Street Politics

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In mid-June, D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-Ward 5) announced his bid for the 2006 Democratic mayoral nomination. Orange, whose exploratory campaign activities were remarkably deliberate and calm for a city that thrives on political excitement, has represented Ward 5 since 1999, and chairs the Council’s Committee on Government Operations.

He enters his campaign for mayor with a firm grasp of certain basic of big-city government, D.C-style: AS soon as the Council opened the 2005 legislative session, he introduced a bill for the city’s summer jobs program for young people. That’s a program traditionally associated with Marion Barry’s time as mayor, and it is closely linked to his enduring popularity. As such, it’s powerfully symbolic of what many Washingtonians expect of their elected officials.

Indeed, after Orange had claimed the honor of introducing the bill, Barry one-upped him, perhaps proposing an expansion of the summer jobs programs to include career development and year-round employment opportunities.

Orange may have more in store. This fall, his Government Operations Committee can take action on the “Way to Work Amendment of 2005,” which would establish a “living wage” for certain city-related jobs in D.C., and set up a job opportunity center to help unemployed and underemployed Washingtonians.

The measure was slowed earlier this year, so it might now provoke significant opposition. But since Orange missed out on chairing the Committee on Economic Development this session, the bill could also be his chance to make some noise on behalf of poor Washingtonians who want to work. And it could give him a chance to review D.C.’s employment policies overall.

It will be interesting to see whether a sustained effort to promote the “living wage” amendment can attract the same popular support and emotional investment as the summer jobs program, and other existing strategies.

Orange has said that one of his chief goals as mayor would be to bring a full range of economic development and opportunity to the entire city.

Based as Orange is on the city’s northeastern edge, his campaign could bring added attention to places that have been left behind in cycles of growth and downtown redevelopment over the last few decades. Mayor Williams has been targeting needy communities for extra outreach and aid, and councilman Adrian Fenty (D-Ward 4), who is also running for mayor, has presented himself as a champion of the disadvantaged and dispossessed.

With Orange’s grounding in the technical aspects of public policy and an electoral base in the neighborhoods of Ward 5, D.C. could see a wide-ranging debate over helping the neediest people get on their feet, and also on helping entire communities grow and prosper. Here’s hoping!

Issues |Political commentary

Region |Northeast|Northwest|Ward 4|Ward 5|Washington DC

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