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Don't use the incoming mayor's name in vain (on signs)

On his first day as mayor, Vincent Gray should advise his agency directors and direct reports not to put his name on anything that doesn't require it.

Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

Mayor Gray should issue clear guidance from the start in order to save the District money and avoid easily preventable criticism. He can send a message that progress for the city is more important than promoting the name of the mayor and his team.

Placing a mayor's name on a sign, or nearly anything else, is just an act of vanity. There is little if any benefit to District taxpayer with Marion Barry on the side of the Reeves Center, Sharon Pratt Kelly on recycling bins, Anthony Williams on trash cans or Adrian Fenty on DC One Cards.

Here are five reasons to stop this practice with the incoming administration.

Photo by squidpants on Flickr.

Cost: Especially during tight budget times, every dollar needs to be spent on direct services to benefit residents, visitors and commuters. The letters shown on the side of the Reeves building had to cost something. Even if there were nearly zero incremental cost to adding the mayor's name onto something, the perception will always remain that extra money was spent.

Time: Agency staff should focus on their agency's core mission and not where or how to place an officials name on a building, card or trash can. Residents don't want to wonder why an agency had time to promote the mayor yet did not have time to respond to their real-world issue.

Replacement: Once something is printed with the current mayor's name, the next mayor needs to decide whether to replace it. This means spending more funds to replace the item with the former mayor's name with the same item, this time with the new mayor's name.

Photo by dcdan on Flickr.

Politics: Other political parties question whether use of government funds to promote the mayor is an unfair advantage for the incumbent's party. The DC Republican Party expressed this concern in reaction to Mayor Fenty's name painted on the soccer field at Harriet Tubman Elementary School in Columbia Heights (Post).

Outreach: Citizens want to know specifically who to contact if they have a question or problem regarding a program or service. For practical purposes, this means a staff person's name, telephone number and email address instead of the mayor or agency director's name. A sign outside the Hurt House only listed the names of Mayor Fenty and Deputy Mayor Valerie-Joy Santos.

There is no clear indication that the current administration was any different previous ones when it comes to this practice. District residents can assess that based on what they have seen or accumulated with each respective mayor's name.

On January 2, 2011, incoming Mayor Gray can make this into a non-issue. He can remove this potential distraction from agency staff when he provides "day one" guidance on this issue. Even better yet, he can and should hold his entire leadership team to the same standard regarding promoting their names.

Residents will assess the new mayor based on his performance, not where his name appears.

Mitch Wander first arrived in Washington, DC over 25 years ago as a US House of Representatives page while in high school. An avid promoter of DC living, Mitch has lived in wards 1, 2, 3, and 6. He and his wife are proud DC Public School parents. He serves as an officer in the US Army Reserve. 


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I totally agree with this, but good luck changing an age old tradition of politicians engraving their name on everything they possibly can. It happens everywhere. They want you to know who was mayor/governor/president/whatever when a project was funded or dedicated.

by Ward 1 Guy on Dec 16, 2010 4:01 pm • linkreport

I don't know if it is still current policy, but years ago one of the new incoming governors of Delaware did away with the tradition of having the governor's name on highway signs at points of entry, and just changed them all to "Home of Tax Free Shopping"

by spookiness on Dec 16, 2010 4:06 pm • linkreport

I like Spookiness's idea, but for us should be: Home of Vote Free Taxing.

by Reid on Dec 16, 2010 4:11 pm • linkreport

Do we really care about this?

Cost: Especially during tight budget times, every dollar needs to be spent on direct services to benefit residents, visitors and commuters. The letters shown on the side of the Reeves building had to cost something. Even if there were nearly zero incremental cost to adding the mayor's name onto something, the perception will always remain that extra money was spent.

Dumb people will always be manipulated into getting worked up about some ginned-up issue. If it's not the massive resource hemmorhage caused by Mayor's putting their stamp on public works, it'll be the scourge of "earmarks." And if it's not the scourge of "earmarks" it'll be the threat of The Gay Menace destroying the Sacred Institution of Marriage. It's time to stop pandering to the the low prejudices of the uninformed.

Quoted from this morning's Twitter feed: "America's 'ignore real problems & freak out over fake sh*t" strategy for the 21st century isn't going so well.'"


by oboe on Dec 16, 2010 4:18 pm • linkreport

If I'm mayor of a city I'd want my name on every "Welcome to Washington, D.C." sign, D.C. gov't related document, and wikipedia lol.

by Shadow Inc. on Dec 16, 2010 4:25 pm • linkreport

Maybe we'll forget that Vince Gray is unfortunately in charge for the next four years if he's never mentioned…

by Phil on Dec 16, 2010 5:15 pm • linkreport

Gray should just make it easy, play to the base and save money:

Just affix the name of "Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry" and be done with it!

by Bob on Dec 16, 2010 5:44 pm • linkreport

How much could this possibly cost?

I imagine not that much. I can't see many people getting aggravated about this.

by mch on Dec 16, 2010 5:59 pm • linkreport

Whatever it costs is too much. Same as the state signs with governors names. Somebody is paid to create the new signs/name plates and then somebody else is paid to place them.
There are too many "that doesn't cost that much" items in budgets that's killing us. It all adds up.


by Kaleel on Dec 16, 2010 7:23 pm • linkreport

As I tour guide I often route my black history tours by the Reeves center which gives me the chance to point out the work of both Reeves and Barry. BTW Barry's image also appears on the mural at the MLK library. A young Barry is right up front in the line of civil rights marchers. Folks from Barry's homestate of TN are especially happy to see this.

by Tour guide on Dec 16, 2010 7:32 pm • linkreport

This idea strikes me as some sort of dumb, earnest "good government" initiative conceived by a good-natured civics teacher that's supposed to make us feel virtuous but is actually worthless if not counterproductive.

Vince Gray is our mayor, the public face of the city of Washington, DC. I have no problem with his name being represented on government signs and other public amenities, and, in fact, expect it. In fact, I think the mayor needs to have that level of burden on him that if the city has problems, his name is going to be associated with them.

by Tyro on Dec 16, 2010 8:26 pm • linkreport

If we don't put Gray's name up there, does that mean that Fenty's name remains?

by Lance on Dec 16, 2010 8:34 pm • linkreport

Calling it 'vanity' is too charitable. This is corruption, pure and simple: using government funds solely to boost your name recognition (and thus your re-election chances).

This is Third-World kleptocratic behavior. I can't believe American voters sit still for it.

by Nate K on Dec 16, 2010 9:55 pm • linkreport

All politicians face the temptation to plaster their name all over the place; for the rest of us it provides a readily accessible look into who they are.  The more they resist it, the greater my regard for them -- and vice versa. 

The District is an interesting case in that it is better at building things than maintaining them*.  The name on the outside of the facility, and conditions within, combine to tell a more complete story6. 

* Deal with enough DC agencies and over time you will acquire the overall impression of it as a society dwelling in the ruins of an advanced civilization. 

by intermodal commuter on Dec 17, 2010 8:22 am • linkreport

the comment that Gray should play to his base and put Marion Barry's name on government building is foolish. Barry was not the last mayor. Many people voted for Vince Gray but would not support Barry. Even if they did support Barry, why don't you say what you really mean when you try to pretend that Vince Gray and Marion Barry are the same? To continue to link Gray with Barry overlooks the obvious..... Fenty lost the election!! a

Fenty did not loose the election because of Marion Barry. He lost it on his own. He had wide spread support, money, publicity but he still lost.

Get over it!!

by violet shadow on Dec 17, 2010 8:34 am • linkreport

Slapping the Mayor's name on road signs and other projects is a waste of taxpayer money. Sure in the greater scheme of things its not that much money, but it would help set a tone for the new administration.

My guess is the mayors are not asking for heir names to be plastered all over town. Instead, each administration has a few staff trying to impress their bosses with the signs.

Hopefully Gray will live up to his pledge to cut as much spending as possible before he raises taxes.

It could be a lot worse. Look at North Korea.

by mike on Dec 17, 2010 9:16 am • linkreport

They should also stop posting photos of the new president in all federal buildings. Do you think anyone who works there doesn't know who the current president is?

by Gavin on Dec 17, 2010 9:52 am • linkreport

Hey, let's take the mayor's name of off dc gov't website too. Then move on to the Wilson Building. Then to the. Then to the....

by HogWash on Dec 17, 2010 10:45 am • linkreport

I had to reread this. What a number of ridiculous suggestions.

by HogWash on Dec 17, 2010 10:47 am • linkreport

How about in stead of whining about the perceived vanity of DC mayors, we discuss who abysmal DC promotes its borders. Other than IN, I am not aware of "state" that has such varied entry signs. There's a tiny one on Memorial Bridge (odd, because that's not where you're entering DC), a small one on 295S, and a small one on the Clara Barton Parkway. Nothing on the GW Parkway, nothing on Key Bridge, nothing on the Roosevelt Bridge, nothing on the 14th St bridge. I rarely get in from the MD side, but I can't remember any signs.

Why don't all these bridge have massive Welcome to the Nation's Capital Washington DC signs on them? And in case the viewshed clowns crowd would protest, I'd suggest to pay Virginia to put them on the bridges, in the last foot of Virginia.

Virginia puts signs everywhere. I can not remember entering VA without a sign. There's even one in the Rosslyn station where the blue and orange lines enter the commonwealth (oddly no sign at the Pentagon for the yellow line, I guess the yellow line was added much later and the sign was forgotten). Maryland has a lot of signs at well. The bigger the road, the bigger the sign.

by Jasper on Dec 17, 2010 10:52 am • linkreport

@ Gavin: They should also stop posting photos of the new president in all federal buildings. Do you think anyone who works there doesn't know who the current president is?

I actually like that habit. It a visual way of showing the unity of government. In the end, everything done in federal buildings is done in the name of the president (and/or secretary). That's the person who's been voted for, and who's responsible.

by Jasper on Dec 17, 2010 10:57 am • linkreport

Is this a joke?

by HUH? on Dec 17, 2010 11:50 am • linkreport

you can watch Mayor Gray appear on the DC Water sign!

by dcvoterboy on Jan 3, 2011 4:14 pm • linkreport

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