By Vanessa Williams
Sunday, February 21, 2010; B01
The growl of a truck engine punctured the quiet of that Saturday night after the buckets of snow that had been falling all day finally stopped. I peered out of the window of my house and was astonished to see a snowplow -- on my street!
My elation quickly dissipated when I realized that the plow was stuck. For about an hour, between 11 p.m. and midnight, the driver tried to move forward or backward. The next morning, the plow was still there, abandoned about a third of the way down the block. Around 5 p.m. Sunday a crew of city workers with a tow truck showed up to free the vehicle, which backed out the way it had come into our narrow, one-way street. It would be a week -- after a second storm that brought another 10 inches of snow -- before a front loader arrived and scooped the snow and slush off the pavement and into mounds along the block.
Sometime around day four or five post-blizzard, as I was still gingerly stepping along the streets of my neighborhood, it occurred to me that my former D.C. Council member wouldn't have stood for this.
I live in Ward 4, home turf of Adrian M. Fenty, who built his political career on his legendary constituent service. Unkempt alleys, unresponsive police captains and red tape at the DMV were not tolerated by Council member Fenty, who gave out his cellphone number and e-mail address to residents in his ward and who personally listened and responded to their complaints.
If the administration of then-Mayor Anthony A. Williams didn't move fast enough to address voters' demands, Council member Fenty would call the media up and call the mayor out. He was an uber-advocate for his constituents.
He certainly wouldn't have laughed the way Mayor Fenty did when he was asked last week in an interview with WRC (Channel 4) when the last of the snow would be cleared. "It's kind of a question -- it doesn't make any sense," Fenty said. "It's not going to be gone until the temperature gets warm enough that it can melt. . . . There's only so much snow you can move." He added: "Getting it down to the point where there's no snow at all whatsoever on the streets is also going to take some cooperation from Mother Nature."
I wasn't all that stressed that my block wasn't cleared minutes after the last flake fell. I don't live on a busy street, and this wasn't one of those dustings or moderate-accumulation storms that we've become accustomed to in the past several years. What did surprise me was that high-traffic streets surrounding my Brightwood neighborhood -- including 13th and 14th streets -- were barely passable. In the first couple of days after the storm, even Georgia Avenue and 16th Street, both snow emergency routes, had only one usable lane in each direction.
Fenty the Council member wouldn't have been cowed by a couple of feet of snow. If he didn't commandeer a plow and run it himself, I would have at least expected him to call a news conference, climb atop one of those grimy, gray snow mounds and give voice to the frustrations of his constituents who are outraged that it has taken the city too long to get to the many streets and sidewalks that remain wholly or partially clogged with snow and ice.
That's essentially what he did in February 2003, when residents criticized Mayor Williams for not clearing roughly a foot and a half of snow quickly enough. To be fair, that year's snowstorm wasn't in the same class as this winter's blizzards. But the bow-tie-wearing Williams didn't even get credit for cutting short a Caribbean vacation and coming back to the city in the midst of the storm. Council member Fenty certainly didn't cut him any slack, lobbing this snowball, as reported in The Washington Post: "The [mayor] for some reason thinks it's helpful to come on television and announce they've done a good job. That doesn't make residents feel any better when their individual streets haven't been plowed, and it doesn't leave me the impression they are measuring this objectively."
Fast forward to this month, and this is what Mayor Fenty said in response to residents' complaints: "Our residential plows have been doing a good job, but this is a historic snowfall in many ways. . . . They literally could not have worked any harder."
Indeed, this was a historic snowfall and the heads of governments across the region have been pelted with criticism for their handling of the disaster. But many taxpayers don't care whether it's three inches or three feet of snow: Once it stops falling, they want it gone from their streets and sidewalks, pronto. An unrealistic expectation, perhaps, but one that seemed more acceptable to Fenty the Council member.
Vanessa Williams is an editor at The Washington Post.