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.

Friday, April 26, 2013

DC special election redux: Part 2

Local Republican Party laments their latest defeat

Yesterday, the Washington Post had a couple pieces, the blog entry "Patrick Mara campaign suffered 'total collapse,' D.C. GOP chair says," and the article "D.C. Republicans debate local party’s future after Patrick Mara’s loss in special election," on the lament of the Republican Party's lack of success in the at-large election.

This had been the best chance in a long time to win a seat on City Council, since their drastically miscalculated decision to defeat the only sitting Republican Counclmember, Carol Schwartz in the 2006 primary because she wasn't Republican enough--Patrick Mara, the so-called progressive Republican, was the key element of this stratagem (and therefore, hardly progressive).

My response in an email is that if you want to be taken seriously as a second party, you must develop the infrastructure and a sustained effort more generally.  By putting all the focus on Patrick Mara and not really developing a platform, and face it, their agenda wasn't an enlightened Republican perspective on urban issues as much as it was "the DC government is anti-business," they have no legs.

This is what I wrote:

Just being a different party label isn't enough, necessarily, to get people to vote for you.

Umm, no coherent platform on local issues... no real party website. They started their "resurgence" pre-Tea Party by going "Tea Party" conservative-"er" in the primary on Carol Schwartz because she was too liberal. Patrick was a key element of that.

Instead, they should have built outward, based on the foundation of Carol Schwartz. They tried a form of that, post-Schwartz, in a single election cycle in 2008, when they ran candidates for ward seats in W3 and W5.

But rather than continue to build on that, they did it just the one time. They stopped once they failed.

And the Post editorial page didn't help, by endorsing Mara without prodding him or the Republicans to develop a substantive alternative, a platform, a "sustained effort." E.g., in my writings about the urban regime theory I quote from political scientist Clarence Stone, who makes the point that governance is about sustained efforts. So is party politics...

I'd add that they need a face-to-face get out the vote effort too--knock on doors, have meetings, etc., to develop a presence.

Washington Post editorial board laments the "hegemony" of the Democratic Party old guard, calls for instant runoff voting

The Post also ran an editorial yesterday, "District should adopt instant-runoff elections," supporting instant runoff voting, which if such a voting system were in place in DC, would have definitely resulted in Anita Bonds not being elected, because the votes redistributed from other candidates--Matthew Frumin, Perry Redd, Paul Zuckerburg--would have resulted in all likelihood in the election of Elissa Silverman, who otherwise came in second, with 28% of the vote.

My response would be that IRV should be but one element of a set of significant changes to the city's overall political and election structures--which is in order, given that it has been 40 years since the passage of the DC Home Rule Act.

I outlined a pretty thorough set of recommended changes, which I outlined in this entry, "Continued musing on restructuring DC's City Council (mostly)."

In short:

- add a Councilmember to each ward (to create intra-ward competition and a brake on intra-ward machining)
- consider creating more wards
- concomitantly add a few more at-large Councilmembers

These changes would make the City Council more of a Legislature, commensurate with the desires to be a State, but would also make it harder to pass legislation, because a larger majority would be required.

- cut the position to part-time and cut the salary
- change the primary to July or August, providing 3-4 months of electioneering time
- instant runoff or ranked choice voting
- term limits

This would provide for more competition within the voting system and less protection of incumbents.

- get rid of the Inspector General and DC Auditor positions and replace them with an elected Office of the Public Advocate and independent ethical and auditing-inspectoring function

This would provide a more independent and rigorous system of oversight and checks on the legislative and executive branches.

(This didn't discuss the elected Attorney General position, which I support, and have written about quite a bit.)

Examiner Harry Jaffe blames voter apathy for the success of Anita Bonds

Yesterday's Examiner column by Harry Jaffe blamed Anita Bonds' win on voter apathy ("Apathy and race lift Bonds to D.C. Council win").  I think that's an overstatement.  By definition, special elections (and primaries) tend to draw only the most committed.

Because usually "most committed" is defined as having particularly narrow interests which can be at odds with the broader electorate, primaries and special elections are tough opportunities for real change.

But at the same time, we can blame people for being disconnected, or we can address the systems and structures that "produce" disconnection, and recognize that with new people coming to the city, we need to reach out to new residents, not just expect the new residents to figure out how to get engaged.

I would argue that elected officials build "constituent service" systems to support them and their re-election, rather than focusing on building support systems for participation and civic involvement and democracy independent of electioneering.

The blog entry cited above also had a section on building civic infrastructure (and bringing back an elected school board).  This is the section on civic capacity:

Currently, DC doesn't have an "Office of Neighborhoods," unlike many other cities. Typically such an agency provides technical assistance and training to citizens and civic organizations.

There is an "Office of Neighborhood Engagement" in the Mayor's office and each councilmember provides constitutent service. But in both cases these outfits are designed more to build support for and dependence on the Mayor and Councilmembers, rather than to build the capacity of citizens and groups to act independently.  (This charge has also been levied against NYC Council Chair Christine Quinn--who is now running for Mayor.  See "City Council’s Outreach Unit, Run by Quinn, Also Benefits Her Campaign" from the New York Times.)

That needs to change.

I have written about this in the context of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, but the same recommendations pertain more generally. These blog entries discuss my thoughts about this more specifically.

Points include building a training infrastructure, leveraging the network of ANCs and community organizations, building systems to support local groups (like friends of parks or libraries) without having to build unwieldy administrative structures for each group), and creating an "Urban Information Center" comparable to that provided by the Dallas Public Library.

Another element to this would be to have the city's grantmaking infrastructure, for both the Executive and Legislative Branches, to be reorganized on the principles of Participatory Budgeting, where citizens working together end up coming to consensus on what to fund. And all the resources of the Asset Based Community Development Institute, etc.

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At 11:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

actually Nelson Rimensnyder of the DC Republican party has a very good idea- that DC should not try to push statehood- but try to get territorial status- which would give us a governor, and omit us from paying federal income taxes. This is a more feasable and easier route than changing the constitution, whcih statehood would entail and demand. Sadly, few seem to be listening.

At 1:44 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

As important as policy is, building constituency is just as critical for election success.

Not really applicable to DC, as we don't have enough immigrants. Although I'd say the eithopian vote is open for any party at this point.

From what I can tell about Mara, about the only group he did that outreach to was R hill staffers. Important but not enough.

This is the big racial mystery to me. We have some stable black people in DC. They don't burn donw their houses, clean up their yards, and while they aren't rich they are not ghetto. You see that in W4 and 5.

And yet they put up with their ghetto cousins.

I understand a key part of their political culture is "Take are of the neediest". As Mr. Redd said, Europeans don't.

But on another level they've got to be sick of it. I think Fenty to some degree represented that, but he stumbled badly (lack of real political skill and pissing off too many people).

Unless the local R party can connect with those people -- who do want their taxes lower, better service, better schools, and a chance to make money -- I don't see a future. With the culture war going on, it is very difficult for the white hispters to vote R.

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At 2:59 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

oh, I'm fine with that. I don't think DC has a very good case for statehood. People argue that statehood is a right. The reality is that to become a state, you had to meet certain criteria, including sound governance.

At 3:01 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt building constituency, the same goes for the Statehood-Green Party. One of the parties could stake a claim for a ward, but they'd have to start now, and keep building. It's basic community organizing. I don't know why this reality seems to elude so many.

... and yes, I am the first to concede that policy is only for people like me. But when you have an agenda (policy) you lead from it, while building your base and your broader circle of support.

At 4:02 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Funny, yes. I used to have a few decks of slides on the importance on investing in policy (wrt think tank) and I'll have to dig them out.


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