Monday, August 19, 2013

Political Influence and Cronyism

We have a little controversy brewing in DC.  I know, hard to believe, right?

The City is slowly installing protected bike lanes for the steadily increasing bike commuter traffic. The style is a "cycle track" which runs parallel to the traffic, but separated from the cars by bollards.  It is entirely separate from the sidewalk as well.

On "L" street, it took some getting used to, particularly for cabbies, but after 10 months, everyone has settled down to acceptance and we have seen bike commuter traffic increase. Remember, every bike that's there is a person NOT in a car stuck in traffic alongside those who drive.  Easing congestion...

The proposed, controversial track is on "M" street, heading the other direction. It was all set to go, but a historic AME church is on the block and has objected to the cycle track because it would eliminate 3 or 4 parking places in front of the church.  Yes, 3 or 4 parking places, used almost exclusively on Sunday, have stopped a protected cyclist lane that would serve hundreds of people whose lives right now are at risk in DC traffic. And right next to the church is a parking garage.

DC is still a majority African American city, and any group (like this church) that can wield political power by hearkening back to slavery (yes, slaves and freedmen built this church back in the day) can still get what they want.  That demographic is changing, and I predict that in 10-15 years, this church, too, will cave.

For more details, here's the article:

What is disturbing though is that this back room maneuvering, trading on the issue of race, is way too common in DC politics. There's a sense that it's perfectly fine to be elected and then hire everyone you know for a job in government because you 'owe' them in some way. If you really want to understand why certain parts of DC are still rife with crime, drugs, and a horrible drop-out rate, here's part of your culprit. In short, the people who get elected are beholden to the people who hold power in those areas of town and they can't blame white males for this one. In the meantime, the DC public schools in certain parts of the city continue to make a mockery of education, welfare is a multi-generational issue (not a problem because people are so conditioned to living on it that it is normal), and joblessness due to lack of skills is a certainty.

How does one address this? First, holding officials accountable through total transparency. Second, disallowing any particular voting block -- black, white, gay, straight, etc. from having undue influence. Third, hiring people based on their competence and proven problem solving skills and then letting them do their jobs.  A few years back we had Michelle Rhee here to clean up the schools.  Michelle is of Korean ancestry.  The minute she started holding teachers in the worst areas accountable, she was slammed as racist, accused of trying to hurt black teachers and black kids. Now, Michelle could possibly have been a little more collaborative in her efforts. It is possible though that any attempt to soften the changes would have caused them to atrophy. It has happened many times through many attempts to improve DC schools.  What ultimately ended her tenure was push back from the African American community.  They were unhappy that a person not of their community was holding the low performing teachers and principals accountable. They were even bold enough (or clueless enough?) to say that a Korean woman could not do what they wanted done.

Racism is an ugly thing, regardless of the color spectrum involved. It is NOT sanctified when it is being advocated by a group that has historically been on the receiving end. That almost makes it worse, because they of all people should know what it feels like.

So I see this fight over the bike lane as a microcosm of what goes on every day in DC politics. Everyone's "I gotta get mine" attitude is horribly costly for this city, especially for its most vulnerable citizens.

Okay, back to cycling now.

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