I attended a city wide mayoral candidate’s forum held at the National Council for Negro Women building on Tuesday, August 17. There are three primary candidates running for DC mayor. The choices are A. Mayor Adrian Fenty; B. City Council Chair Vincent Gray; C. Leo Alexander and D. None of the above. I’d really like to check box D. As an African American, whose parents never missed voting after leaving the Jim Crow south, box D is simply not an option. So, let’s go over the highlights.
The forum was helpful in assessing the candidates. I walked in undecided. I came out with a better overall view of the candidates. The format started with a 1 minute opening statement by the candidates. Washington Post reporter Nikita Stewart moderated the forum. Questions, which were prepared in advance by the sponsoring organizations, were directed to the candidates. Each candidate initially had one minute to respond. That’s about the same time as a commercial break between a TV show. There wasn’t much time for any real substantive answers. One candidate joked the questions were as long as the time allotted to answer them. The issues touched on education, HIV, domestic violence, crime, women’s issues and the Attorney General. So, here’s the good, the bad and the ugly on the 3 candidates.
Early on in the forum, mention was made of the irony of the forum taking place in the Dorothy I. Height building as Mayor Fenty took heat for not meeting with Dr. Height and Maya Angelou in 2009. Mayor Fenty addressed the issue and gave an excuse relating to a doctor’s visit with his child. Mayor Fenty later scored with some good points on crime, economic growth in Ward 8, and getting things done. According to Mayor Fenty, homicides are down to a low rate dating back to 1966. He touted that DC’s homicide rate is 20% below the national average. As for economic progress, Ward 8 has a grocery store now with another one set to open soon. Libraries have been built and improvements made to schools. Although, the jury is out on School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, some results have come about as a direct result of her efforts, despite the means that she uses to bring them. There are increased test scores in some grades and little to no change in others. According to Mayor Fenty, we stopped the tide of students leaving public school system to attend charter schools. The bad and ugly of Mayor Fenty is his harsh arrogance and that of his cohort School Chancellor Rhee.
City Council Chair Vincent Gray argued the point that the entire DC school system cannot rest on one person’s shoulders. I agree. There’s been no transparency with Chancellor Rhee and her decisions. She has apparent carte blanche to do as she pleases without much, if any, accountability to anyone. Regardless of who is elected, that’s not good for the city and the school system. Gray asserted he does not support school vouchers. Chairman Gray admitted he wishes he could take back his vote in favor of Attorney General Peter Nickles. Nickles often acts as if he’s counsel for Mayor Fenty and not the people of DC. Gray unequivocally stated he would fire Peter Nickles, if elected. That’s almost a no brainer. He reserved on any similar comment on School Chancellor Rhee. And “read my website” Gray didn’t give many specific facts on anything else. Gray appeared to have the popularity support of the audience.
As for Leo Alexander, he states that the other candidates are the “NNI” guys which he says stands for no new ideas guys. Mr. Alexander proposed, among many ideas, that students should be allowed to work all year long and not just in the summer jobs program. That appears contradictory to good grades and scores. Students need to devote their school year to school to improve their grades and test scores. Unlike Chairman Gray, Leo Alexander had many specific ideas. However, most sounded like rhetoric. At least, that’s how it sounded to my trial lawyer ears.
No one candidate fits in any one category. There’s good, bad and ugly in all. What I came away with from the forum is DC needs to decide whether we want younger versus older, nice versus arrogant, accomplishments versus promises or starting over versus staying the course. The decision is really whether we hold or fold.
I came into the forum as an undecided voter. If I were allowed to ask a question, it would be why should I vote for either candidate. That question cannot be answered in 60 seconds. If I had to vote last night, I would vote for Mayor Fenty. That’s not because of any rhetoric. It’s because facts talk and everything else walks.
September 14 is election day. That’s a long way off. So I’ll remain undecided for now.
Debbie Hines, Esq. blogs on race, law, women and politics. For the best of Legalspeaks, click Res Ipsa Loquitur.