It’s summer; go find a hammock under some oak tree and lay off the hard political stuff, I told myself. That was before I was slapped last week with doublespeak from the D.C. Council chairman, the seeming elitism of one mayoral candidate and the apparent narcissism of another.
Former Republican council member Carol Schwartz told The Post’s Marc Fisher that one reason she’s running for mayor is because she “missed the game terribly.” When asked her position on streetcars, she said, “I cannot speak to the specifics.” When I asked this month about her public education platform, she didn’t have one.
Is her mayoral bid all about Schwartz satisfying Schwartz? Is there anything in it for D.C. residents? If she needs a pastime, she could consider volunteering or getting a new hobby.
Self-absorption, self-protection and self-preservation have become watchwords of the city’s political class. If there’s a choice between themselves and residents, elected officials frequently don’t choose the citizens. Additional proof of that was provided last week by council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and council member Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), the Democratic Party’s mayoral nominee.
Responding to a suggestion by independent mayoral candidate and at-large council member David Catania that Mendelson schedule a hearing on conditions at Park Southern Apartments, a Ward 8 complex rife with apparent housing code violations and whose nonprofit owner defaulted on a government loan, the council chairman said he worried that such a public meeting would get caught up in mayoral politics.
“David is trying to use the hearing as political leverage,” Mendelson, who is running for reelection, told me.
Catania is doing what most political candidates do: find an issue or an opponent’s perceived weakness and hammer away. That’s what Bowser did during the primary; you can expect her to do so again as the general-election campaign heats up.
But what about the quality of life for more than 700 Park Southern residents? What about the threat to low-cost housing there and at the Museum Square Apartments in Chinatown, where there could be mass evictions? Does anyone care?
“We treat poor people in this city with indifference. We’re able to trample over them,” said Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commissioner Absalom Jordan, who said he has tried for years to help Park Southern tenants get improvements made to their building and to alter the existing nonprofit to provide for authentic tenant ownership of the property.
Jordan said that the housing issues are symptomatic of larger issues — poverty and income inequality — and too often the government’s way of addressing poverty has been to allow low-income people to be pushed out.
I am no bleeding-heart liberal. The government can’t and shouldn’t do everything. But it does have a responsibility to prevent the creation of a predatory environment where elderly, poor and working-class residents are swallowed up by aggressive or ambitious developers.
“The council should not ignore [Park Southern]. We should be looking at what would help to resolve this situation,” said Mendelson. Then, in what can only be described as remarkable doublespeak, he said, “Now, it’s in the mayor’s hands.”
His rejection of the call for a hearing adds insult to injury. Bowser, chair of the council’s economic development committee, refused similar requests — first from the city’s housing director, then from Catania. She also declined Catania’s call for a hearing on Museum Square.
Bowser said during the legislative session earlier this month that she had polled her committee, which includes council members Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), and Vincent B. Orange (D-At Large). They were prepared, she said, to focus during summer recess only on one issue: the mayor’s proposal for a new soccer stadium.
Oddly, Bowser had refused to join three other council committees when they convened joint hearings on the stadium in June. This month, however, she held not one but two public hearings — in Wards 1 and 6; both are critical to her election prospects, underscoring the politics surrounding the soccer stadium. The decision to attend to a sports stadium, rather than rental housing, also suggests that Bowser may have been more interested in appeasing well-heeled supporters.
Mendelson agreed the stadium is a political issue. But, he said. “It [was] not brought up by one candidate to embarrass another candidate. The source is different.”
Don’t you just love the way those Democrats cover for each other, circling the wagons with such ridiculous arguments?
“If you connect the dots,” said Greg Rhett, a civic activist who lives east of the Anacostia River, “there is a clear pattern that indicates certain populations really don’t matter.
“The national media are going berserk over children from El Salvador and Honduras,” continued Rhett, “and there are children right here. What are we doing for them?
“What’s happening is just plain wrong.”
He gets no disagreement from me. How about you?
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