Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

DC Special election and who to vote for Council

Campaign sign for Sekou Biddle

Well, between the City Paper endorsement, "Vote for Bryan Weaver" and GGW's "Vote Bryan Weaver for DC Council at-large," I was ready to vote for and endorse Bryan Weaver.

Yes, the Post endorsed Patrick Mara, "Patrick Mara for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council," and my desire for outsider candidates to mix things up means I have a predilection to vote for Patrick, or Alan Page, candidate for the Statehood-Green party.

The Post has a pretty poor track record lately in endorsing the iconoclastic candidate for various slots. Basically, if they get the Post endorsement, the candidate is almost assured of losing (e.g., in the 2010 election, Dave Hedgpeth, Ward 3; Tim Day, Ward 5 in the general election; Adrian Fenty as Mayor; Vincent Orange for Council Chair in the primary--all lost).

But the discussion in the GGW entry reminds me that the real issue is does Vincent Orange get elected, because he has the biggest name recognition and the most money. Now, name recognition and money hasn't helped him for at large races before, either for Council Chairman or for Mayor. But since so few people tend to vote in special elections, maybe money and name recognition is enough to be first past the post.

The reason that I can't vote for Vincent Orange is that for the most part he is the candidate for political entrepreneurialism interests--where lawyers and business people with political connections manipulate the levers of government to favor their interests over others. (In fact, for the first time ever I voted for Kwame Brown, because Vincent Orange was running against him in the primary for Council Chairman.)


Market entrepreneurs like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and Hill built businesses on product and price. Hill was the railroad magnate who finished his transcontinental line without a public land grant. Rockefeller took on and beat the world's dominant oil power at the time, Russia. Rockefeller innovated his way to energy primacy for the U.S.

Political entrepreneurs, by contrast, made money back then by gaming the political system. Steamship builder Robert Fulton acquired a 30-year monopoly on Hudson River steamship traffic from, no surprise, the New York legislature. Cornelius Vanderbilt, with the slogan "New Jersey must be free," broke Fulton's government-granted monopoly.

Note that this thesis is a bit oversimplified as Rockefeller and others not only built businesses on product and price, but through manipulation of business practices and relationships, in ways that benefited them extranormally, but you get the idea.

Vincent Orange and his relationships with uber lobbyists like former Councilman John Ray, now lawyer at Manatt Phelps, makes him in no way the outsider he is claiming he can be, able to focus on cleaning up local government. He getting back onto Council, well, it scares me.

A perfect example of this was the designation through City Council legislation of favored interests as the master developers of the Florida Market, without there ever having been a request for proposals. It was one of the dirtiest deals I had witnessed as an involved citizen.

There are other examples like that which means that I can't vote for him and worry that he will get elected. So does that mean voting for Sekou Biddle, because since there are so many candidates, he has the best chance of winning, even though but because he is the candidate of the political machine?

The Democratic Party is worried that enough people will follow the Post's logic, from the editorial:

We enthusiastically endorse Patrick Mara. We think it would be healthy to temper the one-party domination of D.C. government, but that’s only the beginning of an argument. Mr. Mara is a socially progressive, fiscally conservative Republican who would bring diversity of thought and approach to the 13-member body. He has the strength to stand up for his beliefs but the pragmatism to form coalitions.

and vote for Patrick Mara. The Dems have a robocall operation active now, calling people and imploring them to not be fooled, and to vote Democratic in any case.

Hey, I wanted to support Patrick. I am pretty sure I voted for him back in 2008. We've talked before and he reads this blog, so he can't be half bad right? But we don't share the same positions on education issues and I think historic preservation as well. Plus, while I agree that the city shouldn't look at its citizens as ATMs, the City Paper captures my reticence about jumping on the Mara campaign:

Mara, who won the Post over, says the council needs tougher oversight of itself and the rest of the government, and he’s right. But his sense that taxes are way too high in D.C. doesn’t jibe with reality (many District residents actually pay less than they would in Arlington, Alexandria, or Montgomery counties). His reveries about gentrification in Columbia Heights only infrequently seem to be matched with a sense that the city could be doing more to manage the changes that have led a young, white Republican to want to live in the neighborhood. And though Mara’s no Tea Party aficionado, we’re not quite ready to enlist with the GOP.

A graduate of Howard University, the Statehood-Green candidate Alan Page is a lawyer who has lived in the H Street neighborhood for about 10 years. He's worked on neighborhood issues, he's done a variety of entrepreneurial things. I met Alan and his family (before Amina was born, but on the way) at meetings focused on the revitalization of the H Street commercial district. I want to vote for Alan out of sentiment and a preference for third party representation in local politics. But does Vincent Orange scare me more?

This is where I wish we had more options such as Instant Runoff Voting (see "Standard voting creates strategic quandary for at-large race" from GGW) or other forms of preferential voting (such as Ranked Choice Voting), see my past blog entry, "The highly paid DC City Council and governance and voting systems" as well as the entry "Does DC need more Councilmembers?" from GGW.

Combining strategy and sentiment, in an instant runoff system, I would probably vote like this:

1. Weaver
2. Page
3. Mara
4. Biddle

knowing that if my preferred candidates dropped out of the running, I would still have a vote in the running "against" Orange.
Alan and Amina, November 20 2010
Alan Page, and his daughter Amina. (We can see ourselves growing older in seeing how children grow up. I remember Amina as a baby. Now look at her.)

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