Today’s Event: Since last week, I’ve reached out to favorite sources and in-the-know friends. Almost all of them tell me I should vote for Mayor Adrian Fenty. One source works in the schools and has had her battles with the teacher’s union. Another has done amazing detective work on Vincent Gray‘s ties to some convicted felon frat buddy. A former editor argues that Fenty has been just about perfect as a mayor. Then there are the drumbeat of comments from Downtown Rez and others who argue persuasively that Fenty deserves another four years. I can’t help but offer a retort about Peter Nickles‘ latest nonsense or quote Councilmember Phil Mendelson. I spend the rest of my time debating in my head: Gray vs. Fenty.
In a way, Fenty is our Rudy Giuliani—another frustrating, sports-obsessed asshole who by-any-means-necessary cleaned up New York City. Fenty has ruled by fear, allowing himself and others in his administration to slime anyone who gets in his way. During this campaign, the shorthand for Fenty’s jerkiness has been that stupid baseball tickets dustup with D.C. Council. I think it’s way deeper than that.
I think about Bill Slover, or the two arson investigators turned whistleblowers whom Nickles took time out of his busy schedule to personally slam (“It’s quite an effort that these two guys are making, giving TV interviews, filing complaints. We dispute almost everything they claim, including that they are individuals of distinction”), Pershing Park, and the contempt Nickles had for the Children’s Rights lawyers in the CFSA case. Fenty and Nickles even managed to turn Cora Masters Barry into a sympathetic figure.
And then there’s the overall feeling that Fenty can never just shoot straight. During our interview with him, the mayor actually played up his administration’s response to FOIAs. If there’s any group of people that know better, it’s us. Fenty also suggested that his response to homelessness had been a national model. Really? Maybe he needs to consult D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute’s stats on affordable housing, or read the latest testimony from the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. Fenty also played up the Fire Department’s accomplishments. He needs to talk to Mendo, stat! I could go on, but you get the point.
Still, the comparison between Fenty and that other obnoxious mayor doesn’t quite hold. The mayor is far more progressive than his haters suggest. Fenty deserves credit for spending all of his four years in office on public works projects that benefit everyone—from the new rec centers to school construction to a laudable housing-first program for the city’s most desperate. His undying support of Peaceoholics suggests cronyism at its worst, but it also suggests that he really cares about troubled kids. [Full disclosure: Gray came off more the prickly politician than Fenty during our interviews].
And yet. Tomorrow, we get to become our own results-oriented big city managers. By that standard, I’m voting for Vincent Gray.
Influence: Final. To be a good big-city manager, you have to win over your constituents. When the majority of District residents with children do not support Michelle Rhee, what does that say about her school reforms? Why shouldn’t District parents be worried about Rhee’s Teach for America fetish? When the majority of voters do not trust you, what does that say about your leadership abilities? During this campaign, Fenty had huge advantages. He declared early and attracted a huge war chest. He could have used the campaign to reach out, and get all of us to buy in. Instead, he spent too much time slamming Gray over his tenure at DHS in the early ’90s. That’s like blaming Gray for the crack epidemic. No one could have succeeded in that job. Not once could he answer with an ounce of empathy the questions voters had about First Source enforcement, the high unemployment number, and shrinking affordable housing stock. Fenty spent the rest of his time on stage at various go-go shows as his own hype man.
Net impact: Voting Gray.
But: A vote for Gray won’t stop a Chipotle from opening up or close out DDOT’s Twitter feed. What a Gray administration might do? Empower big business and the teacher’s union (yikes). And empower us to start participating in city governance again. Gray promises to listen to us. Let’s hope we can provide him with honest critiques and impassioned arguments. In four years, if Gray fails, we won’t have Nickles to blame. This time, it’s on us.