Fenty and Gray again raise ethical questions
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and chief rival Vincent C. Gray tempered their criticisms of each other Friday in their second one-on-one debate in as many days before about 150 members of the city's hotel industry.
In the hour-long debate moderated by NBC4's Tom Sherwood, the candidates in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary mostly stuck to the issues, drawing distinctions in the area of education.
Fenty criticized Gray for failing to take a stand on schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, who he said "has captured the imagination of the country."
"There is no way in the world that you can run for mayor in the District of Columbia and fail to say what you are going to do with hiring or not hiring Michelle Rhee as my opponent has said," Fenty said.
Consistent with past comments, Gray said the city had institutionalized school reform that would not be dependent on one person and would sit down with Rhee after Sept. 14 if elected. He said the Fenty administration has treated charter schools "shabbily" and said he would look at the system to make sure that students in the nontraditional public schools are funded equally with those in traditional public schools.
The debate was less contentious than Thursday's matchup on WPFW, in which Fenty and Gray were talking over each other to raise points about ethical lapses, but both candidates tried Friday to convince the crowd that the other had poor principles.
Overall, Gray managed to get in a few more zingers than Fenty, boosted by a crowd that appeared to be in Gray's favor in an auditorium of the Renaissance Washington hotel.
In closing remarks, Fenty told the crowd that he would run the government the same way he has since taking office in 2007. "What do you expect in a Fenty administration? You can expect what you've seen over the past four years," he said. "High-level professionals working with the business community. Getting things done."
Seeing an obvious opening, Gray responded by raising the controversy surrounding recreation construction contracts that went to firms with ties to Fenty, though he wrongly said they were awarded "without competitive bidding."
"You talk about you're going to get the same thing for four more years from a Fenty administration. You sure are," Gray said to laughter. "That's exactly why you should vote for me for mayor."
A theme of Gray's campaign has been to restore transparency to the mayor's office, focusing on how the Fenty administration transferred millions of dollars and awarded the construction contracts without council approval. But Fenty again tried to turn the tables on Gray's promise of openness Friday. This time, he pointed Gray's last-minute budget change last month to transfer of the Patricia R. Harris Education Center, which had been used to train social workers and firefighters.
"Most of the city council didn't even know it was in there," Fenty said. "It was only at 1 o'clock in the morning, the same time when the chairman took out all that money for the streetcars that no one knew about either, that he decided that he was going to give P.R. Harris to somebody without a competitive process, without a competitive bid."
But Fenty's dig backfired. Gray told the crowd: "Let me tell you who now controls P.R. Harris. It is this obscure organization. I think the mayor said was turned over to somebody. You probably have never heard of this entity called the University of the District of Columbia."
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