January 29, 2014 at 2:00 pm EDT | by Mark Lee
Stop counting cranes – it’s embarrassing all of us
cranes, District of Columbia, gay news, Washington Blade

Instead of counting cranes candidates, how about telling us how you’re going to improve the business and development environment in our city. (Photo by Kathryn Rotondo; courtesy Creative Commons)

Counting the private sector construction cranes hovering over the city in recent years has become a sort of political blood sport in D.C. Arguing over ascribing political responsibility for them is one of the sillier debates in an otherwise lackluster mayoral campaign.

Embarrassing, too, because the answer is simple. D.C. politicians don’t deserve much credit for them.

It makes as much sense as believing they’re also due homage for recent and continuing population increases. As if people move here for the high taxes. Or households with children decide to relocate to the District for the quality and performance of the city’s hyper-costly public school system. Uh-huh.

The real question they should be asking themselves and challenging one another over is how they might best get out of the way so that the number of cranes might actually proliferate.

The irony is that a shift in focus to eliminating the city’s infamously arcane obstacles to development, density, and business and economic growth would have real benefits. Improvement in those arenas would provide more needed housing that would allow continued population growth, mitigate upward pressure on housing prices to improve the city’s affordability, create more jobs particularly for low-skill and entry-level workers most in need, and expand the city’s tax base to generate the public monies officials are so wont to lust over and freely spend.

Outdated zoning laws, obtuse development restrictions and obsessive approval regulations the city has largely retreated from fixing – instead proposing only modest and inadequate revisions inching forward at painfully slow pacing – are no help, either. Why aren’t voters hearing any bold proposals for reform in these areas?

The time-consuming and costly hurdles that developers must surmount, and the outsized powers of interference wielded by tiny groups of objectors and special interest citizens associations, exact extraordinary delays incurring exorbitant costs that also encumber finance sourcing. Parking build-out requirements alone add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of both residential and commercial units. This further inflates sale prices and rents in an already housing-expensive city and inhibits growth in the number of locally originating small businesses.

To sit down with local developers and owners of small and moderate sized community businesses to discuss the impacts of counterproductive city regulations and counterintuitive processes is instructive. It does, however, require packing a lunch and bringing a seat cushion – the tales they’ll tell are not only frustrating to absorb, they take a while to recount in full.

Try not to get them started on detailing the cumbersome and complex regulatory administration by an improved yet still languid and unsympathetic city government bureaucracy that too often appears to delight in exacting pain for pleasure. Otherwise, bring a lantern, too. This little chat will run long and late.

In a city brimming with national politicians who suffer from more-than-adequate delusions that government is the source and provider of all things good, it is to be expected that local candidates are drinking from the same well of hallucinogenic liquid. That, however, doesn’t make obsessive crane counting appear any less foolish.

Mayor Vincent Gray deserves much of the let’s-play-this-game blame on this. As is all-too-natural for incumbent politicians, independent market development progress occurring on one’s watch is commonly embraced for political benefit. The mayor often exalts in a current tally of the exact number of cranes jutting skyward across the city at any given moment. He tasks an executive staffer to keep contemporaneous count.

Less forgivable are Gray’s re-election challengers righteously claiming either greater personal responsibility or assigning credit to prior administrations. Some among the four D.C. Council members challenging Gray in the April 1 Democratic primary have more of a tendency to do so, but they all engage in this gamesmanship to one degree or another.

Instead of counting cranes candidates, how about telling us how you’re going to improve the business and development environment in our city.

That’s what we’re counting on.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

1 Comment
  • Generally, I agree. But those cranes represent an influx of real people and real businesses for DC, too.

    We need mayoral candidates who understand that top notch-public safety (police, fire, EMS, 911) are essential city services upon which all residents, businesses and their patrons depend.

    Here’s some public safety issues to consider during this campaign.


    Gray and his police chief have failed to hire 400+ new (‘sworn’) police officers to keep pace with city’s explosive population growth (up 12%)– due mostly to an influx of adult, young professionals. That’s who most of those cranes are for, BTW.

    400+ new cops would cost less than about one half of 1% of the city’s $10 Billion annual budget. But we’re not worthy of that public safety in Gray’s estimation.

    Last week Vincent Gray’s police chief dodged questions from Council’s Judiciary & Public Safety Committee, and even blamed Council for her inability to deal with “dirty cops” at MPD (40-some recent arrests of MPD police officers for malfeasance/misconduct).

    Of course it couldn’t possibly be due to the chief and her policies. This chief’s *cult of personality* knows no bounds, however. Now she demands Council hand over even more power to her office.

    “Just trust ME to handle all citizen complaints against MPD.” Seriously???

    No, thank you, Chief. Most cities and jurisdictions prefer to have robust, INDEPENDENT *checks and balances* on their police departments and police chiefs. Checks and balances are built-in to our U.S. Constitution and throughout our nation’s democratic processes. Gray and Lanier ought to respect and embrace that requisite for good community/police trust. But they do not.

    The anti-LGBT hate crimes that were NOT closed with an arrest by MPD in the past four years ought to concern all of us as well. How much of that is due to anti-LGBT police bias within MPD?

    Council should give DC’s independent Office of Police Complaints (OPC) the power and resources to monitor, compile and report ALL complaints of MPD wrongdoing and/or bias. MPD should be compelled by Council to cooperate with OPC investigators and to provide OPC *ALL* MPD Internal Affairs’ citizen complaints case data.

    Kudos to CM Tommy Wells for including OPC Director Philip Eure in last week’s hearing. I think we’d all like to hear more from OPC regarding the 2/3 of citizen complaints against MPD his OPC office is already handling– including those of police bias. We should also learn why MPD and Lanier are failing to cooperate with OPC.


    Incredibly, a 77 year old man died this week after Gray’s FEMS refused his daughter’s pleas for help at a DC fire station across the street (NE RI Ave) from where her father was stricken.

    WaPo’s report by Peter Hermann is compelling…

    Three times people banged on the door of the Northeast Washington firehouse seeking help for a man who had collapsed. Each time, the rescuers inside turned them away.

    In a nearby parking lot, Marie Mills cradled her 77-year-old father in her arms. “Help is on the way,” she told him. “There are firefighters right across the street.”

    But the firefighters didn’t come…


    We also learned from that tragedy that Vincent Gray’s 911/OUC still can’t get an ambulance to the right address in DC. Call 911 and you may find many of Gray’s 911 operators seem to lack minimal listening and quick-reporting skills.

    Does Vincent Gray understand his elementary responsibility to keep DC citizens, visitors and businesses safe?

    Like his criminal shadow campaign four years ago, maybe Gray has a shadow public safety team he can blame.

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