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Where you live doesn't much affect how fast your pothole gets filled, data show


The American Political Science Association is holding its annual meeting in Washington this weekend, and Daniel Hopkins, a government professor at Georgetown University, thought he'd lend some academic perspective to our local mayoral race to mark the occasion.

Hopkins notes rightly that the relative distribution of city resources and services across D.C. has been a major campaign issue for Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray. But he says that while plenty of his fellow wonks have compared the "distributive politics" of different cities, rarely have they looked at how resources are allocated within a city.

Hopkins, author of such papers as "After It's Too Late: Estimating the Policy Impacts of Black Mayors Using Regression Discontinuity Design," says that Georgetown grad student Lindsay Pettingill has found an ingenious way to gauge the geographic equity of city service delivery in the District -- how long it takes to get your problem solved. The city has gathered data on citizen service requests since Mayor Anthony A. Williams established his citywide call center in 1999.

What has Pettingill found? Hopkins explains at the indispensable "Monkey Cage" political science blog:

First, we see substantial improvement in average response times. In 2000, it was taking the District upwards of 40 days to respond. By 2009, that figure was down to 11 on average. Most of the decline took place during the tenure of Anthony Williams, Fenty's predecessor. The other key fact: response times across neighborhoods have converged over the years, with just two days separating the neighborhood with the longest response time from the neighborhood with the shortest response time in 2009. Calls from the heavily black neighborhoods like [Barry Farm] and Kenilworth don't seem to go unanswered. In fact, it was the predominantly white neighborhoods in Northwest that initially saw the slowest response times, although those gaps have closed.

These days, the average time to solve a constituent problem has become essentially insignificant between wards. Hopkins offers a caveat: "[T]his is not the only metric of bias in District services -- and capital projects could tell a very different story," though my colleague Nikita Stewart looked at Fenty's capital spending and found that it has been essentially equitable across wards.

The lesson for Fenty: Results, sadly, don't matter as much as you think. Perception can become reality.

By Mike DeBonis  |  August 31, 2010; 2:14 PM ET
Categories:  Adrian Fenty , DCision 2010 , The District , Vincent Gray  
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Next: National teachers union debuts pro-Gray radio ads, as Rhee denounces anti-union campaign


"Results, sadly, don't matter as much as you think."

No, they do, but most everyone also knows this:

"Most of the decline took place during the tenure of Anthony Williams, Fenty's predecessor."

So Fenty's legacy is primarily that he DID NOT screw up most of what Anthony Williams accomplished or set into motion. Yet, these are the primary claims Fenty makes for his accomplishments.

Posted by: jamietre | September 1, 2010 8:21 AM | Report abuse

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