Gentrification and the 2010 DC Mayoral Race

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, one of the major news events of the past year that relates to Clybourne Park was the Mayoral race between Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray.

Adrian Fenty began his tenure as DC Mayor in 2007 as the youngest mayor of DC and by sweeping all 142 city precincts in the Democratic primary (which basically decides the general election in the majority-democratic DC). He was known for many of the positive changes he made in DC, such as reducing the crime and murder rates, appointing city agency heads that have been responsive to citizens and fared well in public opinion polls, and a major overhaul and restructuring of the long troubled public school system.

So what’s the catch? The Washington Post explains the problems for Fenty were his personality and the way that he handled the issues of racial divide and gentrification (aha- you knew the catchphrase had to be in there somewhere!)

Personality-wise, Fenty was seen as elitist, aloof, and regularly going behind the backs of the city council to use his own authority. On the issue of gentrification, Fenty’s approach was to continue to improve city services without paying particular attention to issues of racial divide. Robert McCartney’s article continues to explain that Fenty’s approach was “color-blind,” that he appointed the best people for their jobs despite their race, and that approach worked well with affluent and young voters, but didn’t fare so well with poorer, older, and black voters in the city. Radio host Kojo Nnamdi also adds to this viewpoint, saying that Fenty faced a lot of disgruntled black citizens unhappy that a majority of his top cabinet positions were filled by non-blacks. Other frequent criticisms were that Fenty protected the interests of new citizens moving into DC and into gentrifying neighborhoods such as Columbia Heights by spending money on services such as dog parks and bike lanes instead of focusing on affordable housing and other issues in poorer neighborhoods of DC.

Gray’s approach was to exploit Fenty’s weakness and campaign as someone who would help bridge the racial and economic divides in DC, and his campaign slogan was even “One City.” He was seen as a politician who himself was from Ward 7 and (I’m speaking very generally here) would protect the interests of other longtime black residents who might be otherwise forced out of their housing due to the new influx of the mostly white (or non-black) population. He tried to persuade low-income voters that he would pursue inclusionary zoning laws, which would in turn produce affordable housing. It turns out the majority of voters bought his argument, as he went on to win the primary and then the general election. However, as Kojo Nnamdi points out, Gray won a majority of black voters and Fenty won a majority of white voters, which doesn’t seem aligned with the “One City” approach. In addition, many journalists and analysts such as Megan McArdle say that Gray has no way of stopping gentrification from happening, even with inclusionary zoning. So how will voters react?

This issue of gentrification is messy, complicated, and emotional for many. Since Mayor Gray has taken office his tenure has been somewhat muddled with scandals, such as the Sulaimon Brown allegations, and his popularity has declined.

Did Gray win the Mayoral Race based upon his views of gentrification? How do you think he’s handled the issue since his election? Do you think gentrification in DC is as “black and white” as the media has portrayed thus far? Let us know what you think!

~ Brooke Miller, Press and Digital Content Manager

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Filed under Clybourne Park, Communications and Connectivity

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