Thursday, September 16, 2010


Sam Smith

If I had been still living in DC last Tuesday I would have been a white voting for a black Gray. According to a City Paper poll before the election, only about 24% of other whites would have agreed with me.

Yet Vincent Gray won easily over Adrian Fenty, who four years earlier had captured every precinct in the city, with nearly all white Ward 3 and nearly all black Ward 8 each giving him 56% of the vote. This year Fenty got 80% of white Ward 3 and 16% of black Ward 8.

Eddie Elfanbeen did a precinct by precinct analysis. Some 31 precincts gave Fenty 75% or more of the vote while 53 gave him 25% or less. All of the top Fenty precincts were heavily white while all the top Gray precincts were heavily black.

Remember: while the precincts might vary markedly in ethnicity, both major candidates were black (or biracial as the pro-Fenty media began suddenly to call him).

There were other huge differences according to the City Paper pre-election poll. For example, those who thought DC should remain a majority black town gave only 11% of their vote to Fenty. Sixty percent of those who had lived in the city for less than four years voted for Fenty while only 32% of those who had lived there over twenty years supported him. Over 45% of home owners supported Fenty, but only 25% of renters.

There has been a lot of talk about post-racial politics both nationally and in DC, but what these figures show is that to the extent ethnicity no longer matters, class increasingly does.

In other words, as one commentator noted, in the DC results are signs of a left wing Tea Party - another strong indicator of how our country is being divided by income and wealth, a topic politicians and the media never want to discuss. The have-nots - whether actual, perceived or misperceived - are highly pissed off.

What happened and why is instructive to anyone interested in politics, from Barack Obama on down.

Obama, Fenty, as well as Newark mayor Cory Booker and Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, belong to a cohort I think of as the black Ivies (although Fenty went to Oberlin, a sort of college Ivy). They were the first generation of modern black politicians to get ahead by passing white examinations rather than crossing white police lines.

All but Patrick came out of successful families including Booker's parents who were the first black executives of IBM and Fenty's parents who ran their own successful small business, which was one of the reasons I foolishly voted for Fenty the last time. I thought the small business ethos would serve the city well. Unfortunately, Fenty didn't have it.

Obama's mother worked for the government (perhaps including the CIA) and his grandmother became vice president of a Hawaii bank.

Patrick, on the other hand, was born in a Chicago housing project. But then things started look up. As Wikipedia notes: "While Patrick was in middle school, one of his teachers referred him to A Better Chance, a national non-profit organization for identifying, recruiting and developing leaders among academically gifted students of African American descent, which enabled him to attend Milton Academy," one of the upscale private schools.

Each of these black Ivies had what was, for blacks, atypical growings up. For example, Booker got a Rhodes scholarship and Obama was shepherded through a variety of white vetting institutions ranging from schools to a corporation working for the CIA to being invited to speak at a Democratic convention despite only being a state senator. And all four of them went to good law schools.

While there are obvious personal advantages to such an upbringing, preparation for the brutally real world of politics and dealing with ordinary citizens is not one of them.

Now Fenty has been kicked out, Obama is on the ropes, Patrick is only 2 to six points ahead in the polls. And even Booker, perhaps the most politically hip of the bunch, has gone from 72% to 59% in his two elections.

The Fenty disaster is the most instructive in looking at Obama, because of their similarities. For example, both

- Won victory by appealing to one constituency and then effectively dumping it when elected.

- Sometimes act like an over-praised child, which is to say one whose life story has been built too much on presumed skills and virtues and not enough on hard knocks and actual achievements.

- Rely too much on legal approaches to politics - in Fenty's case depending on the widely despised attorney Peter Nickles and, with Obama, creating bizarrely complex legislation such as his healthcare bill.

- Sow tone deafness when talking to constituents other than the elite.

- Use public education as a weapon to encourage urban gentrification.One news report noted that "when Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee began her reform of education, she began by closing two dozen schools. None was closed in predominantly white Ward 3, while predominantly black Ward 5 took the brunt." This is another topic that doesn't get discussed in the press, along with the fact that Rhee - like other education deformers - has objectively accomplished little other than a lot of gratuitous chaos.

- Encourage a strong anti-union undercurrent in public education policy and other matters. This backfired in Washington as the unions worked hard for Gray.Nationally, it is another sign that we're really talking about class more than ethnicity. There was a time when Democrats supported unions, without which we would not have had a middle class.

- Rely excessively on words and actions that appeal to upscale whites but leave others wondering what the hell is going on.

- Display an arrogance about it all, at least in the view of many. It's fair, for example, to call Vincent Gray's record unimpressive but he is so clearly rooted in the community and likeable that many would prefer his stumbling efforts to Fenty's false achievements.

In other words, Obama is an Adrian Fenty waiting to happen, albeit, in his case, from the right.

Nikita Stewart and Jeff Mays, The Root, Atlanta - "Despite the fact that he won 40 percent of the black vote, Cory [Booker] does have a problem with blacks in this city," says Rahaman Muhammad, leader of the influential SEIU Local 617. "Cory's secret hasn't got out yet. Most black people outside of Newark think he is beloved by blacks inside the city."

That certainly wasn't the case when Booker first ran for office in 2002. During his first mayoral bid, Booker's opponent, longtime mayor Sharpe James, furiously attacked him for not being black enough. James painted Booker -- who grew up in a wealthy New Jersey suburb, attended Stanford University and Yale Law School, and was a Rhodes scholar -- as a plant by white outsiders who saw Newark's potential and wanted to take over.

Booker has also struggled with black voters. In May he was re-elected with 59 percent of the vote -- down from his 72 percent landslide in 2006 -- despite having spent $5.5 million, more than all the other candidates in the race. In addition, Booker's own polls show him struggling with black voters. A 2008 internal poll conducted by Obama pollster Joel Benenson found that only 69 percent of blacks agreed with the statement that Booker was bringing progress to Newark, compared with 85 percent of whites and Latinos. Forty-four percent of black single mothers, who make up at least 8 percent of the city's electorate, felt Booker was taking the city in the wrong direction.

Muhammad says that he recently met with Booker in his office to discuss a growing concern among blacks in the city about talks of massive layoffs at City Hall and the concern that black contractors were not being brought into the fold.

"I said, 'Mayor, you have a black problem,' " Muhammad recounts. "He said to me, 'I only need 30 percent of the black vote to get elected.' I said, 'You might be right, but is that the strategy a black elected official wants to pursue?' "

Bill Turque, Washington Post - Speaking at the Newseum to an auditorium studded with Washington A-listers gathered for the red carpet premiere of the edu-documentary "Waiting for Superman," [DC school chancellor Michelle] Rhee said she would not "mince words" about Tuesday's Democratic primary defeat of Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.

"Yesterday's election results were devastating, devastating," Rhee said. "Not for me, because I'll be fine, and not even for Fenty because he'll be fine, but devastating for the schoolchildren of Washington, D.C."

Courtland Milloy, Washington Post - In a stunning repudiation of divisive, autocratic leadership, District residents Tuesday toppled the city's ruling troika: Mayor Adrian Fenty, Attorney General Peter Nickles and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. All busted up. The trio's contempt for everyday people was handed back to them in spades at the polls.

Having taken office promising to cradle the most vulnerable residents, Fenty set out almost immediately shooting the wounded. Closing homeless shelters. Forgetting about job-training programs. Firing city workers with the wave of a callous hand -- black female heads of households more often than not.

Don't ask Fenty or Rhee whom this world-class school system will serve if low-income black residents are being evicted from his world-class city in droves.

What happened Tuesday involved more than just the unseating of a mayor with an abrasive style. It was a populist revolt against Fenty's arrogant efforts to restructure government on behalf of a privileged few. The scheme was odious: re-create a more sophisticated version of the plantation-style, federally appointed three-member commission that ruled the city for more than a century until 1967.

So people went to the polls and politely delivered a message: Most residents actually believe in representative democracy, thank you very much, messy though it may be.

Derek Kravitz Washington Post - If there was one vote that D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray had locked up before Tuesday's mayoral primary, it was the cabdriver bloc.

The city's roughly 6,000 taxi cabdrivers, a group made up largely of African-born immigrants, have long been upset with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) over his 2007 change from the city's zone fare system to meters. On Tuesday, they waged what one union leader called "the fight for our very lives."

"We supported Fenty, but he turned on us," said Aklile Redie, 52, of Silver Spring, a cabdriver for 15 years. "We know how important this is to our way of life and our families."

Many of these drivers had voted for Fenty in 2006. That year, a few dozen cabbies drove Fenty voters to the polls for $150 a day, said Nathan Price, chairman of the D.C. Professional Taxicab Drivers Association.

This year, hundreds of cabdrivers offered their services to Gray for free.