In recent weeks, the D.C. mayoral contest has become less about effectively governing and results and more about the being liked. D.C. Council Chairman Vincent Gray, a mayoral candidate, has been on a steady crusade to be seen as a man of the people. His strategy seems to be making the citizens feel as though their opinions matter, something that Mayor Adrian Fenty has failed to do since his election in 2006. This typically is a very effective approach when challenging an incumbent who has failed to connect with the citizens in a meaningful way. However, the citizens of the District need to ask themselves: Does being liked matter more than getting the job done?
Mayor Fenty has failed to connect with his residents and make them feel as though their mayor is concern about their problems. His consistent unwillingness--until recently--to engage in any substantive dialogue with community leaders has caused his approval rating to drop below 50 percent despite all of the accomplishments that he has achieved during his term.
Fenty can be accredited for taking Washington D.C. through a transformation process that started with how the city runs its school system. Many resident and leaders were shocked when he appointed Michelle Rhee as Chancellor of the city's failing school system. She was seen by many as someone who lacked creditable upper management experience. Not serving as the head of any previous school system, prior to her appointment, led most people to believe that she would fail to transform a school system afflicted by facility problems, students not meeting the standards set by No Child Left Behind, and a teacher union that seemed to be more concerned about saving underperforming teachers than teaching the kids in the District. However, Mayor Fenty took that approach that education was paramount to the future of D.C., not only because a quality education is key to relieving a generational education gap that is growing bigger by each year; but because he knows that in order for D.C. to have the long-term economic growth that it needs to survive, it would take an educated workforce within its own boundaries.
Chancellor Rhee campaign to rid the city of underperforming teachers by replacing them with educators, who are more concerned about seeing their students succeed rather than the payments to their employee retirement account, signaled a drastic shift in the way the city had operated for many years. The approach, although not popular, allowed the city to be selected as one of the school systems that will receive funding under the Race to the Top program.
In addition to this, the city's crime rate is the lowest it has been since the 1960s. Homicides are down and the city police department is closing more murder case quicker. All of these facts are undisputed. Mayor Fenty's tenure has not been without some controversy. His fights with city council over baseball tickets, secret trips overseas, and the issue of awarding contracts to friends have called into question his leadership. However, residents of the District have to put aside personal feelings and emotions and make a decision on who will be the most effective leader for the city.
Leadership sometimes requires you do to what is right and not what is liked. Mayor Fenty is one of the few politicians who can actually say I promised your results and I gave you results. Voters cannot let his personal image distract them from the facts, the schools are better, crime is down and the city is spending less money than it has in years. Governing is not always popular, but it is needed in order to make good cities great cities.