Friday, September 17, 2010

Fenty's Alter Egos

In the wake of Vincent Gray's victory over Adrian Fenty, we are starting to see blackberries show up on Craig's List for sale, and people are wondering who's going to stay and who's going to go.

The name that comes to most people's mind is Michelle Rhee, the hard-nosed, controversial school chancellor who was the centerpiece of Fenty's reform efforts. Few expect she'll be sticking around, since she pretty much said that as far as Fenty's concerned, she's made out of glue. But anything's possible.

In order to better understand the personalities, I've delved into their alter-egos in the hopes that we might reach some clarity on how these people might fit in with a Gray administration... or not.

Michelle Rhee: Ozzy Osbourne

Michelle Rhee has been about as divisive as a meat cleaver. Some people have lauded her as the second coming of Christ and the savior of a dysfunctional school system. Others think that she's the devil incarnate, and that her reforms are coming at too high a cost. We're not here to debate her effectiveness. We're here to figure out who she really is.

The Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne, fits the bill perfectly. He takes no prisoners, eats his young, and is batshit crazy. The trademark of his career, like Rhee, has been "reform," though in his case, that reform had more to do with the Betty Ford Clinic than the public school institution. Both have been sued and both have legions of ardent fans and rabid foes. Both have been the subject of movies, though I think that "The Decline Of Western Civiliation Part II: The Metal Years" will have a more enduring legacy than "Waiting for Superman."

The verdict for the Princess of Darkness? Leaving on the first crazy train. There's no way Gray would keep around someone who bites the head off bats.

Cathy Lanier: Sarah Connor

Police Chief Cathy Lanier has done pretty well for herself. Of course, that's not too hard when you replace someone like Charles Ramsey, best known for beating up and hog-tying about 400 hippies having a sit-in at Pershing Park.

Lanier's tenure has been marked by some high-profile, if publicity-stunt-like efforts to fight crime, such as All Hands On Deck, and the Trinidad checkpoints, since found unconstitutional. But through it all there's been a dramatic drop in crime. Never mind that it precisely matches the national trend.

Sarah Connor, similarly, tirelessley fights for the future of mankind, even as that effort often requires some rather unfortunate violations of due process and legality to get the job done. After all, the she knows the future that awaits us: the world will be taken over by machines. The lives of a lot of innocent people along the way are of little consequence, since without her heroic efforts, they'll all be dead in a few years anyway.

The verdict: stays on to fight the terminators. The phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range will become the standard issue service weapon in 2012.

Gabe Klein: Curly

"What is this you're doing?" "The elevator dance." "Elevator dance?" "Yeah, there's no steps to it." -- from The Three Stooges, "Soup to Nuts", 1930

The DDOT director's name is probably known to far fewer than the previous two, but he's made a reputation for himself nonetheless. A tireless advocate of cycling and alternative transit, he's been responsible for the bike-laneification of DC, pushed forward on the streetcar project, brought us bike sharing, and also installed a lot of speed bumps. In many ways, he took a conventional city and turned it into something of a 3-ring circus. There are all kinds of crazy parking meter machines everywhere, a new bicycle traffic light that is, er, interesting, and something called a barnes dance in chinatown that lets people walk willy-nilly through a busy intersection, to name a few.

Progress? Well, it's different, anyway. Gabe's nothing if not willing to give stuff a shot. Like Curly, he's got all kinds of wacky ideas, and unbridled enthusiasm. To the outsider, it may look like he doesn't know what he's doing, but still, things seem to work out for him. Mostly.

The verdict? Stays, though may need to buy a new suit. Gray's been a transit advocate, and even though Gabe might look like a hipster on his way to an interactive art show opening, he's not doing an awful job. He's also been smart enough to keep out of the fray, so there's no real public sentiment either for or against him.

And with that, our final contestant.

Peter Nickles: Gollum

You know, this one was just too easy. Little love will be lost on Fenty's much loathed Attorney General. The man, in a role that supposedly represents an oversight of the DC government, has blatantly polticized this role, literally campaigning for the mayor. He's defended corruption, and he's stonewalled Federal courts.

Like Gollum, it's not clear where he lives: is it in a cave in Chinatown, or down near the Great Falls in the Mines of Moria? He always seems to pop up when he's not wanted, and when you really need him, he promises to help you, but ends up screwing you and trying to steal your ring.

Verdict: Will grab a pile of gold, run, cackling, away from DC, and trip and fall into a volcanic vent on his way out.


kob said...

I am not looking forward to the changes Gray will bring.

Fenty was a CEO-type mayor, lousy politician, who brought in some radical reform with Rhee.

This election was about jobs and nothing else.

Fenty destabilized DC's workforce with his approaches. There are 32,000 DC employees and I'm willing to bet that many live in the District Wards that went heavily for Gray.

Gray exploited this DC job issue and lined up union support.

DC employees, friends and family, supported the person who they thought had the best chance of giving them job security, and that was Gray.

Considering the turnout and margin of victory, it's easy to see where Gray's margin of support came from.

Gray exploited Fenty's problem and it was masterful politics, but I am completely unimpressed with Gray.

Gray's need to control political damage (don't repeat Fenty's mistake) may require exerting control over his appointees, but the best appointees will want some degree of autonomy.

I liked the fact that Fenty gave Rhee a lot of flexibility. That's what good managers do at the best companies.

Fenty can leave office knowing that he made his mark. He could have pitched school reform-light but didn't. The moment he backed Rhee he threw himself in front of a truck, but sometimes that's what you need to do.

I wonder what Gray's goals really are. First thing to watch will be his appointments, but most importantly the people who reject a position in DC's government. The best people will want a job where they have the autonomy to make the hard decisions and do the right thing. If they can't get that, they'll walk away.

Mark said...

Curly looked like this. Larry looked like this. I think you confused the two.
For what it's worth, I'm not much of a Three Stooges fan. I've never been able to watch more than a few minutes of any Three Stooges movie, but I did watch about a third of movie about them on TV once when I had insomnia.