Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Did DC employees decide election?

The reason Vincent Gray won this election was economics of the most basic kind. School reform turned job security on its head.  District employees were wary of another Adrian Fenty term and the risk that it might prompt him to expand his more radical approaches and layoffs.   Employees, in any company, dread upheaval even if it promises new opportunities. 

In the election 126,000 people voted, or 34% of eligible voters. The District employs approximately 32,000 employees.  No doubt a large number of these employees live in the District and since most District jobs are middle income, the highest concentration of these workers likely live in Wards that went heavily to Gray.  District employees, plus friends and family, make up a sizeable voting bloc and enough to swing an election.  

District civil servants have a powerful incentive to vote in any mayoral race. And in this race, they had no incentive to vote for Fenty.  

Gray’s campaign was unimpressive on the issues, but it was masterful, old school politics. He capitalized on the job and benefit insecurities of District employees to win their vote.  The unions turned to Gray. District employees clearly believe Gray, in the end, will keep the balance sheet in their favor. Gray never discouraged this thinking.  

I have lived long enough to know that winning candidates can be better than their campaigns. I have that hope for Gray.   

In 1991, when I worked as a reporter in Connecticut, former U.S. Sen. Lowell Weicker was running for governor. The state didn’t have an income tax but was growing broke from sales tax revenues. During his campaign, Weicker refused to tell whether he would support an income tax.  He won and shortly after taking office sought an income tax, which was approved by the legislature. There was a massive protest rally at the State Capitol, unlike anything the state had seen. Weicker did not seek re-election and probably would have lost but he did what was needed, and so did Fenty with the schools.  That’s what leadership is about and now its Gray’s turn. I wish him the best.

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