Hope Floats: Is Gray a Bob or a Barack?
Hope Floats: Is Gray a Bob or a Barack? Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The battle royale that every D.C. political wag had been hoping for is on: Adrian M. Fenty vs. Vincent Gray. It’s fairly obvious how challenger Gray is going to cast his candidacy: youth vs. experience. Alienation vs. collaboration. Arrogance vs. avuncularity.

So how’s this thing going to play out for Hizzoner? LL has been searching for historical parallels Fenty might want to consult. No comparison is perfect, but one immediately springs to mind—the 1996 presidential race. Remember, Bob Dole vs. Bill Clinton?

Clinton, of course, was only two years removed from an epic political setback, when Republicans overtook both houses of Congress for the first time in decades. The race attracted a motley crew of Republican wannabes, with longtime Kansas senator Dole, 73, winning the nomination.

The campaign ended up being very much about Dole’s age and whether or not he was an “out of touch” Beltway insider after 26 years in the Senate, and whether, as a career legislator, he had the leadership chops to lead the country. The Clinton narrative became that a vote for Dole was a vote for failed policies of the past. Clinton, on the other hand, could tout bipartisan votes on crime and welfare reform.

Clinton strolled into the Democratic National Convention in Chicago (where LL, incidentally, was on the floor as a fresh-faced delegation page), gave his speech about “building a bridge to the 21st century,” and never looked back. He won the popular vote by 8.5 points.

So the task for Fenty is clear: Make the case that a vote for Gray is a vote for returning to the past. Make the case that Gray’s legislative obsession with process will obscure progress. Make the case that the change people voted for in 2006, when voters overwhelmingly preferred him to Linda Cropp, is not finished. And make the case that he’s still the best candidate to lead the city into the future.

Here’s why the analogy might not hold: Fenty, 39, for all his youth and vigor, is not blessed with the communicative gifts of a Bill Clinton. Fenty shakes plenty of hands, but he doesn’t leave the folks receiving them in the rapture that Clinton was known for. (And he’s not much of an orator to boot.) Gray, though up in years at 67, is a sight more sprightly than Dole was. And while Fenty has a strong record to run on, he will have a hard time claiming that he’s brought people together to move the city forward.

Gray, on the other hand, will try to make the case that he can unite disparate parts of the city around a message of hope and progress.

Hope and progress, you say? After LL posted the above comparison to the City Paper Web site last week, local political consultant Chuck Thies wrote to take issue with the comparison. LL’s obsession with Gray’s age, he wrote, pegged Fenty as the wrong Clinton. The better history to consult: Hillary Clinton vs. Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

If that’s the way you want to look at it, you certainly could: Fenty’s candidacy, like Hillary’s, seemed like a foregone conclusion a year before election day. Fenty, like Hillary, raised a load of cash trying to discourage upstart entrants. And if you believe Thies, “Gray, like Obama, approaches politics (indeed his career) with a sense of public service as a calling. Fenty, like Clinton, is the more calculating pol and connotes a sense that public service is just part of the job.”

And here’s what might be wrong with that analogy: Obama launched his campaign in February 2007, nearly a year ahead of key primaries, with a stirring bit of rhetoric nodding to Abraham Lincoln delivered in front of the Illinois statehouse. Gray launched his campaign in late March, less than six months before his showdown with Fenty, with brief remarks no more soaring than “we can do better.” (He’s done little to fill out that message in the week since.)

Come to think of it, perhaps there’s another analogy from the 2008 presidential race: A party base deeply dissatisfied with the nomination’s heir apparent tries to draft a well-known face to galvanize that base around a single candidate. After months of publicly entertaining a presidential bid, that veteran legislator enters the race to great excitement, only to fizzle after it becomes clear his organization is wanting and his campaigning is listless.

God forbid that Vince Gray is Fred Thompson.

Summer Jobs, But for How Long?

Temperatures are rising, the 2011 budget is out—time to talk summer jobs!

The Summer Youth Employment Program, of course, has been a subject of intense discussion ever since the disastrous 2008 effort led to tens of millions in waste and overspending after Fenty mandated a 10-week program for all comers with little idea of how to accommodate and pay them all. Last year’s program, also 10 weeks long, went well enough in comparison. But questions abound about this year’s program.

For one, the DOES supervisor who oversees the summer jobs effort is scheduled to go on maternity leave shortly, sources say, with many details still pending about her replacement. Further complications include the fact that a key payroll specialist left the District’s employ earlier this year, the sources say. There is one familiar face involved with the effort, however: City Administrator Neil O. Albert has tasked none other than ex-parks director Ximena Hartsock with making sure the program goes off cleanly.

But the big questions concern the length of the program. Last summer, with the city facing a drastic revenue shortfall, councilmembers opted to slash the program’s budget. Fenty wanted a 10-week, $42.8-million program; the council ended up mandating a six-week, $22.7-million program—still 32 percent of the District workforce development budget in a town with 11.9 percent unemployment.

So, will Fenty follow the council’s directive? Or will he squeeze money out of somewhere to keep the program rolling throughout the summer break? Or is there some other magic solution that will keep an estimated 20,000 kids off the streets for 10 weeks for the cost of a program running for six?

A hint came in last week’s mayor-council budget briefing. For his 2011 summer jobs program, Fenty is again proposing a 10-week program, albeit one funded only modestly above the 2010 level. Asked by Gray how that might be possible, Fenty budget aide Merav Bushlin answered that it “depends on how you structure the program.” Which could mean wage cuts, hour cuts, or some other fiscal maneuver.

LL queried Albert last Thursday about the city’s plans for this summer. “You’re the best, you know that?” he chuckled.

Public schools let out June 22.

Last-Minute Budget Change Costs Taxpayers ‘Tens of Thousands’

A last-minute change to Fenty’s fiscal 2011 budget proposal last week cost taxpayers “in the tens of thousands” of dollars to reprint budget documents, sources tell LL.

The change has to do with the Office of the Tenant Advocate, an office that “advocates for, educates, and provides outreach for” the city’s renters. An early version of Fenty’s budget plan involved plans to scale back or eliminate the agency, as mentioned in a post to a Washington Post blog last week. But uproar from persons who learned of the cut, first among them Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham, forced the change.

No budget books were available for reporters or council staffers; staff from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer explained that they were still being printed. A letter distributed by the CFO’s office indicated a $469,000 cut from the Tenant Advocate, with an additional $1.8 million transferred to other agencies, but in an interview that day, Albert indicated that the office would remain as it was.

The decision had heavy consequences, quite literally. The budget books aren’t just a couple of pamphlets with some spreadsheets inside; they really are books. Last year’s congressional submission consists of seven perfect-bound volumes containing hundreds and hundreds of pages. Stacked together, one set of last year’s tomes measures more than seven inches thick and weighs some 17 pounds.

The entire initial press run of 25 books had already been printed, says one source, and a second run of 250 had already started when the order was given for the redo.

A letter from the mayor would have sufficed to make the change, says a Wilson Building staffer.

Kelvin Robinson Pondering Entrance to Council Race

The at-large council race stands to get still more interesting: Kelvin Robinson, former chief of staff to Mayor Anthony A. Williams, is pondering an entry to the at-large D.C. Council race.

“I’ve had a lot of conversations,” Robinson told LL last week. “It is something I am considering very seriously.”

Robinson eased back into public life last year, when he won a special election to Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A, which covers the neighborhoods stretching east and north of Capitol Hill. Earlier this year, Robinson was elected chair of the body.

Scuttlebutt dating back a year had Robinson setting himself up for a run against Ward 6 council incumbent Tommy Wells, but that potential seems to have faded. Robinson did not rule out a ward run last week but said he’s “leaning toward” the at-large race. (For what it’s worth, he also attended Wells’ campaign kickoff last month at Eastern Market.)

Rather, Robinson said he’d be looking to replicate the surfeit of council leadership in Ward 7, which boasts not only Yvette Alexander but Chairman Gray and at-larger Kwame Brown. “There might be some value in having two members from Ward 6,” Robinson said. “That’s a consideration of mine.”

Robinson’s entry as a Democrat would put him in direct competition with incumbent Phil Mendelson and former parks director Clark Ray, adding a new element to a downticket race now sure to be obscured by the mayor and chairman tilts. Given the oft-cynical racial calculus of District politics, it is worth nothing that Robinson would represent the first black entrant into the at-large race. (The Rev. Carolyn Graham, another Williams administration official, was also toying with an at-large run last year.)

If Robinson were to run, he’d have to face questions about his fundraising while working for Williams, which earned him a Hatch Act investigation and an unexpected exit from Mayor Bowtie’s employ.

But Robinson, a consultant by trade, would put that fundraising experience to work and draw on ongoing connections to the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and other business types. Of course, a similar résumé didn’t help Mendelson’s last opponent much—the well-financed A. Scott Bolden went down in 2006 by landslide margins—but Robinson may be counting on Ray to draw white votes from Mendelson.

Says Mendo: “Kelvin is an old friend. I welcome his getting into the race and I look forward to the campaign.”

Fenty Cut Line to Get on Plane, Says Eyewitness

Fenty rushed back from…well, somewhere, last Wednesday to hold a press conference more than 24 hours after four were killed in a tragic drive-by shooting the day prior.

All Fenty would say last week about the trip was that “it was personal.”

But in the age of social media, there are no secrets. LL was forwarded a Facebook post by Brandon M. Macsata, a D.C.-based political consultant who was on the same flight as Hizzoner from Fort Lauderdale.

He then e-mailed LL: “The ticket agent asked for anyone requiring special assistance or traveling with small children to please board (pre-board); he didn’t ask for first class passengers, or special dividend miles passengers —just your basic pre-board.…Out of nowhere comes Mayor Fenty accompanied by one other person (I’m assuming it was a staffer), and they walked right up in front of everyone and they were the first people to board the plane. To me, it smacked of exactly what is wrong with our politicians today – both Democrats and Republicans, regardless of the office they hold —and that is they see themselves as better then the people they serve.”

Morals of the story: a) Just tell us where you were, ferchrissakes; and b) mind your manners.

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