Are D.C. Blacks Souring on Mayor Fenty?
BlackAmericaWeb.com | , Jackie Jones | 4/22/2010, 1:12 p.m.
Four years ago, when Council member Adrian Fenty began crisscrossing Washington, D.C. in his run for mayor, voters saw a lean, hungry, assertive man who vowed to bring healthy change and youthful energy to the way the city was run.
Fenty€s earnestness appealed to voters, who decided the time had come to shake up the establishment. He was hailed as a new breed of public official, one who represented a new kind of thinking.
But Fenty€s high energy and inclusive rhetoric soon gave way, some said, to a ham-handed style of politics, with petty and major squabbles with the City Council and moments of bad judgment deemed a sense of entitlement at best and arrogance at worst.
€It comes down to image,€ said Hamil Harris, a political reporter for The Washington Post. €Fenty will tell you that his passion is delivering city services and not showing up all over the city and making people feel good like (former Mayor Marion) Barry used to do."
€He is part of a new generation of mayors who believe that action speaks louder than words. But people still judge leaders by their words, and Fenty offers few to the old guard in this town,€ Harris told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
Fenty has taken heat for not sharing tickets given to the administration for the Nationals baseball games with the Council, not publicly disclosing vacation plans, cycling with a group of friends €" with a police escort €" on a major thruway where bicycles were not allowed €" and hiring a schools chancellor who has overseen a rise in student test scores, but who also has strained relations with the city teachers and their union.
€People are happy with some of the things he has accomplished, the recreation centers (being upgraded), for example, but he appears to be placing himself above the common man,€ said Denise Savage, an event organizer in Washington, D.C. €I think his arrogance has gotten in the way.€
A few weeks ago, Fenty came to Savage€s neighborhood and asked for her support. When she told him she had not decided how she would vote, Savage said, €he turned on his heels and walked away.€
She has now decided to support Fenty€s principal opponent, Vincent Gray, president of the City Council.
Jackie Jeter, a city resident, said the administration€s dealing with teachers and the enforcement of petty rules with steep fines that are €nickel and diming residents€ have made her decide to switch allegiances as well.
€I don€t like the way they did it,€ Jeter said of the layoffs in October of 266 teachers in what had been described as a budget shortfall.
€They just wanted to get rid of the senior teachers because they wanted the money. Now they€re saying it was a mistake.€
Teachers union leaders took Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee to task this week, saying she failed to disclose the discovery of a $34 million surplus in the schools budget three months after the layoffs.
Jeter said the city also has stepped up enforcement of so-called quality of life infractions that hit residents hard in the pocketbook.
€I just got a notice that my trash wasn€t set out properly. I had two black garbage bags in addition to my cans. They took a photo of my trash and fined me $75. I just got that in the mail this week,€ Jeter said. €They are fining us every way they think they can.€
But is that sentiment strong enough to spell defeat for Fenty?
€Not yet,€ said Kojo Nnamdi, a popular talk show host on WAMU-FM, the city€s National Public Radio affiliate.
€I think it depends in large measure on two factors,€ said Nnamdi, who covers a variety of issues, including local politics, on his show. €How much and how quickly Vincent Gray is able to raise money. And I think there is an age demographic. People over 50 in this city seem more turned off by Adrian Fenty€s behavior. There has to be a certain respect for the process and a certain regard for decorum. And there€s a feeling that Adrian Fenty has run roughshod over process and decorum.€
Nnamdi cites the flap with the Council over the distribution of the baseball tickets and Fenty€s refusal to meet with icons Maya Angelou and Dorothy Height.
The mayor€s critics, Nnamdi said, €all feel that it is rude and inappropriate, and that may have to do with what is a generation gap.€
€Younger voters and those who have not lived in D.C. for generations like the fact that Adrian gets things done," said Nnamdi. "They like that he is changing the schools rapidly, neighborhoods pretty rapidly. Also, they like that rec centers are getting built and getting done.€
But it takes money to win a campaign, and Fenty has plenty of it, although he has lost some support among his more well-heeled supporters.
Philanthropist Judith Terra, who held two major fundraisers for Fenty in previous campaigns, just blocks away from his house, now has a big sign for Vincent Gray in her front yard and is hosting a fundraiser for him at her home next week.
Terra said Gray brings experience having worked for Covenant House and the city Department of Human Services before running for office. She cited Gray€s conciliatory style, which has been successful on the Council, and that she believed he was likely to follow in the footsteps of Anthony Williams €" Fenty€s predecessor €" who brought the city out of receivership and put it on sound footing.
€Tony Williams almost got us to the Promised Land. (Electing Gray) is just a continuation of his legacy. I believe in him as a leader, a man of incredible integrity," said Terra. "He also has the wisdom that comes with having been there and done that and to care passionately about the work.€
Fenty has a $4 million head start in fundraising and others, including a local developer, are threatening to enter the race, which could split the vote in the Democratic primary, guaranteeing Fenty€s reelection in this overwhelmingly Democratic town.
€Money is important, but as I keep saying, the only thing that€s really going to matter is the vote,€ Terra said. €I want to bring them out in droves in Wards 7 and 8 (which have the highest black population in the city €" and the poorest). To unite this city as one city, to put everybody on a level playing field, is the mantra.€
Nnamdi cautioned, however, that people who are swept into office on a message of change and hope often get shot down quickly after taking office by the same supporters who are disappointed that their candidate didn€t move quickly enough.
If Gray can raise money quickly and attract enough younger voters, Nnamdi said, then the race may get interesting. If not, he may be one in a string of Quixotic Council chairmen who have given up a sure seat to face an incumbent mayor, only to go down in defeat.
€Vincent has to be ready for that,€ said Nnamdi.