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Does the mayor care about what you think?
(Published July 16, 2001)

Mayor Anthony Williams has just named a Floridian to be his new chief of staff. That inner-circle staff appointment speaks volumes about the mayor’s attitude – his level of respect, or lack thereof – toward the local residential, business and political communities.

Obviously, it is not important to the mayor that his office gatekeeper know this city, its people and the interrelationships that help shape public opinion here. Given his lack of local knowledge and history, it shouldn’t take long for Kelvin Robinson to unavoidably offend a large number of D.C. residents when he steps into his new job on Aug. 1.

What could the mayor possibly be thinking?

Connecting with the community as a whole is this mayor’s – and every mayor’s – job. It’s the reason why an effective mayor cannot be non-political. A good mayor cannot be disconnected from the constituency he leads. Being mayor is all about dealing on a daily basis with people – taxpayers and voters – up close and personal, not from some textbook theories.

Unfortunately, past the midpoint of his four-year term, Mayor Williams and his staff still don’t seem to get it. And the condescending attitude the mayor’s staff continues to display toward local community values and opinions calls into question whether the mayor himself really cares about what D.C. residents want for their city and their nation’s capital.

The mayor’s much-heralded neighborhood planning process is a case in point. Rushing headlong to meet self-imposed fall deadlines, the city’s reconstituted Office of Planning has shown a serious lack of planning by failing to adequately notify neighborhood stakeholders (i.e., residents, business people and property owners) that their input is being sought – or that a planning process is even in progress.

Ward 7 planner Howard Ways recently told The Common Denominator that a conscious decision was made "at the highest levels of the government" to not inform all D.C. property owners by mail that major land use changes are being contemplated in the city’s Comprehensive Plan as a result of the "neighborhood cluster" meetings currently being held throughout the city.

Such an admission calls into question both the administration’s intent and the ultimate results of the mayor’s neighborhood planning process. It gives the unmistakable appearance that the current "planning" process is merely seeking justification for predetermined plans. After all, the mayor’s administration apparently doesn’t think it’s worth the cost of a mailing to tell you that the value or cost of the roof over your head hangs in the balance.

The mayor consistently tells us that we need greater urban density (we call it "congestion") to resolve our city’s problems – which translates into an administration that sees all economic development as a good thing, no matter how negatively it may impact current residents’ stake in their community.

While residents for years have screamed for retail development in most of the city’s neighborhoods, the D.C. and federal governments – rather than private financiers – are providing taxpayer financing in various forms for most of the new residential development currently under construction. That translates into the taxpayers, rather than private industry, taking the major risks associated with projects that do not meet the taxpayers’ priorities. Meanwhile, D.C. small businesses continue to have difficulty getting bank financing for their attempts to fill local needs, while government officials instead court big out-of-town corporations to move in.

Whatever happened to the mayor’s often-stated concern for the "stakeholders"? Apparently, some stakeholders rank higher in the mayor’s book than others.


Copyright © 2001 The Common Denominator