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Issues in the Mayor’s Race
August 27, 1998

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In the 1998 mayoral race in the District of Columbia, there are no real issues. Candidates simply aren’t disagreeing with each other, in the sense that some are for something, and others are against it. The differences that have emerged are shadings of nuance, not debates or disputes.

The public is primarily interested in five basic issues:

  • Education. How can the public schools be improved; should charter schools be encouraged or discouraged; should public school students be able to get vouchers to attend private schools; and what should be the future of the University of the District of Columbia? (For an overview of conditions in the city’s schools, see the DCWatch main schools page and materials on the DC Public Schools own web site.)
  • Crime and public safety. Can policing be improved; can more police officers be placed on patrol; can the slow response to emergency calls be fixed; is the fall in crime statistics accurate or the result of manipulating the numbers? (See materials on the DCWatch police department page.)
  • City services. How can the delivery of public services be improved, especially basic services provided by the Department of Public Works (picking up trash, restarting the recycling program, cleaning and repairing streets and alleys) and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (business regulation and licensing, building permits, zoning, and so on).
  • Neighborhood and economic development, especially reviving the dying neighborhood commercial corridors.
  • The future of the city government. Will the city regain the limited amount of home rule that it had before the creation of the Control Board? Can the city government regain the confidence of Congress, which has ultimate Constitutional authority over the city’s governance? Can the inefficiency and corruption of the city’s government be fixed, either by the Control Board or by the newly elected officials? Will the District change from a Mayor-Council form of government to a city manager form? (Many background papers on forms of governance for DC are found on the web site of NARPAC, the National Association to Restore Pride in the nation’s Capital.)

The "debates" over all of these issues have been mild.

Education is perhaps the single issue over which the Mayor of the District has the least power or authority, so the mayoral candidates have talked the most about it, promising to use the “moral authority” of their office to “jawbone” and to “bring people together” to improve the public schools. The other candidates have attacked Kevin Chavous on this issue, claiming that his oversight of public education, as chair of the Council’s Committee on Education and Libraries and Recreation, has been ineffective. Chavous takes credit for holding over forty hearings of his Committee. (See education position papers by BrazilChavous, Evans, and Williams.)

Crime and public safety has caused little disagreement — all of the candidates agree that policing should be improved and more police officers should be put on patrol; all of them support the newly appointed Chief of Police, Charles Ramsey; and all of them say that as mayor they will make the citizens safer. Jack Evans, who chairs the Council’s Committee on the Judiciary that oversees the Metropolitan Police Department, has been attacked by the other candidates for his ineffective oversight and for his support of disgraced former police chief Larry Soulsby and support of the secretive management “reforms” of the Police Department designed by the consulting firm Booz, Allen & Hamilton. Evans takes credit for the Mayor’s and Control Board’s appointment of Chief Ramsey and for the fall in crime statistics. (See Evans’s position papers on public safety.)

City services. All of the candidates say that city services are disgraceful and need to be improved; none of them has issued a plan to reform the Department of Public Works, which is the single agency that touches the lives of most citizens. Harold Brazil, who chairs the Council’s Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, takes credit for an umbrella regulatory reform bill that he claims will dramatically improve the services of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. Brazil’s critics say that many of these "reforms" simply eliminate necessary business regulations, rather than streamlining and improving the services of the Department.

Neighborhood and economic development. All of the candidates say that they want to improve the economic conditions of the neighborhoods, but Kevin Chavous has made neighborhood economic development central to his campaign even though he is criticized by residents of his ward, Ward 7, for failing to deliver needed developments. The other candidates have cast Jack Evans and Anthony Williams, because of their support for the expensive, controversial, downtown convention center, as being interested primarily in expensive, large-scale downtown projects, rather than in neighborhoods. (See the economic development position paper by Chavous and an attack on Chavous’s development record in Ward 7 by the Ward 7 Ad Hoc Committee, which is supporting Williams.)

The future of city government. Unsurprisingly, all of the mayoral candidates support a strong mayor form of government, rather than a city manager. All of them claim that they will create Congressional confidence in the city’s government — and any mayor who is not Marion Barry will have a honeymoon period with Congress — but Anthony Williams has claimed that his work as Chief Financial Officer will give him credibility with Congress and the Control Board that other candidates wouldn’t have.

In addition, the candidates have talked about three issues that seem to be of less interest to the public. First, Jack Evans and Harold Brazil have attempted to attack Anthony Williams because of his support for a gross receipts tax to replace several other business taxes. The public is unmoved by this issue, and it did not prevent even the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the leading association of large businesses, from endorsing Williams. (See materials on the gross receipt tax from Evans and Williams.) Second, all of the other candidates have attacked Williams as being a carpetbagger, who has lived in the District for only a few years. Candidates have frequently bragged of being native-born Washingtonians, or longtime residents, but that has never been an issue that has swayed many votes. Third, the other candidates have criticized Williams for being a "creature of the Control Board" or of Congress, for having been the appointed Chief Financial Officer. Again, this issue seems to have little resonance — District voters have been much less hostile to Congress and the Control Board than the District’s elected officials have been.

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