Schools spew out illiterates by the bus load; our prisons are busting at the seams. Now, find me three 7-Eleven stores owned by blacks, and I'll buy you a Big Gulp.
Yet for the past 10 years, this city has been run by blacks. There is a black mayor, a majority black City Council and a majority black school board, and black administrators run most city departments. But I'll be darned if the city could do any worse under white folk.
New black masters now oversee the plantation that is D.C. Although the color of the faces has changed, this is still the last African colony.
"The fact that the City Council was made up largely of black members did not necessarily mean that blacks had control of political power," according to a 1981 study by the National Institute of Public Management. "If council members had been inclined to vote along racial lines, they could very easily have done so. But most elected officials find that the intricacies of political power force them to consider issues from several points of view, ranging from their immediate constituencies and media reaction to concerns about how a certain vote will affect campaign funds."
In another analysis of home rule during its first 500 days, Duane Taylor found that data collected on the D.C. policy system pointed to a "minimal redistribution of political resources and influence and a structural bias towards certain beneficiaries of the administrative system."
In other words, home rule has been a farce, abetted by perk-conscious black politicans and a populace lethargized by a plantation mentality. The only time they get excited is when white folk run for election. Then they scream, "White people are trying to take over." Take over? They never gave it up.
The fact remains that 10 years after limited home rule, this is a white-controlled city; and any notion that replacing whites with blacks would make the system more sympathetic should be dispelled by now. The reality is clear: Money is power. And those who have money in this city are white. "The success of many projects designed for the benefit of black residents could be assured only through economic support from the white community," the institute study noted.
This is a painful reality, given the early hopes for home rule. Blacks were going to show how government could be more responsive to the needs of the people. Among those first elected were the city's leading "militants" and "radicals." Then strange things happened: They became "liberal," then "moderate," and later, "Uncle Toms."
Nothing was changing under home rule for those blacks who expected so much from their black leaders. Even after 10 years of self-government, the city has not come to grips with its basic political structure: the ward and at-large system. Elected locals run around trying to act like congressmen, making occassional appearances in their wards.
It is no secret that residents who live in the poorest wards, 7 and 8, feel they are less represented on the City Council than those in the more affluent wards, particularly Ward 3. For those in wards 7 and 8, the main contact with their government comes through the bureaucratic craze of welfare or the humiliation of the criminal justice system, neither of which has received sufficient attention under home rule.
Meanwhile, the new rulers go about their business dispensing prestige license tags, making proclamations and striking deals. But the real beneficiaries are the same as they always have been. And most of them live west of Rock Creek Park.