As an educator I explain the long road from white southern domination of the city to the Control Board on through to the present, and discuss how that early lack of self-government and white control continues to shape the political climate in the city. The story is further complicated by shifting demographics. But with this public hospital pitch I think Mayor Gray and Council Member Barry have both lost their minds. Building and operating a new public hospital East of the River would be a budgetary sink hole for the city.
Public hospitals across the country are failing and ACA-mandated lower reimbursement rates for Medicaid- and Medicare-covered services will make it even more difficult for hospitals that serve large low-income populations to stay afloat. The good news is that I cannot see how a fiscally responsible DC Council would approve this funding. Many questions remain about this new public hospital. Newspapers and business journals have reported in the past about conversations that existing hospital groups have had with the city to purchase United Medical Center. Why haven't these discussions included the possibility of building a new full-service, non-public hospital, East of the River, with large incentives provided by the city? Couldn't the city transfer the land or provide a long-term, no-cost lease? It is disconcerting that the city will consider a land swap for a soccer stadium but not for a hospital that could serve all city residents in a section of the city in need of economic development and quality health services.
Like many residents East of the River I travel to the other side of the city for health care, mostly at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, where I have seen the same doctors for 15 years. I am attached to my physicians but I would be happy to receive medical care closer to my home. Based on convenience, this past week I visited LabCorp inside the Unity Health Care facility on Minnesota Avenue for routine blood work. It was fine. The staff was great, other patients were sweet, and there was a short wait time, but I am not sure I would go there again because the facility itself is tired and unwelcoming.
What all of this is saying to me is that Mayor Gray and Council Member Barry continue to play a 1990s game in a 2014 District of Columbia. The fact that this announcement occurred less than a week before the mayoral primary has made many question the timing. Some think, and rightly so, that Mayor Gray is pandering for votes. I think the mayor has lost all connection to electoral reality.
As people, from afar, I like Mayor Gray and Council Member Barry. There is a place for both bureaucrats (Gray) and populists (Barry) in city government. To friends and family I have frequently defended both. I do not particularly care about the corruption allegations because I think it is minor in relation to what happens in other cities. Mayor Gray lives a modest life and there is little to no evidence that Mayor Gray or Council Member Barry have benefited financially from their time in office. A car, home repairs, gifts from construction companies--it's small stuff. If these were bribes with major city contracts attached to them I would see it differently. As I have said previously via Twitter, I am more saddened that DC politicians are exposing themselves to the possibility of jail time for public corruption over measly amounts of money, and in Gray's case, Fenty's reelection campaign had been imploding anyway. The money wasn't needed. We cannot even do public corruption well in DC. Michael A. Brown is one exception and made the city proud in that respect. In addition, Ron Machen's public relations handling of the corruption allegations makes him look like a desperate, ego-driven prosecutor who is more concerned with ladder climbing than his mandate to protect the public interest. News outlets have contributed their share of irresponsible coverage as well.
Having said all of that, our mayor's reaction to the corruption allegations, or lack thereof, has caused many residents great distress, including myself. I voted for Mayor Gray four years ago and I see him as a decent man. If Mayor Gray had wanted to firm up his base for reelection he should have made the mea culpa rounds months ago. This public hospital announcement is beneath him. Residents living East of the River are capable of an almost bottomless well of forgiveness, but even the most ardent supporters don't like feeling used. And even as he did not carry other wards, Mayor Gray received many votes from other parts of the city. Now, how can there be forgiveness without contrition? Instead, it appears that Mayor Gray has taken his lawyer's advice and decided to act in his own self-interest over that of the city. This intransigence as campaign strategy has not worked and it's disrespectful to voters. I'd love to be a fly on the wall in meetings between Robert Bennett and Chuck Thies. Someone screwed up.
I am certain that Mayor Gray loves this city, but day after day he is looking like the aging politician that he is, one who has held on to power just a little too long. When I early voted last week I did not vote for him. It was actually pretty heartbreaking. (I did not vote for Muriel Bowser either--I am not certain she could locate Fairlawn on a map--so it may have been a wasted vote.) I voted for the person I thought was the least likely to mess up for four years. My friends and I continue to have daily conversations and email exchanges about which way to lean. Nobody is happy.
I think it's still possible for Mayor Gray to win reelection. His base is certainly not energized though. It will all come down to turnout.