The Political Consequence Of Being For The People

| September 15, 2010 | 8 Comments

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So, Mayor Fenty is “out” as Mayor in DC.

The consensus is, Fenty lost because he was guilty of one thing – ACTION. He effectively turned his back on the political machine, the unions, the DC political core, and did it his way – by taking action at every turn and not simply offering lip-service masquerading as consensus building. He did it the way we were all taught to do it in school – The American Way – by rolling up his sleeves and doing what he knew was right for his City – by doing what he was elected to do. That philosophy, quite simply, is the very basis of ‘acting on behalf of a constituency’, not the opposite, as he was often characterized as doing. DC elected him because he promised to act, then punished him for action.

As an Annapolis resident, I’m witnessing a similar situation with regard to our incumbent Mayor, Josh Cohen. A front-page article in Monday’s Capital Gazette titled ‘Group Calls for Halt in Market House Deal‘ wreaked of lip-service and propaganda. Fundamentally, it effectively called for a “Citizen Committee to govern the Market House.” My question to the public is, “didn’t we elect our City officials to do just that? Didn’t we elect Mayor Cohen to ‘act’ – to fix a broken City – one with a crippling budget deficit caused largely by unnecessary capital projects planned during an economic boom but completed during an economic recession?”

But now, we don’t like the way he’s acting. We don’t like the decisiveness of his decisions. We don’t like the fact that he asked the public for input, but didn’t effectively put a referendum on the ballot so the public could make the final decision entirely.

In this era of ‘Tea Party’ politics and reform, we are learning something about a demographic I like to call the ‘New American Voter’. It’s a constituency that’s just disenfranchised enough to completely ignore process as it’s developed only to insert itself, typically in resistance, into process once decisions have been made. It’s the old, “I didn’t want to be part of the decision, I just wanted to reserve the right to oppose it after it was made” mentality and it’s stunting true progress, true “change” and the true referendum that American voters overwhelmingly supported in 2008 elections.

In an apathetic and disinterested ‘show-me-the-money’ DC voting base, this ‘New American Voter’ mentatlity cost Adrian Fenty his job.

In Annapolis, it could very well cost us another year without a viable solution to our most central and most depressing landmark – The Market House. Quite honestly, it could eventually even cost Mayor Cohen his job. But in a City where the Mayor is apparently simply supposed to be a voting mechanism for the general public minority, what would make him want to stick around anyway?

If that’s not enough to frustrate you to your political core, then you may just lack a political core altogether.

You see, statistically speaking, Adrian Fenty put together probably the best 4-year run in DC’s modern history. As an executive in just about any corporation in America, Adrian Fenty would be given a raise – a promotion – a commissioned portrait in the hall. But today, our ‘New American Voter’ isn’t happy with executives acting like executives. We want our executives to act as middle management. We want them to have just enough skill, talent, education and experience to make tough decisions without our input, but still retain the ability to audit each decision before it is put into action.

This is precisely what we’re asking our City to do with our Market House. Admittedly, I’m guilty of it to a certain extent as well, having put a proposal in front of the Mayor personally, but getting frustrated and eventually overwhelmed by the process and the pace (or lack thereof) of the decision making process. To a degree, I too was deluded into thinking that there would and should be more transparency, that the process  should be more open and the decisions made more carefully.

But in the end, I realized that the process was more open than typical and that the decisions were being considered carefully. I came to find out that virtually all of the City Council had visited the Easton Market – another market managed by Lehr Jackson and Gone to Market. I have personally visited Belvedere Square, another Lehr Jackson “market makeover” and have seen what I can only call a remarkable concept and application of urban market space. Having done so, I personally endorsed the ‘Gone To Market’ proposal of Lehr Jackson, writing to the Mayor that it was “most viable proposal, backed by an organization with a clearly successful model and track-record.” Having been part of the process, from the outset, I trusted the Mayor and the City Council to make the decision that was best for our City – and I still do – even if it means withdrawing my own proposal, a proposal I felt the City and its citizens would embrace.

Those opposing the City’s negotiations with Jackson and Gone to Market have done no such due diligence and to date have offered nothing in terms of a counter-proposal. Many have been absent from the process, one which has spanned almost a full year, until just recently – and have chosen to assemble and oppose the substantial progress made – at the last minute. The fact that they are effectively capitalizing on market buzzwords by calling themselves the ‘Sustainable Business Alliance’ may even be more egregious, but that’s a topic for another blog. This ‘alliance’ seems no more a representation of constituency than does the ‘Gone To Market’ team, or any of the other ‘teams’ that put proposals and no more qualified to speak for the City’s citizens.

So Annapolis, I implore you to allow our elected officials and political executives to act as elected officials and political executives. Spending another 6 months analyzing proposals for the space – a space that effectively costs the City an estimated $50,000-$100,000 per month to maintain and has been effectively vacant for 4 years – isn’t what our City needs right now.

What our City needs is a rent generating tenant. The Market House, years ago (and I doubt ANYONE has taken the time to understand this simple fundamental fact) was included in the City of Annapolis Enterprise Fund. It is treated just as any City landmark or park would be – it is subsidized by our tax dollars and will continue to be, whether we citizens create another task force, hire another consultant or identify another proposal, concept, or use. What it needs to be successful is a viable concept, backed by a well-funded, well-received and experienced entity, giving us a viable chance at a tenant that may one day be able to pull it off the City’s books.

Most importantly, what our City needs to do is to accept that we elected our officials for a reason – to make decisions that are ‘for the people’ if not wholly ‘by the people’.

What we need for our Market House and for our City to do is let our elected officials and executives do their jobs, then remove them, through process, if they can’t.

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