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Bring us together
(Published May 29, 2006)
The next mayor of the District of Columbia will be faced with a major task that the city's current mayor utterly failed to accomplish: bridging the gap that divides D.C. residents and prevents them from embracing their entire city as their own.
Eight years ago, when The Common Denominator was founded as voters were preparing to elect a successor to then-mayor Marion Barry, this newspaper noted the need for a unifier – a leader to help both haves and have-nots take ownership of their community to move forward as one into the future.
Unfortunately, what the city got in Mayor Anthony A. Williams is a mayor who has spent more time reinforcing divisions during his two terms. Often for the sake of economic development, neighborhoods have been pitted against other neighborhoods to receive city services that should be provided equitably to all.
And the gap between residents of Upper Northwest and Far Southeast/Far Southwest remains as wide as ever. Are residents of Ward 2 and Ward 3 taking any more responsibility today than they did eight years ago for fixing the inequitably poor state of public elementary schools in Ward 8 so that parents aren't compelled to place their children in transit an hour or more every day just to get them a good education? Do residents of Congress Heights realize that they, too, own the streets of Cleveland Park and should be given a voice by their government in whether their tax dollars are spent on a mid-block traffic signal to slow speeders on Porter Street NW?
Serious divisions in the city go far beyond neighborhood conflicts or socio-economic splits.
The city desperately needs a leader who will unify the D.C. government's bureaucracy – someone who can erase the absurd territorial boundaries which require one city department to pay another city department for services and which create numerous barriers to interdepartmental cooperation in providing public services.
The city's next chief executive also should treat all of the District's assets as the public's property, rather than continuing to allow individual city departments or agencies to sell assets as "surplus" when another part of the government may need them. For example, no city-owned real estate should be considered "surplus" as long as government officials continue to pay millions of tax dollars every year to lease office space.
There is one indisputable fact that should not elude the District's next mayor: D.C. residents own their local government. They are not mere "stakeholders" or "customers" of the government, as Mayor Williams would have residents believe. In the language of business that local elected officials often employ, D.C. residents are the "stockholders" – i.e., the owners – who employ elected officials to run the city for them.
Improvements during the past eight years have been uneven, at best, across the city – a fact that eludes residents who fail to embrace their entire city. Rather than encouraging such parochialism for political advantage, the District's next mayor should make it a priority to educate residents of all four city quadrants about their overriding common interests.
Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator