Rich Cooper

Sep 15, 2010

Back in 1983, the era of Reagan and when MTV actually played music videos from artists who didn’t wear meat, there was a made for TV movie called, “The Day After.”  The film was about life in America the day after a nuclear war occurred between the United States and the USSR.  With fallout raining from the sky and smoldering ruins everywhere, people were left to figure out what they were to do to survive and go on with life.  

Such is life the day after an election battle. For the victor, it is all sunshine and roses, but for the losers, it is all ruin and wasteland and trying to figure what’s next. The day after the final 2010 primary battle, I can’t help but feel for the losers when it comes to election results in Washington, DC.

By a resounding and expected margin, Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty was defeated for re-election by Council Chairman, Vincent Gray. While I am not a District resident or a Fenty fan, (his brash style and arrogance turned me off long ago), I was impressed with his results and more importantly, the people he put into positions of authority.

For as much as I liked what Michelle Rhee, his hand-picked Schools Chancellor, did to fix the disaster known as DC Schools, it was his Police Chief, Cathy Lanier, who I think has done an outstanding job. Her leadership of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) has been inspiring on so many levels.

From her personal story of being a teenage mom, to entering a profession long dominated by men, to even taking on the police force’s established powers that be, she has been impressive on multiple levels. Her beat as the capital’s top police officer has also put her front and center in dealing with challenging security events while still dealing with the guns, drugs, murders and violence that occur in every large American city. There is also no doubt as to her visibility in the job or her lack of shyness in confronting events that would send most (if not all) politicians running for cover. While she has not been perfect and has had her missteps, in the end, I think she has shown herself to be an excellent leader in protecting the safety and security of the District’s citizens.

To those of us who were at DHS and had the chance to work with her and observe her in action in leading MPD’s homeland security efforts, we saw a person willing to ask tough questions, build relationships, get answers and work to achieve mission success. It was why when she was tapped by then new-DC Mayor Fenty to become Police Chief (over more senior officers on the force), replacing then Chief Charles Ramsey, we knew a new era had come not just to DC but the National Capital Region as well. DC may be only 68.25 square miles, but its beat extends far from that physical geography. What Lanier has done in her nearly four years of service has proved that to be true.  

With Tuesday’s primary results final and the election of Gray as DC’s Mayor assured in a November coronation, her future as Police Chief is very much in the air. Gray has been non-committal when questioned about the future of Lanier and Schools Chancellor Rhee. It’s a solid bet that Rhee is out of here. As disappointing as that may be in continuing the reforms of DC’s Public Schools, losing Lanier would be a bigger blow to the region and the nation. There are certainly qualified people on the MPD and other police jurisdictions who could step up to be Police Chief, Lanier has served in a way that has transcended race, gender and background.  Those are words that Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy used to describe her in a July 18 profile, and I think he hit the nail on the head.

In the coming days and weeks, pressure will mount on Mayor-elect Gray to give some firm answers on Rhee and Lanier’s respective futures. But let’s face facts here – Gray won this election because he was the anti-Fenty. He has none of the brash personality and sharp elbowed style of the man he defeated, and that’s what people ultimately wanted. Whether the citizens of the District liked them or not, the city is a far better place today because of the leadership of Mayors Tony Williams and Adrian Fenty. It is no longer in the ditch that Mayor for Life, Marion Berry, drove it into and parked it during his reigns of incompetence and criminal behavior.  

In terms of public safety, the metrics speak for themselves. While violence still resides in the Nation’s Capital, it does not compare to the open warfare that occurred here in the late 80s or 90s. Strong leadership, resources and action made those things possible, and Cathy Lanier has been at the center of those efforts. If Vince Gray wants to send a strong message about the city’s public safety future, having Cathy Lanier remain as his top cop would be the most powerful message he could send.

This piece was originally posted on Security Debrief.


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