In any race, a candidate has to answer not just the, “Why should we vote for you?” question, but also, “What’s wrong with the other guy?” This is doubly true when running against an incumbent who wins handily year after year.
Let’s be specific here: I’m running against a lady who is a living icon of the Civil Rights movement. A woman who has championed the rights of African Americans, women, LGBT individuals, and many others for longer than I’ve been alive. No one, certainly not I, challenges her devotion to the District nor her love for this city.
So why am I running?
Frankly, because I think the District is on the cusp of radical change, and needs new leadership and vision to manage it. The Delegate office is an afterthought in our municipal electoral scene. Unless we seek to define what we want out of that position, and demand more, we’ll see nothing new. Nothing personal against Congresswoman Norton, but she represents the forces of inertia and the status quo.
This is a bold statement, which naturally requires me to back it up. What better way to do that then to examine her own campaign in this election. It’s a little hard to do, as her campaign is on auto-pilot and hasn’t been particularly involved in crafting a message, but recently her ad was spotted in the Washington City Paper. In it, she outlined three points:
More bills signed into law than any other Democrat
First ever Senate Statehood hearing
Four Norton projects bringing jobs to D.C. residents
Great, let’s take each of those in turn.
Actually, for the first, I don’t even have to fact-check it myself. The Washington Post did just that and discovered that her grand total was....three bills. Now, I can’t blame Del. Norton for the complete and utter dysfunction to which the U.S. Congress has shamefully devolved. She didn’t choose to be in office when significant portions of the country decided to elect Tea Party members who pursue a self-fulfilling prophecy of a non-functioning government.
But if number of bills signed into law is her metric, let’s look at what she did. Her bills gave our Chief Financial Officer a raise, tweaked the CFO office, and renamed a federal building. Nothing wrong with those, but hardly a comprehensive legislative agenda.
More important that what she's passed, is what she’s left on the table. Let’s go back to the City Paper article about the National Park Service I discussed a few weeks ago. I’ll quote a paragraph in its entirely:
The Park Service’s one-size-fits-all rules that treat Farragut Square like a wilderness area and make it hard to bring in uses other than grass, trees, and benches on its D.C. territory have drawn criticism in the District. In other cities, outdoor cafes, public restrooms, and playgrounds have helped revitalize parks, but Park Service regulations often make it nearly impossible to install these amenities here. “The reason why Lincoln Park gets treated the same as Yellowstone is that in terms of the basic legislation that established the Park Service, there isn’t really any differentiation,” [Park Service official Peter] May says.
Right here is tangible legislation that could help District residents, isn’t partisan, and, in fact, could get support across the aisle. Would it be signed into law? I can’t guarantee that. However, I can guarantee it won’t be if it’s never introduced. And if OUR Delegate won’t be bothered to introduce it, no one else will.
Let’s move on to the Statehood hearing in the Senate. It WAS historic, and one I was proud to attend. I was also proud to call on my supporters to support Del. Norton and all of DC for this hearing. But how much did she have to do with calling this hearing? Did she make it happen, or did a resurgence of neighborhood-based activists bring new energy to the cause and force the Democrats in the Senate to finally pay lip service to us?
I suspect Del. Norton has done little to rally Senators to support the Statehood bill. I suspect this, because she admitted as much to Mark Plotkin in an article in The Hill. Again, I’ll quote the relevant paragraphs in their entirety.
The role of Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is even more disturbing and disingenuous. She has a vote in committee, but not on the House floor. She was first elected in 1990. The last vote for D.C. statehood was in November 1993. She gushes about getting two-thirds of the Democrats at that time to vote yes. The magic number for passage was 218. Democrats had a healthy majority at that time.
To Norton, trying but losing is defined as victory. When I asked her this time whether she had contacted any of the uncommitted Democratic senators, she replied "You talk to them." I reminded her she was D.C.'s elected representative.
That’s right: Our Delegate is taking credit for a Statehood hearing in the Senate where she apparently didn’t feel it was her job to do the work to arrange that hearing. This WAS our first hearing in over two decades; two decades where Congresswoman Norton has represented us. She has been a constant, the only variable that’s changed has been the rise of neighborhood activists doing unsexy grunt work. That’s who gets the credit in my book.
Finally, let’s look at the four Norton projects providing jobs for D.C. residents. I’m not entirely certain which four she’s referring to, and her website doesn’t elaborate. Maybe one of them is wooing Donald Trump to DC for the Old Post Office project? She certainly was happy to be on stage with him for the groundbreaking.
I suspect one of those projects –one she’s taken quite a lot of credit for– is the new Department of Homeland Security headquarters on the site of the historic St. Elizabeths hospital in Ward 8. This has been a troubled project from the beginning. In a recent letter Del. Norton wrote for the Washington Post defending the project, she said, “tragically, walking away also would be a betrayal of promises made for development in the city’s lowest-income area, where DHS is located.”
I strongly support working with Ward 8 residents to solve many of their –and our– long-term problems, but how will putting a Federal compound that would be hermetically sealed from the neighborhood help the surrounding area? In the Navy, I worked for two years in the Suitland Federal Center, a similar concept in suburban Maryland, and it’s an abject failure of a model that does little for real, sensible development.
But don’t take my word on it. Housing Complex in Washington City Paper has already examined the impact of the first Ward 8 tenant in the project, the Coast Guard. Go read it, but I think the title sums it up nicely, “Rescue Mission The Coast Guard Hasn’t Done Much For Ward 8.” But don’t worry, Ward 8 residents! Congresswoman Norton DID get the building renamed, if that helps. After all, it’s one third of her legislative output this Congress.
In sum: if three minor bills, lip service to Statehood, and badly conceived expensive federal projects are your thing, go ahead and vote for the status quo.