April Fools Day

*This post is not about bicycling. I apologize.

Much like St. Augustine and Usher, I too have a confession: I am an undecided voter in the upcoming democratic primary for mayor for the District of Columbia. I've probably spent more time reading about and following this race than any other political race in my lifetime (with the exception of the 2008 presidential election. Maybe you think that's sad since who cares about local politics, but as a nationally disenfranchised resident of the District of Columbia, I'd tell you that local politics is all we've got. Washington, after all, has no voice in Washington) and that I've spent as many hours engaged in this contest as I have and still find myself unable to reach any definitive conclusion about which candidate most deserves my vote maybe tells you something about me or something about the candidates or something about the process or something about all three of these variables.

The cast of characters include a number of candidates who most assuredly will not be getting my vote. There is Carlos, who has a bus and a rap album, but little else to recommend him. There is Reta, who has fleeting moments of clarity, but seems less acquainted with local issues than she is with the Clintons. There is Andy, the leftist's leftist, who has left me cold, like an order of sweet potato fries that waited too long for a waiter. There is Vinnie Citrus and his stately pleasure dome, a home for athletes and movie stars and parking lots and parking lots and parking lots and golf course and photo ops with athletes and movie stars.

Then there are the four "real" contenders, whose contention is real, as evidenced by increasingly snippy campaigning. Of the four, I can most confidently say that I won't be voting for Jack. Of the four, I can most confidently say I have no idea why he is running. This was a very low stakes contest for Mr. Evans. He didn't have to give up his seat to run, a seat that, thanks to his time on the Council (347 years, I think) has been well worn to his contours. Would Jack be a competent mayor? Maybe. Would Jack be an awful mayor? Maybe. What does a Jack Evans DC look like? You can see it from the box seats.

I don't dislike Muriel Bowser. I don't know Muriel Bowser. I know that many people like her (some quite a lot, some because she's the best of the bunch) and in all likelihood, she will be the nominee. But, for whatever reason, she just doesn't do it for me. [I kindly request that you do not use the comments to yell at me about why she is the best.] I can't get excited about Muriel Bowser. My main concern about CM Bowser isn't her supposed lack of experience. You can't have experience as mayor until you're mayor and experience is no predictor of future success. I just have no clear indication that a Bower-run DC is a DC that is running towards anything in particular. I think it's a DC with the parking brake on and while that means we won't roll downhill, we're not gaining forward momentum either. Maybe I'm wrong and maybe the coordinates of where Muriel plans to take us are already plugged into the GPS and the tank is full and she's ready to go, but as someone standing on the curb looking for some indication that she knows the way, I'm just not ready to get in that car.

Tommy Wells ran for mayor. He said he was going to run for mayor and he ran for mayor and he ran for mayor ethically (have you heard he didn't take any corporate cash?) and he's the candidate for which I'm most likely going to eventually cast my vote, but with 8 days to go, I can't say I'm really fired up about this. [Likewise, I kindly request you do not yell at me in the comments about my lack of enthusiasm]. A vote's a vote, I guess, and they count the unenthusiastic ones just same as the ardent ones. I'm reasonably convinved he knows about the issues and he cares about what he knows about. He is the 'urbanist' candidate and his vision of the future of DC most tracks with the one that I find the most palatable. But can he deliver it? I don't know. I don't think he's convinced enough people [including his colleagues on the dais] that he can and I don't see him being able to change that in a week.

Mayor Gray is the incumbent and until a few weeks ago, I was probably going to vote for him. I shook Mayor Gray's hand once. It was at the opening of the L Street Cycletrack. He reminded me of a star high school athlete, but a man whose charisma extends no farther than his outstretched arm. One step father back and you barely feel it all. Like the warmth of a baked potato recently removed from a microwave. Has Vince Gray done a good job as mayor? Has he done a middling job? Has he done an adequate job? Would another four years under Vince Gray be less worse than under another one of the others? I tentatively reached the conclusion that yes, it probably would be. But a few things happened between then and now which have swung me back into the undecided camp, the largest of which is my belief that there won't be another four years for Vince Gray and that he will be indicted (rightly or wrongly- I'm not a lawyer) and even if he's not indicted, that he knew about the "shadow campaign." He knew. When I could delude myself into thinking that he didn't know, that these things were all swirling on around him and he was somehow protected from this knowledge by cronies who were able to keep him in the dark, it was much easier to say, sure, let's give this guy another four years. But it's harder to pretend that he didn't know now. Maybe there's not a mountain of evidence and maybe the USAO has less than what they'd need, but my vote isn't subject to a standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. But I don't even think that this is my primary reason for no longer going with Gray. It's that I'm not convinced that four more years of Gray are four years of embracing and guiding vital change. There were many things put into place by the previous administrations that have come to fruition (or are slowly, slowly, slowly coming) in the past four. But those chickens, for the most part, are roosted. What comes in the next four years will grow from the seeds planted more recently (first chickens, now seeds. I am clearly not a farmer) and while I like a lot of the initiatives undertaken by the Gray Administration (MoveDC and the alleged streetcar expansion, SustainableDC, the ZRR to a certain extent,), the pace of adoption of these initiatives has been slow and I don't feel like the stewards put in place to guide these changes really have the energy or commitment to see them through.

So, that leaves me undecided. In many ways, I question whether electing any of these candidates will do much to alter the underlying dynamics at play in DC right now. It is increasingly expensive to live here and little headway has been made to address systemic inequalities and long-term unemployment and poverty in parts of the city while other parts continue to boom. I think that's a problem. But new buildings go up and will continue to go up and restaurants will open and close and things will change and people are going to continue to move here because it's a nice place to live. I don't see any of the candidates, when presented with golden scissors and ribbons to be cut, saying no. Who wants to be the mayor whose name isn't on things? But I do think that we're also on the cusp of Thermidor and this makes me worry. You can't make a city go backwards. Nostalgia should not be your polestar. Whoever wins (and whoever wins again in November) has opportunity and responsibility and I hope that he or she can elaborate a vision and enact a policy that makes DC a better DC, whatever that means.

1 comment:

  1. "a man whose charisma extends no farther than his outstretched arm" - Pretty much sums up all current and prospective CMs (except for the women, we'd need to change a few words around). Also that is an amazing phrase and perfect description! (When I shook VGs hand it felt very much like shaking my grandmothers hand... did you feel the same way? kinda dead fishy)