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Sam Smith: Wind Shift In Washington


By Editor Sam Smith

There's been a noticeable shift in the political wind in Washington. Not the Washington familiar to most but in the second Washington, the one that serves the first and comes out last.

This fall the voters of Washington threw out three of their city council members. This by itself is pretty extraordinary in American politics these days.

It was clear that at least two issues were driving the vote: gentrification and a plan to build a major league baseball stadium under terms highly favorable to the league and of dubious merit to the town. A poll confirmed the public's antipathy towards the stadium.

This week, the city council - not the new one but the old one - voted to put enough conditions on the stadium that MLB considered the deal off.

There are still a couple of weeks in which either side could still cave, but already we have a rare example of ordinary urban dwellers standing up to the socio-economic cleansing of their city and the values that accompany such a change. There are still many Washingtonians, it would appear, who want it to be a place rather than a product.

The return of whites and the wealthier to America's cities has so far met remarkably little resistance. But now one of the politically weakest places in the country - local Washington - has made a stand.

Contrary to what you might read, the DC council didn't renege on any deal. . . it was never part of it. Under the ground rules of gentrifying urbanity, things like councils and voters are just meant to go along with whatever mayors and their bureaucracies decide.

And it wasn't just the black and poor who got mad. Faced with the cost of this bad deal being dumped on businesses, Neiman Marcus, for one, threatened to move out of town and small businesses expressed grave reservations. Politicians who thought they could get through life just obeying their campaign contributors suddenly got scared.

Even the young didn't like baseball's field of schemes. On the very day that the council voted on the matter, long time civil rights activist Lawrence Guyot and I spoke to a group of 100 DC high school students. Guyot asked them: if they had a choice, how many would have voted for baseball? One student out of a hundred raised his hand. Then they told us what was wrong with their schools. Lots.

Watch for the wind shift in your town. It may be coming your way.



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