News & Politics

Dear Mayor Fenty: Here’s How You Can Fix DC

Our tips for Fenty's first priorities if elected mayor.

Promises, promises.

Adrian Fenty won the Democratic primary for DC mayor promising to work hard and bring accountability to government. His victory in every precinct—he’s virtually assured of election in November—was remarkable for the way it crossed economic and racial divides. It gives him a mandate.
But mandates expire; Fenty has to move quickly. Here’s what he should handle first and how he should do it.

Fix the Schools:

What: Take them over. No half measures. Make the school board an elected but advisory panel. Let the superintendent handle only academic matters. Set up an independent construction authority to modernize the schools with the $2.3 billion in DC funds already on the way.

How: Use your mandate to force the council to approve the change in the DC charter, then take it to Congress, which will be a pushover.

Police and Crime:

What: Replace police chief Charles Ramsey. Ask his top commanders to hand in their resignations. Hire 800 more police officers. Order the new chief to put more officers on the street.

How: The police chief serves at your pleasure. Just do it. Hiring and training 800 new cops will take at least two years. The hard part is moving officers from desks and cars to the streets. This will require your personal involvement. Go door to door to police districts. Show up at shootings.

Baseball Stadium:

What: You opposed a publicly funded stadium, but Mayor Tony Williams and the city council approved one, and it’s rising along the Anacostia River. You are stuck with completing a flawed deal: Make it come in on time and under budget.

How: Appoint a baseball czar to report on construction progress and financing. Go back to the council and get it to increase the amount of money the city can spend on the stadium and parking. You’ll hate it now but reap the development rewards later.

Emergency Medical Services:

What: Make sure ambulances arrive fast, deliver effective care, and take patients quickly to a hospital.

How: Separate emergency medical services from the fire department—and replace the fire chief. Let the firefighters put out fires; make the ambulance and emergency medical specialists help sick and injured people. Consider taking the ambulance unit private, as Richmond has done well.

Mental Retardation:

What: For decades DC has been abusing its most vulnerable residents by giving them substandard care, letting them live in inadequate homes, ignoring some until they die of neglect. Government’s first job is caring for people most in need.

How: Spend the money while DC is still flush with real-estate tax revenues. Send in a SWAT team of experts who will review every case and inspect every home. Fire derelict employees and cut off private contractors who have allowed wards of the city to suffer—and die.

Five more things to do right away:

• Face down the labor unions. None of the public-employee unions backed your election, hoping that Linda Cropp would win and protect their jobs. Take a page from Ed Rendell’s book in Philadelphia and change hiring and firing regulations to get rid of public servants who refuse to serve the public.

• Rehab the construction-permitting process. It takes so long to get a permit from DC to replace a bathtub that residents would rather bathe in a bucket. Contractors raise their rates to hire facilitators to get permits. The system is vulnerable to corruption—and it’s a disgrace.

• Blow up the Office of Contracting and Procurement. The government agency that buys everything from desks to cars has been broken for decades. It is rife with delays. Williams never fixed it. It’s your turn.

• Appoint a lead czar. As John Pekkanen pointed out in the August issue of The Washingtonian (“Why Is Lead Still Poisoning Our Children?”), hundreds of DC kids are being permanently damaged each year because of a lack of attention and coordination among agencies. The consequences—school dropouts and crime—are enormous. It’s time to stop this tragedy.

• Keep competing in triathlons. You will need the diversion.