Fat cats patronizing fish in a small pond

Ken Mehlman is known for always being on message, but the Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman strayed big time from the party line at an open-to-the-media fundraiser last week for D.C. City Council candidate Anthony “Tony” Williams (R).

Ken Mehlman is known for always being on message, but the Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman strayed big time from the party line at an open-to-the-media fundraiser last week for D.C. City Council candidate Anthony “Tony” Williams (R).

Asked by a partygoer whether he thought the Republicans would retain their congressional majorities, Mehlman said he believes they will, despite a “throw-out-the-bums” mood in the electorate and the fact that “we have more bums.”

Mehlman then looked my way, and joked that he shouldn’t have said this in front of a reporter. Everybody laughed, except D.C. Republican Committee member Margaret Holwill, who snatched the pen out of my hand. She handed it back after a few seconds, muttering something about exercising freedom of speech.

Asked for further clarification, the RNC this week stressed that Mehlman’s remark was made in “a lighthearted” context.

If only there were a throw-out-the-bums attitude toward the D.C. Council — then Williams might have a chance of winning the Ward 6 seat. Williams, the son of National Public Radio’s Juan Williams, has lots of things his opponents don’t: He’s the only candidate born and raised in D.C., he has the same name as the mayor and he isn’t a vanilla white man.

“There’s no competition for being rooted,” the 26-year-old Williams says. But even though he’s come up with detailed proposals on various city issues, there’s just no competition from Republicans in any D.C. ward race. The city consistently votes for Democrats 10 to 1.

The D.C. GOP hopes to change that, and is now getting support from big-time politicos who happen to live in the neighborhood.

Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist held a fundraiser at his Capitol Hill residence in September, raising a couple thousand dollars for Williams. And on Oct. 23, Mehlman attended another Williams fundraiser at a Hill townhouse on Constitution Avenue. Mehlman, who lives two blocks away, did a little meet-and-greet before announcing to the room that he had proof in his front yard of the Williams campaign’s success:

“My Tony Williams sign hasn’t been destroyed!” he said, adding that unspeakable things happened to his President Bush signs in 2004.

(There’s a cynical explanation for the undamaged signs: They don’t say “Republican” on them. And it’s possible people mix him up with the other “Tony Williams.” Williams denies that there’s any deceit or deceitful omission in his sign design, pointing out that Mayor Williams is unpopular in poor areas anyway. “Newspaper reporters always do this,” he says.)

Mehlman lamented the Democratic monopoly on the District, but sounded hopeful notes about Williams’s and the party’s prospects. He said he was excited about Adrian Fenty, the Democratic Party’s mayoral nominee, forgetting to mention David Kranich, Fenty’s no-chance Republican opponent. Williams has also said Fenty’s primary victory indicates a desire for change among D.C. residents.

Williams has raised $30,000, a fraction of Democratic nominee Tommy Wells’s war chest, though Wells has continued to campaign, showing up at community meetings and events. His people aren’t very worried about a Republican upset in November, despite Williams’s bigwig supporters. Take it from campaign chair Ken Jarboe: “The Wells campaign is right where it wants to be.”

 Yuppies ruining city

The Fannie Mae Foundation and the Urban Institute last week released a report titled “Housing in the Nation’s Capital 2006.” The major finding of this study is that for all the good-looking development happening around town, the city’s revitalization is short on new families.

“[C]urrent trends are moving the District in the wrong direction,” the report says. Most of the development boom in recent years has been expensive condos. The problem is that people don’t want to pay a ton of money to raise their kids in a condo and then have to send them to a lousy school. So all we’re getting is a bunch of no-good young urban professionals.

The report is rain on Mayor Anthony Williams’s parade. This July, the Census Bureau announced that the District’s population had increased for the first time in a half-century — from a drooping 572,000 in 2000 to a little over 582,000. The new number is the result of the city’s challenge of the 2005 census, which said that 20,000 people had fled in the previous five years. The mayor’s office hailed the revised estimate as evidence the city is well on its way to adding 100,000 residents by 2020 — Williams’s stated goal, which would obviously make for some good legacy material.

That the population increase consists mostly of singles and young couples without kids shouldn’t be a surprise.

A 2001 study by the Brookings Institution presented two possible ways of adding 100,000 people to the city. One of them, titled “The Family Strategy: More Middle-Income Families with Children,” called for more affordable housing and much better schools through strong public-private partnerships, which is a big, expensive challenge.

The other was “The Adult Strategy: More Middle- and Upper-Income Singles and Couples.” This purpose of this plan was to attract people in their 20s and 30s who make lots of money. All you’d have to do is let developers build a bunch of fancy condos and then sit back as tax dollars rolled in. So that’s what they went with.

The Brookings Institution’s warning five years ago on the downsides of “The Adult Strategy” is a perfect description of what’s happening in the city now:

“[T]he adult strategy poses a serious risk of exacerbating racial and class tensions and widening the gulf between rich and poor in the city. Some lower-income residents would benefit from additional employment and more profitable neighborhood businesses, and find themselves owners of more valuable houses. But higher property taxes on those more valuable houses and rising rents might drive low-income people, particularly those without subsidized housing, out of the city unless strenuous efforts were made to enable them to stay. While some ethnically diverse neighborhoods would prosper, gentrification of lower-income neighborhoods could increase tension and resentment.”

The tension is palpable when you walk down the street in any neighborhood where young white out-of-towners are moving next door to black people who’ve lived here for years.

Last week’s Fannie Mae/Urban Institute study basically says the city needs to go with something like the family strategy.

“The city has the resources, has the opportunity demographically, geographically and fiscally, to address the housing policy changes and school improvement that could move the city in a really positive direction,” says the Urban Institute demographer, Margery Turner.