Mayors with vision should get some credit for D.C.'s population gain

Saturday, December 25, 2010; 6:11 PM

ANTHONY A. WILLIAMS (D) took the oath of office for his second term as the District's mayor in 2003 with a vow to attract, within a decade, 100,000 new residents to the city. It was an ambitious - some said laughable - goal for a city whose population had been declining and whose government had become a national punch line.

Last week's announcement of the District's first population increase in two generations, to more than 600,000, is validation of Mr. Williams's vision. It's also testament to the work of his successor, who ably continued the city's progress. When Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) leaves office in a few days, the population growth will be part of his legacy and testament to the accomplishments of his administration.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced Tuesday that the District gained almost 30,000 people since 2000, when the population was 572,059. The gain of 5.2 percent is the first increase since 1950. No doubt a variety of factors - from a national back-to-the cities movement to the lure of more jobs with an expanded post-Sept. 11 government - contributed to the District's growth. But more than third of the city's new residents moved here in the past two years; that is a vote of confidence in the Fenty administration's efforts to make the District more livable.

Mr. Williams helped usher in an era of fiscal competence and improved city services. New housing helped lure residents, many of whom were single professionals. Mr. Fenty took office knowing these improvements needed to be sustained and expanded. He understood that the hard work of making neighborhoods safer and fixing schools couldn't be put off if the city ever hoped to hold on to, much less attract, people who would want to raise families here. School reform was Mr. Fenty's focus, but by picking can-do managers willing to take risks with new ideas, he also helped bring about improvements in public safety, transportation, economic development and other areas.

Some of the accomplishments that contributed to the city's success helped to undermine Mr. Fenty politically. The city's changing demography unnerved some longtime residents, as never-healed divisions of race, class and geography reemerged.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) was elected mayor with the laudable idea that change can attract new residents without making existing ones feel unwelcome. He has committed to continuing progress in schools, safety and other areas without as much upheaval. His appointments thus far - based on competency, not connections, and made with efficiency and little drama - have put him on the right track toward that ambitious goal.

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