The recent defeat of DC Mayor Adrian Malik Fenty by Vincenty Gray was driven by the abandonment of Fenty by black voters. This has the white voters in DC unhappy. DC denizen and mildly libertarian policy writer Megan McArdle is disappointed that Fenty went down to defeat.
Like a lot of Washingtonians, I'm disappointed about Mayor Fenty's loss in the Democratic Primary. When it became clear that Fenty was going to lose, there was a lot of shock going around in the circles I live and work in--which is to say, mostly white professionals who live in DC's gentrified, or gentrifying, precincts. After all, there's little question that things have gotten much better under Fenty, and not just for white people. The truly abysmal schools are being reformed, parks are being built, crime is slowly improving, the city is getting streetcars desired by almost everyone except the folks who live directly on the tracks . . . so why did voters just kick him out?
I don't think you can quite explain it by saying that Fenty's modestly corrupt (too-expensive contracts have gone to friends, though those friends seem to have mostly done the work very well). Marion Barry has remained quite popular here through much more serious violations, and in general, the corruption now pales in comparison to the pervasive corruption that has been uncovered in multiple city agencies, which long predates Fenty's administration.
Most people agree that this is ultimately a proxy battle over gentrification. It's all rather nebulous, because of course Vincent Gray hasn't campaigned on rolling back gentrification. He seems to support all the services Fenty has expanded, with the possible exception of the school reforms. Instead, the theme of his campaign--and the more generalized opposition to Fenty--has centered around respect and process.
Gentrification: An area of the city improves enough in safety (especially) and in services that whites and Asian minorities (i.e. higher earning and low crime) move in en masse and drive up rents. This drives out blacks and anyone else who can't afford the high rents. So gentrification is an economic battle between races for territory. It is funny that this phenomenon is playing right there in America's capitol city while a supposedly (ha!) post-racial president sits in the Oval Office.
As Courtland Milloy makes clear in the WPost blacks clearly see Fenty's policies as improving DC for the people who will replace them.
And lordy don't complain about Rhee.
She's creating a "world-class school system," they text. As for you blacks: Don't you, like, even know what's good for you? So what if Fenty reneged on his promise to strengthen the city from the inside by helping the working poor move into the middle class. Nobody cares that he has opted to import a middle class, mostly young whites who can afford to pay high rent for condos that replaced affordable apartments.
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.
It is curious to note that Mayor Fenty couldn't get Barack Obama to support his reelection bid. Fenty's chief of DC schools, Michelle Rhee, fired lots of teachers and closed so-called poor-performing schools (no mention of poor-performing students). Fenty and Rhee were executing Obama's game plan for education. Now that game plan is dead and we aren't going to get to use DC as an example of how that game plan will never work. The idea will live on as the great hope of liberal-left white school reformers. That's my own biggest disappointment about Fenty's loss. I wanted Michelle Rhee to spend the next 5 years executing her plan so that liberal policy dreamers could see the results. The NYC Bloomberg administration's failure to close the racial test gap needs more points of comparison to cities that tried even harder to close the gap.
Black voters in DC are more interested in high paying jobs in schools for themselves than in the quality of education delivered by those schools. Their attitude is pretty much "Michelle Rhee be damned". I bet Cornell didn't teach her to be prepared for this attitude.
Although blacks and whites recognize the importance of the public schools as a vehicle for educating their children, blacks also see the school system as a primary employer, providing jobs to thousands of teachers, school bus drivers, administrators and secretaries. When Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee laid off hundreds of teachers, many blacks saw something more than a simple purge of poorly performing educators. They saw an assault on economic opportunity.
"He fired those teachers, that did it for me," said Wilson Givens, a retired, black equipment operator who lives in Anacostia, in Southeast, and voted for Fenty in 2006. "Does he understand that a job is a family's livelihood? I didn't know anybody who was fired personally, but I can relate. I know how it feels, and I felt for those teachers and their families. That was it for me. Would never trust him again."
But back to gentrification: Gavin McInnes describes how blacks in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn keep their area 100% black.
Several of my friends have scoffed at this trend and traded their own yuppie hipster Williamsburg for Bushwick, an area of Brooklyn struggling to remain 100% black. Guess what. It doesn’t go well. When phenomenally naïve Canadian immigrant and long time drinking buddy Dan Morrison picked up the paper and saw $650 a month for rent, he jumped on the subway and headed over. He got off the train, paper in hand, and almost immediately, a woman in a phone booth interrupted her conversation, poked her head out, and yelled, “Oh I KNOW you ain’t moving to THIS neighborhood.” His two-block walk was littered with dubious glares and when he eventually got to the “For Rent” sign, a loiterer on the stoop cut all the pretense and bluntly stated, “Don’t move here.” Dan did an about-face and got back on the train.
Note that $650 per month. Really cheap rent. But if more affluent whites come in then they'll drive up the rents and the blacks will be forced out. Hence the evident desire of blacks to scare off whites who enter their territory.
In the case of DC imagine what it would be like if blacks could be promised that some areas would remain 100% black for an extended period of time (50 years at least). Imagine that some jobs would be reserved for blacks also for an extended period of time. They might become more willing to vote for candidates who promise to lower crime and improve services.
Does the DC gentrification trend have too much momentum for Mayor Gray to stop it? He might slow it down. But will DC become like NYC with a heavily upper class white and NAM electorate electing people like Mike Bloomberg as Mayor? If that happens then "good government" liberals in DC will be free to implement all the social experiments they learned at Ivy League colleges. I see that outcome as a plus for the United States because DC will become a laboratory demonstrating liberal policy failures. However, it will be years before the gentrifiers get a voting majority in DC. So the educational experimentation will shift elsewhere.
|Share |||By Randall Parker at 2010 September 19 11:24 AM Cultural Wars Racial|