

by oboe on Dec 8, 2010 2:48 pm • linkreport

One of the things the Klein naysayers were bring up recently is that the community organizations, ANC, etc did not have much input on the Capital Bikeshare stations. They probably would have preferred DDOT send employees to all the different ANC meetings for months to discuss every placement and hold their hands. That's pointless. DDOT is perfectly capable of getting >= 95% of the station placements perfect without attending any community meetings. These CaBi stations, unlike Smartbike, do not require any Pepco infrastructure therefore they can be moved at any time with little cost. Any placement that proves suboptimal can easily be rectified. This is an example of a project where Klein's agile style trimmed waste rather than inducing it.

The projects that required more deliberate planning like the Streetcar and 11th Street Bridge we treated with such care. Klein was sharp enough to know which approach to use where.

by Jason on Dec 8, 2010 2:49 pm • linkreport

Yeay, slower government. More meetings! That gets things done.

by Jasper on Dec 8, 2010 2:58 pm • linkreport

If there's anything old people don't like, it's change. This is Gray catering to his elderly, largely hysterical base, trying to keep the lid on projects that promote gentrification.

One could argue that bikes are equal opportunity, but the cost and cultural factors will prevent the city's youth from participating in bikeshare, and the elderly don't want anything to do with it.

by Barrion Marry on Dec 8, 2010 3:02 pm • linkreport

@Jamie,

The plan for streetcars in DC has been on the books for decades. Klein isn't willy-nilly, he was proactive, wanting to actually build something. Now, when we do figure out those last details, we don't have to completely tear up H St again. It was done in unison with the street-scape revitalization, sounds like damn good planning to me.

Klein doesn't set parking rates...

Cycling lanes have been very effective at promoting inter-modal transportation, getting more cars off the road so you can actually find a parking spot (hopefully at a market rate in the near future)

The Barnes dance is a way to move more people through an intersection, not just more cars... which is/was the DDOT approach.

You can't compare pilot projects between parking meters and cycling lanes, that makes no sense...

Here's hoping for for a good replacement...

by S.A.M. on Dec 8, 2010 3:04 pm • linkreport

In a post a few days ago, there was a bit of discussion about the often-forgotten-about Anacostia Streetcar.

Given that Gray seems eager to cater to the residents south of the river, I wonder if we'll finally begin to see some meaningful progress along this corridor. The tiny stub of a streetcar line currently being built there is an outright embarrassment (and I say this as a supporter of the program in general).

At the very least, put the tracks to the 11th St bridge back on the planning books. We're going to be tearing up/repaving those roads anyway. We've been breaking promises to the residents of those neighborhoods for far too long.

by andrew on Dec 8, 2010 3:25 pm • linkreport

@S.A.M.,

I'd say that the Barnes dance helped motorists too. Motorists generally don't like hitting people with their cars, and the Barnes Dance and turn restrictions seem to have made that intersection a lot less chaotic, and safer for everyone.

However, DDOT should add some more striping, signage, and lights to let pedestrians know that they can safely cross diagonally.

by andrew on Dec 8, 2010 3:27 pm • linkreport

@Andrew, as someone who lives in the area you mention, is it possible for you to share how the neighborhood benefits from the addition of streetcars?

Thanks

by HogWash on Dec 8, 2010 4:02 pm • linkreport

I find it beyond strange that a group of people so enamored with a city cabinet, wouldn't...you know, vote for the guy who assembled them in the first place.

It's like reverse psychology gone amok..."we love the people fenty picked and want them to keep their jobs, so lets vote for the guy running against fenty".

by freely on Dec 8, 2010 4:13 pm • linkreport

@freely, By and large the GGWers voted for and not against Fenty. At least that's what I take from what I've read on here. Even David himself didn't support Gray until right before the primary ... and several days after the Post's poll predicting the Gray landslide.

It's not like anyone's being inconsistent ... just practical.

by Lance on Dec 8, 2010 5:58 pm • linkreport

I voted for Gray so I'm hopeful that Klein's replacement will live up to Klein's high standard just like I'm pleased about Kaya Henderson replacing Michelle Rhee. Same policies, different style. That's what I voted for. Sorry to see Gabe go, but hopeful we can keep moving forward.

by Ward 1 Guy on Dec 8, 2010 6:47 pm • linkreport

Let the apologizing begin...Fenty vote or no Fenty vote. The proof of Gray's intentions will be in his actions. In the meantime, I've seen little to get excited about.

by Rich on Dec 8, 2010 9:21 pm • linkreport

I'll say it again and maybe someone will hear me this time, Washington D.C. is a town where you have to respect the neighborhoods. Unless you under stand the correlation of ANCs and Civic Association President's in the whole political structure, and understand the importance of respecting that aspect of the process, you risk the perception of having an autocratic point of view, which isn't good when ever you might want to promote change in this city. The reason communities elect people to these offices is to develope and maitain a since of personal connection to the government so they're voices are heard. Diplomacy is of the utmost importance whenever you want to introduce change, this is something I know VG understand's although his young predecessor couldn't seem to grasp. You have to be able to look back in order to move forward.

by Anothernative on Dec 8, 2010 9:33 pm • linkreport

@Rich, On the contrary, this guy is turning out to be even better than anyone could have imagined. It's obvious that he puts a lot of thought into his decisions. So far they've been right on the mark and not bowed to 'those screaming the loudest'

Anyone can throw money at something and bark orders to make it happen, it takes a real leader to put everything in place so that there isn't a need to give any orders.

In his WAMU interview today Klein says:

"Once you put a ship in a certain direction, and you put enough coal in the engine compartment, that ship starts sailing in that direction. "

Isn't that what sunk the Titanic? Just steaming straight ahead ...

And I won't even get into the fact that ships which 'sail' don't even use coal for propulsion ... They operate on wind power. But then again, this isn't Klein's first instance of not getting the power source right.

In a city which prides itself in its open skies to the extent that that concept is not only in one plan (L'Enfant) but in two plans (McMillan) AND then codified in federal law 'no wires' law ... What's he do? ... He goes out and starts building a streetcar system with wires ...

by Lance on Dec 8, 2010 9:42 pm • linkreport

In the Navy we refer to ships "sailing" even when they are powered by neutron flux.

by Michael Perkins on Dec 8, 2010 11:06 pm • linkreport

Isn't that what sunk the Titanic? Just steaming straight ahead ...

Well, yes. Though to be fair, it's also what got every steam-powered ship from Point A to Point B. Oh, and even nuclear-powered aircraft carriers are said to "set sail."

by oboe on Dec 8, 2010 11:24 pm • linkreport

Lance, Titanic references are to planning discussions what Nazi references are to political discussions. And everyone knows that Hitler sunk the Titanic.

by David C on Dec 8, 2010 11:31 pm • linkreport

@lance, in the Navy we still say ships "sail" even when powered by neutrons and steam.

by Michael Perkins on Dec 9, 2010 6:08 am • linkreport

Oops, double comment because I thought the previous one didn't post. Mobile site wasn't showing any comments after 11pm or so.

by Michael Perkins on Dec 9, 2010 8:37 am • linkreport

@Contrarian ... Allew Lew is of Asian descent and known to be a task master, some refer to him as a male Michele Rhee ... http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/blog/2010/12/allen-lew-named-grays-city.html

by bebe2 on Dec 9, 2010 11:55 am • linkreport

bebe2 -- apparently you do not understand sarcasism......

by Contrarian on Dec 9, 2010 3:02 pm • linkreport

So Gray's pick to head the DC motion pictures and TV office is the woman who had been there 20 years, is married to a former Councilmember, and had a reputation for being much more reactive than proactive in luring filming production to DC.

But maybe she likes streetcars!

Can't wait to see which additional retro picks Gray puts into agencies.

by Fritz on Dec 9, 2010 4:03 pm • linkreport

I think part of Klein going is an anti-cycling backlash.

There's been som pretty heated anti-car rhetoric in this city as of late. That was bound to get some blowback.

I'm not anti-cycling. I ride a bike myself. I just think a lot of the debate has been demonizing those that must use a car, and some of the debate came across as elitist and patronizing. Particularly since so much came from young single people living in tiny condos in select NW neighborhoods, for whom cycling is a realistic alternative.

I remember attending a council hearing once where two young ladies living in Dupont actually said that having a vehicle in DC was morally wrong and they couldn't wait until all DC residents were forced to go completely car free. You could hear the groans in the room from the older people.

Fairly or not Klein got tarred with this sort of advocacy position.

by Hillman on Dec 10, 2010 8:57 am • linkreport

@Hillman,

Right now, every Gray supporter thinks their pet cause or peeve is the guiding principal of the incoming administration. This is a function of Gray's strategy of being all things to all people. Good government types think the election was a referendum on transparency. Anti- school-reform folks and WTU partisans think it was a referendum on reform and accountability. Folks who think stop-sign running by cyclists is the greatest threat to our republic think it was a referendum on bike lanes.

I guess we'll see, but I doubt seriously whether "sticking it to bike commuters" is high on the incoming administration's list of priorities.

by oboe on Dec 10, 2010 9:43 am • linkreport

Oboe, here you go again with your complete distortions of reality or rather - lies.

How is it humanely possibly that you would know how every Gray supporter feels? How can you know that? Not only are you wrong, you venture down the same shaft of intellectual dishonesty as those who claim Obama wasn't born in the US or the dreaded "death panelers."

Have you ever known a voter who believes that the person they voted into office wasn't a show of support of their respective pet projects? Of course not. Had Fenty won, Rhee'rs would have felt the election was in support of their pet project - school reform. Had he won and retained Klein, the smart growth group would be crowing. The Anti-union/anti-teacher crowd would be crowing.

All that said, what you're saying here is an acknowledgment of the mindset of the american voter. That is not something not limited to gray supporters my friend. And you know it. But your desire is to play this game of dishonesty.

From where I sit, Klein played into this meme with his statement yesterday. I happen to agree with Hillman that Klein became collateral damage. The damage done by a toxic, divisive environment pitting "those" against "them." The climate was exacerbated by not simply supporters on both side but the mediums such as WPost, Examiner, WCP, MSNBC, Oprah, and yes, GGW.

by HogWash on Dec 10, 2010 10:26 am • linkreport

This looks to me like the classic struggle going on in any city or town - between those trying to make positive changes, and those who are afraid of change. In Washington it's especially bad because it's a hotbed for some of the most avant-garde people, as well as the most conservative (small "c" conservative, as in afraid of change). Young, super-bright people coming to make their mark on the world, vs. older, set in their ways bureaucrats who have been there forever. The former tend to be transient, the latter, around forever, with a reliable posse they can call on to issue a beat-down.

by Councilman Joe on Dec 10, 2010 2:55 pm • linkreport

^ In other words, the people that have lived here forever don't want visitors coming inside their home and rearranging the furniture.

by Bob See on Dec 10, 2010 9:18 pm • linkreport

My sentiments exactly,Bob.

by Anothernative on Dec 11, 2010 12:26 am • linkreport

Sorry, but this really sets me off... Quote: "Young, super-bright people coming to make their mark on the world"

And everyone else is dumb? When interstates were being proposed to be sliced through DC, the local residents fought it, even though highways were the "vogue" thing back then. Highways would have certailny made their "mark on the world" to promote the current trend. Damn those set-in-their-ways non-bright locals, huh? Progressive transient hipsters must think the established residents here are beneath consideration or something.

It's ironic that the progressive suburbs decimated their historic towns because it was the "in" thing to do at the time, while ghetto DC maintained its historic neighborhoods for the super-bright to come back to (and take over).

by Bob See on Dec 11, 2010 12:03 pm • linkreport

Good riddance! Klein only took credit for the work of others and then fired or forced out the best and brightest - the ones from whom he was stealing the credit. Then he surrounded himself with incompetent "yes-men" to perpetuate the myth that he alone was the visionary. the only thing Klein knew how to do - and he did it very well- was to promote himself.

by SL on Dec 11, 2010 2:47 pm • linkreport

Control Board 2 in four years. Book it, done.

by David J on Dec 12, 2010 9:38 am • linkreport

Ahhh, pessimism the ultimate answer, stated like a true visionary. I guess thats why you Fenty lap dogs are sitting on the side lines like you are and will be until you stop being so myopic.

by Anothernative on Dec 12, 2010 5:16 pm • linkreport

The wonderful thing about being a pessimist is that you are rarely unpleasantly surprised. Having grown up here, you might also call it a defense mechanism that I have evolved over the years: trusting the DC government to screw up is a safer proposition than trusting it to do something right.

We can see that it is allergic in the extreme to any form of accountability or change. Both are needed. This will not end well.

by David J on Dec 12, 2010 6:33 pm • linkreport

Mayor-elect Vincent Gray did the District of Columbia a great service in giving DCRA Director Linda Argo the opportunity to pursue opportunities elsewhere. During Ms. Argo's tenure, she and her underlings operated the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs as if it were a shopping mall; in her eyes the agency was a customer service center that just happened to have a regulatory component. In effect, this kind of operation encouraged permitting nonconforming, noncompliant construction throughout the District of Columbia. While Ms. Argo excelled in mandating that all customers who walk into DCRA leave satisfied, she ultimately turned her back on the customers who do not visit DCRA: the neighbors living, learning, and earning next to precariously built and/or perilously occupied construction. When one investigates her resume, the reasons for her arms-length engagement in building and land use permitting matters become abundantly clear: Argo has next to no training or experience in relevant disciplines such as construction sciences or urban planning. No wonder she occupied her time with creating YouTube videos, tweeting, using taxpayer dollars to host Curbside Cookoffs, and ensuring an actual Santa Claus made rounds in the DCRA Permit Center. Linda Argo was underqualified for the Director position and almost succeeded in obscuring that fact. I hope Argo's replacement is a (head)strong regulator who maintains the integrity of the urban vision of DC and takes seriously their role as a steward of the built environment.

by Sadly DC on Dec 14, 2010 12:40 am • linkreport

"If there's anything old people don't like, it's change. This is Gray catering to his elderly, largely hysterical base, trying to keep the lid on projects that promote gentrification."

Except now that gentrification has started in Columbia Heights, U Street, Shaw, etc it won't stop until market forces dictate it to do so. As long as developers have economically feasible plans, the process will continue. It's simple economics, and something that Gray should be aware of, in part because it increases DC's tax base. Once he gets into office he'll probably figure that out. This is coming from someone on the re-elect Fenty campaign.

by Phil on Dec 14, 2010 12:04 pm • linkreport

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