It didn’t take long for Tuesday's State of the District address from Mayor Vincent C. Gray to turn into what felt more like a pregame pep talk from a coach instead of a much anticipated speech from an elected official.
For the mostly well-heeled and button-down crowd at the Sixth & I
Historic Synagogue Tuesday night, the sports metaphors started early and came often over the course of Gray's remarks.
The mayor began the speech by comparing the city's resurgence to the on-field success of the Nationals and Redskins baseball and football teams. (While also making sure not to explicitly say the controversial name of the National Football League franchise. Well played)
"Over the past year, both our baseball and football teams had breakthrough seasons – and have become great examples of teams coming into their own," Gray said. "And just as these great professional teams are getting things done and making us proud, so too is the District of Columbia making big things happen in the competition between great global cities. As we gather here this evening, let’s ponder just a few of the ways the District is proving we are a big league city."
And we're just in the first inning.
To start with, there is a fundamental problem with Gray's opening
metaphor. The city isn’t competing with other cities when it comes to the basics of civic operation. We are competing with ourselves, thanks to our own particular brand of circumstances: Taxation without representation, an HIV rate that's still at alarming levels and a culture of corruption among public officials are just a few of D.C.’s notable issues. Yet, Gray couldn’t find a way to weave in "caught stealing" or "thrown out of the game" in to the speech? Convenient.
Instead, we were all subject to a deluge of other baseball, and in one case, football-related terms that made a mockery of what could have been an impassioned speech to galvanize the city he claims to be working so hard for. By my count, Gray used 10 sports-related metaphors in the speech.
"We’re not just proving our big-league credentials in economic development and jobs. We’re also hitting home runs when it comes to improving our quality of life, especially in the area of public safety," Gray said.
(Yet, though homicides might be down, robberies are up. Swing and a miss.)
"We’re also proving our big-league mettle when it comes to educating our children and training our residents for the new economy," Gray continued.
"We’re also scoring runs when it comes to making our government work more efficiently and serving our residents better – and I haven’t shied away from taking on some of the long-standing problems that many thought were intractable or simply too politically risky to tackle," Gray said, as he continued to go to the bullpen for more metaphors. "And in many cases, we’ve identified outside-the-box solutions because we took the time to bring people together, listen, and work creatively to find a solution never previously considered."
I wonder what the residents of the old Arthur Capper and Carrollsburg Dwellings thought of that one. The scores of people that were basically booted by the city to make way for development around Nationals Park must have felt like the mayor was just turning the knife in the wounds of gentrification by making constant reference to the very sport that some feel was responsible for their displacement.
Strike three. At least he went down swinging.
Beyond the specifics of his vision and plan, the oratorical crutch made it hard to take Gray seriously. It began to feel like a drinking game. Another baseball metaphor? Drink!
"I have worked hard and in a collegial manner with Congresswoman Norton and other friends on Capitol Hill to find ways to move the ball down the field on issues like budget autonomy and the Height Act," Gray noted near the end.
Football metaphor, Norton reference and a nod to the Height Act? Double chug!
Alas, the District's current condition as a city is not a game by any stretch of the imagination. Treating it as such only insults the realities of life for those waiting around for actual leadership from the people they vote for. And Tuesday night's cheerleading session near Chinatown was a massive letdown.
As he rounded third for home, Gray tried to rally the squad: "My fellow Washingtonians, if we are to ensure that the District of Columbia remains a big-league city and wins that elusive championship, we must seize this moment and do everything possible to secure the long-term health of our city. And that means continuing to tackle the difficult challenges that are before us."
We don't need trophies to prove to outsiders that we belong. We need schools, jobs and roofs over our heads to prove to ourselves that we care enough about each other to work hard for some measure of equality.
"It’s obvious to longtime residents and casual observers alike that the District is now a big-league city," Gray boasted at one point.
Close, but no cigar. Big league is not the term you're looking for Mr. Mayor. It's bush league.
Yates is a columnist for The RootDC