Government and People
|here are two groups of people: those
who classify people into groups, and those who don't. I'm definitely in the first group
and, since those in the second group don't know or care that they're in a group, I get to
do the classification myself.
It's been a long time since members of the DC City Council have been fitted into a classification scheme. The last effort that got widespread approval divided Councilmembers into just two groups: the solid majority, who won every vote, and the Young Turks, whom some faintly hoped wanted to change things in the District's government. However, this division failed years ago because it had three basic flaws: few of the Young Turks were all that interested in reforming the City's government, they all grew older, and they were never really Turkish to begin with, although Harold Brazil could probably pass if he'd let his mustache grow out a little.
Therefore, I am proposing a new and improved classification scheme, into which all members of the City Council fit neatly. The Council can't be understood through traditional party politics. On the contrary, all of its members, including the two Republicans and the Statehood Party member, are indistinguishable from liberal Democrats in the rest of the country. The factions are divided quite differently. There is no longer one dominant group. Instead, the Council can now be divided into four factions: the reformers, the reform talkers, the dinosaurs, and the big bucks wing.
The small group of reformers consists of three Councilmembers who actually believe in good government: Sharon Ambrose, David Catania, and Kathy Patterson. Calling them reformers doesn't mean that they always vote the right way, espouse the right policies, or even agree with each other. It does mean that they think the government doesn't necessary have to be corrupt, inefficient, and wasteful. In other cities, this might be a truism, but to the rest of DC's Councilmembers, it is naiveté. Worst still, all three reformers are white, which leads some of the dinosaur wing to whisper that good government is just a fetish for white folks.
The reform talkers are three Councilmembers whose good government rhetoric sounds great, but whose actions don't match their words. Harold Brazil, Kevin Chavous, and Carol Schwartz make fine speeches, but their votes aren't reliable. At one time or another, all of them have also been accused of being lazy of skipping votes and not working hard, at least not working hard at their part-time Council jobs. Is it just a coincidence that all three of the Councilmembers who support reform halfheartedly are also Mayoral candidates? If the reform talkers voted regularly with the reformers, they could dominate the Council, but that's not about to happen.
The dinosaurs consist of Sandy Allen, Hilda H.M. Mason, Frank Smith, Jr., and Harry Thomas, Sr. All except Allen are longtime Councilmembers, and they are Marion Barry's most loyal allies on the Council (including Allen, a longtime Barry supporter who split with him only briefly when he supported Eydie Whittington against her for the Ward Eight Council post). These four Councilmembers haven't learned anything or changed their political stances since the 1960's. They see the DC Government as a jobs program, run for the benefit of its employees; they think business and residents are good only for taxing; and they think their job in government is to fight the class war against the middle class and the rich.
The secret of the dinosaur wing's success is embodied in Harry Thomas, Sr., who oversees the Department of Public Works. Thomas would never clean up the systemic problems in DPW, because they are the reason for his popularity. Whenever a Ward Five constituent asks him to handle a personal problem with DPW a pothole that hasn't been filled for months or a streetlight that's been out for weeks Thomas gets the Department to act quickly, and he gains the constituent's gratitude and loyalty. If DPW worked well to begin with, Thomas couldn't do the favors and get the votes.
The big bucks wing Linda Cropp, Jack Evans, and Charlene Drew Jarvis is powerful beyond its small numbers. Like the dinosaurs, they are no friends of small businesses, but they are the close buddies of large companies, developers, and lawyers. The "economic development" programs they advocate are essentially a division of the spoils, giving public goods to their friends and political contributors. And their contributors return the favor, giving them the richest, fullest campaign war chests of any members of the Council. And Cropp, Evans, and Jarvis have used those contributors well, mostly choosing races in which victory can be bought.
Most votes on the Council can be simply explained by this classification scheme. The dinosaurs and the big bucks wing vote together, and they can usually count on at least one or two votes from the reform talkers. Big bucks win; bloated government still wins, except when cuts are imposed from above; and reform loses consistently.
I think this explains it all, but you may think that you can classify Councilmembers better. Therefore, I am announcing a contest, open to all residents of the District of Columbia. Residency rules will be enforced just as strictly as they are for voting in the District, which means all residents of suburban Maryland and Virginia are welcome to enter. Devise your own classification scheme, one that encompasses all Councilmembers and allows citizens to understand the operations of their Council better. Classify the Council better than I have, and you win the contest. Admittedly, there are two catches: first, I'm the only judge, so what chance do you think you have? Second, all you win if you win is the satisfaction of being right. The best entries will be published on DCWatch, so send your entries to email@example.com .
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