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Fenty's debate notes become D.C. campaign issue

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's heavy reliance on notes and briefing books during candidates forums appeared to undermine his efforts Monday night to keep the Gertrude Stein Democratic club from endorsing Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray in the mayor's race.

Democrats Fenty and Gray spent more than an hour answering questions from the group, which later endorsed Gray with 63 percent of the vote.

The two candidates essentially agreed on most major issues of importance to the city's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community. But Fenty, appearing uncertain of his views and his record, spent much of the debate reading from various sheets of paper supplied by his staff.

Although Gray also had a briefing book nearby, he rarely referred to it. In several recent candidates forums, Fenty has referred to written notes while he debated his opponent, even reading word for word from talking points as he attacks Gray's record.

The highlight of the Monday night's debate came when Fenty started criticizing Gray's record in fighting HIV/AIDS when he was director of the Department of Human Services under then-mayor Sharon Pratt in the early 1990s.

"I know why my opponent wouldn't want to talk about the early '90s, the fact of the matter is that's where your executive experience lies," said Fenty, referring to notes. "And if you look at some of the reports of the HIV/AIDS administration in the early 1990s, it is nothing short of an abuse of government money by staff and contractors, years on end without an HIV/AIDS administrator in place and layers of and delay... and money being dumped without a lot of results."

When Gray got a chance to respond, he said: "Just so you know, Mr. Mayor, I don't have any notes."

"It is not necessary for me to read every word off a piece of paper," Gray said, receiving a thunderous applause.

Gray then noted the Whitman Walker Clinic, which at the time was a health clinic for gay men and lesbians, gave him the "public administrator of the year" in 1992 for his work at the human services department in battling HIV/AIDS.

"Knowing Whitman Walker as I do, and you do, you know that is not a frivolous award," Gray said. "It was given very seriously."

But Fenty, who is trying to make Gray's tenure in the Pratt administration a major theme of the campaign, fired back at the chairman.

"As I read from my notes," said Fenty, as he held a piece of paper in front of his face. He then went on to quote Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who was director of the Whitman Walker Clinic in the early 1990s, saying in a 1994 newspaper article that Gray had not been vigilant enough in the battle against HIV/AIDS.

Later, in response to a question about what steps can be taken to encourage more cooperation between the mayor and the council, Fenty sought to downplay the squabbles between him and council members.

"For each disagreement with the mayor and the council, we probably have 99 agreements," said Fenty, noting the city has legalized same-sex marriage and is experiencing decline in homicides and rising test scores. "You don't make these types of historic gains in the city without actually having a lot of collaboration...The one or two disagreements we have are dwarfed by the things we work together on."

Gray then stated, "it was absolutely ludicrous" to "suggest there was collaboration of any significant nature between the council and the mayor of the District of Columbia."

"Let me assure you the collaboration, you just heard about, I must have missed those meeting because those meetings do not exist," Gray continued.

Fenty appeared to find his footing during the debate when he was, once again, asked about why his administration formally recognized the leader of an organization that believes gays can be treated with psychotherapy.

"The fact of the matter is when you have a lot of people working for you, sometimes mistakes happen," said Fenty, appearing more emotional than he usually does in public "I personally and professionally apologize to every person in this room and every person in this city. It shouldn't have happened...I messed up. It's my fault...It's my mistake."

But Gray appeared to score points with the audience when he pledged to create a specialized police unit that is focused on issues of concerns to the gay community, such as hate crimes. Fenty defended Police Chief Cathy Lanier's decision to reorganize the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit.

When the debate shifted toward issues of a broader concern to the citywide electorate, Fenty's message was at times remains crisper than Gray's. Fenty said debate over whether Gray would keep Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee if elected will be the "biggest distinction" in the race. Fenty has pledged to keep Rhee, saying she is getting results when it comes to improving schools. Gray said he's undecided on Rhee's fate.

Fenty also appealed to the audience, made up of up about 100 members of the Stein Club, to consider "all of the progress" that occurred in the city since he was elected in 2006.

"What we have tried to show over the past three years is that the District of Columbia government and the city as a whole should be second in nothing," Fenty said during his closing statement. "This administration is focused on the future, maximizing the potential of Washington D.C. I would hope you would judge the administration on how we have tackled the city's most pressing issues."

To secure the endorsement of the Stein Club, Gray or Fenty needed to receive at least 60 percent of the vote. Since Gray won with 63 percent and there appeared to be only 100 votes cast, Fenty could have denied Gray the endorsement if only one or two members had switched their votes or pushed for no endorsement at all.

Rick Rosendall, the vice-president for political affairs for the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, wrote on GLAA's blog last night Gray pulled off "a historic upset."

"Fenty read from notes, while Gray spoke without notes," Rosendall wrote. "What probably put Gray over the top, though, was how well he sold himself as someone with a history of working with the community and was more collaborative than the aloof Fenty."

--Tim Craig

By Tim Craig  |  June 15, 2010; 10:54 AM ET
Categories:  2010 District Election , Mayor Fenty , Tim Craig , Vincent C. Gray  
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Next: Fliers urge voters to 'Slap' Fenty


so much for the young/old arguments.

The young guy can't recall the facts or think on his feet as well as the old guy.

Maybe Fenty should give up on public forums and challenge Gray to a triathlon.

Posted by: efavorite | June 15, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

He should have just written some notes on his palm.

Posted by: Davidsonville | June 15, 2010 11:44 AM | Report abuse

Bwahaha, rack these two ^^^^

Posted by: MACCHAMPS04 | June 15, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

I know why Fenty doesn't remember his own "accomplishments" without referring to notes. That is because his "accomplishments" belong to another Mayoral Administration. That of Mayor Anthony Williams.

It is hard to recall what you didn't labor to bring forth.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | June 15, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

It is incomprehensible that a clownish blow-hard like Vincent Grey is a serious contender for Mayor of DC, because a bunch of whining babies don't like the fact that Mayor Fenty is strong, decisive, and doesn't kiss their asses before making a move.

I swear, we really do get the government we deserve in this town. I am praying that more rational people than weenies get to the polls in the fall...

Posted by: Orsalia | June 15, 2010 1:48 PM | Report abuse

People have short memories. Fenty was the same studdering, inarticulate lightweight last time around. His appointees similarly lack intellectual heft. He, and they, rely on slogans and soundbites in lieu of reason and analysis. Gray may not have a simple solution to all problems, and he may even change his mind about certain actions, but that is a sign the he is considering the information available to reach the best decision. A little thought before action is not a bad thing.

Posted by: mcstowy | June 15, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

It is incomprehensible that a clownish blow-hard like Vincent Grey is a serious contender for Mayor of DC, because a bunch of whining babies don't like the fact that Mayor Fenty is strong, decisive, and doesn't kiss their asses before making a move.

I swear, we really do get the government we deserve in this town. I am praying that more rational people than weenies get to the polls in the fall...



Posted by: TheChampishere | June 15, 2010 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Just once it would be nice to have 2 candidates focus on the issues and address problems/strategies instead of the sparring...sounds like an old 'Good Times' episode where the cagey old Alderman Fred and the young upstart Jimmy were 'playing the dozens' at the Evans household

Posted by: kahlua87 | June 15, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Orsalia -- come to some forums where both Gray and Fenty speak before determining which candidate is a "clownish blow-hard."

Fenty has gotten booed all over the city, including a mainly white area that is supposed to be his stronghold.*

Now he's losing the gay community, not because he doesn't support their cause - he does, but because they lost confidence in him after seeing him speak publicly about their issues.


Posted by: efavorite | June 15, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Gray is the real deal. Fenty is just an empty suit and rehearsed sound bites.

Posted by: ashafer_usa | June 15, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Without a doubt, as the Chairman, Gray has been a uniter and a consensus builder.

Posted by: GoldCoast | June 15, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Exhibit # 1009

Catania blasts Fenty over AIDS/HIV meeting

Remmeber this one?

Gestapo Fenty was throwing a fit because he was upset with a potential councilmember not voting his way.

So he used his usual tactic of revenge.

Posted by: thelildiva4u | June 15, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

When he stuck the taxicab industry with $1.50 per mile, he was living off of stolen goods. It's no wonder why his mind is no longer at peace.

Posted by: starclimber9 | June 15, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Those who have closely followed Adrian Fenty's career have long been aware that he has been an intellectual lightweight throughout: as a practicing attorney, Councilmember, Mayoral candidate, and sitting Mayor. (It may sound harsh, but them's the facts, folks.)

Posted by: nan_lynn | June 15, 2010 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Besides the fact that Fenty is really not that bright, he would have to use notes to take credit for work initiated by the previous mayor. If he accomplished all that he takes credit for, he could talk off the top of his head. He tries to on Fox 5 every Thursday and comes off as a total fool each and every week. I watch the anchors especially Tony Perkins who tries until he can't do it anymore and it ends with a look on his face that says, Why do we waste our time with this guy. He skates the answers, uses as an excuse that he hasn't been briefed, slurs his words or gets a little miffed as a defense mechanism. He's a joke always.

Posted by: candycane1 | June 15, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

@ Orsalia:Gray is a gazzion times smarter than dum azz fenty. fenty is a dam idiot! looking in the sky for his next word, sctaching his head and rolling his eyes uhh, uhh!!
maybe when he lose Gray will give him a job on the back of one of dpw's trash trucks.
fenty is an embarassement to this city. downlow mo4

Posted by: chasity0909 | June 15, 2010 10:18 PM | Report abuse

Thank you concernedaboutdc and candycane1 for recognizing that much of the community and economic development success being enjoyed in DC today was ushered in by the former Mayor Williams. I worked on many of these initiatives and it pains me to see his Highness taking credit for it. And interestingly enough, he opposed some of the Williams economic development agenda. Like many of you, I was never impressed by Fenty and was shocked with his 2006 victory margins. It seems like folks got swept away with his youth and energy. From where I sit, DC can't afford another four years of corruption, temper tandrums and a cabinet of ill-equipped "yes" men and women. We can do better than this.

Posted by: roscoedc | June 15, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

To roscoedc: Also, the gains in students' test scores that Fenty and Michelle Rhee talk about were actually the result of work done by the Clifford Janey, the previous superintendent of schools.

Posted by: linroy62 | June 16, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

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