Archives for the month of: December, 2008

My friends at the Silver Spring Penguin have a great recap of the complaint filed against a pair of hot-sheet motels in Silver Spring that truly seemed to be dens of iniquity. We’re talking rampant prostitution, drug overdoses and sales at a Days Inn and a Travelodge.

One commenter says they “feel bad for out-of-towners who book rooms there not knowing any better.” I can relate. It happened to me once.

I was on doing some lobbying work a decade ago for the electric bicycle industry. Yes, there was such a thing. I was trying to convince the New Jersey legislature to create a new category of vehicle — an “electric assisted bicycle.”

I was young, had no capital, and this was my first business. I needed to save every dime. So I booked what I thought would be an inexpensive chain hotel in Trenton. Well, it sure was inexpensive — but it was a Den of Iniquity. Bulletproof glass in the lobby to protect the desk clerk. Cigarette burns all over the bedspread, with a dried pizza crust sitting in the middle in case I needed a snack.

I did not even unpack. I went downstairs to get my money back, which of course did not happen and I left anyway. As I left, I saw people all around the courtyard, leaning over the railing and giving me the fisheye, like it was a prison wing.

Since then, I have learned to be careful when staying in urban environments. Trying to save a buck can backfire! Even so, that was money that, at the time, I could not afford to throw away.

How did the trip go? Well, I was shaken down for campaign contributions to a staffer who was running for city council and my proposed bill never went anywhere. (I was successful in Washington, Oregon, and California though, so there.)

My friend Steve Clemons has written a great piece that well describes my misgivings as I watch the Caroline Kennedy train gathering steam.

It’s not that she is not the right person to take the open Senate seat of Hillary Rodham Clinton — it’s that we don’t know yet, and we have not had much of a chance to find out. What’s more, Kennedy only has to convince one person — governor David A. Paterson of New York, himself in office (in part) due to an unforeseen circumstance — that she’s the best pick.

Caroline Kennedy — when she shows she has thick-skin, can take tough-minded criticism for the mistakes she no doubt will make, and when she articulates coherent policy views on serious challenges facing the country — may make in fact make a great Senator from New York. I hope that she does and that she grows into the role. . . .

There are many questions in store for Kennedy as she pursues this Senate seat, and she needs to show a readiness to be grilled.

While the Kennedy clan is clearly one of America’s strongest and most enduring political family dynasties, the Kennedys that mattered were always the ones who stunned the public with their brilliance and tenacity.

Each of the most famous Kennedys — their audience would feel — could have been a successful political heavyweight even without the Kennedy name.

That will be the test for Caroline Kennedy. Can she show that she can be one of the best crafters of policy and one of the strongest animators of activism in ways that show that she should have always been in the Senate on her own merits — and not just because she got her resume read because of her last name?

Read it here.

The groups poised to capitalize on president-elect Obama’s sympathy for their causes — are liable to be sorely disappointed. Peter Levine points this out here.

Now comes word that pro-life pastor Rick Warren will be delivering the Inaugural invocation. And here is the disappointment (outrage, really).

So many people have poured so much of what they want to see into the empty vessel that was candidate Obama, and what we have come to know is he is much more pragmatic, both as a politician and as an office holder, than he is ideological.

Those watching him, ready to hate him, have so far given some grudging respect. Those watching, ready to love everything, are probably beginning to get a little worried.

Indeed, labor is.

But we live in a 50-50 country, which demands that you irritate your base regularly in order not only to be palatable to the other side — but to govern.

Monday night, a decent and good proposal for a new source of affordable housing in my neighborhood got defeated in our town’s City Council. I was personally in favor of it and spoke in favor of it (which a rarely do). In fact, fifty of my neighbors spoke one way or another on it — and they were split evenly down the middle for and against.

The community is deeply divided and there is not a lot of hope for compromise.

While I am disappointed in the outcome, I have been fascinated to watch another dynamic play out. I think of it as “old politics” and “new politics.” What happened was an example of new politics swamping old politics.

The “pro” organization thought it was doing everything right. It met with the local civic association, it met with council members, and so forth. It got a letter of support from the board of the civic association and everything seemed to be in order.

But then, over the summer, at a planning commission meeting, things began to go haywire. People in the neighborhood began complaining about the possibility of a new large structure with lower income people right next door. Flyers got circulated, lawn signs went up.

Neighborhood people were making pointed comments about the civic association not really representing the community’s interests.

The civic association, whose board supported the proposal, tried to respond, but it was summer, so there was no scheduled meeting, and then there were a few other slowdowns. Meanwhile, the organization that was proposing the development did not act as if it took the community opposition very seriously. While there were yard signs, flyers, and a web site opposed — in support there was just a PDF on the developer’s web page for a while. They eventually went door to door, but by then it was just about too late: they were on the defensive.

As I observed, it just seemed like the “pro” people were being outmaneuvered on a number of fronts by the “con” people. The “con” people just were doing a better job at the politics. They were led by a couple of people who had obvious organizing and message delivery skills. (They also had the wind at their back, as it is easier to oppose something than to support it, but still the mismatch seemed plain.) It was painful to watch, as I was on the “pro” side.

It was especially painful to see the difficulties the civic association was having. Its leadership did as good as it could do. But its systems and processes just weren’t set up for fast-moving, highly charged situations. It tried to keep to its timetable, and it got sidelined.

The way this unfolded is not unique to where I live. In communities all over the nation, insurgent, issue-based gorups are cropping up in neighborhoods, often led by one or two people with undeniable political acumen — and they overwhelm the existing civic systems, get done what they want to get done, and then sometimes just fade away.

I realize that the way I describe it they seem nefarious, but they are not as a whole. This is just how politics in communities increasingly gets done. People with political skill are often no longer part of the civic infrastructure, so they come and go. They move quickly.

The challenge for the existing civic structures is to figure out a way to harness this energy. Over the next decade, what will civic organizations become? How will they stay relevant?

Monday I wrote about the crumbling “paper” part of the news business. Here’s more evidence.

My hometown newspapers, the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press (I was a Freep reader growing up) are curtailing their home delivery to just three days per week: Thursday, Friday and Sunday. David Hunke, chief executive of the company that oversees operations of both papers said this isn’t an experiment. “I don’t think we’re ever going back.”

The $12 per month subscription package:

will also give people access to an online replica of the roughly 32-page editions of both papers that will be sold each day at newsstands. Both papers also will regularly update the news on their free Web sites, freep.com and detnews.com.

“Americans are reading with their feet. They’re walking over to the computer screen,” said Jonathan Wolman, the editor and publisher of the [Detroit] News.

I know I am (reading online, that is).

But even so, I get four newspapers delivered every day.