This week’s cover story in the Washington City Paper has a rather click-bait-y title: Peter May I?: Meet the most powerful man shaping D.C.’s growth you’ve never heard of. It’s an excellent profile by Aaron Wiener of someone who holds the cumbersome title of Associate Regional Director for Lands, Planning, and Design for the National Capital Region of the National Park Service. Go take a look at it. It’s a great read, but I have to quibble with the headline a bit.
I have most certainly heard of Peter May.
Several years ago, I was attending a forum held by my opponent, Congresswoman Norton, on the state of the National Mall. Professionally, I spend quite a bit of time down there. I take a keen interest in how it’s utilized– and, I fear, underutilized.
This meeting was all too typical: Ms. Norton has a meeting, the Park Service says we need legislation to fix how we operate, and then Congresswoman Norton says a lot of words, none of which is, “I’m going to introduce legislation to fix this.” Wash, rinse and repeat.
Peter May represented the Park Service. While always professional and courteous, he suffered no fools during the question and answer period. Afterwards, I was a little surprised to see he came over to me. I had been a little rough on the Park Service during the discussion. Was he going to call me out?
“You’re Tim Krepp, aren’t you,” he began.
“I saw your comment on that Greater Greater Washington post.”
“Oh crap, which one,” I frantically thought. I've shot my mouth off in so many posts, I couldn’t think of which one he meant. I started blankly for a moment.
“The one about the fountain at McMillan reservoir…” he prompted.
“Ahhh, right, well, I wasn’t really serious,” I stammered. The post had been about the rather shameful state of the fountain today, all but abandoned in the woods near Ft. Washington. I had suggested that if the Park Service was going to neglect the remnants of the fountain, we just go grab it. Perhaps a reference to making it into a flower pot had been made.
“Actually,” he laughed, “I thought it was pretty funny.” It turned out that Peter lived not far from me. I knew his wife, and, believe it or not, his son walked my dog. Capitol Hill can really be a small town, and we were neighbors. I’ve since had the chance to run into Peter socially several times, and further encounters reinforced my first impression: he’s incredibly intelligent, has an impressive command of details, is somewhat abrasive, and possesses a quiet and dry wit. All in all, I agree with the article when it said that Peter is, “about as much as we could ask for in a federal gatekeeper.”
So it’s nothing personal when I say I'd rather Peter didn't have this much power over my city. I don’t want an unelected federal bureaucrat deciding how tall my city should be. I don't want him pondering whether we can serve beer at an outdoor cafe nowhere near the Mall, or dictating how much parking should be required at a new building. These are roles for MY government, my Council and Mayor, and the officials they appoint. Our direction, and yes, our failures, are ours alone, especially for sites that hold no conceivable interest for the Federal government.
But like it or not, as outlined in the article, this is our status quo:
For the immediately foreseeable future, though, the District will remain under the precarious anvil of Congress’ whims, and the veto power of partially federal bodies like the Zoning Commission and NCPC. And the Park Service’s representative on these bodies will continue to have a much greater say over city affairs than the District’s one non-voting House delegate.
This last paragraph right here is why Statehood is important to me. Today, we have Peter May, a “cautiously open-minded, self-described pro-urban, incrementalist longtime D.C. resident.” In the future, we have no guarantee that whoever replaces Peter May will be as qualified. This is not about abstractions such as our inherent rights and duties as Americans. It's not (just) that I don't have representation. It's not even the continued insult that legislators who are, at best, ignorant, and, at worst, actively hostile to my city get to pass judgement on my laws, done all too often to score political points with their constituents.
It's because Washington, DC has REAL problems while we are passing on REAL opportunities. We should be in control of our city, as we have to live with the long term consequences. It does us little good to hold our local government accountable if they're subverted by federal officials, no matter how well-meaning.
This is why we need a real push on Statehood, not just theatrics from our Delegate. It's also why we can't wait on Statehood to take control of our destiny. More on that tomorrow.