Racial Polarization in DC

Adam Serwer writes about racial polarization returning to Washington DC local politics after a brief truce:

Yet the city polarized along racial lines in numbers not seen since the last time Barry was on the ballot, with 80 percent of the black vote going to Gray while Fenty drew the same numbers among white voters. The post-Barry truce between the black middle class and the city’s white residents dissolved, increasing the probability that the city’s class divide will morph into a racial one. White voters’ initial impression of Gray has stuck despite his efforts to alleviate anxieties west of Rock Creek Park through a series of pre-general election town halls. A survey released by the Clarus Research Group last week showed Gray with a 17 percent approval rating among white residents. Yes, the mayor managed to short-circuit his honeymoon with a series of disastrous appointments that have driven down his approval ratings even among the black residents who voted for him. But it’s hard to say his low approval among whites is so easily explained. After all, that 17 percent resembles his share of the white vote in the primary anyway. If anything, he’s just confirmed what they already thought about him in the first place. What makes this baffling is that Gray ran largely as an alternative to Fenty in style rather than substance, and the policy differences between them were virtually nonexistent. Gray went as far as appointing Kaya Henderson as Rhee’s replacement, signaling continuity with Fenty on education — the one issue in this city over which there’s something approaching genuine ideological conflict, and the one most white voters flagged as the most important.

To back Serwer up on this, the education issue is even odder than that because Mary Cheh, who represents super-white Ward 3, was a huge opponent of the Fenty/Rhee/Henderson education agenda. All of which suggests that education policy and race got caught up in Fenty vs Gray in a completely arbitrary way. My personal obsession in the Fenty/Gray race was, however, Fenty’s status as an opponent of the taxi driver special interest and Gray’s tendency to kowtow to them.

That said, not only are the racial politics ugly and unfortunate on their own terms, they seem to really stand in the way of any kind of rational policy assessment in a way that’s bad for the city. Not that DC is unique in this regard. Big city politics in America have always had a hefty ethnic/racial element. Washington just poses this in a black vs white way that’s starker than the more complicated ethnic coalition politics of a New York or a Los Angeles.