Clinton Yates is local editor for Express and a contributor to The Root DC
The first time I was embarrassed to be from D.C., I was 8 years old. While sleeping over with family, my aunt burst into her guest bedroom screaming. “Clinton! Clinton! Wake up!” I was completely terrified. As I scrambled out of bed, I asked what happened. “Mayor Barry got caught smoking crack! And it’s on TV!”
I didn’t understand much at the time, but I knew who Barry was. And I knew that crack was bad for you. And judging from his reaction, I knew he did something wrong. I remember thinking in coming days that I’d never feel as bad about my hometown as I did that day.
I was wrong.
While more details unfold in the saga that is Mayor Vincent Gray’s mayoral tenure, I can’t help but hang my head. It doesn’t matter if he resigns today, the next day, next week or two months from now. The damage is done.
If Gray didn’t know about the mountain of cash being illegally thrown around on his behalf, he’s woefully out of touch. If he did know and allowed it to continue or schemed to cover it up, he’s become that what he campaigned against: not playing the right way. Neither is acceptable for someone looking to lead the District.
A generation of Washington has officially been outed, eviscerated and sometimes charged by the federal government for their selfish, amoral and ignorant acts and it’s embarrassing. We’ve moved well beyond a few bad apples or a culture of corruption that can stem from one or two awful lawmakers.
The two politicians that preceded Gray most recently in turning in their Wilson Building IDs are both sons of longtime D.C. politicians. There’s an argument that not only is the city exceedingly corrupt, but that it’s definitely breeding corruption locally.
Remember when Vincent Gray was D.C. Council chair? He got into a flap about whether the fence around his Hillcrest home was built without a permit. While it’s still unclear whether Gray knew whether the fence went up in line with zoning laws, it was still embarrassing.
When questioned about the project, Bruce Beauchamp, president of Mid-Atlantic Deck and Fence Co., of Gambrills, Md., the company who built the fence in question, told The Washington Times “I don’t even know where to get a … permit in D.C.”
Hindsight is 20/20 but supporters of then-Mayor Adrian Fenty were exactly right. If Gray came back into office, we’d return to the old ways of stagnant and shady operation, they claimed. And although I thought Fenty had a propensity to be insensitive in certain occasions, he never struck me as dishonest.
I’d rather have a mean mayor that takes their job seriously as a ‘big city’ politician than a nice person who can’t understand the gravity of the position.
Heading into what is arguably the most important public health event in this city in decades- the International AIDS Conference- the city’s leadership is shaky at the top. With the District battling HIV/AIDS infection rates comparable with the worst in the world, we’re forced to talk about campaign t-shirts and lawn signs. Epic fail.
At this point, it shouldn’t matter where a would-be city politician grew up if he is going to give an honest effort to leading the city. D.C. politicians love touting that they’re an X-generation Washingtonian on the trail, a fact that I’m tired of hearing. It’s clear now that where you’re from has absolutely no bearing on your level of public interest.
The irony is that in many ways, the District is as busy as ever. Nearly 20 years after the beginning of the gentrification era, people are pouring into the city, while others are feeling displaced. The cultural identity of the city is changing, for better or worse.
But no matter who the people are, residents deserve someone competent. Adrian Malik Fenty, please come back to the District. The city needs you.
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