Been watching "Brick City" on Sundance? It's a documentary series on Newark and its mayor Corey Booker; akin to Season 3 of The Wire without the fiction (sorry The Root.com and others, but Nat minted that analogy, not you). Corey Booker--Ivy League mayor, bald-headed and piss colored like yours truly Nat--is the central character, and if indeed fiction scribed by The Bard, he'd be one part Hamlet, one part Henry V. "Once more into the breach/To be or not to be/And Gentlemen in England now a-bed will think themselves accursed and hold their manhood cheap." And he is counterpoint to the Sharpe James paradigm of old school ghettofab urban power politics. Brick City gets its name from, well, bricks of crack, not aging masonry of the projects. Sorry.
Though DC has its bamma chimera, Marion Barry and that old, now inapt moniker "Chocolate City," don't have a Corey Booker. And that's despite all appearances. Nope, no brooding Dane or brave Prince Harry at Agincourt. We have Benedict in "Much Ado About Nothing." That's my photo of Hizzoner, doing what he does best: PR appearances. But hey, he's not Marion Barry. He's not an ACORN boogeyman or slave to "corrupt" unions or homophobic mega-pastors and church ladies hiding their felonious grandchildren in the basement or immigrant activists, right? Nor is he the automaton, slave to the white developers & Congressional Republicans--Anthony Williams, righty-right? And doesn't he and Booker have a sort of siamese twin quality, right-righty-right?
So check out this Washington Post article detailing how DC Attorney General Peter Nickles ("Attorney General" used to be "Corporation Counsel:" an name change artifice designed to make the District appear more like a real state) had to swallow some state-like cronyism and go against his boss, Hizzoner. Seems Fenty's pals have been getting lame-bid city contracts, funnelled through the Housing Authority from the Department of Parks & Recreation. Nickles reluctantly had to fess up that the City Council should have reviewed the contracts, goven their amount. Fenty's choice for DPR, Ximena Hartsock--a young pretty yuppie Latina in the mold of Michelle Rhee (a young, pretty yuppie Korean, as everyone in this Adminstration must be young and pretty and yuppie-like for Da Mayor, who, sorry to say, isn't an Ivy Leaguer like Booker and our President) flipped the contracts through whilst she was "Acting Director." The DC City Council thence refused to confirm her into the Mayor's Cabinet; forsothe, our Shakespearean hero turned around and named her "Interim Director" ...in perpetuity. Now that, fair Mercucio Nickles rubber stamped as conforming to the letter, if not the spirit, of blackletter law. But a silly move nonethless. The City Council was livid. Just as pissed off, if not more, than the mess with the DC Public Schools and Michelle Rhee's recent stupid--NOT Machiavellian--moves with firing new teachers and not pursuing all these bucks supposedly ripe for plucking due to her Teach for America pedigree. See Nat's take in last week's blogpost (and remember fanboys & girls: Nat's downright wingnut when it comes to the deplorable state of the public schools, bamma teachers, Spanish-only classrooms, ghettofab parents and animalistic students...so for me to back the infamous Washington Teachers Union and the City Council, Rhee and her boss must have truly screwed the pooch). Things are bad in Chocolate...er... Butterscotch City, despite the Obamas, Capitals/resurgent Wizards and bistros/rehabbed row houses in the hood.
Now here's the rub, as Shakespeare would say. Corey Booker has a plan. There's a method to the madness. I don't have a problem with Fenty's method, because I don't see a method at all. He's circumvented the Council to pass legislation and empower his pretty crew. Legislation to do what, however? Build what, engineer where? Improve the life of whom? Lead by innovation, make tough choices, say what might not be popular...indeed sacriledge? Nope. What plan is the prettiest street gang in the District executing? (cricket noise here waiting for answer). Nothing. Empty. Tell me. What he's done is not be Barry, not be (sort of) Williams. Williams at least had a plan: kiss the Control Board's ass, kiss developers' & parking magnate's asses, kiss the Lerner Family's ass and build a sterile baseball stadium so white Virginians & lobbyist clients can watch AA level play from skyboxes...then retire to Belgian beers and savory mussels at Granville Moore's on a gentrified H Street NE. But hey, at least he had a method, a plan. Look, Williams and Barry were opposite sides of the same rusted, crusted coin. Fenty's now showing us that you can indeed have something like a three-sided dice, and when you land on any, you loose.
He's a lot more like Barry than we think. First, just because your cronies are bourgies, go to Rehobeth or the Vineyard and attend First Fridays doesn't mean they aren't like Barry's "Dawgs and Deputy Dawgs." Second, some folk wipe the crack haze from their eyes and pine for the days when Barry "helped" the citizens of DC. Again, you have to point to--what? The Summer Jobs "program" (which Fenty has likewise abused or allowed to be abused). He's about PR. Show up, look accountable. It works for the white folks, but when Nat polled a neighbor or two, and some yuppies over in Cleveland Park where Nat & Mrs find the koi's grub: "Look, he's not Marion Barry." What a positive thing to put on a resume. As for the schools, "I'm starting to have second thoughts. I was impressed with Rhee but things still seem dysfunctional." As for crime, "[Chief Kathy] Lanier is cool, but the cops seem reactive, not proactive. They seem to be depending on snitching but that's not helpful when I am walking my dog with my son, and rounds start flying between teenagers and Central Americans." Okay then. Lose the yuppies, lose the election. You know damn well Titus Andronicus (Council President Gray) is making himself more visible among the gentrifiers...
Yea and alas, fair Adrian is indeed Benedict in Much Ado. Remember what they called Obama--and empty suit? Well Barack ain't an empty suit, and he appears to resist Fenty's repeated attempt to be associated with his him...in a sort of lightskinned JFK-RFK-esque ressurection of 1961-63's "vigga." Obama's a part-time athlete; Fenty's a for-real triathlete. Perhaps that yearning for vigor should be spent on the HIV/AIDS population, suffering under shameful corruption in city program or nonprofit oversight and downright Third World conditions. Adrian Fenty is an empty track suit.
Booker has similar policy conflicts and problems...and a similar millieu--like rapid gentrification in both residential and commerical. But again, there's a method, a program. Power struggles, fiefdown fights--hell yes. But there's an order, a pace, a plan. Bourgies, Section 8 folks, yuppies, gray haired Republicans in Short Hills, Corzine/Christie in Trenton, criminals, Ricans, Dominicans, old school Sopranos at Satriale's Meats, car thieves and even Newark denizen Redman himself seem to get the program, whether they agree or not. You feel like Booker's doing something. He's on stage, circling the muddy battlefield of Agincourt, or agonzing over the usurper-king and momma's murder. He's Corey Booker, not "No-Sharpe James."
Is there a fourth alternative? Beyond Barry-Williams-Fenty. Can't there be something better? Next week, fans: solutions.
Exeunt, Act I