Tom Sherwood's Notebook: 02/17/10

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    The word on the transit system is not good.

    One recent editorial said that with the agency facing a huge budget deficit, transit riders could see "drastic cuts in service: longer waits, overly crowded buses and trains, dirtier subway stations and more frequent breakdowns."

    Our Metro system?

    Nope, it's New York City's.

    The editorial was in The New York Times. But it was easy to identify with what The Times called the "chilling" reality of mass transit.

    Our Metro system has been struggling to operate in and recover from the recent snowstorms. It faces a $200 million -- and growing -- budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins this summer, and the board of directors is just starting a search for a general manager to replace John Catoe.

    Fare increases, service cuts, labor trouble and all kinds of other unpleasant matters are on the table, or should be.

    But why focus just on mass transit?

    Our highways and bridges, our water and sewer systems, and our electrical systems are all on the intensive care list.

    What we need is an FDR-type effort to do massive repair work that would both fix things and provide jobs. Some of that, of course, is contained in the stimulus programs that are combating this economic down cycle.

    But it just doesn't feel like we're taking it all that seriously.

    An aside: An office worker who happened by as we wrote this suggested, "You better explain what FDR means." Ouch.

    Franklin Delano Roosevelt, former president, put America back to work again during the Great Depression. There were lots of missteps and much misspending, but the job got done. Congress mostly helped. It was a long time ago.

    • Hissy-fit politics?

    If some people thought the historic snows would get our local government leaders to work together, they were wrong. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Council Chairman Vincent Gray are still essentially not speaking to each other.

    On WTOP radio last Friday, analyst Mark Plotkin asked whether Gray and Fenty were talking or coordinating the city's response, expenditures or anything else.

    Here's a partial transcript from the WTOP audio:

    Gray: I haven't talked to the mayor during all of this.

    Plotkin: Why don't you pick up the phone and call him?

    Gray: Well, why doesn't he pick up the phone and call? He's in charge of this. Come on, Mark!

    Plotkin: That stuff is crazy. You two are not the president of each other's fan club ... .

    Gray: Just a minute, Mark.

    Plotkin: ... But why do you expect him to call you?

    Gray: Because he's the mayor. And if I were the mayor ... I would have picked up the phone and contacted the council chair ... and had a briefing [for the whole council].

    Plotkin: If you felt that it was in the public interest, why didn't you pick up the phone and be the bigger guy?

    Gray: I've been the bigger guy on many occasions, Mark. OK? I've been the bigger guy on many occasions. I've reached out. This is a situation in which the mayor is in charge ... .

    Well, after all that on Friday, we asked Mayor Fenty on Monday if he had spoken to Chairman Gray and if not, why not?

    Without mentioning Gray's name or position, Fenty said coolly that he hadn't heard the Plotkin exchange. He said he had been in contact with the ward council members on many occasions because it's the ward council members who deal with constituent service in the wards. End of answer.

    It just reminds the Notebook and others that if Chairman Gray wants to get into mayoral actions, maybe the best way is to become a candidate for mayor.

    • Get it right.

    Television talk show host Chris Matthews was grumbling about the city's snow response, suggesting someone ought to run against Fenty just to get the mayor more focused. That's an opinion you can agree with or not.

    But one of the show's guests said more should be done because "80 percent" of the federal government workforce is in Washington. That didn't sound right to us, so we checked. It was wildly off. The Office of Personnel Management says 20 percent of the federal workforce, or about 225,000 workers, are inside the Capital Beltway (not even just in the District).

    Oh, well. We guess details don't matter so much on cable TV.