Unless you've been living under a rock, you've noticed that Mayor Adrian Fenty has been in some hot water. Back in September, ABC7 had a "shock poll" that showed Fenty with a surprisingly high (51%) disapproval rate. In October, the D.C. Council rejected the mayor's appointee to lead the Department of Parks and Recreation. The Council held hearings about Michelle Rhee's firing of teachers, and investigated Fenty's shady contract dealings with the D.C. Housing Authority for parks and recreation projects.
It may still be 2009, but we're heading into what could turn into a hotly contested election year. Fenty is up for re-election, and we know people disapprove of his job. He's on weak ground, and the right candidate could make a race of it.
Last week, I talked with Fenty's only official challenger (yet), Leo Alexander, to discuss the current scandals as well as the outlook for the 2010 election. I've got an entire candidate profile up over at District Daily, and instead wanted to write a bit more opinion on the matter here.
Leo Alexander is noteworthy because he says things we don't want to hear. He borrows a page from Bill Cosby and talks about social responsibility. He doesn't pretend that we don't have major social issues in this city. He acknowledges that we have problems with race relations, problems that can't be solved with gentrification alone. He openly talks about the crack epidemic from the 80's, and how we have a generation of people growing up in situations filled with hopelessness without positive role models.
Alexander talks about deploying an army of social workers to help piece things back together. He also talks about jobs programs, but programs that teach a real skill or trade. Simply handing out mindless summer jobs and then forgetting about it isn't enough.
These ideas resonate with me, and I suspect with a lot of other people who pay attention to the news in the District. We also hear what we'd expect from any anti-Fenty candidate. Alexander believes the Fenty administration is the most corrupt administration in the city's history. He wants investigations. He wants more transparency. He wants to build a better relationship with the D.C. Council. He wants to fire Michelle Rhee. He wants to be the people's mayor. Of course.
So this is all great, he urges creative approaches to big problems. He calls for a bold vision for D.C. schools, that includes less emphasis on private and charter schools. He wants a government with integrity and compassion. It all sounds great. However, he's got to get the message out. He needs resources. He will need to raise money. Right now he's got the support of D.C. cab drivers, except that's pretty much radioactive for now, given the bribery scandal.
There's also the tricky matter of knowing how serious he is. It's easy to sit down and write up a platform to try and fix D.C.'s problems. It's harder to make things happen, and Leo Alexander has no public office experience and no record to stand on. He makes a lot of very good points and has some very good ideas. He's also very good at selling his point of view. He could have a shot, but he'll need to get his campaign organized. He recognizes that this campaign will be fought on the Internet, using social media. He needs a better web site, he needs more social media tools. He needs to use Twitter, and he needs to use email lists. If only to just get the attention of other politicians and journalists. He needs to build buzz.
All in all I like to see someone challenging Fenty with new ideas. I want Leo Alexander's campaign to build some momentum so there can be a real discussion of these issues. I have to say that I was surprised by Alexander when I spoke with him. However, for now, he remains so far off the radar that his Wikipedia page has been deleted.