Monday, November 4, 2013

Washington Social Diary

Congress may loom over Washington, and deny the city a lot of rights, but a boom is happening regardless.
by Carol Joynt

Politics are in the forefront in Washington as we approach tomorrow’s election day, and I’m not talking about Capitol Hill or the White House. It’s an “off year” election, but still there are some races. The residents of DC may not have meaningful representation in Congress, but we are wedged between two real states, Maryland and Virginia, where voters elect real senators and congressman and governors. I’m addressing our neighbors first, but let me make one thing perfectly clear up top: even with the Constitutional constraints on us, DC is the city to watch. DC is the place that’s transformative.

Virginia will elect a new governor tomorrow. The candidates are, for the Democratic Party, Terry McAuliffe, the slick former chairman of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton (both of them) fundraiser and operative; for the Republican Party, it’s Ken Cuccinelli, who is backed by the Tea Party; and Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis. Local TV has been jammed with ads for Cuccinelli and McAuliffe. On Sunday, McAuliffe’s lead over Cuccinelli had slimmed. Politico late last week called it a “nail biter.”
Terry McAuliffe, who has a slim lead in the Virginia governor's race. (Photo, AP)
Tea Party candidate Ken Cuccinelli is the Republican candidate for Governor of Virginia.
What’s interesting about this particular race is that Virginia voters apparently don’t like either candidate very much. Whether the winner is McAuliffe or Cuccinelli (Sarvis is a long, long shot) he will go into the job on the heels of a favorability rating in the low 30s. A spokesman for the Quinnipiac University poll said, “the campaign has been light on issues and big on personalities.”

That’s no baloney, either. Both men have brought out the stars of their parties — President Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton for McAuliffe, and Sen. Marco Rubio and former Rep. Ron Paul for Cuccinelli. Vice President Biden is expected to stump for McAuliffe today.
The Potomac shores of Virginia, where voters will elect a new governor on Tuesday. This is Arlington House, the former home of Robert E. Lee, which is in Arlington National Cemetery.
This is along route 1 near Alexandria, Virginia, only a short hop from Reagan National Airport, but it could be anywhere in the DC metro area.
Maryland and DC don’t have major elections this week, but both are on deck for the mid-terms in one year, when Maryland will elect a new governor and DC will have a mayoral election. Democrats usually win in Maryland. The party’s top contenders are Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Douglas Gansler. The primary is way off, and in the meantime the race has been entertaining, though possibly too much so for Gansler’s taste. He’s been in the news for showing up at a teen beach party where underage drinking allegedly occurred.

Gansler’s spokesman, Bob Wheelock (who comes to the campaign from top jobs with Al Jazeera America and ABC News), said it was “time to move on,” and that Gansler was at the party “looking for his son.” There was an earlier dust up over allegations Gansler asked state troopers officially assigned as his drivers to inappropriately use speed, lights and sirens to get him to destinations. His campaign said, “at no time did the Attorney General ever issue any orders to any member of the Maryland State Police.”

What this means is the race in Maryland should be fun to watch.
Candidate for Maryland governor, Doug Gansler.
Anthony Brown in a photo on the Maryland state government website.
But most engaging to watch is the DC mayor’s race. The incumbent, Vincent Gray, can run again, but has been dragging his feet on making an announcement whether he will or won’t. What hangs over him is an investigation by the office of U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen into a so-called $650,000 “shadow campaign” that existed in Gray’s last campaign.

Machen has brought no charges against Gray and whether he will is a looming and compelling mystery. There are all kinds of colorful political characters involved in the scandal, charges and counter charges, guilty pleas, Machen himself, who the media call a “crusading” federal prosecutor, and Mayor Gray, who basically says zero on the subject, and likely doesn’t have to until the primary filing deadline next year. He says if he does seek re-election it will be on his record, which — take away the campaign fraud scandal — is a good one. People appear to like him.
Mayor Vincent Gray, appearing for an interview on The Q&A Cafe, shortly after he was elected mayor in 2010.
The Washington Post, though, is fed up with his stance on the scandal. In an editorial yesterday the paper slammed him for evasiveness on answering questions about what happened in his last campaign. The editorial board said he has “failed” to offer “detailed or convincing responses” and that he doesn’t seem to think he needs to, which the paper termed “insulting to DC voters.”

The field of mayoral candidates is jockeying like a group of sail boats waiting for the starting gun, and waiting for Gray. They include city council members Muriel Bowser, Jack Evans and Tommy Wells, four others who have filed to run and a few others who say they may run. Evans and Wells are white. National Journal recently declared that “Evans has a shot” at winning, and they aren’t alone in that speculation.
DC city council member Jack Evans as he announces his candidacy for mayor in June of this year. He chose the heart of the revitalized 14th Street corridor -- once ravaged by riots -- as the location to make his announcement.
The deadline for who’s in or out of the Democratic primary (which always decides DC’s mayor) is in two months, the primary comes in the spring. If Gray doesn’t run, the other candidates will become turbo-charged. If he does run, we may have a horse race. A mutual friend recently phoned me to share that Gray had told him, “I’m running.” I took it to Mayor Gray and he said the conversation didn’t happen.

What’s most interesting about the DC mayor’s race is the backdrop. The nation’s capital is becoming whiter and richer. Whether this is for the best is an ongoing debate, but no one disputes a visible transformation. It’s ironic, really, that during the recent Great Recession, in which so many across the country have suffered, Washington has not experienced similar strife. In fact, signs of revitalization are everywhere; the horizon is dotted with sky-high cranes. It’s as if it’s Charlotte or Brooklyn or Austin, or maybe a mash-up of all three.  For better or worse, developers have a shot at becoming rock stars.
There's a reason why political campaigns are compared to a horse race. This is Laurel Race Course in Maryland on Saturday, Nov. 2, only a few days before the off-year elections.
The Washington NFL team may not be having the best season, and the team name controversy won't go away, but the fact is with football, baseball, basketball and hockey, Washington is becoming a sports town.
DC thrives in the department of culture. This is the Kennedy Center on the evening of the annual Symphony Ball.
Surveys show that Washington is becoming whiter and richer. It's also attractive to young people and the well-educated.
Winter ice skating at the Georgetown Waterfront Park. It's not the only ice rink to open in DC.
What’s new is that big business is moving here; the growth in the restaurant and entertainment industries is robust; there’s a strong residential population who have put down roots; there’s a hipness factor that’s created a new kind of gentrification. The latest figures show that 1,000 people a month move to the city.

Some of them are young, setting up with their first jobs; some are suburbanites, both empty-nesters and start-up families, in search of an urban neighborhood aesthetic and some energy. Most are well-educated and affluent. And this has almost nothing to do with Congress or the White House. DC’s boom is its own, and its what helped to keep it strong — and its workers working — during the federal shutdown.
A prime example of development in DC, this old federal facility, the West Heating Plant in Georgetown, has been bought by developers with the plan of redoing it as a Four Seasons Residences as well as a park.
This is the old Washington Coliseum in the revitalized NoMa neighborhood. Now a parking lot, it's where the Beatles gave their first U.S. concert in 1964. Next year work begins to renovate it as a "mixed use" retail and office development.
Yards Park is a gem of Washington's development boom and includes the Washington Nationals stadium in the distance. All kinds of office and apartment buildings have been planted around this area, which is on the banks of the Anacostia River.
Washington is a beautiful city, mixing the old and new. These are buildings along Massachusetts Avenue in the Embassy Row neighborhood.
I’ve lived here long enough to claim expertise on the subject of the dramatic change in Washington. I voted in the first election for a DC representative in the House (who has no vote, though), and in our first mayoral election, both back in the early 1970s. I lived here in the early '90s when it was the “murder capital” and when the city’s mayor, Marion Barry, was arrested for smoking crack, got convicted, served time, got released and was again elected mayor (btw, he’s still on the city council). I’ve watched this city roller coaster up and down and all around. But it’s in a new place now, more solid in its focus on the future and in a way that’s not been before.

Providing the kind of trend marker he’s good at doing, well-known and outspoken political commentator and blogger Andrew Sullivan announced last week that after living in New York City for a year he was homesick for Washington. He’s moving back. He said he loved New York “until I tried living here.” His reasons for returning to DC all speak to my point: “I miss the relative calm; I miss the green; I miss the increasing vibrancy of the city. I miss the oases of quiet and the energy of a new emerging city that is both a second Brooklyn and a global hub of media and politics.”
Farmers markets abound in neighborhoods all over Washington, including downtown and the Federal Triangle, and most days of the week. This is the Sunday farmers market in the Palisades.
Washington is green. There's lots of access to the outdoors, a fact celebrated by many restaurants. This is Leopold's in Georgetown.
Sullivan’s point of view, which is shared by many, and the forecast for the future, make the DC mayoral election perhaps its most critical since the city elected its first mayor, Walter Washington, in 1974. If the voters elect a white candidate, it will be historic.

NOTE: If you will be in Washington on Wednesday, when we tape The Q&A Café at the Ritz Carlton Georgetown, the whole show will be politics — the races tomorrow and next year. To join the audience, find information here.
Autumn leaves mean election time.
Photographs by Carol Joynt.

Follow Carol on twitter @caroljoynt