Party Favors: Fenty?s inauguration fund welcomes the big spenders. Credit: Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

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During his mayoral crusade, Mayor-elect Adrian Fenty was fond of highlighting the progress that has been made in the District. He liked to assure the electorate that he wouldn’t think of tossing out the hallmark achievements of Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

You know the sorts of things Fenty’s talking about: He’s going to plow ahead with bow-tie-legacy projects like the citywide call center, a lively downtown, and the creation of triathlete-friendly bike lanes around the city.

And he’s certainly going to throw a lavish inauguration extravaganza funded with big-business dollars.

During a press conference last week, Fenty dropped a few clues about his plans for the Jan. 2 swearing-in festivities. He pledged that all inauguration fundraising activities would be “completely transparent” and vowed to set a contribution limit. At the time, Fenty was not prepared to announce the limit.

Fenty held his election victory parties under a tent in a parking lot, an obvious extension of the populist profile he has sought to cultivate. And his embrace of a big-time inaugural reveals just how quickly the cocksure Fenty is succumbing to the temptations of power. After all, it’s not as if the pitfalls aren’t clearly outlined.

Back in 2002, when Williams was sworn in for a second time, he was attacked for hosting a bountiful inaugural fete funded by a few companies with more than just a sporting interest in the D.C. government. Chevy Chase Bank, Comcast, and Verizon each handed Williams a $25,000 check to defray the costs of the celebration. At least Fannie Mae’s $25,000 could be characterized as a payment in lieu of taxes, since the federally chartered financial giant is exempt from most city levies.

The rest of the Williams party cash, which was reported through the city’s contracting office, was delivered by the usual suspects: lobbyists, developers, and hangers-on.

Of course, placing a reasonable limit on individual contributions might actually make the Fenty installation a more egalitarian affair—so long as the mayor-elect and his worshippers can live with a more pedestrian event. Fenty’s language at the press conference certainly suggested a coming-out party for the commoners. The inauguration, he said, “will include everyone in all parts of the city. Just like the campaign.”

Fenty’s “limit”? How about $25,000, according to his mayoral transition spokesperson Mafara Hobson.

Fenty’s inauguration co-chair Jim Hudson was spot-on when he refused to disclose a limit at the press conference, but he volunteered that “we will be looking at what other administrations have done.” Williams’ tab for his 2002 event ran him $216,005. Fenty apparently doesn’t want to risk having to skimp on the festivities. Or maybe his fundraising staff has finally realized how easy it is to attract the big-dollar donors.

The new mayor may not have been the choice of the establishment business community before the Democratic primary, but the inauguration is another great opportunity for the city’s richest of the rich to make amends with the new top political dog.

After Fenty’s primary victory, plenty of the major-influence peddlers who had sided with the winner’s opponents laid out cash for the mayor-to-be.

Sources tell LL that people who did not already know the score were gently instructed by Fenty heavyweights to contribute to the Fenty 2006 General Election war chest.

Fenty will be opening up his records to show which fat cats backed his bash after the event is over. Of course, Fenty could simply scan the contributions and put them on his Web site, an option some in the mayor-elect’s camp are pushing for. For now, the transition team has no schedule for releasing the contributions. “The bank won’t even send us a statement before 30 days,” says inauguration co-chair Bill Lightfoot.

SCHOOL BOARD PACKING

Fenty is enjoying the early stages of his mayoral honeymoon. Everyone on the D.C. Council is being nice to him, the outgoing mayor is generally effusive, and the Washington Post appears to be on board as well.

All of which leaves Fenty plenty of room to scheme against an emerging rival: Former city administrator and incoming school-board President Robert Bobb. The super-technocrat is one of the few city leaders to publicly question whether Fenty’s dream of a mayoral takeover of the schools is the best way to boost student achievement.

Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham claims the appointment of board members and their subsequent replacements by Fenty loyalists isn’t just a lucky coincidence. “I think there is a very good chance that [Bobb] will be outgunned,” says Graham, who calls the appointments “a skillful action.”

Fenty seems to have stumbled on a backup plan if he can’t manage a takeover of the D.C. public schools: just keep appointing school-board members to posts in his administration.

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His Nov. 28 selection of appointed school-board member JoAnne Ginsberg to be his legislative director means Fenty will get to add three people of his choosing to the board in January. The terms of board members Robin Martin and Carrie Thornhill, who were appointed by Williams, expire at the end of this year.

Fenty tabbed another board member, Victor Reinoso, to serve as his deputy mayor for education. Reinoso’s departure creates a vacancy that will be filled by a special election in the spring.

By the way, Reinoso was elected in 2004 to represent Wards 3 and 4 after an endorsement by Fenty. Expect a repeat of what will be a mayoral nod in the special election.

That would give Fenty four presumed toadies on the nine-member board. And there could be more. It is common knowledge that board Vice President Carolyn Graham never really got along with Bobb, who defeated her for the top post in November. Despite her loss, Graham says she’ll finish the last two years of her term.

One of the candidates Fenty did not endorse in the 2004 school-board race is likely to end up on the board via the appointment route. Education expert Laura McGiffert Slover forgave Fenty for backing her opponent Reinoso and volunteered for his mayoral campaign. She also has been advising the mayor-elect on education issues during the transition.

While the real action on the schools will take place when Fenty pushes his takeover plan on the D.C. Council come January, his raid on the board gives him a tidy fallback position. Fenty has made no secret of his distaste for the pace of reforms being carried out by schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey. Over his two years, the one-time savior of the school system has revealed himself to many as a plodding bureaucrat—not exactly the Fenty type.

Giving school-board members marching orders from the executive suite would be something new in DCPS politics. Williams—who actually helped create the current board structure—ignored the people he appointed to the board. The mayor figured his selection of well-qualified people would mean better decisions and bring a new level of professionalism to the body. “I think he assumed that would take care of it,” says D.C. schools expert Mary Levy, who doesn’t expect a similar hands-off approach from the mayor-elect. “[Williams] never called them in.”

VOTING RIGHTS CRAWL

With the latest effort by city leaders to secure a vote in the House of Representatives now officially dead, voting-rights advocates are once again on a public-relations crusade to highlight the District’s disenfranchisement.

But one group that was awarded nearly a third of the city’s $1,000,000 first-ever voting-rights-education grant fund is pretty hard to find these days. The product of its work is even more obscure.

The selection of a group called Our Nation’s Capital for a $300,000 grant last spring raised a few eyebrows among the voting-rights faithful. After all, the wonkish outfit focuses almost entirely on highlighting the financial bind unique to the District: The city is host to the federal government but is barred from imposing a commuter tax to pay for routine wear and tear, police protection, and the like. The group pounds away on the now well-documented budget shortfall created by the city’s unequal relationship with the feds.

The grants were intended to fuel efforts to let the rest of the country in on the indignity of the District’s lack of voting representation in Congress. National polls conducted by various voting-rights organizations reveal that public awareness of D.C.’s second-class-citizen status remains extremely low. Our Nation’s Capital was selected under the portion of the grant announcement asking for proposals that highlight the District’s unique relationship with the federal government.

The skepticism surrounding Our Nation’s Capital has proven to be well-warranted. Here’s what city taxpayers have received so far:

• One 30-minute program on WPGC that ran Saturday, Nov. 4, at 8 a.m. on AM1580 and again Sunday, Nov. 5, at 7 a.m. on 94.7 FM. Technically, running a public interest program on a local hip-hop station during a low-ratings time does qualify for preaching the voting-rights gospel beyond the Potomac.

• Four 30-second radio spots featuring former Washington Post columnist Bob Levy that have been distributed to radio stations in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. So far, these ads have been distributed to 32 stations in the region. If you missed the spots, which run during a station’s low-rent hours, you can hear them on the group’s Web site.

• An upgrade of ournationscapital.org. Who could argue that putting the infrastructure issue on the World Wide Web is a local initiative?

The group’s executive director, Kristen Berry, says the city is perfectly happy with the results so far. The lack of a big national outreach campaign is mainly the result of frugal spending. “We’ve spent just short of $100,000, and the grant runs through May,” says Berry. “We’re kind of keeping our powder dry.”

POLITICAL POTPOURRI

• Ward 5 Councilmember-elect Harry Thomas Jr. is making every effort to show he’s on board with the Fenty change machine. During the middle of the Nov. 28 press conference introducing Ginsberg, Thomas worked his way into the line of Fenty’s senior advisers standing behind the mayor-elect. At one point, he was standing right next to Lightfoot and Hudson.

As the press conference rolled on, however, Thomas was not recognized by Fenty. He wasn’t asked to speak, and he didn’t force himself up to the podium. In fact, all Thomas did was stand and smile.

When asked how he ended up in the Fenty lineup without a role, Thomas called his presence a general show of support. “This is about transforming government, so you have to be part of the process,” said the always cheerleading Thomas. “I try to be in the room—in the place I need to be.”