Tuesday, September 21, 2010


The last few days has brought forth some amazing maps to add to our collection here.  Much better than my crudely drawn, Microsoft Paint creation from the previous post, someone who goes by stanton816 has created this precinct level map of the DC mayor's race.

Also, check out this flickr stream of city maps generated by using 2000 Census data (see radicalcartography as well).  Each dot, color coded by race, represents 25 people: Red dots are for caucasian; Blue for African-American; Yellow for Latino. This mapping process was developed by cartographer Bill Rankin (see this story in Co. Design for more).  Here's DC and the surrounding environs:

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Rise and Fall of Adrian Fenty: Can Washington DC Become "One City"???

This is what a polarized electorate, and indeed city, looks like. Now two days out from the DC’s mayor’s race that saw once popular incumbent Adrian Fenty thrown out in favor of City Council Chair Vince Gray, the post mortems are starting to come in and explanations are starting to crystallize (full results here).  The reasons being offered for the downfall of Fenty point to the variables of race, class, geography, and personality as all playing a role. The Washington Post focused on the "character" aspect yesterday.  Like most elections that see numerous streams intersect to produce an outcome, there’s probably some truth to all of these. I want to try and flesh them out a bit, while also pointing something unique to DC that I think provided the underlying context for the outcome.  For a less nuanced analysis, Courtland Milloy hammers at Fenty today.

When Adrian Fenty was first elected Mayor in 2006 as a young, energetic Ward 4 councilman, he promised an administration dedicated, above all else, to results driven reform (see 2006 results here). The abysmal school system would be reformed; city services would be streamlined; ossified bureaucracies would be shaken up. Whereas previous administrations (i.e. Marion Barry) were staffed through patronage, Fenty’s government would be one where technocrats were in ascendance. The personification of this shift was the new school chancellor Michelle Rhee. Given a wide mandate to institute sweeping changes, Rhee has set about a radical, and some would argue much needed, reorganization and reconceptualization of education in the nation’s capital.

Coupled with this reform mindset was Fenty’s reputation for energy and constituent service. The mayor had made his climb through retail politics. He would not be outworked and was visible and accessible. With multiple blackberries holstered to his hip, he could beckon city workers at the drop of a hat to respond to potholes, piled up garbage, or a city park in need of repair. Implicit in this was the feeling on the part of citizens that they mattered. Fenty was reaching out to them, wanting to know what they needed. Not locked up in the Wilson Building, he was a man of the streets, more comfortable shuttling around the city’s neighborhoods than behind a desk. He was a fixer, yes, but also someone who cared about and understood the community.

Four years later, Mayor Fenty is no more. What happened, I think, is that these two aims—reform and service—could not be balanced. Fenty’s personality and style, no doubt, played some role in this. As much of the coverage of his administration has attested to, his drive to change the city was most often done without the input and participation of those who would feel the brunt of his efforts. He was brash, arrogant, and short tempered, yet decisive and forward looking. As long as things got “better,” the assumption was that city would respond, despite the fact that they no longer felt courted by the Mayor. Rather than the Mayor showing up at your door, it would be the improved Washington through better schools, roads, and facilities that would greet you every day.

Unfortunately, “better” can be defined differently and here is where we start to see the polarization of the city come into view. Let’s take the issue of employment. Washington, DC has vastly different levels of unemployment depending at what part of the city one looks. Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, these levels correspond to the pattern of Tuesday’s vote. The wards with the highest unemployment in the city—8, 7, and 5—were the wards where Gray’s numbers were highest. Those with the lowest unemployment—3 and 2—saw Fenty claim 70-80% of the vote. When you aren’t worried about losing your job (Ward 3's unemployment rate is 3%) dog parks, bike lanes, and lavish parks are a nice perk. When you are struggling with 25-30% unemployment rates in your neighborhood, they’re a slap in the face, an extravagance. When the Mayor is tone deaf about this to the point of rationalizing it, people are probably going to notice.  As city budgets have been trimmed in the midst of economic difficulties, those in the eastern parts of the city have come to question Fenty’s priorities and whether they are being focused on the affluent of upper Northwest at the expense of those east of the Anacostia. Rather than post-material amenities, these neighborhoods cry for job training and basic services. There is not a single functioning hospital in all of Wards 7 and 8.

In this, race obviously becomes a factor. There is an almost perfect correlation between Tuesday’s vote and the distribution of the DC population by race. While there was no formal exit polling done on Tuesday, the evidence suggests that Fenty won by a roughly 4:1 margin in the predominantly white neighborhoods while Gray won by the same margin in the predominantly black neighborhoods. It is not correct to say, however, that race was the only variable that mattered. It’s a bit more muddled, and why I think we need to look at things like unemployment and the like. Remember, just four years ago Fenty won the support of both white and black voters. He won every precinct in the city. What has happened is that not every part of the city has benefited from Fenty’s changes, at least as they perceive them. Again, what “better” or “results” mean is open to debate. What also matters is how those results are achieved.

Here is where some context matters—and this is an angle I haven’t seen explored a whole lot. One thing that is unique about Washington, DC is its governing structure and history. As the nation’s capital, Washington has only recently gotten relatively full control over its own internal affairs. It was only in 1967 that we received some measure of “home rule,” allowing us to elect our Mayor. An elected City Council did not arrive until a few years later. Prior to that, Washington was ruled by a three person, federally appointed, Board of Commissioners. Prior to Home Rule, and even since, Washington has been overseen by Congress. Every piece of legislation passed by the city government is subject to congressional veto. Thus, in recent years Washington has not only had to have its duly elected representatives’ decisions subject to the whims of the congressional membership (with DC residents becoming a partisan football), but has also found itself as the laboratory in which members can pursue their pet agendas. On issues like gun control, gay marriage, needle exchange, and school choice, Washingtonians often feel as if they aren’t really in control. The height of this came during the 1990’s when Congress instituted a control board to run all of the District’s finances.

Why this matters, I think, is that many district residents are particularly attuned to their role in governing the city. Here is where age becomes an interesting variable. Many of Fenty’s supporters are younger, new arrivals to the city. They didn’t live here prior to Home Rule or the Control Board and so they probably aren’t as sensitive to slights from City Hall. For them, “results” are more important than “process.” For those older residents who have lived in DC their whole lives, being excluded from governing is going to be reminiscent of when the city was powerless. I’ll use the example of my neighborhood here. Earlier this year I moved into Ward 5, Precinct 69. This part of Washington DC is predominantly African American, with long time, older residents making up, at least anecdotally to me, the largest part of the population. Back when the campaign was starting to heat up, Vince Gray signs sprouted up throughout the neighborhoods of Brookland, Woodridge, and Michigan Park like mushrooms. These neighborhoods aren’t poor but they aren’t the cosmopolitan, young, and thriving DuPont Circle either. While only separated about twenty minutes or so by car, Brookland and DuPont can feel like totally separate worlds. Where Fenty seems to have lost these neighborhoods, it seems to me, is that he forgot how these folks have experienced their city—and their role in it—over the years.

In no other way is this better seen than in how Fenty approached the schools. When the Mayor was given the ability to control education and subsequently appointed Michelle Rhee he made it clear that results where going to be the measure of success. If teachers needed to be fired, schools consolidated and closed, and the teacher’s union weakened, so be it. Despite the merits of doing all of these, the blunt force with which this agenda was pursued ran straight into this legacy and history of how the city used to be governed. While it may seem like dull, tedious “process” to include neighbors in these decisions (beyond town hall meetings and listening sessions), for those whose children and neighborhoods that are affected, this “process” is the most intimate involvement they will have with their city’s decision making. That it affects their kids makes it even more critical that they feel invested. In short, I get the sense that for longtime Washingtonians Michelle Rhee is merely the latest incarnation of the Board of Commissioners or the Control Board—an outsider who thinks they know what’s best for the city despite the fact that they didn’t grow up here.  The fact that Rhee hasn't hesitated to talk about the national implications of her work in DC makes things worse.  A parent living in a struggling neighborhood and who is worried about their son or daughter's schooling doesn't care about a grand experiment in education.  They care about their kid.  If you're going to dramatically change the schools, you need to have the trust of the community--parents, teachers, alumni, neighborhood leaders, etc.  As Matt Yglesias argues (as does Washington City Paper's Mike Madden), Rhee and Fenty never really did the work to create that trust.  Ultimately, Fenty paid the price for that failing.

Thus, I can’t say that I’m at all surprised by the outcome, its magnitude, and the geographic/racial/class/age chasm that we see. Washington, DC is certainly two, if not many, cities. Governing it is never going to be easy, especially when you’re trying to make big changes. The ultimate failing of Adrian Fenty is not that he tried to change the city and make it better, its that he didn’t figure out the right way to do it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Quick Hits

9:20 pm:

Delaware just goes to O'Donnell.  Castle's 44 years of public service comes to an end.  Despite Tea Party enthusiasm, this result must make Democrats ecstatic.  Delaware native Dave Weigel is worth following for analysis, in Twitter short form.

Wisconsin results can be followed here.

9:50 pm:

Gotta say, Wisconsin GOP primary is a lot closer than I'd have guessed.  Only 5% in, albeit, but Walker with a slim lead.  Wish I knew where those results were from.  This would be a pretty big upset.

10:00 pm:

Also interested in Rangel/Powell contest in NY.  Harlem politics can be fascinating, especially when familial revenge is at stake.  No numbers yet.

10:40 pm:

Come on DC.  I'm going to be ticked if everything comes out at once.  I like the suspense of results trickling in bit by bit.

10:50 pm:

A nice piece by Weigel on the now defeated Mike Castle.  He's reporting that O'Donnell is toast even before the applause of tonight dies down.

Drip, Drip, Drip...  DC starts coming in.

11:00 pm:

With a 14 point lead and 37% reporting, Wisconsin GOP Gov primary has been called for Scott Walker.  Not a surprise there.  Will set up an interesting general in that, historically, Wisconsin does not pick their governors from Milwaukee.  Now they will.


Here we go.  Twitter to the rescue.  Mike Debonis w/precinct results for DC in real time.

11:30 pm:

Once again, people in New York just don't like Rick Lazio.

12:00 am:

Just a hunch, but this map is probably going to be useful in understanding the Fenty/Gray numbers.

12:10 am:

Rangel wins comfortably.

12:30 am:

The numbers coming out of Ward 4 don't look good for Fenty.  If he can't win his home ward, he's probably cooked.

1:15 am:

The Washington Post is reporting a Vince Gray win.  The numbers aren't fully out, but unless we have a 2000-like snafu, this seems pretty definitive.  Good enough for me to head to bed.  Some bloggers have real jobs.

Lots of analysis to come tomorrow.

Around Town As DC Votes

A couple of quick shots from around town as we wait for DC numbers to come in.  John and I hit a few spots in the Brookland/Michigan Park/North Michigan Park neighborhoods of Ward 5.  The Vince Gray presence was much more pronounced than that of Mayor Fenty--to be expected in this part of town but bad news nonetheless for the incumbent.

Precinct 66: Backus Middle School

Precinct 67: Bunker Hill Elementary School

Nice violin playing--patriotic music to serenade the voting.

Precinct 68: St. Francis Hall--Franciscan Monastery

Campaign volunteers were reporting relatively light turnout.  With DC now having early voting, it was difficult to ascertain whether people were taking advantage of voting early, or whether enthusiasm and motivation was down.  Once we start to get some numbers, we'll be better able to answer this question.

Busy Primary Day, With An Emphasis On D.C. Mayor's Race

Let's get a little more current.  Today wraps up the primary season leading into November's midterms, gubernatorial, and various state and local races.  Seven states are up and there are a number of interesting races.  The one that is getting the most ink is the Republican Senate primary in Delaware.  A month ago this race was on nobody's radar.  The presumptive nominee is longtime Republican vote getter Mike Castle.  Castle is one of the politicians I profiled last year in my post on small state politics.  A fixture in state political circles since the mid '60's Castle has served as both governor (two terms) and as the state's lone House member since 1993.  Castle has fashioned himself as a prgamatic moderate, perfectly suited to a state which typically votes Democratic statewide.  The state GOP establishment has been firmly behind Castle and everything pointed to an easy pick-up for Republicans of the seat vacated by now VP Joe Biden. 

That, of course, was before the year of the Tea Party.  Over the past several weeks, Castle has seen his sure thing become much more precarious as Christine O'Donnell, fueled by a Sarah Palin endorsement and a slew of out of state funding and manpower, has tightened the race.  Like earlier contests in Utah and Alaska, which saw incumbent GOP Senators defeated, tonight's contest in the First State could provide fireworks.  The winner faces Chris Coons, New Castle County Executive.

Closer to home, the big tilt today is the DC Democratic mayoral primary (Washington Post blog coverage here).  Given the underlying political affiliation of DC voters, this is the whole shebang.  The winner will be the mayor.  Watching this race up close over the past months, this race has become fascinating.  The incumbent, Adrian Fenty shot to prominence four years ago through a retail politics performance par excellance.  He won every precinct in the city, casting himself as a results oriented reformer.  As is so often the case with reformers, patience and prudence take a back seat to action.  The flashpoint in all of this has been Fenty's efforts to reform the long moribund DC education system.  Under Chancellor Michelle Rhee, Fenty has overseen a mayoral takeover of the school system and a process of school consolidation and widespread teacher firings--with test scores both improving and ebbing as a result.  In a nutshell, Fenty has been highly polarizing, especially among DC's older establishment.  His opponent, City Council Chair Vince Gray has campaigned on the notion of "One City."  To supporters, he will bind back together what Fenty has blown up.  To detractors, he will be a throwback to the dysfunction of latter day Marion Berry/Control Board DC government.  The prevailing view of the underlying dynamics of this race suggests that race and age are the faultlines upon which the election will be decided.  Fenty has tended to draw his support from white, more educated, and younger voters whereas Grey is seen as strongest among African American and, especially, older voters.

John has been doing yeoman's work looking at this race from the ground level--see here, here, and here.  We're both going to try and get out today to capture some of what's going on at various polling places.  I'm also going to post as results start coming in later tonight. 

Also of note today is the GOP gubernatorial primary in Wisconsin.  Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is taking on former 1st District Congressman and one time Senate candidate Mark Neumann.  The winner will take on Milwaukee Mayor and former 5th District Congressman Tom Barrett in the general.

UPDATE: As the results start coming in tonight, we're going to get very focused on the micro level for the DC mayor's race.  Here's a DC ward and precinct map so you can play along at home.  If the race shakes out as predicted, expect to see Gray do extremely well in Wards 5, 7 (his home), and 8.  Fenty can be expected to do well in Wards 2 and 3.  His home Ward 4 could be the real bellwether.  Wards 1 and 6 should be relatively competitive too I would think. 

John and I are going to hit some of the precincts in Ward 5 to get some local flavor.  Hopefully we'll have some pictures to go along with the numbers.  This should be Gray territory big time.