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Advice to DC Voters in 2006

After eight years of Tony Williams as mayor, and Linda Cropp as DC Council Chair, the District of Columbia has made enormous strides in becoming a "competitive" American city. Over those same eight years, NARPAC has never failed to provide monthly advice on how this municipal administration could do more to convert this city into a truly outstanding national capital. While these elected officials may well have run out of steam as a result of their very concerted and welcome efforts, NARPAC still sees a great deal more to be done.

Prior to the September, 2006 primaries (in which the overwhelmingly Democrat constituency will select their new leaders), we posted on DC's well-known, twice-weekly, e-mail discussion forum, a series of seven brief essays exhorting DC voters to choose candidates with the broadest possible outlooks. These are reproduced below, and a set of relevant "chapters" on this web site are outlined following each one. The reader is offered the choice of clicking (on the date) for the summaries available on NARPAC's detailed index, or clicking (on the title) for the (much longer) chapter itself. In essence, this advice summarizes our eight years of observations and analysis.


Now Is The Time To Stand Up for DC's Future

The next few months will be crucial for America's future internationally, nationally, regionally, and locally as well. 'Sitting' governments at all levels have become remarkably complacent, if not arrogant, about the directions in which they have steered their electorates. Participation in the forthcoming primaries and elections is vital for all voters who clearly don't want "more of the same", and are willing to look beyond their near-term irritations and personal hobby-horses.

The last eight years probably brought more progress and hope to DC than to its neighboring jurisdictions or to the US as a whole. Most of those very welcome improvements simply involved eliminating self-imposed barriers to reasonably good government, and encouraging private sector investment. But the city may well have done about as much as it can "sitting down". Over the next eight years, DC's core socioeconomic problems can only be faced standing up. The Post's Pearlstein recently noted that MLB negotiators treated DC officials as if they were "in way over their heads" on the stadium deal. Washingtonians should not dismiss this perception.

DC's elected leaders and appointed officials often do seem to be in way over their heads, and simply "sitting out" many of their major long-range problems. DC's voters must find fresh leaders willing to stand up to its core issues. They must adopt a corrective, pro-active stance against: Congressional tinkering; regional indifference; petty local legislation; bureaucratic mediocrity; false myths about economic dependency; burgeoning transportation and other infrastructure problems; endemic poverty and its ghettos; racial demagoguery; lifetime adult illiteracy; chronic health problems; ineffectual parenting; excessive neighborhood NIMBYism; and so forth. Our national capital has only six weeks left to decide if it will grow up, stand up, and belly up to the issues that perpetuate its image as a second-class, introverted city inside a world-class metro area.

Relevant NARPAC Analyses:

Click on (DATE) if underlined below to go to detailed index:
Click on TITLE beside it to go to actual section:

(06/06) ... New DC Comprehensive Plan
(01/02) ... Long Range Solutions
(02/06) ... Housing DC's Future
(09/05) ... Long Range Planning
(09/04) ... New DC "Vision"
(05/04) ... NCR Comprehensive Plan
(01/02) ... Long Range Solutions


Standing Up to DC's Future Economic Viability

There are less than six weeks left until DC's key primary. Voters need to decide what they want from their elected leaders and the officials appointed by them. Will DC take charge of its own economic viability or sit back and whine about circumstances beyond its control? Myths abound about DC's financial subservience, but facts do not support it. After all, DC is the US national capital city and the core of a hugely prosperous metro area. It is not some isolated, besieged, rural encampment blockaded by antithetical suburbanites and a vindictive federal government.

Folklore about DC's "structural imbalance" are based on analytically and arithmetically faulty studies produced under misguided political pressures. To infer that the federal presence denies DC more revenues than it generates is absurd: DC would look like Camden, NJ, without its only true business attraction. Suggesting that DC residential and commercial taxes should not exceed the average of cities with no national and/or global focus is self-serving. Resenting commuters (and an equal number of tourists and visitors) is self-defeating: both generate more DC revenues (and jobs) than they cost in wear and tear. Assuming that your average residential family produces more net revenues per acre than your average office building full of commuters is simply wrong.

The biggest threat to economic viability is DC's misguided pursuit of socioeconomic stagnation. DC cannot afford to attract and keep more than 40% of the metro area's poor with less than 12% of its taxable wealth. It doesn't need more moderate taxpayers. It needs less high tax consumers. It cannot condemn "gentrification", America's basic social indicator of economic success. It cannot demand affordable housing for un-affordable households. It cannot demand subsidized services for the poor without pressing to raise their earning power. It cannot be the region's poorhouse, or invoke socialist practices at the core of the world's leading market economy. Would any of the candidates own up to these unpopular assertions?

Relevant NARPAC Analyses:

Click on (DATE) below to go to detailed index:
Click on TITLE beside it to go to actual section:

(05/06) ... Row House Future
(10/05) ... DC Economic Landscape
(04/05) ... Affordable Housing
(11/03) ... DC Structural Imbalance
(08/03) ... GAO Structural Imbalance
(06/03) ... Rivlin's 100,000 New Residents
(05/03) ... Redeveloping St. Elizabeth's


Standing Up to Modernizing DC's Transportation Infrastructure

In five weeks, DC's primary voters will decide if they want to assure our capital's future growth and prosperity, or cripple it with outdated, outmoded transportation infrastructure. In this key area, DC leadership seems in way over its head. By rejecting US life- and work-styles, it loses the chance to shape future trends in urban mobility, or raise revenues by selectively adopting them. DDoT seems to be assuming a dubious role in social engineering outside DC's formal planning efforts, while ignoring regional and urban mobility, as well as possible funding sources.

Why would the core city of this dynamic metro area proclaim its overarching transportation goal is limited only to "creating a safe, sustainable system founded on choice, and contributing to an improved neighborhood quality of life"? Why plan to add 58,000 new households, and 125,000 new jobs but not a single mile of roadway or trackage (elevated or underground) in the next 20 years? Why opt to turn DC's "principal (vehicular) arterials" back into1800's boulevards merging strollers, joggers, shoppers, bikers, drinkers, diners, pet-walkers and tree-huggers in the same surface plane with commuters, cars, buses, light pick-up and heavy 24/7 trucks, and trolleys too? Wouldn't differentiating decorative promenades from utilitarian arteries better fill the 2100's bill?

Why are there no plans to: "de-congest" Metrorail stations and tunnels; provide redundancy by connecting the system's "spokes" outside the vulnerable "hub" (viz., an "Inner Circle Line"); or enhance Metrorail emergency flexibility? Why focus on low-density, transit buses, and streetcars while the high-density system is strangling itself? Why push bus expressways, but avoid vehicular or pedestrian expressways? Why no plans to: increase off-street parking; automate parking and selective fee collection; or enforce city traffic disciplines with high-tech devices? Do your candidates want DC to play second-fiddle in regional and urban transportation activities? Are you for the same small-town, on-the-cheap, entertainment-driven, transportation policies at WMATA?

Relevant NARPAC Analyses:

Click on (DATE) below to go to detailed index:
Click on TITLE beside it to go to actual section:

(07/06) ... 'MetroLite': DC Trolleys?
(11/04) ... Visualizing Future Metrorail
(11/04) ... Analyzing WMATA's Budget
(12/03) ... High-Density Metro Parking
(02/03) ... Metro Long-range Planning


Standing Up to Poverty, Its Causes and its Fall-out

With less than five weeks left until DC's key primary, the candidates are tiptoeing around DC's colossal poverty issue as if it were some unmentionable condition like venereal disease or mental illness. Virtually all of DC's third-world socioeconomic indicators (health, crime, education, and joblessness) flow from America's most embarrassing, but often curable, condition. Poverty is a condition urban kids are frequently born into, and many bear its scars for life. Poverty can be self- perpetuating if not treated soon after birth, but it is neither chronic nor genetic. It is transmitted primarily by parental ignorance. It is best cured in living rooms, not schoolrooms, courtrooms or emergency rooms. Without the will to learn, youngsters become unemployable adults, and hence poor. Lack of education often leads them to unintended pregnancies, and single-parenting: kids rearing kids. Lack of parental education creates a barren home environment making kids far less receptive to learning, particularly disenchanted young males. Some 16,000 black single moms with their 36,000 disadvantaged kids account for almost 60% of DC's 90,000 food stamp users.

Compensating for poverty is a huge drain on DC's budget. If 90% of the health & human services budget, 50% of the safety & justice budget, and 25% of the public education budget are poverty- related, then a full half of DC's gross '06 operating budget (over $3.5B) treats poverty. It drives out the middle class (and its vital ethical base), and inflates the bureaucracy. Some13,000 DC city workers, averaging $60,000 a year in pay, administer poverty-related programs. It is big business in DC, and occupies the efforts of thousands of activists and volunteers as well. Yet only a tiny amount of this effort goes towards redeeming (re-cycling?) the wayward kids who could still break the cycle of poverty for themselves and their kids. Pouring money into schools, police, ERs, and jails will not fix this root problem. Do your favorite candidates address this subject honestly?

Relevant NARPAC Analyses:

Click on (DATE) below to go to detailed index:
Click on TITLE beside it to go to actual section:

(03/05) ... Recalling Student Dropouts
(01/04) ... Crime in DC, 2002
(03/02) ... Ed., Pov'ty, Ignorance
(03/02) ... Revenues/Expenditures
(01/02) ... Human Services


Standing Up For Federal and Regional Partnerships

DC's key primary is now four weeks away. Relations between DC and its federal and nearby state counterparts are seldom aired. DC leaders often seem overwhelmed if not resentful of them. The Federal presence is faulted for unwanted freeloading; the Congress as some latter day plantation overseer. Maryland and Virginia are alien entities to be distrusted, their commuters resented, their wealth and statehood coveted. In turn, federal and regional officials are free treat city leaders as second-rate and in way over their heads. There is no evident downside to lording it over DC.

DC deserves respect as: the region's core city and major attraction; host to the seat of US power and global visitors; and symbol of American urban life. But DC must step up to the plate to earn its place at the head table. New city officials must live, work, act and entertain like they hold the keys to the world's most important capital city. DC must improve its relations with Congress. Pushing statehood and resisting Congressional oversight won't work. Congress can provide DC the equivalent of 50 states, and the Constitution gives it the right to watch over its special district.

DC should press for much higher level oversight worthy of a national institution (viz., a Joint Congressional Committee), not just your annual appropriation. DC deserves Federal cooperation, not hand-outs and micro-management. True partnership can make DC an equal to its neighboring states. It can strengthen existing regional agencies that now fall far short in real effectiveness (viz, COG and WMATA). It can also inspire regional pursuit of common socioeconomic problems such as subsidized housing, health care, special education, and so forth. Strong DC leadership can increase Congressional cooperation through local groups that benefit from a stronger capital city, such as: Chamber of Commerce; Board of Trade; and Federal City Council; to say nothing of 30,000 K Street lobbyists. Elect leaders that will make DC a force to be reckoned with.

Relevant NARPAC Analyses:

Click on (DATE) below to go to detailed index:
Click on TITLE beside it to go to actual section:

(10/05) ... Transform DC Military Bases
(07/03) ... Regional Comparisons
(04/00) ... Regionalism


Standing Up to Racial Demagoguery and Its Fall-out:

With DC's primary four weeks off, many basic city issues remain under the campaign rug. Racial demagoguery, and its flip side, pandering, remain key elements in local urban politics, even as they become increasingly anachronistic, less successful. Of-age voters will almost surely drop below 50% black within the next decade. "Chocolate City" becomes "Mocha City", and one step closer to typical American urban demographics. Fourth "blackest" of the 40 biggest US cities, DC would need 200,000 fewer blacks and 200,000 more whites, Hispanics, and Asians to become "average".

New immigrants to our capital city, both Hispanic and Asian, will bring different lifestyles, family values, respect for education, and ambitions for their future. A simple numerical majority will no longer pervade political rhetoric and purport to drive municipal priorities and performance ratings. Protecting the status quo will become less important than assuring a brighter, different future. Hopefully, the newcomers will develop their own leaders to help them climb the American ladder rather than lower it. Opportunity may well then trump entitlement, and help the city thrive.

This greater constituent diversity should continue to influence the composition of DC's elected government, both legislative and executive. Mayor William's early-stated goal of proving that a major American city can be very well run by mostly black professionals now seems increasingly ill-advised, as was the demagogic question of whether he was "black enough" to run the District. Our capital city plays to a national and international audience. It is not a suitable stage for reality contests among ethnic bureaucrats. Despite exorbitant pay scales, the mayor has not met his goal, from high-level policy-making to low-level phone-answering. DC's performance indicators for health, education, crime and poverty remain abysmal. Fresh leaders owe you truly qualified, truly industrious urban managers from all over at all levels, not just familiar look-alikes or act-alikes.

Relevant NARPAC Analyses:

Click on (DATE) below to go to detailed index:
Click on TITLE beside it to go to actual section:

(04/04) ... Parental Demographics
(12/01) ... East of the Anacostia


Standing Up to Petty Legislation, Mediocre Bureaucrats, and NIMBYism

DC's overwhelmingly Democrat voters select their new leaders in three weeks. Some voters pick candidates expected to follow the voter's own agenda. In fact, in our representative democracy, they are elected to do what they judge is best for all their constituents. A clear distinction is also needed between those elected to make the city's laws and those elected or hired to execute them.

The DC Council clearly, if not unusually, tinkers in the business of the bureaucracy, and equally depressing, city bureaucrats usurp the law-makers' policy-making functions. Should the Council require DDoT to buy only CNG buses, while DDoT staffers get to decide that trolleys are a good substitute for Metrorail? Should the Council forbid literacy classes in DC's libraries, while the bureaucrats trash its main library? Should the Council decide when ambulance sirens are used, while it takes an outside commission to define the city's hospital needs? Voters need to elect legislators that legislate, and a mayor that stresses a competent, effective staff, with equal focus on hiring the best and firing the worst. Lavish DC pay scales leave no excuse for mediocre staffs or performance. However, each branch does need access to reliable, apolitical analytical support for its decisions. The Council has none, DC agencies buy theirs from overly obliging consultants.

While legislative and executive focus should differ, their broad objectives should not. Two major goals of this administration are closely allied, but starkly inappropriate for the nation's capital city: exaggerated focus a) on local "neighborhoods" and b) on every last local special interest, both at the expense of citywide development. On the other hand, there are big differences in goals for future city growth and how to achieve it. Furthermore, neither branch seems to accept DC's unique roles in hosting the nation's capital, and providing the central city for the metro area. How do your candidates stand on their own roles, the city's future, and its inescapable obligations?

Relevant NARPAC Analyses:

Click on (DATE) below to go to detailed index:
Click on TITLE beside it to go to actual section:

(04/06) ... DCPS '06 Master Education Plan
(04/06) ... Downsizing DCPS Facilities
(12/05) ... Nat'l Capital Medical Cntr
(06/05) ... DCPS Strategic Plan
(02/05) ... DC Council Oversight/Foresight


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This page was updated on Aug 15, 2006


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