Farewell to Charms: Fenty needs to earn back his man-of-the-people rep.
Farewell to Charms: Fenty needs to earn back his man-of-the-people rep. Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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Where have you gone, Mayor 142?

With the headline “Fenty approval ratings plummet” splashed across the front page of last Sunday’s Washington Post, there’s no doubt that Mayor Adrian M. Fenty will be hard-pressed to repeat his landmark 2006 electoral performance, when he trounced primary challenger Linda Cropp in all 142 precincts of the city.

Sure, Fenty still has no legitimate competition in the 2010 race, but that’s not likely to last long. Hell, given the findings of the Post and other pollsters, Leo Alexander and his $20,000 war chest (0.7 percent of Fenty’s) might be able to pick up a few precincts. Sulaimon Brown, with even less than that, might be able to do the same on his last name alone.

Like the residents surveyed, LL thinks the city’s pretty much on the right track. But the problem Fenty faces is clear: Black voters just don’t like him, in part because they sense he doesn’t care. And white voters like him less and less, on account of his opacity, arrogance, and nascent cronyism.

The opportunity for Fenty is also clear: It’s just February. The same guy who toppled Charlene Drew Jarvis, charmed the press, and stormed city hall is still in there somewhere, right? He’s just been obscured by three years of “big-city mayoring.” So here are five ideas that LL thinks could help recapture the dynamic go-getter of yore:

Unilateral Ticket Disarmament

Baseball nuts always mark their calendars for that February day when pitchers and catchers report to spring training. D.C. reporters have a similar ritual for Fenty—when, if at all, will he cough up the Nats tickets that he owes to the D.C. Council? People care: The Post poll showed that Fenty’s two-year run of pettiness on this matter has stuck with him. Handing the tickets over this year without a fuss would represent some improvement, but not enough. He could step up by unilaterally renouncing the questionable practice of having government officials occupy luxury sports aeries—a perk typically doled out as political chits. Even better, Fenty could reach out via a sporting event even more dear to this heart: He’s trying to lure the Giro d’Italia to D.C. for its 2012 start. How ’bout an honorary starter role for Vincent Gray?

Get Out of the Can

This reporter never knew Fenty during his pre-mayoral press-charming days, when he was an easygoing, easily accessible go-to quotemeister. Pretty much the only Fenty that LL’s known is Fenty the robot. Hizzoner’s media rigmarole goes something like this: If you want a comment from the mayor, catch him after one of his daily media events, a policy that often yields uncomfortable Sam DonaldsonRonald Reagan moments. (Those Thursday-morning WRC-TV lovefests don’t count.) The result? Not only does it annoy the reporters, but D.C. residents never get to see a human side of Fenty. They see only a man incapable of candor, someone who talks about doing things “as fast as humanly possible,” “getting you a statement,” and “I gotta go.” Time to go off script for a day or two, Mr. Mayor. LL will be happy to schedule a sit-down at your convenience.

Become the Jobs Mayor

Dunno if Fenty’s been reading the newspaper, but there’s an unemployment problem in this city. December jobless figures hit a record high of 12.1 percent, with east-of-the river figures inching toward 30 percent. What’s Fenty done about it? Beats LL—in a very un-Fentylike move, he’s essentially ceded the issue to At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown. And, if last week’s Federation of Civic Associations appearance by would-be challenger R. Donahue Peebles is any hint, it’s an issue he can expect to hear about on the campaign trail quite a bit. Tax breaks for big businesses like CoStar and Northrop Grumman aren’t the answer; in fact, without some leadership on closer-to-the-ground employment issues, they’re going to be a campaign liability. LL will refrain from making any policy suggestions—in fact, he’s outright skeptical that any mayor could do much to move the unemployment needle on such short notice—but Fenty ought to take a page from the campaign playbook of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and run as a “jobs mayor.” And, no, summer jobs don’t count.

Fire Peter Nickles

There’s been one guy at the center of virtually every controversy surrounding Hizzoner—from the travel controversy to the chauffeuring incident to the fishy fire truck disaster. That’s Nickles, his consigliere-cum-attorney general, who has been a legal bulldog for executive interests, but one who has created messes left and right. His no-holds-barred attitude has single-handedly created a level of interbranch intransigence unseen since the early-’90s heyday of Sharon Pratt and John Wilson—and, in a reversal from those days, the Post poll made clear that the people blame Fenty more than the council. Axing his longtime friend and most trusted adviser isn’t likely to happen, and it may not buy him much goodwill in the communities where he most needs help, but doing so—or at least putting a leash on the bulldog—would send a message to the good-government types in Ward 3 and elsewhere that the guy who ran on accountability and transparency isn’t lost for good.

Let Yourself Go

As Fenty’s poll numbers have declined, so has another of his benchmarks: His competition times. The guy’s maintained a grueling training regimen while discharging his chief-executive duties, a habit that’s gotten him nothing but bum headlines—whether for a serendipitously installed pool heater, weekday afternoon bike rides, or, recently, a testy moment on the Wilson pool deck. LL appreciates Fenty’s need for a daily “athletic release,” but the people see him as more obsessed with his workout than his work in the city. So while some politicians have to get into “campaign shape,” it’s time for Fenty to put on a few. If he wants to connect with the community, he needs to ditch the chamomile tea for Rock Creek grape soda. No more dried fruit—more Horace and Dickie’s fish sandwiches. And for chrissakes, next time you find yourself at Ben’s Chili Bowl, Mr. Mayor, no more goddamn turkey dogs. You’re gonna get a chili half smoke—with cheese, Obama-style—and you’re gonna like it.

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