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District Voters scramble for Information on Fenty and Gray

Shantella Y. Sherman | 9/7/2010, 11:43 a.m.
Ward 7 resident Edwina Loftlin sat among a sea of campaign signs outside One Judiciary Square before going into the early polling center to vote. Loftlin said that despite hearing a lot from both Mayor Adrian Fenty and his chief opponent Vincent Gray, she remained unconvinced either would do the better job and would most likely make up her mind inside the booth at the last minute. Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman

A steady stream of foot traffic moves along First Street en route to One Judiciary Square in Northwest - a District corridor chock full of bureaucrats and government employees - all scurrying to their respective offices. However, there's a group who aren't affected by the early morning rush.

Many sit on cold gray slabs of concrete outside of Metro's Red Line entrance to the District's municipal center nd ponder, or pause in mid-stride to listen to the loud public announcement system that blares non-stop about mayoral candidate Vincent Gray.

One Judiciary Square is one of several sites throughout the District that offers residents early voting options. But, if this location is any indication of what is to come on Sept. 14 - however close the race is believed to be -- all bets are off.

With barely a week left before the Democratic primary, District residents continue to wade through loads of literature and analyze responses in last minute debates and interviews to determine who would be the better choice for mayor.

Ward 7 resident Edwina Loftlin said that despite taking part in forums and listening intently to what all of the candidates have to offer, she's still undecided.

Sitting outside of the voting center, Loftlin, 52, said it would probably require that she stand inside the voting booth - alone and with nothing more than a form -- and decide her herself -- the lesser of two evils.

"Each of the candidates is saying 'something', but none is offering what the city really needs. In short, I wish hat there were better choices of candidates so that we don't have to pick the lesser of two evils," Loftlin said.

For Loftlin, Fenty started out as a strong mayor and one she was pleased to have elected. When a group of youth started to torch stolen cars in an otherwise safe neighborhood off of Grant Street, she was able to call the mayor's office and speak with Fenty.

"Mr. Fenty actually came on the line and listened to my concerns. I felt really good about that because he was accessible. But after a couple of years, Mr. Fenty seemed more focused [on] changing his constituency rather than addressing their needs," Loftlin said.

"He stopped listening and I have to determine whether he deserves an opportunity to fix his mistakes, or if he should be sent packing. It's not an easy decision because Mr. Fenty has done many good things," Loftlin said.

Loss of Constituents

For months Gray, 67, has surpassed Fenty in telephone polls conducted by the Washington Post. In August, 780 registered Democrats who were polled said that they intended to register as Democrats before the primary.

The Abt SRBI Corporation of New York conducted their queries between Aug. 19 and 26 and found Gray leading Fenty 49 to 36 percent among all Democratic voters and 53 to 36 percent among likely voters. While Fenty garnered more thanWhile Fenty garnered more than 69 percent of the vote in Ward 4 in the 2006 primary, fewer than 50 percent of those residents support his reelection.

Where did Fenty fail?

Many believe that Fenty's unfettered support of District of Columbia Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee and her condemnation of Black teachers, along with her whole-sale firing of administrators and educators - primarily Black female heads of households -- and Fenty's disconnect with the District's disenfranchised attributed to his decline in popularity.

In numerous straw polls conducted throughout the District, Fenty didn't fare any better.

"As a middle-class Black woman who is the head of my household, I completely lost respect for
him. He fired Black women who run households in the District of Columbia. He had no regard for us," one District resident said.

"Fortunately, I have no children and I managed to make it, but if I had children, I would be breaking into houses trying to survive," she said.

Others agree.

"There are middle-class women who are homeowners with children in college and private schools who were summarily dismissed by Fenty and Rhee and the betrayal has meant he, too, has to pay for that," said one Columbia Heights homeowner and former Fenty supporter.

Kendia Wyder, 23 said that she is not particularly happy with either of the mayoral candidates. While, she said that she has a genuine respect for Leo Alexander, his attempts at reaching a youth market have been nil. At the same time, Wyder, a Ward 6 resident said, Gray has ignored young voters.

"The only thing Gray has going for him is that he is not Fenty. It's easy for Gray to talk about how bad a job Fenty has done, but he has not separated himself from Fenty's shadow. He could make bigger mistakes than Fenty. The fact, that I am under 30 and none of the candidates are speaking to young people - [remember] - when youth propelled Obama to the White House, [that] says a lot about what they think of us," Wyder said.

Wyder, a recent graduate of West Liberty University in Wheeling, W.Va., said that she was compelled to examine the candidates much closer when an older woman insisted that young people were "unfit to vote."

"She said we should have to take a competency test that demonstrated [that] we knew something about the officials and their platforms. All, I could think was that this woman is probably old enough to have been denied the right to vote. Now, she is so embarrassed by young Black voters that she wants us to be subjected to the same type of discrimination," Wyder said.

"At the same time, it made me realize it was my responsibility to know [about] these candidates before I [cast] my vote for either [candidate]."

Davetta Coats, 24, said that she too, remains undecided and unconvinced by the mayoral candidates. Unlike Wyder, Coats said that any voter in D.C. who is still undecided by September 14, should stay away from the polls.

Although, Coats admits that she's late to the party, she feels that within a week she will be up to speed. "There has been plenty of information out there, but I have not paid a lot of attention to most of it. I cannot make an informed decision if I do not read all of this literature. I [will] just pick it up and investigate it further," she said.

Jonathan Nickels, 37, moved to the District from Ridgefield, Conn. two years ago. One of the new White supplants to the city, Nickels said that his take on the candidates has been complicated by the bickering at candidate forums and the pervasive racial undercurrent.

"There is this perception of Whites in the city as interlopers being courted by Fenty. I don't have a bunch of money. I share the basement apartment of a row-house with two roommates. There are a lot of issues in this city that are more about the growing disenfranchised of all races, not just Black," Nickels said.

After losing his job a month ago, Nickels said that he has been as turned-off by city services as anybody else in the District who cannot pay their bills.

"I am not getting any relief from the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority [WASA] or Washington Gas. Now, I am watching every penny, and I see the candidates differently than I did when election season first began. The guy who can help me out of a bind, is the one who will get my vote," Nickels said.