This summer’s crop of politicos would have you think they’re offering innovative ideas for the District’s future. Kevin Chavous talks about saving neighborhoods, Harold Brazil about managing finances, Jack Evans about a business renaissance. All of the candidates have drawn up big plans for D.C.’s future. On the hustings, they talk about “defining the debate.”

Trouble is, they haven’t. The 1998 debate was defined long before the candidates attached their posters to every lamppost in town. It was defined by Andrew Brimmer, Tom Davis, Lauch Faircloth, Charles Taylor, and Dick Armey. While the candidates may be talking about the pothole on your block or the school in your neighborhood, their scripts come straight from D.C.’s federal overseers.

They’re the ones who tell us how to view the errors of our home rule generation. They’re the ones who tell us where municipal priorities should lie. They’ve even outfitted us with the catch phrases to blast our vanquished leaders.

One of these days, though, this fall’s winners are going to govern. The control board will leave. Congress will get distracted. Elected rulers are going to be handed the burning baton of governance and yielded the bully pulpit of leadership. They’re going to have to write their own script. And then they’re going to grab for the power that Marion Barry didn’t even have in his Reagan-era heyday.

Which means that 1998 has to be more than a recitation contest. It means we have to do more than just suss out which candidates have learned their lessons best. Even if the rhetoric has changed, this year’s election still features the standard array of gimmicks, groaners, mysteries, old dogs with new tricks, and even older dogs with the same old tricks. Let Washington City Paper’s biennial political issue walk you through the pound.

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