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Black voters unseat 'post-racial' mayor

By Askia Muhammad -Senior Correspondent- | Last updated: Oct 6, 2010 - 9:25:31 PM

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WASHINGTON (FinalCall.com) - Tired of seeing what they saw as their needs ignored for the sake of pleasing Whites who have been re-populating the District of Columbia for a decade, Black voters overwhelmingly turned against incumbent Mayor Adrian Fenty in the all-but-decisive Democratic primary Sept. 14, choosing D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray to be the party standard bearer in the November general election.

Democratic Party registration far exceeds both the Statehood-Green Party as well as—by a 10-1 advantage—the Republican Party, which did not even field a primary candidate. Victory in the Democratic Party primary therefore is tantamount to general election victory in most citywide contests in D.C.

Mr. Gray received 54 percent of the total vote, over 45 percent for Mr. Fenty. The outcome was also seen as a resounding repudiation of the notion of a “post-racial” America, where “African-American politicians may have abandoned too soon the social-justice platforms that defined the wave of mayors in the 1970s and 1980s,” Nikita Stewart and Jeff Mays wrote for The Root.com.

In 2006, Mr. Fenty swept into office winning every single precinct. This year, Mr. Fenty lost his home Ward 4, where he began his political career as a D.C. Council member, even losing in his own neighborhood, Crestwood Manor.

But the margin of victory for Mr. Gray—who vowed in his campaign to bring back “One City,” united, across racial, cultural and economic lines—the margin of victory was drawn along the still racially divided city boundaries. Mr. Gray received 80 percent of the vote in less affluent Wards 7 and 8 in the Southeast quadrant of the city where the Black population is dominant, while Mr. Fenty received 80 percent of the vote in the more affluent Wards 1, 2 and 3 where White voters are in the majority.

Ironically, there was an across-the-board perception that Mr. Fenty had governed well and achieved success in his goals of reforming the schools and better delivering city services. But those perceptions were marred by perception that he put White appointees in top positions, even where qualified Black candidates were available; as well as widespread charges of cronyism, after Mr. Fenty circumvented the D.C. Council and the city's official procedure for awarding contracts, giving more than $85 million in no-bid contracts to members of his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc.

In 2007, after just six months in office, for example, Mr. Fenty had replaced four competent Black officials with Whites in high profile jobs—city administrator, police chief, fire chief, and school administrator Michelle Rhee, who is of Korean descent.

“Among those who hold arguably the 10 most influential positions,” in the Fenty administration The Washington Post reported at the time, “only one ... is Black.”

Mr. Fenty also alienated Black residents of the city, constructing new soccer fields and dog parks in various neighborhoods for new residents to walk their dogs, but very few new parking lots for motorists to park their cars—even in commercial shopping districts—while at the same time parking fees and parking enforcement were both increased.

Ms. Rhee, who campaigned openly for Mr. Fenty's re-election in the final days before the balloting, and who later described Mr. Gray's victory as potentially “devastating” for education reform which she authored, was a lightning-rod for disapproval of the Fenty leadership style.

Last year the school system hired more than 900 new, mostly inexperienced, often White teachers during the summer before school began, then in the fall turned around and dismissed more than 250 veteran, mostly Black, mostly teacher's union members, claiming there was a budget shortfall caused by the D.C. Council. Later, $34 million was “discovered” in the D.C.'s chools budget, but the fired teachers were not re-hired.

“I did not like what he did, particularly when it came to education,” Lita Rosario told The Washington Informer. “His idea of education was firing teachers and I did not like that. I voted for Vincent Gray because he seemed more in touch with the needs of the people,” said Ms. Rosario.

Most observers predict that Ms. Rhee, who is engaged to marry Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Kevin Johnson in a private ceremony this fall, will not remain after the November 2 general election and January 2 inauguration of the new mayor.

White voters on the other hand, feared a return to the era when civil rights movement veterans like former Gary, Ind., Mayor Richard Hatcher, and former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry were seen as national, not just local leaders. “White people I work with in my office told me they were hoping that (Mr.) Fenty would win because one of them told me, ‘we don't want Marion Barry in office again,'” a storage company manager who asked not to be identified, told The Final Call. Mr. Barry served four terms as D.C. mayor, once, after he had been convicted of a misdemeanor drug offense, and he now represents Ward 8 on the D.C. Council.

Grassroots, criminal justice activists are also hopeful that likely new Mayor Gray will replace Police Chief Cathy Lanier, appointed by Mr. Fenty in the first weeks of his administration. “She was a handpicked choice, and she is a problem,” Kwasi Seitu, leader of the Peoples Defense Network for Tsunamic Justice told The Final Call.

“We see policing in this community, off the chain. We see young Black men being spread out over the sidewalk, and Vincent Gray is sitting up here talking about how he's going to make his top priority, appeasing those few people who voted for (Mr.) Fenty—those few White people. And they're not the ones who feel the impact of this ‘All Hands on Deck'” community policing policy which cancelled all police weekend leaves, and took officers from administrative duties to street patrols several weekends per year.

“And that metaphor reminds me of a slave ship, because if you go down to D.C. Superior Court, all you see are Black people. And the U.S. Attorney's Office is down there prosecuting these malicious cases, where police officers are arresting Black people for nonsense. They're not even real crimes, yet the U.S. Attorney's office has done nothing about those six White police officers who shot Trey Joyner over in Trinidad (neighborhood). We can't get no justice.

“So I guess Vincent Gray is better than Fenty, but if he starts talking about he's going to go out there and bend over backwards to satisfy the same people who brought Fenty and kept Fenty here, then we're not going to have a change. It's a problem,” Mr. Seitu said.

Many small business owners felt that the longstanding bidding and contract-awarding procedure in the city had been sidestepped in the Fenty administration, robbing them of business with the city that they had under previous mayors. Business owners and even former procurement office employees often complained publicly of political interference in the awarding of city contractors, in favor of Mr. Fenty's so-called “cronies.”

In addition, cab drivers, also openly supported Mr. Gray. Many drivers donated free taxi-rides to assist the Gray campaign get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day.

Under Mr. Fenty's administration, meters were installed in all cabs, with the lowest rates anywhere in the country, drivers insist, and they accuse Mr. Fenty and his appointed Taxi Commission administrator of punitive harassment of independent-owner-cab drivers, in favor of corporate-fleet-owned cabs. That tactic, drivers argue, is intended to drive them out of the industry, eventually putting the control of D.C. cabs in the hands of big companies.

“Ownership rights inthe historical, D.C. Hack/Taxicab System is a major issue that's not talked about because it's the Emancipation of African Americanissue of economic freedom from slavery,” is how 30-year-veteran driver Billy Ray Edwards described the problem in an e-mail blast Sept. 18. For more than 140 years, until changes brought about by Mayor Fenty, the taxi industry had been open to almost anyone to enter as an independent owner-operator. New policies have made it difficult, if not impossible, for new driver-owners to get a foothold in the D.C. taxi industry.

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