Walter Washington, Marion Barry, Sharon Pratt Kelly, Anthony Williams, Adrian Fenty. The one thing all of these people have in common, the have had the privilege of being the Mayor of the nation’s capital, Washington DC. All were elected by the citizens of the city to lead DC into great things. They all promised many things that they were going to do. They all came in with many outlooks of how things needed to be done. How a government that in some instances had run wild needed to be fixed. They all left office with some level of failure and criticism on some things. But did any of them accomplish what they originally set out to do?
Walter E. Washington was appointed Mayor-commissioner in 1967 by the President of the United States. In 1974, he ran for Mayor in the first DC mayoral election and was elected. While he was beloved by many, eventually he was accused of not being relatable to the black community of DC and was seen as a puppet for the US Government. He lost the democratic Primary in 1978 to the man who would become the next mayor, a councilman who was vocal about Walter Washington and his leadership.
Marion Barry followed in Washington's mayoralty when its first elected mayor, Walter Washington, fell out of political favor in the 1978 election. Running with the campaign slogan “Take a Stand” and the promise to improve the “bumbling and bungling” Washington administration. In his first term Barry increased efficiency in city administration and government services, instituted his signature summer jobs program, straightened the city’s chaotic finances and attacked the deficit by introducing spending controls and laying off ten percent of the city’s workforce. Each year of his first term saw a budget surplus of at least US$13 million. However, his remaining terms were filled with financial struggles, drug use, and many scandals that developed that included not only those in his administration but Barry himself. After a brief conviction and jail sentence, Barry was able to regain mayoralship, even though the federal government had given most of his powers to the DC control board. He did not seek to be re-elected as mayor after 1990
Sharon Pratt Kelly was elected mayor in 1990 and served from 1991-1995. She ran her campaign on the promise of cleaning house of the prior administration. Her grassroots reform posture met resistance. She made good on her promises to clean house, requesting the resignations of all Barry appointees the day after her election; however, as she began to slash the city employment payroll, her political support began to weaken. According to the Washington City Paper, Kelly "was never able to get control of a city government still loyal to Barry, and she often mistrusted the advice she got from aides. Kelly was also blamed for then-Washington Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke moving the Redskins out of the city.
Anthony Williams was elected Mayor in 1998 and served for 1999-2007. In his first term as mayor he restored the city to the financial black, running budget surpluses every year and allowing the control board to terminate itself two years ahead of schedule. He brought some $40 billion dollars of investment to the city. His first term in office was marked by the beginning of a period of gentrification throughout the city. Longtime residents complained of being priced out of their homes and neighborhoods and forced to move to neighboring Prince George's County, Maryland. During his second term, Williams continued his record of stabilizing the finances of the District. The city was able to balance its budget for ten consecutive years between FY ’97 and FY ’06. During this same period, the District’s bond ratings went from “junk bond” status to “A” category by all three major rating agencies. Williams was instrumental in arranging a deal to move the financially ailing Montréal Expos, a Major League Baseball (MLB) team, to Washington, D.C. Although he faced opposition from much of the D.C. Council, Williams eventually prevailed. Williams was not without detractors. His international traveling was criticized, as was his failure to purchase a home in D.C., despite his aggressive publicity campaign to convince residents to buy homes in the city. Some of his constituents and members of the D.C. Council (including his successor, Adrian M. Fenty) criticized Williams' deal with Major League Baseball for conceding too much and not providing a spending cap on the public financing of the new baseball park.
Adrian Fenty was elected mayor in 2006 and served from 2007-2011. At age 36, the youngest, mayor of the District of Columbia. Education reform was a major focus of Fenty's mayoral tenure. On the first day of his term, he introduced legislation to vest control of the public schools in himself, rather than the elected school board. Under the new structure, the existing superintendent was replaced by a chancellor selected by the mayor and reporting directly to him. The power shift also allowed Fenty to make swift changes in the system’s central office, alter teacher qualification requirements, and implement a school consolidation process. The Fenty administration also overhauled District agencies for efficiency. His choice of a woman for police chief, Cathy Lanier, received media attention. Fenty championed development efforts including renovating libraries, parks and recreation centers. Under Fenty, 16 neighborhood and school playgrounds were opened and nine play courts and fields were completed. A significant charge was that Fenty circumvented the D.C. Council and made certain contract awards for park improvements through the D.C. Housing Agency.
So which Mayor in my opinion did the best job? All had various approaches, various plans for what would be most effective, yet all of them had flaws that were preventive of them being the ultimate mayor for the nation’s capital. Washington was the historic one yet proved that he could execute the needs of the people of the city at that time. Barry was the activist and beloved by the city yet was overcome by a power he could not win against, drug abuse. Kelly was the lawyer wanting to fix it but really had no idea how to and did not understand what she had gotten herself into. Williams was the managerial one who seemed to have a plan yet in a lot of ways forgot about the people that needed him most. and Fenty was the young innovator with fresh ideas however did not deliver on most of what he promised and allowed his fate of mayor ship to be in the hands of an unproven school chancellor. None of them seemed to be able to balance everything that the city needed. From where I sit, I feel that none of them have been the Mayor we have needed. Hopefully that mayor will come sooner before later.